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Between the Lines

October 31, 2003

Iraq: stick it out or bug out?

We’re either near, or at, a turning point in Iraq where some critically important decisions are going to have to be made. The nature of those decisions, and how they turn out, quite likely will determine whether the war will be a success – leading to the creation of a reasonably stable and representative Iraqi government capable of minding the country’s affairs – or a far worse mess than the one we have now.

The short version of the problem is this:

Even if the administration suddenly becomes fully competent in assessing the situation and prescribing realistic solutions for the continuing security problem, the hinge on which everything else in Iraq swings, it’s up against some hard realities.

One is that no matter how hard we press, the Iraqis simply aren’t going to be capable of transforming their country into the shining beacon of Middle Eastern liberty that was so grandly promised at the outset of the conflict anytime soon. It will take years -- perhaps decades -- if it happens at all.

The second is that the U.S. military is dangerously overstretched. The administration is either going to have to a) scale back the troop level regardless of the Iraqi government’s ability to fend for itself or b) substantially increase the size of the military, which might well mean bringing back the draft.

These are not pretty choices. There are some good blog posts that address them, however.

First, from Belgravia Dispatch, where Gregory Djerejian provides a consistently thoughtful conservative perspective. He believes we need more troops in Iraq. Soon. Proposed “Iraqification” of the war is desirable, but fears the effect of forcing the issue too quickly:

“ … I'm worried he might go about it the wrong way going forward, partly because of the manner by which the renewed emphasis on Iraqification appears linked to potential troop reductions (or at least not troop increases).

“Don't get me wrong. I think we should Iraqify--partly, per the plan, so as to free up more of our troops tied up with force protection duties, border monitoring, routine security. These troops are then free to concentrate on going after the bad guys.

“But even with Iraqification freeing up more of our G.I.s to hunt down the resistance and terrorists--I still fear it will prove too little, too late.”

Next, Billmon has two posts that explore the military and political problems we face.

In the first, he addresses speculation that the administration has in reserve a “bug out” plan in case the Iraq situation becomes a real threat to Bush’s re-election. The problem, he says, is that regardless of domestic politics – or consequences on the ground -- troop levels likely are headed lower:

“The administration has little choice but to start drawing down troop strength in Iraq, starting next spring. The reasons why were laid out by the CBO back in September. The Army's current plan (more of a hope, really) calls for troop levels to be reduced to perhaps 90,000 next summer, and 50,000 by mid-2005.

“So, one way or another, the American military presence in Iraq is going to shrink next year. The only questions are how quickly and by how much -- and what will fill the resulting vacuum. So the difference between the Army's plan, and a hypothetical Operation Bug Out, is one of degrees, not kind.”

In the second, he considers the problems with a “modified bug out,” in which the administration might try to find some middle ground by cutting troop forces and moving them into fortified positions outside population centers – a likely prescription for failure.

For some insight on where the administration is these problems at the moment, here’s a link to an NPR interview this morning with Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld’s chief deputy at the Defense Department. He’s really pushing Iraqification.

Posted by tbrown at 12:46 PM

Where’s Saddam?

Orchestrating the deaths of Americans, apparently.

Posted by tbrown at 12:39 PM

Speaking of potential WMDs ...

We’re apparently making several lethal new viruses, supposedly for our own good.

Posted by tbrown at 12:38 PM

Where's their sense of humor?

The Macintosh may have less than 5 percent of the desktop computer market, but it’s still no joke in Redmond.

Posted by tbrown at 12:36 PM

October 30, 2003

A ‘gangbuster’ economic number

U.S. gross domestic product – the value of everything we make and do – spiked to a 7.2 percent annual growth rate in the third quarter, more than double the rate during the second quarter. Underlying this big number were a 6.6 percent increase in consumer spending and a 15.4 percent jump in business spending on equipment and software.

“This is a gangbuster number. Everything came together for the economy in the third quarter,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at “The key challenge now is jobs.”

New claims for unemployment benefits have drifted slightly lower in recent weeks, but there has been no surge in hiring yet.

Blogger Brad DeLong, an economist, has a post on the dichotomy between fast economic growth and stagnant employment that concludes that next year, “Things are very likely to be either significantly better or significantly worse than the current consensus forecast--but we have no idea which."

On their face, these numbers are very good news for the Bush administration. The economy, as always, remains the main preoccupation of most Americans and if the economy sustains its growth – and begins generating jobs at a respectable rate – the president’s re-election prospects will be greatly enhanced.

Posted by tbrown at 01:14 PM

An economic ‘coup’ in Russia

It looks like the bad old days are making a comeback in Russia. The government last Saturday arrested Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on charges of tax evasion, fraud and forgery. Yesterday, the prosecutor’s office seized 44 percent of the shares of the company Khodorkovsky chairs, YukosSibneft, which is the world’s fourth-largest oil producer. These shares belong to stockholders, not Khodorkovsky, so the actions have produced a furor not only in Russia but elsewhere.

As with many things in the former Soviet Union, this situation is complex. Here are a couple of pieces that explore the background and implications:

-- The Moscow Times

-- The New York Times (free registration required)

It's been more than a decade since the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Russians still don't have their economic house in anything like good order. There is no reason to believe that Iraq's transition to something resembling a market economy and an at least semi-representative government will be any quicker or easier.

Posted by tbrown at 01:12 PM

Israel’s top soldier speaks out

First, a couple of dozen Israeli pilots refused to participate in raids on terrorist targets in civilian areas of the West Bank and Gaza because of the danger -- amply demonstrated in recent months -- of collateral deaths and injuries. Now, Israel’s top soldier, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the military chief of staff, says tactical raids against terrorists are working against Israel’s strategic interests.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly was infuriated and demanded Yaalon’s resignation, but later backed off.

Posted by tbrown at 01:06 PM

Iraq, good and bad

Sgt. Stryker’s good news-bad news blog on Iraq has a couple of dozen posts now and is beginning to shape up as pretty decent one-stop shopping for headlines.

Posted by tbrown at 01:04 PM

October 29, 2003

It’s not nation-building, it’s war

It's not the winner who typically decides when victory in a war has been achieved. It's the loser.
-- Richard Hart Sinnreich, in the Washington Post

This is an enlighting and sobering analysis of our situation in Iraq (link via Joshua Marshall). A key point:

“ … history repeatedly has demonstrated that fighting a war quickly and cheaply doesn't guarantee winning it quickly and cheaply. Indeed, the two more often than not tend to be mutually exclusive. It was for that reason above all that Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz was right to insist that the most vital judgment before going to war is understanding the kind of war on which one is embarking.”

Posted by tbrown at 02:03 PM

Here’s a solution to the Iraq mess

If we have to, we just mow the whole place down, see what happens. You’re dealing with insane suicide bombers who are killing our people, and we need to be very aggressive in taking them out.”
– Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.

You have to love this guy. No matter how much trouble his loose lips get him in he just can’t keep them shut. Now he’s advocating what sounds like war crimes. I’m not surprised, I guess. Just appalled.

Posted by tbrown at 02:01 PM

Southern California burns

I directed the coverage of a lot of fires during 10 years as a newsie in California, but the scale of this conflagration continues to amaze me. Here are some links:

-- L.A. Times front page

-- L.A. Times photo galleries (if you do nothing else, take a look at these)

-- L.T. Smash (Citizen Smash, now that he’s back from Iraq) continues live blogging on the fires, including contributions from others.

Posted by tbrown at 02:00 PM

Plame update: The probe has broadened to include the Republican National Committee

The FBI apparently is interviewing RNC officials, not because they outed CIA agent Valerie Plame but because they may know who did. The feebs seem to have been led in this direction by a spike in the volume of phone calls between The White House and the RNC after the Plame case caught fire, presumably to discuss damage control.

