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Between the Lines

November 28, 2003

I’m glad he went

President Bush’s visit to Baghdad was a good thing. Yes, for campaign purposes it may be just an update of his President Top Gun landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln off San Diego this spring, with the now notorious “Mission Accomplished” banner strategically placed in the background. But his visit to the war zone could cut either way by election day, and in any case all presidents, not just this one, do whatever they can to smooth their way to re-election.

Presidential visits can have other meanings though, and I was encouraged to see Bush at least make a gesture to the 130,000 U.S. troops now stationed in Iraq. Their situation remains perilous; another GI was killed not long after Bush’s cameo appearance before about 600 troops at Baghdad International Airport, bringing U.S. deaths to 430.

Bush’s remarks to the troops were brief and struck an appropriate tone for the holiday. The full text is here. But he couldn’t resist the administration’s absurd cliché that we’re fighting terrorists in Iraq “so that we don't have to face them in our own country.” This line is becoming too much even for the Weekly Standard, the birthing room of many of this administration’s worst policies.

Foreign reaction to Bush’s visit was varied, but often predictably cynical.

I’m still glad he went.

Posted by tbrown at 12:41 PM


Lovely. They’re thugs and thieves

Earlier this month, a memo by the Democratic staff of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee was leaked and caused a bit of a stir because it suggested the Dems adopt a stragegy of highlighting differences between what administration officials said about the justifications for the Iraq war and what intelligence showed and, eventually, push for an independent probe of how the administration used intelligence.

This set off a lot of Republican caterwauling about the perfidiousness of the minority party – never mind that the memo in question had not been approved by the senior Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and had not been distributed to anyone. The Democrats, meanwhile, wondered how the memo got out.

Well, now we know. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has suspended a staffer of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, because the staffer apparently hacked into the committee computer system and stole the memo in question as well as other Democratic documents.

“There’s no excuse that can justify these actions,” Hatch said. Still, he didn’t seem too upset. The miscreant is now on a taxpayer-financed vacation (administrative leave with pay) and another committee aide who knew about the thefts was not disciplined.

That’s about par for this gang, who are imposing their will on the minority in ways that have been seen rarely, if ever.

Posted by tbrown at 12:38 PM


The Medicare farce

The new Medicare bill, which will benefit everyone except seniors, is a bad, bad piece of legislation. The way it was passed was even worse. The roll-call vote was held open for an unprecedented three hours, from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., so the Republicans, who were in serious danger of losing, could twist enough arms to get this turkey passed. Included were some 4 a.m. phone calls from President Bush to reluctant members of his flock.

“Democracy is a fragile web of laws, rules and norms,” says Norman Ornstein of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. “The norms are just as important to the legitimacy of the system as the rules. Blatant violations of them on a regular basis corrode the system. The ugliness of this one will linger.”

Columnist Robert Novak, an old-line conservative, provides some specifics on the depths plumbed by this ultimately successful GOP push.

U.S. Rep. Nick Smith, a Michigan Republican who is retiring and hopes his son (one of five candidates for the seat) might succeed him, opposed the Medicare “reform.” Here’s what happened to him:

“On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.”

If it’s possible to get any lower than this, we can rely on these moral midgets to find the way.

Posted by tbrown at 12:35 PM


November 26, 2003

John Burns’ gritty picture of Iraq

The New York Times’ chief foreign correspondent, John Burns, has already won Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of the conflict in Bosnia and the depredations of the Taliban in Afghanistan and appears well on his way to winning another for his coverage of Iraq. Burns was in Baghdad before the bombing started and stayed there until early May as one of a handful of independent (i.e. not “embedded”) reporters and his coverage was exemplary.

Burns recently returned to Baghdad and discussed the current situation there at length last night on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” This is a must-hear. Burns remains a clear-headed, non-ideological observer, and he has both good news and bad. Good: progress is being made in many areas and Iraqis overwhelmingly do not want an abrupt pullout of U.S. troops. Bad: the security situation is terrible and Iraq is a more dangerous place now than it was during the war. He doesn’t speculate on how it will all turn out, but provides much gritty detail on the challenge.

Posted by tbrown at 01:22 PM


One more important difference from Vietnam

Iraq isn’t Vietnam, as the administration’s backers continuously remind us. Heck, I’ve said it myself. But there are some similarities. And one of the most important is high-level bungling in D.C. In Vietnam, we had Lyndon Johnson and his arrogant secretary of defense, Robert McNamara (followed, of course, by Richard Nixon). In the current mess, we have George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and his arrogant underlings and advisers, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, who are committing the same kinds of follies that turned our experience in Vietnam into a generational nightmare.

But, says Joe Galloway, there's one difference between this bunch of bunglers and the previous ones:

“http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/news/opinion/7341341.htm
It took Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon nearly a decade to fail in Vietnam. Cheney and Rumsfeld could do it in Iraq in a year,” he writes.

He may be right. They do seem incapable of learning.

Posted by tbrown at 01:20 PM


November 25, 2003

Still looking for the perfect turkey?

There may not be one, for reasons that chef Sara Dickerman of Seattle's Harvest Vine restaurant lays out in this piece in Slate.

But there are some good birds out there, as her cooking and taste-testing experiment reveal. And the results may not be what you think.

Well, enough holiday spirit. Let's get to the real meat.

Posted by tbrown at 12:58 PM


There he goes again

“Terrorists need places to hide, to plot, and to train, so we're holding their allies, the allies of terror to account. (Applause.) Working with a fine coalition, our military went to Afghanistan, destroyed the training camps of al Qaeda, and put the Taliban out of business forever. (Applause.)
-- President Bush, in a speech yesterday at Fort Carson, Colo.

Stronger and more deadly, the terror of the Taliban is back.”
-- The Observer [London], Nov. 16

Mullah Omar, the ousted leader of the Taliban, has urged Afghans to unite against the American military in the country, claiming that promises of democracy and reconstruction have not been fulfilled, the Afghan Islamic Press reported. The call came as the death toll among the occupying forces continued to rise.”
-- The Independent [London], Sunday

“RAZMAK, November 20 (Online): The Afghan base at the Khost airport came under heavy attack last night by Taliban Mujahideen who, instead of firing rockets and slipping in the forests, waged a continuous operation using heavy weapons.”
-- Paktribune Online [Pakistan], Nov. 20

“The killing of a French UN relief worker Sunday in the Afghan provincial city of Ghazni underscores both the deteriorating security situation in much of the country two years after the ouster of the Taliban regime, and the degree to which the United Nations and aid workers in general have become targets in the ongoing 'war on terrorism' between US-led western forces and Islamic radicals.”
-- Paktribune Online [Pakistan], Nov. 20

If reconstruction of the country is to continue, governments must consider more seriously helping Afghanistan achieve security and stability.”
-- Filippo Grandi, chief of mission in Afghanistan at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

“Two years after Kabul was freed from the Taliban there's a sense of deja vu about Afghanistan. The striking comparison is not primarily with Iraq … No, Kabul today bears a strong resemblance to the Kabul of 1981. This time the men setting the model are American rather than Russian, but the project for secular modernisation which Washington has embarked on is eerily reminiscent of what the Soviet Union tried to do.”
-- The Guardian [London], Nov. 13

The author of the Guardian piece hopes the U.S. and its allies succeed where the Russians failed, but makes it clear that we’ve got our work cut out for us.

