Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Seymour Hersh on Iran

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


In case you’ve missed it, Seymour Hersh’s latest article ”The Redirection” on Iran in The New Yorker really is one of those “must-reads,” central to our current precipitous situation. As if there was any doubt, the Bush administration is engaging in a very dangerous game in the Middle East, and they really don’t know what they’re doing. Also, the Iran-Contra gang in back in the saddle, and the lessons of Iran-Contra for them are essentially 1) do whatever the hell you want to 2) don’t tell anybody 3) don’t get caught. Nothing like an unrepentant criminal (Elliott Abrams) and a bunch of like-minded buddies in the Cheney cabal to elevate the level of ethics at the White House!

Here’s how Hersh’s article starts:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, ha significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the Unite States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country’s right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that “realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region.”

After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

So, as Jesus’ General illustrates, conceivably we are now shipping money from our Iraq funds, to support Sunni extremists in Lebanon, so they can fund the Sunni insurgency fighting us in Iraq — so we don’t have to fight the “terrorists” in America. Brilliant!

Hersh speaks about his findings on CNN here, and discusses them with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air here.

Finally, Digby has a great post, ”Rube Goldberg Policy Contraption,” on the article. Digby considers the Iran-Contra angle, but also offers several other great comments:

Think about this for a moment. The crackerjack Bush administration --- which failed to anticipate the rise of Iran once they removed its dangerous enemy from the scene --- is supposed to be able to recognize who's who among these various Muslim players and deftly play all the factions against one another in a very discrete and high stakes game in which they finesse a final outcome that brings about peace and security.

Oh. My God.

[...]

In case anyone forgot, Al Qaeda are Sunni radicals. And most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. But let's assume they weren't. Can anyone believe that this administration is capable of playing such a delicate geopolitical chess game? Dear God, these are people whose idea of playing checkers is to up-end the board and do a victory dance. Let's just say that subtlety isn't their stong suit.

This is what Bush and Cheney are talking about when they say that history will vindicate them. The believe that by tearing the middle east to pieces, when it finally settles down after years of carnage and bloodshed, they will get credit for the clever plan that set it in motion.

[...]

It is amateur hour and these zombies must be stopped. Until the Democrats, and the country, recognize this undemocratic and criminal element in our politics it is going to continue every time the Republicans take power. When they have a congressional majority with a Republican president they steal the country blind and when it's a Democrat they harass him so badly that its a miracle he is able to function. When they have the presidency they become despotic criminals. This has been true for the last 30 years.

And now the Bush administration has spawned untold numbers of future war criminals who will claw their way back into power so they can "prove" they were right the first time. This pattern is repeating itself over and over again and we simply have to figure out a way to put an end to it.

Today we have the DOD equivalent of Brownie running around with boatload of cash making deals with Muslim extremists and Saudi princes, whom the administration has divided up into completely useless designations of "reformer" and extremist." Nobody knows who's talking to who or what agenda they really have. Liberals think up complex plots like this and make them into movies. Republicans steal billions from the taxpayers and actually try to implement their hare-brained schemes.

Meanwhile, in case you've been away from the media for a while, Anna Nicole Smith is still dead and Chris Matthews and Cokie Roberts are desperate to find out if Bill Clinton is "being a good boy." We're in trouble.


Dreams of a Sunni Kansas

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


(Click the cartoon for a larger image.)

This Doonesbury strip, reprinted on 4/5/06, is one of my favorites from Trudeau in the past two years. Even among terrorists such as Al-Qaeda, while there are aspects of American culture they hate, it’s not so much that they hate our “freedom,” they hate our foreign policy. Furthermore, in Iraq, even the Pentagon estimates that Al-Qaeda comprises a mere sliver of the population. The majority of the Iraqi populace wants us out, they may want their faction to be dominant, and most of them probably want to be able to live their lives and raise their families in relative peace and prosperity. It’s not as if the entire populace of Iraq, let alone a significant percentage, has the will, interest, training or resources to travel to America, trick customs, gather dangerous materials and fashion a plot to attack the Mall of America.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Help Fight Math Illiteracy!

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


There are those who complain the Bush administration‘s federal budget proposal is wildly unrealistic, that they undercount war casualties, and that Bush's proposed escalation could actually run up to 48,000 troops, double his claims.

Those so quick to condemn Bush would do well to remember Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity (or ignorance).

Can anyone not blindly partisan doubt that George W. Bush wants to be the very best president he can be? Can anyone doubt his commitment to excellence, and his desire to command every relevant fact on every pressing situation?

The Bush detractors are wrong. George W. Bush and his top officials are not evil, or even misguided. Instead, like millions of Americans, they hide a shameful secret: They’re not good at math.

Critics like to mock Bush reading My Pet Goat and his affection for The Very Hungry Caterpillar. But while Bush does have a consistent tendency for malapropisms, this past summer he also “read three Shakespeares.” He is not illiterate in the conventional sense. But he very well may be math illiterate. And in his administration, he is far from alone.

Consider the case of chief Presidential Advisor Karl Rove, nicknamed “Bush’s Brain,” “The Architect,” and “Turd Blossom.” He’s widely considered, by Republicans and Mark Halperin, to be a “genius,” one of the smartest of the current movement conservatives. Yet who can forget this famous exchange between Rove and NPR’s Robert Siegel shortly before the 2006 midterm elections? (Full transcript here.)

MR. SIEGEL: We're in the home stretch, though. And many might consider you on the optimistic end of realism about --

MR. ROVE: Not that you would be exhibiting a bias or anything like that. You're just making a comment.

MR. SIEGEL: I'm looking at all the same polls that you're looking at every day.

MR. ROVE: No you're not. No you're not!

MR. SIEGEL: No, I'm not --

MR. ROVE: I'm looking at 68 polls a week. You may be looking at four or five public polls a week that talk about attitudes nationally, but that do not impact the outcome --

MR. SIEGEL: -- name races between -- certainly Senate race

MR. ROVE: Well, like the polls today showing that Corker's ahead in Tennessee; or the race -- polls showing that Allen is pulling away in the Virginia Senate race.

MR. SIEGEL: Leading Webb in Virginia. Yes.

MR. ROVE: Yeah, exactly.

MR. SIEGEL: Have you seen the DeWine race and the Santorum race and -- I don't want to --

MR. ROVE: Yeah. Look, I'm looking at all these Robert and adding them up. And I add up to a Republican Senate and a Republican House. You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to "the" math.

MR. SIEGEL: I don't know if you're entitled to a different math, but you're certainly entitled to --

MR. ROVE: I said you were entitled to yours.

After the GOP lost both houses, vultures such as Dan Froomkin pounced:

How did Karl Rove get everything so wrong? And shouldn't we take anything he says from this point forward with a big grain of salt?

Rove's divide-and-conquer political strategy, his insistence that Republican candidates embrace the war in Iraq as a campaign issue, his supremely self-assured predictions of victory -- all were proven deeply, even delusionally wrong last week.

His prediction that Republicans would retain both houses of Congress, in particular, is hardly explicable by "bad math" and Mark Foley.

Either Rove lied or he's clueless. Or both.

Froomkin goes on to quote Mike Allen’s interview with Rove, where the "boy genius" explained his failed predictions:

"[H]e does not believe his data let him down. 'My job is not to be a prognosticator,' he said. 'My job is not to go out there and wring my hands and say, "We're going to lose." I'm looking at the data and seeing if I can figure out, Where can we be? I told the president, "I don't know where this is going to end up. But I see our way clear to Republican control."

