Archive for the 'war' Category

Profiles in Republican Courage #3: Richard Lugar

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

An example of the kind of reflexive anti-Obamaism that I was talking about with my “roadside bomb” post is the ongoing Senate dispute over ratification of the New START nuclear arms treaty. I want to give credit to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) for being willing to stand up to his own party leadership, in particular to Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ).

Senate ratification of New START (which would require a two-thirds vote, meaning 9 Republicans in the current congress, or 14 starting next year) is a no-brainer in terms of US security interests, according to Lugar. Three Republican senators on the Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of New START on September 16: Lugar, as well as Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Along with the Democrats on the committee, that gave the treaty a 14-4 vote for ratification.

Kyl’s reasons for trying to put the brakes on ratification since then are a little unclear to me. The Wikipedia article on New START describes Kyl as an “arms control skeptic” who wants to withhold Republican votes in favor of the treaty until Obama will pledge to make a sufficiently large federal investment in “modernizing” US nuclear weapons. An alternate explanation is that Kyl is simply executing the Republican game-plan of denying Obama any victories whatsoever by any means necessary. Obama wants New START (having campaigned on furthering bilateral arms control), so preventing him from getting it helps Republicans make the case that he’s a failure who doesn’t deserve re-election.

The problem, of course, is that these sorts of actions have consequences that go beyond party politics. Bilateral arms control is not just an Obama campaign pledge. It’s something that benefits the entire country (well, world), regardless of your politics. Without New START, we’re essentially rolling back the clock on mutual verification to the time before that ultra-liberal Ronald Reagan managed to get the then-Soviet Union to join us in taking real, meaningful steps toward improved nuclear security.

More details:

White House moving ahead on New START with or without Jon Kyl – Josh Rogin writing at Foreign Policy magazine’s blog on November 19 about the current legislative prospects for New START ratification in the lame-duck session:

The bottom line is that the White House is no longer counting on Kyl to bring around his caucus and has reverted back to an earlier, second-track strategy to reach out to all the other GOP senators the administration thinks might vote “yes.”

“There’s a number that we need to get to get this passed. The question is, if Senator Kyl decides he is not able to support it now, whether a number of other Republicans would come on board and support the treaty,” one official said. “We believe that at the end of the day we will have made that so clear, the broader argument on the merits of treaty… can carry the day with enough Republican senators to get this passed.”

START ratification a matter of U.S. security, not petty politics – This appears to be either an unsigned op-ed piece or an editorial from the Asheville, NC Cititzen-Times from November 27:

The treaty has the support of six secretaries of states, six secretaries of defense, six national security advisers and eight U.S. strategic commanders. No one in any of those categories opposes it.

Is anyone opposed? According to Richard Burt, who negotiated the first START treaty for President George H.W. Bush, “(T)here are only two governments in the world that wouldn’t like to see this treaty ratified: the government in Tehran and the government in North Korea.”

…In light of this, there should be little difficulty in mustering the two-thirds vote in the full Senate necessary for ratification. Right?

Wrong. John Kyl, of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, has evidently decided on a course of obstruction…

It appears as if some Republicans have decided that their stance is going to be to oppose everything that comes out of the Obama White House, period. There used to be a time when the nation’s security was put ahead of partisan politics, but evidently that time has passed for Kyl and his ilk.

Charting His Own Course Against Prevailing Winds – Jennifer Steinhauer’s November 28 article in the NYT on Lugar’s position on New START. It includes this pithy quote:

“If Dick Lugar,” said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, “having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.”

I don’t know what the chances are that eight Senate Republicans will join Lugar to vote in favor of New START, but here’s hoping.

Assange on Colbert

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Keeping the ball rolling, here’s Stephen Colbert’s interview with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Julian Assange
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

Pfeiffer to Cheney: Srsly?

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

srsly

From White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer: The Same Old Washington Blame Game.

To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.

Srsly.

Lies.com Podcast 30: Inaudible Man

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Lies.com Podcast 30 is about the election, Prop 8, Harvey Milk, Lynndie England, Dan Savage, and lots of Russell Brand. It’s also about Obama, but he doesn’t actually say anything in the episode (hence the title), except for a little bit at the end, and he really doesn’t say anything then either. Mostly, it’s about how something I’ve imagined for such a long time can seem so different when it finally arrives.