Posted by tbrown at 01:57 PM

New word watch

The English language is flexible and has always been amenable to adopting words from other tongues or to the creation of new words when required. Sometimes, though, we should follow the advice of Nancy Reagan and Just Say No. Some words should not be thought, much less uttered. Two examples from yesterday:

New noun: suicider: “It is dangerous in Iraq because there are some who believe that we're soft, that the will of the United States can be shaken by suiciders -- and suiciders who are willing to drive up to a Red Cross center, a center of international help and aid and comfort, and just kill.”
-- President Bush, at his news conference

New verb: to component: “I mean, believe me, there is an architecture here that is extremely componentized and broken down into pieces.”
-- Bill Gates, in an interview

NO! Speak English, dammit.

Posted by tbrown at 01:56 PM

October 28, 2003

Here’s the problem …

Every 20 minutes, someone somewhere is injured or killed by an encounter with these kinds of explosives. More than 60 million landmines remain in areas of former and current conflict. Some of the worst-effected countries include Angola, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, Croatia, Ethiopia, Laos, Mozambique, Rwanda and Vietnam.
-- Clear Path International

… and here’s how to help

Clear Path International is a home-grown Northwest organization that assists casualties of land mines that still clutter the landscape in many former war zones, waiting to claim their next victims. It helps survivors of land mines – especially children – with emergency medical care, hospitalization, transportation, surgery, household economic support, occupational therapy and special scholarships.

Clear Path is holding its major annual fund-raiser Nov. 6 both in the U.S. and abroad. Background information on the "Night of a Thousand Dinners" is here. And a list of participating restaurants in Washington, Vermont and California is here.

Clear Path’s co-founder and board president, Imbert Mathee, is a former reporter for both The Seattle Times and our crosstown rival, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Posted by tbrown at 12:27 PM

Plame update: Was the CIA itself the administration’s target?

Vincent Cannistraro, former director of operations for the CIA's counterterrorism group (of which Valerie Plame was a member), said in pretty much unnoticed congressional testimony the other day that Plame’s cover was blown by the administration as a way of attacking U.S. intelligence agencies for failing to put the right spin on material they were sending the White House.

"She was outed as a vindictive act because the agency was not providing support for policy statements that Saddam Hussein was reviving his nuclear program," he said.

Once again, we tip our hat to blogger Mark A.R. Kleiman, for another significant development in this continuing travesty.

Also, Sam Dash, former counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, says whoever leaked Plame’s name may have violated the absurdly overbroad Patriot Act. Don’t you just love it?

But the president still “would like to know” who did it, he said at a news conference today:

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. You have said that you are eager to find out whether somebody in the White House leaked the identity of an undercover CIA agent. Many experts in such investigations say you can find if there was a leaker in the White House within hours if you asked all staff members to sign affidavits denying involvement. Why not take that step?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the best person to that, Dana, so that the -- or the best group of people to do that so that you believe the answer is the professionals at the Justice Department. And they're moving forward with the investigation. It's a criminal investigation. It is an important investigation. I'd like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information. As you know, I've been outspoken on leaks. And whether they happened in the White House, or happened in the administration, or happened on Capitol Hill, it is a -- they can be very damaging.

And so this investigation is ongoing and -- by professionals who do this for a living, and I hope they -- I'd like to know.

Posted by tbrown at 12:19 PM

Today in Iraq

Deputy mayor of Baghdad is assassinated

Another car-bomb kills six in Fallujah

Four U.S. soldiers wounded near Mosul

Update on yesterday’s bombings in Baghdad: The accurate death toll now appears to be 34, rather than the 42 initially reported. More than 200 were wounded.

Some folks on the right think the bombing attacks yesterday on the Baghdad headquarters of the Red Cross and three police stations will boomerang in the Arab world because almost all the victims were Iraqis. Read their arguments here:

-- David Frum, National Review Online

-- Patio Pundit

Finally, here’s an update on coalition casualties since the war began – 356 Americans, 51 Britons and 5 from other countries. There also have been 2,046 Americans wounded.

Posted by tbrown at 12:18 PM

How about a nice little counterinsurgency?

Now that Iraq has turned out to be something less than the predicted “cakewalk,” the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century – two neoconservative think-tanks whose policy proposals underlie much of the Bush administration’s foreign policy – are proposing that we launch a “counter-insurgency.” That is, anti-guerrilla campaigns similar to those we used in Vietnam.

Sound unhinged? They don’t think so. “For one thing, the conditions for a successful American counterinsurgency campaign are good. The vast majority of Iraq is not 'a sea' in which insurgents can hide and find ready support,” say authors Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt.

Could this have been what President Bush had in mind when he compared the occupation of Iraq to the U.S. colonization of the Phillipines, a campaign that cost the lives of 4,234 U.S. soldiers, 69,000 Filipino combatants and nearly 200,000 civilians over a half-century?

Donnelly and Schmitt might do well to read this piece by pollster John Zogby regarding the lack of liberation euphoria in Iraq before concluding that it is unfertile ground for the anti-U.S. jihadis.

Posted by tbrown at 12:15 PM

‘People are impatient’

Anne Garrels, the National Public Radio correspondent who was one of 16 Americans to stick it out in Baghdad as independent (i.e., “unembedded”) reporters during the war, thinks most Iraqis want the U.S. to leave “after a short period.”

“People are impatient,” she told an audience at the University of Washington last night. The problem, though, is that “they don’t know where they’re going. There’s no rambunctious debate about what kind of country they want to have.”

Posted by tbrown at 12:09 PM

The unsticker-in-chief

An exchange from President Bush's news conference today:

Q: You recently put Condoleezza Rice, your national security adviser, in charge of the management of the administration's Iraq policy. What has effectively changed since she's been in charge?

And a second question: Can you promise a year from now that you will have reduced the number of troops in Iraq?

BUSH: The second question is a trick question, so I won't answer it.
The first question was Condoleezza Rice. Her job is to coordinate inter-agency. She's doing a fine job of coordinating inter-agency. She's doing what her -- I mean, the role of the national security adviser is to not only provide good advice to the president, which she does on a regular basis -- I value her judgment and her intelligence -- but her job is also to deal inter-agency and to help unstick things that may get stuck. That's the best way to put it. She's an unsticker...
... and -- is she listening? OK, well, she's doing a fine job.

Well, that clears it up.

Posted by tbrown at 12:04 PM

October 27, 2003

A grim start for Ramadan

For every bad story ... there are 10 or 20 or 50 wonderful stories.
-- Former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks

Iraq must just be bubbling with good news in light of the events of the last two days.

First, Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld’s right-hand man and one of the architects of our Iraq policy, was in the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad when it was hit by several rockets. An American colonel was killed and 18 people were injured. Wolfowitz’s presence in the hotel at the time of the attack is being portrayed as a coincidence. Blogger Juan Cole isn’t so sure. He argues that this attack may have been planned for some time and that when the perpetrators found out Wolfowitz was in town he became a target of opportunity.

Then there's this:

OK, they’re here

"There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on."
-- President Bush, July 2

A series of coordinated suicide bombings killed 42 and wounded 216 in Baghdad today. The U.S. command is blaming “foreign fighters” for the new round of attacks, which destroyed the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad and three police stations.

Rumsfeld draws parallels between Beirut 1983 and Iraq 2003

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, argues that pulling most U.S. troops out of Lebanon after a catastrophic truck bombing of a Marines barracks left 240 Americans dead sent the wrong message to terrorists (i.e. that enough body bags would force the U.S. into retreat). The Bush administration is determined to avoid that outcome in Iraq, he says.

When bombings = progress

"The more progress we make on the ground, the more free the Iraqis become, the more electricity that's available, the more jobs are available, the more kids that are going to school, the more desperate these killers become."
-- President Bush, today

Iraq chat online

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius in Baghdad is taking reader questions about the latest round of violence online here.

