Monday, July 31, 2006

Kitty Update

The kitty plays sphinx.

I haven't mentioned the cat in a while. She is continuing to mend. The shaved patches are growing back in and she can jump up on fairly high things again, allowing her to send stuff crashing to the floor in the wee hours of the morning. She's still a little weak in the hindquarters and I begin to doubt that she'll ever regain her full strength. But she's not in pain and seems happy enough.

All's well that ends well.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ang's Road Trip

I got a few questions about my trip and wanted to test out the image upload on the blog, so here goes.

I had family things to take care of in the NW, and then the spousal unit and me drove back. It wasn't too bad zipping along through Washington and Oregon in the rented Jeep (we had boxes to bring back) on the first day, but as soon as we hit Redding just before noon the next day, oy vey. We had the distinct non-fun of driving through the Central Valley in triple-digit temperatures. I drove the leg from Willows (look it up) to the junction of I-5 and SR 46. SO took over at that point and headed west to Paso Robles. No way were we going to spend the night in Bakersfield (or worse).

We ended up in the bustling downtown of PR, and came across the Paso Robles Inn. It sits across the street from the main square and park. Lucky for us, there was a room available for the night. What was even luckier for us was the Inn sat over an historic mineral hot spring. Even more lucky, our room was in the last remaining part of the original Inn, so we got a gorgeous room. Yes, that is a picture of the Titanic over the bed. The ceilings were very high, the AC a bit anemic, and there was a fireplace in the corner we didn't try out.

What was even better was the huge tub with hot mineral water. Three taps, one for the mineral water, and then regular hot and cold. Just the thing for two exhausted and aching road warriors. Being conservation minded, we shared the tub to save on both water and electricity. The picture over the tub is a painting of the original Inn. By the time I was done soaking, I smelled like a rotten egg and nearly fell on the floor when I was getting out, I was so relaxed. Oh, and as an FYI, the Thai restaurant on the square, Basil, is a great place for dinner. Good service and great food.

The next day was the march through LA and home to San Diego. San Luis Obispo to LA, just over two hours of gorgeous oceanview driving. LA to San Clemente, two hours - bad traffic from the Getty to LAX, then OK speeds in the carpool lane until we got to Irvine. Bumber to bumper. Stopped for lunch. From San Clemente to San Diego, almost three hours of bumper to bumper from getting on the freeway to our exit in SD.

No more excellent adventures for me for a while, I'm glad to say.


Rule by the Bullies

I just finished reading Peter W. Galbraith's review of four relatively new books on Bush's War in the New York Review of Books. It is a very worthwhile, if depressing, read. This was someone who could see how an overthrow of Saddam Hussein might have been able to work, though the chances were always slim. It had little to do with military might and everything to do with bureaucratic organization. Early on in the article, he recounts being in Baghdad shortly after the US takeover:

I arrived in Baghdad on April 14, 2003, as a news consultant to the ABC investigative team led by veteran correspondent Brian Ross. Before the war, Brian had broadcast a profile of Uday and one of his first stops in Baghdad was at Uday's riverside residence. In the basement of the partially looted house, Bob Baer, another ABC news consultant, made an astounding discovery, the personnel files of the Saddam Fedayeen. We were amazed that the military had not inspected or secured such an obvious location and Ross made that point in his exclusive ABC news report. ABC had no further use for the files; but they had obvious value for the US military, containing as they did the names and addresses of the main resistance to the American occupation. I had thought Ross's story would arouse some interest from the Pentagon but there was no reaction. I then called Paul Wolfowitz's office to see if I could discreetly hand them over to the military. (I was still a professor at the National War College—and therefore an employee of the Defense Department—and wanted to help.) Although we were staying in the Ishtar Sheraton, a hotel guarded by US troops, the deputy secretary of defense could not arrange to pick up these documents before I had to leave the city.

In the three weeks that followed Baghdad's fall, I was able to go unchallenged into sites of enormous intelligence value, including the Foreign Ministry, Uday's house, and a wiretap center right across Firdos Square from the Sheraton. All three had many sensitive documents but even weeks after the takeover, the only people to take an interest in these document caches were looters, squatters (who burned wiretap transcripts for lighting), journalists, Baathists, Iraqi factions looking for dirt on political rivals, and (possibly) agents of countries hostile to the United States. Neither the Pentagon nor the CIA had a workable plan to safeguard and exploit the vast quantities of intelligence that were available for the taking in Iraq's capital. That information might have provided insight into terrorism—the Foreign Ministry documents included names of jihadists who had come into Iraq before the war—and the incipient insurgency.

As we now know, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon had no plan to secure any part of Baghdad. It allowed looters to destroy Iraq's governmental infrastructure and to steal thousands of tons of high explosives, weapons, and radioactive materials. And it had no coherent plan for Iraq's postwar governance. Gordon and Trainor retell very clearly the now familiar story (at least to readers of The New York Review) of the Bush administration's cavalier approach to postwar issues, but they also provide stunning insights into one key aspect of the postwar failure: the decision to invade Iraq with too few troops.

Mindless in Iraq

Reading this, I was struck by a thought, not terribly profound, but perhaps true, nevertheless. The Cheneyites treated Iraq and specifically Iraqi governance with the contempt they have for the US government, but are unable to fully exercise because the institutions here are still (barely) withstanding their attempts to break them down. Why should these bullies and braggarts have given a single moment of thought to the dull, mundane needs of ordinary state bureaucracy - water bills, street sanitation, records keeping - when they don't give a fig about such things at home? They only want the root 'em-toot 'em, rip-roaring, guns-a-blazin' fun stuff.

The parts of the US government that they want to destroy or neglect a la Grover Norquist (Be honest, do *you* think Grover Norquist is a hysterical blue furry man with really long floppy arms? I knew you did...) are what they turned their backs on in Iraq, too. They do not believe that ordinary bureaucracy can offer them anything of worth, so they pointedly ignored the very things that might have allowed something resembling normalcy to persist in the country.

It was replacing the rule of a dictator with the whims of a pack of bullies:

Trainor and Gordon [in their book Cobra II] present a devastating picture of Rumsfeld as a bully. Convinced of his own brilliance, Rumsfeld freely substituted his often hastily formed opinions for the considered judgments of his military professionals. He placed in the most senior positions compliant yes-men, like Myers, and punished those who questioned his casually formed judgments. He enjoyed belittling his subordinates.
Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush - the stories about them and their own behavior in front of the cameras betray their essentially thuggish attitude towards the world. It isn't even incompetence, really, as they aren't trying to govern in the first place. They want what they want, and they will do whatever it takes to get what they want.

It is with this in mind that I read Josh Marshall's post about the Cheneyites attempt to push Israel into attacking Syria as proxy for the US doing so itself:

But there do appear to be forces in Washington -- seemingly the stronger ones, with Rice just a facade -- who see this whole thing as an opportunity for a grand call of double or nothing to get out of the disaster they've created in the region. Go into Syria, maybe Iran. Try to roll the table once and for all. No failed war that a new war can't solve. Condi's mindless 'birth pangs' remark wasn't just a gaffe -- or perhaps it was a gaffe in the Kinsleyan sense of inopportunely saying what you really think. That seems to be the thinking -- transformation through destabilization.
If you just hit hard enough, eventually you will get what you want. In another TPM post (this by guest poster DK) we are reminded that this is not something being foisted off on a clueless preznit - he's fully committed to governance by beating:

Time for some context on the current turmoil in and around Israel. This passage from Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty has special resonance given current events. The scene is the White House Situation Room in January 2001, where Bush is meeting for the first time with his National Security Council, 10 days after taking the oath of office. Bush has just asked who in the room has met Ariel Sharon:

He'd met Sharon briefly, Bush said, when they had flown over Israel in a helicopter on a visit in December 1998. "Just saw him that one time. We flew over the Palestinian camps," Bush said sourly. "Looked real bad down there. I don't see much we can do over there at this point. I think it's time to pull out of that situation."

And that was it, according to [Paul] O'Neill and several other people in the room. The Arab-Israeli conflict was a mess, and the United States would disengage. The combatants would have to work it out on their own.

[Colin] Powell said such a move might be hasty. He remarked on the violence on the West Bank and Gaza and on its roots. He stressed that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and Israeli army. "The consequences of that could be dire," he said, "especially for the Palestinians."

Bush shrugged. "Maybe that's the best way to get some things back in balance."

Powell seemed startled.

"Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things," Bush said.

With that, the rest of the meeting was devoted to Iraq.

If you can't "fix" it with violence, it isn't worth doing. The mishandling of Iraq after the intial invasion wasn't a bug, as far as the adminsitration was concerned. It was a feature.


Caught Between Drought and Hurricanes

AP story on Salon (may require watching an ad):

By JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press Writer

July 29,2006 | STEELE, N.D. -- More than 60 percent of the United States now has abnormally dry or drought conditions, stretching from Georgia to Arizona and across the north through the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

An area stretching from south central North Dakota to central South Dakota is the most drought-stricken region in the nation, Svoboda said.

