Monday, September 25, 2006

Four wake-up calls and a prophet

Former president Bill Clinton got right back into Chris Wallace's face on Fox News Sunday, making Wallace look like the Maxell tape dude with his hair and tie blown back. It was as a satisfying and stunning tour de force by Clinton.

The New York Times and other national papers revealed this weekend some of the contents of the classified National Intelligence Estimate from last April. The consensus of sixteen intelligence services is that the Iraq debacle was worsened the terrorist threat by creating more jihadis faster than we can kill them.

No kidding?

For his part, President Bush told us just the opposite on August 21:
You know, I’ve heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of “we’re going to stir up the hornet’s nest” theory. It just doesn’t hold water, as far as I’m concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.
One wonders is he a) not reading his own intelligence reports, b) refusing to believe his own intelligence reports, or c) lying?

Senate Democrats today, led by Byron Dorgan, heard testimony from retired generals John Batiste, Paul Eaton and Col. Thomas Hammes on the conduct of the Iraq debacle. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not come off too well. Batiste:
Bottom line, our nation is in peril, our Department of Defense's leadership is extraordinarily bad, and our Congress is only today, more than five years into this war, beginning to exercise its oversight responsibilities. This is all about accountability and setting our nation on the path to victory. There is no substitute for victory and I believe we must complete what we started in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader. He knows everything, except "how to win." He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq, or the human dimension of warfare. Secretary Rumsfeld ignored 12 years of U.S. Central Command deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build "his plan," which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace, and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency, which was an absolute certainty. Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today.
On MSNBC tonight Keith Olbermann took it up a notch further with his commentary on the Republican effort to revive the Bush presidency by rewriting history to divert blame from themselves:
... perhaps we should simply sigh and keep our fingers crossed, until a grown-up takes the job three Januarys from now.
And quoting Orwell:
"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power...

"Power is not a means; it is an end.

"One does not establish a dictatorship to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

"The object of persecution, is persecution. The object of torture, is torture. The object of power… is power."
And then there's this eerily prescient warning from Walter Russell Mead's 1987 Mortal Splendor – the American Empire in Transition:
The men who wrote – designed – the Constitution did not consider democracy to be good in itself. On the contrary, they feared nothing so much as unbridled democracy, even an unbridled representative democracy. Political theory in the eighteenth century still looked back tot the ancient world, and the observations of Aristotle and Polybius seemed to have been amply confirmed by events since their era. Classical political philosophy distinguished three basic forms of government and taught that each form had a characteristic corruption. Some thinkers postulated a cycle to government – from monarchy to aristocracy to democracy to tyranny. The tendency of democracy to evolve into tyranny was widely noted in the ancient world, perhaps because there were so many examples A strong leader caters to the prejudices or gratifies the passions of the uneducated, unreflective mob, and so is freely given the highest offices in the democratic state. He consolidates this power, fortifies his position, and ends by subjugating the state to his will. (Pg. 105)

In the original American Republic the informed consent of a small number of electors held the system together; the contemporary Republic counts on the uninformed acquiescence of a vast number of voters. The citizen has been replaced by the consumer of government as the building block of the state. The citizen helps shape the state by actively participating in its affairs; the consumer accepts or refuses a package prepared for him or her by others.

The resulting lack of substance in political life appears on every side. In the extreme, one sees the figures of Johnson and Nixon preaching peace while preparing to widen a war. From day to day there are endless arguments over prayer in schools, tax reform, and other issues dear to the hearts of P.T. Barnum’s latter day descendents and spiritual heirs. A Gresham’s law of political discourse seems to be at work; bad political discourse drives out good. Political life increasingly revolves around the state of the economy, a preoccupation that differs little from the “bread and circus” politics of the Roman Republic. The circus acts are provided by a political system that has deliberately and knowingly turned over much of its policymaking authority to unelected boards of experts and officials. (Pg. 120)

The right also depends on the widespread illusion that the free enterprise system is associated with and upholds the traditional social and family values. The gap between illusion and reality here also must be covered by a charismatic personality, which can evoke traditional values even as they fade. (Pg. 258)

Conservatives will believe that foreign policy conflicts are part of a life-and-death struggle that America must win at all costs. They will know – or think they know – what policies would enable the United States to win the coming battles, but they will not be able to follow these policies within the limits of constitutional government. (Pg. 259)

A hypothetical Nixon-Kissinger team of the future, confronted by an equally intractable war in a region of vital interest to the United States, would face many painful perplexities. The obvious American stake in the region – oil fields, the Panama Canal – might elicit initial support for the war. But anything les than a victory on the scale of the Grenada invasion would lead to a steady erosion in that support, both within and beyond the armed forces.