And apparently, although Rove loves playing head games, he wasn't just projecting confidence. He really believed what he was saying. As Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe reports:

Rove's miscalculations began well before election night. The polls and pundits pointed to a Democratic sweep, but Rove dismissed them all. In public, he predicted outright victory, flashing the V sign to reporters flying on Air Force One. He wasn't just trying to psych out the media and the opposition. He believed his "metrics" were far superior to plain old polls. Two weeks before the elections, Rove showed NEWSWEEK his magic numbers: a series of graphs and bar charts that tallied early voting and voter outreach. Both were running far higher than in 2004. In fact, Rove thought the polls were obsolete because they relied on home telephones in an age of do-not-call lists and cell phones. Based on his models, he forecast a loss of 12 to 14 seats in the House—enough to hang on to the majority. Rove placed so much faith in his figures that, after the elections, he planned to convene a panel of Republican political scientists—to study just how wrong the polls were.

His confidence buoyed everyone inside the West Wing, especially the president. Ten days before the elections, House Majority Leader John Boehner visited Bush in the Oval Office with bad news. He told Bush that the party would lose Tom DeLay's old seat in Texas, where Bush was set to campaign. Bush brushed him off, Boehner recalls. "Get me Karl," the president told an aide. "Karl has the numbers."

If a certified super-genius like Rove can be so wrong, what sort of advice must Bush be getting? And given the number of mathematical errors by the Bush administration, it can’t be just Rove. Most importantly, given that Bush hasn’t caught these mistakes, he himself must surely share in this dread, shameful condition of math illiteracy.

Bush critics bash Bush for being in a “bubble.” but perhaps they’re being very unfair. Bush constantly claims he doesn’t read the polls. But given the evidence, it may not be that he doesn’t want to. It may be that — he can’t.

Bush and Rove are honourable men — so are they all, honourable men— so what else could explain these lapses? Consider the current war in Iraq. ABC conservatively puts its current cost at one trillion dollars (and the CBO estimates that a phased withdrawal would save a half-trillion). Yet Bush administration officials said the war would pay for itself, or that Iraq would generate 18 billion in oil revenues. Alternatively, they said it would cost 100-200 billion, under 50 billion, or as Andrew Natsios, chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development repeatedly insisted, 1.7 billion. Of course, anyone can make a mistake, and ABC’s current estimate is only 589 times larger than Natois’ figure, leaving him a mere 998.3 billion off the mark (and rising). However, a trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money. It seems that many neocons and other Bush officials fit what Washington Post reporter Peter Baker said about Karl Rove: “mortal after all, and not always so good at math.”

This epidemic is not limited to math, however. Over at the Food and Drug Administration, Bush appointees struggled valiantly against with the science of Emergency Plan B. Likewise, the bold efforts of Bush appointees to rewrite NASA scientists were met with cruel derision in the reality-based community, never mind that the appointees were at least as qualified as most staffers in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Reasonable conservative Jon Swift agrees with Blogger-for-Bush Mark Noonan that 'science is dead' while far left radical Gary Trudeau argues for “situational science.” But however well-intentioned, these efforts will only embolden the enemy. If we do not fight for solid math and science education here in the United States, we’ll have to fight for it in the Middle East. There is no winning the “Long War” against terrorism without long division.


Some might argue, perhaps these Bush officials were taught, but they forgot. But surely not all of them can suffer from the poor memory of unfortunate public servant Scooter Libby. Surely it must be poor instruction. Most likely these poor men were assailed with liberal propaganda in their schools instead of being taught basic reading, math and science. They were being taught the words to “Free to Be You and Me” and forced to make macaroni pictures instead of learning basic, fundamental aspects of American law. How else can one explain the Attorney General of the United States, Alberto Gonzales, not understanding habeas corpus as outlined in the Constitution? How else can one explain Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA and current head of the CIA, not knowing what the 4th Amendment entails even though it's absolutely central to his job?

This is not even to bring up the horrible educational wrongs inflicted upon poor conservative pundits and rightwing bloggers. How can Frank Gaffney be expected to find out what Lincoln actually said, or to characterize him accurately? Research is a learned skill, not passed down instinctually from conservative parent to conservative child as is a trust fund. Intellectual rigour is not a birthright in the manner of a think tank position. Bush’s foes charged him with cronyism for his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and for his appointment of Michael Brown to head FEMA. However, this misses the point. Given the breadth and depth of this dire educational gap, it’s not Bush’s fault that he simply cannot nominate a single qualified candidate for anything.

Leadership in combating this problem must start at the top. That's why I propose that we immediately start a program of remedial education for our public officials that covers basic tenets of science, basic principles of American government, basic techniques of research and verification, and of course, basic math literacy. It will be similar to No Child Left Behind, except designed for politicians, their aides and allies.

Some may doubt the need for such a program. Let them consider that the Republican party represents nearly half the country, and that in 2000, the Republican party deemed that out of their entire party, George W. Bush was the individual most qualified to lead our country and the world, a colossus John Hinderaker anointed "A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius." Bush was exposed to some of the best education our nation has to offer, at Andover, Yale, and Harvard. If a man of his obvious gifts could receive such opportunities yet emerge unscathed, unchanged, uninformed and uneducated in such basic, essential knowledge — what chance do the rest of us have?

There can be no delay. Every errant keystroke on the calculator is a tiny victory for Al-Qaeda. Help Fight Math Illiteracy. Leave No Politician and Leave No Bush Official Behind!

Monday, February 26, 2007

All is Vanity

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


(Click on the cartoon for a larger image)

Apologies for partially recapping a previous blog title, but I love this Doonesbury strip from Sunday, 10-9-05, and that line from Ecclesiastes really, really fits both this strip and Bush. This strip wonderfully articulates, with satire, an idea I remember struggling to express clearly back in a college piece. The stupidity of leaders or the pointlessness of a mission do not diminish the heroism of the troops themselves. Troops only die in vain if we are too stupid to learn from our mistakes or face our own vanities. Having the courage to admit someone acted heroically, but died unnecessarily, can be essential for preventing more unnecessary deaths. No one should die for pride and image alone, and the pain of facing the harsh truth of a given mistake is as nothing to the pain of actually dying or the pain of mourning a loved one. To pretend otherwise is dreadful, deadly vanity.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Oscar Drinking Game

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


My contribution to alcohol abuse for this Sunday is the following. Some of these are cribbed from other folks' lists in previous years, many are original, but many are pretty damn obvious regardless. Feel free to adapt or improve this list as you wish. (And remember, you don’t need to use this drinking alcohol!)

OSCAR DRINKING GAME

Every time Jack Nicholson is shown, take a drink.
If Jack is sitting with an actress younger than one-third his age (70), take three drinks.

Every time George Clooney is shown, take a drink.

If the director cuts from Brad Pitt to Jennifer Aniston or vice versa, take a drink.

For every joke about Mel Gibson, Michael Richards or Isaiah Washington, take a drink.
If “rehab” is mentioned in the joke, take another drink.

If someone makes a joke about Russell Crowe and he scowls at it, take a drink.

For every Arnold Schwarzenegger joke, take a drink. If they say “Cally-forn-nia” take another, and if they mention Conan, take three more.

For every reference to Marty Scorsese and his winless streak, take a drink.

If Helen Mirren says anything about almost falling “ass over tit” again, take a drink.
If Jessica Simpson says “ass over tit,” finish your drink.

If one of the presenters can’t pronounce a nominee’s name or can’t read the teleprompter, take a drink.

For every lame joke that bombs — drink some water, you need to pace yourself.

If anyone thanks his or her agent, take a drink.
If anyone says he or she is “humbled” or “blessed,” take a drink.
If the music starts before the winner is finished, take a drink.
If not all the winners in a group get to speak, take a drink.
If someone forgets to thank their significant other, take a drink.
If anyone cries, whether onstage or in the audience, take a drink.
If a winner says, “Gosh, I don’t know who to thank,” only to begin immediately thanking people, take a drink.