Porsche 911

No, not the car. That phrase, apparently, was the Al-Qaida codename for the 9/11 attacks. The target of the fourth airliner, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was the Capitol, not the White House, according to this account.

Rumsfeld’s ‘Pentagon Paper’

Last week, I dismissed a "leaked" memo from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to a small group of staff members as no big deal. Slate’s Fred Kaplan, who has written a lot of on-target stuff about this war, reached a very different conclusion.

L.T. Smash blogs the San Diego fires

L.T. Smash, a U.S. soldier who wrote an excellent blog while he was in Iraq, is back home now – and blogging on the San Diego fires. Photos and all. (Link via Instapundit.)

Posted by tbrown at 11:45 AM

October 22, 2003

How are things in Iraq – II?

The administration seems determined to revise the “message” it thinks Americans are getting from our little war from one that, it claims, emphasizes the negative to one that is more "balanced." Well, we’re all in favor of learning about the positives and have linked frequently to stories that recount some of them. However, the negatives – the unstable security situation in the Sunni Triangle and the steady drip, drip, drip of American blood – will remain part of the story, too.

Here are some pertinent links:

-- Time has an even-handed overview of what’s going on in Iraq, highlighting security as a huge, continuing problem, but also pointing out areas in which the situation is improving.

-- Karl Zinsmeister of the neoconservative mag American Enterprise has an upbeat assessment of Iraq in the Christian Science Monitor.

-- The blog Sgt. Stryker is taking an innovative approach to attempting some balanced coverage of Iraq. Stryker will focus on what he sees as negative events in Iraq, while colleague Sparkey focuses on the positive. After six months they plan to post a comprehensive reprise of what they’ve learned. Their plan is explained here and their latest posts are here. (Link via Instapundit.)

-- A memo from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to small group of aides has oozed into the open and it raises some interesting questions:

“Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror? Is DoD changing fast enough to deal with the new 21st century security environment? Can a big institution change fast enough?” And so forth.

Some bloggers on the left are interpreting this as an admission that the rosy picture the administration would like its citizens to have of Iraq is untrue. I think this is plainly wrong. Looks like a pretty standard “where do we go from here?” meeting agenda to me. Read it and see for yourself.

I’m also not convinced this was a leak, as Bushline blogs, still seeking to divert attention from the Valerie Plame scandal, contend. The blog Is That Legal has the links that indicate otherwise.

-- Finally, at the excellent conservative blog Belgravia Dispatch, Gregory Djerejian suggests President Bush is as good as AWOL because of his muddled policy on Israeli excesses and Palestinian terrorism.

Top banana

Social scientists and some economists have been worrying about the widening income disparity in the United States for the last couple of decades. With good reason. Relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth is the cornerstone of any society based on a thriving middle class. Banana republics and Third World plutocracies are distinguished by enormous disparities in income, with the great proportion of national income going to a very small class of the super wealthy. Plutocracy stifles economic innovation because the lower classes have virtually no chance of working their way into the ranks of the wealthy or, often, even into the relatively small middle class that typifies these nations, and thus little incentive to try. It also tends to foster authoritarian states because the very rich want to make sure they hold onto what they’ve got.

In the U.S. and other Western nations with representative governments there has been no shortage of the wealthy, but a very subtantial chunk of the national income traditionally has gone to a broad middle class. This economic formulation has worked well for the U.S. because it encourages people to work hard and try to better their economic position. It also contributes to innovation, which in this country usually rises from below. It also is a bulwark of representative government.

Unfortunately, income trends are making the U.S. look more and more like a banana republic.

Blogger Billmon provides some supporting statistics in a lenghty, but excellent post (be sure to click on the “Continue reading … “ link). The benchmark most commonly employed for assessing income distribution produces these figures (with the higher numbers indicating greater inequality) comparing the U.S. with some Latin American countries and with other major developed countries:

Mexico: 0.53
El Salvador: 0.51
Venezuela: 0.50
USA: 0.47 (based on household income)
Costa Rica: 0.46

Britain: 0.37
Switzerland: 0.33
Canada: 0.32
Germany: 0.30
Japan: 0.25

“Well, at least we still beat El Salvador,” Billmon notes.

Increasing income disparity is not a partisan issue in that it is an established trend that has progressed regardless of which party is in power (though it certainly is exacerbated by, for example, tax cuts that direct the vast majority of the savings to those who already have more money than they need). The question, Billmon suggests, is how much longer it can continue without serious political and social consequences.

Coincidentally, there is a grocery-clerk “strike” (actually its mostly an employer lockout of workers) in California that lends a human face to the broader economic issues.

Time for some froth

Enough heavy stuff. Here are a few chuckles:

-- The Onion imitates the Bush administration on the Plame Affair. Sometimes satire is soooo close to real life.

-- Another example: What Rush Limbaugh might have said if Bill Clinton had been addicted to Oxycontin. (Link via Brad DeLong.)

-- Does California’s new First Couple benefit from good plastic surgeons or just good bones. I haven’t a clue. Neither does Emily Yoffe at Slate. But she has some fun not answering the question.

Farewell to the Concorde

We inhabitants of the used-to-be Jet City aren’t the only ones who get misty-eyed over marvelous airplanes. The last commercial flight by the Anglo-French Concorde will end at London’s Heathrow airport Friday, and hundreds of the plane’s fans are expected to turn out for the landing.

When introduced, the Concorde was decades ahead of its time. It still is. It made no economic sense then and doesn’t now. Maybe in another three decades or so commercial flight at supersonic speed will become economically rational. Until then, say goodbye.

Noah Schachtman has the story at Wired.

Posted by tbrown at 01:33 PM

October 21, 2003

Incompetence and self-delusion

Seymour Hersh’s story in the current New Yorker about U.S. intelligence failures and the Bush administration’s egregious misuse of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is illuminating and appalling. It is today’s must read.

A few of Hersh’s key points:

-- The UN agencies the Bush administration spent so much effort ridiculing before the war produced better intelligence on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction than did the CIA.

-- Two rump intelligence offices established by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “stovepiped” raw, unevaluated and often inaccurate intelligence directly to the top levels of the administration, where it was “cherry-picked” to fit the prejudices and objectives of the war hawks in the administration, then passed on to the President’s office.

-- “By early March, 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the President had decided, in his own mind, to go to war. The undeclared decision had a devastating impact on the continuing struggle against terrorism. The Bush Administration took many intelligence operations that had been aimed at Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world and redirected them to the Persian Gulf. Linguists and special operatives were abruptly reassigned, and several ongoing anti-terrorism intelligence programs were curtailed.”

-- At the CIA, in particular, the spooks became so angry with administration brow-beating and misuse of information that rogue agents there may have been the ones who fabricated the documents that purported to show that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy partially refined uranium ore from the African country of Niger. The objective would have been to catch the administration lying, then blow the whistle.

“Like all large institutions, CIA headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, is full of water-cooler gossip, and a retired clandestine officer told me this summer that the story about a former operations officer faking the documents is making the rounds,” Hersh writes. “ ‘What’s telling,’ he added, ‘is that the story, whether it’s true or not, is believed’ —an extraordinary commentary on the level of mistrust, bitterness, and demoralization within the CIA under the Bush Administration.”

-- The faked Niger documents – whatever their provenance -- led directly to the uproar over this assertion in Bush’s State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

-- In July, former diplomat Joseph Wilson wrote a piece for the op-ed page of the New York Times about his own mission to Niger, at the CIA’s request, to investigate reports that Saddam was trying to buy uranium ore there. He found no evidence to support the idea, forcing the White House to concede for the first time that “this information should not have risen to the level of a Presidential speech.” White House officials retaliated by fingering Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, which, in turn led to the current FBI investigation.

Former UN inspector David Kay's report earlier this month on Iraq's weapons programs -- no WMDs found and, more specifically, “ ... to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material” -- led Bush to conclude that, “Saddam Hussein was a threat, a serious danger.”

