Saturday, September 30, 2006

"Mission Accomplished" Dept.: Hearts and Minds Edition


The US Department of Defense has now provided another measure of the problem it faces. Its latest opinion poll carried out in Iraq indicates that, among the five million Sunni Muslims there, about 75% now support the armed insurgency against the coalition.

This compares with 14% in the first opinion poll the Defense Department carried out back in 2003. It is a catastrophic loss of support, and there is no sign whatever that it can be effectively reversed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

LBJ, pt. 2

Marilyn Young, in her amazing synthesis The Vietnam Wars, describes how Lyndon Johnson explained his strategy of gradually ramping up the bombing against North Vietnam in early 1965:
To the popular syndicated columnists Evans and Novack [sic], for example, he "pointed out the targets he had approved for attack and the many more targets he had disapproved." And anybody worried about Chinese intervention, Johnson told the reports, should just relax:
the slow escalation of the air war in the North and the increasing pressure on Ho Chi Minh was seduction, not rape. If China should suddenly react to slow escalation, as a woman might to attempted seduction, by threatening to retaliate (a slap in the face, to continue the metaphor), the United States would have plenty of time to ease off the bombing. On the other hand, if the United States were to unleash an all-out, total assault on the North--rape rather than seduction--there could be no turning back, and Chinese reaction might be instant and total.
Senator George McGovern met with Johnson that same spring to protest the bombing on the grounds that it might lead to Chinese intervention and was almost certain to increase the number of soldiers North Vietnam sent south. Johnson reassured him: "I'm watching that very closely. I'm going up her leg an inch at a time... I'll get to the snatch before they know what's happening, you see."
In case you're wondering: yes, the Novak in question is in fact that same Plamegate Bob Novak.

Who's to Blame for not Getting Osama?

From Gallup.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

LBJ, pt 1

Kevin Drum, in rare form:
Legend has it that during one of Lyndon Johnson's congressional campaigns he decided to spread a rumor that his opponent was a pig-fucker. LBJ's campaign manager said, "Lyndon, you know he doesn't do that!" Johnson replied, "I know. I just want to make him deny it."

A bit of good news

A cheap and readily available drug could reverse severe liver disease, even in patients who find it impossible to give up booze, research suggests.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Mission Accomplished" Dept.: Torture Edition

UN's chief anti-torture expert says torture in Iraq may be worse now than under Saddam:

Manfred Nowak said the situation in Iraq was "out of control", with abuses being committed by security forces, militia groups and anti-US insurgents.

Bodies found in the Baghdad morgue "often bear signs of severe torture", said the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq in a report.

The wounds confirmed reports given by refugees from Iraq, Mr Nowak said.

He told journalists at a briefing in Geneva that he had yet to visit Iraq, but he was able to base his information on autopsies and interviews with Iraqis in neighbouring Jordan.

"What most people tell you is that the situation as far as torture is concerned now in Iraq is totally out of hand," the Austrian law professor said.

"The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein," he added.

The UN report says detainees' bodies often show signs of beating using electrical cables, wounds in heads and genitals, broken legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns.

Bodies found at the Baghdad mortuary "often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances".

Many bodies have missing skin, broken bones, back, hands and legs, missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails, the UN report says.

Victims come from prisons run by US-led multinational forces as well as by the ministries of interior and defence and private militias, the report said.

The most brutal torture methods were employed by private militias, Mr Nowak told journalists.

The report also says the frequency of sectarian bloodletting means bodies are often found which "bear signs indicating that the victims have been brutally tortured before their extra-judicial execution".

It concludes that torture threatens "the very fabric of the country" as victims exact their own revenge and fuel further violence.

Mr Nowak said he would like to visit Iraq in person, but the current situation would not allow him to prepare an accurate report, because it would not be safe to leave Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone where the Iraqi government and US leadership are situated.

The "failure of execution" myth exposed

Anatol Lieven, on how liberal hawks are just more confused versions of the neocons:

Michael Signer's essay is yet another in an all-too-numerous list of recent works by center-left intellectuals arguing that America can recover from its present international difficulties by changing the style of its approach to the world without significantly changing its policies. He denounces the "vulgar exceptionalism" of the neoconservatives and the Bush Administration but does not realize that we are well past the days when a tonier, more agreeably phrased American exceptionalism could command real support from most of the rest of the world. Signer's argument reflects the fact that, in the end, by far the greater part of the Republican and Democratic establishments share the same basic myths of American nationalism concerning the righteousness of American power, the same commitment to U.S. supremacy in the world, and a common adherence to the same set of basic imperial strategies. And until progressive foreign policy thinkers confront these myths, they only will offer up alternative slogans or tactics but nothing resembling a foreign policy vision.