"It's the epicenter," he said. "It's just like a wasteland in north central South Dakota."

More Than 60 Percent of US in Drought

Yeah, right, global warming is a figment of Al Gore's imagination. Read the whole article. The Dakotas make up a major agricultural zone for the US, leading the nation in production of key crops, as well as provididing a lot of cattle for market. It's where my family is from and where a lot of my relatives still live. What happens if that area becomes too arid to farm?

Global warming means severe climatic changes. The extreme drought of the upper plains is one indicator, as are massive hurricanes in the Gulf. The maniac terrorists of the Middle east (and elsewhere) cannot do a sliver of the damage to us that the weather can. Even the big boogeyman monster of a nuclear device can be prevented by better border controls (Well, it could be prevented if the Cheney adminsitration actually gave a damn about protecting the nation. George Bush can't even be bothered to watch a movie.), but we can't stop a hurricane or a drought.

People are actually paying attention now. Perhaps not enough to act, but enough to know something's wrong. Now we just have to battle past the apocalypticans who want the world to end, the Know-nothings, who are too busy burying their heads in the sand to deal with reality, and the oligarchs, who are intent on extracting every dollar they can from the resources of the earth, imagining that their money can somehow buy them safety.

The question is whether ordinary people can translate their concern into political action or will they remain enthralled by the boogeymen of the right.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Telling Times

Talk about an ironic juxtaposition.

This weekend is Gay Pride in San Diego, one of the largest gay pride parades in the world and all of the attendent festivities. It brings about $20 million dollars to San Diego annually and is one of the largest civic events. It happens in my neighborhood. This year saw 40,000 attendees.

Yesterday, the kick-off day for Pride, Carpetbagger Report presented the case of an Army sargeant, an Arabic langauge specialist, who has been thrown out, despite an impeccable service record, because an anonymous stalker demanded that his superiors kick him out for the sole reason that he is gay. We are dealing with a large portion of society that would rather their son be shot dead in a war based on a lie than be alive and kiss another man. Their terror of difference is greater than their love of country, or even their own children.

Telling the truth is frightening, but hearing it is far more terrifying because the one telling has already come to some kind of terms with what is real, and the listener need not have gone through that experience. As the founders of the SD Pride festival explained, when they first paraded down Broadway in the 70's, they had no idea what the impact of telling the truth was going to be. Would they be attacked? Fired from their jobs?

For whatever benighted reason, this country is unable to come to terms with almost any sexuality, even garden variety het. We're closer to acceptance of homosexuality than in my youth, when it really was considered something deeply shameful, even criminal, but that's not enough. We're closer to gender equality, too, but closer is a relative term.

Being rid of formal discrimination against homosexuals in the military has to end, if only to retain people like Sgt. Copas. Why is it so pernicious, in a way that including non-whites and women (of any color) may be resented, but fails to rile this visceral, terrified reaction? If you are white and/or male, you're not suddenly going to become non-white and/or female. But what if you could become gay? What if you find out something about yourself you have been trying to keep hidden?

Of course, there always have been and always will be gays & lesbians in the military because homosexuality is part of the human condition. When I worked at the Naval Hospital, the medical people seemed to take it in stride that a significant number of their staff were homosexual. As one of my friends said at his retirement ceremony (the *ceremony*, with all the brass in attendance), in reference to how much the Navy had changed since he signed up - "We didn't have any of this 'Don't ask, don't tell' - we all knew. At least, we thought we did."

So, the city that the Navy built is celebrating Gay Pride all weekend, and there are dozens of vehicles parked right around my apartment with Dept. of Defense stickers in their windows, waiting for their owners to come back from the festival.

I think that tells it all.


Creation of Losers

A lot of buzz in the blogosphere about the NYT's alleged endorsement of Ned Lamont. As I see it, it's pretty craven, as are any endorsements from major politicians coming after July 1. They know Joe Lieberman did himself in with a crappy campaign, and they don't want to be seen as supporting a loser.

It doesn't mean that they give a rat's ass about Lamont, or place any stock in the issues of the primary contest. They see "Loser" written all over Holy Joe and are stepping away. In an odd way, I have a lot more respect for Bill Clinton than for the slavering maniacs screaming for Lieberman's ouster. Clinton was involved in Lieberman's first campaign, and has been a personal friend of Lieberman's for years. He's standing by a friend when opportunists have sidled over to Lamont to kiss up. I do not think Lieberman should be in the Senate, but I'm not going to condemn anyone for supporting him. At this point, it takes no guts to side with Lamont.

What I'm interested in now is to see who is the next candidate targeted by the Naderite Netroots. They have a method which they copy wholesale from the right, which is to make a loser out of an incumbent through loud, 24/7 character assassination. Unfortunately for Lieberman, he has the judgment of a rock and has made every bad move possible (indeed, even inventing a few), stepping into every turd they left strewn along the road. Insofar as one of the requirements of a politician is to know how to seem, Holy Joe has done himself in. I'm not cryin' any tears for him.

I'm concerned, however, that the main theme of the netroots is "throw out the traitors" and punish perceived apostacy from the "liberal" cause. I'm concerned that the replacement candidates are usually white, male, upper class, pro-military, with deep pockets, unacknowledged business connections, and undefined stances on social issues and domestic policy. I'm concerned that "because I'm angry" is accepted as a valid reason for supporting or opposing a candidate. I'm concerned that we're developing our own ayatoallahs, as narrow and dogmatic as the preachers on the right.

The Lamont - Lieberman contest has catalyzed the blogosphere, and not for the better.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Lazy Cowardice of Apocalyptic Thinking

Among the numerous interesting posts today on Steve Benan's Carpetbagger Report (if you have not yet bookmarked this great site, you need to stop reading and do so *now*) was this story about CNN's recent features on "End Times" propagandists. I reprint the entire post because it is short and good:

Just to follow up on yesterday's item, CNN's interest in characterizing recent world events as some kind of Biblical apocalypse is quickly becoming ridiculous. As Media Matters noted, the network's coverage is enough to wonder if it's CNN or CBN.

For the second time in three days, CNN featured a segment on the potential coming of the Apocalypse, as indicated by current conflicts in the Middle East. The July 26 edition of CNN's Live From … featured a nine-minute segment in which anchor Kyra Phillips discussed the Apocalypse and the Middle East with Christian authors Jerry Jenkins and Joel C. Rosenberg — who share the view that the Rapture is nigh. At one point in the discussion, Phillips asked Rosenberg whether she needed "to start taking care of unfinished business and telling people that I love them and I'm sorry for all the evil things I've done," to which Rosenberg replied: "Well, that would be a good start." Throughout the segment, the onscreen text read: "Apocalypse Now?"

This must be some kind of major ratings booster because there's no sensible reason for CNN to devote nine minutes to the subject twice in three days. Of course, it's also worth noting that the network's discussion featured two "experts" on the subject — both of whom agree that we may be witnessing some kind of end-times prophecy. We're still waiting for the nine-minute segment from two skeptics who explain that this is total nonsense.

But as it turns out, that's not the part of the CNN interview that bothered me most.

This was:

Rosenberg claimed that he had been invited to the White House, Capitol Hill, and the CIA to discuss the Rapture and the Middle East, and noted — several times — that the apocalyptic events described in his novels keep coming true.

In fact, Rosenberg said he'd been invited to speak with officials at the highest levels of the federal government — as well as Middle East officials — all of whom "want to understand the Middle East through the lens of biblical prophecies."

Now, it's possible that Rosenberg just wanted to exaggerate his significance. It's likely his only access to the White House and Congress is from public tours. But if Rosenberg's telling the truth, and public officials really have invited him to share his "ideas" about current events, then the problem is far worse than what's become of CNN's absurd standards for what constitutes news.

One of the commenters (MNProgressive, #11) points out

"How incredible is it that this biblical novelist can capture th einterest of the MSM and government leaders because of a war in the Middle East (because that is such a rare event) but Al Gore has been talking about global warming for decades and we are now inundated with hurricanes, drought, floods, heat waves etc. etc. and the MSM and government leaders are making a concerted effort to confuse and obfuscate the issue."
What this observation points out is the root of the profound appeal of the neocon and theocon arguments - they are for lazy people. God's behind it all and everything will work out OK in the end as long as you're right with God. Ta-dah. The difficulty that living in reality poses is that you need to have true faith in your ability to do something meaningful. Al Gore embodies this belief. It has none of the self-satisfied triumphalism of the guys mentioned above. It has at its heart the acknowledgement that what you do may not be enough. Most of all, it calls upon individuals to make common cause against things too large for the individual to deal with.

Not unlike true faith in God.

Not a god of deals and exchanges (I'll be good and you'll let me into Heaven), nor one of country club mores (Only the elect beyond this point, riff-raff can go to Hell), and most particularly not one of vengeance (I'm smiting the enemies of Heaven), but one of humility, hope and hard work.

