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In the Senate: Call Both Bluffs

With the non-binding anti-surge resolution now a dead letter, not only blocked but pointless since the surge is already well under way, Senate majority leader Reid is endorsing the Biden plan to submit a binding resolution, an actual law that would substantially repeal the 2003 war authorization for Iraq, to replace it with one that prohibits the President from actually fielding any combat troops there. And just as with the anti-surge, Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is threatening the exact same parliamentary maneuver: he has more than 40 votes to deny any votes on the Biden resolution, and will continue to threaten filibuster until and unless the Senate first schedules a vote on his own resolution, a non-binding resolution in which the Senate would promise that so long as the President wants to keep troops in Iraq, the Senate will never, no matter what happens, under an circumstances, cut funding to below current levels. (Sheryl Stolberg & John Broder, "Congressional Democrats Wrestle Over How to Force Bush to Alter Iraq Policy," New York Times, 2/24/07.)

Now, I'm going to take the same stand on a McConnell filibuster threat this time that I took last time: call his bluff. I don't think that Republicans have the guts to put him up there on the stand to defend the Iraq war for hour after hour, day after day, while all Senate business stops so there are no other stories to push it out of the news. I don't think that, if they actually had to do it, they would have the guts to let him as a Republican and in the name of all Republicans argue for endless war in Iraq, and have that be the top news story at the top and bottom of every hour for days.

But if the Democrats don't have the guts to make McConnell actually follow through on his filibuster threat, then I think it's absolutely time for the Senate to call their bluff, too. Vote on the McConnell resolution. As someone who opposed the war before it began and who has opposed it all along, as someone who is perfectly willing to live with whatever happens after an immediate and precipitous withdrawal from Iraq as preferable to continuing to fight it, I absolutely would love to know who, Democrat or Republican, will vote to give the President, and only the President, final authority over when the war ends. I would dearly love to find out which senators, Democratic and Republican, would vote to completely abdicate their Constitutional war powers. Yes, by all means, let's have that vote.

Because, look, simply logic says that there are only three broad categories of things we can do in Iraq: do less, do more, or do the same amount. I want less, a lot less. George Bush wants a little more. John McCain, being at least smarter than Bush (if, recently demonstrably, no more honest), wants a lot more. The senate Democrats are pussy-footing around about what, exactly, they can put together a majority to vote for. And you know what? If what the Democratic majority votes for is stay the course, for no decrease in Iraq War funding but no increase either, then I think the American people need to know that. I also think that if we do find that out, the final resemblance between 1967 and 2007 will be in place, and it will have been proven beyond all shadow of a doubt that it is time for the American middle class to take to the streets and end this war themselves, because the one thing that I am absolutely sure that we learned last November is that the one course of action that is completely unacceptable to the vast majority of the American electorate is "more of the same." But we won't know if that's what they stand for until they vote, now, will we?

They're both being cowards. Which, I suppose, shouldn't surprise me, because since 9/11 cowardice has been our national sin.


Reid: Call McConnell's Bluff!

There was a cloture vote Monday in the US Senate on a non-binding resolution condemning -- not even threatening to do anything about, just condemning -- Bush's planned troop escalation in Iraq. It failed. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proved that he has at least 41 votes to extend debate on the bill. To extend debate is a euphemism, of course, for a legislative procedure that everybody's heard of by now: the filibuster. Under Senate Rule 22, all US senators have the right to take the floor and continue to argue against a bill for as long as they want to, as long as they are physically able to, unless there are 60 or more votes to stop debate and put the matter up to a vote.

In practice, nobody has actually gotten up and argued continuously against a bill that was otherwise going to pass since Strom Thurmond did it in 1957 in his 24 hour and 18 minute unsuccessful attempt to stop the Civil Rights Act from passing. Since then, we have pro-forma filibusters, pretend filibusters, or, more precisely, threatened filibusters. A senator threatens to get up and do what Strom Thurmond did, the Senate leadership counts the votes (or in extreme cases like Monday, actually calls a vote), and if the side that wants the issue voted on right now can't muster 60 votes, then they postpone the vote without actually making the guy who stopped it do the actual filibustering. What it comes down to, mostly, is embarrassment; an actual physical filibuster is thought to be an embarrassment to a democracy.

And besides, the truth be told, the issues that get filibustered are almost always ones on which the American people are deeply divided. If everybody in the Senate knew whose side the public would take in the event of a filibuster, there wouldn't be one. And everybody knows that such an intense physical stunt by an elected official is a polarizing event; it will stir up intense passions against whichever side the public eventually decides was in the wrong. That was the other lesson of Thurmond's 1957 racist filibuster: not only did it not stop the Civil Rights Act, but that he was willing to go to such extremes to try to stop the Civil Rights Act discredited his entire political party for more than 30 years. Thurmond obviously thought that, given 24 or so hours to rally the country, that vast majorities of voters would rally to his cause and make enough senators change their votes that the measure would be defeated. He misjudged.

And that is why my advice to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be: call Mitch McConnell's bluff. Because if we saw anything in November, it's that there is no reasonable doubt whatsoever whose side the public would take. So by all means, if Mitch McConnell wants so badly to draw his line in the sand here, if he's so determined to stop even this purely symbolic slap-on-the-wrist for the President, make him pay the price. Make him stand up there and, on behalf of Republicans and Joe Lieberman, spend 8 or 16 or 24 or even more hours telling the American people, "Mitch McConnell, the other Republicans, and Joe Lieberman support sending more troops into crowded Baghdad neighborhoods to go in in unarmored vehicles and without their normal backup available in order to get between the non-uniformed warring sides in a religiously motivated civil war." Make him keep saying that for day after day, so that the number one news story every half hour for days is that the vast majority of Senate Republicans and Joe Lieberman want the "surge." And besides, I've heard Mitch McConnell speak. He's barely one step up from Dan Quayle in intelligence. If that. So by all means, let's give the Republicans a platform where they have to let their personally-picked top-ranking Senator talk to the public continuously for tens of hours straight. If he can't make the Republican Party look like the biggest pack of morons in the world, nobody can.

An actual Mitch McConnell filibuster, as opposed to a hollow threat of one, would be the best present anybody has given the Democratic Party in 50 years. It could single handedly discredit the Republicans for another 30 years.

(P.S. What does even former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey have that so far Democratic Party 2008 front-runner Hillary Clinton still doesn't have? The guts to admit that he was wrong to vote for the Iraq War in the first place, and to admit that he should have known better at the time.)


Clinton versus Hagel?

Keith Olberman had two 2008 presidential candidates on his show last night, one he interviewed himself and one on tape. The contrast couldn't be clearer ... or more nervous-making for those of us hoping for a Democratic victory in 2008.

Keith taped a twenty-minute sit-down interview with Hillary Clinton right before the State of the Union address, and ran it in sections across two nights. He even got her to laugh in public, something I'd never ever seen before; I wouldn't have bet that it could be done. It was a brittle, bitter kind of laugh, but then it was a brittle, bitter jibe that he took at her to get her to laugh. And she's clearly been taking lessons on how not to sound ticked off in public. But then, so did Bob Dole in 1980. The effect is clearly the same on her that it was on him: the result is to sound as emotionless as Al Gore used to sound, except with a lot of visible tension. She also lied through her clenched teeth, claiming that she "had questions about the war in Iraq" from the beginning. Sorry, Senator, but we all do know that you have the same problem that John Kerry had. Just as you weren't running for President until you were, you were for the war in Iraq before you were against it.

And of course, the Republicans are just salivating at the prospect of her getting the nomination. She's their single most successful fund-raiser. All they have to do is put her name or photo on a piece of stationery and mail it out to their donors, and the checks just come pouring in. For the Republicans to do us the same kind of favor, they'd have to drag John Ashcroft out of retirement; even Sam Brownback wouldn't motivate Democratic donors the way that Hillary Clinton fires up the worst of the Republican base. And besides, every Republican talking head in the country is just begging, absolutely totally begging, to get the chance to say the words "Rose Law Firm" once an hour for an entire year.

The other presidential candidate that Keith had on the air last night wasn't there in person. It was tape of a very impassioned speech that Republican senator Chuck Hagel gave in front of the Senate armed services committee, and it completely blew me away. I got goose-bumps. For one thing, I didn't think it was possible to serve two whole terms in the Senate and not lose your grasp of the English language altogether (unless you were Paul Wellstone); heck, Barack Obama's only been there for a few weeks and he's already drifting into Senate-Speak during interviews. I simply wasn't expecting anything like this level of raw emotion, or this simple eloquence, from anyone on the Republican side, let alone a sitting Senator. For crying out loud, Reagan didn't even always turn in performances this good, and he was a professional. Heck, after listening to that speech, if I didn't know that Hagel was a party-line Republican on almost all issues, I'd vote for him. (And if the Dems nominate anyone as nearly equally right wing and as personally reprehensible as Hillary Clinton, I reserve the right to do so even knowing what Hagel stands for.) To get the whole impact, you really need to see and hear it: CrooksAndLiars.com has both the video and a transcript.

It's also absolutely worth reading the interview that GQ magazine did with him this month, which you can find on their website: Wil Hylton, "The Angry One." There's some absolutely jaw-dropping stuff in there, including his detailed account of the run-up to the Iraq War. He alleges that then-White House counsel, now Attorney General Gonzalez was telling Bush that the President didn't need a war powers authorization from Congress, that Hagel practically had to blackmail the White House into seeking one. And that when they did, the draft that the White House sent over asked for blanket authorization to invade any country, anywhere between Greece and India, at any time of their choosing and for any reason, that the war powers authorization limiting the war to Iraq was something they had to arm-twist to negotiate Bush down to. And above all, that Hagel told Bush he was conditioning his vote on a promise from Bush that he would not invade Iraq without a coalition like his father's, one that included all but one Arab nation on his side, and that Bush lied to his face. Oh, and try this on for size: unlike any Democrat who voted for the Iraq War (and I'm looking at you, Hillary Clinton), Chuck Hagel openly volunteers that his vote for the Iraq war was a mistake and that he regrets it. And in the same interview, he explicitly endorses the Powell Doctrine.

