Thursday, November 30, 2006

"The Day After Tomorrow"

George Will is...what's the word?

A dick?

My favorite response to his column on (of the thousands of responses it appears):

...and the pot is claiming the kettle has become a pompous poseur.

Will's column, "a study in truculence," if I may use his words, is truly stunning. It achieves new levels of hypocracy, mendacity, and sheer numbskull-ity. Take, for example, his description of the scene:

Wednesday's Post reported that at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, Webb "tried to avoid President Bush," refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president. When Bush asked Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq, "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "I'd like to get them [sic] out of Iraq." When the president again asked "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "That's between me and my boy."

Oddly enough, Will decided to edit a bit of the exchange, namely, our pissy president responding to Webb's first answer, "That's not what I asked you. How's your boy?"

Then there is this passage, that can now be found in the dictionary under the heading, "pro-jec-tion:"

Webb certainly has conveyed what he is: a boor. Never mind the patent disrespect for the presidency. Webb's more gross offense was calculated rudeness toward another human being -- one who, disregarding many hard things Webb had said about him during the campaign, asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another. When -- if ever -- Webb grows weary of admiring his new grandeur as a "leader" who carefully calibrates the "symbolic things" he does to convey messages, he might consider this: In a republic, people decline to be led by leaders who are insufferably full of themselves.

However, that last bit is true, that's for sure.

UPDATE: I failed to note that Will, in his attempt to limn Webb's boorishness, failed to also mention that Webb included "Mr. President" in both of his responses to the Snapper in Chief.

A new member of the Reality-based community

President George W. Bush?

"This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever."

He's absolutely right. There will be nothing "graceful" about our exit. When we do finally leave, sometime no earlier than two years from now, it will make the last days of Saigon look like a series of dignified maneuvers.

Furthermore, preznit is now contradicting his national security advisor who, is after all, a fool.

Will wonders never cease.

Just the non-facts, ma'am

Get used to stuff like this.

An ABC News reporter asked Peter Schweizer “if he had researched those facts before he called Pelosi a hypocrite.” Schweitzer responded, “It’s not my responsibility to go and find out how every single particular circumstance is handled on the Pelosi vineyard.” Why burden yourself with the facts?

Via Mr. Black.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Exit strategy

Blame the Iraqis for the situation and get out.

From troops on the ground to members of Congress, Americans increasingly blame the continuing violence and destruction in Iraq on the people most affected by it: the Iraqis.

Even Democrats who have criticized the Bush administration's conduct of the occupation say the people and government of Iraq are not doing enough to rebuild their society. The White House is putting pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group have debated how much to blame Iraqis for not performing civic duties.

This marks a shift in tone from earlier debate about the responsibility of the United States to restore order after the 2003 invasion, and it seemed to gain currency in October, when sectarian violence surged. Some see the talk of blame as the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement.

"It is the first manifestation of a 'Who lost Iraq?' argument that will likely rage for years to come," said Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University expert on terrorism who has worked as a U.S. government consultant in Iraq.

Americans and Iraqis are increasingly seeing the situation in different terms, said retired Army Col. Jeffrey D. McCausland , who recently returned from a visit to Iraq. "We're just talking past each other," he said, adding that Americans are psychologically edging toward the door that leads to disengagement. "We're arguing about 'cut and run' versus 'cut and jog.' "

Because, after all, their leader is delusional, not particularly bright, and with a penchant for lying.

The [Hadley] memo presents an unvarnished portrait of Mr. Maliki and notes that he relies for some of his political support on leaders of more extreme Shiite groups. The five-page document, classified secret, is based in part on a one-on-one meeting between Mr. Hadley and Mr. Maliki on Oct. 30.

“His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change,” the memo said of the Iraqi leader. “But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

An administration official made a copy of the document available to a New York Times reporter seeking information on the administration’s policy review. The Times read and transcribed the memo.

The White House has sought to avoid public criticism of Mr. Maliki, who is scheduled to meet with Mr. Bush in Jordan on Wednesday. The latest surge of sectarian violence in Baghdad and the Democratic victories in the midterm elections are prompting calls for sharp changes in American policy. Such changes are among options being debated by the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton.

Aides to President Bush, who was attending a NATO summit today in Riga, Latvia, scrambled to put the best face on the memo.

“The president has confidence in Prime Minister Maliki,” the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, told reporters, adding that the administration “is working with the prime minister to improve his capabilities in terms of dealing with the fundamental challenges in Iraq.”

Two senior administration officials, who insisted on anonymity in exchange for talking about a classified memo, said it was unclear whether Mr. Maliki has seen the memo, but suggested its contents would be no surprise to the Iraqi prime minister, who has been in regular consultation with Mr. Bush.

Hell, even Friedman's run out of Friedman Units (FU).

On Feb. 12, 2003, before the war, I wrote a column offering what I called my “pottery store” rule for Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” It was not an argument against the war, but rather a cautionary note about the need to do it with allies, because transforming Iraq would be such a huge undertaking. (Colin Powell later picked up on this and used the phrase to try to get President Bush to act with more caution, but Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Powell’s advice.)

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.

That vacuum was filled by murderous Sunni Baathists and Al Qaeda types, who butchered Iraqi Shiites until they finally wouldn’t take it any longer and started butchering back, which brought us to where we are today. The Sunni Muslim world should hang its head in shame for the barbarism it has tolerated and tacitly supported by the Sunnis of Iraq, whose violence, from the start, has had only one goal: America must fail in its effort to bring progressive politics or democracy to this region. America must fail — no matter how many Iraqis have to be killed, America must fail.

After all we've done for them: invaded their country without a plan for occupying it, disbanded their armed forces, "de-Baathed" their police force as well as the government ministries, and tried to control their country with an inadequate number of troops, and what do they give us in return? Chaos.

Inherent in the War of Imagination were certain rather obvious contradictions: Donald Rumsfeld's dream of a "demonstration model" war of quick, overwhelming victory did not foresee an extended occupation—on the contrary, the defense secretary abjured, publicly and vociferously, any notion that his troops would be used for "nation-building." Rumsfeld's war envisioned rapid victory and rapid departure. Wolfowitz and the other Pentagon neoconservatives, on the other hand, imagined a "democratic transformation," a thoroughgoing social revolution that would take a Baathist Party–run autocracy, complete with a Baathist-led army and vast domestic spying and security services, and transform it into a functioning democratic polity—without the participation of former Baathist officials.

How to resolve this contradiction? The answer, for the Pentagon, seems to have amounted to one word: Chalabi. "When it came to Iraq," James Risen writes in State of War,

the Pentagon believed it had the silver bullet it needed to avoid messy nation building—a provisional government in exile, built around Chalabi, could be established and then brought in to Baghdad after the invasion.

This so-called "turnkey operation" seems to have appeared to be the perfect compromise plan: Chalabi was Shiite, as were most Iraqis, but he was also a secularist who had lived in the West for nearly fifty years and was close to many of the Pentagon civilians. Alas, there was one problem: the confirmed idealist in the White House "was adamant that the United States not be seen as putting its thumb on the scales" of the nascent Iraqi democracy. Chalabi, for all his immense popularity in the Pentagon and in the Vice President's office, would not be installed as president of Iraq.

Though "Bush's commitment to democracy was laudable," as Risen observes, his awkward intervention "was not really the answer to the question of postwar planning." He goes on:

Once Bush quashed the Pentagon's plans, the administration failed to develop any acceptable alternative.... Instead, once the Pentagon realized the president wasn't going to let them install Chalabi, the Pentagon leadership did virtually nothing. After Chalabi, there was no Plan B.

An unnamed White House official describes to Risen the Laurel-and-Hardy consequences within the government of the President's attachment to the idea of democratic elections in Iraq:

Part of the reason the planning for post-Saddam Iraq was so nonexistent was that the State Department had been saying if you invade, you have to plan for the postwar. And DOD said, no you don't. You can set up a provisional government in exile around Chalabi. DOD had a stupid plan, but they had a plan. But if you don't do that plan, and you don't make the Pentagon work with State to develop something else, then you go to war with no plan.
The bastards have done nothing but let us and our freedom loving dreams down.

The following day, Bremer's second in Iraq, the hapless Garner was handed another draft order. This, Woodward tells us, was Order Number 2, disbanding the Iraqi ministries of Defense and Interior, the entire Iraqi military, and all of Saddam's bodyguard and special paramilitary organizations:

Garner was stunned. The de-Baathification order was dumb, but this was a disaster. Garner had told the president and the whole National Security Council explicitly that they planned to use the Iraqi military—at least 200,000 to 300,000 troops—as the backbone of the corps to rebuild the country and provide security. And he'd been giving regular secure video reports to Rumsfeld and Washington on the plan.