Take Signer's supposed alternative to the failed policies of the Bush Administration, "exemplarism." He writes, "[In today's globalized environment], it is simply impossible for any country, even one as powerful as the United States, to ignore or neglect its interconnections with other nations." At the same time, Signer is a strong believer both in America’s superpower status and in innate American virtue: What he calls "the ineluctable attractions of [America's] own unique capabilities and goodwill–by the charisma of its own great character...."

Signer does not seem to appreciate that, like any other country... America is judged by others not just on its present actions and declarations, but on its past record. If, as he himself says, the recent record of the United States has been so awful, why should other countries automatically trust America in the future? Like so much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, Signer fails in what Hans Morgenthau laid down as one of the most fundamental virtues of true statesmen: The ability to put themselves in the shoes of other countries.

Signer declares that "exemplarism would value both strength and international prestige equally, seeing them not as mutually exclusive but rather as mutually reinforcing" and that "America's economic, political, and military strength, when deployed wisely, enhances our prestige around the world." Who could possibly disagree? But, once again, what does "deploying American strength wisely" actually mean in practice? And who gets to decide what is "wise"? Is it America alone, or do American allies get a real say when it comes to designing and changing American policies? Without a real willingness to change American policies, it may be possible to bring about the kind of sullen acquiescence to the United States that one sees at present in Western Europe, for example, but it will be quite impossible to get nations outside that sphere to make real sacrifices for the sake of those policies and thereby lighten the present unsustainable burden on American resources. It is easy to talk of a need for more diplomatic approaches by the United States, and it is true that leading members of the Bush Administration have been notoriously and dangerously contemptuous of the very idea of diplomacy. But the liberal hawks who praise diplomacy in principle also appear to misunderstand its true nature. When they speak of engaging other countries diplomatically, what they usually mean is talking at them more loudly and sweetly, but with the same ends in mind. True, this has always been a key feature of diplomacy. But real diplomacy also means a recognition of other states' vital interests and a willingness to reach compromises accordingly. This, by contrast, is too often called–by Democrats as well as Republicans–"accommodation" or even "appeasement."

The weakness of Signer's approach is exemplified by his treatment of the Iraq war. As with so many of his Democratic colleagues, he wriggles out of saying whether the war itself was a good or bad thing. Instead, he suggests that if only the Bush Administration had diplomatically enlisted European help, what happened in Iraq would have been very different. This is arrant nonsense. The Europeans were never going to be able to give serious help to the United States in Iraq. They have no effective military help to give, and their readiness to make financial sacrifices was always going to be severely limited by the–entirely correct–opinion of European policymakers and electorates that the whole U.S. strategy was fundamentally misguided.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cracking the code

Turns out Hezbollah just flat beat the Israelis, militarily:

Hezbollah guerrillas were able to hack into Israeli radio communications during last month's battles in south Lebanon, an intelligence breakthrough that helped them thwart Israeli tank assaults, according to Hezbollah and Lebanese officials.

Using technology most likely supplied by Iran, special Hezbollah teams monitored the constantly changing radio frequencies of Israeli troops on the ground. That gave guerrillas a picture of Israeli movements, casualty reports and supply routes. It also allowed Hezbollah anti-tank units to more effectively target advancing Israeli armor, according to the officials.

"We were able to monitor Israeli communications, and we used this information to adjust our planning," said a Hezbollah commander involved in the battles, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The official refused to detail how Hezbollah was able to intercept and decipher Israeli transmissions. He acknowledged that guerrillas were not able to hack into Israeli communications around the clock.

The Israeli military refused to comment on whether its radio communications were compromised, citing security concerns. But a former Israeli general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Hezbollah's ability to secretly hack into military transmissions had "disastrous" consequences for the Israeli offensive.

"Israel's military leaders clearly underestimated the enemy and this is just one example," he said.