In apocalyptic thinking, whether or not a deity is involved, there is a glorious struggle between the demons and the angels, and good wins out. This is the foundation (indeed, the entire substance) of the Bush White House policy, particularly the foreign policy. We're right, we need to destroy the evil-doers, and everything will be perfect on the far side.

The engine of apocalypticism is fear of individual failure. Bush is the embodiment of this as surely as Al embodies the opposite. Bush does not risk the misery and want the way a poor or even middle-class failure would feel, which perhaps makes his failures all the worse - he truly has no excuse. But if he can blame it all on terrorists, liberals and the coming end times, then he need not directly confront the miserable failure that he is, thus the need to forge on into greater folly - anything else means acknowledging he failed.

Better to wish the destruction of entire civilizations, even the entire world, rather than live with the gnawing fear of failure. Thus, inviting the End Timers to the White House is less letting them have influence than reinforcing existing patterns.

We need leaders with ethical courage who do not hide in fantasies that the world will go away before it all gets unbearable.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gore/Clark 2008

Between the heat wave engulfing the country and the debacle engulfing the Levant, I'm pretty much settled on my ticket for the 2008 presidential race - Gore/Clark.

I'll let Al's environmental creds speak for themselves. There simply is no other world-class leader who knows more and cares more passionately than Gore about this profound threat to humanity itself. Wes Clark is one of the most sane voices out there specifically addressing the fact of an increasingly unstable and over-armed Middle east - and the Indian sub-continent and sub-Saharan Africa, not to mention that pesky North Korea. Unsurprisingly, these gentlemen have a common approach. Talk to people as rational actors who can be persuaded to act cooperatively in mutual self-interest because, you know, you really have no other long term strategy unless you're willing to destroy everything.

A few weeks back, I posted a long winded article on rhetorical frames for Democratic positions on Iraq, riffing off Jeffrey Feldman's Frameshop blog posts on the same topic. Of the three positions, Clark's made the most sense, though Feldman had deeper sympathy for the Feingold's "Just Say No" stance so dear to the left. Well, Feldman has reconsidered:

Clark: A Symbol Of Success In Regional Conflict Resolution
A while back I wrote a Frameshop article arguing that there are currently 3 competing frames in the Democratic party to define what the United States is doing in the Middle East. Of these three, the 'regional conflict' frame associated with General Wesley Clark is perhaps the most overlooked and undervalued.

But as the Middle East begins to look more and more like a regional conflict, the need for a strong Democratic voice that speaks to that dynamic is every more pressing.

Frameshop: It's Time To Bring On Clark

The moral and pragmatic strength of diplomacy. Simply packing up and going home, as Gore, Clark, me and several million other Americans understand, is not an acceptable option. It is one of the deepest, most dearly held American fantasies - that we can retreat behind our ocean walls and leave the screwed up world to its own devices. 9/11 darnwell changed that.

The world is a set of interlocking regions and the US is a part of it. Trying to either stand astride the world (the neocon wet dream) or not be part of it (shared by both left and right fantacists) is not possible, and can only lead to harmful diminishment of the US. This will in turn diminish our shared world because the US plays such a large role in the global give and take of humanity.

We have obligations and cannot act as a self-centered super power, even as we must act as a self-interested one. We are ravaged by weather and by war. For the first time in history, we are the makers of both maelstroms. We need leaders unafraid to deal with other nations as partners in our struggle with both.


Secure Dwellings

"Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs."
Hannah Arendt, Lying in Politics
The blogosphere is getting near to unreadable with the Lamont-Lieberman contest sucking up almost all available column inches. And, yes, I know I'm guilty of it too. My own theory is because it is a much easier issue to deal with than just about any other - an (obscenely rich and privileged) underdog, an unsympathetic "villain", and nothing personally at stake for people blogging from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Better that than the pictures of the butchered children Billmon has posted.

Someone who remains eminently readable, even as he refuses to write about comfortable topics, is LTC Bob Bateman, regular guest poster over on Altercation. He has offered up two provoking posts recently, one deceptively simple, one simply heartbreaking. Both of them put to shame the bloviation going on. In ordinary words spoken without exaggeration, Bob Bateman bears witness to terrible things in the realm of human affairs.

On July 18 (Sorry, the Permalink isn't working) he wrote:
When American humanitarian Marla Ruzicka was killed in Baghdad last year I wrote about her, as did many others, and she was known. When an American or European journalist is killed, the system works and they are known as well. Similarly, when a Soldier or Marine is killed, they merit ink and public eulogy once their names are released. But in this war the news comes in every day, displaying a sameness which confuses. It is “59 Iraqis killed by bomb” today, and on another day, “fourteen bodies discovered in Baghdad.” See here or here for example. Sadly, unless they are high government officials, at most all that is known of these victims is their town and, sometimes, their profession. They are anonymous, and with their anonymity, easier to deal with. Few accounts let you know an average Iraqi.

I cannot change this. I have no magic wand to wave and change the rules of the game of journalism and the market so that the corporations which constitute the news industry forgo some of their (generally double-digit) profit in favor of tripling their coverage in bad places around the world. I cannot remove Adam Smith’s damned-near-visible hand from this process. But I can tell you about one Iraqi, just one, and leave it to you to extrapolate.

Mayada Salihi: Red hair, raised in Baghdad, divorced mother of two adorable kids, herself the daughter of a divorced Shia mother and Sunni father. A scrapper. A Baghdadi through and through. Not always factual, but usually a truthteller. Devout fan of cheesy 1980’s American music, particularly Air Supply. Mayada was my translator through much of last year. You knew her too, albeit indirectly. It was because of May, and through her, that we found the schools which you so generously supplied and supported last year. Those who sent donations usually received a letter and pictures from me of the deliveries. May is in some of those photos. She was my friend.

Please look up the date and read all of his post.

It is possible to quantify the things of Bush's War - the bombs dropped, the vehicles destroyed, the dollars spent, the schools supplied by people like LTC Bateman, Mayada Sahili, and others. Good as well as bad can be added up this way, though good seems in short supply. We can even count the sheer numbers of dead, tortured, maimed. What Bob's account does is make us aware of a miracle that was ended - this woman's life and all that came into being because of her actions. I am left to wonder about Ishtar of Iraqi Screen, who has not posted in nearly a month. Is she all right? Has she simply sickened of documenting the atrocities? I think of how that term is used so blithely by Atrios in relation to Sunday punditry on TV, and then I go to her blog and find no new accounts of true atrocities. Is Ishtar alive? I hope so. It is with women like this in mind that I wrote of our Days of Obligation, a moral charge not to allow women like May and Ishtar to perish in anonymity because we have tired of our excellent imperial adventure. Read all of Bob's post and understand why we are obligated to this woman.

Bob's second post was from today, and it offers up his version of Hannah Arendt's famous injunction to "think what we are doing":

We have a problem in the United States. Well, we have a lot of problems of course, but one in particular I can help alleviate. We have a problem of knowledge. More specifically, we have a problem with a lack of knowledge about one particular topic: War...

So I enjoin you to read. Not just Altercation (though, of course, continue to do that), and not just the news about war, but I think that I must ask you to read about war, become educated in war, so that, in the end, you can discuss war with reason, facts, understanding of theories, and hard-nosed comprehension...

I have realized that almost nobody has actually read Clausewitz, and even fewer have read the thought-pieces which resulted in the idiotic theory of “Shock and Awe.” But you need to read a lot of history, and at least some military theory, to really understand how damned stupid the idea of Shock and Awe really was, and how it has been tried (under different names) over and over again since the late 1920s, and it never works! Perhaps, just perhaps, if some people in the right places had read more military history, well, things might have turned out different. So, here are some recommendations. I am not smart enough to say, “Here is my top 10”…other wiser people have done that aplenty. But you can go here and see one list, here and see another, or if you’re in more of an academic mood, try this list here. (Oh, and I also recommend Professor Grimsley’s blog itself, where thoughts on war run deep. That’s here. These are starting points, only.

I have read Clausewitz, though it was back in my grad school days, and I admit I have no background in the "Shock and Awe" theory of warfare, though I am shocked and sickened by much of its results. I will try to educate myself more about war and give facts another place in the world in which they may be secure. And if they may be secured, perhaps living people can be sheltered, too.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Getting What You Wish For

The latest Quinnipiac (Q) poll came out while I was on the road last week. The hooting and hollering over it has been pretty triumphal on the part of the anti Joe Lieberman side, and conventional wisdom is now what I said way back in May - this primary was for Lieberman to lose, not for Ned Lamont to win. There are some interesting factoids to tease out the numbers, and some serious ramifications to consider on the conditions under which Lieberman will be returning to the Senate.

Support for Lamont continues to be pitifully anemic, as in comparison to the antipathy fueling the anti-Lieberman contingent. In question 11, "Is your opinion of businessman Ned Lamont favorable, unfavorable, mixed, or haven't you heard enough about him? ", more likely Democratic voters either have no opinion or a poor opinion of Lmaont than a good one. In question 20., "Is your vote more for Lamont or more against Lieberman?", 63% say it is more against Lieberman. In question 24, "Do you think Ned Lamont has the right kind of experience to be a United States Senator or not?" even likely Dem voters only give him 37% "Yes" support. I'm sorry, that's pretty pathetic all the way around. This is not a candidate that is exciting local voters.