An American colonel and a number of CIA officers had been meeting regularly with Iraqi officers in order to reconstitute the army. They had lists of soldiers, had promised emergency payments. "The former Iraqi military," according to Garner, "was making more and more overtures, just waiting to come back in some form." Again, Garner rushed off to see Bremer:

"We have always made plans to bring the army back," he insisted. This new plan was just coming out of the blue, subverting months of work.
"Well, the plans have changed," Bremer replied. "The thought is that we don't want the residuals of the old army. We want a new and fresh army."
"Jerry, you can get rid of an army in a day, but it takes years to build one."

Again Bremer tells Garner that he has his orders. The discussion attains a certain unintended comedy when the proconsuls go on to discuss the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, which Bremer has also announced he will abolish:

"You can't get rid of the Ministry of the Interior," Garner said.
"Why not?"
"You just made a speech yesterday and told everybody how important the police force is."
"It is important."
"All the police are in the Ministry of the Interior," Garner said. "If you put this out, they'll all go home today."

On hearing this bit of information, we are told, Bremer looked "surprised" —an expression similar, no doubt, to Rice's when she and the President learned from the secretary of state that the civilian occupation authority would not be reporting to the White House but to the Pentagon. Unfortunately, within the Pentagon there coexisted at least two visions of what the occupation of Iraq was to be: the quick victory, quick departure view of Rumsfeld, and the broader, ideologically driven democratic transformation of Iraqi society championed by the neoconservatives. The two views had uneasily intersected, for a time, in the alluring person of Ahmad Chalabi, who seemed to make both visions possible. With a Chalabi coronation taken off the table by President Bush, however, determined officials with a direct line to Bremer were transforming the Iraq adventure into a long-term, highly ambitious occupation. Presumably as Garner woke up on May 17, reflecting that "the US now had at least 350,000 more enemies than it had the day before—the 50,000 Baathists [and] the 300,000 officially unemployed soldiers," he could take satisfaction in having managed, by his last-minute efforts, to persuade Bremer to "excise the Ministry of Interior from the draft so the police could stay."

Our legacy from this misadventure in destroying Iraq: Hapless and spiteful.
Captain Beefheart - Lick my decals off, baby (advertisement)

The "mind (and knee)" of Bob Owens

Oh, so that's why he's conveniently not serving in Iraq.

If you weren't a blogger, what other occupation(s) would you consider?
I would have been a soldier. My left knee, operated on once already and still problematic, refused to co-operate. My high school guidance counselor suggested the Forest Service, which would not have been a bad choice, but I wouldn't mind being a hunting or fishing guide, either. And yes, I'd love to hunt with the Vice President, without any reservations.

Via -- with added Snark -- Tbogg.

Baraaaak Hussein O-Bama

GOP pundit (I was going to say, "closeted," but that would be redundant), Ed Rogers unveils the anti-Obama strategy: Pronounce his full name with as long a drawl as can be maintained.

So much for GOP "outreach" efforts.

UPDATED to fix the link.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"You never know where you are going to end"

We have long known, Dear Readers, that our foremost Single A Minor League political thinkers were espousing nuanced, carefully crafted ideas such as this golden oldie from the unesteemed Jonah Goldberg:

So how does all this, or the humble attempt at a history lesson of my last column, justify tearing down the Baghdad regime? Well, I've long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the "Ledeen Doctrine." I'm not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." That's at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago (Ledeen is one of the most entertaining public speakers I've ever heard, by the way).

No doubt Ladeen is extremely entertaining, though perhaps not in ways the cherubic Jonah had in mind.

That said, though, I was really quite amazed to find the nation's patron saint of realpolitik -- a man who has been known to advise presidents -- sharing a similiar sentiment during the run-up to Iraq.

Anyone seeking to understand what has become the central conundrum of the Iraq war—how it is that so many highly accomplished, experienced, and intelligent officials came together to make such monumental, consequential, and, above all, obvious mistakes, mistakes that much of the government knew very well at the time were mistakes—must see beyond what seems to be a simple rhetoric of self-justification and follow it where it leads: toward the War of Imagination that senior officials decided to fight in the spring and summer of 2002 and to whose image they clung long after reality had taken a sharply separate turn. In that War of Imagination victory was to be decisive, overwhelming, evincing a terrible power—enough to wipe out the disgrace of September 11 and remake the threatening world. In State of Denial, Woodward recounts how Michael Gerson, at the time Bush's chief speechwriter, asked Henry Kissinger why he had supported the Iraq war:
"Because Afghanistan wasn't enough," Kissinger answered. In the conflict with radical Islam, he said, they want to humiliate us. "And we need to humiliate them." The American response to 9/11 had essentially to be more than proportionate—on a larger scale than simply invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban. Something else was essential. The Iraq war was essential to send a larger message, "in order to make a point that we're not going to live in this world that they want for us."

In other words, throw a crappy country with a population of Muslims against a wall to show the wogs who's boss.

How's that working out, Henry?

The above quote comes from a remarkable article in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, "Iraq: The War of the Imagination," by Mark Danner (and I've forgotten who pointed me in its direction. so apologies). In it, Danner tries to capture how we came to find ourselves in one of the most fucked up and un-endable conflicts since Vietnam despite the obvious and predictable problems many both in and outside of the government saw and remarked on well in advance of that first night of Shock and Awe. And the article comes at an important time, when the same punditocracy who cheer-led the imminent invasion now try to convey a different motivation for their support than they were peddling at the time. Which isn't hard for them to now do, since the rationale for their war support was as ideologically impure then as it is now. As Danner writes,

Gerson, of course, was author of what would come to be called the Bush Doctrine, a neoconservative paean to democracy that maintains that "the realistic interests of America would now be served by fidelity to American ideals, especially democracy." Others in the administration, however, plainly did "connect" with Kissinger's stark realism: Donald Rumsfeld, for example, who Ron Suskind depicts, in The One Percent Doctrine, struggling with other officials in spring 2002 to cope with various terrifying warnings of impending attacks on the United States:

All these reports helped fuel Rumsfeld's sense of futility as to America's ability to stop the spread of destructive weapons and keep them from terrorists. That futility was the fuel that drove the plans to invade Iraq... as soon as possible.
Cheney's ideas about how "our reaction" would shape behavior— whatever the evidence showed—were expressed in an off-the-record meeting Rumsfeld had with NATO defense chiefs in Brussels on June 6. According to an outline for his speech, the secretary told those assembled that "absolute proof cannot be a precondition for action."
The primary impetus for invading Iraq, according to those attending NSC briefings on the Gulf in this period, was to make an example of Hussein, to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States.

In the great, multicolored braid of reasons and justifications leading to the Iraq war one might call this "the realist strand," and though the shape of the reasoning might seem to Gerson to stand as far from "democracy building" and "ending tyranny" as "power politics" does from "idealism," the distance is wholly illusory, dependent on an ideological clarity that was never present. In fact, the two chains of reasoning looped and intersected, leading inexorably to a common desire for a particular action—confronting Saddam Hussein and Iraq—that had been the subject of the administration's first National Security Council meeting, in January 2001, and that had been pushed to the fore again by Defense Department officials in the first "war cabinet" meeting after the September 11 attacks.


It bears noticing that Kennan himself, having predicted that we will never know where we are going to end in Iraq, lived to see disproved, before his death at the age of 101 last March, what even he, no innocent, had taken as a given: that "you know where you begin." For as the war's presumed ending—constructed from carefully crafted images of triumph, of dictators' statues cast down and presidents striding forcefully across aircraft carrier decks—has flickered and vanished, receding into the just-out-of-grasp future ("a decision for the next president," the pre-election President Bush had said), the war's beginning has likewise melted away, the original rationale obscured in a darkening welter of shifting intelligence, ideological controversy, and conflicting claims, all of it hemmed in now on all sides by the mounting dead.

Danner also provides us with a telling document -- one of the most ideologically-stripped down rationales for the war ever developed by a White House engorged on its own sense of power and righteousness,

...the National Security Presidential Directive entitled "Iraq: Goals, Objectives and Strategy," the top-secret statement of American purpose intended to guide all the departments and agencies of the government, signed by President George W. Bush on August 29, 2002:
US goal: Free Iraq in order to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and associated programs, to prevent Iraq from breaking out of containment and becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond.
End Iraqi threats to its neighbors, to stop the Iraqi government's tyrannizing of its own population, to cut Iraqi links to and sponsorship of international terrorism, to maintain Iraq's unity and territorial integrity. And liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny, and assist them in creating a society based on moderation, pluralism and democracy....
Objectives: To conduct policy in a fashion that minimizes the chance of a WMD attack against the United States, US field forces, our allies and friends. To minimize the danger of regional instabilities. To deter Iran and Syria from helping Iraq. And to minimize disruption in international oil markets.