The president, meanwhile, presents our troops, who live daily with the life-or-death consequences of his actions, a fairy tale that all is well in Afghanistan, when in fact it is on the verge of slipping back under the control of the Taliban in some areas and local warlords in others.

Thankfully, not all the speech was this disingenuous. Despite the administration’s lies about the necessity for the war and its blundering in the aftermath, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, both those benighted countries are better off now than they used to be for the reasons Bush delineated here:

“Our mission in Iraq and Afghanistan is clear to our service members, and it's clear to our enemies. America's military is fighting to secure the freedom of more than 50 million people who recently lived under two of the cruelest dictatorships on earth. America's military is fighting to help democracy and peace and justice rise in a troubled and violent region. ...

"The work we are in is not easy, yet it is essential. The failure of democracy in Iraq would provide new bases for the terrorist network and embolden terrorists and their allies around the world. The failure of democracy in those countries would convince terrorists that America backs down under attack. Yet democracy will succeed in Iraq, because our will is firm and our word is good. Democracy will succeed because every month, more and more Iraqis are fighting for their own country. People we have liberated will not surrender their freedom. Democracy will succeed because the United States of America will not be intimidated by a bunch of thugs."

But our lofty goals will only be achieved with a lot more competence -- and honesty -- at the top than this administration has demonstrated.

Posted by tbrown at 11:45 AM


The trouble with ‘fanatical pacifism’

Sure … there are doubtless many protestors who have intelligently thought out concerns about Dubya's policies who attend these rallies out of fervently held conviction. But a good dollop are there just for cheap kicks and have barely a clue what they're protesting against. …

“Yes war is horrible. We must do our utmost to prevent it. But, of course, military action is sometimes an imperative.”

-- Gregory Djerejian, Belgravia Dispatch

Posted by tbrown at 11:39 AM


The all-time champion pork-barrelers are … Republicans

So says a new report by the Democratic minority on the House Appropriations Committee. They base their assertion on the enormous increase in so-called “earmarks” – specific pieces of fat for specific members of Congress to take home to their districts (preservation of an outhouse at the Lawrence Welk Museum, for example).

Here is Kevin Drum’s synopsis of the report.

And here’s a link to the full report.

The only good news is the shape of the curve in the opening chart depicting the increase in pork spending. It’s a parabolic curve, and in nature parabolic curves always end in crashes (take a look at a chart of the NASDAQ over the last 10 years). This practice will crash, too. But probably not until the current crop of spendthrifts has hobbled the economy with debt that will take decades for our children and grandchildren to pay off.

Posted by tbrown at 11:38 AM


November 24, 2003

Some good news for Bush

The economy is beginning to produce some good news for the Bush administration.

The Economic Cycle Research Institute, a respected independent purveyor of economic analysis, had this to say in its most recent report: “What we are experiencing is not only a genuine rebound in economic growth, but also one that is sustainable for the foreseeable future. In fact, ECRI's array of leading indexes of economic growth is pointing to resilient growth that will remain around or above trend at least through mid-2004. For the foreseeable future, therefore, it is highly unlikely that even an unexpected shock could tip the economy over into a new recession."

Thus, ECRI underscores recent improvements in GNP, productivity and – modest though it is so far – in job creation. The lack of new jobs is still a major problem for the administration as there is literally no way that the economy can recreate the 3 million jobs lost in the recession before next fall.

However, significant signs that job growth is underway are likely to undermine the Democrats’ already slim chance of unseating Bush.

ECRI does temper its forecast with that little qualifier that growth should remain good "through mid-2004." If the economy should turn down again -- whether from an "unexpected shock" or some other reason, then Bush will be in very hot water.

Barring that, the wildcard remains Iraq, where things are going from bad to worse.

Posted by tbrown at 12:39 PM


And if there is another 'unexpected shock,' don't tell Tommy Franks

Gen. Tommy Franks, who retired as Centcom commander just as the going threatened to get tough in Iraq (a prescient move in retrospect), says another major terror attack on U.S. soil could lead to suspension of the Constitution and rule by the military.

Good grief. I thought our brass was duty-bound to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution, not just us, our subdivisions and our SUVs.

Historian and blogger Juan Cole gives some perspective on just how feckless – not to mention scary – this is, and notes that Britain, which lacks a Bill of Rights, already is creeping toward fascism to prosecute its end of the "war on terror."

Posted by tbrown at 12:38 PM


Soros vs. Moon

The message boards of rightwing blogs have lit up like pinball machines since financier George Soros made the defeat of George Bush a personal goal. I mean, a billionaire Democrat? He must be nuts – or at least unAmerican. Even the Washington Post, which surely should know better, is whining about a very small fraction of Soros’ wealth going to Democrats.

Well, you can say what you like about Soros, but he isn’t an evident lunatic, which is certainly something you can't say about one of the biggest moneybags of the right, the “Rev.” Sun Myung Moon.

Blogger John Gorenfeld has a great point-by-point comparison of the two. Scroll down to his table(link via Atrios).

Posted by tbrown at 12:37 PM


The queen is now even less amused

If you treasure your yard, don’t invite Bush to drop in.

Posted by tbrown at 12:35 PM


November 19, 2003

The Feith memo – II

That memo from Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, to the Senate intelligence committee is still causing a stir in the blogosphere, but is not making much of a splash elsewhere.

Why? Blogger Joshua Marshall has some good answers, which center around this: a) most of the information is old and has been reported before, b) the material in the memo is for the most part raw, unassessed intelligence whose veracity is unclear and c) after all the neoconservative screwups on intelligence hardly anyone, even at the Pentagon, trusts Feith anymore.

“If you’ve been following the intel wars you know that the group that put together this dossier started working in Doug Feith’s office shortly after 9/11 and that they presented these findings -- absent a few details subsequently culled from detainee interviews -- at Langley in August 2002,” Marshall writes. “The methods used by Feith’s Pentagon analysis shop were widely panned and the consensus within the intel community was that the findings didn’t pass the laugh test.

“It is almost certain that the dossier -- or rather the memo summarizing it -- was leaked now because Feith and his ideological soul-mates at the Pentagon are profoundly on the defensive because of the WMD debacle and poor planning for post-war Iraq.

“Indeed, even within his group, Feith’s stock is close to its nadir -- partly because of these sorts of mad-scientist shenanigans, but for other reasons too. The Senate intel investigation, of course, looms. And perhaps Sen. Roberts (R-Kans) won’t be able to force all the blame on the CIA.

“For all these reasons, they are trying to push back anywhere and everywhere they can.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard, who broke the original story, is back with another piece in response to a Pentagon handout that essentially dismissed the Feith memo as nothing new. He continues to argue that the Feith disclosures demonstrate close ties between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida.

“If the intelligence reporting in the memo was left out of earlier ‘finished intelligence products’ because the reporting is inaccurate, it seems odd that it would form the basis of briefings given to the secretary of Defense, the director of Central Intelligence, and the vice president,” Hayes writes. “And it would be stranger still to include such intelligence in a memo to a Senate panel investigating the potential misuse of intelligence.

“If, on the other hand, the information in the Feith memo is accurate, it changes everything. An operational relationship between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, as detailed in the memo, would represent a threat the United States could not afford to ignore. President Bush and his national security team could not have known everything in the memo, of course, since some of the reporting comes from postwar Iraq. But consider what they did know.”

Read ‘em and decide for yourself.