Hersh wonders what, if anything, the administration has learned from these failures.

It’s a disgraceful tale of incompetence, bureaucratic bickering and self-delusion. Read it all; it’s worth the time.

Posted by tbrown at 01:54 PM

October 20, 2003

This isn’t a war against Islam. Is it?

You have to wonder, given the religious slurs cast about so freely by the Pentagon’s new deputy undersecretary for intelligence, Lt. Gen. William Boykin. He’s the guy in charge of finding Osama bin Laden and other international evil-doers. He’s also the guy who said:

“I knew that my God was bigger than his God. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”

“Why is this man [George Bush] in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. I tell you this morning that he’s in the White House because God put him there.” Bill Clinton, too, benefitted from divine intervention, according to the general.

But Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek wonders how effective Boykin will be in dealing with Muslims, which will be a central responsibility of his position.

“The position Boykin holds … is one in which he would have to interact routinely with Pakistanis, Egyptians, Afghans, Indonesians; Muslims from all over the world. Will he be effective in establishing close working relationships with these officials, who have all watched him slur their religion? Is this a man who will be able to objectively sift through intelligence and analysis about the state of Muslim societies, the difference between moderates and extremists, the distinctions among various fundamentalist groups? Or does he look at them all and see ... Satan?

How are things going in Iraq?

Now there’s a good, muddy question. And here are some thoughts on putting it in perspective.

First, from Dr. George Friedman of Strategic Forecasting Inc., a private intelligence outfit that sells its services to businesses. In a recent newsletter, Friedman wrote that, “For the United States, the most significant failure in this war has been the length of time it took to recognize that the reality on the ground in Iraq was not the reality Washington had expected -- and worse, the length of time it took U.S. leaders to think through their strategy.”

The muddled followup to a dramatically successful war does not mean all is lost, Friedman argues. In fact, the administration’s willingness to change plans to confront unexpected circumstances shows a flexibility that is essential to success in warfare. But neither does the administration’s tardy response to the postwar realities of Iraq ensure success.

“The issue is not to deal with the guerrillas in Iraq,” Friedman says, “but to redefine the entire strategy of the war against al Qaeda -- to revive the link
between the Iraq campaign and the effort to destroy the primary adversary. It appears to us that the United States now has begun to do that. However, it is unclear whether it will succeed. The first crisis of the war that began Sept. 11 is being addressed, but it is unclear whether it will be solved.”

At Calpundit, Kevin Drum takes a more tactical view: to understand how the administration believes things are going in Iraq, watch what they do, not what they say. The two posts are here and here.

Here’s a Rush

Should Rush Limbaugh’s little drug problem be a satire-free topic? Harry Shearer of “Spinal Tap” fame certainly doesn't think so and takes up the challenge here.

Posted by tbrown at 01:38 PM

October 16, 2003

The self-licking ice cream cone

Easily the most evocative metaphor of the day, and also a quote from a former Rumsfeld advisor about the state of state secrets. "Our secrecy system is all about protecting secrecy officers, and has nothing to do with protecting secrets," Rich Haver, former special assistant for intelligence is quoted as saying in a Wired magazine article. In light of the long-running fiasco that is the Valerie Plame affair, Haver's comments have a bit of a "Gong Show" ring to them, but the article is well worth reading, especially with fun stats like the 400 percent rise in classified government documentation over the past 10 years, and a move to supress 23 million documents alone in 2002. How's that, free society?

- Lucy Mohl

Posted by blog at 01:07 PM

October 14, 2003

A message from the ‘Angry Right’

We’ve been getting a lot of white noise from the knee-jerk Bush defenders lately about the “Angry Left.” The tag seems to apply to pretty much any Democrat or, heaven forbid, admitted liberal, who doesn’t toe the Bush line. Well, duh. Of course many Democrats and liberals are angry at this administration: it doesn’t stand for the things they stand for and, worse, the administration has a hard time sticking to the facts about what it supposedly does stand for -- which is why so many to the left of center who want the U.S. to succeed in Iraq are throwing up their hands at the Bush Bunch. So where’s the news here? It all seems pretty natural to me.

What I want to know is: Why don’t we hear more about the Angry Right? From reading the Bushwhacked you’d never know such a thing exists. But it does, its numbers seem to be increasing, and much of what its practitioners say is at least as vitriolic – and often more passionately argued – than what you get from the left.

The core of the Angry Right is Libertarian, but it is by no means limited to this still fairly small subset of people who usually vote Republican.

Here are a few examples:

Justin Raimondo, a Libertarian and editor of the web site denounces President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the administration’s top Cabinet members “as lying cretins,” language you’ll have a hard time topping on any Democratic site.

“These people are incapable of telling the truth, even if it is to their advantage. They prefer prevarication. That's why the art of lying has attained cult status among the more exalted neocon intellectuals … ,” Raimondo writes.

Or consider Jacob Hornberger, founder of the Future Freedom Foundation, a Libertarian group.

Hornberger asserts that the “ … Bush’s and Cheney’s use of their so-called war on terrorism to justify their invasion and continued occupation of Iraq is patently ludicrous and manifestly deceptive. It was the U.S. government’s interventionist policies in the Middle East that engendered the terrorism in the first place. And Bush’s and Cheney’s invasion and occupation of Iraq are certain to produce even more of it.”

Futher, he says, the administration is using the fear of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (so far undiscovered), to “implement the most massive centralization of federal power and the most dangerous assault on the constitutional guarantees and civil liberties of the American people in our lifetime.”

Harsh words indeed.

Another faction of the Angry Right is represented by such old-line hard-righters as Pat Buchanan, who wonders if “freedom” and “democracy” in Iraq are worth $87 billion and an ever-growing casualty count of dead and wounded Americans.

“If we cannot define victory, our enemy can,” Buchanan says. “And it is a sobering thought that no Arab or Islamic revolution that fought hard to expel a Western power has been defeated in 60 years.

“The French were run out of Algeria after an eight-year war, and the allies they left behind were slaughtered. The Russians were expelled from Afghanistan after an eight-year occupation by an Islamic jihad and nationalist uprising. The Israelis abandoned Lebanon after an 18-year occupation, unwilling to pay the continuing cost in Jewish blood of battling Hezbollah guerrillas.

“Moreover, pro-Western monarchs in that part of the world—King Farouk in Egypt in 1952, King Feisel in Iraq in 1958, King Idris in Libya in 1968, Emperor Haile Selassie in Ethiopia in 1975, the Shah of Iran in 1979—have all been overthrown in anti-Western coups.

“Thus, while there are many models for how a Western power can be driven out of an Arab country, or a Western vassal overthrown, where is the model for an enduring Western victory in the Arab and Islamic world—in the last 50 years?”

His answer: Kuwait, a far more limited goal undertaken under far more favorable circumstances than we now face in Iraq.

This is just a small sample of what’s being said and written daily by conservative and Libertarian opponents of the war, and more broadly, the administration’s foreign policy.

The depth of their animosity evokes memories of fragmentation on the left in years past that has cost Democrats important elections (most recently Al Gore in 2000). You have to wonder where these votes are going to go next fall – which probably explains why you hear so little about the Angry Right from the Bushies.

Posted by tbrown at 02:12 PM

October 10, 2003

Bring back the draft?

Some Democrats, led by U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York and U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, plan to turn up the heat on President Bush by proposing a return to conscription. They claim the draft should be reinstituted because of the length of troop deployments in Iraq and the heavy reliance on reserves and National Guard units.

Nattering nabobs

Something about Ahmed Chalabi, our puppet-in-chief in Iraq, was bothering me. He reminded me of someone. As I was watching PBS’ excellent Frontline documentary, “Truth, War and Consequences,” last night, I figured it out – Spiro Agnew! Chalabi is either channeling our disgraced former vice president or they were separated at birth.