The peculiar number in the polling, to my mind, was in question 22 - "Thinking about the 2006 election for United States Senator, do you feel that Joseph Lieberman deserves to be reelected, or do you feel that he does not deserve to be reelected?" Even the likely Dem primary voters, who would just have said they are more likely to vote for Lamont, are 1% more likely to say Lieberman deserves reelection than not (46% vs. 45%). Among general Dem voters, it jumps to over 50%.

Then the infamous question 18, who will you vote for in the Dem primary, is not all it is cracked up to be. It includes leaners, and does not indicate how much of the total is composed of leaners rather than decideds. The spread itself is almost within the margin of error (4 point advantage vs. 3.8% error) . If the leaner group is large enough, it could shift back. I doubt this will happen, but I suspect that Lamont will have less than 51%. It all depends on how many dumb things Lieberman does between now and primary day.

Looking at the general election match ups, it is clear that A) any Dem is going to beat the Republican and B) Lamont barely holds a majority of Democrats if pitted against Lieberman, and gets blown away by theRepublicans crossing party lines. Lieberman out polls Lamont in the general among Democrats in a two-way combination, and there is a smaller spread between them with Lieberman as an Independent than in the Dem primary. Say what? This makes no sense on the surface of it. People who had to have said they were voting for Lamont in the primary are stronger for Lieberman in the general as a Dem. What can explain this? I think the basic fact is that a definite though slim majority of Dems in CT prefer having a senior senator than an unknown candidate, but they want to shake Lieberman up and see if they can get him to be more responsive, particularly on Iraq. In short, with the announcement of an Independent run, Lieberman has freed Dem voters up to smack him good in the primary, then turn around and send him back to DC in November a chastened man.

This won't work. Given the nature of Lieberman's blind spots, I don't think he can be chastened, only enraged. The very reasons why he most needs to be removed from the Senate are what will come to the fore with his return.

It also means that he is in a better position to be a thorn in Harry Reid's side, as he will have been elected outside the normal party structure if he loses the primary (strong possibility though not guaranteed). On the one hand, he should formally lose all seniority on committees. On the other, if the Dems get 50 seats, and Lieberman makes 51, he is in the position to demand the sun, the moon and the stars to be kept happy in the caucus. If the Republicans only have 49 seats, you can bet they will be courting Holy Joe heavily to get him to caucus with them. Depending on the level of Lieberman's indignation and desire to punish the perceived lack of support from the Dem side of the aisle, he may just do that. If the current balance continues, Lieberman will not be very useful to either side, and may find himself getting locked out, though I suspect the Dems will be grabbing for every warm body they can stuff in a chair. It may offend people to hear this, but that is how power operates. More than a few senators have considered the possible outcomes. They are thinking of January and who is going to be in the cloakroom.

So, kids, a real Lady or the Tiger situation shaping up in CT, as I predicted. My fundamental opinion is that the party needs to pry Lieberman away from positions of power and get a new and less arrogant person in his slot. However, given the mounting insanity of the Cheney administration's foreign "policy", coupled with the economic debacle they are making of the US, is an even more insufferably self-righteous Lieberman going to make things worse for the party and the nation? Ordinarily, I'd advocate the house cleaning. With the horrific criminality of the neocons, I can't uneqivocally support that stance.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-jig

Back home safe after a week on the road. Blogging will resume in a few days.


Friday, July 14, 2006

The Curious Case of Obama Bashing

Haven't quite left town, though I wish I had before I read this morning's round up of posts.

Is it just me, or is there something, well, disturbing about predominantly white, reasonably wealthy, socially secure bloggers going hammer and tongs after a religious black man, to the point where only Liberman and Clinton get more opprobrium heaped on them?

Now, a certain part of it is the anti-DLC cadre who is trying to take over the DLC's power position so they go after the top DLC candidates and do a Rovian smear on them, but I have read more vitriol, more plainly hateful and disdainful posts about Obama than I care too. Posts using barely veiled racist language (One calling him a "young buck" for example. Eeew. Just eew.) Posts implying his religious beliefs are false and therefore show he's just a manipulative politician. Posts by white suburbanites, mind you, accusing him of selling out blacks. Posts accusing him of being blind to the effects of race and power. Posts calling him, for all intents and purposes, an Uncle Tom.

There is something very ugly going on here. Something far out of proportion to what Obama says or does.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Summer Break

I'll be on the road for a week starting Saturday, so blogging will be light.


How... Nixonian

Hat tip TPM. My emphasis:

WASHINGTON - In a policy reversal, President Bush has agreed to sign legislation allowing a secret federal court to assess the constitutionality of his warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, a senior Republican senator announced Thursday.

By having the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court conduct the review instead of a regular federal court, the Bush administration would ensure the secrecy of details of the highly classified program. The administration has argued that making details of the program public would compromise national security.

However, such details could include politically explosive disclosures that the government has kept tabs on people it shouldn't have been monitoring.

Spying on political enemies, no doubt. Who else would it be monitoring?

As I have said before, unless you accept the premise that there can be a loyal opposition, you cannot have western democracy. These guys and all their boot-licking enablers in the press won't accept that propostion. They really do think that people who tell them they are wrong are traitors to be persecuted and disposed of.


The Second Time as Tragedy, Too

History is repeating itself in Israel with its military assaults on Lebanon and Gaza. Billmon provides a thoughtful analysis of the situation, as usual, summing up this way:

Is there a way out for the Israelis? None that I can see. Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again. Fatah and Abbas can’t be restored to their pre-election positions – not without looking like complete Israeli stooges. Hamas (or at least its moderate wing) can’t be brought back in from the cold, not without a loss of Israeli face and credibility so enormous it would probably cause the Omert government to fall and bring the Likud back to power. The Israelis can’t afford to negotiate for the return of their captured soldiers and they can’t afford to forsake them. They can’t stay in Gaza and they can’t leave Gaza. They can’t invade Lebanon and they can’t not invade Lebanon.

In the past, no matter how bad things got in territories, Israeli governments always have had the option of backing off and leaving bad enough alone – relying on the Army or, post-Oslo, the PA to keep a lid on the situation. That was fine as long as the objective was to grow the settlements and quietly tighten Israel’s control over the land and all its resources. But now that the goal is essentially a second partition, Israeli politicians are finding out the hard way that they no longer have the luxury of malign neglect. After six years of pretending they don’t need a Palestinian negotiating partner, they’ve suddenly discovered, much to their horror, that they need one desperately – but have managed to eliminate all the possible candidates.

No tragedy/farce dichotomy here, as there is (in the most bleak way) with BushWar I and BushWarII. The Israelis and the Cheneyites both forget the biggest rule of international diplomacy - ya gotta have someone to talk to, who is strong enough on their side to do some local enforcing. The lack of a center leads to the Palestinian Authority or Iraq because there is no power who can lay down the law internally, the structures of authority having been fractured through war and sanctions. The presence of a hostile center gives you North Korea, Iran and (to a lesser extent) Syria, where there is someone in charge, but they see no advantage to dealing with the US (or Israel), and so will sit out negotiations. (For some excellent comaprison/contrast between successful and self-destructive relations, check out Kevin Drum on Clinton vs. Bush II on North Korea)

The neocon opportunists are all leaping on the recent aggression against Israel to beat the war drum against Syria and Iran. Kevin has more here. It is as if they think reducing the middle east to the condition of the PA is a good thing. I'm sure some of them think just that.

You can't win by butchering people. There is no end to it.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Rule of Man, Not Law

From the WaPo:
As Congress opened hearings yesterday on the treatment of terrorism detainees, the Bush administration's view was neatly summarized by Steven Bradbury, the Justice Department lawyer serving as lead witness. "The president," Bradbury said, "is always right."


"Only the president has the decision to introduce legislation," Bradbury reminded Specter. "I cannot commit as I sit here now that the administration will submit a particular bill."

Think about that. Bush does not accept that the Congress has a right to make laws, nor that the Supreme Court has the right to interpret laws. Only he can declare what is law, and that is equivalent to his will.

This is simply, utterly obscene. And the Rethuglicans are sucking up to this petulant, amoral, man-child, enabling him to deconstruct the very core of American government and society. Every "moderate" Republican (I think that's Olympia Snowe and occasionally Chafee) are worse than Bush, because they have demonstrated that they know better. To stay in that party now is to actively support the ruin of your nation.

Three more years of this. Will there be a country left?


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

An Iraqi's View of Bush's War

The pity I once had for foreign troops in Iraq is gone. It's been eradicated by the atrocities in Abu Ghraib, the deaths in Haditha and the latest news of rapes and killings. I look at them in their armored vehicles and to be honest- I can't bring myself to care whether they are 19 or 39. I can't bring myself to care if they make it back home alive. I can't bring myself to care anymore about the wife or parents or children they left behind. I can't bring myself to care because it's difficult to see beyond the horrors. I look at them and wonder just how many innocents they killed and how many more they'll kill before they go home. How many more young Iraqi girls will they rape?

