Archive for May, 2004

Shenk on the Importance of Storytelling in Politics

Sunday, May 16th, 2004

Here’s a really insightful article by Joshua Wolf Shenk into a crucial difference between Republicans and Democrats (at least lately): Republicans know how to tell a good story, while all Democrats can do is kvetch. Anyway: Get me rewrite!

Digby on Bush on Cambone

Thursday, May 13th, 2004

The thing I love about weblogs is the way I get to share my obsession on (whatever) with the community of similar obsessives the world over. And within the community of people obsessing over the discrepencies between the Taguba and Cambone testimony at the Abu Ghraib Senate hearing this week, the following quirky little item is really kind of funny/interesting. From Digby’s Hullabaloo weblog: Where are they, damn it!

Strange Bedfellows II: Buchanan on the End of the Neocon Era

Thursday, May 13th, 2004

Having blown my mind by linking twice unto George Will, I’m going to go all the way to Crazyville and link to Patrick Buchanan. Now, knowing Buchanan’s history of isolationism and the dim view he takes of US support for Israel, I really shouldn’t be too surprised to see him saying what he says here; I’m pretty sure that if he weren’t exercising vast amounts of restraint in order to limit his argument to precisely these points on which I basically agree with him, I’d be recoiling in horror. But as it stands, I basically do agree with everything he says here: A time for truth.

As when Buchanan made his statements during the Florida recount battle about how ludicrous it was that he’d polled well in heavily Jewish districts, I have to give the guy credit for a high degree of personal honesty. And these days, that’s worth noting.

Strange Bedfellows I: Will on Why No, Really, Rumsfeld Needs to Go

Thursday, May 13th, 2004

This is the second time in a week that I’ve felt compelled to link to George Will. I’m not sure if he occupies the same position in your world-view as he does in mine, but let me just say that for me, linking to George Will even once is a fairly shocking experience. These days, the field of high-profile conservative pundits (of at least the self-styled variety) is pretty thick, but back in the day when I formed a lot of my opinions about politics, Will was in some ways the voice of erudite conservatism.

Anyway, with the profusion of excellent online dictionaries there’s no excuse not to read George Will’s latest: Not flinching from the facts.

Meyerson on the Price of Empire

Thursday, May 13th, 2004

Harold Meyerson makes some really good observations in this Washington Post op-ed piece: Fantastical Occupation.

…military occupations offer the worst possible terrain on which to fight the battle of ideas. From the French in Indochina and Algeria to the British in South Asia and the United States in Central America and Vietnam, occupations are where liberal democracies go to betray their ideals — if not as a matter of intent then, inevitably, as a matter of execution. One way or another, it becomes necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.

But if one thing is clear beyond dispute in the muddle of post-Saddam Iraq, it is that the Bush administration gave no thought whatever to the problems inherent in occupation. No one thought to protect Iraq’s cultural treasures. No one thought to secure the nation’s power grid. No one thought to enlarge our own armed forces, so that we weren’t sending civilian National Guard troops and private contractors to do a soldier’s job, with a clear chain of command in place.

And clearly, no one sought to train those Guardsmen assigned to duty at Abu Ghraib prison in the rudiments of the Geneva Conventions and our Army’s regulations on the treatment of prisoners. Instead, they were thrown into a system that was being redesigned to “Gitmo-ize” the treatment of detainees there — that is, to deal with prisoners the same way we treat the al Qaeda prisoners and others at our Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, free from prying eyes and the codes of either civilian or military law. And Gitmo-ize the prisoners is just what some of our guards at Abu Ghraib did. Some prisoners, apparently, were Gitmo-ized to death.

It defies all belief that the young women and men of an Army Reserve unit from West Virginia were some kind of sadistic cult just waiting to be called away from their civilian lives to torture prisoners in Iraq. I doubt they brought the hoods, the dogs, the nightsticks with them. They were doing the very dirty work of an occupation that, as it’s developed, could hardly be more counterproductive to our ultimate goal — the liberalization of the Islamic world — if we’d planned it that way.

Bush Poll Numbers: Yup, Still Dropping

Thursday, May 13th, 2004

Professor Pollkatz still hasn’t updated his very interesting Bush approval ratings graph, so I’ve updated my own version based the latest numbers from PollingReport.com’s Bush job ratings page (click on the graph for a larger version):

The pattern I’ve discussed several times previously (see The silk-purse president, Bush descending, and Bush’s poll problem) continues. Except for those upticks corresponding to 9/11, the “Mission Accomplished” photo op, and the capture of Saddam, Bush’s support has always eroded. Which makes sense, given that his actual job performance by every objective measure has been abysmal.

