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Monday, May 31, 2004

German Lessons 

As Mary mentioned, I was out of town, in Europe actually. Picked up from a newsstand the May 19 edition of Stern, sort of the German Time magazine. The cover has a shifty-eyed picture of Bush, along with 3 of the more famous Abu Ghraib pictures. The headline text: "George W. Bush[:] Moralisch bankrott".

Can you translate that?

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Something to Remember Us By 

Fred's out of town, so I'm posting for him, but in reponse to the issue of demolishing Abu Ghraib and replacing it with a spanking new, U.S.-built maximum security prison, he noted that in the winning-hearts-and-minds department, it might have been better to say we'd build a spanking new modern hospital, or school, or library...

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Let's Just Erase that Little Tiny Mistake Made by a Handful of Soldiers Who Were Acting on Their Own 

Guess the speechwriters didn't bother talking to any Iraqis before they had Bush say he was for demolishing Abu Ghraib.

Apparently, people there think that would be silly. Why demolish a perfectly good prison, indeed? Here's what the Interior Minister had to say about the idea, if the Bushies had bothered to ask:

"I can understand the rush to abolish Abu Ghraib," Sumaidaie said on Monday, but added, "I personally don't think the building itself has a meaning positive or negative."

Sumaidaie said the stain of Abu Ghraib would be erased simply by making it more open and making the people who run it more accountable.

It's not just that it's a lame, shallow gesture that does nothing either to help those who were tortured there or to fix the system that made the torture happen. It's also that there's a long, unfortunate history of dictator-types bulldozing things they don't want people to remember.

I'm sure Bush would love to have Aboo Ghaaaaa-Rub, as he calls it, "disappeared" from all of our memories.

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Theya Culpa 

The NYT actually admits that they got the coverage of WMD in the lead-up to the war wrong. They admit that they swallowed information from biased sources without asking the right questions or subjecting the information to sufficiently skeptical examination. They acknowledge that they buried the few stories they did print that refuted their earlier rush-to-war front page articles. Good for them...

BUT we're still waiting for a similar admission regarding their coverage of Whitewater.

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Friday, May 21, 2004

Oh, that Ahmed! 

Josh Marshall describes Bush's new take on Ahmed Chalabi, who has apparently been selling our secrets to the Iranians(!) (via Atrios), as "Ahmed Who?". Perhaps he should ask Donald Rumsfeld for a reminder:
In another sign of growing concern, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appealed directly to President Bush to install an Iraqi interim government immediately--made up of Iraqi opposition groups, including the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmed Chalabi. In two memos to the president last week, U.S. News learned, Rumsfeld called for the United States to "support those Iraqis who share the president's objectives for a free Iraq." The State Department and the CIA are very skeptical of the various opposition groups. "They will be viewed as part of the American occupation," says one U.S. intelligence official.
(Mark Mazzetti, et al., U.S. News & World Report, April 14, 2003 (link not available.)

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Heads-up-their-asses Republicans 

Atrios links to a piece on ColdFury about the North Carolina GOP refusing to give the Log Cabin Republicans a table at their state convention (and sending them an insulting letter). While we're asking when the Log Cabin folks will ever learn (hint: the Republican Party is the party of the anti-same-sex marriage amendment to the constitution for chrissake), how about some others? When are the pro-choice Republicans going to get a clue? How about the ones who say they're socially liberal but fiscally conservative? What's THEIR excuse now?

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

What to do? 

Despite the protests of those who supported the war, the problems we are experiencing in Iraq were entirely foreseeable -- perhaps not the exact contours, but certainly the unjustifiable risks of compromising the war on al-Qaeda, exacerbating anti-Americanism and undermining arguments for American moral superiority, exposing American military limitations, plundering the treasury, and sending hundreds or thousands of patriotic young Americans to death or disfigurement. In a sense, then, opposing the war was easy. Whatever the moral arguments, it was clearly a matter of national self interest.

What to do now is a much harder question. As Liberal Oasis observes, there is a growing rift between those who, like Howard Dean, believe that now that we're there we have to stay the course and those who want to get out as soon as possible. I have always considered myself in the former camp. Indeed, a key reason for opposing the war was the recognition that, once we're there, we can't just leave when things go badly.

But, unlike opposing the war in the first place, this is not an easy call -- and blaming Bush for the disaster doesn't offer much solace. The so-call "cut-and-run" could create exactly the al-Qaeda base we have always feared -- Afghanistan on steroids. On the other hand, staying seems to be a recipe for years of paying "the political price and the price in blood and the price in treasure" with any potential benefit growing ever more remote. The idea to bring in the UN may provide part of the solution, but we all know it's impossible in a Bush administration, and even Kerry is likely to get less help than we would like, given how far underwater the operation is right now.

I'll admit that I'm not sure of the solution, but one thought that occurs is to follow through on our stated goal of democracy. Have real elections. Soon. Instead of struggling to find some puppet for a symbolic handover of power. It does involve a real risk that the United States will have to follow through on its promise to leave Iraq if asked. But, it would be a way to instantly regain international credibility and support. It would be a way to declare victory with one of our key stated goals (or at least rationales) accomplished.