The Great Lie

Joan Didion on Dick Cheney:

If the case for war lacked a link between September 11 and Iraq, the Vice President would repeatedly cite the meeting that neither American nor Czech intelligence believed had taken place between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague: "It's been pretty well confirmed that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attacks," he would say on NBC in December 2001. "We discovered...the allegation that one of the lead hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had, in fact, met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague," he would say on NBC in March 2002. "We have reporting that places [Atta] in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer a few months before the attacks on the World Trade Center," he would say on NBC in September 2002. "The senator has got his facts wrong," he would then say while debating Senator John Edwards during the 2004 campaign. "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

This was not a slip of memory in the heat of debate. This was dishonest, a repeated misrepresentation, in the interests of claiming power, so bald and so systematic that the only instinctive response (Did too!) was that of the schoolyard. By June 2004, before the debate with Edwards, Cheney had in fact begun edging away from the Prague story, not exactly disclaiming it but characterizing it as still unproven, as in, on a Cincinnati TV station, "That's true. We do not have proof that there was such a connection." It would be two years later, March 2006, before he found it prudent to issue a less equivocal, although still shifty, version. "We had one report early on from another intelligence service that suggested that the lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, had met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague, Czechoslovakia," he told Tony Snow on Fox News. "And that reporting waxed and waned where the degree of confidence in it, and so forth, has been pretty well knocked down at this stage, that that meeting ever took place. So we've never made the case, or argued the case, that somehow [Saddam Hussein] was directly involved in 9/11. That evidence has never been forthcoming."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Mark Lilla, in TNR Online, on the domestic political scene since 9-11:

I do not recognize my country today. It walks, it talks, but its eyes are glassy and vacant. I am not one of those who blames the Bush administration for this; our government is a symptom of our condition, not its cause. Several thousand people died in the attacks of September 11, but the changes in our political atmosphere that followed bear little understandable relation to the emotions of mourning, rage, revenge, or even fear. Objectively seen, those attacks did nothing to change the balance of power in the world, as an invasion or assassination might have. The bastards got lucky; that is all. But, like a trauma victim who suddenly sees his surrounding environment as alien and hostile, the United States reacted to those events by disengaging itself from reality, internationally and domestically. Mental disengagement combined with military engagement--a recipe for disaster....

[After] the planes struck, what happened next on the international scene is a matter of public record. What happened within the United States is less well understood abroad. To hostile foreign observers, the United States has simply reverted to type, revealing its true face as a brutal imperialist monster. From the outside, it looks like we are being driven by greed for oil, or hatred of Muslims, or blind loyalty to Israel, or contempt for the international community---we know the litany. From the inside, the last five years of U.S. history look very different. We are still a nation in shock--hardly capable of conceiving an imperial strategy, let alone pursuing it. That is why we still have no real strategy for dealing with the genuine threat of radical Islam, or for securing our cities and ports. When the decision to invade Iraq was being made, there were long, serious debates in the British House of Commons, which anyone with a satellite dish could watch on BBC. No such display could be found on U.S. television because no such debate took place in the U.S. Congress. The president was given carte blanche. And American reporters, like adolescents at play, donned military uniforms and joined the troops as "embedded" observers, gushing over the display of firepower. The nation slept.

While it slept, the clock of U.S. politics turned in reverse, back to the mindset of the cold war and the culture wars of the '60s and '70s. All sorts of strange types emerged from under their rocks to exploit September 11--neoconservatives longing for a war that would restore "American greatness" through militarism, legal anarchists who started rewriting the constitution, evangelicals who sensed the opportunity to launch a counter-revolution against all the cultural changes of the last four decades. None of these groups represented more than a fraction of Americans, but, together, they found the ear of a transformed president and of his political advisers, who knew how to exploit them in return. The level of American political debate sank to a new low and is now fixed on symbols--"values," "strength," "family," "security," "life," "freedom"--that bear little relation to contemporary American reality or the world situation. The '90s were a period of political maturation in United States, but, in the face of trauma, the nation has regressed to an infantile state. That includes Bush's many critics, who peddle Vietnam-tinged fantasies of a new antiwar movement and hope to revive adversarial press of the Watergate era. A reader of U.S. newspapers can be forgiven for thinking he is living in 1973.

This week will be taken up with commemorations of those who lost their lives on September 11, as it should be. But, when those ceremonies are over, we should also observe a moment of silence for the America that existed just before that September morning, and which now lies in a coma. We are destined to see that America again, if only because reality has a way of intruding into even the deepest sleep. But the wake-up will be hard. An entire nation will find itself on the floor, its knees bruised, its nose bloodied, the furniture in disarray, wondering just what the hell happened.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Liberal lies

The worst lie that liberals tell about Bush's Middle East policy is that everything in Iraq might have turned out great if only we'd appointed "competent" people. This is a cornerstone of the "incompetence" meme regarding the Bush administration, one rooted in a (quite justified) outrage at the cronyism and stupidity of the current regime.

In the case of Iraq, however, this meme supports the dangeous illusion that the problem with the war was one of execution, rather than ideology and aim. Alas, not even the most competent administrators in the world could have made the postwar in Iraq succeed. This is why the invasion was, to paraphrase Talleyrand, "worse than a crime; it was a blunder." While the White House may be filled with knaves, in the case of Iraq, the knaves were also fools.