Anyway, we’re now getting down in the range where his election in November becomes increasingly doubtful. If Rove & Co. didn’t already have some sort of October surprise in the works to try to fluff him up just in time to squeak into a second term, they’re certainly working on one now. What will it be?

The obvious choice would be the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. Or if that doesn’t pan out, I guess they might try an attack on Syria.

It’s like being a kid again. What will Daddy give us for Christmas? Will it be a bicycle? Or a BB gun?

Politicians vs. Generals

Wednesday, May 12th, 2004

I like to watch birds. Lately I’ve been working on getting better at difficult identifications. Empidonax flycatchers, immature gulls; that sort of thing.

One thing that really helps in learning to make fine-grained distinctions is having the chance to make a side-by-side comparison. If you’re just looking at a woodpecker, it can be hard to tell if it’s a Hairy or a Downy. But put the two side-by-side and it’s much easier to notice the differences.

So with truth-tellers versus liars. A good liar can fool you, but put him next to an honest man and question them both about the subject at hand, and it gets much easier to tell which is which.

An excellent object-lesson in that came the other day, when Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba testified alongside Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. From the New York Times: Rumsfeld aide and a general clash on abuse.

WASHINGTON, May 11 — The Army general who first investigated abuses at Abu Ghraib prison stood by his inquiry’s finding that military police officers should not have been involved in conditioning Iraqi detainees for interrogation, even as a senior Pentagon civilian sitting next to him at a Senate hearing on Tuesday disputed that conclusion.

The officer, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it had been against the Army’s doctrine for another Army general to recommend last summer that military guards “set the conditions” to help Army intelligence officers extract information from prisoners. He also said an order last November from the top American officer in Iraq effectively put the prison guards under the command of the intelligence unit there.

But the civilian official, Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, contradicted the general. He said that the military police and the military intelligence unit at the prison needed to work closely to gain as much intelligence as possible from Iraqi prisoners to prevent attacks against American soldiers. Mr. Cambone also said that General Taguba misinterpreted the November order, which he said only put the intelligence unit in charge of the prison facility, not of the military police guards.

While General Taguba depicted the abuses at the prison as the acts of a few soldiers under a fragmented and inept command, he also said that “they were probably influenced by others, if not necessarily directed specifically by others.” His report called for an inquiry into the culpability of intelligence officers, which is still under way.

Those of you who are repeating the Bush team’s talking points on this need to sit down and think for a minute. The broad outlines of the situation are pretty clear. The people claiming that this was an isolated incident, and that the civilian leadership in the Defense Department and the White House bear no responsibility for the unfolding debacle, are the same people who told you that Saddam Hussein had huge stockpiles of WMD, an active nuclear weapons program, and close ties with al Qaeda. They were lying then, and they’re lying now.

If you aren’t convinced of that, I encourage you to read some of the following. These are the best things I’ve come across in the past few days on the Abu Ghraib cover-up:

George Paine of Warblogging.com: England: I was just following orders.

Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo: Okay, I think the wheels are now officially off this car.

The Washington Post’s editorial writers: Protecting the system.

And since I overlooked mentioning them when they first came out, I should mention the two pieces Seymour Hersch did for the New Yorker: Torture at Abu Ghraib and Chain of command.

On the larger picture of how Bush’s incompetence and mismanagement led to this mess, here are a few other good pieces I read today:

Moe Blues at Bad Attitudes: Lost: Two countries.

Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post columnist: War management follows the wrong corporate model.

Bush vs. King Canute

Tuesday, May 11th, 2004

Here’s an interesting item from someone named Scott Christiansen, who has a brand-new weblog named Pin-hole Camera: Turning points. It compares Bush with King Canute the Great. Bush does not come off too favorably in the comparison.

Marshall on the Red Cross Report

Tuesday, May 11th, 2004

At one point I considered just running the image of the Iraqi prisoner cowering before the dogs (from the latest Seymour Hersch New Yorker article), under a headline consisting of Bush’s over-the-top praise for Rumsfeld. (“You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.”) I didn’t, because I didn’t want to increase the chances of needing to have another conversation like the one I had when my 6-year-old son appeared unannounced behind me while I was reading the paper at breakfast the other day.

(If you really want to see that quotation juxtaposed with that particular picture, you can do so courtesy of Lambert at Corrente: “superb job“. Great minds, and all that.)