Posted by tbrown at 01:28 PM


Using Israeli tactics in Iraq

The Israeli government’s iron-fisted crackdown on Palestinian terrorists has done nothing to increase the security of Israelis, as two years of sucide bombings attest. Now we’re adopting some of the same tactics in our “get tough” policy toward the Iraqi resistance. All it’s likely to do is make more Iraqis hate us, for reasons Billmon details here. It also may be a war crime, but so what. International law is for wimps.

Posted by tbrown at 01:26 PM


Poor Rush. Why do they hate him so?

"I was not laundering money. I was withdrawing money for crying out loud."
-- Rush Limbaugh, on his radio show today

Yes – he was withdrawing a lot of money, according to prosecution sources quoted by AP, 30 or more transactions for just under $10,000 each. If you withdraw $10,000 or more, the transaction is reported to the government. This is a long-standing law intended to make money-laundering harder, and it can be a crime to structure withdrawals to avoid the reporting requirement.

"I know where the story comes from, I know who's behind it, and I know what the purpose of the story is, and I'll be able to tell you at some point," Rushbo told his fans.

Another liberal conspiracy no doubt. And who do those pinko prosecutors think he is anyway? Just another doper?

Posted by tbrown at 01:24 PM


Should the UN run the Internet? Yeah, sure

Maybe we could rename it something catchy like InterUN, or maybe UNnet, to start with. Then we could install 5,000 bureaucrats in Geneva to oversee it at three-hour lunches at lakeside restaurants. Too bad this is no joke.

Posted by tbrown at 01:22 PM


November 18, 2003

Desperation, stupidity or payback?

With this administration it’s hard to tell. But this story from London, on the eve of what’s already going to be a controversial and contentious visit by President Bush to our No. 1 ally, is truly amazing (if it proves to be more than a trial balloon).

Here’s the gist of it:

“George Bush's administration has called on U.S. companies in Britain to relocate jobs to America in an astonishing move that could trigger a major trade war.

“U.S.-based multinationals have been told they will receive compensation from American trade authorities if they cancel contracts in Britain and take jobs home, according to CBI [Confederation of British Industry] director-general Digby Jones. …

“Speaking at the CBI's annual conference in Birmingham, Jones said: 'Three chief executives of American companies investing in Britain have told me to my face that they have been told to close down, bring their stuff home and make it in the US.' "

Good. A shooting war isn’t enough. We need a trade war, too. You have to wonder if this is some idiotic campaign ploy by the administration to pretend it’s going to bring home the millions of jobs that have fled the country for various reasons. If so, for so-called free-marketers, these guys sure don’t seem to understand 1930s economics, much less those of the 21st century.

Posted by tbrown at 11:34 AM


But maybe it’s linked to this

It’s possible, though, that urging U.S. companies to withdraw from Britain might be linked to the equally lunatic proposal by British PM Tony Blair’s former labor and industry. He wants to retaliate against Bush’s ill-advised steel tariffs by using retaliatory duties to attempt to undercut the president in a few swing states in next year’s presidential election. (Yes, it’s true that we pull dirty tricks of this sort all the time in other countries, but let’s not go there right now.)

Posted by tbrown at 11:32 AM


Letters to Bush

The Guardian, the liberal London newspaper, invited 60 people -- Britons, Americans and others, including Baghdad blogger Salam Pax -- to write Bush a letter about his visit.

They're wonderful and come from left, right and most places on the spectrum in between.

Posted by tbrown at 11:30 AM


What’s behind the Brits’ anti-Bush tantrums?

Inquiring bloggers want to know how come there’s such a fuss about Bush’s trip to London, considering that it’s a regular stop for politically unsavory heads of state from all over.

Belgravia Dispatch has an excellent post noting the mild whimpers (if that) that accompanied visits by China’s Jiang Zemin, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Syria’s Bashar Assad and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe – all heads of governments with appalling human rights records.

Brendan O’Neill argues that Bush isn’t much different than other visiting U.S. presidents, most of whom were much better tolerated than the current occupant of the White House.

“The truth is … there is nothing special about President Bush,” O’Neill avers. “Like every other modern president, he has launched wars, told half-truths and untruths, and acted in the interests of America's capitalist elite -- hardly Stop the Press stuff. So why the deeply hostile reaction to his arrival in Britain, everywhere from the backrooms of Downing Street to the front pages of the papers to the ranks of the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements?”

Good question.

Posted by tbrown at 11:30 AM


Finally: Wes Clark takes on the ‘fair and balanced’ jerks at Fox

“Our men and women in Iraq are doing a fabulous job. … Don’t you dare twist words into disrespect for our men and women in uniform. …

“You are playing politics with our men and women in Iraq.”
-- Wesley Clark on Fox's “Setting the Record Straight”

If you want to see how Democratic candidates should be handling loaded questions from the Bush administration’s journalistic gofers, click here now. This clip runs six or seven minutes and is worth the time. But you’d better move quickly before they take it down.

Posted by tbrown at 11:28 AM


November 17, 2003

The Saddam-Al-Qaida smoking gun?

Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda--perhaps even for Mohamed Atta--according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by The Weekly Standard.”
-- Stephen Hayes in The Weekly Standard

Explosive-sounding stuff. But does Feith’s memo, as Hayes asserts, amount to “Case Closed” – proof positive that Saddam and al-Qaida really were bedfellows?

Hayes, obviously, thinks so. And so speculate bloggers Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds and James Taranto, who are all making much of the 16-page Feith memo and complaining that the mainstream press hasn’t done much with it.

“THIS STORY MUSN’T DIE,” Sullivan asserts. He forewarns readers that he’s no intelligence expert, but says of Feith’s information “ … Again, all this is amazing stuff: a phenomenally important story, if true.”

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? I’ll give you my disclaimer as well: I’m no intelligence expert either, and there is lots of fine print in Feith’s memo. So here’s my advice. Read, or at least skim, Hayes’ story in the Standard. Then check out Sullivan, Reynolds and Taranto.

Then read this memo issued last week by the Pentagon memo, which dismisses the memo in this way: “News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate. … The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida, and it drew no conclusions.

But I have even less faith in Pentagon flacks than in the warbloggers’ ceaseless attempts to defend the neoconservative case for the Iraq invasion regardless of what the facts show. So, to go beyond the official mumbo jumbo, read:

-- This post by Joshua Marshall, who remains the best-informed blogger on the machinations of Washington bureaucracy.

-- And this post at Atrios, which details where the material in Feith’s memo has been aired before.

So – another leak, another feeding frenzy in blogdom. I’ll keep you posted on developments.

Posted by tbrown at 04:32 PM


Iraq’s top missile scientist flees – to Iran

The list of foreseen, but ignored, consequences of our precipitous plunge into Iraq continues to grow.

The AP says that Dr. Modher Sadeq-Saba al-Tamimi, Iraq’s top long-range missile scientist has now fled to Iran, a co-member of President Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” and a regime that has been covertly working on the technology necessary to produce nuclear weapons for the last 18 years, according to a new confidential report by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.

Modher’s departure “comes as top weapons makers from Saddam's deposed regime find themselves eight months out of work but with skills that could be lucrative to militaries or terrorist organizations in neighboring countries. U.S. officials have said some are already in Syria and Jordan.

“Experts long feared the collapse of Saddam's rule could lead to the kind of scientific brain-drain the United States tried to prevent as the former Soviet Union collapsed. But the Bush administration had no plan for Iraqi scientists and instead officials suggested they could be tried for war crimes.