I am serious when I say that if the Democrats hope to win the White House in 2008, we better hope to the gods that the Republicans aren't smart enough to nominate Chuck Hagel. I don't think we have a candidate that can beat him; this guy could probably even out-campaign Bill Richardson.

Mogadishu, Iraq

The subject of Clinton's acquiescence to Madeleine Albright's ill-thought-out misadventure in Somalia has come up a couple of times in the news this week, because it does provide a template for how Congress could, in fact, get away with ending the war in Iraq. It's one that I'd not thought of on my own, I'm embarrassed to say. What I had to be reminded was that after invading Somalia for no well thought out reasons, with insufficient troops who were not provided the armor they needed to survive, Bill Clinton was also determined to "stay the course" rather than let Somalia be turned into a haven for Islamist terrorists. The Republican Congress, responding to the war in Somalia's incredible unpopularity in the US in the face of weak justification going in, a purely hypothetical justification for staying in, rising American casualty counts, and lack of a strategy for victory, cut off his funding. Importantly, what they specifically did is that they gave him until a specific date, a couple of months out, after which no US money could be spent on maintaining troops in Somalia.

The specific plan was to give him just enough time to withdraw the troops in a safe and orderly fashion, and not one day longer. Clinton caved; if he had left the troops in Mogadishu, Somalia with no resupply of food or ammunition or fuel after several months of warning, he correctly estimated that the American people would blame him, not the Republicans in Congress, for the resulting blood bath. And he estimated, almost certainly correctly, that even his still remaining 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court wouldn't protect him from the clear precedent that Congress has absolute control over all expenditures.

What's interesting to me about this comparison is that I was already thinking about Somalia, but for another reason.

Allowing Mogadishu to fall did, in fact, result in the country becoming a haven for Islamist terrorists. It also emboldened Osama bin Laden who was in Somalia at the time to believe (wrongly) that the US would fold on any foreign policy position if we took a few really visible, widely televised casualties. Bin Laden himself chose to operate out of Afghanistan, which gave him more resources and more protection than Somalia could, but yes, the net result of the Republicans cutting the money for Clinton's war in Somalia was that the US came under terrorist attack. Once, mind you, and with so few casualties that it barely made a blip in 2001's murder rate in the US, but admittedly in a very visible and famous way.

But the attack on us wasn't launched from Somalia. And after that attack we were busy screwing up our invasion of the country that did attack us, because of the President's determination to rush through that so he could get on to the (to him much more interesting) war of choice that he wanted to use his political capital to start in Iraq. And, well, between Iraq and Afghanistan, nobody in the US has thought a whole lot about Somalia. We forgot all about it, despite the fact that in the intervening years the country was completely taken over by radical Islamists, who provided permanent haven to at least three of the upper-mid-level operatives in al Qaeda who had masterminded what had been the biggest terrorist attack on the US before 9/11, the African embassy bombings. But we had no attention to spare to deal with this, nor any money or troops.

Except that, oddly enough, Ethiopia of all peoples did do something about Somali Islamist terrorism. Starting a little over a week ago, they got sick and tired of having one of their neighboring countries be a haven for radical Islamist terrorists determined to spread their particular form of Islamic fundamentalist theocracy throughout Africa. So they succeeded, in no more than four days, in doing what the US failed at: they conquered Somalia from one end to the other and slaughtered pretty much all of the Islamist militias that were backing al Qaeda in Somalia, leaving only a token few in a coastal hideout whose location they called in to the US Navy so that we could have our symbolic one shot at them, too. Better knock off all the Ethiopian famine jokes that are still rattling around; we're talking about a country that just defeated an enemy we couldn't even budge. So we better not tick them off at us, hmm?

Bush says that if the Democrats force him to abandon Iraq, it'll become a haven for Islamist terrorists. He might be right. History does show that when it was Republicans cutting off support for an unpopular Democrat-run war, that is exactly what happens. But it doesn't prove that it's Iraq we'll need to watch to prevent future attacks; after all, as the Bush administration just admitted today again, bin Laden and his top officials are still sitting comfortably in their little state-within-a-state in Pakistan right now, not Iraq. Nor does it prove that if Iraq does become a haven for terrorism that nothing will be done about it then, even if we're powerless to intervene, now, does it?

Bush's Baghdad Plan: Any Hope at All?

Well, the speculation is over: George Bush outlined his second-to-last plan for victory in Iraq. I say second-to-last because even he admits that it might not work, that it's only "our best chance" right now. He has also said told reporters, off the record, that he won't talk about the plan for if this plan fails until it becomes obvious that it has. I suspect it may actually come to what I said, namely sending in another couple of hundred thousand troops, no matter how long that takes, because he did make it explicitly clear that he truly believes that anything short of total victory in Iraq means permanent al Qaeda bases in Anbar province which means more major attacks on American cities against which he believes we'd be powerless to stop them.

So I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt here for just a moment and seriously ask, can his plan work?

The plan amounts to sending one combat brigade into Anbar province to hunt al Qaeda. It also calls for bringing the Baathists back into the political process, persuading them to lay down arms, by doing three things: allowing all but the top ranking members of Saddam's government to go back to their government jobs, funding a couple of billion dollars worth of construction projects in Sunni neighborhoods under a new, State Department appointed anti-fraud and anti-waste supervisor, and defeating the Mahdi Army. That last one's the highest hurdle, obviously. That part of the plan calls for sending 18 Iraqi military brigades and 5 American military brigades house to house to disarm the whole capital city, to slaughter anybody who isn't in the Iraqi army's or police's uniform who insists on keeping a gun. As each neighborhood is cleared, some squad or platoon sized unit from those American brigades will be left behind, stationed in the local police precinct, to back up the cops in keeping the neighborhood from re-arming.

Since we're talking Baghdad, and since the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi Army have been working hand in hand these last couple of weeks to slaughter the last remaining Sunni militias inside Baghdad proper (and for that matter, most of the Sunnis who refused to move if they lived in Shiite-majority neighborhoods), that almost entirely means defeating the only truly organized, large-scale resistance left in Baghdad: President al Maliki's up-until-now ally Moqtada al Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army. The most optimistic estimate I've heard for his organized, armed, and combat-ready troop strength is 60,000, from the Baker-Hamilton report. At least one book written by a journalist who investigated the subject on the ground estimates that it's closer to 120,000. Sadr claims it's 140,000. And just a few minutes ago, President al Maliki made official what the rumors had been saying all day: he has given al Sadr the final ultimatum, disarm those however-many militiamen or face the combined military might of the Iraqi Army and the US Army and Marine Corps.

Now the question that al Sadr has to ask himself is, are we bluffing?

23 combat brigades is, by my math, about 80,000 troops. We were able to win the second battle of Fallujah with, depending on your estimate of the Iraqi Resistance's then troop strength, as little as 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 numerical superiority, that is to say, at least 3 to 1 in our favor. But we were only able to do that by being willing to lob bombs, and more importantly rocket propelled grenades and tank shells, into any building we thought we were under fire from. This time we won't have 3 to 1 numerical superiority. We'll have, at best, a little better than even troop strength, going up against a fortified enemy. And that might be insanely optimistic. In the past, Moqtada al Sadr has repeatedly gone over President al Maliki's head to their mutual spiritual leader, Iraq's (Shiite, obviously) Supreme Ayatollah ali Sistani. Sistani has always so far vetoed any plan to disarm the Mahdi Army by force, on the grounds that it is unlawful for Shiites to wage war on other Shiites. Maybe this time Maliki can persuade Sistani that Sadr's Mahdi Army is the one that started the war, by disobeying lawful orders. It hasn't worked before, though. So if the Grand Ayatollah puts out the word that any Iraqi soldier who obeys the order to open fire on the Mahdi Army is going to hell, how many of those 18 combat brigades will be there alongside the 17,500 troops we're sending into Baghdad? Any? Are we going to try to capture roughly 1/3 of a huge metropolitan area despite an entrenched, trained, and heavily armed resistance that outnumbers our troops by more than 4 to 1?

If al Sadr decides not to back down, and ali Sistani refuses to condemn him for this, this could turn into a meat grinder in a hurry. If, on the other hand, al Sadr does back down, or if al Sadr inexplicably loses on the urban battlefield and his troops are slaughtered, then combined with the massive economic bribes to the Sunnis to return to the political process, it just might be possible to salvage multi-sectarian democracy in Iraq, for at least a little while.

I am, however, deeply nervous about Bush's remarks about Iran and Syria in that speech. Maybe more about that tomorrow, when things look a little clearer. Because I'd hate to think that he's thinking of repeating Nixon's Vietnam mistake.