What I will do here is encourage you to read Joshua Micah Marshall’s analysis of the newly released Red Cross report on Abu Ghraib: I took some time this evening…

Marshall’s main reaction? Well, the report could have been worse; it doesn’t sound as if every American in the system was engaged in organized abuse of all the prisoners. But what it does describe blows a huge hole in the “handful of bad apples” theory.

According to the report, all Iraqi prisoners were at high risk of abusive treatment during their initial arrest and processing. Which is disturbing enough, given that 70% or more of them were apparently innocents swept up by mistake. And with no means for family members to get information about them, these innocents simply ended up being “disappeared” for weeks or months. But for those deemed to be “high value” detainees (i.e., those suspected of actually knowing something useful), abuse continued even after the transfer to the detention facility, with the military intelligence folks overseeing a process of “softening up” prisoners using the methods all of us (including impressionable 6-year-olds) are becoming all too familiar with lately.

This is the same sort of stuff that has been happening in our name at the extra-legal Gitmo detention center. It’s not an aberration. It’s policy. And the policy flows from the top.

Lambert from the aforementioned Corrente flirts with Godwin’s Law by pointing out the chilling similarities between the current situation and the Third Reich, in which it wasn’t necessary for Hitler to specifically order things like the gassing of Jews. He merely had to create the conditions in which underlings knew that actions like that 1) would produce the kind of results der fuhrer liked, and 2) would get the blind-eye treatment from superiors. After that, human nature took over. Anyway, see: Abu Ghraib torture: Hersch drops the other shoe.

No, the US is not the same as Nazi Germany, any more than the Iraq war is identical to Vietnam. We are still many steps short of that degree of evil. But that’s where this path leads.

Those of you who still support Bush, who are still inclined to vote for him in November, please think about this. How far down that path are you willing to travel? How many of our nation’s fundamental moral values are you willing to sacrifice in the name of partisanship? Because that is absolutely where we are headed. And the people running things willl not turn aside on their own. They think they’re doing a superb job, and that we owe them a debt of gratitude.

We owe them something. But it isn’t gratitude. Help deliver it at the polls in November.

Senior Military Officials: We Are Losing the War in Iraq

Sunday, May 9th, 2004

I just read an extraordinary article. It quotes numerous sources who charge that the Bush team is blowing it bigtime in Iraq, failing to adapt its strategy to realities on the ground, heading straight for a Vietnam-style quagmire that will mean years of steady carnage and ultimate failure. Which isn’t exactly news; plenty of us have been saying that for a while now. What is extraordinary is who’s saying it: senior US military officials.

From the Washington Post: Dissension grows in senior ranks on war strategy.

Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq.

Their major worry is that the United States is prevailing militarily but failing to win the support of the Iraqi people. That view is far from universal, but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time.

Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, “I think strategically, we are.”

Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. “Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically,” he said in an interview Friday.

There’s lots more, and it’s all really interesting, if depressing. Like this part:

Even if adjustments in troop presence and goals help the United States prevail, it will not happen soon, several of those interviewed said. The United States is likely to be fighting in Iraq for at least another five years, said an Army officer who served there. “We’ll be taking casualties,” he warned, during that entire time.

A long-term problem for any administration is that it may be difficult for the American public to tell whether the United States is winning or losing, and the prospect of continued casualties may prompt some to ask of how long the public will tolerate the fighting.

“Iraq might have been worth doing at some price,” Vickers said. “But it isn’t worth doing at any price. And the price has gone very high.”

The other key factor in the war is Iraqi public opinion. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that a majority of Iraqis want the United States to leave immediately. “In Iraq, we are rapidly losing the support of the middle, which will enable the insurgency to persist practically indefinitely until our national resolve is worn down,” the senior U.S. military intelligence officer said.

Many of those interviewed point to Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld as the targets of their anger. Now, I know that Rumsfeld has stepped on a lot of toes in his time as Secretary of Defense, and that some of this is probably just normal bureaucratic in-fighting, with people going for the jugular now that Rumsfeld looks weak because of the Abu Ghraib scandal. But this goes deeper than that.

When our country experienced the particular constellation of bad judgement, hubris, and venality that resulted in the Vietnam war, it took more than a decade for us to come to enough of a national consensus to change course. But like an organism that has built up antibodies as a result of exposure to a particular pathogen, I don’t think it will take us as long this time to successfully identify and fight off the disease. At least I hope it doesn’t. And if I’m right about that, then the willingness of senior military leaders to speak up about the mistakes they see being made will be an important part of that process.

Zakaria: Responsible for What, Exactly?

Sunday, May 9th, 2004

Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria has a great piece on Rumsfeld, Bush, and the taking of responsibility: The price of arrogance.