They don’t exactly look alike, though there is a superficial resemblance between this guy and this one.

No, it’s their personalities. Fatuous. Arrogant. Delusions of grandeur. And they’re both proven crooks. Agnew pleaded no contest to tax evasion on his way out the door. Chalabi was convicted in Jordan in absentia of bank fraud (charges that Chalabi, of course, denies), and some Jordanian members of parliament want him extradited to face the music. Who do they think they're dealing with here? An ordinary criminal?

The big difference is that Agnew had better speech writers. If you’re too young to remember his most famous pronouncement, here’s a link.

Nobel to mullahs: veil this

"Our male-dominated society is ill. They don't respect the mothers who gave them life."

-- Shirin Ebadi, 56, Iranian advocate for the rights of women and children and winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize

Ebadi is only the 11th woman to win the prize since it was instituted in 1901. This year’s award is $1.3 million.

Oxblog has a roundup of links to stories about Ebadi.

‘Fair and balanced’ Fox immitates Saddam

No doubt you remember Baghdad Bob, Saddam Hussein’s former mouthpiece who insisted his boss was winning the war as U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad. Bob made great theater.

Now Fox News has hired Bob’s right-hand man. No, I’m not making this up. I couldn’t.

Read the whole thing (the Fox news is toward the end). It takes a somewhat dimmer view of the situation in Iraq than that voiced by President Bush.

Then read this one, which finds that some things are, in fact, going pretty well.

Yeah, we could do that

Or we could just sell this clown to the circus.

Posted by tbrown at 01:56 PM

October 09, 2003

A slight change of tone?

Q: Mr. President, when you meet with the congressional leadership tomorrow, will you be specific about what they can and cannot relay back up to the Hill? Or, do you just expect them not to relay anything?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm going to talk to the leaders about this. I have talked to them about it. I mean, when the classified information first seeped into the public, I called him on the phone and said, this can't stand. We can't have leaks of classified information. It's not in our nation's interest.

-- President Bush in 2001 after classifed information was leaked by congressmen

This is a large administration and there's a lot of senior officials. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is …

-- President Bush this week on the Valerie Plame Wilson leak

That’s not all. The White House counsel’s office is poring over all documents requested for the investigation before turning them over to the Justice Department – and may withhold some under executive privilege if necessary.

Then there’s this hilarious exchange between newsman Russell Mokhiber and White House spokesman Scott McClellan over whether Bush’s senior political adviser said Valerie Plame was “fair game.”

Hilarious and outrageous at the same time.

And at the LA Weekly, David Corn, the columnist for The Nation who first suggested that administration officials might have committed a crime by disclosing Plame’s name, regales us with what happened when he tried to discuss the matter on “fair and balanced” Fox. If Republicans and adminstration apologists “can succeed in presenting the controversy as another one of those same-old bitter face-offs between D’s and R’s — creating a moral equivalency between the leakers and the complainants — they win. Their aim is to exploit the public’s (justifiable) cynicism toward Washington and to battle to an it’s-all-politics draw. This is a good strategy — as long as no indictments materialize.”

The depleted uranium threat

One of the least-examined consequences of America’s attacks on other nations in the last 15 years has been what role depleted uranium ammunition has played in the illness of U.S. troops and reports of increased rates of cancer in Iraq after the Gulf War of 1991 and in the Balkans after the conflicts in Bosnia and Serbia.

Cursor links to an excellent piece by Hillary Johnson in the Oct. 2 Rolling Stone, which goes into great detail about the controversy surrounding depleted uranium, or DU, which is the chief component in modern armor-piercing ammunition fired by U.S. tanks and planes.

It’s an ugly picture: cancer, deformed infants, U.S. soldiers warned inadequately if at all about the hazards of DU and, most troubling of all, a Pentagon in total denial about the possible scope of the problem.

In another disconcerting development, UPI reports that mysterious blood clots and other ailments that are killing or hospitalizing what appears to be an unusual number of GI’s in Iraq.

Posted by tbrown at 12:13 PM

October 08, 2003

So, what’s next?

OK, Schwarzenegger is in, Davis is out and California is a fiscal and political mess. Straightening it out is going to be a big, big, chore. Davis wasn’t up to it. Whether Schwarzenegger is we’ll find out in time.

Schwarzenegger’s great strength as he prepares to enter office is a clear, broad-based desire for change. Mandates are always important and he has one. There are, however, enormous challenges to executing that mandate. It will not be easy to balance the anti-tax fervor of the conservative Republican establishment with an $8 billion budget deficit and the simple fact that government does not run on air.

He is also a Republican – though certainly an unusual Republican – in a state that remains strongly Democratic (two Republican-backed initiatives, including the latest crackpot effort of Ward Connerly, went down almost 2-1) and has in place a Democratic legislature.

The big question for Schwarzenegger is whether he can avoid the fate of the blockbuster movies he stars in: a huge opening week, followed by a fade to black.

There’s a lot out there this morning about what it all means. Here are some good links to start with:

-- The L.A. Times has a solid profile of Schwarzenegger, which descibes him as simultaneously the best- and least-known of the state’s governors. Interestingly, Schwarzenegger describes himself not as an actor or body-builder, but as a salesman: "I'm good at selling. I’ve always done it in my whole life, and I will do it again in this campaign and as governor."

The Times reports that, “He has sold T-shirts, tank tops, weightlifting belts, gym bags, exercise videos, weights, bricklaying services, bodybuilding for women, magazines, bicycles, motorcycles, Hummers, books, seminars, movies, German food, cigars, restaurants, real estate, malls, sports for inner-city children, after-school programs, Milton Friedman, Austria, the English language, the United States — and above all, self-improvement. Politics, Schwarzenegger told The Times in his only campaign interview with the paper, ‘is challenging, it's refreshing, it's a learning experience. It enriches me.’ "

-- Slate blogger Mickey Kaus explains why he voted for Arnold, despite some misgivings.

-- Sacramento Bee columnist and blogger Dan Weintraub details Schwarzenegger’s skillful behind-the-scenes success in lining up virtually all factions of the GOP behind his campaign.

-- Tacitus has a has an interesting post that proposes, perhaps wishfully, that Schwarzenegger’s election represents a slowly spreading move by the GOP back toward the political mainstream.

-- Kevin Drum at Calpundit advises Democrats to keep the big picture in mind and not try something so stupid as a Schwarzenegger recall. The opponent, he says, is Bush, not Arnold.

-- The California secretary of state's web site has regularly updated numbers on the election.

The real Valerie Plame Wilson

The Washington Post has good, though occasionally mushy, piece about Valery Plame Wilson, the CIA operative publicly identified by two “senior administration officials.”

The Post story recycles the now-familiar tale of how her name was divulged after her husband, a diplomat in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, contradicted the current Bush’s assertions that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium ore from the African country of Niger.

But the interesting stuff is this: Plame was clearly no desk-bound “analyst,” as administration apologists have tried to claim:

Plame underwent training at ‘The Farm,’ as the [CIA] facility near Williamsburg, Va., is known to its graduates. As part of her courses, the new spy was taken hostage and taught how to reduce messages to microdots. She became expert at firing an AK-47. She learned to blow up cars and drive under fire -- all to see if she could handle the rigors of being an undercover case officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations, or DO. …

“Plame also learned how to recruit foreign nationals to serve as spies, and how to hunt others and evade those who would hunt her -- some who might look as harmless as she herself does now as a mom with a model's poise and shoulder-length blond hair.

“Her activities during her years overseas remain classified, but she became the creme de la creme of spies: a ‘noc,’ an officer with ‘nonofficial cover.’ Nocs have cover jobs that have nothing to do with the U.S. government. They work in business, in social clubs, as scientists or secretaries (they are prohibited from posing as journalists), and if detected or arrested by a foreign government, they do not have diplomatic protection and rights. They are on their own. Even their fellow operatives don't know who they are, and only the strongest and smartest are picked for these assignments.”