If anyone is caught snoozing in the audience, take a drink.

If Beyoncé changes her eyeshadow color mid-show, take a drink.

If any of the musical numbers involve tap-dancing, Debbie Allen, or homeless people slowly writhing through dry ice, take a drink.

For every plea to stamp out movie piracy, take a drink.
For every seemingly purposeless montage, take a drink.
If the montage or a presenter in some way plugs seeing movies in the theater, take another drink.

If anyone climbs over Steven Spielberg and says they want to make love to the audience in the firmament, finish your drink.

If Dreamgirls somehow still wins Best Picture despite not even being nominated, finish your drink and get another case.

OSCAR PRE-SHOW

If Joan Rivers insults her daughter, take a drink.
If she misidentifies someone, take a drink.

If Oprah snubs an interviewer, take a drink.

If anyone on the red carpet says, “it’s a honor just to be nominated,” take a drink.

If Billy Bush makes a bad pun to a celebrity, take a drink.
If Billy Bush asks an intelligent question, slap yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming.
If anyone smacks Billy Bush, finish your drink and send that man or woman a case of beer.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cagle on Iraq

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


Click on the cartoon for a larger image. The answer key reads:

Answer: Definitely shoot A, H and B. Sometimes shoot C and D, don’t shoot E, J, F and I. Try not to shoot G, but if you do, we won’t worry too much about it.

I find this Daryl Cagle cartoon from late January striking and darkly satirical. The caricature of an angry Arab with a gun repeated throughout seems intentionally ironic given the “primer” style of the text and the brutal answer key. (It also reminds me of Slate’s Middle East Buddy List.)

It seems to me that this cartoon offers a more complex, nuanced perspective on the problems in Iraq than we typically get from Washington, and certainly than we get from Bush or anyone in his administration.

Bush did give a markedly more accurate assessment at least once, on 11/30/05 at Annapolis:

The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein -- and they reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group.

Bush goes on to describe each of these three groups in more detail, to his credit. However, he couldn’t resist intentionally muddying the waters by adding, “The terrorists in Iraq share the same ideology as the terrorists who struck the United States on September the 11th.” (Given that he was actually talking about Al-Qaeda, there was more relevance than usual, but yet again he was implying that we invaded Iraq because of 9/11. The secular Hussein regime had no operational relationship with the radical, religious Al-Qaeda, and had even tried to arrest and kill at least one of its leaders. Al-Qaeda was only able to set up operations in Iraq because of the American invasion.)

Still, the Bush of that speech had certainly advanced beyond the man who, in January 2003, had already decided to invade Iraq but still didn’t know that such groups and Sunnis and Shiites existed and that Iraq had a sectarian divide. “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!” he reportedly said.

Over at Slate, for some time Fred Kaplan has been faithfully chronicling Bush’s confusing rhetoric and confused understanding of the war in Iraq. After Bush’s latest State of the Union speech, Kaplan wrote ”He Still Doesn't Understand the War” (1/24/07) and considered the truth behind Bush’s proposed escalation, err, “surge”:

So which is it: a brief blip, as Secretary Gates assures us—or a very long haul, as Lt. Gen. Petraeus sternly warns?

[...]

What is most head-shaking of all is that, after four years of this war, the president once more fell short of making its case. As in the past, he said that it's very important—"a decisive ideological struggle," he called it, adding, "nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed." And yet he also said that America's commitment to the war is "not open-ended." How can both claims be true? If nothing is more important, it must be open-ended. If it's not open-ended, it can't be all that important.

One reason he can't argue for it is that it's not clear he understands it. "The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," he said. "Whatever slogans they chant ... they have the same wicked purpose. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East." He still seems to view the ever-mounting violence as reflecting a struggle between good and evil, freedom and tyranny. He fails to grasp the sectarian nature of the fight. (Does he really believe that the Shiites and Sunnis are the same—or that, besides the small minority of al-Qaida, they're "totalitarian" in nature?)

Or, for that matter, does he really believe they’re Islamofascists? Any way to work in Hitler!

Back when the hot debate was whether Iraq should be called a “civil war” or not, a few people broke through to say the situation was worse than a civil war. My favorite description is still this recent one from a Washington Post reader (previously quoted in RWCW #14):

Regarding the Civil war status: If I am to understand the NIE assessment, then it is not a Civil war in Iraq — at least not comparable to the U.S. Civil War. If, in addition to the North fighting the South, we also had the Baptists at war with the Methodists, tortured bodies being dumped on the streets of Atlanta and New York, rampant and uncontrolled crime in the cities and the entire country under occupation — and the occupiers would not be Britain or France, but a country whose culture Americans understood little about at the time, say China or Japan. Then, yes, one could roughly compare the U.S. Civil War to what is happening in Iraq.

We’re not going to be hearing an admission remotely like that from Bush anytime soon!

Update: Welcome, Crooks and Liars readers (and other readers, of course!), and thanks again to Mike's Blog Round-Up!

Eliminationism in America

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


Over at Orcinus, David Neiwert recently completed his 10-part series on Eliminationism in America. I’m still working my way through all of it, but Neiwert has long been an incisive writer on fascism, political power dynamics, and bigotry. The author of a book on the Japanese-American internment camps, Neiwert has been one of the sharpest critics of Michelle Malkin as well, rebutting every scrap of her "scholarship" on the subject.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Brushback Pitch? Ten Reasons for Concern

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)


(”But Dick, I’m not sure I want to bomb Iran!”)

This past week on L.A.-based NPR show To the Point, The New York Times’ David Sanger theorized about the Bush administration’s intentions toward Iraq. The most likely scenario to Sanger was that all their saber-rattling was a “brushback pitch” to make Iran back off. It’s a possibility I’ve discussed in e-mail exchanges, but haven’t covered explicitly in recent posts (”Iraq and Iran Watch”, ”Iran Watch Update”, the satirical “Proof of Iran’s Perfidy Provided by Anonymous Experts!” and several others). Of course a bluff is a possibility. But is it likely?

There’s definitely a negotiating advantage to be had through possessing a massive arsenal and the perception that you’re completely nuts and irrational. Listening to Sanger, I immediately thought of the scene in Bull Durham where catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) tells pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) to bean the mascot with his next pitch to make the hitter really nervous. (That pitcher’s crazy! He’s unpredictable!) You can use whatever metaphor you like, and many have been wielded on the news and in commentary: brushback pitch, a poker bluff, good cop-bad cop, chess (“three dimensional chess” has been surprisingly popular, welcome I’m sure to all those Star Trek fans out there).

This intimidation approach ties in perfectly with the general neocon ideology as expressed by neocon Michael Ledeen and quoted approvingly by that, ahem, leading intellectual luminary of the Right, Jonah Goldberg:

Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.

Goldberg describes Ledeen’s statement as “semi-serious,” and Al Franken might describe it as “kidding on the square” — making sort of a joke, but revealing one’s true attitude while doing so. Of course, Ledeen’s line is very far from the only time a Bush official or ally has expressed such a sentiment. If Ledeen’s attitude were applied to the Bull Durham analogy, the biggest intimidation pitch has of course been invading Iraq, but it’s immoral to equate that to merely beaning a mascot. If “Nuke” LaLoosh took out a submachine gun and gunned down dozens of spectators to intimidate the hitter, it might come closer.