Those of you who persist in what Janeane Garofalo describes as the “character flaw” of supporting Bush really have a lot to answer for, and Zakaria’s opinion piece summarizes an important part of it. What are you people thinking? You do recognize that things are thoroughly fucked up, right? And that your guy’s awful decision-making is at the heart of much of the upfuckery? At what point are you willing to recognize that your ideological predisposition is driving you to support someone who really doesn’t deserve that support?

What James Yee Was Really Up To

Sunday, May 9th, 2004

Scott Forbes follows up on a suggestion from a commenter at Billmon’s Whiskey Bar weblog: Connecting the dots. It concerns James Yee, the US Army chaplain who was arrested with certain mysterious documents after returning from Guantanamo, paraded through the media for a few days with lurid charges that suggested he was some kind of al Qaeda mole, and then had the charges against him suddenly dropped for “national security” reasons.

The conspiracy theory offered by the Whiskey Bar commentator is that Yee might have been carrying documentation of prisoner abuse at Gitmo. The whipsawing he received, followed by the abrupt dropping of charges (and the accompanying gag order against him), which seemed so weird at the time, and begged so strongly for some other shoe to drop, would then make perfect sense as a heavy-handed bit of intimidation intended to keep his story under wraps.

I know the universe isn’t obligated to twist itself into knots just to make my paranoid fantasies of a global conspiracy of right-wing evil-doers come true. But this particular fantasy does a really good job of explaining a lot of otherwise-discordant facts. And it’s consistent with other truths that have emerged since then. Taken together, all this has the needle on my “hidden truth” detector twitching.

Maybe one day we’ll know. For now, though, I guess it’s just really, really suggestive.

Weisberg on Bush’s Non-Native Stupidity

Sunday, May 9th, 2004

I neglected to link to this last week when it came out, but it’s very much up my alley, so here you go: from Jacob Weisberg: The misunderestimated man.

Oprah, Stern, Kimmel, and the FCC

Saturday, May 8th, 2004

Aparently, I forgot to post a story back in March about the Oprah episode discussing a lot of explicit sexual acts that aired as a re-run on March 18th of this year; and that March 18th happened to be the same day that the FCC fined Howard Stern for a 2001 show discussing a lot of explicit sex acts; or that Jimmy Kimmel stired things up by pointing out the double standard; or that Stern’s network censored him and bleeped the ‘indecient’ portions of the Oprah clip when he tried to play it on his show.

(See what happens when you don’t post things when they’re current — you have to re-cap later.)

Anyway, I mention all of that, so that I can mention this: Apparently Kimmel and Stern got through to some people. The FCC has been flooded with emails complaining about Oprah, which are now available for public consumption thanks to the FOIA. Some of these letters seem a little over the top, but it certainly seems to be raising awareness about the hypocrisy of the FCC’s rule(ing)s.

Not Growing Up

Saturday, May 8th, 2004

I’ve mentioned how I end up going to pretty much every little-kid movie that comes out. It’s an easy way to give the Mrs. a break from tending the herd, and while some of the movies might leave something to be desired as grown-up entertainment, you get the occasional surprise.

Like last year’s Peter Pan. I ended up seeing that one with my 6-year-old son, my 12-year-old daughter, and (inadvertantly) a group of thoroughly obsessed barely-teenaged girls who sat in the row in front of us and squealed uncontrollably whenever Jeremy Sumpter (the boy who plays Peter Pan) was looking especially cute. Which was a lot. By the end of the film my daughter was disgusted with them, but I thought they added to the ambience.

Now that the movie’s out on DVD I was curious to see if I’d like it as much without the hormonally-crazed accompaniment. And it turns out that I do. This movie is amazing. It’s beautiful. And yes, it made me cry.

As with other films I’ve felt compelled to gush about here, I love it in large part because director P. J. Hogan, along with his cast and crew, was willing to risk a complete commitment to the story’s emotional potential. The downside to that is that it makes the movie easy to criticize, if that’s what you want to do. For an example, see this review from Bruce Kirkland of the Toronto Sun: A sexualized Peter Pan. Or, for someone whose panning is a good deal less repressed and more fun, see Mr. Cranky.

Mr. Cranky is funny but wrong, while Kirkland is just wrong. For some reviews that put things in proper perspective, see Roger Ebert, Michael Atkinson, and Harry Knowles.

Yes, the movie is occasionally dark, and doesn’t skirt the issue of its characters’ emerging sexuality. Attention prudish doofuses: That’s what the story of Peter Pan is about, the sanitized Disney version notwithstanding. Deal.