Enjoy, and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks.

Notes and sources follow…

part one: celebrity endorsements

part two: election day

part three: harvey’s big feet

part four: lynndie

Getting the Crap Scared Out of Me by Gwynne Dyer (Again)

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Gwynne Dyer is the guy whose PBS documentary series War is one of the scarier things I’ve ever seen on my bright-and-noisy-babble dispenser. Now he’s at it again, this time looking at the likely impacts of climate change. “Climate Wars”, he calls it. And no, he’s not talking hyperbolically.

You can download and listen to the podcast version of the three-part radio show he recently did for the CBC Ideas series, at Best of Ideas. (Apparently they purge that archive really quickly, though, so get it fast.) That’s the version that scared me, as I did my daily three-hour carbon-footprint-maximization exercise. Or you can get Dyer’s book at Amazon: Climate Wars. Or you can read the comments of a blogger with the unlikely name Yappa, who apparently attended a lecture Dyer gave in March, 2007, and did a really good job of summarizing the scarier parts: Climate wars.

I’d like to believe that Dyer is a raving alarmist who has no real idea what he’s talking about. I’d really like to.

I don’t.

Greenwald on Goldfarb on the Desirability of Killing (Some) Innocent Civilians

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

The last time I was talking about McCain campaign advisor and Weekly Standard editor Michael Goldfarb, it was for his famous “dead-air” moment on CNN back during the campaign, when anchor Rick Sanchez asked him to specify who the shadowy anti-semites were that Obama liked to pal around with, and Goldfarb, having started down the path of playing the Jeremiah Wright card, couldn’t come out and actually say the guy’s name (since, as we now know, McCain had explicitly ordered his campaign not to mention Wright). Goldfarb talked about that incident some with Ben Smith on this bloggingheads segment, which I found pretty interesting. Goldfarb basically said he did that as a “cathartic moment for the campaign,” because at least some of McCain’s staffers apparently really, really wanted to take the gloves off and attack Obama over his past membership in Wright’s church.

Now Goldfarb is back on the lefty-blog radar. This time it’s for his approving attitude toward the Israeli defense forces’ having blown up a Hamas leader in Gaza (along with 18 assorted bystanders). Writes Goldberg in his Weekly Standard blog (Ruthless):

The fight against Islamic radicals always seems to come around to whether or not they can, in fact, be deterred, because it’s not clear that they are rational, at least not like us. But to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause. Perhaps it will make the leadership of Hamas rethink the wisdom of sparking an open confrontation with Israel under the current conditions.

Glenn Greenwald (yes, I know) points out that Goldfarb, by talking up the salutary effects of killing a military target’s family, is basically making himself indistinguishable from terrorists. From Orwell, blinding tribalism, selective Terrorism, and Israel/Gaza:

There are few concepts more elastic and subject to exploitation than “Terrorism,” the all-purpose justifying and fear-mongering term. But if it means anything, it means exactly the mindset which Goldfarb is expressing: slaughtering innocent civilians in order to “send a message,” to “deter” political actors by making them fear that continuing on the same course will result in the deaths of civilians and — best of all, from the Terrorist’s perspective — even their own children and other family members.

To the Terrorist, by definition, that innocent civilians and even children are killed isn’t a regrettable cost of taking military action. It’s not a cost at all. It’s a benefit. It has strategic value. Goldfarb explicitly says this: “to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause.”

That, of course, is the very same logic that leads Hamas to send suicide bombers to slaughter Israeli teenagers in pizza parlors and on buses and to shoot rockets into their homes. It’s the logic that leads Al Qaeda to fly civilian-filled airplanes into civilian-filled office buildings. And it’s the logic that leads infinitely weak and deranged people like Goldfarb and Peretz to find value in the killing of innocent Palestinians, including — one might say, at least in Goldfarb’s case: especially — children.

Sigh. The downward spiral continues.

War, the Old-fashioned Way

Monday, August 11th, 2008

I’m not sure what category to put this in, but I found this article on the war in Georgia by the “War Nerd” pretty fascinating on a couple levels.