" ‘There are a couple hundred Iraqis who are really good scientists, particularly in the missile area,’ said Jonathan Tucker, a former U.N. inspector now with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute in California. ‘In the chemical and biological areas, their work wasn't state of the art but it was good enough to be of interest to other countries.’ "

The IAEA’s new report on Modher’s new home, Iran, is disquieting for two reason:

1. "Iran's policy of concealment continued until last month, with cooperation being limited and reactive, and information being slow in coming, changing and contradictory. While most of the breaches identified to date have involved limited quantities of nuclear material, they have dealt with the most sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing."

2. The IAEA says that nonetheless there is no evidence of an active weapons program in Iran. Huh? The only reasons for producing weapons-grade nuclear materials is for weapons. What don’t they get?

Posted by tbrown at 01:47 PM


Arnold in Sacramento

I am humbled, I am moved and I am honored beyond words to be your governor.”
-- Arnold Schwarzenegger, today in his 10-minute inaugural address.

But the most important thing he had to say was that he would keep a key campaign promise and immediately sign an executive order ending a recent 300 percent increase in the state auto tax. Exactly how this fits with his expressed intent to close a budget gap estimated at $25 billion he didn’t reveal.

Posted by tbrown at 01:45 PM


Bush in London

President Bush begins a three-day state visit to Britain tomorrow, where he’ll receive a warm official welcome from Prime Minister Tony Blair and a warm unofficial one from tens of thousands of protesters, who are expected to bring central London to a near standstill.

Here, the Guardian sets the stage.

Queen Elizabeth apparently was not amused by some Bush administration security requests.

Then there was the “coverage” by London’s notorious tabloids.

First, The Sun, a repellent combination of the National Enquirer and Penthouse, crowed about it’s exclusive interview with Bush. This couldn’t have been payback to owner Rupert Murdoch for fawning coverage of the administration by his “fair and balanced” Fox network.. Could it?

Second, we have the nearly as repellent Mirror’s “Chicken George” story.

Posted by tbrown at 01:41 PM


Bushenfreude

At Slate, Daniel Gross has discovered Bushenfreude, which he defines as the rage against Bush by wealthy liberals who, he thinks, are using their Bush tax breaks to buy new BMWs.

Posted by tbrown at 01:37 PM


Bremer gets it half right for a change

Our proconsul in Baghdad says we’ve got to kill Saddam, who, by the way, seems to have released a new tape.

“In the newest taped message, a voice that sounded like Mr. Hussein's condemned the Iraqi political leaders who have been working with Mr. Bremer, many of them former exiles who opposed Mr. Hussein for decades and supported the invasion that drove him from power in April,” the New York Times reports.

“The voice called for the killing of ‘those who are installed by foreign armies,’ a clear reference to the Iraqi leadership. He jeeringly called them insignificant figures who could not ‘walk in the streets of Baghdad or any other Iraqi city.’ A number of people working in the interim government, from judges to police officers to a member of the Governing Council, have been assassinated in the last few months.”

Clearly, we do have to capture or kill this guy if a) Iraq is going to have a shot at establishing a stable government and b) we’re going to be able to extricate ourselves.

But what was Bremer thinking when he described Saddam as a “voice from the wilderness?” Let’s at least hope Saddam is no prophet.

Posted by tbrown at 01:35 PM


November 12, 2003

Today’s disaster in Iraq

A truck bomb exploded at the headquarters of an Italian military police detachment in the Shiite city of Nasiriyah today, killing at least 17 Italians and 8 Iraqis.

Two more U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded in an attack in Baghdad and one north of the capital.

Posted by tbrown at 01:36 PM


Swirling down the drain

Even George Bush and his neocon amen chorus are going to have a hard time claiming that things are just fine in Iraq after this.

A new, secret CIA report warns, bluntly, that the U.S. is losing the “peace” in Iraq and that the effort could collapse entirely unless immediate steps are taken to prevent it.

The report, authored by the CIA station chief, a veteran who oversees some 275 agents in Iraq, carries a two-fold warning:

-- More and more Iraqis are coming to believe that the successes of insurgents indicates that they could succeed in driving the U.S. and its coalition partners out of Iraq.

-- Stepped up military pressure on cities and towns that harbor Iraqi resisters likely will lead to more civilian casualties. That, in itself, probably will increase support for the guerillas among the civilian population.

It’s a grim assessment. A potential lose-lose situation. But at least it’s a realistic assessment that may help this administration figure out what it needs to do instead of what it’s neocon ideology would like it to do.

The most pathetic part of the whole exercise is that someone – either in the CIA or upper level of the Bush administration – felt they had to leak this report to be sure Bush knows about it. Our prez, you know, actually brags that he never reads anything that hasn’t been blessed by his minders for fear that he might be subjected to unhealthy “opinions.” Even Ronald Reagan, who was notorious for it, was never as out of touch as this guy.

In Washington, Our Man In Iraq, Paul Bremer, is conferring with Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, CIA director George J. Tenet and others on how to get the occupation on track.

In Baghdad, Iraq’s putative foreign minister blamed “geriatric ambassadors” from the U.S. and Bush administration in-fighting for much of the difficulty in Iraq and argued that the much-maligned Iraq Governing Council actually is getting things done.

“Hoshyar Zebari defended the IGC and insisted the December 15 deadline [for setting a schedule for writing a new constitution and holding elections] would be met. ‘I think this debate about the ruling council - that it is not doing its work, that it is not taking decisions - this is unfair,’ Mr Zebari told the FT [Financial Times].

" ‘American infighting among themselves between different departments over policy . . . has created many, many of the difficulties that we are going through.’ "

Posted by tbrown at 01:35 PM


Who does he think he’s dealing with? Americans?

This is rich. The White House apparently is insisting on an “exclusion zone” to keep thousands of protesters far, far away from President Bush when he visits London. The supposed justification for this anti-free speech proposition: “… for security reasons and to prevent their appearance in the same television shots.” Yeah, it certainly wouldn't be good to have all those unwashed people in the background.

The White House routinely requires that American protesters be confined to such areas when he ventures out of D.C. But the Brits may take their rights more seriously than we take ours. As the London paper The Independent reports:

Andrew Burgin, of the Anti-War Coalition, said: "We have refused to sign off the agreement over Parliament Square and Whitehall [from which protesters would be excluded], and we shall certainly also refuse to do so on this whole idea of an exclusion zone." He said: "If there is no agreement by next week, we have a potentially highly risky situation with so many protesters in the centre of London."

And the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said Bush should not be shielded from public anger about the Iraq war, and Londoners should not have to pick up the roughly $6 million policing bill for the visit. "To create a situation in which perhaps 60,000 people remain unseen would require a shutdown of central London which is just not acceptable," he said.

Good for them. Bush is contantly preaching the virtues of democracy. He ought to try practicing them.

Posted by tbrown at 01:31 PM


November 11, 2003

On Veterans Day

"The loss is terrible. It is borne especially by the families left behind, but in their hurt and in their loneliness, I want these families to know: Your loved ones served in a good and just cause."
-- President Bush, today at Arlington National Cemetery

President Bush made the customary presidential visit to Arlington National Cemetery today to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Even there, though, Bush couldn’t resist indulging in revisionism. "This nation has always gone to war reluctantly," he said. Would that it were so. There was nothing reluctant about the war with Iraq. Planning for the attack began just days after 9/11, though there was not then and still isn’t any evidence that Iraq was involved. Oh well.