My son is a pretty sensitive kid, even by 6-year-old standards. I just this moment asked him if he liked the movie.

“Yeah.”

The scary parts, the serious parts, didn’t bother you?

“No. They were good.”

You sure?

(Hint of annoyance.) “They were good.”

sumpter_hurd_wood.jpg

He’s right. This whole movie is good. It’s magically, heart-achingly good. I feel really sorry for those of you who don’t have a kid or two of your own to entertain, since you might very well end up missing it. Take my advice: Go find some kid-encumbered friend or relative, and offer to babysit. Then settle in with some microwave popcorn and this movie. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I sure was.

Private Lynch, Meet Private England

Friday, May 7th, 2004

In one of those weird correspondences that my brain insists on trying to twist into something meaningful, Pfc. Lynndie England, the soldier with the Dorothy Hamill hair (am I dating myself with that reference?) in the Abu Ghraib photos, turns out to have joined up to earn money for college to escape the limited prospects of her small hometown in the West Virginia coal country. Just like Pfc. Jessica Lynch. From the NYT: From a picture of pride to a symbol of abuse in Iraq.

So now another town has had the media descend upon it, anxious for any scrap of information on the newly famous local girl. How odd, that our national experience of the Iraq war would end up being bracketed by images of these two young women, their experiences at once so similar and so different. Lynch on the stretcher during her rescue (“rescue”?), smiling bravely for the camera; England also smiling (smirking?), pointing at a naked prisoner’s Johnson. Lynch’s body broken, perhaps permanently damaged, as a result of an accident over which she had no control, elevated to a hero’s status despite not having done much of anything beyond being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And England, physically whole (pregnant, actually, according to the article, with the out-of-wedlock child of another soldier being investigated for prisoner abuse), her newfound fame at least somewhat more the result of actions she took consciously.

One a “hero”, the other a “villain”, but both caught up in a whirlwind they never expected, elevated to symbols, their private lives disappearing behind the very public myths of what they represent.

Like I said, weird.

Cole on Accountability

Friday, May 7th, 2004

Juan Cole has written a great post that gets to the heart of what bothers me about the Bush administration: the profoundly anti-democratic, anti-American values it displays, in deed if not in word. Anyway: The mideastization of the US, or: Rumsfeld must resign.

Riverbend: Just Go

Friday, May 7th, 2004

If we’ve lost Cronkite, we’ve lost the war.
— Lyndon Johnson

One of the thing that has always made Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning weblog so interesting to me is that she represents, in many respects, the target audience for the US message in Iraq. She’s young, educated, professional, has attended school in the West and speaks excellent English; in short, she’s exactly the sort of thoughtful, cosmopolitan Iraqi who we’d hope would be willing to give our message of liberation and democracy a fair hearing. If Iraq is ever to emerge from the US occupation while avoiding the twin pitfalls of repressive authoritarianism and theocratic dogmatism, it is Iraqis like Riverbend who will make it happen.

In her previous post, she spoke of the revulsion that she and other Iraqis felt at the revelation of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses: Those pictures…. As she’s thought about it more, and as she’s watched the reactions of various players to the events, her views have hardened. Now, in a heartbreaking post that rings with the moral authority of our own Declaration of Independence, she speaks on behalf of all Iraqis to the country that has done her such wrong: Just go…

I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today’s lesson: don’t rape, don’t torture, don’t kill and get out while you can- while it still looks like you have a choice… Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.

If we’ve lost Riverbend, we’ve lost the war.

Torture, Abuse … Abuse, Torture

Thursday, May 6th, 2004

I just saw a clip of this on the Daily Show: At a recent daily breifing of the DoD, Rumsfeld fielded the following question…

Q: Mr. Secretary, a number of times from the podium you’ve said U.S. troops do not torture individuals. There was a joking colloquy one time here about the iron maiden, remarks — I mean, does this report undercut your notion that the U.S. doesn’t torture, this is — is this one of those rare exceptions here that torture took place?

RUMSFELD: I think that — I’m not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture.

So, I’m not a lawyer either, but it got me wondering … what the fuck difference does it make? Some are calling this “torture” others prefer calling this “abuse” — am I really out on a limb here thinking that both words seem to apply?

  • Torture: an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person … for a purpose such as obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation or coercion (UN Convention against Torture)
  • Abuse: When another person does something on purpose that causes you mental or physical harm or pain (Medicare Glossary)

Draft Registration Form

Thursday, May 6th, 2004

Reader John writes: Thought you might get a kick out of this… http://www.draftregistration.us/.

In this, as in so many other things, he was right.