Archive for April, 2004

McNamara, Morris at Berkeley

Monday, April 19th, 2004

Here’s a writeup and Real Audio video of a fascinating panel discussion: Robert McNamara, Errol Morris return to Berkeley to share lessons learned from “Fog of War”.

How to Get Bush to Debate Kerry

Monday, April 19th, 2004

Kerry keeps talking about wanting to debate Bush early and often. Bush keeps ducking the challenge, for obvious reasons. But Lead Balloons over at Bad Attitudes suggests that Kerry might be able to get Bush to go for it if he says Bush can bring Cheney with him; i.e., Kerry will debate both of them at once.

Balloons actually suggested that a couple of weeks ago, but I missed it then. He also suggests, more recently, an alternative approach Kerry can take: offering to debate Cheney instead of Bush. That one works, too, though in a different way.

If he did it jokingly, during a Letterman appearance, say, he could get it out there without having to look like he’s beating up on Bush. That assumes Kerry has a sense of humor and can tell a joke, something I’m not sure I’ve seen him do, so maybe he can’t or won’t. But it’s a cute idea, at least.

Forbes on the Air Force One Lie

Sunday, April 18th, 2004

Interesting (to me, at least) item from Scott Forbes about how the lie from the Bushies about Air Force One being targetted on 9/11 revealed to him the extent of their dishonesty: Moment of truth.

Teen Values TV Over Mom

Saturday, April 17th, 2004

Here’s a feel-good story to break my recent trend of posting about quagmires and war crimes. From CNN: Kill mom but don’t hurt TV, teen tells hitman.

Myers: Iraq Insurgency a Sign of Success

Friday, April 16th, 2004

In keeping with tradition, Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers observed today that the recent widespread violence (and, presumably, record numbers of US dead, though he didn’t mention them specifically) were a sign of the “success” we are having in Iraq. He even managed to use the word three times in two sentences. From the Washington Post: General calls insurgency in Iraq a sign of US success.

BAGHDAD, April 15 — The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday that the deadly insurgency that flared this month is “a symptom of the success that we’re having here in Iraq” and an effort to undermine the country’s transition to self-government.

Asked at a news conference here whether the military had failed to counter insurgents’ attacks in Iraq, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said guerrillas want to undermine several political successes, including the creation of the Iraqi Governing Council, the signing of a bill of rights and efforts by the United Nations to devise an interim government that would assume power on June 30.

“I think it’s that success which is driving the current situation, because there are those extremists that don’t want that success,” Myers said.

Quoting The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Krugman on the Iraq/Vietnam Analogy

Friday, April 16th, 2004

Paul Krugman has some apt comments on the various ways in which the Iraq war is (and isn’t) like Vietnam: The Vietnam analogy.

Jerome Doolittle on Bush’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Friday, April 16th, 2004

Jerome Doolittle of Bad Attitudes runs some excerpts from an academic piece on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), noting the point-by-point matchup with George Bush: And you thought guys like that were just assholes!

Poop For Peace Day: April 16, 2004

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

I can’t say it any better then they do….
On April 16, take some time to think when you take your time to stink. Think of yourself on your toilet, and George W. Bush on his, and Saddam and Osama on theirs. Think about the children of Iraq and the children of America, and realize that while their skins are different colors and their gods have different names, their daily ritual is exactly the same. We all poop, which means we’re all human, which means we’re all brothers and sisters. Any other differences are arbitrary — we are all united in the daily struggle against the tyranny of the bowel.

Lizza on the White House Press Corps’ Thirst for Vengeance

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

From The New Republic’s Ryan Lizza comes this really fun and insightful piece on the relationship between Bush and his media entourage, and the back story to Tuesday’s press conference: Stuck.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that poll-obsessed me found this part especially interesting:

Before the press conference, some in the media believed that Bush’s performance could tip the president’s popularity one way or the other. But, instead of changing Bush’s political momentum, Tuesday’s performance just reinforced the public’s opinion about what his most dominant trait is. It’s not leadership or stupidity, the two characteristics most often ascribed to the president by his allies and foes. It’s that he refuses to change his mind.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center recently asked 1,800 people to rate Bush and John Kerry on a scale of one to ten for 17 different characteristics. On many issues, the scores revealed no advantage for either candidate. Voters rated them equally on whether they “care about people like me,” “share my values,” are “inspiring,” “trustworthy,” or have the “right kind of experience to be president.” But the most extreme score was recorded when voters were asked how well the word “stubborn” applies to Bush. And the more important voters are to deciding the general election, the higher the score rose. Respondents from the 18 swing states thought Bush was even more stubborn than the rest of the country did. And, within the swing states, the so-called “persuadable” voters, a narrow band of Americans (about 11 percent of the electorate) undecided about the contest, found Bush even more stubborn. Interestingly, the impression that Bush is obstinate is far more ingrained than the impression that Kerry is a flip-flopper. Voters say the phrase “changes his mind for political reasons” applies about equally to both men. The coveted persuadables actually say it is a slightly better description of Bush. So, while the president may have spent $40 million on advertising to convince swing voters that Kerry changes his mind too much, they apparently are more concerned that Bush changes his too little.