Why don't the Americans just go home? They've done enough damage and we hear talk of how things will fall apart in Iraq if they 'cut and run', but the fact is that they aren't doing anything right now. How much worse can it get? People are being killed in the streets and in their own homes- what's being done about it? Nothing. It's convenient for them- Iraqis can kill each other and they can sit by and watch the bloodshed- unless they want to join in with murder and rape.

Buses, planes and taxis leaving the country for Syria and Jordan are booked solid until the end of the summer. People are picking up and leaving en masse and most of them are planning to remain outside of the country. Life here has become unbearable because it's no longer a 'life' like people live abroad. It's simply a matter of survival, making it from one day to the next in one piece and coping with the loss of loved ones and friends- friends like T.

It's difficult to believe T. is really gone… I was checking my email today and I saw three unopened emails from him in my inbox. For one wild, heart-stopping moment I thought he was alive. T. was alive and it was all some horrific mistake! I let myself ride the wave of giddy disbelief for a few precious seconds before I came crashing down as my eyes caught the date on the emails- he had sent them the night before he was killed. One email was a collection of jokes, the other was an assortment of cat pictures, and the third was a poem in Arabic about Iraq under American occupation. He had highlighted a few lines describing the beauty of Baghdad in spite of the war… And while I always thought Baghdad was one of the more marvelous cities in the world, I'm finding it very difficult this moment to see any beauty in a city stained with the blood of T. and so many other innocents…

Bush has killed so many for so little cause. This was his war of choice. It is not just the murdered and the mutilated. It is the wholesale destruction of normalcy. The eradication of hope. A determination to bring about an end to things because he can. This is Bush's War, and all of humanity needs to hang this around his neck until his dying day.


When There's Real News

Nothing to add in the netroots vs. DLC grudge match in CT until there is a real poll out there to see what the voters are thinking. I've pretty much stopped reading blogs aside from TPM and Political Animal until after the primary as there is nothing new or worthwhile to report. Screaming about the fascistic tendencies of the opposition is unconvincing, particualrly when the real McCoy sits in the White House.

OTOH, it looks like Chafee may be in trouble in Rhode Island.


Al Gore - Apocaplypse Never

Billmon, the best political blogger on the left, talks about Al Gore:

But there is something tragic, even a little pathetic, about Gore's stubborn faith in the ability of facts and reasoned argument to save the world. The scenes of him schlepping through airports – alone, laptop in hand, on his way to yet another city to show his slides to another room full of college students or environmental activists – hit the edge of bathos. They make Al look too much like Willy Loman. "Attention must be paid to this man."

This is the Al Gore the Washington political press corps never seemed to grow tired of mocking: The earnest wonk who takes serious ideas seriously, and assumes his audience does, too. Up on stage, in front of such an audience, Al is clearly in his element. He’s articulate, funny, even endearing – as when he rides an accordion lift to the top of the viewing screen to illustrate the soaring rate of increase in atmospheric CO2. It’s a reminder that Al’s at his best when he’s being himself, instead of imitating Bill Clinton’s folksiness (which only made him look like Salieri next to Clinton's Mozart) or playing the know-it-all bully of his first presidential debate with Bush....

In my darker moments, it sometimes seems as if the entire world is in the middle of a fierce backlash against the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and the ideological challenges they posed to the old belief systems. The forces of fundamentalism and obscurantism appear to be on the march everywhere – even as the moral and technological challenges posed by a global industrial civilization grow steadily more complex.

Climate change is only one of those challenges, and maybe not even the most urgent one – at the rate we’re going, civilization could collapse long before the Antarctic ice shelves do. Maybe as a species we really have reached the same evolutionary dead end as Australopithecus robustus – intelligent enough as a species to create problems we're not bright enough, or adaptable enough, to solve. I don’t know. But if extinction, or a return to the dark ages, is indeed our fate – or our grandchildren’s fate, anyway – I think it will be a Hobson’s choice as to which cultural tendency will bear the largest share of the blame: the arrogant empiricism that has made human society into an instrument of technological progress instead of the other way around, the ignorant prejudices of the masses, who are happy to consume the material benefits of the Enlightenment but unwilling to assume intellectual responsibility for them, or the cynical nihilism of corporate and political elites who are willing to play upon the latter in order to perpetuate the former, which is, after all is said and done, their ultimate claim to power.

None of this seems to faze Gore – or if it does, he and his cinema Boswells manage to keep it well hidden in An Inconvenient Truth. I don’t know if that’s because Al simply doesn’t see the situation in the same bleak terms that I do (he seems like a smart guy, but you never know) or whether, like the doctor protagonist in Camus’s The Plague , he’s decided that work – all that schlepping from airport to airport – is the only sane alternative to despair.

I’d hate to think that Gore, who has better contacts and knows more about the science and the politics of climate change than I do, is as pessimistic as I am. But I like the image of him out there on the speaking trail, completely without illusions about the ultimate outcome of the battle, but determined that it won’t be lost because he gave up. It would make Gore a politician, maybe the only establishment politician, that I can relate to – as one Edwardian plant to another.

An Inconvenient Al

As with anything by Billmon, you need to read the whole thing. Yes, it's long. Yes, it's worth it. Billmon has captured what is perhaps the core of Al Gore's appeal - he means what he says. Now, one could argue that Bush also means what he says, but the difference is that Al's statements are said for the sake of the entire world, not for himself and his cronies.

Al's truths, like Al himself, are inconvenient because they are not intended for advantage. He gains nothing by being right, particularly if he is Cassandra, wandering through the corridors of power, speaking what is as plain as the melting snows of Kilimanjaro, but which the various factions of greed and obscuranturism cannot bear to hear.

I click open the home pages of newspapers and see the bodies of the dead - in India, in Gaza, in Iraq - and read the mendacious spin of the Bush White House claiming economic success when it is misery for people outside his case. Employment down, unions being busted, the middle sinking lower. Who can bear this reality? I read this and I understand the appeal of apocalypticism, because at least it promises an end to the madness.

Except that it is the madness. Al offers such a profound and scary hope. If we care for the earth beneath our feet, the air above our heads, the water that moves in our veins, then we will commit to it. He asks us to renounce our fascination with endings and concentrate on being. One stubborn fact at a time. Reality may be the most radical fantasy we can embark upon, after all.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Pressure Cookers

Josh Marshall applies his usual uncommonly good sense to the neocon CYA operation with regards to Iraq:

Put simply, do we not detect a pattern in which the foreign policy neoconservatives strike out boldly on some foreign policy adventure, flop right down on their faces and then present the cause of their undoing as a novel insight wrestled from the maw of history when in fact, to everyone else except for them, this 'insight' was completely obvious and predictable from the start?

Kaplan says that America can't contain the Iraqi's "sectarian rage" nor "reprogram [the Iraqi's] coarsened and brittle cultures." As Louis Menand put it in The New Yorker, quite relatedly, when reviewing Francis Fukuyama's richly articulated discovery that regime change and preemption might not have been such a royal road to peace and democracy, "No duh!"

No duh, indeed. The defining characteristic of neocon policy, be it foreign or domestic, is a breathtaking gap between the facts on the ground and their fantasy of how the world should be. Josh has a sobering follow on observation:
I mean, this was the whole premise of pretty much everyone who said that Iraq might be a hard place to 'democratize' by invading. Non-diversified economy based on natural resource extraction, lethal sectarian divisions in a country bundled together by the British. It was pretty much the conventional wisdom going in that it was only brutal dictatorship that held the place together.
This brings us back to what we can call the Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now tragedy at the center of Bush's War. The operation was not done for the sake of the people who occupied the physical and political landscape of Iraq. It was conducted according to the plan concocted in a capitol far away, and it has foundered precisely because it had nothing solid to offer the people who suffered under its onslaught. It was a pressure cooker, and the Cheneyites turned up the heat. Is it any wonder that it exploded? Is it any surprise that the neocon reaction to the insurgency is "Exterminate the brutes!"?

Josh ends with a tantalizing thought:
Coming later, How is this all different from the Balkans? They don't get along there either, do they?
No, they don't. Szrebrenica. Sarajevo. Kosovo. These were places of atrocities in the same brutal class as what gets reported from Iraq, yet it was kept from spreading beyond the region and it was, eventually, cooled. How and why?


HotK - Ch. 48 Sleight

For my fiction fans, I have posted a new chapter for Hands of the King, Ch. 48, Sleight. The link goes to the overview page. Warnings - grief, blunt talk about sex, violence.

Denethor's joy over Seeing Finduilas is rudely interrupted. Bad things happen to good people. And to bad ones. Denethor goes on a furious search, afraid of what he will find. Lots of introspective Denethor. Scenes with Finduilas, Aiavale, Morwen, Beregar, Thorongil, and three new OCs.