Many folks have speculated that if the Bush administration had been in charge during the Cuban Missile Crisis , we’d have had a nuclear war (and some historians would posit we were lucky to avoid it under Kennedy). To date, it seems there are few if any ‘cooler heads to prevail’ in the Bush White House. Dean Rusk’s famous line was that "We're eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.” For years, the “lesson” of the Cuban Missile Crisis was to taken to be: Act tough and make the other guy back down. However, with more interviews of the central players, and greater access to documents of the time, a different picture has emerged. Books such as Graham T. Allison’s The Essence of Decision have made clear that defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis was due in large part to quiet diplomacy. While Kennedy could talk tough in public, behind the scenes his administration told Khrushchev if he removed Soviet missiles from Cuba, they would be open to discussing the removal of American missiles from Turkey.

Has the Bush administration learned this real lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis? Does the recent agreement with North Korea herald a resurgence of the “realist” school of foreign policy? The North Korean situation clearly worsened under Bush. But does the Bush team’s willingness to essentially adopt the Clinton plan, after six years of non-engagement and vilification of the Clinton plan, mean the Bush Doctrine no longer rules? China is reportedly the lead player in the North Korean negotiations. Did the Bush administration play a more prominent positive role than is known? Will they hold fast against the fury of the neocons, hawks and other hardliners — or will they blink?

Of course, that last question suggests the hawks and neocons aren’t already inside the administration as powerful players. We can all hope or pray for wisdom on the part of our national leaders. Perhaps the Bush administration is bluffing. However, intimidation moves and a desire for a new war are of course not mutually exclusive. And as Allison, Barbara Tuchman and human nature might remind us, the actions of nations do not always result from rational decision-making. Whether through craft, ineptitude or some startling combination of the two, the Bush administration does indeed possess a strong negotiating position with Iran — albeit complicated by Iran’s need to save face as well. However, while the Bush administration may be bluffing, ample reasons exist to suggest otherwise. The Bush administration deserves rigorous scrutiny, and the current reception to their Iran stance is a referendum on their credibility. The unease expressed and questions posed by Congress, reporters, the liberal blogosphere, late-night comedians and the general public are more than justified. There are at least ten overlapping reasons for serious concern.


1. Bush's Rhetoric. Bush's rhetoric and evasions during questions at his 2/14/07 press conference were not reassuring (Dan Froomkin's 2/15/07 column does a nice summing-up). Bush sought to establish Iran as a threat, brushing off all substantive questions as usual. He insisted he was right, but without explanation or support, and often in contradiction to current news reports, also as usual. He did not seek to reassure the public of his own wisdom at the helm, or even make the cursory nod of something like, 'of course no one wants war, and we'll exhaust all peaceful options first.' Bush's rhetoric has been completely disproportionate to the threat. Iran is a country of legitimate concern, but it is not currently an imminent threat, since the expert consensus is that they do not possess nuclear weapons, and they are roughly ten years away from doing so . The Bush administration has been pushing the Iran-is-making-Iraq-worse storyline, most likely as a scapegoat measure. Yet as covered previously, they have inflated Iran's role, and even if Iran simply did not exist, Iraq would still be a complete mess. Invading Iraq would not make things better, but would instead be, as James Fallows states, "a catastrophe that would make us look back fondly on the minor inconvenience of being bogged down in Iraq." Yet Bush has not acknowledged any of this, he has not even considered any of this publicly, and he has refused to answer questions that ask him to consider it.

Furthermore, Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack proved that Bush had firmly decided on war with Iraq months before he revealed it to the American people or Congress, even while he was insisting publicly that he was still looking for peaceful solutions (and, incidentally, before he learned, in January 2003, that a Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide even existed in Iraq). Is it more likely that Bush's refusal to use even the language of responsibility now is part of a bluff, or merely a further abandonment of the façade that they don't want war?

2. Cheney and His “Cabal” Want to Go to War with Iran. There’s no question about Cheney’s hawkish public stance. Cheney's most fervent defenders are pushing Cheney and Bush forward on war, not arguing that they should show restraint or arguing that secretly they are. The only question is what Cheney’s private thoughts are. The most generous interpretations would be that Cheney and his team feel war with Iran is "necessary,” that the option of war should be left on the table, or he is indeed bluffing. It should also be noted that the White House has issued denials of a desire for war with Iran, and Bush may not be of the exact mind as Cheney. However, there’s no question Cheney is still a (if not the) major player in the Bush White House, and the accounts linked in "Iraq and Iran Watch" all reinforce previous behind-the-scenes pieces that suggest that Cheney wants to go to war with Iran.

3. Neocon Saber-Rattling. As noted before, the neocons have cried loudly and consistently for war with Iran. Michael Ledeen, William Kristol, Joshua Muravchik and the rest of the gang seem to be competing to see who can squawk the loudest for war while giving the slightest argument for it. Kristol in particular has been creepily excited about the prospect of war, and he and the Bush administration have been simpatico on virtually everything to do with the Middle East. The neocon argument for war, seen in the light of the actual evidence they choose to deliberately ignore, boils down to: In ten years, Iran may have a nuke if we and the entire world do nothing to stop it. Any president other than Bush or Cheney likely won’t attack Iran unnecessarily. So we need to do it now, not before it’s “too late” — but before the opportunity passes.

4. The Plans and Forces are in Place. Seymour Hersh, Sam Gardiner, and Philip Giraldi are among those who have reported that the United States is already operating covertly in Iran. Beyond dispute is the presence of two U.S. carrier groups in the Gulf, with a possible third on the way. As Giraldi reports in “Next Stop: Tehran” for The American Conservative:

In some sense, the war has already begun. For the past two years, the U.S. has been conducting secret operations inside Iran, employing Special Forces units operating out of Afghanistan, while Pentagon-supported dissidents have been carrying out armed raids into Iran’s predominantly Arab provinces.

A second carrier group, the USS John Stennis, is moving toward the Persian Gulf to supplement the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower—the last time two carrier groups were in the Gulf was during the invasion of Iraq—and a flotilla of minesweepers accompanied by an Aegis class cruiser was sent to the region at the end of 2006. The carrier aircraft, useless against insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, can only be employed in a war with Iran, while the minesweepers would be needed to keep clear the Strait of Hormuz for oil tankers and other shipping.

(Back in September 2006, Matthew Yglesias posted about the "Craziest Goddamn Thing I've Heard In a Long Time", a plan to nuke Iran and then blame the resulting radiation on Iranian facilities. According to Yglesias' source, this plan originated from the Office of the Vice President. Like Yglesias, I would like to think that such a nuclear strike is unlikely to happen, despite the far right's enthusiasm for using nukes on Iran (and Iraq!). I would really hope that any idea as crazy as that never got past the spitballing phase, if it was considered at all. Back in April 2006, Seymour Hersh reported that generals were threatening to resign unless the nuclear option with Iran was taken off the table. Sadly, such accounts no longer seem impossible. Still, all recent news reports suggest war plans using conventional weapons, not nukes.)

5. A History of Intent. The Project for a New American Century, or PNAC, made no secret of its desire for regime change in Iraq and Iran. Headed up by William Kristol, its membership was made up almost entirely of future Bush administration officials and other prominent neocons. However, there’s far, far more out there in the record. Read Digby’s post Clean Break, for instance. In addition to quoting a Sy Hersh piece, Digby quotes a new piece by Craig Unger for Vanity Fair about the neocons and Benjamin Netanyahu back in 1996. Led by Richard Perle in this case, and including Douglas Feith, and David and Meyrav Wurmser, they produced a hawkish piece of policy for the Middle East titled “A Clean Break.” As Unger writes:

Netanyahu also made one significant addition to "A Clean Break." The paper's authors were concerned primarily with Syria and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but Netanyahu saw a greater threat elsewhere. "The most dangerous of these regimes is Iran," he said.

Ten years later, "A Clean Break" looks like nothing less than a playbook for U.S.-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented-removing Saddam from power, setting aside the "land for peace" formula to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon-all with disastrous results.