The Scientific Method, Government Edition

Friday, September 15, 2006

Peanut butter

Kids these days:
As Flavorpill’s film editor, Rosman contributes to all the city publications, and she has developed a feel for the subtle regional differences. "Chicago has its own kind of hard-core R.&B.-inspired scene and an art scene inspired by both the Art Institute of Chicago and cheaper rents. L.A. has a refracted neon palm tree glam, which is a reaction to all that Hollywood veneer that wends its way into visual art especially, but also into music and all the retro-movie houses. London, well those kids have a jaunty charm I've yet to pin down."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How to rank Presidents

We've reached the point in George W. Bush's presidency where one can begin to think about where he will rank in the historical annals. The question of ranking Presidents is of course a vexed one, and an inherently political one -- how you weight his political versus his personal characters, his foreign versus his domestic policy, and so on, is by its nature subjective. My own effort to plot Presidential success is above, and I think the axes speak for themselves. The question is, how successful was the President on his own terms, versus the (alas, totally separate) issue of how much good or bad he did for the country.

The Washington Post today, has a slightly different take.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Iowa Futures Market on Midterms

The Iowa Futures Market as of yesterday was reading the midterms about like this:
  • GOP retains control of both chambers: 44% chance
  • GOP keeps Senate, Dems win House: 39% chance
  • Dems win Senate, GOP keeps House: 5% chance
  • Dems win both chambers: 12% chance

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Squandering bipartisanship

Keith Olberman:

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Islamism in Sudan

From George Packer, "Moderate Martyr: Interpreting Islam for the modern world," New Yorker, September 11, 2006:
The Sudanese version [of Islamism] was not a genuine revolution like the Iranian one; it was more of an elite project that never gained legitimacy outside of student, intellectual, and military circles. Still, Sudan's hard-line party, the National Islamic Front, marched the country through familiar paces. Suliman Baldo, the director of the Africa program at the International Crisis Group, who lived through the years of Islamization in Khartoum and published a report documenting the return of slavery in Sudan, said of the government, "They came with a social-engineering project--they were very open about this." Education became a form of indoctrination: small children learned jihadist chants; school uniforms were replaced with combat fatigues; students engaged in paramilitary drills and memorized the Koran; teachers overhauled the curriculum to focus on the glory of Arab and Islamic culture. Khartoum had been a socially relaxed city that celebrated Christmas, but now the morals police insured that women were veiled, especially in government offices and universities. The security agencies were taken over by Islamists, and torture chambers known as "ghost houses" proliferated in what had been a tolerant political culture.... And so an ethnically and religiously mixed African country, with an egalitarian form of Sufism as its dominant form of Islam, was mobilized by intellectuals and soldiers to create a militaristic, ideologically extreme state whose main achievements were civil war, slavery, famine, and mass death.
Authoritarian High Modernism: Islamist Edition.

What's more, just substitute "Christian" for "Muslim" and "American" for "Arab" and you pretty much have the scenario the Christian Right dreams of for our own country.

Friday, September 08, 2006

"Mission Accomplished" Dept.: Talibanistan Edition

Christian Science Monitor, rounding up the news on the "peace deal" in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan:
In a move that some say appears 'a total capitulation' to pro-Taliban forces, Pakistan signed a peace deal with tribal leaders in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan Tuesday, and is withdrawing military forces in exchange for promises that militant tribal groups there will not engage in terrorist activities.
Read the whole thing. Lots of amazing links.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


From Ulrich Beck, Cosmopolitan Vision:

The thesis of this book may be summarized as follows: cosmopolitanization means the disappearance of the closed society for good. But this is not felt by liberation by most people, who instead see their world in decline. People who have succeeded with great difficulty in orienting themselves in the labyrinths of a closed society based on sharp oppositions between us and them, inside and outside, national and international, are now suddenly faced with the contradictions of a tolerant form of society and a liberty they can neither comprehend nor live wit, which reduces them to strangers in their own land....

Anti-cosmopolitanism, whether understated or vociferous, right- or left-wing, union- or church-driven, strictly speaking acts in an anti-national fashion because it is tantamount to a clinical loss of reality and hence betrays the interests of the nation in a global age. The economic, cultural and political challenges and contradictions of globalization cannot be conjured out of existence because we do not like reality and refuse to accept it -- on the motto 'Globalization? I'm against it!' The falling of leaves in autumn can't be prevented by looking the other way, and certainly not by insisting that you hate winter.

P. 108-9, 117; italics in the original; boldface mine.