For people who aren't familiar with HotK, it is a fanfiction novel, published a chapter at a time. It chronicles the courtship and marriage of Denethor and Finduilas. There's usually two new chapters per month. If you like sprawling fantsy novels, give it a try.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Framing the Issue - Leaving Iraq

I came across an interesting site - Frameshop - the other day, which does a good job of both identifying and offering frames for current political matters. It is eclectic and fascinating, and I recommend readers here check it out.

One of its framesets falls very close to my Days of Obligation post. If we can agree that "Stay the Course" is simply a fancy way of saying "Sit on the mess until we can dump it on the next president and hightail it for the hills," then the true issue is how should or can the Democrats handle disengagement with Iraq and the overall cleanup of Bush's War? Jeff Feldman presents three strong frames, each with strengths and weaknesses. I'm going to present the synopsis of each, with links to the specifics, and then talk about the frames themselves.

Frame #1: The "War Room" Frame
Major Proponent: Hillary Clinton
Key Points:
- Iraq is a war.
- The war is complicated.
- The goal of the war is a 'Democratic Iraq.'
- For America to win the war, Democrats must first win the 2008 Presidential election.
- Once a Democrat is President, the situation in Iraq will improve.

Frame #2: The "Global Alliance" Frame
Major Proponent: Russ Feingold
Key Points:
- Iraq is an occupation.
- Iraq has created U.S. national security problems that previously did not exist.
- The main problem is isolation from international allies in the global fight against terrorism.
- For America to achieve that goal, Democrats must redeploy troops and recruit allies.
- As long as we are in Iraq, U.S. national security is compromised.

Frame #3: The "Regional Stability" Frame
Major Proponent: Wesley Clark
Key Points:
- Iraq is a regional conflict.
- The U.S. occupation of Iraq has isolated Iraq from regional neighbors.
- Success in Iraq depends on U.S. catalyzing regional cooperation.
- For America to achieve that goal, Democrats must convince regional allies U.S. action is not a threat.
- As long as we refuse to engage in regional diplomacy, Iraq will not be stable.
Feldman offers some very good strength/weakness analysis, and I will be making use of it, so please do read the full frames - they are very short. I am not addressing every aspect of the frames, only the focus on "What should/will the Democrats do with regard to the American military presence in Iraq?"

#1 - War Room: He is harsh on Clinton's frame, far more than it deserves, but he does identify a key weakness where Dems would concede too much ground - it leaves in place the fiction that the Iraq situation is a part of the GWOT, and not simply a badly conceived imperialist adventure by the neocons. Any successful frame for the left must split off Iraq from al Qaeda, positioning Iraq as a distraction from the real threat while creating a breeding ground for more. It also shifts attention from the troops to the decision to send troops in.

What is fundamentally right about this frame is that Democrats are going to handle this situation better than Republicans. This is something that must be repeated over and over. What else is right, as per my earlier post, is that it presumes an American presence in Iraq for some time. While I agree that using the word "war" concedes too much to the right, the use of "win" terminology is, IMO, right on the money. Americans like to be winners and a big rhetorical club of the right is deploying the language of win and loss. There's no way to avoid it, so it's time to recapture it. If the term "war" is used, it must be coupled with "Bush" to emphasize that this is a war of choice, conducted on a whim and due entirely to Bush's petulant and childish desires. The "win" is extracting us from the situation, where we should never have been in the first place.

Militarist language appeals to a broad swath of Americans, and can't be abandoned if only because our military is there, and needs support to be able to survive their exploitation by Rumsfeld, et. al. The specific plan is to stabilize the situation, then draw down and redeploy to "safer" zones, with less exposure as targets. The biggest flaw here is a lack of what would count as stabilization, along with a contingency plan if the Iraqis simply can't get their own security together. It fails to discuss the moral dimension of what has been done, which may help contextualize the decisions.

#2 - Global Alliance: Feingold's frame is the one that appeals most strongly because of its simplicity, but is probably the most wrong-headed. For all the language of globalism, it is fundamentally a "US first" frame, chauvinistic in all the wrong ways. While the "Bring 'em home now" meme resonates strongly, there is no argument about what happens next. It fails to acknowledge the intuition of many Americans that something is owed when a wrong has been committed. It also has nothing to say about the use of the military or its sacrifices.

Its great strength is refocusing the debate onto stopping terrorism, which does require international cooperation and policing, and is probably both an easier and cheaper way to keep alliances going. It provides an opening for bringing up lack of security against real terrorism at home. However, this frame works better an an extension of the other two than on its own, as it is more abstract and policy oriented. It has a large gap in between the one practical and very powerful demand to stop the occupation and the intelligent, long-term but not very tangible need to develop effective anti-terrorism alliances. American concern is with individual soldiers more than anything, and they want the troops out of harm's way, but they also want assurance that the mess in Iraq will not breed more terrorists.

Finally, I think calling the situation an "occupation" is simply stupid. Occupation is what bad guys do. Americans liberate. Americans set free. Americans intervene. While literally true, it is psychologically unacceptable. It also lacks a picture of what success in Iraq would look like, aside from getting US butts out of the way.

#3 - Regional Stability: This frame, as Feldman points out, has the great virtue of being pragmatic, but it also has the virtue of being long-term. It places both the Iraq situation and the fight against terrorism in a larger picture of over-all stability in the middle east. It also, perhaps most importantly, presents a rhetorical hook that avoids the pitfalls of either "war" or "occupation" - "conflict." It ratchets down the emotional quotient without denying the significance of the situation.

Like the Global Alliance frame, there's a good deal of hand-waving at what happens between the short-term and the long-term, though it has the advantage of not presenting a false sense of completion as the War Room frame does. Better than the other two, it talks about the long term interests and obligations of the US in the region, which provides a way of discussing our obligations to other nations in terms of protecting and defending human rights and civil society, but also grounds all of this in an unblinking realistic perspective on the ways states behave.

The War Room frame stresses US self-sufficiency and the Global Alliance emphasizes international cooperation. These both posit the middle east as the problem, something to be defended against. Regional Stability proposes that the middle east is not the problem - the intransigence of the regimes is at issue, and the only way to solve that long-term is diplomacy. It recognizes the autonomy and the responsibility of the regional populations in the way a defensive frame cannot.

In terms of troop withdrawal, it is slightly closer to the GA than the WR stance, emphasizing redeployment in the region over complete departure. It does say unequivocally that we can't have permanent bases in Iraq, something the WR frame implicitly presumes we will have. I disagree that it is any less detailed than either of the other two frames, though I sadly have to say I'm not sure that the US can engage in diplomacy at this date, given the slash and burn behavior of the Cheneyites in the region. On this count, while pragmatic, it may be unrealistic.

Summary: None of these frames is sufficient, though any one of them is miles ahead of the do-nothing, wait-for-the-bottom-to-drop-out stance of the Republicans. What they all share is a commitment to trying to find a real and humane way out of the Iraq conflict that does not immediately create worse problems for the US. RS is the only one of the three that adequately addresses the moral obligations that the US has incurred through Bush's War to the Iraqis.

The US must leave. There is no escaping this fact. The only question is how it will be done. There is no "good" way to do so, but there are better and worse alternatives. The GA alternative is the worst, I think, because it cannot answer the "What next?" question about Iraq. In the end, this will be the de facto resolution simply because the US will have no alternative but to bail in a hurry. The WR solution has merit for wanting to establish conditions rather than timetables, but fails for lack of a contingency plan and for refusing to relinquish the dream of permanent bases. The RS frame is short on details for withdrawing, but has a practical goal to work towards, one which might actually be of interest to the players in the middle east. After all, when the US goes, they get to fight each other.

In the end, the Democrats will need to create a dominant frame that encompasses all three stances - clear conditions for withdrawal and redeployment, a contingency plan (or two) in case of complete Iraqi implosion, and a clear commitment to remaining as a power broker and negotiator in the region.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Good Guys

A few days ago, Kevin Drum posted about Richard Dearlove, former head of Britain’s MI6, and the Downing Street Memo, citing an Atlantic Monthly blog by James Fallows, reporting on the Aspen Ideas Festival. I encourage you to read Fallows' article - it is short and interesting. What I want to tease out of it, following on my post yesterday about the continuing presence of al Qaeda, is the nature of the conflict the civilized world, and specifically the US portion of it, is engaged in.

Fallows shows Dearlove making a crucial point:
... the Western world, notably the United States, was doomed unless it reclaimed “the moral high ground.” By the end of the Cold War, he said, there was no dispute world wide about which side held the moral high ground. As a professional spy master, he said that reality made it so much easier for him to recruit operatives – they would volunteer to come to him, because they believed in the cause. Therefore, as a matter of pure strategic necessity, the United States needed to behave according to its best traditions, not the exigencies of an open-ended wartime emergency. (I’m paraphrasing a little, but not taking too many liberties.)
This may be the single most important loss of the neocon war - the loss of moral high ground. With the invasion of Iraq, they can't even claim self-defense as Iraq was no threat to us. Invasion of a country for no reason except to demonstrate military might, continual assaults on international conventions to defend human dignity, casual use of methods and practices that were (and are) the favorite tools of dictatorial regimes (kidnapping, torture, surveillance of general populations, use of military for police functions, etc.) ; all of these serve to undermine what may be the most effective weapon in the US arsenal, the knowledge that we are dedicated to doing the right thing. Mistakes can be forgiven. Deliberate policy cannot.