NYT Blames Iraq First

You know that stereotype among the Right that the New York Times is part of the "blame America first" crowd? Sometimes they don't. In particular, check out John F. Burns, "In Days Before Hanging, a Push for Revenge and a Push Back From the U.S." from Sunday's Times. To summarize, you remember the hand-wringing and eye-rolling from the entire Left, and from not a few people on the Right, about the blazing incompetence the US showed in letting the Iraqis mismanage the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein? People blaming America for the fact that the trial was run like a kangaroo court, that the cops made no attempt to investigate the assassination of 3 of Saddam's defense lawyers, that it made no sense to hang him so quickly for a borderline case like the Dujail massacre when the trial for the Kurdish genocide was still underway, that it showed insanely bad judgment to perform the execution on the first day of the Eid holiday by Sunni reckoning (that is to say, on a Sunni high holiday that wasn't quite the Shiite holiday for another 24 hours), and how at the end the execution chamber scene rapidly slid downhill from state execution to mob lynching? Burns cites a ton of eyewitnesses from all over the US State Department and the US Army corroborating each other's story, which is this: no, we're not stupid. Yes, we thought of all of that. And tried to stop it. And failed because this is exactly how the ruling coalition in Iraq wanted it to look.

I've been thinking about that. Why on Earth would the Maliki/Sadr coalition want every Sunni Muslim in the whole world to see them engage in an outright blatant sectarian reprisal killing? My first thought was that they were trying to entrap the Americans into taking the Shiite side, by poisoning the Sunnis against us. But I've thought of an alternative explanation, since, that interests me more. And to explain it, let me contrast two other situations in the past where oppressed majorities took over countries that had previously been despotically ruled by minorities: Rwanda and South Africa.

From the time that the borders of Africa's sub-Saharan nations were drawn (flagrantly incompetently) by the European occupation in the aftermath of World War II, Rwanda (like its neighbor Burundi) was a nation that just plain made no sense: the Belgians had drawn up borders that left a small minority of Tutsis in absolute, unchecked power over their thousand-year rivals, the much more numerous Hutus, and equipped the Tutsis with substantial weaponry on the way out. Tutsi tyranny lasted about 40 or 50 years. Then, after years of agitation and planning, the Hutu majority rose up, won their country back from their oppressors ... and came within a gnat's eyelash of slaughtering every single man, woman, and child of Tutsi ancestry. Now contrast that situation with what happened in South Africa, where for almost 300 years a tiny white minority ruled a vast black majority even more brutally than the Tutsis ruled the Hutu. And yet, when the black majority won control of their own country after dozens of years of agitation and struggle ... a couple of dozen people died in small skirmishes, rapidly squelched with the full cooperation of both blacks and whites. Why the difference?

Nobody that I know of doubts that the reason for the difference was that the last white ruler of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk, realized in advance what the last Tutsi ruler of Rwanda did not: that he was completely freaking doomed. That no matter how hard the white minority tried to hold on, they were clearly going to lose and were going to lose in his lifetime. And that when they did lose, it was going to result in genocide. So, realizing this, he did the only sane thing he could do, even if it took tremendous courage to do it: he went to the defacto spiritual leader of the largest black liberation movement in South Africa (conveniently locked up) and, with full humility, negotiated a surrender that was satisfactory to both sides.

So now I'm wondering if al Maliki is actually smart enough to be thinking that, all other options to end the violence having failed, what remains is to persuade Iraq's Sunni minority that after the decades of resentment over Sunni oppression of the majority Shiites, what is coming down the pike no matter how hard they fight, no matter how much money Saudi Arabia gives to al Qaeda (as they've openly threatened to do if the US allows Iraq's Shiites to oppress the Sunnis), the numbers are just too far against them; that if they continue to fight and then lose, they'll die in sufficient numbers as to impress a Hutu -- and so if they're smart, and if they see that the US is (as has been reported in the last week) providing logistical support and tactical reserves to back up the Mahdi Army's campaign of ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad's Shiite-majority neighborhoods, some Baathist Sunni leader will realize that his only sane option is to do what F.W. de Klerk did, namely try to negotiate tolerable surrender terms.

Will We Win by Losing?

I've been trying to save this thought until I could check my primary reference again, but it's still out on loan. And with the argument between Bush and the entire rest of the country about escalation in Iraq coming to a head, I figure it's time for me to just go with it, to try to be as faithful to the original authors' point as I can be from memory. Because where I'm going is this: I can't shake the suspicion that every salient feature of the Iraq War was predicted in 1991, ten years before 9/11, including the fact that we were going to lose it. Oh, the authors of the book I'm thinking of weren't certain it was going to be a war in the Middle East or that it would start as early as 2003. But they did list a major war or similar international crisis with US leadership as something that was going to happen between 2000 and 2020, that the most likely war/crisis from a list of foreseeable options in 1991 was a major war between the secular/Christian West and militant Islam fought in the Middle East, and (particularly relevantly) that the earlier in that time period the war started, the more likely we were to lose it ... but that losing that early war wasn't necessarily the bad news.

The book in question, which is one that I continue to rave about, is Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. And having raved about it at great length, I'll simplify their main thesis even farther than I usually do: that there is a pendulum swing between permissive and protective parenting, that that swing produces four different recurring personality types, and that the "generational constellation" (which type are the elder statesmen, which type the adults in charge, which type the young adults, and which type the children) has a strong effect on which issues get escalated in importance in any given couple of years span and how those issues are worked out. In particular, they identify a particular generational constellation as one that tends to escalate some national conflict into what they call a Great Civic Crisis: idealists as elder statesmen, cynics as adults in charge, young adults who were raised to be cooperative and responsible, and over-protected cherished children who'll be told it was all done for them. What makes this a great wartime configuration is that you want your conflict to mean something, but you don't want people capable of being blinded by ideology to be making the tactical decisions. You want hard-bitten self-raised cynics to be making the tactical decisions, but you can't be counting on them to sacrifice their own lives for a matter of principle. That's why you need a generation of recruit-aged Americans who were raised to trust the government and to work cooperatively.

They identify at least two times in American history where this went just slightly wrong: for example, in 1861 and 1917. In their analysis, the ideologues had not yet retired into elder statesmen; they were bridging the gap making up both a good chunk of the elder statesmen and the adults in charge. But that left some of the elder statesmen being from a compromising younger generation, unwilling to commit blood and treasure while they thought there was still some talking left to do, undermining the perceived moral authority of those who insisted that there was a matter of principle worth fighting for. In those conflicts between two generations of elder statesmen, in both cases the war party won, but only after a bitter and divisive political struggle that left the country uncommitted to follow them. Your grown adults in both 1861 and 1917 were a mix of ideologues who thought they knew how the war should be fought based on their theories and practical realists who were studying the facts on the ground to decide, and the shifting strategies as the two generations of military officers fought each other for control of the military wasted thousands of lives, fed into a meat-grinder with no hope of winning because there was no clear strategy. And your troops in the field, in both 1861 and 1917, were a mix of prematurely weary cynics and young people infused with can-do spirit; what ended up happening was that the weary cynics dragged the morale of the would-be world-savers down to their own level. The 1861-1865 Civil War was won and the 1917-1918 World War was won, but both of them so incompletely and at such horrendous costs that they had to be fought all over again, in 1964 and 1941 respectively. Because they started too early, both conflicts resulted in a hollow "victory" that actually settled nothing. They make a vaguely similar case for the Vietnam War, although I remember the details of their analysis of that war less clearly.

And what I remember was that Strauss and Howe warned that some time right after the year 2000, the Baby Boomers would have just achieved a political majority in the top levels of government, just when their earliest leaders were retiring from active public life. They warned that they would be tempted to start the next Great Civic Crisis way too early. And based on their analysis of similar conflicts in similar generational constellations, they predicted either a hollow victory at best or a terrible loss at worst.

But what if that's the good news?

The 1918 Treaty of Versailles was a disaster of Biblical proportions, one that left our veterans reviled when they came home, left America even more determinedly isolationist, left the rest of the world simmering in resentments that guaranteed that when the conflict at the heart of World War I boiled back over, it would be even worse the second time around. But on the other hand, it turned out that having stayed home, having stayed out the mess for 20 years, made America stronger. And it gave us time to rebuild a new military, not one tainted by the failures of the previous military, and with the new weapons of the famous Arsenal of Democracy, not a huge stockpile of obsolete equipment that we would have spent another generation training our troops to build their strategies around while the real world leap-frogged us. What if what really need to do is to lose the war in Iraq as fast as possible? It's already too late to get it over with as fast as World War I was. But maybe it's not too late to get it behind us in time for the next war, if we hurry up and lose it quickly enough instead of dragging it out to 2009 or later.

Because one thing that George Bush is not wrong about is this: there are an awful lot of militant Muslims out there who are determined to not merely restore Islamic rule everywhere it has ever been before, from Gibraltar to Indonesia, but to go on from there to conquer the world. And this is no longer just a coffeehouse conversation by a bunch of Egyptian intellectuals, this is a movement that is growing in numbers, in financial strength, in allies, and in the size of its arsenal every year. There is a very real chance that some time in the next 10 to 20 years, we will have to fight for our very survival against a new generation of holy warriors determined to spread Islam the way all major world religions have ever been spread, by force. And the sooner we disentangle ourselves from this fight that we're clearly losing? The sooner we stop spending money on it? The sooner we start encouraging the Baby Boomers to retire early and spend their years writing books and making speeches instead? The sooner we turn our military over to the generation born between 1961 and 1979, so they can go about the job they'd be good at of planning a future military that will really kick ass? And the more time we have to fill the recruit level positions with the DARE generation? Maybe then, the more prepared we'll be for the day that we recognize 9/11 as what it might well turn out to have been: a mere warning shot.

Forecast for 2007: Iraq War Stalemate

I've spent a couple of days trying to decide what I was going to write about if, as was planned, today's post was going to be my forecasts for the coming year. That's a New Year's Day staple of both mainstream journalism and the blogosphere, after all. But on issue after issue, the more I looked at the forces aligned around the issue, the more perfectly each one seemed to stalemated. So the prediction on which I'm most confident is this one: twelve months from now, the American people are going to be very unhappy with their leadership, both Republican and Democrat. Last November 7th, more of the American people than I ever dreamed possible stood up and loudly, angrily, and in vast numbers demanded not just action but substantive change. And I don't think that they're going to get it.