Hmm. Let's see how we've done on those three clear objectives. No WMD found. Violence spiralling out of countrol, threatening the rest of the region while leaving Iraq's citizens afraid to leave their homes. And a newly strengthened Syria and Iran encouraged to play their hand in Iraq.

Mission accomplished.

Anyway, read the entire article. It's a riveting story of an intentionally dysfunctional White House, an incurious yet rigid president, a maniacal VP, a self-absorbed Def. Sec., and the assorted bunglars they put in positions of semi-authority, while all the while an "interagency" looking on in horror.

Irresistible as Rumsfeld is, however, the story of the Iraq war disaster springs less from his brow than from that of an inexperienced and rigidly self-assured president who managed to fashion, with the help of a powerful vice-president, a strikingly disfigured process of governing. Woodward, much more interested in character and personal rivalry than government bureaus and hierarchies, refers to this process broadly as "the interagency," as in "Rice said the interagency was broken." He means the governing apparatus set up by the National Security Act of 1947, which gathered the government's major security officials— secretaries of state, defense, and treasury, attorney general, director of national intelligence, among others— into the National Security Council, and gave to the president a special assistant for national security affairs (commonly known as the national security adviser) and a staff to manage, coordinate, and control it. Through the national security council and the "deputies committee" and other subsidiary bodies linking the various government departments at lower levels, information and policy guidance are supposed to work their way up from bureaucracy to president, and his decisions to work their way down. Ron Suskind, who has been closely studying the inner workings of the Bush administration since his revealing piece about Karl Rove and John Dilulio in 2003 and his book on Paul O'Neill the following year,[15] observes that "the interagency" not only serves to convey information and decisions but also is intended to perform a more basic function:

Sober due diligence, with an eye for the way previous administrations have thought through a standard array of challenges facing the United States, creates, in fact, a kind of check on executive power and prerogative.

This is precisely what the President didn't want, particularly after September 11; deeply distrustful of the bureaucracy, desirous of quick, decisive action, impatient with bureaucrats and policy intellectuals, the President wanted to act. Suskind writes:

For George W. Bush, there had been an evolution on such matters —from the early, pre-9/11 President, who had little grasp of foreign affairs and made few major decisions in that realm; to the post-9/11 President, who met America's foreign challenges with decisiveness born of a brand of preternatural, faith-based, self-generated certainty. The policy process, in fact, never changed much. Issues argued, often vociferously, at the level of deputies and principals rarely seemed to go upstream in their fullest form to the President's desk; and, if they did, it was often after Bush seemed to have already made up his mind based on what was so often cited as his "instinct" or "gut."
Oh yeah, there's that "gut" thing, again.

Anyway, I could quote with endless fascination the summary of those surreal days in the run-up to the war and the Keystone Kops approach to occupation that has been the hallmark of this utter catastrophe, but that would be cheating you out of all the neck muscle exercise that constant shaking of the head affords as you read the review. But I will leave you with these facts, culled from the article's notes, which best describe each new Friedman Unit:

Here are the number of daily attacks on US forces at each of the Iraq war's purported "turning points":
July 2003: Bremer Appoints Iraqi Governing Council; sixteen attacks per day.
December 2003: Saddam Hussein captured; nineteen attacks per day.
June 2004: Handover of sovereignty to Iraqis; forty-five attacks per day.
January 2005: Elections for Transitional Government; sixty-one attacks per day.
June 2006: Death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; ninety attacks per day.

See Anthony Cordesman, Iraqi Force Development: Summer 2006 Update(CSIS, 2006), p. 7.

Meanwhile, what "multinational force?"

Still delusional

When the last American helicopter leaves Baghdad, will Bush still be claiming that al Qaeda is behind the violence in Iraq?

"No question it's tough, no question about it," Bush said at a news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. "There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented in my opinion because of these attacks by al-Qaida, causing people to seek reprisal."
Meanwhile, back in Washington an oddly familiar refrain is being heard. Or rather, it's being promoted, primarily through anonymous sources, via the front page of The New York Times.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 — A senior American intelligence official said Monday that the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah had been training members of the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by Moktada al-Sadr.

The official said that 1,000 to 2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias had been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon. A small number of Hezbollah operatives have also visited Iraq to help with training, the official said.

Iran has facilitated the link between Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Iraq, the official said. Syrian officials have also cooperated, though there is debate about whether it has the blessing of the senior leaders in Syria.

The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity under rules set by his agency, and discussed Iran’s role in response to questions from a reporter.


The claim about Hezbollah’s role in training Shiite militias could strengthen the hand of those in the Bush administration who oppose a major new diplomatic involvement with Iran.

The new American account is consistent with a claim made in Iraq this summer by a mid-level Mahdi commander, who said his militia had sent 300 fighters to Lebanon, ostensibly to fight alongside Hezbollah. “They are the best-trained fighters in the Mahdi Army,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

I don't really doubt that Iran is fully engaged in efforts to keep the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, but if I didn't know any better, I'd suspect someone in the administration is trying to head of the Iraq Study Group recommendations at the pass.

And while I have a lot of admiration for the reporting of Dexter Filkins and Michael Gordon, I wonder why, after paragraph after paragraph of ominous fulminating by administration officials speaking "on condition of anonymity" a lone dissenting voice doesn't appear until midway through the story, and well off the front page.

Some Middle East experts were skeptical about the assessment of Hezbollah’s training role.

“That sound to me a little bit strained,” said Flynt Leverett, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a Middle East expert formerly on the National Security Council staff. “I have a hard time thinking it is a really significant piece of what we are seeing play out on the ground with the various Shiite militia forces.”

But other specialists found the assessment plausible. “I think it is plausible because Hezbollah is the best in the business, and it enhances their position with Iran, Syria and Iraq,” said Judith Kipper, of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Whatever the case, though, I wish someone would tell preznit what is -- and what is not -- going on in Iraq.

No guts

It's a beautiful thing.

Gut instinct won't get the job done for liberals, either. Your mileage will vary depending on the issue, but I'd argue, for example, that good analysis supports a fairly extreme view on Social Security (just leave it alone for now) but a centrist position on trade. The populist impulse on trade points us in the right direction, but a Lou Dobbsian solution (stop making trade deals, shut down the border) is nuts. Trade really does improve the economy after all, and the right answer for its ill effects on the working class is going to be found by agreeing on the populist goal and then letting the technocrats figure out smart policies to get us there. That's technocratic populism (an apparent oxymoron that confused a bunch of you when I first used it a couple of weeks ago).

The problem is not that smart policies aren't out there, the problem is that we've never built up the political will to insist that they be implemented. So let's work on that. And let's judge those policies on their merits. If a lefty solution works, that's great. But sometimes it doesn't, and if a wonky centrist solution works better, then that's what we should rally around. Whatever else we do, let's be sure to keep our eyes firmly planted in reality. The era of gut instinct is, hopefully, drawing mercifully to a close.

Digby reads further omens and warnings about trusting the Democratic leaderships' guts.

The war on penguins

Pathetic. I guess their perception that they've won "The War on Christmas" has freed them up to attack the dark environmental message of a bunch of tapdancing birds.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do."

Sure, sure, maybe Roy did write the quintessential post about Altman's passing in all the blogospher, but Lindsay Lohan says what all of us have been thinking, but unable to put into just the right words.

"When we shouldn't..... '

"Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourselves' (12st book) -everytime there's a triumph in the world a million souls hafta be trampled on.-altman Its true. But treasure each triumph as they come.


Casino Royale

Madame Cura and I saw the new James Bond flick this weekend and found it entertaining and diverting, and Daniel Craig is a refreshing change from the self-parodies represented by the last two Bondses.

But the plot, while typically thin, was less than inspiring. No longer does Bonds aspire to save the U.S. space mission from SPECTRE; or the gold in Ft. Knox from Goldfinger; to end the world's energy crisis; or even to maintain East/West detente. No, all the mayhem that marks the start of Casino Royale, we learn, is intended to protect an airline's stock price.

Caterina Murino's stock, on the other hand, will never fall.

Militias fill the void

With every turn our options grow narrower and narrower.

For U.S. officials, dismantling the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias that have fomented sectarian strife in Iraq is a cornerstone of their calculus to stabilize Iraq and bring U.S. troops home. They view it as a crucial step toward isolating the Sunni Arab insurgency and reconciling the nation.