Nevertheless, neoconservatives still advocate continuing on the path Netanyahu staked out in his speech and taking the fight to Iran. As they see it, the Iraqi debacle is not the product of their failed policies. Rather, it is the result of America's failure to think big. "It's a mess, isn't it?" says Meyrav Wurmser, who now serves as director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute. "My argument has always been that this war is senseless if you don't give it a regional context.”

6. An Earlier Deal Spurned. As covered by Newsweek and Think Progress, in May 2003, Iran contacted the Bush administration and offered them pretty much everything the Bush administration is demanding now. Iran was spurned. While naturally there’s some details and nuance to the story, it certainly calls into question the sincerity of the Bush administration’s public goals now.

7. Bush's Legacy. The Bush administration values Bush’s legacy more than the welfare of America or Iraq, and rather than learning the lessons of Iraq, the neocons blame the failures of Iraq on a lack of zeal, or Bush’s incompetence, never mind that Bush has called all the shots exactly as he’s wanted for almost four years using the plans the neocons drew up and advocated. The neocons believe it’s double or nothing. For just one take on their glacially slow learning curve, the aforementioned Vanity Fair piece by Craig Unger reports:

"Everything the advocates of war said would happen hasn't happened," says the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, an influential conservative who backed the Iraq invasion. "And all the things the critics said would happen have happened. [The president's neoconservative advisers] are effectively saying, 'Invade Iran. Then everyone will see how smart we are.' But after you've lost x number of times at the roulette wheel, do you double-down?"

Grover Norquist is definitely in a position to know what Bush's advisors are saying. (Also, when Norquist is the voice of reason, you’re in serious trouble.)

8. Track Record. These guys really are this stupid, reckless, imperialistic, arrogant, however you want to put it. Déjà vu. Pick any of the excellent books on this subject: The Assassin’s Gate, Blind Into Baghdad, Fiasco, State of Denial, Weapons of Mass Deception, The One Percent Doctrine, and many, many more.

9. The News Keeps Coming. Just this morning, the BBC reports "US 'Iran attack plans' revealed" (hattip to C&L). Every fresh piece of legitimate news seems to suggest the Bush administration is moving to attack. In this particular case, it's not surprising that the Pentagon would have a plan for invading Iraq Iran, since part of their routine is to make plans for various contingencies and update them in cycles. What's of greater concern is the nature of the plan, since it seems it contains a high level of detail for an imminent attack on Iran. The current dynamic strongly re-caps the section in Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack where Rumsfeld insists to an incredulous Tommy Franks that he draw up war plans for invading Iraq while they're still fighting in Afghanistan. Now, while we're bogged down in Iraq, there certainly seems to be an inordinate amount of focus on Iran.

10. Naïveté and Immaturity. This subject deserves its own post (which I hope to complete soon). However, in addition to the juvenile nature of Ledeen’s “throw them to the wall” statement above, long on machismo, short on sense, consider two samples.

Ron Suskind’s October 2004 article “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush” gave us the phrase “reality-based community.” Suskind also repeated an incident recounted in his book, The Price of Loyalty (emphasis mine):

...At the Bush administration's first National Security Council meeting, Bush asked if anyone had ever met Ariel Sharon. Some were uncertain if it was a joke. It wasn't: Bush launched into a riff about briefly meeting Sharon two years before, how he wouldn't ''go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. . . . I'm going to take him at face value,'' and how the United States should pull out of the Arab-Israeli conflict because ''I don't see much we can do over there at this point.'' Colin Powell, for one, seemed startled. This would reverse 30 years of policy -- since the Nixon administration -- of American engagement. Such a move would unleash Sharon, Powell countered, and tear the delicate fabric of the Mideast in ways that might be irreparable. Bush brushed aside Powell's concerns impatiently. ''Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things.''

That is a profoundly dangerous, naive view, all the more disturbing because in the telling, Bush is waving off wiser folks on the matter even in his own private administrative meeting.

Also consider this passage Jonathan Schwarz quotes from the book Hubris:

As Fleischer recounted [an exchange with Helen Thomas about Saddam Hussein] for the president, Bush's mood changed, according to Levine. He grew grim and determined—steely. Out of nowhere, he unleashed a stream of expletives.

"Did you tell her I don't like motherfuckers who gas their own people?" the president snapped.

"Did you tell her I don't like assholes who lie to the world?"

"Did you tell her I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast?”

Schwarz’ commentary is well worth the read, as always, but this incident is also far from the only report of Bush behaving in this manner. Needless to say, it doesn’t swell one with confidence that the most powerful man in the world is over-brimming with wisdom, maturity and an even temperament.

There are benefits to growing up a bit and giving matters more thought. In Bull Durham, it helped even a dumb, wild pitcher to briefly land Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) and make it out of the minor leagues to "The Show." Of course, the very smart Robbins played dumb very well in the movie, while it seems some very dumb people in the Bush administration don’t play smart very well. Rather than throwing a brushback pitch, Bush seems to be beaning the hitter, the mascot, the umpire (the media), the spectators (the public), and perhaps his own catcher. He's got a great deal of power, but doesn't seem to know what he's doing. Alternatively, it's all deliberate and Bush thinks what he's doing is great. To use Bush's own recent language about Iran, which is worse? That he knows, or that he doesn't know? It seems in his efforts to make "The Show" and be considered one of the all-time greats, he's playing more and more like a minor leaguer. It’s no help, either, that there doesn’t seem to be any Annie Savoy around to settle ol' Bush down (even if she weren't a peacenik liberal in real life).

Of course, the Bull Durham analogy breaks down after a while, and the phrase "good enough for baseball" definitely doesn't apply to statecraft when war is at stake and people will live or die as a result of these decisions. One last comparison, though: Filming Bull Durham allowed Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon to wind up very happy in real life as well, but Robbins and Sarandon only managed that because they tossed aside the Bush league fiction that a stupid Nuke is where it’s at.



Update 2/21/07: Typo "Iraq" corrected to "Iran" in item #9. Nope, wasn't trying to be clever with that one!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Rightwing Cartoon Watch #14 (2-17-07)

The latest installment of Rightwing Cartoon Watch is here, in a super-sized edition covering cartoons from 1/29/07 to 2/11/07. This time, the hot topics included supporting the troops, global warming, and diaper-wielding astronauts. (Err, make that diaper-wearing, pepper spray-wielding astronauts.) Plus, the "Bomb Iran!" campaign continued!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Iran Watch Update

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

As Karen DeYoung reports for The Washington Post, the biggest news on the Iran front is that:

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday that he has no information indicating Iran's government is directing the supply of lethal weapons to Shiite insurgent groups in Iraq.

"We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran," Pace told Voice of America during a visit to Australia. "What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se, knows about this."

"It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved," he continued, "but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."

Pace's comments came a day after U.S. military officials in Baghdad alleged that the "highest levels" of the Iranian government have directed use of weapons that are killing U.S. troops in Iraq. No information was provided to substantiate the charge. Administration officials yesterday deflected requests for more details, even as they repeatedly implied Tehran's involvement.

Meanwhile, Dan Froomkin continues to be on top of all Iran developments. In his column today, Tuesday 2/13/07, ”Bush Puzzled by Doubters,” he reports:

President Bush yesterday sounded perplexed that anyone would think he is preparing to attack Iran -- going so far as to make a sour face and lower his voice in a mocking imitation of his critics.

"I guess my reaction to all the noise about, you know, 'He wants to go to war' is, first of all, I don't understand the tactics, and I guess I would say it's political," Bush told C-SPAN's Steve Scully yesterday.

"On the other hand, I hope that the members of Congress, particularly in the opposition party, understand the grave danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon. Therefore, we all need to work together to solve the problem."

Here's the text and video of the interview. Thinkprogress has a video clip of Bush's sour-faced cynic-imitation.