First, it’s an interesting realpolitik-perspective summary of just what’s going on there, which — correct or not, I don’t know enough to say — is the sort of thing I’ve been wanting, since the reasons and timeline of that conflict have not at all been clear to me. Perhaps somebody else knows better, but his analysis at least has a ring of truthiness to it.

But second, apparently this War Nerd Guy — a military obsessive with an amoral, but well-informed sense of history, and a lame white-collar day job — is apparently a complete fabrication of some writer, who uses him to write about this stuff with a certain bent… sort of like “fake Steve Jobs”, who brings a certain fake-but-true perspective to Apple and its fandom. I find this fascinating because, well, if I ignore my more higher judgment about what I should be taking pleasure in, I know what he’s talking about: this is sort of the perfect adolescent armchair military enthusiast war, with clear-cut historical precedent and textbook military tactics. I’m not sure what that says about the writer (or me), but it’s worth a read anyway.

“The president has determined that they are ALL enemy combatants.”

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

That quote from Cheney staff director David Addington, as reported in a new book detailing administration terrorism policies. The WaPo also says:

The classified CIA report described by Mayer was prepared in the summer of 2002 by a senior CIA analyst who was invited to the prison camp in Cuba to help Defense Department officials grapple with a major problem: They were gleaning very little useful information from the roughly 600 detainees in custody at the time. After a study involving dozens of detainees, the analyst came up with an answer: A large fraction of them “had no connection with terrorism whatsoever,” Mayer writes, citing officials familiar with the report. Many were essentially bystanders who had been swept up in dragnets or turned over to the U.S. military by bounty hunters.

And that’s one of the conservative estimates.

Guantanamo is a carefully crafted loophole in the constitutional limits on presidential power, and a carefully crafted exercise in managing public perception. It is a national dungeon, where the President’s determination of guilt is the only rule. The law upholds it because it must, the congress accepts it because it’s too politically easy to ignore it, and the public accepts it because it seems just far enough away to be less important than the numbers on the gas station marquee.

Iraq War Deaths for December 2007 through June 2008

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Here are the updated graphs covering the last seven months. US military deaths in Iraq have continued to be fairly low, at least be the standards of the past few years. The highest number of US troop deaths during this interval came in April, with 52 deaths; the lowest number was in May, with 19 deaths. For a less-hopeful graphic, see Kevin Drum’s reposted graph of US casualties in Afghanistan, which shows a steady increase over the last several years.

As always, I’m comparing the US military casualties in Iraq to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which some have charged is misleading; see disclaimer below). The data come from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the comparison for the extent of the Iraq war to-date. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing:

  • I’m not saying that Iraq is somehow deadlier per soldier-on-the-ground than Vietnam. For both wars, the number of fatalities in any given month tracks pretty closely with the number of troops deployed (along with the intensity of the combat operations being conducted). There were more troops in Iraq in the early going than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeds the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam. I include the first graph mainly because I wanted a zoomed-in view of the Iraq data. And I include the second graph, which shows the entire span of the Vietnam war, because I want to be clear about what the data show about overall death tolls — where any rational assessment would have to conclude that, at least so far, Iraq has been far less significant (at least in terms of US combat fatalities) than Vietnam.

I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. For that reason, I chose as the starting point for each graph the first fatality that a US president acknowledged (belatedly, in the case of the Vietnam graph, since US involvement in the war “began” under Kennedy, but the acknowledgement was made only later by Johnson) as having resulted from the war in question.

As ever, you are free to draw your own conclusions. And for that matter, you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be better. In that case, feel free to post a comment with a URL to your own version. Thanks.

The Other Insider Tell-all

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

I’m sure you’ve all heard plenty about our man Scottie’s book, so I won’t bother linking to, say, any excellent op-eds about the hindsight contained therein, both revealing of the administration and unintentionally condemning of the writer who enabled so much of what he now decries (cough).

But you might want to check out this op-ed on Lt. General Sanchez’s new book, which gives a similarly revealing look at the business end of the administration’s decision making: military strategy in Iraq. What I find interesting here is both the commanders-in-the-field eye view of the politically-driven decision making McClellan describes, but also how the “mission accomplished” event was a reality for those within the administration — they truly believed that the war was over and force could be drawn down early on, until reality quickly interfered. This to me is the most damning of explanations of how we ended up where we are in Iraq: the administration was too insular and self-deluded to realize that a brief war was not possible, and once that became clear their reaction was not to reevaluate their strategy, it was to solve the problem politically. The notion that “conditions on the ground” would drive decisions was just a convenient rhetorical trick to dismiss criticism.