But the attacks Thursday illustrated the immense difficulties involved in tackling the Mahdi Army, the country's largest and most violent militia, in today 's Iraq. The militiamen were heroes that day, Sadr City residents said in interviews. They did everything that Iraq's fragile unity government did not, or could not, do. In the days since, their actions have boosted Sadr's popularity and emboldened him.

"The Mahdi Army are the people who helped us after the explosion," said Shihab Ahmed, 24, a salesman who was wounded by flying shrapnel. "They saved us."

Against this backdrop, President Bush is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday in Amman, Jordan. U.S. officials have grown increasingly impatient with Maliki for his inability, or lack of will, to confront the Mahdi Army and other militias, who operate unchallenged. Some U.S. lawmakers on Sunday television talk shows called for Sadr's arrest and for Bush to urge Maliki to take stronger measures against the militias.

Those lawmakers are, in a word, delusional. At this point, disarming the Sadr's militia would be impossible without a major battle that would likely destroy Sadre City. And any attempt to arrest "the Mookster" would lead to the complete collapse of Maliki's government.

The U.S. military, Halliburton, KBR, and certainly not the Iraqi "government" are not remotely capable of providing even basic services in many parts of the country. That these militias are going to fill that void is natural. And every time they do so, they strengthen their appeal to their neighbors and further weaken the already untenable position of the occupying force.

Mao famously wrote that guerrilla fighters are like fish swimming among the peasants. Take away the water and the fish will die.

There's no shortage of water in Iraq right now.
Jimi Hendrix ~ All Along the Watchtower

Jimi would have been 64 years old today.

Actually listening to the Straight Talk Express

Oh. My. God. You mean to tell me that John McCain has, ya know, actual views on important topics? Who knew?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Disraeli Gears

You get the feeling the New York Times has endorsed the Iraqi Study Group recommendations...even before they've been released. They sure are polishing Jim Baker's apple.

The last time he dominated the news was in 2000, in Florida, when Mr. Baker — a former secretary of state who has been a friend and a tennis partner of the first President Bush since the current president was 13 years old — led the legal team that delivered the White House to its current occupant. That was Mr. Baker in partisan mode, cementing his reputation as Bush family confidant and Republican fix-it man.

Now, at 76, Mr. Baker is in high diplomat mode, on a mission, friends and supporters say, to aid his country and his president — and, while he is at it, seal his legacy in the realm of statesmen, a sphere he cares about far more than politics.

“I think he’d like to be remembered as a 21st-century Disraeli,” said Leon Panetta, a Democratic member of the group, referring to the 19th-century British statesman and prime minister. “I think deep down he is someone who believes that his diplomatic career, in many ways, helped change the world.”


Mr. Baker is no stranger to world affairs; he presided over the end of the cold war, the 1991 invasion of Iraq (arguing famously against ousting Saddam Hussein) and was an aggressive dealmaker in the Middle East. He has always been “the quintessential pragmatist,” in Mr. Panetta’s words, a master at intertwining politics with diplomacy, at consulting everyone in the beginning so no one feels left out in the end.

That has been his modus operandi at the commission, where he has functioned almost as a shadow secretary of state, using his vast personal Rolodex to reach out to international figures the Bush administration has shunned — while testing the political waters at home.

By all accounts, Mr. Baker relishes his encore as elder statesmen.

“Look, he was certainly a very effective politician, a wise political strategist,” said Donald L. Evans, a close friend of Mr. Baker’s who served as commerce secretary in President Bush’s first term. “But that was a means to an end. He’s playing, I think, the role that he should be playing at this moment in life — the distinguished statesman that is there for leaders to go to, and listen to.”

Pragmatist, alright.

When I traveled with Mr. Baker as a member of the State Department press corps, it was evident that he was a good secretary of state, but far from perfect. Like his boss and best friend, President George H. W. Bush, Mr. Baker lacked the vision thing. He failed to foresee the murderous passions unleashed by Yugoslavia's breakup -- and then declared that the United States did ''not have a dog in that fight'' -- or that oil wealth and autocrats couldn't forever contain the anger roiling the Middle East.

But Disraeli?

Long-term contract

"America's Finest News Source:"

CNN Renews This Week At War For Next Eight Seasons

November 22, 2006 | Issue 42•47

ATLANTA—CNN officials announced that they will be carrying the popular news show This Week At War through the 2014 season. "We're confident that we'll have at least eight full seasons worth of material for this property," said CNN President Jonathan Klein during the dedication of the new 11-story TWAW news headquarters in Kuwait City. "And believe me, we're going to be going in some surprising new directions. A premise like this can go on for a generation." In addition to TWAW's extended renewal, CNN is retooling existing news shows to give them a more martial focus, most notably The Situation And War Room, and Lou Dobbs Tonight In The Middle Of A Pitched Street Battle Between Sunni And Shiite Extremists.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Anita O'Day

''I tried everything,'' she once said. ''Curiosity will make you go your own way.''

Not exactly turkey day

What, no special delivery of a "display turkey" by preznit yesterday?

Gerald M. Boyd

Dead at 56.

In hindsight, the Jayson Blair "scandal," which led to Boyd's resignation, seems petty. His resignation -- as well as his boss's, Howell Raines -- didn't prevent Judith Miller from fashioning herself the Indiana Jones of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie

The Times can't find enough ways to cover Pelosi's "blunder"

I know it's Thanksgiving and I should be thinking only good thoughts while sitting in the bosom of Madam Cura's family, but like the cranky ol' uncle I am, I can't keep my ire over media inanity to myself. Let the dinner table erupt!

Not content to beat the Pelosi/Murtha leadership loss into the ground, with endless reports on ther failure of Pelosi's first "leadership test" -- a test, according to many in the press, that all of America watched intently -- the Times looks for more angles in which to cover this meaningless and mundane story. Today's angle appears in the "Style" section. Yes, that's the Time's weekly fashion page.

So, You Messed Up. Deal With It. Now.

NANCY PELOSI, soon to become the speaker of the House of Representatives, did something recently that plenty of working Americans have done: she made a blunder on the job.

After pushing for an ally, John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, to be made majority leader, despite questions about his ethics, she was rebuffed by fellow Democrats last week, who elected her longtime rival Steny Hoyer of Maryland instead.

Even though Ms. Pelosi will soon be one of the country’s most powerful leaders, and the politics of her workplace are on a national scale, her predicament has parallels to the lives of everyday executives who fumble a big opportunity. But when anyone, be it a public figure or a private citizen, suffers a setback in the workplace, can he or she ever really recover?

Does it ever end. No.

Which is why Party leaders such as Pelosi can't let this pass. They need to stop giving the impression with their silence that they agree with the press's assessment that, yes, the party is a mess of disunity, power struggles, and animosity, while their opponents are obviously a serenely unified bunch. A unified bunch that resurrected our favorite living Dixiecrat, electing him by one vote to Minority Whip (and thank you, Jon Stewart, for pointing out the exquisite irony in that).

Members of the so-called (by the mouth breathers on radio...and the president) "Democrat" Party need to start combatting this bullshit. And fast.

Drama in New York

Will the balloons fly? 'Cause it's cold and wet in New York this morning, and this just ain't doing it for me:

The poor weather and heightened oversight could ground some or all of the 13 big balloons — 1 fewer than last year — that are set to fly today, starting at 9 a.m. In the best case, they could be flown so low as to practically be floats. In the worst case, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg warned, the hapless helium-filled creatures could be pulled onto side streets and summarily deflated.

“First and foremost, we will make sure that we worry about safety before anything else,” Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, “We’re very well prepared to guard against any eventuality, as far as the balloons are concerned.”

The mayor said that the parade has attractions beyond the giant balloons, including 35 other balloons and a float carrying Barry Manilow, the singer.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving eve pie blogging

While Fafblog remains shuttered, it falls to The Vega to continue this national tradition.

Tomorrow is our national day of pie. Pecan. Pumpkin. Apple.

And pie in the sky.

Long-haired preachers come out every night
To tell you what's wrong and what's right
But when asked about something to eat
They will answer in voices so sweet

You will eat bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die -- that's a lie.

And the starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray.
'Til they get your all coin on the drum,
Then they'll tell you when you're on the bum.

You're going to eat bye and bye, poor boy,
In that glorious land above the sky, way up high.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die -- dirty lie.
Holy rollers and jumpers come out,
And they holler , they jump, lord they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all your troubles today.

And you will eat bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

If you heart for children and wife,
Try to get something good from this life.
You're a sinner and a bad man they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

You will eat bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

Working men of all countries unite,
Side by side for freedom we will fight.
When this world and its wealth we have gained,
To the grafters we will sing this refrain:

You will eat bye and bye,
When you've learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood it'll do you good,
You will eat in that sweet bye and bye.