On Iraq, by November 6th both parties were in agreement that the one option that was not on the table, the one thing that we absolutely could not do, was "stay the course." The agreement on this was so unanimous that White House spokesman Tony Snow tried, so blatantly dishonestly as to embarrass Orwell's fictional "Ministry of Truth," to deny that the President had ever said "stay the course." Even the President, who would notoriously rather saw off his own legs than admit to ever having made a mistake, has spent all of November and December trying to find any alternative other than "stay the course." And listening to him and his surrogates in the press and the blogosphere for the last week, they have made it clear that what they've decided to do instead is stay the course. Why? Because truthfully, no other option is available to them. They have committed themselves to a goal as impossible achieve as it would have been for South Vietnam to not merely survive but to have conquered North Vietnam. They will not accept any outcome other than the most improbable outcome, a peaceful and free market and secular/non-sectarian multi-party democracy in Iraq, something that apparently not more than 2 or 3 percent of the Iraqi people would accept even at gunpoint. The only way they could achieve that would be with a commitment on our part of hundreds of thousands of more troops for an occupation with a minimum duration of a couple of decades, and no more than 2 or 3 percent of the American people would accept that method even at gunpoint.

I know that there are people who are tired of Vietnam analogies, but consider this: by 1966 it was already clear to large numbers of people in this country that we weren't going to win in Vietnam. But Johnson and the Democrats (and many pro-war Republicans) knew that the only alternative to victory was for Vietnam's communists to conquer and slaughter the South Vietnamese, a possibility so repulsive that it wasn't even polite material for conversation. Which is why in 1968, despite literal riots in the streets over the prospect, the Democrats nominated "stay the course" Hubert Humphrey instead of pro-withdrawal Eugene McCarthy. So the American people elected Richard Nixon in 1968 on one and only one issue, the same issue that caused the American people to vote Democratic in 2006: he was the only candidate promising anything other than "stay the course." And when he was elected and saw what the alternatives to "stay the course" that were actually available to him were, what did Nixon do? He changed the policy -- to "stay the course." The war dragged on all the way to 1975, a whole seven more years, until Nixon's emasculated successor had no alternative but a panicked evacuation that left behind an estimated 12,000 of our allies to be slaughtered; we barely got the last of our own people out. The last helicopter was evacuating the last of our people from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon while the North Vietnamese Army's tanks were breaching the outer wall around the embassy itself. It took a military loss that thorough before any American politician could face any course other than "stay the course;" all that ever changed before then was the name of the policy and some of the window dressing.

George Bush has made it clear that no matter what happens short of a military loss on that level, he's not going to change his mind, either. But if the Democrats were going to try to obey the clear and unambiguous demand of the American people that we give up, admit failure, and retreat from Iraq while we can still do so in an orderly fashion, they would find that their hands are very thoroughly tied. It is, theoretically, within the authority of the joint houses of Congress to withdraw a war powers authorization while our troops are still in the field. This has never happened before, because nobody in America wants to see the constitutional crisis that would happen if Congress gave the military one order while the Commander in Chief was giving another. More easily and less dangerously, it is entirely within the constitutional authority of the US House of Representatives to simply zero out the budget for Iraq War operations. But what would happen if George Bush refused to budge? Constitutionally, the same thing that happened when Clinton and the Republican Congress got into a similar fight where he refused to sign off on the Republican budget: government shutdown. But in this particular case, the part of the part of the government that would be shut down would be all shipments of food, medicine, fuel, and ammunition to American troops while they are under fire. Do you seriously think for even one second that the Democrats have the guts to do that? It would amount to the Democrats and the Republicans sacrificing up to 140,000 American soldiers' lives in order to see who the public would blame, the Democrats for disarming them while in a war zone or the Republicans for refusing to withdraw them once they were disarmed. Not gonna happen.

That leaves it to the Iraqis themselves to end the war. And unfortunately, I think we just saw, from a couple of the details regarding Saddam's last minutes, why we can't believe that that's going to happen, either. The man to watch is the spiritual leader of all of Iraq's Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. See, here's the relevant spiritual law, the tightrope that he has to walk. The Koran is clear and unambiguous that under no circumstance are Muslims to war on other Muslims. None. But as early as the first generation after the prophet's death, Muslims had figured out a Koranic loophole: the Koran does authorize not just war, but slaughter, of "apostates," of people who make an Islamic profession of faith but then follow after false prophets. So the Sunnis and the Shiites have in many places and in most times considered each other to be slaughterable apostates. While there have been a few famously great caliphs and emperors who have managed to separate the two sides and enforce ceasefires, the default has been Shiite versus Sunni or Sunni versus Shiite war wherever possible, and oppression of the weaker by the stronger where the weaker lacked the strength to fight. So the one thing that Sistani can not do, can not do, is sanction Iraqi majority pro-peace Shiites waging war against the near-majority pro-massacre, pro "ethnic cleansing," Shiite militia of would-be Shiite dictator Moqtada al Sadr. That would involve Shiites killing Shiites, and he can't be seen as permitting that. And al Sadr's troops know this, which is why they were openly taunting Saddam in the death chamber. Sistani would apparently, or so we're told, rather persuade al Sadr to lay down arms and for the Iraqi people to live in peace, with the Shiite majority quietly and peacefully oppressing the Sunni minority. But even so, Sistani dares authorize no weapon stronger than persuasion. And al Sadr is determined to slaughter every Sunni in Iraq to avenge Saddam's murder of his father; persuasion isn't going to go anywhere with him.

The US can't take the Sunni side in this war. The only two organized military factions we could back would be the Baathists and al Qaeda. Oh, in theory we could declare that now that Saddam and almost his entire top structure are dead that we're suddenly okay with Baath socialism as the pro-secular force, try to carve them loose from their al Qaeda allies-of-desperation, and back them for the same reason we backed Saddam early in his career. But with our military shattered, we don't have the strength to put them in power against the determined opposition of, at that point, more than 70% of the Iraqi public. We can, and have, taken President al Maliki's Shiite side, hoping to end up with nothing worse than a peaceful oppression of Iraq's Sunnis. We can even try to sustain the hope, floated in the last few weeks, that al Maliki can put together a pro-peace inter-sectarian coalition of Baathist Sunnis and pro-peace Shiites. But the Sunni Baathists can't ally with al Maliki's Shiite secularists as long as al Maliki is powerless to raise a hand to stop al Sadr's tens of thousands of Shiite soldiers from ethnically cleansing whole Sunni neighborhoods. That leaves our only alternative, if we stay in there, being to try to spend decades separating the warring sides. With the forces we have, what that boils down to is being too weak to stop them from slaughtering each other, but maybe strong enough to try to stop them from pursuing justice or revenge for the various slaughters, a recipe for thoroughly turning both sides against us, without stopping the slaughter in the least.

I honestly think that at this point the American people have resigned themselves to the fact that if we withdraw, as the American people clearly want us to do, it'll lead to a genocidal slaughter of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of Iraqi Sunnis, and probably a prolonged war of secession by Iraqi Kurdistan. The American political class is not reconciled to this outcome, and will continue to powerlessly try to prevent it, at economy-wrecking and nation-wrecking cost in taxpayer money and American blood, until at least some time in 2009. And maybe not even then. So by December of 2007, I expect the American people to be screaming as loudly as they were in 1969.


"How to Win in Iraq"

When the Iraq Study Group report came out, I was expecting the Left to ream it a new hole. What I wasn't expecting was for the Right to hate it even more. In particular, hearing all the neo-cons call it a "surrender document" boggled my mind for several days, because when I read it, it seemed obvious to me that it was a document by people who were still convinced that there was some way to win in Iraq. Eventually the neo-cons pounded into my head what they hated about the document. While it talks about somehow propping up some kind of stable and survivable and nominally anti-terrorist government in Baghdad, the terms "human rights" and "democracy" are scarcely and only dismissively mentioned. To the neo-cons, including the President, anything short of a non-sectarian effectively secular American-style democracy with a deregulated World-Bank-approved Milton Friedman fantasy economic system is "failure."

The President is dragging his feet because, we know at this point from leaks and hints, he knows what he wants to do. The in-house name for the strategy is "doubling down," as in blackjack. It proposes sending enough additional troops into Baghdad and points west of there that, with Iraqi Army volunteers providing the cannon fodder for them, they can defeat the Mahdi Army, the Badr Brigade, the Sunni anti-government insurgents, and Al Qaeda in Iraq all simultaneously, killing them all. Having killed all of the freelance militias, the Iraqi elected officails would then be free of the pressure from them to set up a Hezbollah-approved or al Qaeda-approved jihadist government, the US fantasy of a free market capitalist democracy will be free to flourish. The President thinks this can be done with as few as 30,000 troops; the generals on the ground are telling John McCain that it couldn't be done with fewer than another 120,000. Given that the estimated troop strength of those four opposing forces totals is around 200,000, you can see where that range of numbers comes from. When an American soldier drives his armored Humvee into al Anbar or Sadr City, how many Iraqis will there be with him, fighting enthusiastically alongside of him? And given their clearly inferior equipment, armor, and training, how many of them will it take to be equivalent to one American fighting man?