Gotta love those persuadables. Flexible willow wands themselves, trimming their sails to whatever political wind is currently blowing, they apparently are even more likely than lefties like me to take notice of Bush’s stubborn streak.

I also really liked this part:

It’s common for a president faced with a sudden decline in popularity to think that, if he could only get his message out more effectively, his problems would be solved. Bush has always leaned heavily on the crutch of the big speech or bold press conference to turn things around. But he doesn’t have a message problem; he has a reality problem. “The administration is like a person who talks more loudly and slowly to people who don’t understand English,” says a Senate Democratic aide.

Time on Fallujah

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

Time magazine has a new article about events in Fallujah: How to squeeze a city. It’s very much from the Marines’ perspective, and offers some additional detail. An excerpt:

City combat blunts the Marines’ chief advantages: speed and awareness of what is ahead. Buildings create vast “dead spaces” where the enemy can hide. The cityscape hinders communications and prevents anything that flies low, like helicopters, spy drones and warplanes, from assisting friendly forces on the ground for very long. Life-and-death decisions must be made instantly: 90% of the targets are less than 50 yds. away and seen for only seconds. “When they start zinging RPGs in here, you can’t really do anything about it,” says Staff Sergeant Mike Conran. “It’s really just dumb luck if you get hit.”

In some neighborhoods, the Marines say, anyone they spot in the streets is considered a “bad guy.” Says Marine Major Larry Kaifesh: “It is hard to differentiate between people who are insurgents or civilians. You just have to go with your gut feeling.” U.S. commanders say many residents of the town haven’t declared their allegiance to either the coalition or the insurgents and are waiting to see who prevails. But the Marines sensed that, no matter how the battle turns out, winning hearts and minds in Fallujah after so much destruction may be impossible. “I think that was a pretty big step we took,” said Corporal Andrew Stokef, 20, after Specter gunships pounded Fallujah for several hours. “There’s no turning back now.”

More on Events in Fallujah

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

Here are some links on recent events in Fallujah.

From the Washington Post’s Pamela Constable, a reporter embedded with the Marines, apparently, comes this story. I think it provides an important perspective that has been missing in the items I’ve posted so far: A wrong turn, chaos, and a rescue:

Marine officials said the three-hour battle that erupted at dusk Tuesday on the streets of Fallujah, and was recounted Wednesday by several of the key officers involved, exemplified the bravery and resourcefulness that Marines are known for, even when surprised and surrounded by a host of enemy fighters on alien urban turf. By the end of the tumultuous encounter, the charred personnel carrier had been towed to safety by a tank and most of its 17 crew members — several of them wounded — had been rescued from a house where they had taken shelter.

But the incident also revealed some startling facts about the insurgency that the Marines are facing here, officers said. More dramatically than any armed confrontation since U.S. forces surrounded Fallujah nine days ago, it showed the tenacity, coordination, firepower and surprisingly large numbers of anti-American guerrillas who still dominate much of the city.

“We definitely stumbled into a wasps’ nest. They were definitely a lot more organized than we thought,” said Capt. Jason Smith, 30, commander of the company whose armored supply vehicle made a wrong turn into insurgent territory and was immediately inundated by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades from all sides.

Marine officials here said offensive operations in Fallujah would remain suspended, extending a pause that was ordered Friday to allow civilians to leave the city and let political leaders in Fallujah and Baghdad attempt to negotiate a solution to the conflict.

Just before dawn Wednesday, however, AC-130 Spectre gunships launched a devastating punitive raid over a six-block area around the spot where the convoy was attacked, firing dozens of artillery shells that shook the city and lit up the sky. Marine officials said the area was virtually destroyed and that no further insurgent activity had been seen there.

I bet. It’s pretty hard to recconcile this last part with the earlier reassurances by Lt Col Byrne of the Marines that 95% of those being killed are armed insurgents. How do you flatten six city blocks in a punitive raid while making sure that you only kill 1 non-combatant for every 19 enemy fighters?

I find it interesting that the Marines were surprised by the level of coordination and resistance they encountered. The earlier items by the relief workers who travelled into and out of Fallujah over the weekend made it clear that pretty much the entire male population of the city, from little boys to old men, are toting Kalashnikovs and itching for a chance to shoot back at the guys sniping and bombing them — and that they are doing so with the active support of their neighbors.

Anyway, here are some more perspectives, courtesy of those anti-American propagandists at the Christian Science Monitor: Refugees tell of rising anger in Fallujah and Siege of Fallujah polarizing Iraqis. From the latter:

The Marines and coalition officials say they doubt many civilians have been killed in Fallujah and promise that their rules of engagement limit civilian casualties. “My solution is change the channel,” Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said earlier this week, after being asked about TV images of dead Iraqi civilians.

“The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources, that is propaganda, and that is lies.”

While the fog of battle makes it difficult to get to the bottom of their differing accounts, the political impact of the television images and of what most Iraqis deeply believe can’t be denied.