And what would be the real risk? An elected government would be deeply invested in maintaining order, and might not ask us to leave. Even if it did, it would invest the people and the elites in their government in a way that might make the Talibanization of Iraq unlikely. Remember when we worried about return addresses? Does al-Qaeda really want a return address? Remember deterrence? It works.

There may be good objections to this proposal -- it's still in the formulation stage. They need a government infrastructure first (despite Powell's assertion that Iraq "is a country with bureaucracies, with institutions that I think we can build on"). They need economic development first. That may be true, but we need to get past the dichotomy between the unrealistic fiction that we can prevail by continuing to do what we've been doing and equally unrealistic hope that the UN will rescue us without a fundamental change in the mission.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Not Neo-Con is Not Non-Con 

John Tierney's Sunday NYT article on various hawks' second thoughts about the Iraq war identifies Fareed Zakaria (along with Kenneth Pollack) as a "non-conservative":
But many hawks across the political spectrum are having public second thoughts. The National Review has dismissed the Wilsonian ideal of implanting democracy in Iraq, and has recommended settling for an orderly society with a non-dictatorial government. David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, wrote that America entered Iraq with a "childish fantasy" and is now "a shellshocked hegemon." Journalists like Robert Novak, Max Boot and Thomas Friedman have encouraged Mr. Rumsfeld to resign.
[snip]

These second thoughts seem a bit late to some non-conservative hawks like Kenneth M. Pollack and Fareed Zakaria. [snip] Mr. Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, turned on the administration shortly after the occupation began.

"All the big mistakes were made in the first three or four months, when the administration didn't send in enough troops and spurned international cooperation," Mr. Zakaria said. "But the neoconservatives were cheering them on. Now that it's going south, they're simply blowing with the wind. In retrospect, the critics I have a lot of respect for are the realist conservatives who said long before the war that you're opening up a hornet's nest and the costs will outweigh the benefits."

First, Fareed's hardly one to talk about blowing with the wind... but more fundamentally, since when is he a "non-conservative"?

This is the same Fareed Zakaria who was the chairman of the Party of the Right back in his Yale Political Union days. This is the same Fareed whose name was floated by some as a possible National Security Advisor for the Bush II administration, back when some people thought Bush II was going to be similar in international outlook and policy to Bush I.

Since the cold war ended, I've found myself agreeing with Fareed more than I ever would have imagined in the 1980s--based mainly on both of us having an internationalist rather than isolationist outlook.

But non-conservative? Hardly. Take a look at the quote from him, above. He's careful to note that it's the "realist conservatives" who said this war was a hornet's nest for whom he now has respect.

Well, hello--how about the "realist" liberals?

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Monday, May 17, 2004

Guns for Butter 

Naomi Klein has a very well-written piece in tomorrow's Guardian about the connections between the Bush economy and the military service of those guards at Abu Ghraib (and others like them).
Of course, the poverty of the soldiers involved in prison torture makes them neither more guilty, nor less. But the more we learn about them, the clearer it becomes that the lack of good jobs and social equality in the US is precisely what brought them to Iraq in the first place. Despite his attempts to use the economy to distract attention from Iraq, and his efforts to isolate the soldiers as un-American deviants, these are the children George Bush left behind, fleeing dead-end McJobs, abusive prisons, unaffordable education and closed factories.

There's nothing particularly new in it, but she ties it all together well. It's worth reading the whole thing.

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Monday, May 10, 2004

Like Hell Bush Didn't Know 

Many of the stories about the torture and abuse and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, including the otherwise good one in the Army Times that Atrios linked to, seem to be buying the idea that Bush didn't know anything about any of this until 60 Minutes broke the story:

If their staffs failed to alert Myers and Rumsfeld, shame on them. But shame, too, on the chairman and secretary, who failed to inform even President Bush.


In a couple of places, however, I've seen it mentioned that Bush actually was informed about problems at the prison, or problems related to the treatment of prisoners, back in January. He could have called for an immediate inquiry. He could have demanded that reports be on his desk within a week. He could have gone out of his way to find out what was going on and who was responsible. He didn't.

I enjoy going after Rumsfeld as much as the next person--and I'm not saying he doesn't deserve every bit of what he's getting--but to the extent that the broo-ha-ha over Rumsfeld (including Bush's supposed scolding of him) is succeeding in getting Bush himself off the hook, we can't let them get away with it.

This is Bush's fault, Bush's problem, and we have to keep it that way.

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What the Republicans Are Running On 

I had the pleasure this weekend of receiving a "Dear Fellow Republican" invitation to join the RNC's Presidential Victory Team. I can't say when it was written, since it's dated "Monday Morning". Anyway, it gives an interesting view of what Bush is running on. The first sentence:

It has often been said that when the President of the United States asks for your assistance...it is virtually impossible for any patriotic American to say no.