Unfortunately, the argument over whether to send another 30,000 or another 100,000 is moot. As Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker, testified on Thursday, what we have, total, is 10,000. 15,000 if we draw more heavily than we ever have on the Army Reserve. And, he pointed out, our total training capacity is 6,000 to 7,000 more per year. And that's given the optimistic assumption that we could successfully increase our recruiting quotas by 7,000 per year and actually meet those quotas. So if John McCain is right and we need another 100,000 soldiers in Iraq to win, the troops we have over there will have to hold on by the skin of their teeth for another 12 to 15 years while we train and equip their reinforcements. Um, yeah. Right.

If the American people really really wanted this, could we do it? If 50 million Americans were to swarm the recruiting stations tomorrow demanding to be given a chance to fight, because they believed that America was truly at risk? Absolutely. We've done it before. It'd take us a year or so to ramp up the training camps by spending that whole year training trainers, but we've done it before. And I know that George Bush believes that those 50,000,000 Americans ought to be doing just that. But for crying out loud, he hasn't even convinced his own family members, with whom he's in more or less daily contact, that America's safety is a stake and that this war is a matter of life or death; he hasn't even begun to seriously try to persuade the American people of this. Either that or he is that genuinely clueless as to how it's done. Which leaves him looking like a bad parody of Inigo Montoya standing there with a couple of holes in him, saying, "Hello. My name is George W. Bush. You tried to kill my father. Prepare to die." Like Inigo, he still thinks that he can win. Unlike Inigo, he just plain doesn't have what it takes.

Ironically, one guy who just died in Iraq seems to have had an idea that might yet be worth trying. The recently deceased Captain Travis Patriquin was, shortly before his death from an insurgent's bomb, circulating a cheap but effective PDF he made called "How to Win in Anbar," version 4. His plan? Give up completely on the Iraqi Army, which he says that the tribal sheiks and the Iraqi people are never going to support, for reasons he documents sardonically but plausibly in his presentation. Instead, send them home and train them all to be Iraqi police, reporting informally to their local tribal sheiks. Trust them to patrol their own neighborhoods, trust them and their sheiks to know who the murderers and assassins in their own neighborhoods are, trust them to destroy anybody who threatens the neighborhood's peace and prosperity by engaging in anti-government terrorism.

What fascinates me about his proposal is that it reminds me of some speeches that former Costra Rican President Oscar Arias gave after he won the Nobel Peace Prize for being the first, and even still almost the only, president in Latin America to actually successfully win the permanent civil wars that the Spanish left behind in all of their former colonies. How did he do it? By disbanding the military. The right, and the middle class, were horrified, and assumed it would mean that the leftists would all murder them in their sleep. Instead, it took the wind right out of the leftists' sails, and they all laid down their weapons and joined legitimate political parties by the end of the first week. Arias gambled that the leftist guerrillas were only able to recruit and maintain troops in the field because people felt threatened by the Army, and he was right; without the Army as an enemy to scare people with, the leftists who wanted to continue the revolution lost all support. What's more, even his relationships with neighboring countries improved.

Although everyone now admits that it has worked so far, few other countries have had the guts to echo Oscar Arias' experiment. But if we truly want peace and democracy and capitalism and non-sectarian political debate in Iraq, maybe we should honor Captain Patriquin's sacrifice (and his common sense) and suggest to them that they be the ones to try it next. It might not work. But unlike what the President is, by his own admission, trying to figure out "how to provide for," or John McCain's solution which violates important laws of physics, Captain Patriquin's plan has the virtue of being at least theoretically possible.


As predicted, the report of the "Baker-Hamilton" bipartisan Iraq Study Group came out Wednesday. I read it. It's not as bad as it might have been. For example, the trial balloon that got floated a month ago about recommending another 20k to 30k US troops is visibly, perceptibly missing. You can even see, if you pay attention, where they took it out.

If you read my journal, the odds are you do so because you like the way that I explain things. In that case, you absolutely should read at least part of the report, which is a great deal better than anything I might have tried to do on the subject. In particular, read section I(A), "Assessment of the Current Situation in Iraq," which is the single most coherent and comprehensive explanation of exactly what is going on over there that you will find in any medium. A trifle optimistic, perhaps. For example, they give an estimate for the size of the Mahdi Army of 60,000; reports in the last couple of weeks put it at closer to 80,000 to 120,000. But other than a few tiny nitpicks like that, which could simply be artifacts of the fact that parts of this report were compiled as far back as March, it's amazingly thorough and does an incredibly good job of explaining all of the relevant forces, factors, sides, and issues, in the space of about 20 pages.

But since none of the news accounts I've seen yet have actually given a decent overview of what's actually in the report, instead narrowing in on specific out of context excerpts, let me see if I can do that for you. The basic situation, as they see it, is that there are somewhere around 20 major "players," major factions in the region, all of which are fielding various sized armies or proxy armies in Iraq. The most prominent native factions are the pro-government Shiites, pro-Islamist Shiites, Baathist Sunnis, Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist Sunnis, two Kurdish political parties, various corrupt government officials who are building their own mini-empires within their branches of government, and one or more organized crime factions. Add to that proxy armies for Syria and Iran, plus threats of meddling from Turkey if they don't like the way the Kurdistan situation shakes down. All of these, all of them, have one reason or another to maintain an armed militia of their own, and to use those militias to engage in reprisal killings against one or more rival militias.

The Baker-Hamilton committee unanimously agreed that it is flatly not within the US's power to stop those militias by force. Period. Can't be done; we're way too badly outnumbered. So if those militias are to be persuaded to stop killing each other, lay down their arms, and become peaceful political parties, interest groups, and lobbyists, a whole lot of things have to be done at once. 49 of them, say the Baker-Hamilton group. And, they stress, skipping any one step guarantees failure. They're even realistic enough to admit that even if we try all 49 steps, we could still fail. But, according to them, what's going to happen if we fail (economic chaos, inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian violence flaring up in other Islamic countries, and a new semi-permanent home for al Qaeda training camps) is so dire that we have to try those 49 things whether we think they're going to work or not.

To get the in-country native groups to settle down means strengthening the Iraqi judiciary and police so that they don't have to resort to militias to get justice when someone from another group kills one of their friends or family. It means building confidence among the Iraqi people that the government's army will stay neutral and not be a breeding ground for all sides' death squads, in no small part by breaking up our best Special Forces and other elite units into individual soldiers and lending one to fight along side each platoon, to supervise, train, encourage, and fight along side them. It means undoing de-Baathification, so that Sunnis who had lucrative careers can actually find jobs again. It means breaking up the private armies that the various government ministries have been building, by incorporating them into the police or the Army. It means spending tens of billions of dollars per year, not millions of dollars per year, on providing equipment to the Iraqi police that's as good as the stuff we use, so they're not sitting ducks. All so far very plausible. Not likely to work, and we'll really regret some day not using those special forces units in Afghanistan and western Pakistan instead, but at least able to be attempted.

The part that strikes me as really deranged, though, is how are we supposed to get Syria to stop letting al Qaeda in Iraq move weapons and recruits freely across its borders and to stop funding their own proxy army inside Iraq: trade them the Golan Heights. Which, frankly, aren't ours to give. And which offer wouldn't impress them, since they're pretty sure at this point that they're going to get them back any day now without our help. And how are we going to get Iran to stop funding their own Hezbollah forces inside Iran and to stop providing even better funding and training to the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade? That part's even funnier: promise not to try to overthrow their regime and admit them into the WTO. Oh, I'm sure that offer is going to impress them. And how are we going to persuade Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and other countries to lend the Iraqi government substantial assistance and diplomatic legitimacy? By opening a new round of Israel/Palestine peace talks. That's going to be enough? Just peace talks? How gullible do we think those countries are?

And that's the thing: I think that Jim Baker is just as delusional about the power of American diplomacy as George Bush is (or, if we're lucky, was) about the power of American military force. And by the Baker-Hamilton commission's own admission, without success on all diplomatic fronts, any hope of stopping the Iraqi militias short of their escalating into a full-scale civil war is hopeless. So, by their own design, we'd keep trying to persuade the Iraqi government and the Iraqi army to attempt the impossible, while threatening them that some time in the summer of '08 we'll give up and withdraw our troops and let them all fight it out. So even though by their own admission, if we can't pull off complete successes diplomatically in every country in the region, there'd be no chance for success, they suggest that we sacrifice another 4 to 10 American soldiers per day for another 18 or so months.

Cognitive Distress

Some of you question the diagnosis of my mild autism, because you've never seen much particularly autistic behavior from me. But that would be because I'm a 46 year old with Asperger's Syndrome who has gone to incredible lengths, including training by some of the best, to learn to suppress those behaviors, especially when in public. Most of you have never seen me under the three circumstances where my coping skills break down: when facing life-threatening (or perceived by me to be credibly life-threatening) threat, when forced off-script by situations or group behavior that's unfamiliar to me, or when I find evidence that contradicts some of my core beliefs about myself. I have a reputation for being impossible to persuade to change my mind. Which flatly isn't true, ask kukla_tko42 or the_geoffrey, who do it all the time. However, I am from Missouri, the "Show-Me State," and even more than for most Missourians, "You have to show me." However, when you do "show me" that I'm wrong about a core belief about myself, the result is severe cognitive distress.

And I had a bad case of cognitive distress yesterday morning, even worse than when I read You're Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery by Richard Stengel a couple of years ago. I couldn't sit still, my hands were constantly flapping when I wasn't using them to press my eyes shut, I was horribly agitated to the point of pounding on the walls. Why? Because nancylebov posted a link to social psychology researcher Philip Zimbardo's follow-up article on Abu Ghraib, "You Can't be a Sweet Cucumber in a Vinegar Barrel" on the Edge Foundation's website at edge.org. I spent most of the day at Zimbardo's website catching up on his research findings, which did little to lessen my stress, which is why I spent much of the rest of the day in bed in near-catatonic withdrawl. The man is clearly on to something, and the something that he's on to is deeply distressing. You might find it deeply distressing, too.