McCain Continues to Be Fuzzy on the Details

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Hilzoy discusses the latest example of McCain’s apparent cluelessness about policy details, even when it comes to his signature issue (the surge): More straight talk…

If you put it together with some of the other gaffes he’s delivered in the past few months, it starts to look like a consistent pattern. Check it out:

So, can someone explain to me why McCain has any support at all?

Condi Gets Her Nasty Face On

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

It makes me happy that Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) is willing to speak the truth on things like impeachment, the Harriet Miers / Joshua Bolten contempt citation, and, in this choice chunk of public hearing, Condoleeza Rice’s role in pushing lies in the run-up to war:

CBS on Saddam’s Wacky Desire To Be Invaded

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Thanks to knarlyknight for mentioning this item in the comments. From FAIR (yeah, I know): The “Great Mystery” of Iraq’s WMDs?

A January 27 report on CBS’s 60 Minutes attempted to answer what CBS reporter Scott Pelley claimed was a key mystery of the Iraq War: Why didn’t Saddam Hussein tell the world he had no weapons of mass destruction, and thus avoid the U.S.-led invasion? But if Pelley had been watching his own network’s exclusive interview with Hussein on the eve of the war, he would have known that Hussein did exactly that.

It’s really quite remarkable. I remember the run-up to the war, and CBS’s willingness to completely mischaracterize what happened then as part of its “news” reporting is fairly disheartening. I mean, I realize that Fox News is intentionally ridiculous in order to cater to its target audience’s hostile-media-bias perceptions, and that CNN has made a conscious editorial decision to follow Fox in order to defend its market-share. But CBS?

Oh, waiter. Can I get another media, please? This one isn’t very good.

Latest Signing Statement Flouts Reason and Law

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

In signing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008 into law, President Bush issued a signing statement stating that he would not enforce four sections of the law, citing that they would “inhibit the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations”. These sections were:

  • Forbidding use of taxpayer money to build permanent military bases in Iraq
  • Strengthening protections for whistle-blowers within government contractors
  • Requiring intelligence agencies respond to Congressional requests for information within 45 days
  • Establishment of a “Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan” to investigate contractor wrong-doing

All four of these seem to me imminently reasonable — necessary even — things to put into law, and I find it outrageous that the President would refuse to execute them. But setting that aside, I’d like to look at the legality of this signing statement from a couple points of view.

First, some would argue that the division of war-related powers between Congress and the President are unclear, so it is within reason for the President to assert that these would unconstitutionally limit his powers. If you take that point of view however, the correct response would be for the President to either veto the bill, or sign it and challenge the sections he believes unconstitutional in court. Of course he won’t do this because he wants to sign the bill to get the bits he wants, and I suspect he refuses to take his challenge to court because he fears he would lose; I certainly believe he would, as the above provisions seem well within Congress’ funding and oversight powers to me. The President is essentially exercising powers reserved for the Supreme Court by making judgments on constitutionality, and it is this Congress’ responsibility to check him.

Second, some would argue that signing statements are an executive tool with a historical precedent, used when the President’s duty to the Constitution runs afoul of Congress’ wishes, and so it is reasonable for the President to use this tool. If you take this point of view however, then even as the President suspends execution of the law, I believe it is again his responsibility to immediately take his challenge to the courts to ensure he himself is acting constitutionally. Since he is not (again I believe for the same reasons stated above), then it falls to the Congress to check him.

Both arguments lead to one conclusion: when the Executive branch is actively avoiding legal rulings on policies being pursued (as they have repeatedly done — here, as well as in cases such as FISA), the only Constitutional recourse is impeachment, and I mean this is a very concrete legal sense, not an “impeach the bastard!” sense.

So to get back to the topic at hand, can anybody defend Bush refusing to execute sections of law that I believe most people would agree make sense, and supporting this refusal on very questionable legal grounds? I certainly can’t, and Congress should be ashamed for running out the clock rather than doing their job.