Now maybe the current George Bush can quit his lame and totally disingenuous whining that his is a “large administration” with a lot of “senior administration officials” and that he has no idea where to look for the culprits. The actual number of officials in his administration who could have had knowledge of Plame and her background was, or should have been, very small indeed. They would be at the White House, the Executive Office Building (where Dick Cheney has an office when he's not at his "secure, undisclosed location") and, of course, the CIA. Since the CIA has made it clear that it is outraged by Plame's outing, maybe the Chief could look at the other two locations. Of course, he might find something. Then ...

Posted by tbrown at 11:35 AM

October 07, 2003

Say hello to Gov. Gropenator

These are my predictions for the California recall:

-- Californians will vote to recall Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.

-- Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, will lead the field of 135 candidates and become the new governor, all the hoopla about his boorish behavior toward women notwithstanding.

-- The No vote on the recall – in effect votes for Davis – will be larger than the vote for Schwarzenegger, giving Democrats something to gripe about.

-- But the combined votes of Schwarzenegger and John McClintock, the conservative Republican congressman who’s also on the ballot, will be greater that Davis’ tally, giving Republicans something to brag about.

And I don’t think the 2.2 million absentees will change anything significantly. Of course, I could be totally wrong -- but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Gray man and the Arnold. What a choice. Makes me proud to be an American. But at least Arnold has a personality.

The L.A. Times has a story about how the voting is going (seemingly pretty smoothly, but with polling places crowded by a big turnout).

The Washington Post is taking questions online, in case you’re curious about what folks elsewhere are making of this circus.

At Salon, Joan Walsh wonders why New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who led the pack of Bill Clinton scandalhounds, acts like high school sophomore around Arnold. Good question. (Note: Reading this piece in full requires clicking through an ad).

Someone is making fun of Matt Drudge and posting “live election results” here.

Let’s talk about killing people

Specifically our fellow citizens. Most states – and indeed most Americans who are polled on the question – seem to believe that the barbaric practice of capital punishment is somehow a good thing. Good for deterrence (despite no evidence that it deters), good for helping the families of victims reach “closure” (mixed evidence on that one) and, of course, good for vengeance. And once in a while, in the case of particulary vicious crimes, I’ve got to confess I agree with them.

One thing that is particularly troublesome to me, though, is our continuing attempt to sanitize executions so that murder by the state at our behest doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. The key element in this has been the adoption of lethal injection, which is always billed as painless.

Well, it turns out that it’s probably quite painful for some people.

Most states use a combination of three drugs in lethal injections:

-- Sodium thiopental (better known as Sodium Pentothal), a fast-acting barbiturate that is supposed to induce unconsciousness in 20 seconds or so.

-- Pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes all major muscles, including the diaphram, rendering breathing impossible. The drug does not, however, affect the nerves or brain. You can see the problem here if the guy on the gurney wakes up too soon. The American Veterinary Medical Association, by the way, opposes the use of this chemical in euthanizing animals because “the animal may perceive pain and distress after it is immobilized.”

-- Potassium chloride, which stops the heart. This drug is said to be excruciatingly painful if the person being executed is conscious.

So the short form is that the seemingly clean and antiseptic lethal injection may well be something quite different, particularly if the person to be executed reacts to the medications in an unexpected way or if the execution is botched by those who perform it, who are rarely, if ever, medical professionals.

This may be OK to some folks, who believe criminals should suffer. But it's not with me. This is not the Middle Ages.

There are two alternatives to this messy state of affairs: for the pro-death crowd, inject a lethal dose of a single, deadly drug such as sodium pentobarbital. Keep it simple and quick.

For those of us who dislike the death penalty, it argues for society getting over its collective rage at criminals and locking them up for life when necessary. This is the preferred course in 12 states: Alaska, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, West Virginia, Vermont, Iowa, Hawaii, and Michigan.

Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University did an academic paper on how America kills its criminals that’s available here. It’s long, but enlightening.

Dumb and dumber

I don’t mean to make light of the brief kidnapping of Kathleen Gregg, wife of Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, but the guys who grabbed her don’t seem to have a combined IQ to match their hatsize.

Here’s what happened: Mrs. Gregg returned to her suburban Virginia home at about 9:30 this morning and was seized by two men, one of whom threatened her with a knife. They drove her to a bank, where one went in with Mrs. Gregg while she withdrew money. The anxious thief snatched the cash from the teller’s hand as she was counting, ran out the door and hopped into a silver Buick Le Sabre with Virginia license ADB-9712 driven by his partner.

Why didn’t these geniuses just rob the bank? Then they’d only be guilty of one crime.

Posted by tbrown at 01:56 PM

October 06, 2003

‘The universe of possible culprits is quite small’

Joshua Marshall nails quite precisely the nature of the Valerie Plame Wilson affair, in which an undercover CIA operative was identified publicly. You’ll recall that two “senior administration officials” apparently were responsible for this.

“It's next to certain that the president --- like the rest of those who read [columnist Robert] Novak's original column or heard about it --- knew this in mid-July. But it's absolutely certain he's known about it since September 27th,” Marshall says.

“And what has he done about it? Nothing.

“All mumbo-jumbo to the contrary, the universe of possible culprits is quite small. I suspect the identity of the two is already well-known in the White House. But even if that's not the case, the president could quickly figure out who they are --- probably by demanding that they come forward, and certainly by reviewing phone logs and emails. Yet he has done neither. …

The president has said he wants to get to the bottom of this. Yet he has done nothing to get to the bottom of it. The only credible explanation is the obvious one: that he doesn't want to get to the bottom of it.

OK, Marshall is liberal, you’d expect him to say something like that. But even hard-right William Kristol of the Weekly Standard gets it:

“Revealing the identity of covert CIA agents is a crime under certain circumstances. But given the strict stipulations of the relevant statute, it seems unlikely that the Justice Department investigation will ever lead to a successful prosecution of the leaker or leakers. That doesn't make the political reality or the moral responsibility any less urgent. … Surely he should do his utmost to restore the White House's reputation for honor and integrity by calling together the dozens of more-or-less ‘senior’ administration officials and asking whoever spoke with Novak to come forward and explain themselves. Presumably the relevant officials -- absent some remarkable explanation that's hard to conceive -- should be fired, and their names given to the Justice Department. The president might also want to call Mrs. Wilson, who is after all a government official serving her country, and apologize for the damage done to her by his subordinate's action.”

Apologize! What a concept.

Kristol sets his call for the administartion to clear up the Plame Wilson matter in the context of the need for an administration shakeup because of its constant internecine bickering, seeming inability to carry through on policy and faulty decision-making.

“To govern is to choose,” Kristol writes. “Only one man can make the choices necessary to get the administration back on course. President Bush has problems with his White House, his administration's execution of his policy, and its internal decision-making ability. He should fix them sooner rather than later. Time is not on his side.”

Blogger Mark A.R. Kleiman, as usual, is all over the Plame Wilson affair and has this rundown on the sequence of events as they’re known so far.

Brian Flemming’s blog has a funny day-by-day chronology of White House action on Plame Wilson (scroll down to "76 Days"). But I wonder if Bush is laughing.

If things are going so well in Iraq, why do we need this?

Because the President doesn’t think they’re going so well, apparently. That’s the nut of this New York Times story reporting yet another reorganization of our approach to rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, this one to be controlled directly from the White House by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

“The creation of the group, according to several administration officials, grew out of Mr. Bush's frustration at the setbacks in Iraq and the absence of more visible progress in Afghanistan, at a moment when remnants of the Taliban appear to be newly active,” The Times reports. “It is the closest the White House has come to an admission that its plans for reconstruction in those countries have proved insufficient, and that it was unprepared for the guerrilla-style attacks that have become more frequent in Iraq. There have been more American deaths in Iraq since the end of active combat than during the six weeks it took to take control of the country.”

