Archive for March, 2003

Brief Hiatus

Monday, March 31st, 2003

I’ll be on a vacation away from phones, computers, and net access from tomorrow morning until Friday, April 4, so posting of new items will probably be somewhat lighter than it has been (though I’ve encouraged my co-authors to do what they can to pick up the slack). Anyway, see you in a few days!

The Coulter Doctrine

Monday, March 31st, 2003

I still remember, amid my shock and revulsion at the 9/11 attacks, the additional layer of shock and revulsion I felt when I read Ann Coulter’s “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity” National Review column. Not only had we been confronted with racial and religious hate raised to the level of mass murder from outside our borders, but now we were facing the same thing from inside as well, since people like this thoroughly vile woman were willing to promote themselves through appeals to the worst in all of us.

Now, Counterspin Central has a link to the following story from Newhouse News: Plans under way for Christianizing the enemy.

So, with the help of a president who doesn’t believe in thinking too hard about these sorts of things, Ann Coulter’s prescription for our national response to 9/11 has become, quite literally, the actual policy we are pursuing.

It’s a nightmare. And I can’t wake up.

Bush Advisers Split on War

Monday, March 31st, 2003

A really interesting piece from the Washington Post talks about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that has been going on at the White House in an effort to influence Bush’s war policy: Advisers Split as War Unfolds. It focuses on Colin Powell’s role, which naturally caught my attention. Lots of palace intrigue.

Dowd Tells It Like It Is

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

Maureen Dowd has a nice op-ed piece in today’s New York Times: Back off, Syria and Iran! Again, it’s not that it mentions anything new, but it does a good job of connecting the dots on the war-plan upfuckery. “Ideology,” observes Dowd, “should not shape facts when lives are at stake.”

Marines Asked to Pray for President

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

I saw this story on The Agonist: US soldiers in Iraq asked to pray for Bush. It’s really just too weird. According to an embedded journalist, marines have been given a prayer book from a group called In Touch Ministries; the book contains a form to be torn out and mailed to the White House, indicating that the marine in question has indeed been praying for the president. The book provides helpful suggestions on what sort of prayer for the president would be suitable on any given day; today’s suggestion, for example, is: “Pray that the President and his advisers will seek God and his wisdom daily and not rely on their own understanding.”

Hm. That particular prayer actually makes a lot of sense to me. But I confess that the whole idea is confusing. Aren’t the marines already giving enough, what with that whole thing about sacrificing their freedom, their health, and in many cases, their lives? Now they’re supposed to pray for the president, too?

I’m obviously missing something here.

Cook Blasts US War Planning, Calls for British Pullout

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

British Labour MP Robin Cook broke the silence he has maintained since resigning as foreign minister two weeks ago by writing a scathing attack on US war planning in the Sunday Mirror: Bring our lads home.

Personally I would like to volunteer Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz to be “embedded” alongside the journalists with the forward units.

That would give them a chance to hear what the troops fighting for every bridge over the Euphrates think about their promises.

It will be interesting to see what happens with British support for Tony Blair’s war agenda. Last I heard it was riding high, but that was a few days ago. And the Colin Powell fanboy in me would love to see a resigned-foreign-minister-turned-war-critic doing well in the polls. I still think it could happen here. Would happen here, if Powell were willing to shoulder the burden.

Kim Jong Il’s LiveJournal

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

I’m not sure if this is only going to be funny to long-time computer-mediated-communication obsessives like me, but God, is this funny. From daypop: Kim Jong Il (the illmatic)’s LiveJournal.

Caputo: A Familiar Stench

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

From author Phillip Caputo’s excellent piece in today’s LA Times: The smell of war:

I wish it could be bottled and the bottles placed on desks in the White House, the Capitol, the Washington think tanks, the editorial board rooms of magazines and newspapers whose cheerleaders called for war with Iraq, and the studios of the talk-radio hosts fulminating about French quislings and unpatriotic antiwar protesters.

Just when they were at their saber-rattling worst, I would uncork the bottles and make them sit there and inhale that hideous perfume. As a combat veteran of Vietnam and a war correspondent who covered the fall of Saigon, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the October War in the Middle East, the Eritrean rebellion in Ethiopia, the Sudanese civil war and the Lebanese civil war (in which I was wounded in both legs), I have been appalled to see such zest for war exhibited by people who don’t know the first thing about it. If they did know, they wouldn’t be so enthusiastic.

