Wednesday, August 31, 2005
The wingnuts are not exactly wrong, of course, when they say that scientific opinion on the safety on the pill doesn't really bear on the question of whether it should be allowed. What this is really about, for them, is about the social control of individual sexuality.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Just read this note from a Morgan Stanley economist on the multiple bubbles affecting the global economy. The lede:
The world may be in the middle of the biggest bubble in history. The bubble (e.g., property, stock, commodities) could exceed 50% of global GDP in value. The key cause of the bubble is that the major central banks failed to lower inflation targets to account for the combination of productivity acceleration due to IT and the new upward stickiness in wages due to the influx of three billion people into the global economy since the mid-1990s.And he doesn't even take into account what might happen if a global economic collapse, causing demand for Chinese products to collapse, motivates the Chinese to call in their U.S. Treasury notes....
It's not that Hitchens is without insight. For example, he's right to point out the way in which the CIA is fighting a back-channel war against the political goals of the administration, and how this bureaucratic fight is creating a communications problem for the White House (that the CIA is right on the facts and the White House is wrong is, however, apparently beside the point to Hitchens). Hitchens is also right to point out that Bush's stock phrase about "We would rather fight [the "terrorists"] there than [on] our own streets" is "not just a standing invitation for disproof by the next suicide-maniac in London or Chicago, but a coded appeal to provincial and isolationist opinion in the United States." Then again, if Hitchens wanted to be really morally consistent, he might have pointed out the deeply immoral nature of that statement, which basically says that we're choosing to use Iraq as a battlefield, and willing to tolerate massive Iraqi casualties as a result, just to keep our own streets safe. Where's the morality in that?
What's really stunning is not that Hitchens is a hypocrite -- all moralists are hypocrites -- but that he completely fails to acknowledge how fucked up the situation actually is for the United States in Iraq right now -- how essentially unwinnable the war in Iraq is given the terms on which it is being fought. (For a graphic sense of that unwinnability, check out this article from someone who says he's seen this movie before.) Instead, Hitchens merely insists that to lose is unacceptable, without coming to grips with the fact that victory at this point is unachievable, if indeed it ever was achievable (which I have doubted consistently).
Instead of confronting the heinous reality of the impossibility of success, Hitchens falls back on a moralizing bluster indistinguishable from the most partisan Bushist. Indeed, Hitchens's writing typifies the moralizing cretinism underpinning the unholy policy alliance of liberal hawks and neocons. Every phrase drips with moral contempt for those who disagree with him, presuming that opposition to the war in Iraq can only be the result of a nasty brew of moral fecklessness and willful blindness to the moral horror -- instead of a sense of (1) realistic about the stack-ranking of priorities (2) the impossibility of success in attempting to force "freedom" on a ruined country. Hitchens assumes that arguing that something is impossible must mean that one hates the goal. No one thinks Saddam was a good guy, or someone we should "do business with" -- but that's not the point. The world is full of evil people we shouldn't do business with, but that we also don't have the idiocy to intervene in directly. To draw an exemplary arc: North Korea, China, Burma, Nepal, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Belarus, Sudan, Niger, Congo, Zimbabwe... and one could continue. No, the whole question of policy is priorities....
Hitchens's bad faith comes to a crescendo in the final section, where he celebrates Bush's many accomplishments. Here's Chris, describing the many things that "without braggartry" could be offered as a litany of Bush's accomplishments:
- The overthrow of Talibanism and Baathism, and the exposure of many highly suggestive links between the two elements of this Hitler-Stalin pact. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who moved from Afghanistan to Iraq before the coalition intervention, has even gone to the trouble of naming his organization al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
- The subsequent capitulation of Qaddafi's Libya in point of weapons of mass destruction--a capitulation that was offered not to Kofi Annan or the E.U. but to Blair and Bush.
- The consequent unmasking of the A.Q. Khan network for the illicit transfer of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.
- The agreement by the United Nations that its own reform is necessary and overdue, and the unmasking of a quasi-criminal network within its elite.
- The craven admission by President Chirac and Chancellor SchrÃ¶der, when confronted with irrefutable evidence of cheating and concealment, respecting solemn treaties, on the part of Iran, that not even this will alter their commitment to neutralism. (One had already suspected as much in the Iraqi case.)
- The ability to certify Iraq as actually disarmed, rather than accept the word of a psychopathic autocrat.
- The immense gains made by the largest stateless minority in the region--the Kurds--and the spread of this example to other states.
- The related encouragement of democratic and civil society movements in Egypt, Syria, and most notably Lebanon, which has regained a version of its autonomy.
- The violent and ignominious death of thousands of bin Ladenist infiltrators into Iraq and Afghanistan, and the real prospect of greatly enlarging this number.
- The training and hardening of many thousands of American servicemen and women in a battle against the forces of nihilism and absolutism, which training and hardening will surely be of great use in future combat.
- The exposure of "many highly suggestive links" = "still unproven allegations."
- The "capitulation" of Qaddafi to Bush... as if this were an intended consequence, or even something motivated by the Iraq invasion, as opposed to a crass economic deal to allow Libya back into the official oil market. Far from being a victory, the Qaddafi example ought to be regarded as a deepembarrassmentt to the moralists. Wasn't Qadaffi once heralded as a madman? Isn't he a sponsor of terrorism? And yet somehow we cut a deal with him? Hitchens wants to give Bush moral credit for this? In realist terms, the deal makes perfect sense of course: it showed that Qaddafi can do a deal, and for the sake of regional peace, it was a good idea for the U.S. to accept. But the idea that this is a moral victory is, at best, a grotesque joke -- as the families of the Pan-Am victims did not hesitate to point out.