Well, I guess we knew that was the approach -- no surprises there. What's more interesting is that abortion is nowhere to be found. Not just in the four page letter, but also in the "issue survey" they want me to send in along with my $180 check. The fourteen questions include gems such as, "Do you support tort reform to reign in out of control trial lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits costing American business and consumers millions of dollars and thousands of jobs?" and "Which do you believe is more important given the state of the world today? [] Winning United Nation's [sic] approval of U.S. foreign policy. [] Protecting our nation's interest and people from terrorists and rogue nations using whatever means we feel appropriate and effective." The last question asks me to rank 10 issues, so in total they ask about 23 issues, and none of them are about abortion -- not even their favorite, "partial birth abortion".

Is it possible their polling is telling them to stay away from this one? Or am I just on the "wrong" part of the RNC mailing list?

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Saturday, May 08, 2004

Finally 

Atrios says what we've all been thinking. Make it so.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Takes One to Know One 

Ralph Nader accuses baseball commissioner Bud Selig of "great lengths of selfishness" for permitting advertisements on uniforms during two games in Japan. Nader may be right to complain that fans "go to a stadium paid for by the fans and taxpayers, yet almost every available space is filled with ads and named after some multinational corporation with no ties to the community". But if Nader really cared about selfishness, he wouldn't be running for President, satisfying his own ego and helping elect the man who made his fortune on a corrupt insider baseball deal.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Environmentalists Under Every Bed 

Juan Non-Volokh deconstructs an article in today's Times, Court Rulings on Emissions Sharply Split Two Groups, accusing the author of "know[ing] very little" and being "misleading". In fact, the purported errors are vastly overstated:

Non-Volokh's claims that the article's central error is describing the Court's action yesterday as a "decision", when it was merely a refusal to hear the case on the merits (to grant certiorari). Non-Volokh is correct that the Court did not decide the case on the merits, and that the Court's action does not therefore have precedential value. However, that does not mean that it is not a decision -- the Court must decide whether to grant the petition. The Court itself refers to this choice as a "decision" from time to time. E.g., Rubin v. United States, 524 U.S. 1301 (1998) (Rehnquist, C.J.). In any case, the article goes on to explain that "the court refused to hear [the] appeal".

Beyond the semantics, the Court grants and denies certiorari for all kinds of reasons, including the ones suggested by Non-Volokh, but also including a view of the merits or a desire to preserve the outcome below.

Was this denial of certiorari motivated by hostility to environmental regulation? Who knows? But, contrary to what Non-Volokh claims, the Times article doesn't purport to have the answer either. It simply makes the point, in both the headline and the text, that environmentalists and industry groups are split about two recent decisions (shall we say "actions" and solve the problem). Yet Non-Volokh takes the article's reporting on environmental lawyers' charging that the Court's action "reflect[s] a certain hostility . . . toward aggressive steps intended to reduce air pollution" as if that assertion were "the article's underlying premise". That is not what the article says -- it is reporting on reaction to the decisions. Discussion of an environmentally friendly decision earlier this term, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation v. EPA, might have helpful and enlightening, but not, as Non-Volokh charges, "fatal to the article's underlying premise". (Also of interest might have been the fact that this was a 5-4 decision in which the votes lined up strictly along the Court's traditional ideological fault lines.)

Non-Volokh is correct that the phrase "for power plants" should have been omitted from the first sentence. However, this appears to be a case of the awkward construction that can occur when one discusses two things in the same sentence, since later on the author makes clear that last week's decision relates to "vehicle fleet operators", not power plants.

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Sunday, May 02, 2004

Looking Back 

Since we are at the one-year anniversary of "mission accomplished" and David Brooks insists that current criticism of the administration is not "serious" and "child's play" accomplished through the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I thought it worth re-visiting my own letter on the eve of the Iraq war:

To the editor:

Re: "Cassandra Speaks," by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, March 18):

Kristof’s vivid reminder of the lessons of Homer’s "Iliad" reminds me of a similar lesson from later Greek history. In 415 BC, the Athenians, encouraged by a favorable truce in their longstanding war with Sparta, embarked on a war of conquest in Sicily. Like the debate Kristof describes, the Athenians in their assembly debated the benefits of conquest against the risks of fighting a second war abroad while a more pressing one was unfinished at home. The Athenians unwisely voted to proceed to Sicily and suffered an enormous and unexpected military defeat. The Spartans seized the opportunity to end the truce, encourage rebellion among Athens’ allies, and attack the weakened Athens, eventually winning the war and ending that golden era of Athenian democracy.

I fear that by embarking unwisely on this war against Iraq, we like the Athenians risk weakening ourselves in our unfinished war against Al Qaeda.

March 18, 2003


I am not an expert in diplomacy (a "salad-course solon" in Brooks' words), so it is fair to conclude that it is those who say that the problems we are now facing were not foreseeable who are not "serious".

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