Bush Obsessing About War

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

According to an article in today’s New York Times, Bush is giving the Iraq war his full attention: President keeps the battlefield close at hand. I liked the following story:

George W. Bush was standing three feet from his television screen in his cabin at Camp David last weekend, absorbed in every detail of the news from Iraq, when a correspondent came on to report that the president of the United States, according to White House officials, was not glued to the TV.

Mr. Bush started laughing, said his close friend Roland Betts, who was with the president at the time.

“He is just totally immersed,” Mr. Betts said in an interview.

Like his daddy before him, the famously disengaged president who nonetheless was visibly vibrating with excitement when he announced that “the liberation of Kuwait has begun,” the current Bush really seems to get off on going to war (or, to be more precise, sending others to war — though see this recent Onion piece for a delicious alternate reality: Bush bravely leads 3rd Infantry into battle).

Digging deeper into the relationship between the two presidents’ penchant for waging war on Iraq, Kevin Phillips has an interesting piece in today’s LA Times: A family’s path to war. It talks about something biographers have noticed about Dubya: a deep-rooted psychological need he seems to have to follow in his father’s footsteps, to prove himself, or something. The article talks about the eery parallels in the timelines leading up to the two presidents’ wars (initially floated in the second year of office, then launched in the spring of the third, helping to distract the country from naggingly persistent troubles with the domestic economy). Phillips continues:

Yet, these parallels would not count for much if they did not reflect a larger pattern that has fascinated Bush biographers — the way in which the 43rd president, from the time he was a schoolboy, has tried to imitate his father’s mannerisms and follow his career path. He went to his father’s schools, Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Yale University; played his father’s sport (baseball); and joined his father’s secret society (Skull and Bones) at Yale. Thereafter, he became a military flier like his father and then went into the oil business in Midland, Texas, where he set up his little company in the same office building where his father had his business.

Two biographers, Elizabeth Mitchell and Bill Minutaglio, note that, like his father, George W. wanted to get married, while at Yale, to a girl who had attended his mother’s college. The fiancee, however, broke off the engagement in part because she worried about the psychologies driving the footsteps pattern.

To be sure, the career paths of No. 41 and No. 43 have not been exactly parallel: George W. had no experience as a diplomat and his father none as governor of Texas. However, since the United States is again at war in the Persian Gulf, the footsteps enigma that has fascinated biographers should interest a larger audience, as well.

Hecht on DU Warheads

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

I haven’t talked here about the depleted uranium munitions the US is using throughout the Iraq war, but it’s worth learning something about them, and the article in today’s LA Times by Susanna Hecht, a professor in the School of Public Policy and Social Research at UCLA, is a good place to start: Uranium warheads may leave both sides a legacy of death for decades.

Bush, Rumsfeld, and Franks, Oh My!

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

I’m trying to make sense of a trio of articles I just read from Sunday’s Washington Post. The first one I read, from page A29, describes the pissed-offed-ness among military brass at civilian overseer Rumsfeld for screwing up their war plan: Rumsfeld targetted for troop dilution. (Update: See also the earlier Reuters article: Rumsfeld ignored Pentagon advice on Iraq.) The Post article goes into lots of interesting detail, including the following:

Responding to criticism, Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference Friday that U.S. forces were following a war plan that was developed by Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of Central Command, and agreed to by leaders of all the military services. Myers called it “brilliant.”

Aides close to Rumsfeld said any changes made were for the better. “The original war plan for Iraq was really awful,” a senior official said yesterday. “It was basically Cold War planning, and we’re not in the Cold War anymore. Rumsfeld, like a lot of people, asked a lot of questions designed to produce the best, most flexible plan.”

An analysis from the same issue’s front page puts this in context: War’s military, political goals begin to diverge. There’s some cheerleading for the awesome advance that has been made in the first week of the war (including from Paul Van Riper, the retired Marine general who blew the whistle on the bogus war games), but also this:

Top Army officers in Iraq say they now believe that they effectively need to restart the war. Before launching a major ground attack on Iraq’s Republican Guard, they want to secure their supply lines and build up their own combat power. Some timelines for the likely duration of the war now extend well into the summer, they say.