- The unmasking of A.Q. Khan is indeed a great achievement, but as a second-derivative unintended consequence, it seems hard to give the Bush team policy credit for this. As a moral matter, moreover, the Khan example is again hardly worth touting, as the man continues his life as a Pakistani national hero, rather than skulking in jail. As a policy matter, Khan also reveals the essentially misguided nature of the neocon/militarist approach, instead showing that what's needed is tighter, better policed international control over nuclear technology andknow-howw, not bombs raining down.
- I'm not sure that the U.N. has agreed to much, and the exposure of corruption at the U.N., while a worthwhile goal, seems hardly worth a half trillion dollar war that has killed tens of thousands. But then, maybe my moral compass isn't quite as well-tuned asHitchens'ss.
- How exactly does Bush deserve moral credit for the cravenness of Chirac and SchrÃ¶der -- assuming that cravenness it is, as opposed to merely failure?
- Then there's Hitchens's claim that the Iraq invasion meant that we could know for sure that Iraq had disarmed, as opposed to "accepting the word of a psychopath...." The reasoning here is not only circular but ultimately self-refuting, revolving around the allegation that Saddam was an irrational psychopath, and therefore both untrustworthy and undetterable. But in fact, there's a deep, nasty irony at work here for the "sanctions are bunk" crowd: if anything at all was vindicated by the war, it was the efficacity of the U.N. sanctions for keeping Saddam disarmed. Indeed, insofar as you believe that Saddam was a psychopath, hellbent on getting WMDs, then it must have been the sanctions regime that prevented him from getting those weapons.
- Total nonsense. The gains for the Kurds in the region did not take place because of the 2003 Iraq War. Those gains took place in 1992 when the Northern No-Fly zone was established, creating a de facto Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. Whatever credit there is to hand out for this circumstance goes not to this Bush but to the last one. If anything, insofar as a constitution unifying Iraq ever comes to pass, Kurdish autonomy is likely to be reduced by this war. Hitchens knows all this, too, which is why he uses the vague phrase "immense gains."
- And speaking of bad faith in language, how about the next point about the "encouragement" of democratic and civil society "movements" in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, the latter of which has allegedly gained "a version of" autonomy. Make no mistake, the gains here have been real, albeit very small. But don't we think we might have been able to get these gains in Egypt, from our friend Mubarak, without invading Iraq? And as to the claim that Syria is experiencing democratization (oops, well, not actual democratization, just democratization "movements"), the gains have been so small that I really am squinting to see them at all. I'm surprised Hitch didn't credit the invasion of Iraq with the democratization of the Ukraine -- it's the usual next rhetorical step.
- As for the "violent and ignominious deaths" of the bin Ladinists, again, one needn't shed a tear for these people to point out that by all reports Bush's activities has resulted in the creation of far more of these cohorts than he hasucceeded in killing.
- And finally, must disgustingly, and most blindly, the idea that the Iraq war has "trained and hardened" the U.S.'s armed forces is a frightening combination of idiotic militarism ("war is good, because it makes us better warriors), and complete delusion about the actual impact of the war on the Army, which by widespread report is being stretched to the point of collapse, both in terms of the desperation of existing personnel and a failure to meet recruiting goals. While a belief in the mission may apply to the soldiers on the ground in Iraq (a disciplined army should, after all, never question the mission, and ours doesn't), what is most telling is the way in which the current massive Army recruitment marketing campaign studiously avoids any mention of the great patriotic mission supposedly unfolding in Iraq.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Voltaire, an original liberal, understood and embraced the paradox that one thing a liberal, tolerant society could not be asked to tolerate was intolerence. This insight led Voltaire to conclude that the only solution to the problem of orthodox religion was to smash it. Uncompromisingly. Amen.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Needless to say, I don't feel much regret about the self-immolation of Bushist ideology. But it's a different story for rightwingers, who are finally wake up to the fact that the Iraq War is destroying not just their ability to enact their domestic program, but indeed sapping the very foundations of the ideological agenda. And guess what, they're pissed: "It's time for us conservatives to face facts. George W. Bush has pissed away the conservative moment by pursuing a war of choice via policies that border on the criminally incompetent." As conservatives slowly realize, to their horror, that the Iraq War spells not the apotheosis but rather the death knell of contemporary conservatism, the conservative backlash against the war begins. And not a moment too soon.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
The one thing I might take issue with is Robb's notion that there is no hierarchy to a tribe. It's true that tribal hierarchies can be more fluid than in more complex institutional settings, but they are functional hierarchies nonetheless -- with those at the top gaining greater benefits (in terms of prestige, or lucre, or sexual privileges, or whatever) than the rank and file. But in terms of penetrating a tribal structure, Robb is no doubt right that the fluidity of the hierarchy presents unique challenges.
Friday, August 19, 2005
I'm not sure this is good politics, given the benighted understanding of science of much of the American public (who may well say, "Well, if I must choose between truth and God, I'll take God), but it's certainly right as a positive description of the cognitive issue at stake in the debate over the teaching of Darwinian theory.