Assuming that decisive military victory proved elusive – that the Nicaraguans or the Argentines or the Philippine communists or whoever else – resorted to prolonged and bloody guerilla resistance, what then? Pressure to withdraw or to negotiate “from weakness” would mount; they would be felt throughout the political system. A public by turns uninformed, misinformed, and disinformed would weaken and waver. What then? Suspend civil liberties – officially and with fanfare or unofficially with goon squads? Lie about the progress of the war and the prospects for peace?

Friday, September 22, 2006

What difference does it make if a few prisoners get tortured?

Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster): What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later … The country is in danger.

Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy): But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men - even able and extraordinary men - can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities.… How easily that can happen! There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the "protection" of the country. Of "survival". The answer to that is: survival as what? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what we stand for: justice, truth... and the value of a single human being!

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Will the real conservatives stand up, please?

"'Conservative' is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives' good graces. Until they aren't. At which point they are liberals."
-- the blogger, Digby

"In conservative intellectual discourse there is no such thing as a bad conservative. Conservatism never fails. It is only failed."
-- Rick Perlstein

"How exactly does one convince the teeming masses that Republicans deserve to stay in power despite botching a war, doubling the national debt, keeping company with Jack Abramoff, fumbling the response to Hurricane Katrina, expanding the government at record rates, raising cronyism to an art form, playing poker with Duke Cunningham, isolating America and repeatedly electing Tom DeLay as their House majority leader?

How does a God-fearing Reagan Republican explain all that away?

Easy. Blame George W. Bush.


If I were a GOP candidate this year, I would ... say that our president was wrong to believe that the United States could fight a war, cut taxes and increase federal spending, all at once."

-- Joe Scarborough in the Washington Post

Because, see, that's just not real conservatism. The last guy who tried something like that was Ronald Reagan. It didn't work then either.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

And the BinLadofascists?

(cross-posted from Daily Kos)

The Bush administration wants to make sure we never forget the lessons of 9/11. Because God forbid terrorists should ever get their hands on a nuclear bomb.

So I don't forget, check me here to see if I have the chronology right...

After they took down the twin towers on 9/11, we declared war on the Bin-Ladofascists.

Then we invaded Afghanistan to hunt them down with their enablers, the Talibanofascists, led by Mullah Omar. We killed a bunch, but failed to capture or kill bin Laden or Omar.

And then, while Afghanistan was still unstable we suddenly decided we had to run over, invade Iraq, and hunt down the Saddamofascists. (Many Americans somehow got the impression that Iraq had something to do with 9/11, but Bush now says Iraq had nothing to do with it. Stupid Americans.) But we did capture or kill many of the Saddamofascist top dogs, to give credit where it's due. But the press refuses to report our successes. For example, we succeeded in moving the center of jihadi activity 1000 miles closer to Israel and Europe.

Then we decided to stay in Iraq and use our sons and daughters as human flypaper so we could attract and kill Islamofascists and keep them from attacking us here. Instead they attacked Bali, Madrid and London.

And though only 100 or so foreign fighters showed up (last I heard), thousands of the locals (who really don't much like each other) decided they didn't like having us there either and began fighting both their neighbors and our troops.

Now, because there's another trash-talking, shoot-from-the-lip leader like ours in Iran, there's been talk around Washington (some old, some new) about turning east, this time to attack the Iranofascists.

Meantime, Iraq is in a low-grade civil war and the Talibanofascists are making a comeback in Afghanistan.

And Osama? Remember Osama? (You are supposed to pee yourselves at the sound of his name. I think he had something to do with 9/11.)

Osama has safe harbor somewhere in the Pashtun region of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Islamic republic where the A.Q. Khan network has a history of transferring nuclear bomb plans, nuclear equipment and nuclear materials to radical regimes for the right price.

Which is why neocon hawks want to attack Iran.

And, uh ... what were the lessons I was supposed to remember?