Yes, You will eat bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die -- that's a lie.

Source: Cisco Houston. The folkways years, 1944-1961. Smithsonian Folkways FA40059.


H/T Bob Dylan.
Woody Guthrie

The bull shit Democrats unite

Why hadn't I thought of this? They're perfect together: ideologues who no longer have a coherent ideology; squishy, self-described "centrists;" a consistent, "why can't we just get along" attitude towards Republicans. I'd call them self-loathing Democrats except for the fact that both have such an otherwise high opinion of themselves.

And, best of all, mediocrities with an annoying tendency to refer to themselves in the third person. Joementum and "The Moose." Good God, our political discourse, already dragging it's knuckles, just stooped lower.


Where do they find these guys?

Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times put Jeter sixth, behind Morneau, Dye, Santana, Thomas and Ortiz.

“I thought the guys in front of him were more important to their teams,” Cowley said. “Jeter is like a great lineman on a great offensive line. If the guard goes down, are they still going to be able to run the ball? Yes.

“Are they a playoff team without Jeter? Yes. I don’t think Derek Jeter single-handedly, with those numbers, carried them to where they finished. I think they still could have found a way.”

A great lineman? I don't know what team this guy was watching, but, his gaudy numbers aside, Jeter was the core on a team that had Melky Cabrera in left and Bernie Williams in right. And Alex Rodriguez going through his worst season of his career. Not to mention that Jeter was the Gold Glove shortstop. Morneau's a power hitting first baseman, above average, but not irreplaceably so. If they had given it to Mauer (the best hitting AL catcher) or Santana (the best pitcher in baseball), ok, but this was a stupid vote.

"I am shocked because of the position he plays and the guys we had injured," said Bowa, who like a lot of people appreciates Jeter after watching him every day instead of just once in a while. "We lost two guys [Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui] and Jeter picked up the slack.

"Morneau had a great year, no question. But the way Jeter played with two corner outfielders out ... He still drove in runs from the second spot and he did it all."

Had Matsui and Sheffield stayed healthy and the Yankees cruised to the AL East title, Bowa may have understood. "People could have said, 'Well they should have done that,' " Bowa said. "But an MVP guy is the kind of guy you ask yourself: Can they win without him? He was certainly that guy for us this year. That's why I am shocked."

Teammate Johnny Damon was too.

"It's surprising," Damon told The Post. "Justin Morneau had a great year, but Derek definitely deserves it and Derek deserves it every year. Derek picked me up a lot this year, especially those five games in Boston where he got big hits and allowed us to blow out the division. It stinks, it was his best year to make a case for himself."

Steve Goldman ponders the vote, takes a puff from his pipe, puts his index finger to his lip in contemplation, and calmly writes,

Emphasis his.

He continues,

Mauer's season was historic and unique. No American League catcher was within a country mile of him. Jorge Posada had an excellent season and was perhaps 30 or 40 percent less productive. Overall, major league catchers batted .268/.328/.413. Mauer hit 347/.429/.507.

Jeter's season is also in the historic ballpark. Few shortstops, including Jeter himself, have hit as well as he did in 2006. The only other year in his inventory that's as good was 1999. Major league shortstops batted .274/.330/.408 to Jeter's .343/.417/.483. Big difference. Jeter's offensive 1999 was probably in the top 10 shortstop seasons ever. The writers missed it. His 2006 wasn't nearly as good — it merely ranks in the top 30 or 40. That's where Mauer's season ranks in the history of catching as well. Without being rigidly scientific about it, Morneau's 2006 offensive season is probably about the 200th best in the history of first basemen.

The shocking thing here isn't that Jeter lost — the writers make mistakes almost every year. It's that the guy they selected wasn't even the best player on his own team. That takes a special degree of ignorance.

Joe Cowley, I think he's looking at you.

It's all about the Iraqi people

Via Atrios, Robert Kaplan now says his impetus for leading the cheers for war in Iraq was humanitarian.

Today, this wise foreign policy analyst has an Op-Ed in The Washington Post in which he argues that the failure of the war he wanted so badly in Iraq won't fundamentally change U.S. foreign policy, but instead will lead merely to "an adjustment, not a flip-flop." Kaplan specifically claims that preemptive war on Iraq was not at all a deviation from our prior foreign policy because it was nothing more than an extension of our post-Cold War "idealistic" military interventions -- devoted towards the spreading of Good in the world -- which began with the Persian Gulf War, continued with our benevolent intervention in Yugoslavia, and merely culminated with our desire to do Good by overthrowing Saddam:

To be sure, the recent evidence that our democratic system cannot be violently exported will temper our Wilsonian principles, but it will not bury them. . . . Iraq will merely close a post-Cold War chapter in American foreign policy, one that began with the Persian Gulf War -- and with Bosnia. After the collapse of communism in 1989, idealism, the export of democracy and humanitarian interventionism were all the rage among journalists and intellectuals -- much as realism, restraint and benign dictatorship are now. . . .

The Balkan interventions, because they paid strategic dividends, appeared to justify the idealistic missionary approach to foreign policy. . . . Neoconservatives and others who had supported our actions in Bosnia and Kosovo then carried the spirit of this policy to its limits in Iraq.

What makes Kaplan's revisionism all the more reprehensible is that it distorts not only the administration's justification for the Iraq invasion but also Kaplan's own rationale in favor of it. In a lengthy Atlantic Monthly article in November, 2002, devoted to all the great benefits we would reap from invading Iraq, Kaplan does not at all rely upon the magnanimous idealism that he now dishonestly claims animated support for the war. Again, the opposite is true.

In that war-advocating article, Kaplan argued that we have to move our military bases out of Saudi Arabia and an invasion of Iraq would allow "the relocation of our bases to Iraq." And Kaplan expressly wanted to replace Saddam with a pro-U.S. dictatorship which may -- or may not -- some day in the distant future foster democracy: "Our goal in Iraq should be a transitional secular dictatorship that unites the merchant classes across sectarian lines and may in time, after the rebuilding of institutions and the economy, lead to a democratic alternative."

Most of all, Kaplan -- like all neocons who are pathologically obsessed with matters of dominance and submission -- justified the war based on the "need" to show those Muslims that we are the mighty and powerful ones, just like we did when we shot down an Iranian civilian passenger jet in the 1980s and showed Iran who the boss is:

Keep in mind that the Middle East is a laboratory of pure power politics. For example, nothing impressed the Iranians so much as our accidental shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988, which they believed was not an accident. Iran's subsequent cease-fire with Iraq was partly the result of that belief. Our dismantling the Iraqi regime would concentrate the minds of Iran's leaders as little else could.

That was Kaplan and the neocons' vision for Iraq -- permanent military bases, the installation of a pro-U.S. secular dictator (gee, who might he have had in mind?), and a display of raw power to keep the Arabs and Persians in line ("concentrate their minds"), just like that awesome occasion when we shot down their passenger plane (the invasion would also give us "a position of newfound strength" and thus President Bush, in his second term, could -- and, Kaplan assured us, would --"pressure the Israelis into a staged withdrawal from the occupied territories"). And all of that was justified by a militaristic new theory that the U.S. could invade whatever countries it wanted to invade based upon the suspicion that the country might some day pose a threat to the U.S.
In any case, the humanitarian mission continues apace.

It's a burden

Governing, that is, for conservatives. The Corner comes clean.

The Reason Why Many Republicans Aren't Crying This Week [Jonathan Martin]
Because the burden — and it is a burden — of governing is now on Speaker Pelosi's shoulders.

She made clear in her photo-op with incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer yesterday that she wants to come out of the gates with a package of legislation that will draw bipartisan support. But her job is going to be tougher if she has to contend with the constant overhang of such stories. The GOP coalition, it needs not be said in this venue, is fractious. Now, after 12 years enjoying the unity that being without power uniquely allows, Democrats must now try to herd their famously stubborn cats in the same direction.
Posted at 8:48 AM
Um, Jonathan, unlike your political allies, I think Pelosi's up for the job.

Assassinations and conspiracies

Lebanese and Syrian politics are way, way out of my area of expertise (usually confined to snarky analysis of Candy Crowley's choice of accessories), but the assassination this week of a scion of the Phalange party strikes me as very oddly timed.

The killing of Mr. Gemayel, the scion of a prominent Maronite Christian family, inflamed tensions between the anti-Syria coalition trying to hold its government together and the Syrian-allied opposition, led by Hezbollah, an Iranian-supported Shiite group. Hezbollah has threatened street protests if it is not given more power.