NB: the podcast interview is good, too.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
In sum, post-Saddam Iraq has gone the way of other post-dictatorial states, such as Congo, and become simply a failed state. Cockburn concludes with these depressing words:
Hatred between Sunni and Shia Arabs has been intensifying over the past few months. Iraqis used to claim that sectarianism had been fomented or exacerbated by Saddam. In reality the tension between Sunni, Shia and Kurd has always shaped Iraqi politics. All the exiled parties returning after the fall of Saddam had a sectarian or ethnic base. The Sunnis opposed the US invasion, the Kurds supported it and the Shias, 60 per cent of the population, hoped to use it to give their community a share of power at last.
The army and police recruits killed by the suicide bombers are mostly Shia. Al-Qaida in Iraq, the shadowy group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, denounces the Shia as apostates. There are also near daily massacres of working-class Shias. Now the Shias have started to strike back. The bodies of Sunnis are being found in rubbish dumps across Baghdad. ‘I was told in Najaf by senior leaders that they have killed upwards of a thousand Sunnis,' an Iraqi official said. Often the killers belong, at least nominally, to the government's paramilitary forces, including the police commandos. These commandos seem increasingly to be operating under the control of certain Shias, who may be members of the Badr Brigade, the military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the country's largest militia, with up to seventy thousand men.
The commandos, whose units have macho names such as Wolf Brigade and Lion Brigade, certainly look and act like a militia. They drive around in pick-up trucks, shooting into the air to clear the traffic, and are regarded with terror in Sunni districts. In one raid the commandos arrested nine Sunni Arabs who had taken a friend with a bullet wound in his leg to hospital. (The commandos claimed they were suspected insurgents, even though wounded resistance fighters generally keep away from hospitals.) The men were left in the back of a police vehicle which was parked in the sun with the air conditioning switched off: all were asphyxiated. Zarqawi has announced that he is setting up a group called the Omar Brigade specifically to target the Badr militia.
Unlike the death squads that used to operate in Latin America, the commandos rarely try to conceal their responsibility for killings. They arrive in full uniform, a garish green and yellow camouflage, at the homes of former Sunni officials and arrest them. A few days later the bodies – sometimes savagely tortured, with eyes gouged out and legs broken – turn up in the morgue.
All this has created terror in Sunni neighbourhoods, particularly among the hundreds of thousands who served under the old regime. The Badr Brigade, which fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, is often said to be an arm of Iranian intelligence determined to settle old scores. Air force pilots believe they are being singled out for assassination because they are suspected of having bombed Iranian cities nearly twenty years ago. This may not be true, but fear of the death squads is certainly pushing the Sunni community as a whole towards sympathy with the insurgents, who are seen as armed fellow Sunnis who might protect them.
The chances of a unitary Iraq emerging from the conflict are dwindling. The Kurds, triumphant after fighting for half a century, are not going to give up the oil city of Kirkuk or abandon a level of autonomy close to independence. The Shias want as much power as they can get. The Sunnis have shown by their armed resistance that they can destabilise Iraq for as long as they want. But the insurgents will not be able to spread resistance beyond the Sunni community because of the savage attacks by the suicide bombers on Shia mosques and children playing in the street in Shia districts. The appeal of Iraqi nationalism is ebbing.
If you believe in polling, then these state-based approval numbers for Bush are fascinating. A couple observations:
- Bush is more disapproved than approved in 38 states.
- Bush has less than 50% approval in 22 states that he won in November
- Only 7 states actually give him more than 50% approval -- other than Texas, all states with miniscule populations.
Monday, August 15, 2005
The only quibble one can have with this observation is with the verb tense. In fact, every day that the Israelis continue their de facto rule over the West Bank while denying some of its residents the right to vote, Israel is choosing Jewishness over democracy. And then people wonder why so much of the world scoffs at the Likudnik talking point that Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle East."
Memo to AIPAC: "democracy" doesn't mean only letting people you like vote.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
From this reasoning it's only a small step to realizing that it is very rational for many Americans to consider the Bush regime as much of a threat to their safety as the world's angry madrassis.
When expectations are lowered to this degree, the question arises whether we have actually made the situation worse off by invading. For some time most Americans have assumed that both the Iraqi people and American interests are better off than they were when Saddam ruled the country with his ruthless totalitarian dictatorship. If, however, our withdrawal leaves the country falling into civil war and produces a new strongman with no respect for human rights, or splits the country into rival fiefdoms run by Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish dictators, it is not clear that either our interests or those of the Iraqi people will have been served by our invasion. We will have entered with the best of motives and produced the worst of outcomes.
The problem with using war to reshape the world is that war is uncontrollable. Once war is unleashed, events often spin out of control, coming back to haunt the more powerful country who began the attack. Throughout history many wars have undone countries confident of their superior power. We must hope that this war is at most a temporary setback for America and not a disaster with long term consequences for our ability to safeguard our legitimate interests at home and promote democracy and human rights abroad.
I'll be blogging more on that subject, later.
To understand why both Presidents got into trouble in these foreign lands, one must consider their radical, ambitious domestic agendas -- for in large measure, both Presidents regarded these wars as mechanisms for drafting (or shoring up) political support for a domestic legislative agenda which otherwise would likely have been extremely difficult to push through.