So where is all that "noise" coming from? Why might anyone be doubting Bush's stated intentions?

Well, it could be that when it comes to the Middle East, the war in Iraq has so damaged Bush's credibility that even some of his natural allies don't believe what he has to say anymore -- even his pro forma denials of hostile intentions toward Iran.

And then there's the fact that those sour-faced, unhappy-sounding critics Bush was mocking have, time and again, been proved right.

Froomkin also provides a good round-up of more reactions to the deep background briefing, most of it skeptical. He also quotes at length from the DeYounf article linked above, remarking:

I love journalistic transparency -- and DeYoung today takes readers through her fruitless quest for evidence to back up the allegation that the "highest levels" of the Iranian government have directed use of weapons that are killing U.S. troops in Iraq.

DeYoung does indeed do a great job of this, providing a great model for how to deal with a less-than-forthcoming administration. I was tempted to post the entire section in question, but the article’s short enough you might as well read the whole thing yourself, and check out Froomkin’s other items.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Iraq and Iran Watch

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

Okay, now for the more serious post. There’s some important news, or at least important fake news, especially on the Iran front.

Dan Froomkin provides an invaluable survey of the Iran news in "A Shaky Briefing on Iran?" He starts by focusing on the ridiculous deep background briefing lapped up uncritically by The New York Times. He links Greg Mitchell’s skeptical dissection as well and Glenn Greenwald’s brutal, on-target critique.

Howard Kurtz also weighed in on the briefing when responding to a reader question in Kurtz’ weekly online discussion:

The Pentagon staged a briefing for journalists at which a "senior defense official" and a couple of experts were trotted out on a background basis. I do not understand why they could not have presented their findings on the record. I don't think it's quite like Iraq, in that this was an officially sanctioned briefing, but it does raise a similar question: If the Defense Department is so sure of its evidence on Iran's involvement, why the anonymity?

There are two U.S. warship groups in the Gulf, and allegedly a third on the way. The Bush administration keeps on denying that there’s any plans or intent to attack Iran. Froomkin notes:

But Michael Hirsh and Maziar Bahari write in a Newsweek cover story: "At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. 'They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,' says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs. U.S. officials insist they have no intention of provoking or otherwise starting a war with Iran."

Hirsh and Bahari conclude that "the longstanding war of words between Washington and Tehran is edging toward something more dangerous. A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf, and Newsweek has learned that a third carrier will likely follow. Iran shot off a few missiles in those same tense waters last week, in a highly publicized test. With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident's spiraling into a crisis are higher than they've been in years."

And Ewen MacAskill writes in The Guardian: "US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.

"The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office.

"Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, are urging Mr Bush to open a new front against Iran. So too is the vice-president, Dick Cheney. "

Arnaud de Borchgrave writes for UPI: "At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. 'I'm the grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers,' said Soroush, 'and I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime we all despise will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized.'

"'I know,' President Bush answered.

"'But does Vice President Cheney know?' asked Soroush.

"President Bush chuckled and walked away."

Froomkin goes on to present a great deal of important information on the éminence grise himself, Cheney.

Digby picks up on the Cheney thread in a valuable post titled "Preserving All Our Options." Digby highlights a key passage of a Washington Post article by Karen DeYoung titled ”U.S. Keeps Pressure on Iran But Decreases Saber Rattling “:

Some senior administration officials still relish the notion of a direct confrontation. One ambassador in Washington said he was taken aback when John Hannah, Vice President Cheney's national security adviser, said during a recent meeting that the administration considers 2007 "the year of Iran" and indicated that a U.S. attack was a real possibility. Hannah declined to be interviewed for this article.

As Digby notes, that really should have been the lede, concluding:

As the Libby trial unfolds we see once again a picture of an extremely powerful Vice President who believes he can do anything.He does not even believe he answers to the president. Considering recent history, it is far more significant that John Hannah is telling people that an attack was a real possibility than it is that Condi's sadly irrelevant State Department is trying to tamp down the rhetoric in public. Everything we have seen for the last six years shows that in these administration battles Cheney always wins. Watch what they do not what they say. They lie as easily as they breathe.

Finally, two other writers add valuable perspectives. Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid explores the growing Sunni-Shiite divide in the Middle East in his article, ”Across Arab World, a Widening Rift” and discussed the article here. Meanwhile, Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival, co-authored an op-ed titled ”The Iran Option That Isn't on the Table.” It argues for precisely the sort of effective diplomacy the Bush adminstration ridicules:

Paradoxically, to liberalize the theocratic state, the United States would do better to shelve its containment strategy and embark on a policy of unconditional dialogue and sanctions relief. A reduced American threat would deprive the hard-liners of the conflict they need to justify their concentration of power. In the meantime, as Iran became assimilated into the global economy, the regime's influence would inevitably yield to the private sector, with its demands for accountability and reform.

Nasr offered some interesting responses to readers in his discussion of the op-ed:

There has been flow of arms from Iran to Shia groups in Iraq but that has so far been to balance the flow of arms that is going to the insurgency from the Arab world. It is important to note that Shia militias are not at war with the U.S. -- more than 80 percent of U.S. casualties are inflicted by the insurgency, and we are having this discussion at a time when insurgent attacks have killed hundreds of Shias and downed five U.S. helicopters.

In response to a reader who quotes the Shehabi conversation with Bush I quoted above, Nasr writes:

I do not know whether this exchange happened or not, but many pro-democracy voices in Iran fear that military confrontation will divert attention from democracy and political dissent to nationalism. Iranians like all people will support their government (regardless of all other differences) at a time of war. They did so in the 1980s when Saddam attacked Iran, which only strengthened Khomeini's rule at the time.

Sadly, this common sense realization is beyond the scope of the Bush administration, since it would be heresy, if they even possess the capacity to consider it. Neocon Michael Ledeen, when not lying about what his position was on invading Iraq, has previously expressed the belief that bombing Iran will make the populace rise up and overthrow the current government. He even tried to reference some polls to support him. This is, of course, absolutely insane, and flies in the face of the entire history of aerial bombing – targeting only strategic resources can influence negotiations, but any civilian casualties from bombing hardens the populace and makes them band together, just as a ground invasion would. For all their love of war, the neocons are simply not good scholars of it, among their many intellectual and moral failings. Kristol, Bush and others in the movement, beyond even their American triumphalism, possess an imperial hubris that dictates that their victims should be grateful to be bombed or otherwise killed, because the cause is just. It brings to mind the “Killing for Christ” mentality of the Crusades, although the current pathology has its own repulsive flavor.

(As an afterthought, I find it particularly sad, amusing and telling some news from the AP mentioned in Froomkin’s column. Cheney is currently refusing to meet with Defense Minister Jumio Kyuma on his trip to Japan, because Kyuma dared to call Iraq a “mistake.” In other words, in the Cheney doctrine, not only is the Cold War model of talking with one’s supposed enemies weakness, but even America’s friends must receive the silent treatment if they dare criticize you by stating a clear fact. Remember, this is the man who recently claimed that the biggest impediment to success in Iraq was not the daily murders or sectarian violence, but the fact that domestically, the Bush administration was being criticized. Try selling that to the next Iraqi to lose a family member in a bombing, or to a soldier who loses a comrade to an IED, Dick.

Of course, even if America was the totalitarian dystopia of Cheney’s fantasies, Iraq would still be a meat grinder and a complete “charlie foxtrot.” The fate of the world seems to rest in the hands of fascist, idiot children. Invading Iraq is already a cautionary tale for the ages, the worst foreign policy blunder in American history, all the more so because it was completely avoidable. Not content with that, however, with their intentions toward Iraq, the Bush administration seeks to make Iraq merely the second worst foreign policy blunder in American history. If ever God were to talk to Bush, now would be the time.)