Lebanese radio reported that shots were also fired Tuesday into the Beirut office of Michel Pharaon, a Greek Catholic member of the ruling coalition and minister for parliamentary affairs.

Lebanon’s prime minister, Fouad Siniora, vowed in a televised speech on Tuesday that his government would hold firm. “I pledge to you that your blood will not go in vain,” Mr. Siniora said. “We will not let the murderers control the fate of Lebanon and the future of its children.”

In truth, his government may already be on life support. Last week, six pro-Syria ministers aligned with Hezbollah resigned after a failed effort to gain greater control over the government. A seventh minister had resigned earlier in an unrelated conflict.

With Mr. Gemayel’s death, there may now be too few ministers to pass any measures, and it appears that if the government were to lose one more minister it would automatically collapse.

The prime minister’s political allies in the so-called March 14 coalition — a pro-Western group of Sunni Muslims, Druse and Christians — blamed Syria for the killing.

“We believe the hand of Syria is all over the place,” Saad Hariri, the son of the assassinated former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, said on Tuesday, shortly after Mr. Gemayel was pronounced dead.

Today, the Druse leader, Walid Jumblatt, said he expected more bloodshed.

“It seems the Syrian regime will continue with the assassinations,” he said at a news conference, according to a report by Reuters. “I expect more assassinations but no matter what they do, we are here and we will be victorious.”

Officials in Damascus and Syria’s allies in Lebanon condemned the killing.

Mr. Gemayel, the industry minister, was the fifth anti-Syria figure to be killed since Mr. Hariri’s assassination rocked Lebanon in February 2005.

The killing reverberated far beyond Lebanon. Condemnations poured in from Britain, Germany, Italy, France, the European Union, Jordan, Egypt and the United States.

President Bush suggested in a statement that the assassination was part of a plan by Syria, Iran and its allies to “foment instability and violence” in Lebanon.

The United States is heavily invested in the survival of Mr. Siniora’s government, which has offered Washington a chance — however faded — to thwart the spread of Iranian influence in the region.

The killing also is likely to complicate any American effort to enlist Syria’s help to stabilize Iraq. The United States withdrew its ambassador from Damascus after Mr. Hariri was assassinated nearly two years ago and suspicion fell heavily on Syria. Now the White House is under pressure domestically and abroad to engage with Syria and Iran to quell the violence in Iraq.

But the suspicion that Syria is behind the efforts to destabilize Lebanon will make it nearly impossible for Washington to send a full ambassador back to Damascus without appearing to have abandoned the Siniora government.

At the same time, any allegation of Syria’s involvement is likely to antagonize Syrian officials — and make them even more reluctant to back off of a military, political and economic alliance with Iran.

For a time, after the initial occupation of Iraq and the assassination of Mr. Hariri, Syria’s ruling elite felt threatened, vulnerable and isolated. Syria was humiliated when it was forced, after the Hariri killing, to withdraw its military forces from Lebanon.

But in recent days, Syria has found its strategic stature in the Middle East bolstered by the surge of violence in Iraq, and the suggestion that Washington might soon ask for its help. While it has denied any role in any of the Lebanon violence, it has not denied its desire to reinsert itself as the primary force in Lebanon.

Syria was on the verge of having enormous leverage in its dealings with the United States. It seemed likely that the Bush administration would have to get over its "loathing" of Bashir al-Assad and deal with his government over the security situation in Iraq. This seems timed specifically to make sure such talks won't be happening any time soon. Whether it's "rogues" within his government or some other actor I can't hazard a guess, but it strikes me just as likely to undermine his government as it is undermining Lebanese security.

Well, at least they're consistent

I thought the lame duck Congress might use their last remaining weeks in power to try to ram through some of their unpopular agenda, but no, they just don't give a shit. It's all about politics and perception to the GOP.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bob Dylan and His Band, New York City Center, 11.20.06

Last night marked the last show of Dylan's 2006 tour, neverending though it is. It was a fitting venue (I'm getting finicky about that, no Nassau Coliseums for me anymore), one of the most beautiful old theaters in New York City. Not a bad seat in the house nor an acoustical dead spot. Madame Cura and I were in the top "Gallery," but felt like if we leaned over too far we'd fall on top of him.

Dylan and his band put on a swinging show to close out the year. He sang "It's alright, Ma" like he wrote it the night before last. Spine. Chills. And he looked like he was having fun. I hope I look that good in Cowboy Suit Sequins when I'm 60-whatever.

Enjoy the winter in Minnesota or Hawaii or whatever Indian-named state you choose, Bob Dylan. Hope to see you again next year.

I'm running out of "other hands," as in "on the"

While it is certainly true that the "Domino Theory" didn't come to pass when we finally left Saigon, our departure did have consequences -- for the South Vietnamese. To ignore the consequences of our actions on the Iraqi people by either our staying or our going -- or rather, arguing that either of those actions is for the benefit of the Iraqi people -- is probably the most disgusting aspect of our current political discourse. George Packer throws some cold water on realism, whatever it's political stripe.

It is true that the presence of American troops is a source of great tension and violence in Iraq, and that overwhelming numbers of Iraqis want them to leave. But it is also true that wherever American troop levels have been reduced—in Falluja and Mosul in 2004, in Tal Afar in 2005, in Baghdad in 2006—security has deteriorated. In the absence of adequate and impartial Iraqi forces, Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias have filled the power vacuum with a reign of terror. An American withdrawal could produce the same result on a vast scale. That is why so many Iraqis, after expressing their ardent desire to see the last foreign troops leave their country, quickly add, “But not until they clean up the mess they made.” And it is why a public-service announcement scrolling across the bottom of the screen during a recent broadcast on an Iraqi network said, “The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians not comply with the orders of the Army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.”

The argument that Iraq would be better off on its own is a self-serving illusion that seems to offer Americans a win-win solution to a lose-lose problem. Like so much about this war, it has more to do with politics here than reality there. Such wishful thinking (reminiscent of the sweets-and-flowers variety that preceded the war) would have pernicious consequences, as the United States fails to anticipate one disaster after another in the wake of its departure: ethnic cleansing on a large scale, refugees pouring across Iraq’s borders, incursions by neighboring armies, and the slaughter of Iraqis who had joined the American project.

With the Democrats about to take over Congress, the Iraq Study Group preparing to release its report, a team of military officers drafting new strategies at the Pentagon, and Rumsfeld heading into an ignominious retirement, the war has reached a moment of reckoning in Washington. Though it may well be too late, politically a new Iraq policy is finally possible. It should use every ounce of America’s vanishing leverage to get the Iraqi factions, including insurgent and militia leaders and their foreign backers, to sit together in a room, with all the vexing issues of political power and economic resources before them. The U.S. government should announce that decisions about troop levels, including withdrawal, would depend on, not precede, the success or failure of the effort. An official involved with the Democratic congressional leadership said last week that political compromise and a gradual lessening of violence could allow the U.S. to reduce its numbers over the next eighteen months to thirty thousand troops, with other countries, including Muslim ones, convinced that it’s in their interest to fill the gap with peacekeepers. If America is already heading for the exit, no one will want to have anything to do with Iraq except to pick at its carcass.

Yes, but.

Packer certainly knows the country better than I do, as well as the actors involved. But in many ways our "vanishing leverage" has already vanished. "Hope" is our strategy. Hope that if we just hold on for two or three more Friedman Units then something -- anything -- good will occur and will change the path this "country" is on. Similiarly, I'm baffled how "Muslim countries" will bring stability to a country in the midst of a civil war between...Muslims. Back in my younger days we didn't call such occupations "stability," we called them "proxy wars."

And, of course, it's all wishing for Ponies because there's this guy:

Ultimately, it’s up to the President. The man who still holds that office may not want a new policy.

Packer, surprisingly, gives the idiot too much credit. Our attention-deficited president never had an old policy, so contemplating a new one probably isn't something he'll be doing any time soon.


Yes, it's outrageous that Derek Jeter is robbed of his MVP award this year and Blogger chooses this afternoon to crash and burn.

Geez, even Twins fans will admit (Scott, fix your time codes) that Morneau wasn't even the best player on his own team.

RBIs man, RBIs. The morons who vote on these awards -- baseball men, all, I'm sure -- don't seem to make the mental leap that RBIs are a stat of opportunity; runners have to have to get on base ahead of them in order for them to get an RBI.

.321 Avg. (7th in AL)
.375 On-base percentage
.559 Slugging (6th)
.934 OPS (9th)
97 Runs scored
3 Stolen bases

.343 Avg. (2nd in AL)
.417 OBP (4th in AL), 42 points higher than Morneau.
.483 Slugging
.900 OPS
118 Runs scored (2nd in AL)
34 Stolen bases
A Gold Glove at Shortstop

I know this isn't a lifetime achievement award, but c'mon.