This matters for domestic politics as well. When the grounds for action are the "one-percent" standard and nothing else, then the raw power of the state can be unleashed on any person or group found to fall within that one-percent possibility. When the language of "traitor" is casually used to place valid oversight and opposition into the realm of the criminal, such as the investigative reporting done by the NYT, LA Times, WaPo and other, less dominant news outlets, the foundation of western liberal democracy - the idea of a loyal opposition - is endangered.

Wes Clark in a number of speeches, articles and appearances over the last few years has pointed out something that I think gets to the heart of why it is so hard to hold on to the very real "Good Guy" position. We no longer have a coherent strategy of how to meet this global assault on the existence of western liberal democratic society. In the Cold War, we had containment, deterrence, and a statement of principles. The weapon that worked best was the quality of life, which we could very legitimately say was a result of commitment to our liberal principles. It was this combination that could produce situations like the one cited by Dearlove, the ability to recruit operatives because they believed not only in our might, but even more deeply in our principles. Regardless of the party in power, the US needs to have a strategy to meet the growing threat of anti-modernism, anti-liberal democracy. It is not just al Qaeda who is trying to mobilize these ideas to establish their own power.

What is the price of no strategy and no principles? We're left with might makes right, and whomever has the bigger army makes the rules. We cannot defend the idea of a loyal opposition, and thus of a general commitment to resolve very real conflicts over resources and social goods through political compromise. We are ourselves rudderless, unwilling to rein in the greed-is-good mentality that expands the gaps between the obscenely rich and the rest. We cannot argue convincingly for social justice and the rights of the minority. We lose our distinction from authoritarian regimes, like China, who are very real competitors for resources, markets and hegemony.

The Republican party of Tom DeLay and Dick Cheney, of the royal-wanna-be Bush clan, of the theocrats Dobson and Falwell, and of the profiteers Abramoff and Reed, is explicitly opposed to the principle of a loyal opposition. They will brook no expression of dissent to their desires and wants. This is their core, and the reason why, at heart, they are failing to protect American lives and interests in any substantive way. They don't believe in the foundational principle of our society.

Oddly enough, opposition to them is handicapped by our commitment to our "Good Guy" principle. We cannot demonize. We cannot refuse to at least hear them out. It is the Achilles heel of western liberal democracy, that we will tolerate intolerance. It is not, however, a fatal flaw if we are determined to protect the principle as such.

We are also handicapped by misguided and, in the case of the neocons, deliberately bad faith patriotism. The US, with good reason, is used to thinking of itself as the "Good Guy" in international affairs. The authoritarian right has done what the authoritarian right always does, invert the argument that we become the good guys by doing good into what we do is good because we are the good guys. (Works the same way in religion, of course.) In this reconstruction of a moral principle into a rationalization for power, patriotism is used to transform the good very swiftly into its opposite, an uncaring cruelty.

To reclaim the high ground, which is another way of saying to defend the core organizing principle of our society, we need a strategy that is at once realistic and idealistic - something that deals with the very real physical threat of terrorist movements and also presents to those caught in the middle the reasons why they should choose our side, even when doing so may endanger their lives.

Clark has a short, excellent summation of where the true war on terror occurs: "You see, the problem is that terrorism is spawned by an idea, by a passion, by a commitment. Its mistaken idea but it's an idea. And you don't win it by killing people. You win it by changing people's ideas."

That's how you get to be the Good Guys.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Still Out There

Lest we forget, the Islamic fundamentalist whack-job terrorists are still out there, trying to incite Armegeddon. While the general mendaciousness of the Cheney administration is such that news of getting terrorists usually means something blown out of proportion, like the recent arrests in Miami, the al Qaeda network is real, it is operational, and it is going to keep trying to hit major capitals. Al Qaeda has murdered thousands of people around the globe, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

A year ago today, they struck London. Today, the FBI announced it had, in cooperation with intelligence operations in other countries, broken up a legitimate plot to do suicide bombing on PATH trains below the Hudson River. For those of you not familair with the area, the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) is a lightrail system that connects New York City to New Jersey via rail lines that run in tunnels under the Hudson River. A major PATH station had been located under the WTC complex.

It is worth noting that this interception has probably saved the lives of hundreds if not thousands of communters and forestalled a massive interruption to travel and communications. This was not done with sabre-rattling and military might, but by quiet, stealthy police work, tracking down the leads and cornering the bastards where they live. Thousands of Lebanese did not have to die to apprehend these guys.

There is no debate. We know what works in fighting terrorism and we know what does not. Spies, policing and very targeted, very small military strikes are what work. Full scale invasions do not. The only location where an invasion had any legitimate role was Afghanistan, and that was to secure a territory that was in a condition of chaos and tribal war, providing a perfect location for terrorist base operations.

The Cheneyites have been wrong on terrorism from Day 1 in the White House, when they scoffed and dismissed its threat. Thousands of Americans and hundreds of other nationals perished because of their inaction. Since then, tens of thousands more have died for no good reason.

And Osama bin Laden is still out there.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

What (snicker) Kevin Says

TICK TICK TICK....I just realized today that the Connecticut primary isn't until August 8. That means we're in for another full month of 24/7 screeching in the liberal blogosphere about the myriad personal deficiencies of Joe Lieberman, Ned Lamont, and every last one of their friends and supporters.

Just shoot me. Can't President Bush nuke some small third-world country that he's annoyed at so we have something else to talk about? Please?

Over the Edge They Go

I was waiting to see it happen. Who would be the first to make the beginning and the end of a Democratic candidate's worth for office hinge on their support for Joe Lieberman? The winner is Digby, now begging her readers to harass Barbara Boxer for refusing to renege on a long-time promise to stump for Lieberman.

For the love of Pete. This is like "no tolerance" rules at schools that get kids thrown out for giving someone an aspirin, or drug laws locking people up for years for smoking a joint. There is no sense of proportion.

The Kossack left is gearing up to wage national smear campaigns against your elected officials. To hell with whether you like your candidate or think she's doing a good job for your district. If she doesn't pass the netroots litmus test du jour, she's fair game. In their place, we will have bland, millionaire white men from the 'burbs.

If the "netroots" thinks this is the way to capture the party, setting up purity tests and harassing individual politicians with asinine 'fur us or agin us' positions, they're going to have some interesting backlash to deal with.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, good liberal candidates like Francine Busby go begging for spare change and blog time because all resources are being poured into this disingenuous war for control of power broker positions. You know what? I hope Lieberman wins the primary. I don't want the poster boy for these bullies to get anything.

If I wanted to belong to a band of thugs, I'd join the Republicans.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Reimagining the Beloved Community

Kevin Drum and Ed Kilgore both had intelligent posts up today about Sen. Barack Obama's recent speech on the use (and abuse) of faith in politics, and what progresive believers should consider. There is also a pretty shocking article up on Salon (watch the ad, it's worth it) about the Mormon breakaway sect FLDS in Colorado City, Arizona, and their abuse of their own children.

The Salon piece is almost a perfect case study of the instrumental use of religious structures and practices to consolidate and enforce wordly power. It is, without exaggeration, an American Taliban. It has little to do with faith and everything to do with control. I would hope that any person with a scrap of morality, whether believer or secular, would condemn what this cult is doing to its members, especially the children.

Kevin Drum does his usual common-sense job and points out the glaringly obvious - Obama didn't say much that you can really object to, and that (as I said) a few sentences are being pulled out and exagerated to allow bloviation to flow. Kevin ends with his trademark wondering out loud about more of the glaringly obvious:
It's a funny thing. When I post about religion, I usually get two kinds of comments. The first is people telling me that I'm falling into a conservative trap by even entertaining the idea that some liberals are contemptuous toward religion. The second is snarky liberal secularists telling everyone else to take their stupid myths and shove 'em where the sun don't shine. Do you think both sides will show up in this thread as well?
And darn if he wasn't right. Most comments walked right into that one and didn't have enough self-awareness to know they'd just tripped the "doh!" meter. And "some" posters even disparaged religion. Imagine that... NEWS FLASH - The left has a small but vocal minority of anti-religious zealots, committed beyond reason to assaulting not just idiocy like Intelligent Design, but every expression of faith. Major bloggers like PZ Meyers, for example, who enjoy wide readerships. Mind you, some of the take downs can be fun to read, but the "You Are Stupid Bozos" theme gets real old, real fast.