Proof of Iran’s Perfidy Provided by Anonymous Experts!

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

The New York Times reported on Friday, 2/9/07 that “The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.”

This stunning scoop was dug out by the Times by attending a presentation arranged by the Bush administration.

Absolutely certain about their evidence, the senior defense official and two experts insisted that the monumental import of their officially sanctioned briefing would be undermined if they were named or went on record.


The first source explained: [name redacted] “Oh no, no, no, D----- mustn’t say his name, mustn’t, mustn’t! Iran is bad, very, very bad. D----- came to warn you. NO! You mustn’t take photos of the shells! Can’t bring in your expert to verify the evidence! But D----- knows! D----- knows, but shouldn’t be telling you this! Not to that liberal bastion of peerless reporting, The New York Times! Oh, Bad D-----, Bad D-----!"


The second deep background source explained, “Iran is scary, bad! They is causing all sorts of evil things in Iraq. Me-sah know without Iran, Iraq be peachy-keen!”

When asked about the statistics showing that the vast majority of American deaths in Iraq are due to Sunni insurgents versus the Shiite militias the administration claims Iran is supplying, he replied, “No, no, no! Sunni insurgents our enemies. Shiite militias our enemies. Shiite government our friends. Shiite Iran our enemy. You must keep up! Hussein was new Hitler in 2002, now is Ahmadinejad!”

But is Iran really a threat, an imminent threat? Expert consensus holds that Iran is probably at least ten years away from a nuclear weapon. Our expert forcefully argued, “Me-sah hear from good friends Michael Ledeen and Bill Kristol, we must attack Iran, sooner, not later. Them two never wrong. Me-sah know, we must attack Iran before they get nuke. Ten years a long time to wait. What if we forget?”


Finally, the third source, a senior defense official, harumphed, “Of course we’re not preparing for war with Iran. But here’s something you won’t hear on those liberal weekend political talk shows. You ask me, can we afford to attack Iran? I say — can we afford not to?”

One knowing smile later, he went on: “For over twenty-five years, Iran has been a hypothetical threat. Iran has long been at the forefront, a world leader, in hypothetical weaponry. In fact, while we sit here, wasting time arguing if Iran is a threat, right this very minute they’re sitting on a huge stockpile of hypothetical weapons. Caspar Weinberger warned us all about it back in the 80s. Yes, in terms of conventional weaponry, the American and Israeli arsenals dwarf Iran’s, but when it comes to hypothetical arsenals, Iran is one of the biggest threats in the world, a far greater danger to our national security than even Japan, or Canada.”

After pausing to let this sink in, he scoffed, “Look, the peaceniks and hippies may believe in elves, faeries, and everything just magically getting better on its own, but we’re very serious in this administration. We live in the real world.”

As for allegations that the Office of the Vice President is driving Iran policy just as it did (and does) Iraq policy, an OVP spokesperson, who insisted he shall not be named, declined to comment.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Many Faces of Dick

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

You may be saying, “Hey, man, what’s up with your Cheney posts? First he’s Voldemort. Then he’s Colonel Jessup. Now he’s Vader? Make up your mind!”

To which I reply – “Who the heck are you?!? You mean someone actually reads these posts?”

But the truth is, dear reader – if thou be not phantom, but more real than — oh, Bush’s budget numbers, Cheney’s WMD, and ethics in this White House — there are many sides to our most cuddly of Vice Presidents. He contains multitudes. He is legion.

Yes, the right wing bloggers say, “Hey, loony left! Make up your mind! Is Cheney Satan himself, or merely an emissary of Satan?”

To which I reply — “Quick! Hillary Clinton murdered someone again! Get on it before Malkin and Rush beat ya to it, and maybe Glenn Reynolds will link you!” Heh.

Can Cheney’s full, dark majesty be captured with just one icon of evil? I say thee nay! When Cheney puts the lives of young men in peril, then he is Voldemort. When he sneers at human rights, the rule of law and lobbies aggressively for torture, then he’s Colonel Jessup down at Guantanamo. But when he wants to kick back, relax and pursue unchecked executive power, then he’s Darth Vader. (Umm, without the 11th hour conversion, of course. And Natalie Portman’s waaaaaay out of his league — except maybe as the object of a kidnap plot by the Dick Cheney League of Super-Villains.)

Besides, who can pass on “Darth Cheney”? It’s part of common parlance, not only on the left, but in the MSM and on late-night talk shows. It yields roughly 400,000 results on Google. "It-boy" himself Jon Stewart combined Darth Vader and Sauron for a bit (damn! I forgot one! A later post!). And let's face it, you know Cheney himself likes the nickname.

So yes, the metaphors and analogies shall keep coming for the wonder that is Dick. As long as he continues to lie, break the law and plunge the Office of the Vice President to unprecedented lows, the very least we can do, as patriots, is deride and ridicule him.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

You Can’t Handle the Lies!

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

Another Froomkin item spurs me to post! What can I say, the guy is good!

In his Wednesday, 2/7/07 column, ”Cheney Doesn’t Share,” he ponders:


No Cheney Cross?

With so many new questions emerging about Cheney's conduct -- and the unique experience of watching him be cross-examined in federal court having been dangled in front of the press corps for months -- it comes as a grave disappointment that Cheney may end up not testifying after all.

But Matt Apuzzo writes for the Associated Press: "Attorneys for former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby are backtracking on their plans to call Vice President Dick Cheney and Libby himself to testify in the CIA leak trial.

"Libby's attorneys seemed certain in December when they announced that Cheney would testify at his former aide's perjury and obstruction trial.

"But with prosecutors close to resting their case, attorneys are quietly backing away from that claim.

"In documents filed in federal court this week, Libby's attorneys said Cheney was 'potentially' a witness."

This gives me the perfect excuse to muse about Cheney on the stand. Would he lie if he was reasonably sure he could get away with it? Would he tell the truth? (How sad that the answer’s legitimately in doubt.) Cheney may well have the worst judgment of any major public official in decades, but he is smart about covering his tracks. But think about it. He’s shown he doesn’t care about his image. He doesn’t care about lying, not only to the public, but even to high-ranking members of his own administration! He doesn’t give a damn about the rule of law, due process or the Constitution. He’s ferociously in favor of torture. He doesn’t care what the intelligence says. He doesn’t care what any data says. He doesn’t care about the financial well-being of our country. (Beyond Halliburton’s no-bid contracts, Paul O’Neill relates the tale that Cheney said that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter. [These further taxes for the rich] are our due.”) Cheney has repeatedly shown he doesn’t value transparency, yet alone any check on his power. He regularly insults his critics in extremely degrading terms (and with straw men aplenty). Most disastrously, he has consistently shown he doesn’t give a damn about learning from any of his avalanche of mistakes and misjudgments. (The Froomkin column linked above has some great tidbits on Cheney.)

Deep down, Cheney must want to let loose and tell everybody off. He must want to repeat his “Go fuck yourself” line, delivered to Senator Patrick Leahy, to Patrick Fitzgerald. He must want to tell everyone to go to hell. He’s itching for a Colonel Jessup moment, just like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Can’t you see it?

FITZGERALD: Did you order Libby to leak Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press?

CHENEY: You’re damn right I did! And I’d do it again! Who cares if Wilson told the truth? It made us look bad, and we had a presidential election coming up! You think junior was going to win on his merits? And who cares if I had Libby lie to that flake Judith Miller about the NIE? We had to get the message out! Russert says he doesn’t remember the conversation that way? He’ll remember whatever the hell I tell him to remember, and remember his place most of all! The Constitution clearly states I can do whatever the hell I want! I’m in charge here! Who’s going to stop me? You? You? YOU? Do any of you really got the balls to take on “Big Time” Cheney?!?