Both LBJ and George Bush had grandiose visions for remaking the role of the federal government in public life. For LBJ, this vision revolved around abolishing racial discrimination and massively increasing the scope of state-sponsored social infrastructure: public housing, higher and longer unemployment benefits, food stamps, support for single mothers, and so on -- all the programs eventually grouped under the rubric of "The Great Society." Analogously, though of course with utterly different political valence, Bush sought to radically change the role of the federal state. He advocated abolishing Social Security, amputating the state's regulatory scope, shifting of the federal tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and reinserting religion into the center of political action.
(It's also worth noting that another thing both these Texans had in common was a willingness to completely ignore the fiscal implications of their agendas, running huge deficits to promote their programmatic shifts. In this respect as well, LBJ's case should serve as a dark warning to the Bush regime. Although the Great Society was in many respects ideologically discredited by the late 1960s, what really did in liberalism was the stagflation of the late 1970s. The economic malaise of these years, itself the result of deficits run up in the late 1960s, caused the Great Society to seem not just like a utopian scheme of social engineering, but also like utter fiscal irresponsibility. Indeed, two generations later, the Democratic Party has yet to completely live down this reputation. Whether the same fate awaits the so-called conservatism of the Bush regime remains to be seen.)
But the most profound similarity between the regimes of the two Texans is the way they both got involved in fighting the foreign wars that would eventually destroy their reputations. To some extent both men felt their hands were forced: both LBJ and Bush believed that if they didn't fight these wars, then they would be unable to achieve their domestic agenda. LBJ believed that to promote his efforts to make the United States a more socially inclusive and democratic place, he had to retain his credibility for toughness against Communism. Had LBJ failed to look tough in Vietnam, he would have risked being red-baited by crypto-McCarthyites, or, worse, seen his political efficacity weakened, possibly to the point of losing office. In the wake of 9-11, Bush experienced a similar political challenge, but his forceful seizure of control over the political dynamic was executed with a degree of cynicism (and too-clever-by-half-ness) that would have shamed even wily old LBJ.
During the first months of the Bush Presidency, recall, the major national sensibility was a one of lazy drift; the knock on the Bush regime was that it was rudderless, burdened by the legacy of a disputed election and without widespread support for its domestic agenda. This total absence of urgency challenged Bush's effort to promote his radical agenda. (As Bush himself observed in his 1999 autobiography, A Charge to Keep, "it's hard to win votes for massive reform unless there is a crisis.") In this respect, the events of 9-11 were a political godsend for the Bush regime. What had appeared to be a drifting Presidency, suddenly became a "War Presidency."
The reason Bush wanted or needed to be a "War President" was that only a Presidency presiding over a national crisis would be able to push through a radical agenda. Like FDR before him (in fact, Karl Rove specifically credited FDR with having invented the strategy), Bush ruthlessly exploited the national solidarity brought on by the trauma of a surprise attack to wage war not just on enemies abroad, but also (perhaps above all) on the political enemies of his domestic agenda. Insofar as remotely plausible, all of Bush's policies -- including all his domestic policies -- were now rearticulated in terms of the demand of "The Global War on Terror." Although Bush is sometimes castigated for failing to ask Americans to make sacrifices in their personal lives on behalf of the war, this is strictly speaking not true: what he demanded of the American middle class was that they endorse a massive transfer of wealth from them to the wealthy in the form of even more massive tax cuts for economic elites.
In general, as has been amply documented, the Bushies ruthlessly exploited the war atmosphere in the 2002 midterm congressional campaign, tarring Democrats opposed to Bush's domestic agenda as being weak in the war on terror. The Democrats selected for this treatment included even a triple-amputee war veteran like Georgia Senator Max Cleland. The cynicism of this political strategy -- exploiting wartime national solidarity to destroy domestic political enemies -- was so brazen that most Democrats couldn't bring themselves to call the spade for what it was. For the most part, the Democrats as a group just quailed and quivered, and did nothing to stop this political dynamic, which would culminate in John Kerry's catastrophic defeat in the November 2004 election.
When the GOP's unprecedented success in the 2002 midterm elections proved the effectiveness of this political strategy, the question for the Bush regime became how to keep this momentum and strategy going in the wake of the Afghan War. (That war was described to the American public as a great success, despite the embarrassing failure to net Osama bin Laden, who escaped the initial assault and who has continued to elude capture for years.) Indeed, as is now clear, by the summer of 2002, with the Afghan campaign receding into the background, the Bush regime had become a War Presidency in search of a war. And the place they chose to begin that search was, of course, Iraq.
It was in this context, in a series of speeches made in the summer of 2002, that Bush declared that a war had begun that was without any clear end-point, and even without a clear enemy. The very lack of clarity of the scope of the war of course was quite intentional, since it meant that the idea of the GWOT could be invoked at any time to help generate political capital for promoting Bush's domestic agenda. The idea proposed by the conservative establishment was very clearly a long series of quick wars, each of which would add prestige to the stalwart Republican Party, thus providing the ammunition the GOP needed to further its domestic agenda.
And so it was, in the Spring of 2003 that the American people and its feckless Senate leadership answered Bush's call for war. In due course, the marines arrived in Baghdad, and "Mission Accomplished" was declared. The only remaining question, as far as the Bushies were concerned, was what items on the domestic shopping list they were going to spend all this great political capital on first.