You've almost certainly heard of Richard Zimbardo, in passing, because one of his research projects from the 1970s got mentioned a lot in the immediate aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, his 1971 "Stanford Prison Experiment." Zimbardo, a former high school classmate of the disgraced Dr. Stanley Milgram, had taken up his friend's research into to what extent evil behavior is socially conditioned, that is to say, under what circumstances do people with no predisposition towards evil behavior do so anyway. So for a study of to what extent prisoner abuse is less a product of individual sadistic prison guards than of the design of our prisons, he replicated a typical American jail in the basement of the psych department at Stanford University. He then went out and hired 24 vacationing young adults, out of a pool of over a hundred applicants: 12 guards and 12 prisoners. The 24 who were chosen had to pass an extensive battery of psychological exams, tests, and interviews to weed out anybody with the slightest tendencies towards violence or anti-social behavior; indeed, the majority of those selected were pacifists who had come to the Bay Area to protest the Vietnam War. The Palo Alto PD voluntarily performed standard mock arrests on the 12 "prisoners" and delivered them to the Stanford "jail" where the 12 "guards," working 8 hour shifts 40 hours a week in teams of 3, were to keep the prisoners safely locked up for a period of two weeks, meant to simulate the amount of time someone might wait for a hearing.

By day three, he was discharging people from the experiment in a panic because they were undergoing severe mental breakdowns. By day nine of the projected 14 day experiment, he had to cancel the whole experiment and persuade all of the 24 subjects into entering prolonged therapy, and to enter therapy himself, to help him and them to learn to live with what had happened inside: a total collapse into sadism and degradation. This much I already knew. What I did not know was that there was follow-up research, studying the extensive videotapes and audio recordings from inside the mock jail and interviewing the subjects, to determine exactly what went wrong. That Zimbardo spent the next several years as the leading expert on socially coerced evil. That in the process of that decades-long career he has interviewed everybody from actual prison guards to Brazilian anti-communist death squad members to study the process by which people who know that brutalizing people is wrong, who know that sexual sadism and perversion towards unwilling victims is wrong, who know that torturing people and then murdering them is wrong, do so anyway. And contrary to what most of us would like to think, it's not because they're "bad apples." On the contrary, he found out that actual "bad apples," people with a predisposition towards evil behavior, suck at it and don't go very far in any kind of institutionally evil setting. They lack the ability to get along with other evil people or to obey even evil orders. He has spent a career documenting the major factors that lead to evil: anonymity for the evil actors, depersonalization of the victims, and a constructed perception that there will be no consequences for evil behavior. He and other social psychologists working in the field of evil have demonstrated, from field research and experimental results, how little it takes, that as few as two institutional changes can produce horrifically evil behavior: any kind of uniform or appearance change so that the person acting sees someone unfamiliar when they look into the mirror, and even the mildest disparagement by (ideally mostly absent thereafter) supervisors of the potential victims or any other social mechanism reinforcing a sense of superiority over the victims. He also found other contributing factors, like the relationship between evil and boredom and the statistical correlation between evil behavior and the 3rd shift. It's all fascinating stuff, and has more implications than a cat has hair.

But that's not the source of my cognitive distress. In the follow-up research to the Stanford Prison Experiment, they were able to identify two classes of guards: the actively evil and the passive. The clear majority of the twelve simulated guards became bad actors, employing substantial creativity in finding ways to abuse and degrade the simulated prisoners. But the more they did so, the sloppier their actual guard work became. The minority of the simulated guards who did not actively engage in abuse of prisoners, however, became even more conscientious in the performance of their administrative duties. In Zimbardo's analysis, the experiment would have broken down even earlier, before the worst degradations could happen, if it were not for the enabling function of those who tried to lead by example while "going along to get along" as the popular phrase goes. It was the passively evil who made it possible for the actively evil to engage in evil. And while you're digesting that, consider this finding from the "You Can't Be a Sweet Cucumber in a Vinegar Barrel" article. Abu Ghraib differed from the Stanford Prison Experiment in one important way: in the Stanford Prison Experiment, none of the simulated guards spoke up to him, as the simulated prison administrator, about the abuses of the other guards. At Abu Ghraib, one did.
"A reserve specialist, a low-level guy, saw these pictures on a CD that his buddy gave him. He immediately recognized that this was immoral and wrong for Americans to ever do. At first he slipped the CD containing the images under the door of a superior officer. And then, interestingly, the next day he owned up to it. He said, 'I was the one who put it there. I think this is wrong. You should take some action.' I talked to some military people who say that it took enormous internal fortitude to do that, because as an army reservist in the military police in that setting, you are the lowest form of animal life in the military. It's only because he personally showed the pictures that they couldn't disown the fact that the abuse was happening, although they tried.

"The paradox is that he's an incredible hero who is now in hiding. He's under protective custody. Soldiers in his own battalion say he disgraced them. Apparently there are death threats against him. But this whistle-blower's deed stopped the abuse. There's no question that it would have gone on. It's only because there is graphic visual evidence of how horrible these deeds are that the abuse stopped and led to more than a half dozen investigations. Again, here is somebody who fascinates me, because he is the rare person we would all like to imagine that we would be.

"We like to think we're good, and down deep we'd all like to say, 'I would be the heroic one. I would be the one who would blow the whistle.' The limit of the situationist approach comes when we see these heroes, because it appears that somehow they have something in them that the majority doesn't. We don't know what that special quality is. Certainly it's something we want to study. We want to be able to identify it so we can nurture it and teach it to our children and to others in our society."
And that is the source of my cognitive distress.

I have a handful of friends who tell me on a regular basis that I am not just an occasionally witty, intermittently helpful, and routinely hospitable guy with some serious personal problems; they tell me that I am literally a hero. And I have always, always, always hand-waved that as hyperbole. I told them that they set their standards for "hero" way too low, that the level of "heroism" I have ever engaged in is pretty trivial stuff that almost anybody would do, that the human race is better than these friends give it credit for or civilization could never have arisen. But one thing that I have always known about myself is that I am an asshole. And what I mean by that is that I'm a guy who's willing to be however unpopular it makes me in order to say something that I think is true and important. I've always considered this to be something of a character flaw. It's certainly been treated as a character flaw by roughly half the people I've ever known, including at least half of the bosses I've ever had and at least half of my co-workers. And outside the workplace, such as when I used to be Wiccan and I discovered routine Wiccan slander of Thelemites back in the early 1980s and during the widespread Wiccan cooperation with the Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax and resulting moral panic, I paid a pretty hefty social price for being willing to stand up for the oppressed and to tell the oppressors that what they were doing and saying was wrong. I never thought of my willingness to pay that price as a form of heroism. I thought of it as a form of insensitivity towards the feelings of others.

But you know, here's a funny ongoing trivial example, and one that I think my friends may be talking about when they call me heroic. You may know that, long before I even realized that I was marked by Dionysus for his service, I thought of myself as having a super-power: a mobile "permission" field. If there's something that you'd like to say, like to think, like to do, and you've never had the courage to do so, my presence tends to lend that courage. I've long been vaguely proud of being as powerful a disinhibitor as alcohol but with fewer side effects. But it never occurred to me to ask why it's safe to be disinhibited around me, so much safer than it is in so many other settings? And not just around me, but around some other people I've known in my life who have the odd history of just by being there making it safer for people to drop their inhibitions, and whose absence results in total social breakdown as things go Too Far. And after reading a ton of Zimbardo today (but not nearly as much as I want to), I wonder if all I've had to do to make it safe to go totally nucking futs at the "Infamous Brad Parties" or at various social events I was at was that it never occurs to me until afterwards to fear any social ostracism or disapproval that might come from telling someone, politely and quietly and in as friendly a way as I know but in a firm tone of voice that brooks no contradiction, "Dude, knock it off."

If that's all it takes to be a hero, then I guess I'm heroic. And I'm very powerfully uncomfortable with that idea. I'm not sure I want to live on a planet whose dominant species is so cowardly that they're unwilling to risk even mild social disapproval from those in the immediate area around them for standing up for something that everybody in the room actually believes. In a world that cowardly, I don't know how safe I feel. I was much more comfortable thinking that I could count on it. And finding myself less confident that that level of "courage" is routine is making me very, very uncomfortable.
President Bush, speaking from Vietnam, just said that the lesson he learned for Iraq from the Vietnam War is, and I quote, "We'll succeed unless we quit."


Maybe if he'd gone there 34 years ago when he was supposed to, he'd know better.

Both he and Britain's Prime Minister Blair have met with the Iraq Study Group, and preliminary rumors are leaking out about what they're going to recommend at the end of the month. By comparison with George Bush's stupid remark above, the two rumored suggestions that are being floated as trial balloons make him look like a genius. Nobody could possibly be stupid enough to recommend either of these courses of action. They must be both stupid and insane.

Recommendation 1: A "final push" temporary increase of US troops in Iraq by 20,000. Seriously. That's what they're saying. That if US troop strength in Iraq goes up by about 14%, it will make a serious change in the outcome of the war. Can anybody really be so stupid as to think that 20,000 more troops, spread out over an area of 432,000 square miles, will make any kind of strategic or tactical difference? 1 extra soldier per 20 square miles? That's not a strategy for military victory. It's a desperate grasp for some kind of political victory. It's a vain, ridiculous hope that when they show that an extra 20,000 troops at this late a date, 20,000 not especially combat ready over-stretched troops consisting mostly of National Guard units on their 3rd and 4th tours of duty, weren't enough, that they'll be able to say, "We tried everything we could, it's not our fault that it failed, nobody could have done better." Which puts them in a position even more stupid-looking and even less defensible than then-Lieutenant Kerry's famous question to the Senate as to which of them wanted to ask someone to be the last person to die for a mistake. No, this is a plan to ask several hundred more people to die for a mistake.