Alas, as I mentioned above, Cheney is a smart fellow — when it comes to hiding his cards, to getting away with it, with surviving. His testimony would be completely fascinating, offering valuable information for the trial, but even more valuable insight into how the most powerful Vice President in history operates. But at this point, his testimony might hurt Libby, and if so, obviously the defense will not call him. It’s unlikely he’ll have a Colonel Jessup moment. But it doesn’t hurt to dream.

Death Eaters of the GOP

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)


(Hmm. Cheney's lost a little weight, hasn't he?)

My favorite item of the week so far comes from a “Literary Metaphor Watch” category in a Dan Froomkin column. He reports:

Nicholas Kristof asked readers to offer literary or historical parallels to the Bush administration and Iraq. He writes in his New York Times opinion column (subscription required): "A reader named Melissa S. e-mailed to say that she explains Iraq policy to her 8-year-old son in terms of Harry Potter characters: 'Dick Cheney is Lord Voldemort. George W. Bush is Peter Pettigrew.' Don Rumsfeld is Lucius Malfoy, while Cornelius Fudge represents administration supporters who deny that anything is wrong. And, she concludes, 'Daily Prophet reporter Rita Skeeter is Fox News.'"

Donkey O.D. has the full text here.

On a more serious note, to match the core of Kristof’s piece, the Bush administration has shown a lethal inability to learn from history, most tragically, the costs of war and the mistakes to avoid when waging one (top of the list would be not to start a war of choice). However, as Kristof reminds us, the Bush administration and the neocons also seem to be ignorant of essential themes raised in the arts (more on this to come in a later post).

When Gorbachev was in power, not long before the break-up the Soviet Union, he arranged to see the production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in repertory at the famed Moscow Art Theater. Afterwards, he called up the Artistic Director of the theater to talk about the play, saying something like, “Vanya is just like me,” and proceeded to talk about himself in relation to the play for anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. How amazing.

Personally, I don’t care what Bush reads or sees, Shakespeare, Chekhov, Harry Potter or the Bible, I just want him to think and to truly reflect. Most accounts indicate he rarely if ever does. I would also like to see him feel, specifically, feel compassion for others and to have the imagination to consider the consequences of his frighteningly powerful actions and inactions. Bush “read three Shakespeares,” including Hamlet, last year, and if it’s true, good for him. What was really needed was to ask him what he took away from them, to discuss the works with him. I suspect reporters were wary of embarrassing Bush, but it could be done with tact and it would have been very revealing. In the meantime, if Bush is to grapple with some of the complexities of the modern world and moral quandaries, it might be a step in the right direction for him to read a little Harry Potter.


"Mr. Vice-President, if you could just stop devouring that baby for the photo - we're trying to show your lighter side."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Froomkin: How the Press Can Prevent Another Iraq

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)


Over at Nieman Watchdog, where he is Deputy Editor, Dan Froomkin (also of The Washington Post) has a fantastic list of guidelines for the press. Frankly, this list shouldn't be necessary, but it undeniably is. If only all of the press took them to heart! However, bloggers certainly can practice these principles (as many already do), and press mainstream journalists to do the same.

Given their track record, every time a member of the Bush administration makes a claim, at this point how can any journalist not question whether it's a lie? It boggles the mind. They have not credibility, which means the burden of proof is on them. Some reporters are very good at fact-checking public statements, but it's hardly an universal value. Access does not equal accuracy, and frankly, it often seems to hurt it. Knowledgeable sources are one thing, but why court a shill or a proven liar? It's not as if D.C. lacks in opinions to pad out a column! It often seems that, when it comes to the mainstream press, the rule of thumb is "Fool me once, shame on you - fool me twenty-seven times, shame on - hey, will you come on my show this Sunday?" It's true that "Politics is the blood sport of Washington," but among the chattering class, softball runs a very close second.

Here's Froomkin's short, essential piece, in its entirety:
________________________________
How the press can prevent another Iraq
COMMENTARY | February 02, 2007

Journalists, and through us the public, have a grave responsibility to not be complicit in another march to war on false pretenses. So what lessons should we have learned from Iraq?
By Dan Froomkin


Lessons we thought had been learned from Vietnam were forgotten in the rush to invade Iraq. And now, as we cover President Bush’s ratcheting up of the rhetoric against Iran, it’s looking like the lessons we should have learned from Iraq may not have been learned at all. So at the risk of stating the obvious, here are some thoughts about what those lessons were. (Feel free to add more in comments.)

You Can’t Be Too Skeptical of Authority
• Don’t assume anything administration officials tell you is true. In fact, you are probably better off assuming anything they tell you is a lie.
• Demand proof for their every assertion. Assume the proof is a lie. Demand that they prove that their proof is accurate.
• Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it should be make the headlines. The absence of supporting evidence for their assertion -- or a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the assertion -- may be more newsworthy than the assertion itself.
• Don’t print anonymous assertions. Demand that sources make themselves accountable for what they insist is true.

Provocation Alone Does Not Justify War
• War is so serious that even proving the existence of a casus belli isn’t enough. Make officials prove to the public that going to war will make things better.
• Demand to know what happens if the war (or tactical strike) doesn’t go as planned?
• Demand to know what happens if it does? What happens after “victory”?
• Ask them: Isn’t it possible this will make things worse, rather than better?

Be Particularly Skeptical of Secrecy
• Don’t assume that these officials, with their access to secret intelligence, know more than you do.
• Alternately, assume that they do indeed know more than you do – and are trying to keep intelligence that would undermine their arguments secret.

Watch for Rhetorical Traps
• Keep an eye on how advocates of war frame the arguments. Don’t buy into those frames unless you think they’re fair.
• Keep a particular eye out for the no-lose construction. For example: If we can’t find evidence of WMD, that proves Saddam is hiding them.
• Watch out for false denials. In the case of Iran, when administration officials say “nobody is talking about invading Iran,” point out that the much more likely scenario is bombing Iran, and that their answer is therefore a dodge.

Don’t Just Give Voice to the Administration Officials
• Give voice to the skeptics; don’t marginalize and mock them.
• Listen to and quote the people who got it right last time: The intelligence officials, state department officials, war-college instructors and many others who predicted the problem we are now facing, but who were largely ignored.
• Offer the greatest and most guaranteed degree of confidentiality to whisteblowers offering information that contradicts the official government position. (By contrast, don’t offer any confidentiality to administration spinners.)

Look Outside Our Borders
• Pay attention to international opinion.
• Raise the question: What do people in other countries think? Why should we be so different?
• Keep an eye out for how the international press is covering this story. Why should we be so different?

Understand the Enemy
• Listen to people on the other side, and report their position.
• Send more reporters into the country we are about to attack and learn about their views, their politics and their culture.
• Don’t allow the population of any country to be demonized. All humans deserve to be humanized.
• Demand to know why the administration won’t open a dialogue with the enemy. Refusing to talk to someone you are threatening to attack should be considered inherently suspect behavior.

Encourage Public Debate
• The nation is not well served when issues of war and peace are not fully debated in public. It’s reasonable for the press to demand that Congress engage in a full, substantial debate.
• Cover the debate exhaustively and substantively.

Write about Motives
• Historically, the real motives for wars have often not been the public motives. Try to report on the motivations of the key advocates for war.
• Don’t assume that the administration is being forthright about its motives.
• If no one in the inner circle will openly discuss their motives, then encourage reasonable speculation about their motives.

Talk to the Military
• Find out what the military is being told to prepare for.

_____________________

Incidentally, Froomkin’s column today, 2/6/07, ”Bush Daring Dems on Iraq” has a splendid “Iran Watch” section (it also links the Fallows piece I liked earlier).