Monday, September 11, 2006

The U. S. Constitution ... for the good times

AMERICABlog brings us the messages of 9/11:
The lessons of September 11
by John in DC - 9/11/2006 01:31:00 PM
  • The Constitution only applies when the going gets easy.
  • War is the answer, even when you forget the question.
  • The truth is for sissies.
  • America has never faced an enemy as dangerous and as intent on killing us as King George, the Civil War, World War I, the Germans, the Japanese, a nuclear Soviet Union Al Qaeda.
  • The real September 11 story was badly in need of editing.
  • Just because they say it makes it so.
  • We have always been at war with Oceania.
  • A fool is born every election day.
  • Due process is for the innocent.
  • Patriotism means never having to say you're sorry.
  • It's all Sandy Berger's fault.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Threatened Birthright

(This piece first appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on September 8, 2006.)

The America I grew up in was a superpower, not because of her military might, but because of her ideals. People everywhere thirsting for freedom looked to us. That felt good.

I’d like that feeling again. I want back the America that led by example. She condemned countries that locked people away without charge and that attacked other nations without just cause. America was slow to anger, fierce in battle, humble in victory, generous in peace, a defender of the weak who didn’t despise the poor. She strove, however imperfectly, to better herself and to achieve her highest ideals.

That birthright is threatened, not by Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but by our own “leaders.”

In damage done to America’s reputation, Abu Ghraib was the worst foreign policy disaster of my lifetime, save for the Iraq occupation.

Add to those the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, secret prisons in Europe and warrantless domestic surveillance. To typically moderate Americans our present course looks disturbingly immoderate.

“Leaders” flush with moral clarity saw an opportunity to remake the Middle East, starting by replacing the Iraqi dictatorship with democracy.

A noble-sounding goal, but having nothing to do with Sept. 11, President Bush admitted recently. Instead of inviting debate before testing this democratic domino theory, they sold a war of choice as a war to eliminate an urgent WMD “threat.” The Washington Post’s George Will ridicules the policy as “unrealism.”

“Foreign policy ‘realists’ considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists’ critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem.” With the widespread escalation in Middle East violence, Will scoffs, “That problem has been solved.”

American troops face a strengthening Iraqi insurgency amidst civil war. In Afghanistan the Taliban is resurgent and their Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice is back. In Pakistan, Osama makes videos.

The Iraq occupation has weakened our military, destabilized the Middle East, strengthened Iran politically, allowed North Korea to build its nuclear arsenal, undermined our credibility and we have lost the moral high ground we held on September 11. On ABC’s “This Week,” (Aug. 13) Fareed Zakaria observed, “We have united our enemies and divided our friends.”

The majority party’s plan of action? “Victory.”

They invaded Iraq for the same reason they impeached the last president: not because circumstances warranted, but because they could.

They justified their actions in 1998 with impassioned rhetoric: no man, not even a president, is above the law; America sets the example; the world is watching.

Today they call the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and fight to preserve the option to torture detainees held indefinitely without charge. Even administration apologists struggle, as one editorial suggested, “to get the president to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him.” The world is still watching.

“Leaders” flew tons of cash into Iraq on pallets, disbursing some from pickup trucks. The Coalition Provisional Authority played football with “bricks” of $100 bills. $9 billion has gone missing.

Louisiana homeowners displaced by Hurricane Katrina are just now seeing $9 billion in rebuilding funds.

“Leaders” rewarded corporations for moving jobs and hiding profits offshore with a tax holiday, the American Jobs Creation Act.

Goldman Sachs dubbed it “no lobbyist left behind.” Bush’s former chief of staff for the Council of Economic Advisers observed, “you might as well have taken a helicopter over 90210 (Beverly Hills) and pushed the money out the door.”

Preaching “free trade” in one breath, with the next they insist that Americans pay the world’s highest prescription drug prices and fight to keep out lower-priced medications from Canada. They cite “safety” concerns.

Congressional earmarks have exploded in number.

Our “leaders” hope to privatize Social Security, putting the retirement safety net into the hands of Wall Street. They pay for tax cuts for wealthy contributors with record debt for our children.

They smear their critics as out of touch.

For working families each year the treadmill gets faster … and steeper. The treadmill is winning.

These “leaders” have forgotten for whom they work. Too many have forgotten how to lead, if they ever knew. And if they won’t, it’s up to non-politicians with passions larger than their ambitions.

It’s time to reclaim our birthright. It’s time to hold our “leaders” accountable to a higher power: the American voter.