Sending in 20,000 more troops into a country the size of Iraq, a country with a population of 27 million where nearly every adult male owns an AK-47 or AK-74 and by now half of them are members of one or more militia or insurgent or terrorist groups, isn't a military plan. It's a religious one, and the religious belief in question is "human sacrifice." It's a plan to shovel several hundred more teenagers and 20-somethings into the flaming belly of Moloch in hope of a magical miracle victory. It's mentally, militarily, psychologically, and morally indefensible.

Look, winning the war in Iraq is not entirely off of the table. If the American people really wanted to, we could win. But it wouldn't involve sending in 20,000 more troops. It would involve sending in 300,000 to 500,000 more, just to start getting serious about it. And it would involve the American people being so determined to win that the sight of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians would inspire no horror in us. It would require that GM, Ford, and Chrysler convert their plants from building cars nobody wants to buy to building M1 tanks and Abrams infantry vehicles and even the much-mocked, now suddenly useful Crusader next-generation artillery unit; it would require Boeing to stop making airliners and devote that entire workforce to making Predator drones and Hellfire missiles; it would require factories all over the country to convert over to making assault rifles and ammunition and bombs. When we have enough manpower and hardware in Iraq to fight the second battle of Fallujah in half a dozen or a dozen cities at once, then we can talk about winning the war in Iraq.

It would require a propaganda campaign about the evils of Islamic radicalism on at least the scale of the one that Bush's father used to sell us the Gulf War, and at least as successful. Show me video of dead babies on the bayonets of Baathist rebels, and show me bin Laden gloating over Sudanese Christian women and children being raped to death in Darfur, and maybe then we can get the vast numbers of 18 to 30 year olds we'd need to be eagerly and enthusiastically and voluntarily swarming the recruiting offices hoping to "give those dirty Islamic bastards what they deserve," and then we can talk about winning in Iraq. Because until you show me that, any serious prospect of defeating (just to pick one) the Badr Brigade is off the table. When the American people are so angry at the Badr Brigade that we don't care if we have to shell and bomb the most crowded neighborhood in Baghdad to rubble, women and children and all, to get them, and feel angry enough to place all of the blame for the civilian deaths on them for basing themselves there, then we'll know that we're serious about winning in Iraq.

We'd better be prepared for Pakistan to go up in flames, and al Qaeda to win there and get control over Pakistan's bomb, and we'd better want victory in Iraq badly enough to fight for it even knowing that American troops will almost certainly be nuked at least once during that war. And we'd better be still in favor of all of this when our $4 or $6 or $10 a gallon gasoline is rationed for the war effort because of renewed OPEC economic sanctions. And then, if we're willing to be in it for the long haul as a nation, then we might win on the battlefield. And if we do win on the battlefield and then station as many troops in the wreckage of Iraq (and wherever else the fighting spreads to before the end) as we did in Germany after 1945, for an entire generation, and we show the same generosity in feeding the survivors and rebuilding their bombed and shelled to rubble cities that we showed the Germans, then maybe we can win against Islamic radicalism by fighting in Iraq.

Anything less than that is just shoveling American soldiers' bodies while still alive into the flaming belly of Moloch. Nothing else is serious. And the time to have been talking about these things is not now, but three years ago.

Suggestion #2: Involve Syria and Iran in the security situation in Iraq. And offer them what? Or threaten them with what? More importantly, why on earth would anybody think it was in the US's best interest to turn Iraq's security over to two of the top three countries who fund Hezbollah terror attacks against Israel?

Frankly, if what we want to do with Iraq is hand it over to Hezbollah to convert into yet another state sponsor of terrorism, we don't need Iran or Syria's help. We're doing that just fine without them.


Little War Stories

I don't have anything big or meaningful or profound to say about Alyssa Peterson, Cyrus Kar, or Majid Khan. Most of what there is to say is just too painfully obvious, really, not very profound at all. But their separate stories are sticking with me, and I feel an urge to speak out, to express what their stories mean to me.

When I started talking about Forbidden Lore, I made a big deal out of the fact that it's almost impossible to un-know something. If you would be better off not knowing, once you break that seal, once you cross that barrier and you do know, it's pretty nearly irreversible. All the saying, "Oh, god, I wish I didn't know that," won't make it go away. The best you can hope for, usually, is to either learn to live with the knowledge or hope that it fades from your active awareness. But there is a third option, one that I don't think about much myself. I'm pretty immune to the "didn't want to know that" feeling, so I never spent a lot of time trying to figure out strategies to do so. But then, I'm not Alyssa Peterson.

Alyssa Peterson volunteered enthusiastically to be part of the invasion of Iraq. A military intelligence specialist who spoke Arabic, she was assigned as an interrogator, and a translator for other interrogators, of captured Iraqi resistance suspects. She did it for two days. And the third day, rather than live with what she now knew, she shot herself in the head and died. I don't know what she learned. Maybe she learned something about the Iraqi resistance. Maybe she learned something about the Iraqi people. Maybe she learned something about the US Army. Maybe she learned something about herself, about what she was capable of doing when ordered to do so. Maybe she learned something about human nature. But she was so desperate to un-learn what she'd learned that she used her service-issued rifle to do so. I don't know how she thought that would help, but she may have been right to hope. The few eyewitnesses we have who, thousands of years ago, came back from visiting the land of the dead say that the dead do eventually find forgetfulness there. They also find suffering, and misery, there and by so doing she inflicted great suffering on her family, but maybe if she can unlearn whatever it was she saw in two days in "the Cage" in an American military prison in Iraq, it's worth it to her.

Cyrus Kar and Majid Khan have probably never met, but they ironically both made the same mistake. They both thought that the sentence, "I am an American citizen," was still a magic word, an incantation that would entitle them to legal rights. Perhaps they'd never heard of Manzanar, or didn't see the significance that it had to them. Cyrus Kar is a Los Angeles native and wanna-be historical filmmaker, of Persian descent, who was traveling in the Middle East to shoot footage for a film project on Persian history. Ironically, the documentary was going to be about a Persian king who, the Persians claim, wrote the world's first charter of human rights. I say "ironically" because when the taxicab he was riding in was stopped in Iraq under US occupation, the military says that somewhere in the cab they found "potential bomb parts." What that means, they're not saying, but given the standard design of Iraqi resistance improvised explosive devices what it probably means is "his cell phone." They locked him up without filing charges for two months, bullied and severely beat him, and then let him go. He's suing. The government is, of course, trying to claim that US courts have no jurisdiction over what our troops do while in a war zone, trying to get the lawsuit dismissed. Poor Kar, I guess he's still waiting for the magic phrase, "I am an American citizen," to convey rights upon him.

Majid Khan's story is even more tragic than Kar's. He was a native Pakistani who emigrated legally to America. While visiting family back in Pakistan, he was swept up by the CIA as a suspected terrorist, held in one of the secret CIA prisons that some of you were denying the existence of back when I started writing about them, and tortured for at least two years. Now that those prisons are closed and the torture is over, now that he's in legal limbo in Gitmo, he wants a chance to win his freedom in court, and the administration's latest legal brief is literally breath-taking. They say that he must not ever be allowed to talk to anyone, not even a lawyer of his own, because he's in possession of very important US secrets. What secrets? The specifics of the torture the CIA used on him, which the administration is admitting to by saying that if any future captives were to find out what torture techniques were used on Khan, they'd be better prepared for them.
Last Friday I was sick as a dog. Ptomaine, I'm pretty sure. I missed almost an entire day of Archon groaning and shaking from cramps in a darkened room, waiting for the Pepto to kick in. But I did get some use out of that time: I more-or-less caught up with the new Battlestar Galactica TV series that so many of you have been raving about. In preparation for the 3rd season 2-hour premier, SciFi ran at least episodes 216 to 220, the ones that I caught, then the combined episodes 301/302 that make up the season opener. As for the series itself, I see that they borrowed as much from the best as they did from the worst. It's still the same 1970s crap SF series premise, but they're borrowing some nice camera work straight out of Firefly, and Edward Olmos rather obviously studied vintage Bruce Boxleitner episodes of Babylon 5 when preparing for the part. (I kept expecting the people around him to call him "Admiral Sheridan.") It wasn't as bad as I was expecting, but it wasn't good enough for me to go to the trouble of tracking down new episodes as they air. (As someone who doesn't own a Tivo, ongoing TV series are something I really can't manage to bother with unless I'm a lot more motivated than this series can manage.)

But one thing that hit me right between the eyes about the season 3 opener was that it strikes me that it took incredible political courage to run that particular storyline on an American TV station. To run that particular storyline less than five weeks before a major national election is nothing less than provocative. What's more, the moral points being made by that episode are ones that almost every American, or at least the vast majority of us (but not me), would find morally repugnant. I've been waiting for five days now for the right-wing commentariat, or at least the right-wing pajhamadeen, to be all over this like white on rice. And yet their silence has been deafening. Yes, I know, they've been very busy this week with other matters. But warning, commentary contains spoilers for episodes 301/302, Occupation and PrecipiceCollapse ) where in the heck are Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin and Paul Savage and all the rest of the right-wing Bloggistani bloviators that I thought I could count on to not merely react but to over-react when somebody says something like this?