But of course, a funny thing happened on the way to that splendid little denouement, and that funny thing was the disastrous experience of the actual war in Iraq -- a reality only being acknowledged now. Like LBJ before him, Bush began to discover to his undoubtedly growing horror that a war started in order to gain political capital to spend on the domestic program, was instead turning into a massive black hole of political capital, whose inexorable force was sucking away all energy from the domestic agenda. If the situation weren't so grotesque, one might be tempted to comment on the poetic justice of it all.
Before I hit the publish button, I'll make one final observation. What I have been setting forth is, I believe, the most accurate and plausible way to understand the political machinations of this White House over the past 47 months. But this is not to say that everyone who favored the Iraq War was also in favor of Bush's domestic agenda, or even that everyone who supported the war had a skuldugging ulterior motive for promoting the war. Indeed, part of the political genius of the Bush (Rove) political strategy is that it managed to exploit the political goodwill of many reasonable people. The problem, in short, was not that the liberal hawks were cynics like the Bushies. Rather, the problem is that they were dupes.
In fact, the liberal hawks were dupes not just once, but twice. They were dupes, first, for believing that the war was likely to be anything but a disaster. But this is not even the worst of their mistakes. The worst of their mistakes was to not realize that the Bush regime's motive for the war in Iraq was mainly to generate political capital to spend on its disgusting domestic agenda. The liberals who chose to support Bush's war effort were in effect signing up to raise political capital for George Bush's domestic political agenda. If the war had been a success, then Bush would have used the political capital from that success to push through an absolutely atrocious set of domestic policies. In sum, liberals who chose to support Bush in this cynical and ruthless attempt to use a war to generate support for his domestic agenda were committing, to paraphrase Talleyrand, not just a crime, but a mistake. Thus does the mix of foolishness and knavery unfold on the pro-war left.
What can you really say? I guess asking the regime and its intellectual cronies to actually eat crow publically would be a bit much. It's also hard to feel any satisfaction in seeing all the nasty predictions turn out to be correct. But one can hope, at least, that this adventure will put paid to the neoconservative nincompoopism in the same way that the Vietnam War destroyed the intellectual credibility of liberal anti-communism.
The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.
"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."
[T]he realities of daily life are a constant reminder of how the initial U.S. ambitions have not been fulfilled in ways that Americans and Iraqis once anticipated. Many of Baghdad's 6 million people go without electricity for days in 120-degree heat. Parents fearful of kidnapping are keeping children indoors.
Barbers post signs saying they do not shave men, after months of barbers being killed by religious extremists. Ethnic or religious-based militias police the northern and southern portions of Iraq. Analysts estimate that in the whole of Iraq, unemployment is 50 percent to 65 percent....
The ferocious debate over a new constitution has particularly driven home the gap between the original U.S. goals and the realities after almost 28 months. The U.S. decision to invade Iraq was justified in part by the goal of establishing a secular and modern Iraq that honors human rights and unites disparate ethnic and religious communities.
But whatever the outcome on specific disputes, the document on which Iraq's future is to be built will require laws to be compliant with Islam. Kurds and Shiites are expecting de facto long-term political privileges. And women's rights will not be as firmly entrenched as Washington has tried to insist, U.S. officials and Iraq analysts say.
"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "That process is being repeated all over."
U.S. officials now acknowledge that they misread the strength of the sentiment among Kurds and Shiites to create a special status. The Shiites' request this month for autonomy to be guaranteed in the constitution stunned the Bush administration, even after more than two years of intense intervention in Iraq's political process, they said....
On security, the administration originally expected the U.S.-led coalition to be welcomed with rice and rosewater, traditional Arab greetings, with only a limited reaction from loyalists of ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The surprising scope of the insurgency and influx of foreign fighters has forced Washington to repeatedly lower expectations -- about the time-frame for quelling the insurgency and creating an effective and cohesive Iraqi force capable of stepping in, U.S. officials said.
Pentagon officials originally envisioned Iraq's oil revenue paying many post-invasion expenses. But Iraq, ranked among world leaders behind Saudi Arabia in proven oil reserves, is incapable of producing enough refined fuel amid a car-buying boom that has put an estimated 1 million more vehicles on the road after the invasion. Lines for subsidized cheap gas stretch for miles every day in Baghdad....
The United States had high hopes of quick, big-budget fixes for the electrical power system that would show Iraqis tangible benefits from the ouster of Hussein. But inadequate training for Iraqi staff, regional rivalries restricting the power flow to Baghdad, inadequate fuel for electrical generators and attacks on the infrastructure have contributed to the worst summer of electrical shortages in the capital.
And just remember, it's going to get much, much worse in Iraq in the next two years.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Apparently, as the climate ceases to be mild, so do the political tempers. And that's not just a joke: it's politically symptomatic that some people prefer a large amount of private personal space in an nasty place to a smaller slice of a pleasant environment.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Zelizer calls for the Democrats to "promote five issues on the 'public' table where the Republicans are vulnerable as a result of President Bush’s record: the exit strategy for Iraq, adequate homeland defense measures, deficit reduction, the environment, and poverty." These seems like as good a list as any, but I would turn up the heat on the last item and talk not about "poverty." Poverty per se is not an issue most Americans personally identify with; the abstract idea of poverty implies either hillbillies with broken down cars, or perhaps the urban homeless, or perhaps black people -- but it's not an issue that resonates with Joe Sixpack. On the other hand, the idea of "the gap between rich and poor" is an issue that agitates the middle class, playing to their (correct) fear of downward mobility, and also their outrage at their sense of fair play. The Democrats need to do what the Republicans fear most, which is engage in class warfare openly.