The New York Times (free registration required) has some interesting letters written by U.S. soldiers just before they were killed in Iraq. They’re homey, hopeful – but with undertones of stress and danger.

Casualty update: U.S. dead in Iraq now number 394. British forces have recorded 53 deaths and 6 coalition troops from other countries have been killed. The number of U.S. troops wounded in action has reached 1,939, while those hurt in non-combat situations total 341.

Posted by tbrown at 01:00 PM


Puppet watch

Our viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, abruptly left for D.C. for consultations. Bremer reportedly has become increasingly frustrated with the inability of the Iraq Governing Council to make any significant progress toward establishing an independent Iraqi government. The IGC not only hasn’t begun working on a constitution for a new Iraq, it can’t even agree on how delegates to draft such a document should be chosen.

An indication of just how worried the U.S. has become is reflected in its consideration of a French plan that calls for a quick handover of authority to the Iraqis:

The US is even considering a French proposal, earlier rejected, to create an interim Iraqi leadership that would emulate the Afghan model, where President Hamid Karzai has governed while a new national charter is being developed. France and other Security Council members had proposed holding a national conference to select a provisional government that would have the rights of sovereignty.

“The US has insisted that a new constitution was the essential first step and elections the final phase in handing over power. But the Administration is now considering changing the order of the transition if it appears to be taking much longer than planned.”

Good. The quicker the U.S. devolves some real responsibility to the Iraqis for their own future, the better the chances we can at least begin to consider some sort of orderly withdrawal of our own forces.

Posted by tbrown at 12:57 PM


We may be frustrated, but let’s not shoot them

You know the security situation in Baghdad is a) unstable and b) unprofessionally handled when a U.S.-appointed of a local governing community is fatally wounded by U.S. troops on his way to work.

Posted by tbrown at 12:56 PM


It’s that liberal media again

I feel obligated to note in passing that the new editor of United Press International, the news agency, is Michael Marshall, a Moonie – that is, a true believer in the divinity of the megalomaniacal South Korean preacher Sun Myung Moon. UPI, of course, doesn’t put it quite that way in its announcement of his appointment.

But blogger John Gorenfeld has the goods, including this exchange between Moon and Marshall at a “journalism workshop” earlier this year:

MOON (addressing Marshall): Are you with World and I [The Moonie magazine Marshall then edited]? Can you follow what I'm saying, do what I'm saying, the contents? For how long?

MARSHALL: I will commit to follow forever.

MOON: Forever, for life. Great.

If you read the transcript of Moon’s appearance you cannot escape the conclusion that he is stark, raving mad. One small sample:

MOON: Dr. Yang, what are the seven conditions to know that I am the Messiah. Stand and list the seven conditions why True Father is messiah.

YANG:

1. Understands God's will
2. Understand spirit world
3. Bible
4. Jesus
5. History [Yang only got thorough five of the seven conditions.]

MOON: Without my knowing it, I created those conditions. God and Satan are the only ones who know these things other than me. I know most about God and Satan, the Bible and Jesus, and history. I deal with the UN in that respect, Nobel laureates have to learn from me. You must know God, that He is your father, then what all the five saints are saying (Jesus, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha and Hindu leaders), they are calling me the messiah and savior, builder of the 3rd Israel - that's not a lie.

It may not be a lie, but it’s sure as hell clinical delusion. Now this fruitcake controls not only the Washington Times, but the husk of UPI, a once fine news-gathering organzation.

And, by the way, as Gorenfeld reported in a story for Salon earlier this year, a cult-like youth-celibacy group sponsored by Moon is receiving nearly a half-million dollars of U.S. taxpayer support under Bush’s much-ballyhood “faith-based initiatives.”

Posted by tbrown at 12:54 PM


November 10, 2003

Rumsfeld for Minister of Truth

When President Bush nominates someone to head his Ministry of Truth, whose creation we can no doubt expect any day now, he need look no further than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He’s been busily throwing things down the Memory Hole for months and is now even denying his own words. An example:

Rumsfeld then:

Q.: "Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?"

A.: "There is no question but that they would be welcomed. Go back to Afghanistan, the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites, and doing all the things that the Taliban and the al-Qaeda would not let them do."

Rumsfeld on Sept. 25, a day in which one U.S. soldier was killed in an ambush, eight Iraqi civilians died in a mortar strike and a member of the U.S-appointed governing council died after an assassination attempt five days earlier:

Q.: "Before the war in Iraq, you stated the case very eloquently and you said . . . they would welcome us with open arms."

A.: "Never said that. Never did. You may remember it well, but you're thinking of somebody else. You can't find, anywhere, me saying anything like either of those two things you just said I said."

And so forth. If our president dislikes revisionism so much, as he constantly claims, why doesn’t he give Don a piece of his mind? On second thought, maybe that's not a good idea.

Posted by tbrown at 01:13 PM


Two big problems in Iraq

1. Incredibly, we didn’t have decent contingency plans to deal with unpleasant surprises, such as Iraqis not dancing in the streets with joy at their liberation.

2. The burgeoning Iraqi resistence does have a plan – and a pretty good one from all indications.

Posted by tbrown at 01:10 PM


Be careful what you wish for

The neoconservatives who got us into the open-ended mess in Iraq, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, wanted to destabilize the entire Middle East to pave the way for a wave of change – the so-called “dominoes of democracy” -- that would sweep away autocratic governments and replace them with western-style democracies.

Well, we haven't been able to establish one of those in Iraq yet, but destabilization continues unabated.

The weekend car bombs in Riyadh are a clear indication that terrorists – presumably al-Qaida – are doing their best to destabilize the Saudi government. The Saudi government’s hold on power is fairly tenuous as it is, and a concerted campaign by determined insurgents might just be able to take it down.

Incredibly, some right-wing pundits seem to think this would be fine. Instapundit, for example, finds this silver lining: ON THE UPSIDE, THIS WOULD GIVE US AN EXCUSE TO INVADE. I'd like to think he's joking, but I doubt it.

How many million angry Muslims do these people think we should try to control at one time?

Links galore: Winds of Change has a narrative on some of the relationships between the Saudi government and al-Qaida and on the Saudi crackdown since the bombing in Riyadh in May. It's peppered with links.

Posted by tbrown at 01:09 PM


Remember, the worse things get, the better we’re doing

"To me it is a clear sign of a desperate group that wants to show it can do things."
-- Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to London

Does that sound vaguely familiar?

"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

Way to stay on message.

Posted by tbrown at 01:05 PM


Is Jessica Lynch a villain now?

Some people in wingnut land seem to think so.

Posted by tbrown at 01:03 PM


The Onion immitates life

It’s getting harder and harder to tell satire from reality, as this little piece shows.

Posted by tbrown at 01:02 PM


November 07, 2003

The price is right -- for Halliburton

I’m sure the folks at Halliburton – which, by the way, continues to pay its former CEO, Vice President Dick Cheney, more than $100,000 a year – are all good patriots who would never dream of gouging the American taxpayer for supplying gasoline to U.S. forces in Iraq.

"To allege that KBR [Halliburton subsidiary Kellog Brown & Root] is overcharging for this needed service insults the KBR employees who are performing this dangerous mission to help bring fuel to the people of Iraq,” a company flack huffed. “The drivers transporting the fuel face the real risk of being killed or wounded, and vehicles and contents being destroyed."