So far so good. But then there comes this mishmash of conflicting information, also from Sunday’s front page: Push toward Baghdad is reaffirmed. It talks about the teleconference Bush did with his “war council” from Camp David today:

In that session, as one senior official described it, Bush supported Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s desire to press ahead with the plans embraced by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of the Iraq effort. These plans call for continuing to prepare for a ground offensive against the Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein’s most fearsome troops, while awaiting the arrival of additional forces — some of which are weeks, even months, from being ready to fight.

This is where I get confused. It sounds like they’re saying yes, we’re going to need to pause while we build up our forces. But then we have administration officials denying that:

Field commanders this past week have spoken openly of a “pause” in the allied campaign to rest, regroup and reinforce, while securing supply lines by pacifying southern Iraq. But yesterday’s session of the War Council reaffirmed a battle plan that was crafted in Washington, and reminded any dissenters what the commander in chief wants.

“When we say we’re on the plan, we’re on the plan,” an administration official said. “There is no pause.”

Someone’s not on the same page here. If there isn’t going to be a pause, someone needs to tell the field commanders. I think it’s pretty obvious there is going to be a pause, which means this probably is just about giving Rumsfeld (and by extension, Bush) political cover by pretending that there isn’t actually any difference between “proceeding quickly to Baghdad” and “pausing to restart the war.” In other words, it’s just spin doctoring over the use or non-use of the word “pause” to describe what’s going to happen, about which there actually isn’t any lack of clarity between the civilian and military planners and the people in the field.

I’m not surprised that the administration would lie to put the best face possible on the events of the past week. But I’m scared that it might not just be a lie. That is, I’m scared that the differences in what people are saying at different levels of the civilian/military command-and-control structure might reflect actual fuzzy thinking and miscommunication — which don’t sound like the kinds of things you want when so many lives are at stake.

Firsthand Account of Home Searches in Nasiriyah

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

Again from the Washington Post, an interesting embedded-reporter account of Marines in Nasiriyah performing a house search: U.S. mounts house-to-house sweeps. This sounds so not-fun.

SARS Discoverer Dies of Disease

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

From the Washington Post: Epidemic kills scientist who helped discover it. I think I’ve been trying not to learn anything about this epidemic, in part because I’ve got this nasty cough that won’t go away. I guess it’s slightly reassuring to think that if I had SARS, I’d be dead by now. Or I mean it would be reassuring, if it weren’t scary.

The AWOL Dolphin Story

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

People keep submitting this story, and I guess it does seem like the sort of thing I would run, even though I chose to pass over it initially. Anyway, by popular demand, here you go: Takoma the dolphin is AWOL. Reader immy2g also helpfully supplied a link to the earlier story: U.S. enlists dolphins to aid war effort.

More Detail on Rigged War Games

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

I’d previously seen the discussion of “Red Force” commander Paul Van Riper having quit in protest midway through the Millenium Challenge 02 war games when the people running the test kept rigging it so that “Blue Force” (the US player) would win. Now there’s a story from Slate that puts the story in context with the recent statement by Tommy Franks about the enemy being different than the one we war-gamed against: War-Gamed. The article includes a link to the article in Army Times where the story originally broke, after a copy of Van Riper’s scathing email was leaked to them: War games rigged?

The Army Times piece has a lot more detail on what actually happened at the games than I’d previously seen.

Thayer’s Exit from Baghdad

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

Slate’s Nate Thayer has a fascinating account of his drive from Baghdad to (I think) Jordan on Friday, after Iraqi authorities found a clandestine sat phone in his room and ordered him out of the country.

That would be one freaky drive.

Ferraro on World Saving

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

Vincent Ferraro, a professor of international politics at Mount Holyoke College, gave the following convocation address at Pomfret School, a Connecticut prep school, this past September: Saving the world. Seemed appropriate.

Powell: War Is the Scourge of God

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

Excerpted from Colin Powell’s US Forces: The Challenges Ahead, Foreign Affairs, Winter 1992:

Military men and women recognize more than most people that not every situation will be crystal clear. We can and do operate in murky, unpredictable circumstances. But we also recognize that military force is not always the right answer. If force is used imprecisely or out of frustration rather than clear analysis, the situation can be made worse.