A media campaign against the estate tax, and in defense of Social Security should be front and center of his agenda. One idea would be to go out and find a bunch of particularly loathesome rich people who have managed to avoid paying taxes over the last few years, and do profiles of them, asking, "Is this the kind of person our tax system should reward? Or should it reward hard working Americans?" Along the same lines, the Democrats should coopt the idea of "personal savings funds" as an add-on to (rather than carve-out from) Social Security.
But will the Dems do this? Or will they waste their time fighting Roberts's nomination -- a politically fruitless project if there's ever been one.
P.S. Zelizer's blog is part of a new group blog by a number of well-known Presidential historians. It'll be worth reading once in a while, I suspect.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
The asymmetry between the risk to our military and its lethality serves to delegitimize any military undertaking on our part in the eyes of the rest of the world, and to legitimize terrorist activity against us. Every time we destroy another country's military with little risk to our soldiers, we underscore to everyone in the world that terrorism is the only viable oppositional tactic. We didn't lose many soldiers in WWII compared with Germany, Russia, or Japan, but clearly it was a conventional war for all sides in addition to a terror war against civilians.
Matt Yglesias today provides a quite brilliant capsule discussion of how, in fact, the massive advance in the destructive capacity of the military has been paralleled by an advance in moral sensibilities about the application of these capacities -- to the fury, of course, of the Barbarous Right. I quote at length:
As Henry Farrell points out, there's a deeply nasty disconnect between neo-cons' purported aims and methods -- it's a position with a venerable pedigree that was perhaps most famously expressed by the Vietnam captain who claimed he had to destroy a village in order to save it. Yglesias is right that the willingness (perhaps even the desire) to apply barbarous force underpins the thinking of the "retreat forward" (or "Tehran, ho!") crowd. They respond to the rejection of our campaign to allegedly liberate the Middle East from its own oppressive forces by arguing that we need to apply more and more force.
It's very hard to see what moral principle could condemn the means by which Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed that wouldn't also condemn earlier actions (Dresden, Tokyo) that had the same object -- wholesale devastation of civilian populations -- albeit accomplished by cruder methods. Ultimately, the question of whether we should condemn the strategic bombing writ large or not strikes me as an issue that's almost too momentous to resolve. Truman, FDR, and Churchill lived in what was, despite Grand Theft Auto, an almost unimaginably more brutal era than our own. A time when the "good" side in a war could be composed of a global empire and a apartheid quasi-democracy working in alliance with Joseph Stalin. And they really were the good side, because the enemy was just that bad. And not just almost absolutely malign, but (unlike, say, your latter-day sub-Saharan genocidaires) genuinely threatening and capable. So what to say about it all?
The important thing, I think, is to be clear-eyed about the nature of the allied victory and just how at odds the means by which it was achieved sit with our contemporary moral standards in order to avoid drawing facile lessons. Before the current war, the alleged feasibility of reconstructing Iraq along liberal, democratic, pro-American lines was often bolstered with reference to the post-war occupations of Germany and, especially, Japan. In days, months, and years to come the school of thought which holds that our failures in Iraq are primarily failures of technique rather than failures of the concept will doubtless make recourse to similar analogies. The differences, of course, are and always were extremely large. Strategic bombing, however, seems especially salient. Not only did this entail massive destruction, but it implicitly threatened worse. The point was not merely that cities had been destroyed but that we would keep on destroying them unless and until a surrender was on the table. Combined with blockade, strategic bombing constituted a threat of near-total annihilation of the Japanese population -- that's the sort of thing that makes an impression on people.
Needless to say, thanks to technological improvement it would only be easier nowadays for the United States military to defeat adversaries through such tactics. But technological improvements have also made it much easier to accomplish the reverse. Today's bombs (and, for that matter, artillery) are by no means incapable of going astray and killing some civilians. But compared to those of the 1940s they are vastly more precise and targetable. It now is possible to do enormous damage to military targets while mostly sparing civilian ones, and for that reason it seems incumbent upon us to try and do it. And while we don't always do it as well as one might like, we do do things very differently from how Curtis LeMay and Bomber Harris did them.
We could vaporize Falluja, Ramadi, and all the rest tomorrow if we wanted to without any real difficulty. But we don't. Because we don't want to. Because it would be wrong.
And good for us. But people need to seriously consider the possibility that such moral constraints place real limits on what can -- and should -- be accomplished through force of arms. The methods morally available to us are very good at destroying an enemy's weaponry, but not so good at utterly wrecking his country, his worldview, his spirit. Max Boot thinking along similar lines last week went horribly awry:Does this make us more enlightened than the "greatest generation"? Perhaps. We certainly have the luxury of being more discriminating in the application of violence. But even today, there is cause to doubt whether more precision is always better. During the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. was so sparing in its use of force that many Baathists never understood they were beaten. The butcher's bill we dodged early on is now being paid with compound interest.
This sort of thing needs to be called what it is -- barbarism of the most repugnant sort. The mask here has slipped, and not for the first time, from the allegedly humanitarian nature of the mission in Iraq. What was arguably justifiable in pursuit of a war of self-defense at a time when existing technology did not offer many alternatives is most certainly not justifiable as a war of choice undertaken in the name of idealism at a time when the techniques of war provide us with options.