The new Iraq Stabilization Group undercuts both the Defense Department, which so far is in charge of the Iraq cleanup, and the State Department, which is in charge in Afghanistan.

It’s certainly true that success or failure in Iraq and Afghanistan ultimately is the responsibility of the president. But the more firmly he grasps this tar baby, the more difficult he’ll find it to extricate himself from the consequences of his policies. If things work out well in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’ll be a hero. If not, he may become the third one-term president in the last quarter-century.

The California mess: Was Davis an 'office batterer?'

Jill Stewart, a writer and commentator on California politics, said in a piece in the L.A. Daily News over the weekend that Gov. Gray Davis is an "office batterer" who mistreats loyal employees so harshly that one vowed never to work in the same room with him again and required psychological treatment.

Her piece, however, suffers from the same problem -- the anonymity of the accusers -- as did the L.A. Times story last week detailing Schwarzenegger's groping of women. It is, nonetheless, worth reading.

Slate blogger Mickey Kaus asks whether Arnold was really behind the recall effort from the beginning and makes an entertaining case that ought to give conspiracy buffs some fodder.

Bill Whalen in the Weekly Standard avoids exploring why anyone would want to vote for Schwarzenegger (other than that he isn’t Gray Davis) and gives the media some bad gas, a much easier proposition.

And that's all about our neighbors to the south ... for today.

Posted by tbrown at 01:18 PM

October 03, 2003

Arnold on Hitler then …

"I admired Hitler, for instance, because he came from being a little man with almost no formal education, up to power. I admire him for being such a good public speaker and for what he did with it." He also said he wished he could have an experience "like Hitler in the Nuremberg stadium. And have all those people scream at you and just being total agreement whatever you say."

-- Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1975, quoted from a verbatim interview transcript in a proposal for an unpublished book done in conjunction with the film "Pumping Iron"

Arnold on Hitler now …

"I cannot remember any of this, all I can tell you is that I despise anything that Hitler stood for," he said. "I despise anything what the Nazis stood for ... anything that the Third Reich stood for. Anything that they've done, the atrocities that they've created ... and this is why for many many years I've been fighting against prejudice."

-- Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday

How much weirder can it get?

This guy has zero credibility – but he’s looking more and more like California’s next governor.

This leads my Seattle Times colleague David Haakenson to wonder: How weird is it when a guy:

-- Admits having engaged in group sex,

-- Smoked marijuana,

-- Gratuitously squeezes women’s breasts and buttocks,

-- Expressed admiration for Hitler,

-- Is a Republican,

-- And appears likely to win an election!

What a Great American. On the other hand, when the major choice is this, it makes me grateful I’m here, not there.

Interestingly, women's advocate Susan Estrich is furious at the L.A. Times

"As a professor of sex discrimination law for two decades and an expert on sexual harassment, I certainly don't condone the unwanted touching of women that was apparently involved here" Estrich writes. "But these acts do not appear to constitute any crime, such as rape or sodomy or even assault or battery. As for civil law, sexual harassment requires more than a single case of unwelcome touching; there must be either a threat or promise of sex in exchange for a job benefit or demotion, or the hostile environment must be severe and pervasive.

"But none of these women, as The Times emphasizes, ever came forward to complain. The newspaper went looking for them, and then waited until five days before the election to tell the fragments of the story."

Posted by tbrown at 10:47 AM

October 02, 2003

Say it ain’t so, Rush buddy

Does Rush Limbaugh have a drug problem? The New York Daily News says it has confirmed that he was ratted out to Florida authorities by his former housekeeper, Wilma Cline, 42, who claims she was his pill supplier for four years. The Limbaugh case supposedly is being investigated by the Palm Beach County state attorney’s office.

This story firsts broke in the, ahem, National Enquirer, but the Daily News, an actual newspaper, says it has independently confirmed the story.

The chief dittohead’s choice of drugs, according to Cline: OxyContin, Lorcet and hydrocodone, all prescription painkillers. OxyContin is particularly potent and addictive and has become known as “hillbilly heroin” because of its popularity in poor areas of the South. Rich areas, too, it would now appear.

All this comes on the heels of Limbaugh’s resignation from his gig at ESPN for making what were widely perceived as racist comments about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Limbaugh’s office issued a statement saying he had no knowledge of a drug investigation. Attorneys for Limbaugh refused to comment and said their client couldn’t be reached because he was traveling. Maybe they meant tripping.

Update: wounded soldiers will no longer be billed for hospital meals

One of the most absurd of many injustices done our troops was charging the wounded $8.10 a day for their hospital meals. That may be about over. The Senate has inserted a provision in the Bush administration’s $87 billion Iraq-Afganistan budget request to end the practice.

Air Force is ready to shoot down U.S. passenger planes if necessary

"Frankly, we have long discussions with people to see if they're mentally prepared to do this -- pilots and operators on the ground, too, for the air defense system."

-- Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart

Air Force pilots practice shooting down U.S. airliners weekly, according to Eberhart, and are prepared to do it as a last resort to prevent another catastrophe like 9/11.

"As we talk our way through this with our people, the important thing is they know we have done everything possible," Eberhart told reporters. "This is our last resort. And if we don't do this, innocent people on the ground are going to die, too."

It’s a chilling world we live in, no?

Posted by tbrown at 11:49 AM

October 01, 2003

The return of the Flat Earth Society

I have a guilty secret: I actually like reading James Taranto, the acerbic editor of the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web Today site, even when he’s absurdly tendentious, which is often. But since the Valerie Plame affair went nuclear, he (like other denizens of the Journal’s edit page) has been sounding like a querulous founding member of the Flat Earth Society who’s suddenly panic-stricken that there might actually be a little curvature out there.

Yesterday, for example, Taranto wrote that, “Anti-Bush partisans are really piling on thick over the purported scandal involving the ‘outing,’ supposedly by White House officials, of Valerie Plame, who may or may not have been a covert CIA operative, and who is married to a critic of the administration named Joe Wilson.” At the time this dropped into my inbox, it was crystal clear that a) Plame was a covert agent because the head White House lawyer had already told the staff so and that b) Taranto was walking the weedy neocon path that holds it doesn’t matter that her name became public because her husband had the temerity to disagree with the president. Never mind that her expertise lies in weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's supposed possession of which, remember, was the key justification for why we went to war.

Then Taranto went on to reprint columnist Robert Novak’s revisionist history of how he came to be told Plame was a spook (at least yesterday’s version was strikingly different than what Novak said in his original July 14 column, and in interviews at that time about it, so he either fibbed then or is now).

Today Taranto demoted Plame to a “kerfuffle,” which my dictionary defines as a fuss or disturbance. Nothing to worry about, in any case.

And here’s a little something from a Wall Street Journal editorial on the Plame business:

"Of course! The reason this is suddenly a story is because Mr.[Karl] Rove, the President's political strategist and confidant from Texas, has become the main target. …The media, and the Democrats now slip-streaming behind them, understand that the what of this mystery matters much less than the who. … If they can take down Mr. Rove, the lead planner for Mr. Bush's re-election campaign, they will have knocked the props out of his Presidency."

Really? We thought this was about unmasking a veteran CIA undercover agent, destroying her effectiveness in the job she was doing and possibly threatening at least some of her contacts. We don’t know if Rove is the guilty party here – though he’s the president’s top hired gun, is vindictive enough and has a history of leaking to columnist Novak (George H.W. Bush reportedly fired him from his campaign for just that offense).

See? The earth really isn’t round to these folks.

P.S.: I should mention that today Taranto also dives into the “Bush hatred” question that I’ve blogged about a couple of times in the last week or so. It’s worth a read.