The dangers are, no doubt, real. Still, the Iraqi national oil company, which also has to import gasoline from Kuwait by truck, is able to supply it at 97 cents a gallon. Which makes KBR’s price of $2.65 seem just a wee bit high, doesn’t it? (Well, maybe not to stockholders, who presumably were cheered by Halliburton’s third-quarter report, which noted that KBR’s “profits rose four-fold and sales leapt 80 percent, boosted by work in Iraq.”)

The Army apparently finds KBR’s price egregious, too. It is now considering doing its own gasoline trucking to cut costs.

And I’m sure stories like this one have nothing whatever to do with the administration insistence on removing from the new $87.5 billion spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan language that would make profiteering a crime.

But I'm not sure how much of this free-market "efficiency" we can afford.

Posted by tbrown at 12:44 PM


Deconstructing Bushisms

One of the more absurd claims of the Bush administration is that terrorists hate us because they hate freedom.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, tackled the Bush formulation in a speech to a liberal think-tank the other day. Zbig himself, it should be remembered, is no liberal. He was the one real hawk in the Carter administration, which gives his insights into the problems of Bush’s ill-defined policies some non-partisan heft. A key problem, Brzezinski said, is wooly thinking. The problem with saying that “terrorism” is the enemy is that,

“It deals with abstractions. It theologizes the challenge. It doesn't point directly at the problem. It talks about a broad phenomenon, terrorism, as the enemy, overlooking the fact that terrorism is a technique for killing people. That doesn't tell us who the enemy is. It's as if we said that World War II was not against the Nazis but against blitzkrieg. We need to ask who is the enemy, and the enemies are terrorists.

“But not in an abstract, theologically-defined fashion, people, to quote again our highest spokesmen, 'people who hate things, whereas we love things' -- literally. Not to mention the fact that of course terrorists hate freedom. I think they do hate. But believe me, I don't think they sit there abstractly hating freedom. They hate some of us. They hate some countries. They hate some particular targets. But it's a lot more concrete than these vague quasi-theological formulations.”

Of course, if we got specific about who our enemies are it might remind us that Osama bin Laden is still on the loose. Remember him? If you do, it's certainly not because the administration has reminded you. He hasn't been mentioned by name by any prominent administration official for months.

Fred Kaplan at Slate has an analysis of Brzezinski’s views, and the text of his speech is available here.

Charley Reese, who writes from the libertarian side of the spectrum, has a somewhat tarter analysis of this particular Bushism:

“He keeps repeating that canard that ‘terrorists hate freedom.’ Nonsense. There is no terrorist in the world who is a terrorist because he hates freedom. By far, the majority of terrorists are fighting for freedom of some group that doesn't have it. In the case of Iraq, it is freedom from American occupation; with the Irish Republican Army, it was freedom from British rule; with the Palestinians, freedom from Israeli occupation; and so forth. It is absurd to suppose that a human being sitting around suddenly stands up and says: ‘You know, I hate freedom. I think I'll go blow myself up.’ “

Too bad Bush doesn’t read anything except the pablum his staff apparently feeds him.

Posted by tbrown at 12:40 PM


What it will take to prevail in Iraq

Every time I’m tempted to give up on the National Review out of boredom it runs one of Mac Owens’ military analysis pieces and I’m hooked again. Owens is, needless to say, a supporter of the war. Unlike most on both sides of the argument, he knows something about the history of warfare and gives readers some concrete reasons for his conclusions.

His current piece argues that the U.S. can defeat the insurgency in Iraq because it is not supported by a standing army. As a result, he says, “The anti-Coalition forces can harass the U.S. forces and inflict casualties, but they cannot prevail unless we permit them to.”

Nonetheless, he makes it clear that victory won’t be easy or cheap: “If we can isolate the guerrillas, they will die on the vine. The point is that we can do this. … But we also have to realize that counter-guerrilla operations are manpower-intensive. Guerrilla wars are not won without blanketing the guerrilla strongholds. … We need to get serious about this at the operational level. Otherwise, we risk the danger of losing a kind of war we should be able to win relatively easily.”

So, prevailing in Iraq is doable – but it is likely to be the “long, hard slog” that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently suggested.

Posted by tbrown at 12:36 PM


The Jessica Lynch rescue – yes, they made up a lot of it

Remember the teapot tempest over the original Jessica Lynch story? The U.S. claimed that when the Humvee she shared with four other soldiers was attacked, she was shot and stabbed while blazing away with her M-16. Then there was her rescue, which was portrayed as a successful storming of a hospital against Iraqi resistance.

Lynch, in an interview tied to the publication of her book, “I Am a Soldier, Too,” she told ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer that the exaggerations in the official account left her “hurt and ashamed.”

"It hurt in a way that people would make up stories that they had no truth about,” she said. “Only I would have been able to know that, because the other four people on my vehicle aren't here to tell the story [they were killed in the attack],” Lynch said. “So I would have been the only one able to say, yeah, I went down shooting. But I didn't."

Posted by tbrown at 12:34 PM


November 06, 2003

It’s in the polls

George Bush faces two obstacles to re-election: the Iraq war and the state of the economy. Both remain unpredictable. That very instability helps Bush at the moment because it leaves his would-be Democratic challengers floundering for a clear message. On the other hand, if the mess in Iraq gets messier and the recovery remains jobless, Bush could be in a lot of trouble next fall.

There are two new polls that have interesting insights on where Americans stand now on the war, on the economy and on political affiliation.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which has one of the best polling operations around, finds that the national unity that existed briefly after the attacks of 9/11 “has dissolved amid rising political polarization and anger.”

This is true on Iraq: “In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, members of both parties, but especially Republicans, became more supportive of an assertive national security policy ­ as seen in attitudes on the use of force and other issues. Yet in the past year many Democrats have shifted away from that approach as they have become embittered by the war in Iraq. By comparison, the change among Republicans has been far more modest.”

More ominously for Bush, it is even truer on the economy: “Perhaps the most striking evidence of a growing partisan disparity is the extent to which Republicans, Democrats and independents now judge their personal financial situation differently. Republicans are at least as satisfied financially as they were four years ago, but Democratic personal contentment has declined significantly since 1999. Independents also have become more negative about their personal financial situation over the past four years, to the point where their economic views now mirror those of Democrats.” That last sentence is bad news for Bush, unless the economic recovery begins to generate enough jobs that working Americans become convinced that things really are getting better for them.

The full results of the Pew survey are available here.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows increasing skepticism about whether Iraq really is the “central front” of the war on terrorism, as the administration claims. Although 61 percent say Iraq is part of the war on terrorism, only 14 percent agree that it is the most important part of the conflict.

“The public's decoupling of Iraq from the war on terrorism is ominous for Bush, because the high marks he has received for fighting terrorism have helped to hold together support for the actions in Iraq, several polling analysts suggested,” the Post says. “In April, 77 percent of Americans believed the war in Iraq was part of the war against terrorism, but this number slipped to 66 percent in September and to 61 percent last week, when the latest poll was conducted. At the same time, Americans' approval of the situation in Iraq has dropped to 47 percent from 50 percent in September and 75 percent in April.”

The Post’s story on its poll is here.

Full data for the poll is here.

The Pew poll also had some good news for Republicans: after years as a minority party, the Republicans are now at parity with the Democrats. In fact, the electorate is now neatly divided into thirds: 34 percent Democrats, 33 percent Republicans and 33 percent Independents or other minor parties.