But here we face the central paradox of humanitarian warfare. Our new, more humane techniques are perfectly adequate to meeting purely military objectives. Destroy a tank. Destroy an airbase. Destroy a missile silo. A weapons lab. A communications center. They are not, however, nearly so good at achieving what one might call the humanitarian fringe benefits that accrued following the Allied victory. But to use mass slaughter of civilians as a technique of humanitarian warfare is absurd, repulsive, and unacceptable. [Boldface added.]
Thus it happens that these so-called conservatives arrive, irony of ironies, at the old Rousseavian paradox about "forcing men to be free." And we know where that sort of reasoning leads: to the guillotine, to the gulag, and now to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. And just as the argument that there were many perfidious aristocrats in ancien regime France doesn't justify the Terror, so the argument that there are many terrorists in the Middle East or Iraq will not justify Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in the eyes of history.
I don't know exactly how to describe it, but her bodily affect is just massively weird. It's something like what you'd expect from a homely college girl, three drinks brave and coming onto the captain of the football team in a bar. She's kinda moving back and forth, standing at an angle so you can get a good sense of the rack, speaking in nonsequitors that are aimed at conveying confidence but actually communicate the opposite. "Unprofessional" doesn't begint to capture the deep weirdness of the thing -- it's even weirder than the Novak incident last week.
Monday, August 08, 2005
Now that domestic support for the war has headed into Vietnam-like numbers, we're about to find out if Hoffman was right in claiming you can't send a million soldiers to the other side of the globe to fight an unpopular war. As I've said repeatedly, the Iraq War is nothing like Vietnam in terms of the political rights and wrongs of the local or global dispute -- but it's very much like the Vietnam War in terms of its domestic American political significance.
In the nineteen-sixties, apartheid was driven our of America. Legal segregation -- Jim Crow -- ended. We didn't end racism, but we ended legal segeration. We ended the idea that you can send a million soldiers ten thousand miles away to fight in a war the people do not support. We ended the idea that women are second-class citizens.
Now, it doesn't matter who sits in the Oval Office. The big battles that were won that period of civil war and strife you cannot reverse. We were young, we were reckless, arrogant, silly, headstrong -- and we were right.
I regret nothing.
As has been quoted to death, this White House believes very much that "it matters who sits in the Oval Office." They believe that the notion of responding to the will of the people -- or any other inconvenient factoid -- is "not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality." Well, Scooter, we'll see, we'll see.
Moreover, don't forget that this regime is interested in "creating its own reality" not just (in fact, not even mainly) in Iraq, but also (mainly) in reversing all the other historic "realities" created by the cultural advances of the 1960s that Hoffman was so smug about a decade and a half ago.
Just to be clear: giving up on isolationism and pacificism should not mean that one has to say the war in Iraq was a good idea.
What's particularly striking is if you compare the months of May-June-July for all three years -- a time when there were no major battles:
August is shaping up to fit well within this trend.
U.S. Deaths May 2003-2004-2005: 31, 80, 88
U.S. Deaths June 2003-2004-2005: 34, 52, 89
U.S. Deaths July 2003-2004-2005: 42, 60, 65
As things get worse and worse, the pro-war establishment is naturally enough preparing to declare victory and go home.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
I suppose the hacks will call that confidence, will and leadership.
Friday, August 05, 2005
What strikes me about this article, like so many others from pro-interventionists that I respect, is the almost desperate tone in which it is suggested that if only the immediate postwar in Iraq had been handled differently, then it could have all worked out so much better. I am radically skeptical of this view. Rieff sidles up to this point when he observes that "It is empire that is the ghost at the banquet in Diamond's approach, and it is the problem of imperialism that, although he treats it glancingly, he never quite confronts." A good point... except that Rieff doesn't ever quite confront the point, either.
While some (many) things in postwar Iraq could clearly have been handled better, it's self-serving of pro-interventionist intellectual prejudices (whether of the left or right) to believe that everything has turned out as an unpredictably awful disaster as a result of Bremer and gang's poor decisions. It's self-serving, because it puts the entire blame for the situation on the tactical execution rather than the strategic vision, allowing the strategic vision to remain unquestioned. It also is fundamentally delusional in that it assumes that the people in control, the only people whose decisions mattered, were the Americans in charge. If only we had behaved differently, it could all have been better. That's poppycock. Battle plans never survive contact with the enemy; neither do reconstruction plans.
In fact, what almost no one wants to say out loud, is that we've seen so far in Iraq is actually close to being the best case outcome. Remember: there weren't tens of thousands of deaths at the time of the invasion because of Saddam launching chemical weapons attacks on invading troops or on Israel; a wider regional war hasn't broken out (yet); the incipient civil war remains (just) over the horizon; the Iraqi Kurds haven't (yet) spun up kindred irrendentism across the border in Turkey or Iran by declaring independence; and one could go on.
In an unintentionally ironic sense, therefore, the Bushies and the op-ed page of the WSJ is not wrong when they say that the people who look at Iraq pessimistically are simply defeatists: the situation in Iraq is what 21st century imperial victory looks like. If you don't like what Iraq looks like, it means that you just don't have the stomach for neo-imperialism. Hot kitchens and all that.