Oh, well, congratulations to Westminster BC's favorite son.

Silly arguments

Shorter Richard Cohen: I was wrong about Iraq, but it was those silly arguments opposed to invasion that made me do it.

The death of comedy

A laugh while the power was on.

For the last three years, Walid Hassan had an impossible task. He had to make war-weary Iraqis laugh. Week after week, the comedian and broadcaster found inspiration in the turmoil and bloodletting. On his weekend television show, "Caricature," he poked fun at the poor security, the long gas lines, the electricity blackouts and the ineffective politicians.

In Hassan's world, nothing was sacred. And many Iraqis adored him. In a nation bottled up with frustration, he was their release. They would recognize him on the streets and uncork their plights. He would listen, and turn them into satire.

The predictable ending.

Among the dead was the host of a popular comedy show, Walid Hassan Jiaaz, who poked fun at post-invasion Iraqi life. He was shot dead by gunmen in western Baghdad.

UPDATED with further details.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Their Satanic Majesties Request

From the photos, it looks like Bush and Putin and the rest of the group traveled to Asia to record a response to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

The Connecticut for Lieberman party has a new chairman

I hope this fellow is successful in keeping Lieberman's self-importance, pomposity and self-regard in the spotlight for the next six long years.

According to bylaws established by Orman, anyone whose last name is Lieberman may seek the party's nomination - or any critic of the senator.

Orman seized control of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party this week after registering as its sole member and electing himself as chairman.

Orman has triggered a process that will force Lieberman and state elections officials to decide the future of a party created solely to return the senator to Washington.

"It's an interesting little wrinkle," said Michael Kozik, managing attorney for the secretary of the state's legislation and elections administration division. Orman has forwarded his intention to register with the party and keep it alive to the secretary of the state for review.

"I'm just trying to get the ball rolling so the state will say if it is a legitimate party or not," Orman said yesterday.

After losing the August primary to Ned Lamont of Greenwich, Lieberman and his supporters collected 7,500 signatures necessary for him to run as a petition candidate in the general election. He then got the support of 29 friends and relatives to establish the Connecticut for Lieberman Party - 25 people are necessary to form a new minor party.

Lieberman prevailed over Lamont, Republican Alan Schlesinger and two other minor party candidates Nov. 7 and returned to the U.S. Senate. He will caucus with Democrats but wants to labeled an "Independent Democrat."

Orman, a registered Democrat, challenged the legitimacy of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party before the Elections Enforcement Commission in late August. Orman said the party was created for one man, its members had not changed their party registration, and it lacked a platform and the required rules for nominating candidates.

In an interview at the time, Kozik said Lieberman and his supporters had followed the proper procedures. He also said a new party is not required to submit nominating rules until it wins 1 percent of the vote in its first election.

With Connecticut for Lieberman having achieved its victory earlier this month, Orman made his move. He contacted the secretary of the state, learned the new minor party had no registered members, then visited the registrar in Trumbull, where he lives, to switch from a Democrat to a Connecticut for Lieberman-ite.

Via Charles Pierce.


1, 2, 3

Centuries-old tradition of insanity

Classic "He said, she said" headline:

Intelligence Of Dolphins Cited in Fight Against Hunt
Others See Equal Weight In the Value of Tradition

The Japanese need to make up their mind -- is this a tradition or is a measure to protect fishermen. Either way it's wrong, but at least they'd be coherent.

The weird Japanese attachment to killing whales and (in the most inhumane manner possible) dolphins is bizarre. Consumption of both kinds of meat has been falling for years in Japan and both species deserve better than pet food. It seems they do it simply to show that they can.

Lies, lying liars, and O.J.

I've been amused by the outrage throughout the Fox empire over the forthcoming interview with O.J. Simpson to appear...on Fox.

But this is particularly poignant.

The affiliates’ response is the latest development in an unusual internal backlash at Fox. Bill O’Reilly, the host on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” said on Wednesday that Fox’s decision to air the program is “simply indefensible and a low point in American culture.”

Mr. O’Reilly went a step further on Friday, claiming that he would boycott the book, the interview and any companies that advertise during the program. “I’m not going to watch the Simpson show or even look at the book,” he said. “If any company sponsors the TV program, I will not buy anything that company sells — ever.”

Of course, the chief sponsor of the program would be Fox Broadcasting, which like Fox News is owned by the same News Corporation that owns ReganBooks. “For the record, Fox Broadcasting has nothing to do with the Fox News channel,” Mr. O’Reilly had said on Wednesday.
As repugnant as all of these characters are, this story is potentially a blogodacious dream, bringing together O.J. Simpson, Judith Regan, Bill O'Lielly...surely Bernie Kerik is due a cameo.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Kissinger then.

For understandable reasons, the George W. Bush administration has shunned comparisons between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War. But in his latest book, State of Denial, Bob Woodward writes that Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state--and a secret (and frequent) consultant to the current president--has made the parallel explicit to the White House.

According to Woodward, Kissinger recently gave a Bush aide a copy of a memo he wrote in 1969 arguing against troop withdrawals from Southeast Asia, an issue as salient four decades ago as it is now.

Kissinger's September 10, 1969, advice to President Nixon famously characterized withdrawals from Vietnam as "salted peanuts" to which the American people would become addicted.

Kissinger today.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who advised Bush on the Iraq war, said military victory is no longer possible and joined calls for the U.S. government to seek help from Iraq's regional neighbors_ including Iran.

"If you mean, by 'military victory,' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he said on the BBC's Sunday AM program.

Heckuva job, Henry.

What's incredible to me is that all of these wise men who have proven themselves to be so wrong about the war and the exporting of democracy at the barrel of a gun, will simply be rehabilitated and at the ready to serve as "serious men," providing intellectual foundations for Bush the next time he decides that imposed "freedom" will ensure our access to plentiful reserves of oil. And once again controlling the narrative as they did in 2002 and 2003.

Divided attention

Frank Rich gets it (Time$elect).

ELECTIONS may come and go, but Washington remains incorrigible. Not even voters delivering a clear message can topple the town’s conventional wisdom once it has been set in the stone of punditry.

Right now the capital is entranced by a fictional story line about the Democrats. As this narrative goes, the party’s sweep of Congress was more or less an accident. The victory had little to do with the Democrats’ actual beliefs and was instead solely the result of President Bush’s unpopularity and a cunning backroom stunt by the campaign Machiavellis, Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel, to enlist a smattering of “conservative” candidates to run in red states. In this retelling of the 2006 election, the signature race took place in Montana, where the victor was a gun-toting farmer with a flattop haircut: i.e., a Democrat in Republican drag. And now the party is deeply divided as its old liberals and new conservatives converge on Capitol Hill to slug it out.

The only problem with this version of events is that it’s not true. The overwhelming majority of the Democratic winners, including Jon Tester of Montana, are to the left of most Republicans, whether on economic policy or abortion. For all of the hyperventilation devoted to the Steny Hoyer-John Murtha bout for the House leadership, the final count was lopsided next to the one-vote margin in the G.O.P. Senate intramural that yielded that paragon of “unity,” Trent Lott. But the most telling barometer is the election’s defining issue: there is far more unanimity among Democrats about Iraq than there is among Republicans. Disengaging America from that war is what the country voted for overwhelmingly on Nov. 7, and that’s what the Democrats almost uniformly promised to speed up, whatever their vague, often inchoate notions about how to do it.

Even before they officially take over, the Democrats are trying to deliver on this pledge. Carl Levin and Joe Biden, among the party’s leaders in thinking through a new Iraq policy, are gravitating toward a long-gestating centrist exit strategy: a phased withdrawal starting in four to six months; a loosely federal Iraqi government that would ratify the de facto separation of the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds and fairly allocate the oil spoils; and diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy to engage Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, in securing some kind of peace.

None of these ideas are radical, novel or much removed from what James Baker’s Iraq Study Group is expected to come up with. All are debatable and all could fail. At this late date, only triage is an option, not “victory.” There’s no panacea to end the civil war that four years of American bumbling have wrought. But the one truly serious story to come out of the election — far more significant than the Washington chatter about “divided Democrats” — is that the president has no intention of changing his policy on Iraq or anything else one iota.

Already we are seeing conclusive evidence that the White House’s post-thumpin’ blather about bipartisanship is worth as little as the “uniter, not a divider” bunk of the past. The tip-off came last week when Mr. Bush renominated a roster of choices for the federal appeals court that he knew faced certain rejection by Democrats. Why? To deliver a message to the entire Senate consonant with the unprintable greeting Dick Cheney once bestowed on Patrick Leahy, the senator from Vermont. That message was seconded by Tony Snow on Monday when David Gregory of NBC News asked him for a response to the Democrats’ Iraq proposals. The press secretary belittled them as “nonspecific” and then tried to deflect the matter entirely by snickering at Mr. Gregory’s follow-up questions.