I'm a secular humanist. I also have a truckload of believing friends and family. And I know jerks, and deal with the occasional JW knocking on the door, and think that fundamentalism is a very real threat to human existence. I can also admire the Dalai Lama and get the giggle fits over Rev. Desmond Tutu reminding us that God isn't a Christian. In short, the existence of religion doesn't offend me (though it often confuses me) and that the left is allowing itself to be sidetracked by the god-baiting of the right.

The danger of the rules-bound left is, as I said in an earlier post, that they will not acknowledge that people are divided on progressive issues and consider their religious teachings valid guides for political decisions. I think my father is a great example. I also have friends in a very strict Christian family who are mostly liberal, but who are under enormous social pressure from family and church to conform. Lots and lots of love for toeing the line, lots of ostracism for not. These are people who do require some strong outreach because they will be outcasts.

The anti-religious faction will not or cannot understand the courage it takes to defy the beloved community. Read the Salon article. Understand that this is not religious behavior, per say, but the actions of tradition bound communities for securing order, obdience and stability.

I think Ed Kilgore's post was one of the most interesting I have yet read because he speaks about what the religious message was. Many of the things he says reminds me of Garry Wills' op-ed piece Christ Among the Partisans. I have excerpts of that here. (My father enjoyed the piece quite a bit, I might add.) Kilgore's post is worth an extended quote:
Obama was fighting something of a three-front battle in this speech:

(1) against conservative claims that God's Will is easy to understand, dictates culturally conservative positions, and requires nothing more than obedience;
(2) against Christian Left claims that progressives of faith should simply counter their Law with our Gospel; their sexual moralism with our social-justice moralism; their scriptural authorities with our scriptural authorities;
(3) against secularists of the Left or the Right (encompassing, BTW, most of the political chattering classes) who reduce religious faith to entirely secular political and cultural positions, without having any clue of the ambiguities involved in believing in a transcendent God who reveals Himself in history and human action as well as in scripture.

The political import of Obama's speech is that he is engaging in an intra-Christian debate that is already undermining the Christian Right every day. In essence, the James Dobsons of the religious world have sought to lead their flocks into a prophetic stance that stakes their spiritual lives to a series of specific and highly questionable political commitments. More and more, even the most conservative evangelical Christians are chafing against this bondage, while the less conservative faithful, including the largely apolitical attendees of rapidly growing non-denominational megachurches, never bought into it much to begin with.

This is an enormous potential political constituency that is waiting to hear from Our Side, not with Conservative Lite policy prescriptions; not with Christian Left counter-prophetic-absolutism; but with credible and authentic appeals to the holy fear that the faithful should respect when confronting those who make exclusive claims to represent God's Will on Earth.

This post took on particular resonance as I was reading it immediately after having read the Salon piece. The point that Kilgore (and Obama) make about the danger of "prophetic" activism is both subtle and unsettling, because it is a two edged sword. It warns against the prophetic mode of rule, which is not always a religious stance. If you are a humanist, you understand that the structures of religion are human patterns of thought and interaction, and that secular instiutions and movements too can be afflicted by this mode of power.

As with the fundamentalists who thunder about the certainty of fire and brimstone for those who stray from the path of righteousness, the message about the dangers of conceptual certainty appear to be going right over the heads of the most agitated critics of Obama's speech.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Senator Clinton Shows How It's Done

Here's a hint to the Democratic leadership. Do the right thing. Hillary shows you how:
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a longtime supporter of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, said Tuesday she will not back the Connecticut Democrat's bid for re-election if he loses their party's primary.

"I've known Joe Lieberman for more than thirty years. I have been pleased to support him in his campaign for re-election, and hope that he is our party's nominee," the former first lady said in a statement issued by aides.

"But I want to be clear that I will support the nominee chosen by Connecticut Democrats in their primary," the New York Democrat added. "I believe in the Democratic Party, and I believe we must honor the decisions made by Democratic primary voters."

This is as it should be. State your personal preference, then be clear you support the will of the voters. How hard is that?


Battle for the Entrenched Power Broker Positions

Lieberman commited a serious tactical blunder in trying to cover all bases with his bid to stay on the November ballot at all costs. Check out Josh Marshall for a short and sweet summation of the damage. I said before that the race was Lieberman's to lose, and it looks like he's going to do it.

Now, here is where things get interesting. The MSM is presenting the story as the "anti-war left" is targeting a "pro-war" candidate. This may be the meme, but it is not the reality.

What the "netroots" is (as opposed to the base) is a loosely affiliated group of would-be power brokers who are fighting with the established power brokers for who is going to control selection of bland center-left candidates for national office. No, this is not some diabolical cabal engineered by Markos. Please, don't insult my intelligence. This is a very traditional internal war over who is going to occupy the position currently (and incompletely) held by "the DLC". I put that in quotes because it isn't just the actual organization, but the loose affiliation of groups and businesses that have common interests articulated most consistently by the DLC.

Neither of these power centers have any real interest in "the base", by which I mean the vast majority of voters who choose Democratic candidates more than Republicans ones. The netroots in particular is contemptuous of these citizens, sneering at them as "sheeple" rather than accepting that people simply aren't engaged. The old guard does accept this, and focuses on how to get just enough engagement to garner a vote.

Given that the poster boys for the netroots are Ned Lamont and Mark Warner, candidates so far from radical that they easily mix with the "DLC" crowd, it becomes clear that there really isn't any shift to the left going on here. It is a fight over who controls revenue streams and who gets to be part of the talking heads society.

I know some neo-Naderites are having wet dreams over throwing all the rascals out and having Saint Russ annointed king, but the cold fact is that the "netroots" organizers, for all their guff, have no intention of being daring if they can gain the upper hand. They will run DLC-lite (and plain old DLC) candidates. Why? Because centrist candidates do best with the electorate over all.

Lieberman is a useful target because there is a bland multi-millionaire available to run against someone who has pissed off a strong minority of Democrats in a small state. This is a battle of the power brokers and their ability to raise funds and mobilize partisans. When the dust settles, there really won't be that much of a change. As Kevin Drum has pointed out, there's no deep policy difference, no ideological split worth mentioning. There's just a loud and tiresome cat fight going on about who gets to call shots.

I think you can tell by now that I don't much care for either side. One is bland and cautious. The other is arrogant and irresponsible. Neither are very organized (except as fundraisers) and neither has much to say for itself. Their mutual campaign theme is "We're not him." And, the kicker of them all, they tend to know each other, hang out in the same conferences, beg for money from the same people, and (GASP!) often support the same candidates.

Which is why I'm not particularly excited by the Ned Lamont campaign. He stands for nothing new.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Mahmudiyah Update - Stay This Course?

This information is gleaned from two sources:
A man already in the US has been arrested and charged with the murders. Dead are a man, his wife, and their two duaghters, one 15, one 5 or 7. The elder daughter was raped, as has been confirmed by a medical evaluation. Charged in that rape are the man also charged with murder of the four family members, and three or four other men. The accounts do not give names of additional people, and they are equivocal as to whether they will also be charged with murder. These four or five soldiers have committed a heinous crime. There are confessions and corroborating testimony.

The most horrifying detail is this one from the NYT:

The affidavit, by an F.B.I. special agent, Gregor J. Ahlers, said details of the crime emerged during a "combat stress debriefing" on June 20. Private Green and at least three others planned the rape and told another soldier to monitor the radio while they went to the house near Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, according to the affidavit. Some of the participants changed out of their uniforms before going to the house and had blood on their clothes when they returned, the affidavit said.

After the murder-and-rape rampage, the affidavit states, the soldiers burned their clothes and told the comrade who had been left to monitor the radio that "this is never to be discussed again."

The F.B.I. affidavit portrays a crime at once chilling and calculated. Before raping one woman, Private Green confined her relatives to a bedroom, the document states. Shots were heard inside, after which Private Green came to the door and said, "I just killed them, all are dead," the affidavit goes on. Then Private Green and another "known participant" were seen raping the woman before Private Green shot her in the head "two to three times," the document states.

This was premeditated. They murdered the family members, including a child, first, then raped the teenager, then murdered her. There is no room for accident.

I'm not sure what to make of this, from the WaPo:

Janabi [a neighbor of the murdered family] said U.S. soldiers controlled the scene of the killings for several hours on March 11, telling neighbors that insurgents were responsible. The bodies of the victims were taken to Mahmudiyah hospital by March 12, according to Janabi and an official at the hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On March 13, a man identifying himself as a relative claimed the bodies for burial, the hospital official said. An hour after the man left with the bodies, U.S. soldiers came to the hospital and asked about the bodies, the hospital official said.

The next day, the hospital official said, soldiers scoured the area, trying to find the funeral for the family.

Who were these soldiers? Were they they ones who committed the crime? or were these other soldiers who knew the real story behind the crime?

George Bush and his enablers sent these men into a needless and unsupportable war. They have destroyed the effectiveness and the honor of our military for nothing. Bush's War, the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history, has enraged populations against us and increased the ability of terrorist groups like al Quaeda to recruit and operate because they have sympathy from people who ordinarily would shun them.