The sick thing, of course, is that the Bushies fundamentally lied either to themselves or to the American people (or to both) when they didn't come clean on this point. They were either laughably deluded or Great Liars when they claimed that we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq -- and the liberal interventionists were just as bad. The belief that the situation in Iraq would be anything much better than what we're seeing today was always a farcical claim, as anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of Arab nationalism and post-1950s Global North occupationist strategies could have (and did) tell anyone who wanted to listen.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
The LA Times:
"How much more are we expected to give?" asked Nancy Chase, 47, a schoolteacher who came to place flowers and flags at the entrance of the battalion's headquarters. "We are patriotic people. We love our country. But how many lives are enough?"
Pat Wilsox, who manages a doughnut shop near the battalion's headquarters in Brook Park, a Cleveland suburb, threw her hand over her heart when she heard of the latest deaths. "Oh my God," she said softly. "I'm all for protection but this is getting a little bit ridiculous."WKYC:
The Columbus Dispatch:
"It comes in waves," Paul Schroeder said. "I mean, I'm really calm right now. If I can stay busy, I'm calm. That's part of it. The other part is that this was not wholly unexpected. Schroeder's son, 23-year-old son, Lance Corporal Edward August Schroeder died Wednesday in Iraq....
"Americans have been silent too long," he said. "And I'm asking all Americans to really question where we are today."
As word of the deaths spread — names dribbled in slowly — Brook Park residents were left to wonder exactly who had been claimed. As they wait, their emotions boil, and they debate the sense of this war. "How can this not make you angry?" said Ed Haddad, the shop’s baker. "These were honest, hardworking people and now they’re gone," he said.
You can't make this shit up. Oh wait, maybe you can!
Defendent BILL O'REILLY suggested he would perform oral sex upon Plaintiff ANDREA MACKRIS, and that she would start to perform fellatio upon his "big cock" but not complete the sex act: "you'd tease me, like you wouldn't really do it, you'd just like - 'cuz I know you... you're like a tease."
During the course of his perverted ravings, Defendent BILL O'REILLY told Plaintiff that they would then engage in sexual intercourse. When Plaintiff ANDREA MACKRIS again reminded Defendent O'REILLY that she did not want to participate reminding him that he was her boss, O'REILLY responded: "you just have to suspend that."
During the course of Defendent BILL O'REILLY's sexual rant, it became clear that he was using a vibrator upon himself, and that he ejaculated. Plaintiff was repulsed.
Immediately after climaxing, Defedent BILL O'REILLY, launched into a discussion concerning how good he was on a recent appearance of the "Tonight Show...."
In other news on the Israel front, the suicide attacks are now going the other direction.
Along those lines, this article also brings to mind that image Thomas Frank conjures in What's the Matter with Kansas? where he imagines an angry mob of pro-lifers, waving their pitchforks outside some gated community in Overland Park, frothing at the mouth at the liberal elites immured therein, yelling "we are here -- to cut your taxes!"
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Not that we should feel sorry for Mowhoush individually, but the home-front lesson couldn't be more obvious: don't believe a word the government tells you about what's happening in Iraq; it's all psy-ops, and the target is the homefront as much as Iraqis.
Hours after [General] Mowhoush's death in U.S. custody on Nov. 26, 2003, military officials issued a news release stating that the prisoner had died of natural causes after complaining of feeling sick. Army psychological-operations officers quickly distributed leaflets designed to convince locals that the general had cooperated and outed key insurgents.
The U.S. military initially told reporters that Mowhoush had been captured during a raid. In reality, he had walked into the Forward Operating Base "Tiger" in Qaim on Nov. 10, 2003, hoping to speak with U.S. commanders to secure the release of his sons, who had been arrested in raids 11 days earlier.
This was pretty good too:
[We] were helped by an elderly security guard working for the Convention Center. After some friendly chatting, the guard thanked us for being Republicans. He served in World War Two, and was glad that at least some young people were still "thinking smart" and "supporting the troops." I guess supporting the troops has nothing to do with providing medical benefits and body armor, or even keeping them alive by not sending them to fight in poorly managed corrupt wars, and everything to do with magnetic yellow ribbons on SUVs.
The Democratic party really needs to improve its PR towards veterans groups.
The New York delegation then invited us to a party across town with an open bar, and we packed into a charter bus. I was sitting near the back and listened as some drunken jocks (including a delegate from Kentucky) had a heated discussion agreeing about how federalism was a great thing and slavery was a really good idea at the time and important part of America and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to check their history books....
My Republican friend went to great lengths to explain that this was definitely stereotypical Republican night, and they weren't really like this.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
for New York Times reporter Judy Miller, who is currently rotting in jail for refusing to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that she should testify about her role in the unmasking of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.
It's becoming increasingly apparent that Miller is in jail not because of her stalwart, principled defense of the first amendment, but rather because she's made a careful legal calculation that it's better to serve an 18 month sentence for contempt of court than it is to tell the grand jury the truth -- which would force her to admit her own role in (at best) abetting the Bushies' efforts to make war on their domestic political enemies and (at worst) actually taking active part in the unveiling of Plame. If Miller indeed did go down the latter route, then eighteen months in jail probably looks like a walk in the park.
Monday, August 01, 2005
What this kind of thing shows is that real campaign for the Bush regime at this point is not for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis -- they're lost already -- but rather to hold onto the hearts and minds of the American people until the midterm elections.