A Knight Ridder story on this aspect of the Pew poll is here.

Footnote: The Pew survey also ranks states by religion, social values and national security. Washington, Oregon and California are among the least religious, least traditional and most dovish states. Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia are among the most religious, most traditional and most hawkish.

Posted by tbrown at 02:16 PM


Role reversal

Everybody is beating up on press coverage of Iraq. The administration says reporters are ignoring good news in favor of bad. The left says the press is blindly repeating administration spin. It happens in every war. Rarely, however, is the criticism as entertaining as this comparison of the New York Times and USA Today.

Posted by tbrown at 02:09 PM


The Green River case comes to an end

"I killed so many women I have a hard time keeping them straight."
-- Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer

A mousy-looking 54-year-old truck painter pleaded guilty to killing 48 women in the Seattle area, ending the worst serial-murder case in U.S. history. His plea allows him to escape the death penalty. Sometime in the next few months a judge will add a final footnote, sentencing Ridgway to life in prison with no parole.

The Seattle Times coverage is here and here.

Posted by tbrown at 02:08 PM


November 05, 2003

CBS and the Reagans

This week’s most disgusting display of cowardice goes to CBS for its decision to spike its mini-series on the Reagans. The two-part show supposedly depicts the Gipper as an aloof, out of touch ideologue and wife Nancy as a behind-the-scenes control freak who consulted astrologers before important decisions were made. Their relationships with their children, especially Patty Davis, are shown as rocky.

Well, all of that is true and was written about in some detail while Daddy was in the White House.

Some other things may or may not be true (e.g.: Nancy preceded fellow-traveler Rush Limbaugh down the pill-popping path).

So what does this all add up to? Not much, it appears. The series may well be inaccurate in detail and, as some have pointed out, it is in questionable taste with Reagan, 92, disabled by Alzheimers and unable to defend himself. But since when have TV miniseries been held to standards of strict historical accuracy or, especially, good taste?

Nonetheless, GOP right wingers Don’t Like It One Bit. So they leaned on CBS, as presumably did some advertisers, and the gutless network quickly shuffled the show off to its Showtime subsidiary (my bet: It won’t run there either). Can it be true that this pusillanimous husk was once home to the likes of Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite?

I’m not going to whine about this incident undermining free speech; these people are incapable of defending even themselves, much less high principles.

I am, however, going to refer you to these quite pertinent observations by blogger Juan Cole – including Reagan's role in the rise of Osama bin Laden.. He’s a history prof, so pay attention.

Posted by tbrown at 01:40 PM


Fallujah: the fulcrum of the struggle for Iraq?

"Fallujah has now become the battlefield for all Iraq. Everyone is coming here to fight."
-- Mustafa Naji, 19, a religious student

"We're here to show them that we're going to shoot back."
-- A U.S. soldier with the 82nd Airborne

As the ooze in Iraq laps over our collective boot tops, we may get some clues about how long and hard this slog is going to be from what occurs in the Sunni Muslim heartland. That's where Saddam Hussein’s core support was found and where the main Iraqi resistance holds sway today. There lies the city of Fallujah, population about 500,000. What happens there could foreshadow the course of the rest of the U.S. occupation.

Initially, the U.S. tried a policy of cooperation with residents of Fallujah, which is about 30 miles west of Baghdad. That didn’t work. There have been regular, and frequently deadly, attacks on Americans in and around the city (Sunday’s downing of a Chinook helicopter that killed at least 15 U.S. soldiers occurred just a few miles away). Now the 82nd Airborne is trying confrontation.

The question is whether that approach will work either. This Washington Post story sets up the situation, and the stakes.

Ralph Peters, a former career Army intelligence officer and successful author, has a piece in the New York Post arguing for draconian measures in Fallujah (a city whose strategic importance he dismisses, by the way).

“Although the current situation suggests that a much better Iraq will emerge from the wreckage of the old order, we won't always have the resources or the right environment for the occupation of states whose regimes we need to defeat,” Peters writes.

“We're overdue to take a lesson from the Romans and the British before us and recognize the value of punitive expeditions. Should the Iraqis fail themselves in the end, our current endeavor may prove to have been simply a very expensive -- but still worthwhile -- punitive expedition. Such an outcome wouldn't mean that we failed, but that the Iraqis had failed themselves.

“One key lesson we should draw about expeditionary warfare in the Age of Terror is that we need not feel obliged to rebuild every government we are forced to destroy. Sometimes the wise approach will be to employ our military power to topple a regime, then to withdraw promptly and let the local population sort themselves out. We should always seek to be as humane as possible - but the key word is ‘possible.’

“Exemplary punishment may be out of fashion, but it's one of the most enduringly effective tools of statecraft. Where you cannot be loved, be feared.”

Well, let's consider what the Romans did during the Third Punic War against Carthage: They laid siege to the city and starved it, reducing the population from about 500,000 to 55,000. Then they burned it to the ground and plowed and salted the earth to ensure no one would live there again, and sent the survivors into slavery.

The Romans were feared. Let's also remember that they were ultimately overrun by "barbarians." Is theirs an example we really want to follow?

Posted by tbrown at 01:34 PM


November 04, 2003

Military math

One of the reasons security remains such an elusive goal in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad and various Sunni hotspots, is that we just don’t have enough troops there, Edward N. Luttwak argues in the New York Times. Here’s why: A high-tech fighting force requires an extremely long logistical tail.

Of the 133,000 troops we have in Iraq, “no more than 56,000 are combat-trained troops available for security duties.” Given that they, too, have to eat and sleep, only about half that number, 28,000, are available for patrol duty at any time.

That number of troops would have a hard time just trying to keep the lid on in Baghdad, which has a population of 6 million (New York City, with a population of 8 million, has 39,000 police officers, Luttwak points out). So there’s no way they can effectively pacify all the towns where the Iraqi resistance is causing trouble, much less the borders with Iran and Syria and the oil pipelines that are constant targets of sabotage.

Posted by tbrown at 01:19 PM


On the ground in Iraq

There are some good stories about life in Iraq outside Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle today. The broad gist is that in both the north and south things are going much better than in the capital and in the area dominated by the Sunni clans that were the chief supporters of Saddam Hussein:

-- Time and ABC teamed up to visit more than 30 towns and cities and conducted more than 600 interviews. A key finding:

“ … outside the deadly Sunni triangle, the absence of law has produced a chaotic sense of freedom that leaves Iraqis both exhilarated and terrified."

-- The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt finds a similar situation outside Baghdad and concludes that things are going better than you may think, but not as well as might be hoped:

“… the Americans find themselves in a race to improve security, train Iraqi forces and start a constitutional process before the manifestations of occupation become intolerable to a preponderance of Iraqis. And yet politically the hard part lies ahead: the birthing of the first representative government ever in an ethnically fractured nation surrounded by neighbors hostile to the enterprise.”

And in the New York Times, Susan Sachs reports that settling accounts with the old regime is the one thing that appears to be on the minds of many Iraqis:

"If I catch Saddam, I won't kill him,” says Sadri Adab Diwan, whose 13-year-old sister was killed by the regime for giving a Koran to a classmate. “That won't be enough. I'll suck his blood. And if he escapes, I'll follow him to the ends of the earth."