The Center for Public Integrity on the Bush Administration’s Iraq Lies

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Nice summing up of the lies Bush and Company told in the run-up to war with Iraq: Iraq: The War Card. Pretty much speaks for itself.

Andy Olmsted’s In-the-Event-of-My-Death Post at Obsidian Wings

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

This is worth reading: Andy Olmsted.

If there is any hope for the long term success of democracy, it will be if people agree to listen to and try to understand their political opponents rather than simply seeking to crush them.

Iraq War Deaths for October and November, 2007

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Here are the updated graphs for October and November, 2007, with 38 and 37 US military deaths, respectively. It definitely looks like a real downward trend to me, which is a good thing, certainly. Here’s hoping that trend continues.

As always, I’m comparing the US military casualties in Iraq to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which some have charged is misleading; see disclaimer below). The data come from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the comparison for the extent of the Iraq war to-date. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing:

  • I’m not saying that Iraq is somehow deadlier per soldier-on-the-ground than Vietnam. For both wars, the number of fatalities in any given month tracks pretty closely with the number of troops deployed (along with the intensity of the combat operations being conducted). There were more troops in Iraq in the early going than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeds the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam. I include the first graph mainly because I wanted a zoomed-in view of the Iraq data. And I include the second graph, which shows the entire span of the Vietnam war, because I want to be clear about what the data show about overall death tolls — where any rational assessment would have to conclude that, at least so far, Iraq has been far less significant (at least in terms of US combat fatalities) than Vietnam.

I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. For that reason, I chose as the starting point for each graph the first fatality that a US president acknowledged (belatedly, in the case of the Vietnam graph, since US involvement in the war “began” under Kennedy, but the acknowledgement was made only later by Johnson) as having resulted from the war in question.

As ever, you are free to draw your own conclusions. And for that matter, you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be better. In that case, feel free to post a comment with a URL to your own version. Thanks.

A Tiny Revolution: Greeted With Flowers

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

I think ymatt will like this: Greeted With Flowers.

Lessons of the SERE School

Friday, October 12th, 2007

…he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.

His looks shewing him not pained, but pleased with this allusion to his situation, she was emboldened to go on; and feeling in herself the right of seniority of mind, she ventured to recommend a larger allowance of prose in his daily study; and on being requested to particularize, mentioned such works of our best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances.

Captain Benwick listened attentively, and seemed grateful for the interest implied; and though with a shake of the head, and sighs which declared his little faith in the efficacy of any books on grief like his, noted down the names of those she recommended, and promised to procure and read them.

Persuasion, Chapter 11

The passage is pithier in the Amanda Root movie, but there’s something cool about the original Austen, if you can manage to slow yourself down long enough to understand what she’s saying. Anyway, I bring this up by way of introducing a completely different book, one that Linda says is making me too serious, like Captain Benwick. “You should perhaps include a greater allowance in your reading of something other than these depressing Bush critiques,” she told me the other night, and we both smiled at the reference.

But the book really is amazingly good. It’s Takeover, by Charlie Savage, and I encourage you all to procure and read it.

It’s great because Savage takes his role as a journalist seriously, which I guess makes him something of a dying breed. He offers scrupulously researched detail, never straying into opinion or editorializing, trusting the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. And while much of the information he presents isn’t new, there’s power in the way he ties it into a coherent narrative.

And some of it is is new, at least to me. Like the part about Bush’s use of torture, and the roots of the particular techniques that have been employed in places like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the CIA black sites, and the Navy brig in Virginia where Jose Padilla was held for years before being charged.

The techniques the Bush-Cheney administration approved after 9/11 included a range of disorienting and debilitating ordeals, including stripping prisoners naked; subjecting them to prolonged isolation and sleep disruption and deprivation; bombarding cells for long periods with very loud music and grating sounds; leaving bright lights on in a cell twenty-four hours a day; keeping cells stifling hot or freezing cold; shackling prisoners in painful “stress” positions for many hours; exploiting prisoners’ phobias by such means as menacing them with fierce dogs; and — in the case of the CIA — water-boarding.

As Savage explains, these techniques had a very specific origin. They emerged from a type of US military training called SERE (for “Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion”).