Don Imus has been rerunning the video ever since, and with good reason. The laughing-while-Baghdad-burns intransigence of the White House makes your blood run cold. The day after Mr. Snow ridiculed alternative policies for Iraq, six American soldiers were killed. It was on that day as well that militia assailants stormed the education ministry in Baghdad in broad daylight, effortlessly carrying out a mass abduction of as many as 150 government officials in some 15 minutes. Given that those kidnappers were probably in cahoots with a faction of the very government they were terrorizing, it would be hard to come up with a more alarming snapshot of those “conditions on the ground” the president keeps talking about: utter chaos, with American troops in the middle, risking their lives to defend which faction, exactly?

Yet here was what Mr. Snow had to say about the war in this same press briefing: “We are winning, but on the other hand, we have not won” and “Our commitment is to get to the point where we achieve victory.” If that’s the specificity the White House offers to counter the Democrats’ “nonspecific” ideas about Iraq, bring back Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr. Snow’s performance was echoed by the more sober but equally nonsensical testimony of Gen. John Abizaid, our chief commander in the Middle East, before the Senate Armed Services Committee less than 48 hours later. It was déjà stay-the-course all over again. The general is not for withdrawing American troops or, as John McCain would prefer, adding them. (General Abizaid delicately pointed out to Mr. McCain that a sustainable supply of new American troops is in any case “simply not something that we have right now”; the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, doesn’t want them even if we did.) The general’s hope instead is for more Iraqi troops, even though, as he conceded, we still don’t have any such forces operating “completely independently” of their embedded American advisers. In other words: We are still, so many sacrifices later, waiting for the Iraqis to stand up so we can stand down.

An even more telling admission was to follow. “General Abizaid,” Jack Reed of Rhode Island asked, “how much time do you think we have to bring down the level of violence in Baghdad before we reach some type of tipping point where it accelerates beyond the control of even the Iraqi government?” After some hemming and hawing came a specific answer: “Four to six months.” Thus did our commander in Iraq provide the perfect exit ramp into the Democrats’ exit strategy, whether intentionally or not: the Iraqis must stand up by exactly the same deadline that Mr. Levin proposed for the start of a phased withdrawal.

Everyone outside of the Bush bunker knows that’s where we’re heading. As the retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey told Keith Olbermann last week, “The American people have walked away from the war.” The general predicted, as many in Washington have, that the Baker commission, serving as a surrogate Papa Bush, would give the White House the “intellectual orchestration” to label the withdrawal “getting out with honor.” But might this Beltway story line, too, be wrong? Everything in the president’s behavior since the election, including his remarkably naïve pronouncements in Vietnam, suggests that he will refuse to catch the political lifeline that Mr. Baker might toss him. Mr. Bush seems more likely instead to use American blood and money to double down on his quixotic notion of “victory” to the end. Not for nothing has he been communing with Henry Kissinger.

So what then? A Democratic Congress can kill judicial appointments but cannot mandate foreign policy. The only veto it can exercise is to cut off the war’s funding, political suicide that the Congressional leadership has rightly ruled out. The plain reality is that the victorious Democrats, united in opposition to the war and uniting around a program for quitting it, have done pretty much all they can do. Republican leaders must join in to seal the deal.

Don’t count Mr. McCain among them. His call for more troops even when there are no more troops is about presidential politics, a dodge that allows him to argue in perpetuity that we never would have lost Iraq if only he had been heeded from the start. True or not, that gets America nowhere now. Look instead to two other Republican military veterans in the Senate, one who is not running for president and one who yet might. The first is John Warner, who said a month before the election that he would seek an overhaul of Iraq policy in 60 to 90 days if there was no progress. The second is Chuck Hagel, who has been prescient about the war’s potential pitfalls since 2002 and started floating exit strategies parallel to the Levin-Biden track last summer.

There’s an incentive for other Republicans to join them in advancing the endgame. Even if the Democrats self-destructively descend into their own Abramoff-style scandals — Mr. Murtha referred to House ethics reforms as “total crap” — that may not be enough to save the Republicans if they’re still staring down the bloody barrel of their Iraq fiasco in 2008.

But most of all, disengagement from Iraq is the patriotic thing to do. Diverting as “divided Democrats” has been, it’s escapist entertainment. The Washington story that will matter most going forward is the fate of the divided Republicans. Only if they heroically come together can the country be saved from a president who, for all his professed pipe dreams about democracy in the Middle East, refuses to surrender to democracy’s verdict at home.

© 2006 New York Times Company

Meanwhile, in the real Iraq.

“I’d never want to go out in an Iraqi police truck,” the captain said. “But we still have to convince them. We’ve been given a job to train them.” But she also points out that her orders were to help train and equip a local force to deal with common crime, like theft and murder, not teach infantry skills to wage a counterinsurgency campaign.

Captain Bagley has spent most of her days this year shuttling from station to station, checking on her soldiers and meeting with the Iraqi commanders to discuss their problems over potent, sugary tea. Fresh-faced and fit, her long hair knotted under her helmet and a pistol strapped to her thigh, she has moved through this loud and overwhelmingly male world with a calm, understated authority that the Iraqi commanders have come to depend on.

The government’s sclerotic supply chain — clogged by bureaucracy, corruption and lack of money — has failed to provide the stations with the necessary tools of policing, from office supplies to weapons, uniforms and police cruisers. “Even something as simple as a pen, they have to get it for us,” said Maj. Muhammad Hassan Aboud, the commander of the Belat Al Shuwayda station in southern Baghdad, pointing to Captain Bagley. “If we lose them, we’re pretty much going nowhere.”

The captain said, “We’re holding their hands so much now.” If the Americans were not involved, she said, some senior commanders would not have the fortitude to confront the militias. “A lot of times I’m just the motivator,” she said. “I’m motivated because I’m going home soon. But what motivates them?”

Days earlier, she recalled, a death squad had killed the family of another of her station commanders. “Yet,” she continued, a tinge of exasperation in her voice, “you’re given the mission to motivate these guys to protect Iraqi citizens.”

At the beginning of her deployment, she hoped that by the end of the year the police would be able to respond to calls from any neighborhood without American help. But after the bombing of an important Shiite shrine in February incited a surge in sectarian violence, she decided that goal was unrealistic.

She decided to focus on developing the top officers, particularly the station commanders. “We realized that if we didn’t have a strong leader, the station won’t work,” she said.

But the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police force, has frequently changed commanders, often citing reasons of incompetence or death threats, sometimes offering no explanation at all. The Rashid station has had eight chiefs since it opened in late April. Absentee rates there have soared as high as 75 percent, though the rate had dropped to 25 percent by late last month, in large part because the latest chief was docking the pay of absent officers.

Over the course of the year, as sectarianism spread in the police force, Captain Bagley saw Shiite policemen balk at orders from Sunni shift commanders and Shiite station chiefs clash with their Sunni deputies.

She has also had to confront the creep of militia influence, as militia loyalists within the force used their leverage to avoid punishment or intimidate senior leadership. She intervened after a deputy station commander told her that his commander was being pressured by the militia of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to free several captured militiamen. The men remained in jail.

The job of inspiring her Iraqi and American charges alike has become increasingly difficult as the violence has escalated in Baghdad in recent months.

As part of the American military’s push to wrest control of the capital’s streets from insurgents and militias, she was ordered to move some of her soldiers out of the police stations and into the streets of Dora to conduct daily patrols. Following an effort by American and Iraqi troops to seal off and clear that neighborhood, violence there has risen sharply, and attacks on her joint patrols have become frequent.

On Oct. 2, her soldiers were accompanying Iraqi police officers on a patrol through the Dora marketplace when a sniper shot and killed Sgt. Joseph Walter Perry, a 23-year-old turret gunner from San Diego. He was one of at least eight American soldiers killed in Iraq that day. Numerous soldiers from Captain Bagley’s company had been wounded over the year; in April, a bomb destroyed a Humvee and tore off the driver’s left leg. But Sergeant Perry’s death was the company’s first here and it devastated Captain Bagley.

“People from other units will say, ‘You’ve only lost one?’ ” she said, her face tensing in indignation. “Only? We haven’t had it so bad as others, but I can’t minimize Perry’s death.” She paused. “I’m the one who sends them into the market.”

Why we must leave Iraq. Why we can't leave Iraq.
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