He also has a link to this useful site, which has letters from U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Included is this letter from Army Maj. Eric Rydbom, who hails from Shoreline (a Seattle suburb). Rydbom is an engineer and discusses at length some of the military's efforts to help restore basic services in Iraq, and concludes with this:

"I'm living in a 'guest palace' on a 500-acre palace compound with 20 palaces with like facilities built in half a dozen towns all over Iraq that were built for one man. Drive down the street and out into the countryside five miles away like I have and see all the families of 10 or more, all living in mud huts and herding the two dozen sheep on which their very existence depends .... then tell me why you think we are here."

Posted by tbrown at 02:29 PM

He talked the talk, but will he walk the walk?

"The President and I place deterring, detecting, and punishing unauthorized disclosures of U.S. national security secrets among our highest priorities, at all times, but especially in this time of war against terrorism of global reach."
-- Attorney General John Ashcroft wrote in an October 2002 report to Congress.

However, there's this:

“The Justice Department has responded affirmatively to [CIA Director George] Tenet's request for an investigation,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says in an editorial on the Valerie Plame mess. “But get this: When Justice informed the White House of the investigation Monday evening, it said it would be all right if the staff was notified Tuesday morning to safeguard all material that related to the case. The staff had all night to get rid of anything incriminating.

That incredible tidbit supports calls by Democrats and a slew of others for Attorney General John Ashcroft to appoint a special counsel to investigate this case. They're right: Ashcroft has no credibility in this, and neither does the White House, given its habitual effort to spin information, mislead the American people and smear anyone who disagrees with it.”

On the offchance that Ashcroft does find something amiss, we assume he’ll be certain to apply his latest edict to his department’s lawyers to the miscreants and file the most serious charge and seek the maximum sentence supported by the evidence.

Posted by tbrown at 11:57 AM

A fresh Plame wrap up

Mark A.R. Kleiman has an excellent wrapup of developments on the Valerie Plame affair and the criminal investigation of possible White House involvement at Open Source Politics.

There's also fresh analysis on Brad DeLong's blog, appropriately titled "Incipient Paranoia?":

"I started out thinking this was just another round in the mother of all bureaucratic turf wars -- with [CIA Director George] Tenet striking preemptively to keep the White House and its congressional allies from tagging him with responsibility for the missing WMD debacle. And maybe that's it. Maybe this really is about nothing more complicated than one man's fight to keep his job.

"But the more I watch the story unfold, the more I think something deeper and darker is at stake. It seems the top career elite at the CIA, plus Tenet, has pulled out all the stops to try to bust up the Rove machine. That suggests they're worried about something much bigger than just bureaucratic turf or the WMD blame game.

In fact, if this were a Third World country, I'd say we're witnessing the early stages of a coup d'etat -- or of a desperate effort to prevent one. But of course, those kind of things never happen in America."


Kevin Drum at Calpundit provides some useful exerpts from an online forum at the Washington Post conducted by former CIA agent Mel Goodman (link via Atrios). A sample:

"There is a great deal of anger and frustration [at the CIA] over the White House pressure tactics on intelligence assessments, the terrible handling of the Iraq-Niger story, Rumsfeld's pressure on Tenet, etc. etc. This is worse, however, because it compromises the careers of CIA officers and the lives of foreign assets. This is extremely serious business, particularly in a world where human intelligence could make all the difference."

Posted by tbrown at 10:43 AM

It's all unraveling

There's still a lot we don't know about the unmasking of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent, by two "senior administration officials." But we're learning a lot now, very quickly, and none of it looks good for President Bush.

Here's what Larry Johnson, a former CIA and State Department counter-terrorism official said on PBS' Newshour today (link via Atrios):

"This not an alleged abuse. This is a confirmed abuse. I worked with this woman. She started training with me. She has been under cover for three decades. She is not as Bob Novak [the columnist who first published her name] suggested a 'CIA analyst.' Given that, I was a CIA analyst for 4 years. I was under cover. I could not divulge to my family outside of my wife that I worked for the CIA until I left the Intelligence Agency on Sept. 30, 1989. At that point I could admit it. The fact that she was under cover for three decades and that has been divulged is outrageous.

"She was put undercover for certain reasons. One, she works in an area where people she works with overseas could be compromised...

"For these journalists to argue that this is no big deal... and if I hear another Republican operative suggesting that, well, this was just an analyst. Fine. Let them go undercover. Let's put them go overseas. Let's out them and see how they like it...

"I say this as a registered Republican. I am on record giving contributions to the George Bush campaign. This is not about partisan politics. This is about a betrayal, a political smear, of an individual who had no relevance to the story. Publishing her name in that story added nothing to it because the entire intent was, correctly as Ambassador Wilson noted, to intimidate, to suggest that there was some impropriety that somehow his wife was in a decision-making position to influence his ability to go over and savage a stupid policy, an erroneous policy, and frankly what was a false policy of suggesting that there was nuclear material in Iraq that required this war. This was about a political attack. To pretend it was something else, to get into this parsing of words.

"I tell you, it sickens me to be a Republican to see this."

Then there's this, from Brad DeLong's blog. DeLong is a former Clinton administration official, so you can take that into account when you read what he has to say. But he was an insider and it shows here: this is the best analysis I've seen yet about why the CIA decided to take on the White House in so direct a fashion.

"The fact that [Director of Central Intelligence George] Tenet has moved on this -- has requested the Justice Department to investigate -- means that he or that large factions within his agency are truly angry and very upset at what the White House has done," DeLong says. "Even so, it is never good for Directors or Deputy Directors or Assistant Directors of Central Intelligence to be perceived inside the White House as having launched an unsuccessful bureaucratic war at those whom the president trusts -- if, that is, they are still trusted when the process unwinds to its end. There must be people inside the CIA who are highly confident that this will end very badly for the guilty parties inside the White House, or the CIA would have found reasons to avoid the referral."

After you read that piece, check DeLong's more recent entries. Its devastating stuff.

If you want to stay on top of this story, these are the links to follow:

Mark A.R. Kleiman

Talking Points Memo

Brad DeLong

Whiskey Bar

Atrios Eschaton


And let's not forget the guy who broke this story, David Corn of The Nation.

Also, check back here -- I'm doing my best.

If you want explanations that support the administration in any meaningful way, you'll have to do your own looking. I haven't found any yet.

Update: The right blogosphere is still in deep denial this morning, but Tom Maguire does denial better than most of them. He has the best case so far for the administration's point of view. He spends a lot of time trying to make the case that disclosing Plame's probably wasn't such a big deal:

"... I am not saying I don't care," Maguire says. "I am saying it is far from clear that her 'outing' was the blow to national security that partisan critics would like to imagine."

Well, none of us knows at this stage what actual damage it caused, but the fact that the CIA clearly is pushing this case argues that it was substantial or that it fears the Bush administration may continue this kind of conduct, which would, ultimately, endanger national security.

Posted by tbrown at 09:55 AM

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Iraq: stick it out or bug out?
Where’s Saddam?
Speaking of potential WMDs ...
Where's their sense of humor?
A ‘gangbuster’ economic number
An economic ‘coup’ in Russia
Israel’s top soldier speaks out
Iraq, good and bad
It’s not nation-building, it’s war
Here’s a solution to the Iraq mess


Blogs to watch

Abu Ardvark
Andrew Sullivan
Atrios Eschaton
Best of the Web
Drudge Report
Joe Conason (subscription required)
Josh Marshall
Kaus files
No More Mr. Nice Blog
Real Clear Politics
The Corner
The Volokh Conspiracy
The Whiskey Bar

Mideast blogs

Salam Pax (Iraq)
G. in Baghdad
L.T. Smash (U.S. military in Iraq)
Lady Sun (Iran)

City blogs

L.A. Examiner

Africa blogs

Cathy Buckle

Media blogs

Dan Gillmor's eJournal
Media Whores Online


Newspapers online (guide to papers on the web)
International Herald Tribune
The Guardian U.K.
New York Times (free registration required)

Economy blogs

Brad DeLong

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