Posted by tbrown at 01:18 PM


The real comparison is not with Vietnam but Afghanistan

Comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq have become commonplace – and there are similarities, at least in the U.S. government’s blinkered approach to the problems. But the author of this piece makes a pretty compelling argument that the real comparison should be with the Soviet Union’s experience in Afghanistan, where it lost 25,000 troops over 10 years:

“A superpower, in defiance of most world opinion, invades an Islamic Middle Eastern nation. The superpower is hoping to effect regime change and, citing an ‘imminent threat,’ declares the invasion ‘an international duty.’ Initially, the invasion goes well. Within weeks, all organized military opposition in the invaded nation appears to evaporate, and the invading superpower basks in its success, praised by its domestic media for its military prowess. The superpower imposes its own government on the invaded nation and settles in to oversee a comfortable, presumably temporary occupation.

“But almost immediately, resistance forces begin to coalesce, and the guerrilla war begins. The superpower’s convoys are attacked. It’s soldiers are killed one, two, ten at a time. Galvanized by religious zeal and nationalist pride, the guerrillas begin to attract other fighters sympathetic to their cause, from other lands. (One of these is named Osama bin Laden, who, with the help of Saudi Arabia, and the blessing--and perhaps the arms and money--of the United States, establishes his own anti-superpower fighting force.) The guerrillas represent a variety of causes, some purely religious, some secular and local. Some simply represent regional warlords.

“Soon the superpower’s casualties begin to grow, and, although the superpower brings the body bags home quietly, out of the spotlight, the people back home begin to notice. …”

Rings true, doesn’t it?

Posted by tbrown at 01:17 PM


Amputees are returning to active duty

One way that the war in Iraq is unlike previous conflicts is a push by the military to return soldiers who have had limbs amputated to active duty.

“Until recently, the military worked to ease these soldiers into medical retirement," writes David Wood of the Newhouse papers. "But now, many reject retirement and work their way back to active duty. The Army, in what doctors describe as a sea change, is using high-tech artificial limbs and rehabilitation techniques developed in the past few months to help them get there.”

It’s an interesting story that both reminds us of the frequently horrific sacrifices of the wounded, who are rarely more than mentioned in passing in accounts of the conflict, and explores the new terrain in both physical and psychological rehabilitation.

Posted by tbrown at 01:14 PM


Leaks and the leaking leakers who leak them

As you’ve no doubt noticed if you engage in even minimal perusal of newspapers and TV these days, the once nearly drip-proof Bush administration is beginning to look sieve-like. Leaks everywhere.

Christopher Hanson, a journalism prof, suggests that leaks are very often self-serving (no surprise there) and suggests some ways to warn readers:

“Every such story would come with a graphic icon of a leaking water tap, and would include a legend to define other key symbols that would be inserted to flag leakers' self-serving motives:

Knife -- Warning: The purpose of this leak is to hurt or destroy the source's political enemy…

Pointing finger -- Warning: The source is attempting to shift blame to someone else…

Blowfish -- Warning: The anonymous source is puffing up himself or his boss. Be skeptical….

Balloon -- Warning: Trial balloon. If the proposed change in policy described in this story draws boos, it will be disowned by the administration as a figment of the reporter's imagination.”

Posted by tbrown at 01:02 PM


November 03, 2003

Just give us a plan

"The enemy in Iraq believes America will run. That's why they're willing to kill innocent civilians, relief workers, coalition troops. America will never run."
-- President Bush today at a factory in Alabama

We – and that includes the president – would all be better off if he’d replace this mindless macho blather with some clear planning, followed by some straight talk to the American people. One of the most disgusting features of our policy to date is to treat everything that happens in Iraq as though it were a mere “perception” problem that can be cured by tough talk and more flackery. Besides being disingenuous, that approach simply will not work.

Posted by tbrown at 01:32 PM


Blueprint for a mess

It’s long, and you need to register with the New York Times web site to read it, but it’s worth the effort.

In the paper’s Sunday magazine, David Rieff shows why we’re in such trouble in Iraq. Here’s the nut:

“It is becoming painfully clear that the American plan (if it can even be dignified with the name) for dealing with postwar Iraq was flawed in its conception and ineptly carried out. At the very least, the bulk of the evidence suggests that what was probably bound to be a difficult aftermath to the war was made far more difficult by blinkered vision and overoptimistic assumptions on the part of the war's greatest partisans within the Bush administration. The lack of security and order on the ground in Iraq today is in large measure a result of decisions made and not made in Washington before the war started, and of the specific approaches toward coping with postwar Iraq undertaken by American civilian officials and military commanders in the immediate aftermath of the war.

“Despite administration claims, it is simply not true that no one could have predicted the chaos that ensued after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In fact, many officials in the United States, both military and civilian, as well as many Iraqi exiles, predicted quite accurately the perilous state of things that exists in Iraq today. There was ample warning, both on the basis of the specifics of Iraq and the precedent of other postwar deployments -- in Panama, Kosovo and elsewhere -- that the situation in postwar Iraq was going to be difficult and might become unmanageable. What went wrong was not that no one could know or that no one spoke out. What went wrong is that the voices of Iraq experts, of the State Department almost in its entirety and, indeed, of important segments of the uniformed military were ignored. As much as the invasion of Iraq and the rout of Saddam Hussein and his army was a triumph of planning and implementation, the mess that is postwar Iraq is a failure of planning and implementation.”

Yep.

Posted by tbrown at 01:20 PM


Bomb kills three in Karbala; mortar rounds explode in Baghdad

The Iraqi resistance was at it again today, following yesterday’s killings of 19 Americans – 16 of them soldiers bound for two weeks of R & R aboard a helicopter hit by a shoulder-fired missile – with a bombing in Karbala that killed at least three Iraqis and a series of mortar blasts along the Tigris River in Baghdad.

Posted by tbrown at 01:18 PM


Just one problem with the flat tax for Iraq – it’s illegal

Despite years of effort, Republicans never have been able to round up the votes for a flat-rate income tax – which would further shield the rich, already body-armored by multiple tax cuts – so they’ve decided to impose one on Iraq.

There’s just one little problem: it violates the Geneva Conventions on warfare, as do many other economic proposals the administration would like to impose on those we’ve liberated.

This probably will not deter the neocon gang that dreams these things up, though. We have to go our unilateralist way, you know.

Posted by tbrown at 01:16 PM


Our meddling 'friends'

The Washington Post has a pretty amazing story about what Iraq’s former foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, is telling the U.S. about Saddam Hussein’s actions as the war started. The most interesting parts of the piece, however, deal not with Saddam himself, but with the suupposed advice of emissaries from our supposed “friends,” the French and the Russians.

Post reporter Steve Coll sets this up in the first paragraph of his story:

“Saddam Hussein refused to order a counterattack against U.S. troops when war erupted in March because he misjudged the initial ground thrust as a ruse and had been convinced earlier by Russian and French contacts that he could avoid or survive a land invasion … “

On the face of it, you could interpret the French and Russian counsel as useful because the fast fade of Saddam’s Army and Republican Guard units no doubt saved American lives. However, one could just as easily argue that had Paris and Moscow not convinced the Iraqi despot that they would foil U.S. war plans through the U.N. – and they certainly did try that – Saddam conceivably might have taken one of several offers of exile in other Muslim countries. If that had happened, there presumably would have been far fewer coalition – and Iraqi – deaths.

The evidence on what, exactly, the French and Russians did and said is fragmentary and incomplete, as Coll makes clear. But it’s certainly interesting.

Posted by tbrown at 01:09 PM




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