I’ll grant that it’s difficult to know exactly what the proportion of innocents to insurgents being killed is. But it’s obvious to anyone looking at the various accounts that this is a very different kind of fighting, with a much higher incidence of “collateral damage,” than the “pinpoint bombing” and “surgical strikes” that were employed during the initial invasion.

Let’s be honest about what has happened here. There was a conscious decision to make Fallujah an example, to respond in a forceful way to its ongoing defiance of the occupation, and in particular to the desecration of the bodies of the four contractors who were killed in late March. That act showed graphically, in a way that could not be spun away, that at least in Fallujah we were not viewed as benign liberators opposed by a mere handful of bitter-enders. We were hated occupiers facing a population that was united against us. So the word came down, no doubt from the highest levels, to show them who was boss. As with the Iraq invasion itself, the goal was to bypass that namby-pamby diplomacy/law enforcement/negotiation stuff and just go in with guns blazing.

I haven’t linked to it before, but I keep thinking about the short piece Scott Forbes posted on his “A Yank in Oz” weblog: Chickenhawk down. In it, he speculates that the strategy in Fallujah may represent the right wing’s response to the perceived weakness displayed by Clinton in pulling out of Somalia after Mogadishu. We know how to deal with brutal savages who parade our side’s dead bodies through the street. With force, brutally applied. Anything less will be taken as a sign of weakness, and will simply encourage more attacks on us.

Well, it’s an interesting theory, and one that obviously resonates with the way George Bush looks at the world. Whether it is moral, or will be effective in advancing US interests, is another matter. I’m skeptical, but I guess we’re going to get a chance to find out.

One more item: George Paine’s commentary on all this, from which I obtained most of the links above: Of punitive raids and public opinion. He calls what has happened in Fallujah a war crime. I think he’s probably right.

Help Bush Identify His Biggest non-9/11 Mistake

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

Hm. This is arguably another press conference item, which means I lied. Dammit!

Anyway, be sure to check out the following from the Center for American Progress: Vote in our poll: President Bush needs your help.

It’s an online poll that lets you pick from five possible answers Bush could have given to the “other than 9/11, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?” press conference question that he honestly couldn’t think of an answer for. The choices:

  • Invading Iraq without a plan for the aftermath.

  • Telling the American people that Iraq definitely possessed WMD.
     

  • Failing to send U.S. troops into Tora Bora to capture Osama bin Laden in November 2001.
  • Disparaging Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki when he said more troops would be needed in Iraq.
  • Focusing on missile defense while ignoring repeated warnings of an imminent al Qaeda attack before 9/11.

The last one is arguably not a valid response to the question he was actually asked, but even with it excluded, that’s a pretty good list of candidates. Reading them actually gave me a new appreciation of the difficulty Bush faced during the press conference: I had a really hard time picking one, too.

Riverbend on Media Coverage of Fallujah

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

Riverbend offers her Iraqi’s-eye-view of the controversy over recent media coverage of our glorious military campaign: Media and Falloojeh.

criticalviewer’s Press Conference Summary

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

Okay; last link re: Bush’s recent press conference, I promise. From criticalviewer: A busy person’s guide to the Bush press conference. The scary thing is, this summary is pretty much what he actually said. Funny how stripping away the rhetorical embellishment can turn a plain-talkin’ Texan’s answers into psychotic incoherence, isn’t it?

Jo Wilding’s Account of Fallujah

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

Another firsthand account by a Westerner (British activist Jo Wilding) who was in Fallujah this past weekend: April 11, Falluja.

Zakaria: The Way Out

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria has an informative article on the current state of Iraq, including suggested steps that Bush could take in order to turn things around. Unfortunately, those steps include the acknowledgment of error and the setting of a new course — things our South-Going-Zax-in-Chief seems incapable of considering, much less doing. Sigh. Anyway: Our last real chance.

Saletan: Bush’s Credibility Gap

Wednesday, April 14th, 2004

So, I’ve obviously got this thing about watching Bush and marvelling at how his mind works. And others have a similar thing, including Slate’s William Saletan, who has written one of the best pieces I’ve seen lately about Bush’s recurring problem with this whole notion of “credibility”: Trust, don’t verify.

Aday: Press Conference Summarized

Wednesday, April 14th, 2004

Here’s an actually-extremely-accurate summary of last night’s press conference, from Fly Traps’ Sean Aday: Bush’s presser: The Reader’s Digest version.

Seriously, if you didn’t watch it, and want the gist in the shortest possible version, this is it. If you did watch it, and want a chuckle, you’re likewise in luck.

Whitehouse.org’s PDB

Wednesday, April 14th, 2004

I really enjoyed this. From the fine subversives at whitehouse.org: PRESIDENT BUSH’S PERSONAL COPY OF DECLASSIFIED DAILY INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 6th, 2001.

Bush's personal copy of the Aug. 6 PDB

Juan Cole Debunks Bush’s Press Conference Statements

Wednesday, April 14th, 2004

Middle east expert and weblogger Juan Cole started to go point-by-point through some of the more questionable assertions Bush made during yesterday’s press conference, but apparently lost heart for the exercise fairly early on. Still, the comments he did make are interesting: Arguing with Bush.