SERE School was a by-product of the Korean War. During the war, Communist forces began producing elaborate propaganda films of American pilots who had been shot down and captured “confessing” to such heinous crimes as deliberately targeting civilians with chemical and biological weapons. The U.S. government knew that the confessions were false and that they had been coerced, but the prisoners of war did not seem to have been physically abused before making the “confessions.” After the war, when the pilots were returned, they all told the same story: Chinese interrogators, working with the North Koreans, had put them through a series of sustained torments — the same list described above — until their minds had bent and they had made false confessions.

The point of SERE training is to help air crews and Special Forces members prepare themselves to better resist that sort of treatment should they be captured by a country that doesn’t respect the Geneva Conventions. But the people who play the role of interrogators in SERE training are not real interrogators. Real interrogators, people trained to obtain useful, actionable intelligence, view the coercive techniques of the SERE curriculum as the worst possible approach, since all it does is manipulate the captive into telling you whatever it is he thinks you want to hear, regardless of the truth. Yet this is the approach the Bush administration has systematically employed in dealing with the threat of terrorism.

Once I saw the situation in that context, it all snapped into focus. Of course the Bush administration is employing illegal techniques to coerce false confessions as part of the War on Terror. They’re not interested in the truth. They’re only interested in getting the answers that they’ve already decided will help them the most. So: Public fears of imminent terror boost your level of public support? Great. Subject a few captured al Qaeda fighters (or even just random guys turned in for the $5,000 bounty you’re paying in Afghanistan) to waterboarding, and presto: You get a constant stream of “information” about scary plots that keep the public on edge and the terror alert level high. You’re taking public heat because you can’t catch the actual people running al Qaeda? Some bright lights, rock music, and smacky-face later, you get a string of “confessions” from the people you actually can catch, all of whom turn out to be key, high-level figures in the organization. (How many #2′s does al Qaeda actually have, anyway?)

It’s exactly the same approach they used in the run-up to the Iraq war, when they twisted the intelligence process to produce conclusions (that Saddam had WMD, was in bed with al Qaeda, and had an active campaign to acquire nuclear weapons) that supported the a priori decision to invade. For that matter, it’s the same approach they used during the Florida recount in 2000, when they didn’t care about finding the truth about who had received the most votes, but only about producing the outcome they wanted. It isn’t about truth. It’s about what they can get away with, what they can get people to believe, once “truth” as a goal has been dispensed with. It’s about politics, a game they’ve learned to win by being more ruthless than the next guy, more willing to run roughshod over any objection — rational, ethical, legal — that stands between them and the thing they want.

At its core, the Bush administration is founded on a lie: That George W. Bush is the sort of person that anyone in his right mind would pick to run a country. From the earliest days of the 2000 campaign they’ve been focused like a laser on maintaining that fiction. Everything that has followed — the incompetent loyalists in positions of authority, the lies, the coverups, the lawbreaking, and yes, the torture — all have their roots in the essential dishonesty that is at the heart of the Bush presidency.

US Iraq War Deaths for June – September

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Here are the updated graphs for June through September. Apologies for being lax with the updates. As always, I’m comparing the US military casualties in Iraq to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which some have charged is misleading; see disclaimer below). The data come from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the comparison for the extent of the Iraq war to-date. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing:

  • I’m not saying that Iraq is somehow deadlier per soldier-on-the-ground than Vietnam. For both wars, the number of fatalities in any given month tracks pretty closely with the number of troops deployed (along with the intensity of the combat operations being conducted). There were more troops in Iraq in the early going than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeds the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam. I include the first graph mainly because I wanted a zoomed-in view of the Iraq data. And I include the second graph, which shows the entire span of the Vietnam war, because I want to be clear about what the data show about overall death tolls — where any rational assessment would have to conclude that, at least so far, Iraq has been far less significant (at least in terms of US combat fatalities) than Vietnam.

I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. For that reason, I chose as the starting point for each graph the first fatality that a US president acknowledged (belatedly, in the case of the Vietnam graph, since US involvement in the war “began” under Kennedy, but the acknowledgement was made only later by Johnson) as having resulted from the war in question.

As ever, you are free to draw your own conclusions. And for that matter, you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be better. In that case, feel free to post a comment with a URL to your own version. Thanks.