Decisive means and results are always to be preferred, even if they are not always possible. We should always be skeptical when so-called experts suggest that all a particular crisis calls for is a little surgical bombing or a limited attack. When the “surgery” is over and the desired result is not obtained, a new set of experts then comes forward with talk of just a little escalation–more bombs, more men and women, more force. History has not been kind to this approach to war-making. In fact this approach has been tragic — both for the men and women who are called upon to implement it and for the nation. This is not to argue that the use of force is restricted to only those occasions where the victory of American arms will be resounding, swift and overwhelming. It is simply to argue that the use of force should be restricted to occasions where it can do some good and where the good will outweigh the loss of lives and other costs that will surely ensue. Wars kill people. That is what makes them different from all other forms of human enterprise.

When President Lincoln gave his second inaugural address he compared the Civil War to the scourge of God, visited upon the nation to compensate for what the nation had visited upon its slaves. Lincoln perceived war correctly. It is the scourge of God. We should be very careful how we use it. When we do use it, we should not be equivocal: we should win and win decisively. If our objective is something short of winning–as in our air strikes into Libya in 1986–we should see our objective clearly, then achieve it swiftly and efficiently.

I am preaching to the choir. Every reasonable American deplores the resort to war. We wish it would never come again. If we felt differently, we could lay no claim whatsoever to being the last, best hope of earth. At the same time I believe every American realizes that in the challenging days ahead, our wishes are not likely to be fulfilled. In those circumstances where we must use military force, we have to be ready, willing and able. Where we should not use force we have to be wise enough to exercise restraint. I have finite faith in the American people’s ability to sense when and where we should draw the line.

Update: More on the application of this article to the current situation can be found in Nicholas Johnson’s War in Iraq: The military objections. Johnson observes that military commanders frequently are more rational about the use of military force than are their civilian overseers. That certainly seems to be the case here. A quotation:

By the time an officer reaches the top of today’s U.S. military you can bet that he or she is bright, extremely well educated in the liberal arts as well as military history and other matters, and possessed of a good analytical mind.

As you know, a central principle of American government is what we call “civilian control of the military.” Of course, I support that principle. Few would deliberately choose life under a military dictatorship.

But when I compare the approach to war of some civilian politicians with that of the military’s leadership I have occasionally commented that what we really need is “military control of the civilians” – at least the civilians’ decisions about war.

When evaluating a sophisticated issue involving politics, foreign relations, and the global economy, it is usually the politicians, not the military officers, who are the first to forgo thoughtful analysis for expressions like “send in the Marines,” “let’s kick some butt,” and “nuke ’em.”

It is the military that modestly suggests the need for prior application of rational thought.

I love that quote about macho politician-speak for going to war. Especially in light of the recent Time article revealing that the course for war upon Iraq was laid in March of 2002, when Bush told a group of Senators, “Fuck Saddam. We’re taking him out.” It doesn’t really square with the President of the United States’ job description to be quoted using the F-word, especially when the President in question likes to claim moral authority as a born-again Christian, but I suppose the White House thinks it’s the kind of thing that will actually boost his popularity. But regardless of how it plays with the electorate in terms of making the commander in chief seem like an ordinary guy, the willingness to talk that way about going to war, and what’s more, to actually follow through on it without carefully considering the costs and benefits beforehand, reveals a profound unsuitability for the task of wielding US military power.

Apple: Increasing Risk for Bush

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

Here’s one more link from the Saturday New York Times. R. W. Apple, Jr., has an analysis of some of the potential worst-case scenarios for the Iraq war, and their likely impact on Bush’s political fortunes: Bush’s peril: Shifting sand and fickle opinion.

There’s nothing really new in the story, but it ties things together in a good way. Choice quote:

“Saddam won’t win,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the former United States representative at the United Nations. “Unlike L.B.J. in Vietnam, Bush won’t quit. He’s a different kind of Texan. He’ll escalate and keep escalating. In the end his military strategy will probably succeed in destroying Saddam.

“But it may result in a Muslim jihad against us and our friends. Achieving our narrow objective of regime change may take so long and trigger so many consequences that it’s no victory at all. Our ultimate goal, which is promoting stability in the Middle East, may well prove elusive.”

Webb: Welcome to Hell

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

James Webb, who was Secretary of the Navy under Reagan and a Marine company commander in Vietnam, has a good piece running in the New York Times today: The war in Iraq turns ugly. That’s what wars do. He sees lots of parallels to Vietnam. His concluding quote: “Welcome to hell. Many of us lived it in another era. And don’t expect it to get any better for a while.”