Semi-Automated Quicktakes

(Brad is at Archon this weekend, and probably won't have enough access to a computer to write a journal entry in real-time. That's why he stuffed this entry into the queue Wednesday night after packing for the weekend, before his Thursday afternoon ride picked him up.)

A Perfect Halloween Present: Not that anybody gives Halloween presents. But this thing dropped into my lap with absolutely perfect timing. I had been agonizing over what to get kukla_tko42 for her birthday when a blog I was reading reviewed this. She was literally the first person I thought of when I heard of it, because of her "Goth Since Before You Were Born" userpic, and I found out about it just barely in the nick of time to rescue me from as lame a gift as an Amazon gift certificate or something. What is it? It's A Life Less Lived: The Goth Box from Rhino Records. Yes, it having been 20 years since the first peak of the goth subculture, back before it even became a fad, it's been long enough ago for Rhino Records to be doing one of their big fancy retrospective collections. Actually, I bought two of them: one for her, and one for me. I'm not exactly goth myself, although nobody seems to think I'm a tourist on the rare occasions I show up at goth night. Or at least, not so as I can tell. But I just plain had to have one of these. Even if I'd hated all the recordings on it, the packaging all by itself is just an artistic joy to behold. Three CDs and one DVD printed in black on red with a mixture of horror-movie, pagan, and celtic symbolism. A both insightful and drop-dead funny book packaged with it in faux-reptile-skin red oversize paperback. All of that wrapped in a great box that lacks only a title of being a better hoax Necronomicon than any of the gazillions of faux Necronomicons out there. And then, the icing on the cake, they wrapped the whole thing in a leatherette corset that's probably at least as sturdy as any of the corsets sold at Hot Topic. If nothing else, I wanted it for the same reason I bought Madonna's crappy book Sex years ago, as a cultural artifact.

But the true surprise came for me when I ripped all the songs and shoved them onto my MP3 player for a long afternoon and discovered that they pulled off something that even some goth nightclub DJs can't do. They actually came up with four hours of classic goth music and none of it sucks. They even managed to find two songs by The Cure that don't suck, that aren't whiny proto-emo suicide notes from a guy who (to my disgust) still hasn't gotten around to slitting his wrists like he's been flirting with us over for 25 years, and I wouldn't have bet that the Cure had two songs I could stand. The rest do exactly what Rhino does best: each song is a jewel by itself but is also historically significant because you can see in each of them the seeds of one of the future spin-off genres that descended from goth rock. I'm not as crazy about their selection of videos, only one or two of which didn't annoy me in some way and which will doubtless delight purists over the fact that they're not on-screen labeled but I kept being aggravated by that, too. But even without the DVD, I feel like this is the best investment in music I've made in a very, very long time. It'd also make a perfect gift for someone who self-identifies as goth but hasn't gotten around to tracking down the best of the music from before Hot Topic.

An Accidental Revelation of the Real Truth: Good thing I was able to find an archived copy of this story, because I put it off so long it dropped off of most of the news sites: Russ Bynum, "Immigration raid cripples Georgia town," Associated Press, September 18th, 2006. The story is somewhat interesting even for the reporter's main point: the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service just rounded up and carried off an estimated one fourth of the residents of a Georgia factory town that all-but belongs to meatpacker Crider, Inc, and another quarter or half of the population fled into the night to escape the round-up. The reporter is drawn to the apparent human tragedy of a thriving town turning into a ghost town in a single night, but that's not the part that interested me. The part that interested me is this: "The poultry plant has limped along with half its normal workforce. Crider increased its starting wages by $1 an hour to help recruit new workers. Stacie Bell, 23, started work canning chicken at Crider a week ago. She said the pay, $7.75 an hour, led her to leave her $5.60-an-hour job as a Wal-Mart cashier in nearby Statesboro." Doesn't that provide at least anecdotal proof of something that most of us have been saying all along, that illegal immigrants depress wages? Or are pro-illegal activists going to claim that it's a coincidence that as soon as they had to hire legal workers, wages went up a buck or more, and that suddenly when they did there were Americans available to work those jobs after all?

Why Does Everything Happen the Same Night? There's an interesting looking independently produced documentary called Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers by Robert Greenwald, the same director that made Outfoxed and a few other semi-famous documentaries. As with his earlier work, he wasn't able to get theaters to book his film, so he's dependent on various volunteer groups to organize screenings for him, and the local Peace Economy Project has scheduled a 100-seat screening for October 14th. Unfortunately, I'm already booked for the 14th. Maybe I'll get another chance to see it. Frankly, if she were smart, Claire McCaskill's campaign would be promoting this, too, at least hosting their own public showings. Early in her campaign, one of her signature issues was a call for the Senate to re-constitute then-Senator Harry Truman's World War II investigative commission on war profiteering. Part of me thinks that rather than just going on the defensive against the Talent campaign's ill-thought-out attack ads (is it really smart politics for them to remind the public that she's the same Claire McCaskill who was, during her tenure, the most popular state auditor we've ever had, and that she went after the nursing home industry even though it was her own family's ox getting gored?), she could do a lot worse than to order a bulk-purchase of these DVDs and mail them out to swing voters all over Missouri in a mailer renewing that promise of another Truman Commission.


Did I say al Qaeda 14? Make That 14,000. While we're all having such interesting debates over what the Bush administration is thinking or planning or worried about with regard to the 14 "high value" al Qaeda targets that the CIA has been detaining without charge for years, abusing, and denying that those 14 people are entitled to be treated as either prisoners or prisoners of war? The Associated Press's Patrick Quinn just made the interesting point that the debate leaves out the other fourteen thousand people that the US also denies are either criminal prisoners or prisoners of war. Ever since our counter-attack against Afghanistan began, and from day one in the Iraq War, the US has been rounding up anybody suspected of even knowing anything about, let alone being in, the Afghan Taliban, Iraqi Baathist, or Arab al Qaeda resistance cells in those countries. The US is invoking (and in the opinion of the UN, abusing) the concept of "security detainees" where, during specific security operations, you're allowed to briefly hold someone for long enough to determine if a crime has taken place. The US has been "briefly" holding these people for, on average, between 18 months and 3 years before grudgingly admitting, one prisoner at a time, that they if they ever knew anything we want to know they sure don't now. In its own defense, the Bush administration points out that a suspicious number of the people they've let out have gone on to join the Taliban, the Iraqi resistance, or al Qaeda -- but after, for example, being held in Abu Ghraib and then still not released for months after it got closed, without your family knowing where or why you were held or even if you were being held for years at a time, wouldn't you? ("U.S. war prisons legal vacuum for 14,000," September 18th, 2006.)

Tentative Good News: Lower Court Struck Down Missouri's Poll Tax. The Republican governor is leaning hard on his presumed 2008 Democratic rival the Secretary of State to appeal the decision to a higher court, but at least for now a state judge has stepped in and ruled that the cost to the voters of complying with the state's mandatory official photo ID requirement for voting in November and beyond. The state argued, "oh, come on, most people have one and the rest are only out $15 for a birth certificate." Ah, but that's only for people who have never changed their name for any reason (including marriage) and who currently live in the same general area they were born. I know people personally who've been fighting to prove their identity to the state for months now, at costs that keep going up; at least one of them it looks like is going to need a lawyer. So yes, it's a poll tax, one that singles out people who haven't had to get driver's licenses because they can't afford a car and people who moved in from other states for disproportionate impact, and at least one court has pointed out that none of that is even vaguely legal. I probably shouldn't risk governor "Baby" Blunt winning on appeal though; now that the new rail line to the county government offices is open, I should quit putting it off and go pay the poll tax whether I'm going to have to or not. (See Virginia Young, "Voter ID law rejected," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 15th, 2006.)

I'm a Failure as a Pirate. It's a major blow to my self-image that I didn't make it out to the St. Louis Pirate Festival on Saturday. (Obviously less so on Sunday; I assume they got completely rained out.) (There was a good article about it in the newspaper: Jessica Bock, "Pirate Festival is a spinoff of successful Renaissance Faire," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 12th, 2006.) For someone who once said that he wanted to be a professional pirate (actor/educator), I'm rather disappointed with myself that I didn't try harder to get out to Wentzville. OK, it's not on the bus lines, but if I'd put the call out in time I could have gotten a ride, I'll bet. Some reluctance may be coming from the miserable state of my wardrobe; I really need more pirate costume pieces than I own. But if I'd wanted it badly enough, the stuff I have is just barely good enough and frankly, there's no requirement for attendees to be garbed at a RenFaire or RenFaire spinoff. But the sad truth is, for all that Caribbean pirates haven't been more popular in a generation, and for all that here in St. Louis we've practically expanded International Talk Like a Pirate Day to a whole 9-day week this year ... I just don't feel very piratical lately. It's odd, and unpleasant.
In the entire history so far of what the US calls "the Iraq War," there has yet to be any distraction so pointless as the endless game of "gotcha" that Bush Administration opponents are playing to try to get the Bushies to admit to use the words "civil war" to describe the violence between Iraqi factions that's killing about 100 people a day. I really have to strain at it to see any point to this game of "gotcha." There is no magic "civil war fairy" that will do anything useful for our side, nor any magical "civil war monster" that will do anything particularly awful to the Republicans and their right-wing Democratic collaborators, when the words "civil war" are used. This is reality, not an episode of Pee Wee's Playhouse. There are other perfectly good phrases to describe the Iraq War. Personally, I prefer the term "war crime." "Fiasco" is very popular. "Boondoggle" is gaining in popularity, carrying with it the undertone of not just any fiasco, but one that costs so much that it breaks the bank. Some of those who are trying to bully, force, or trick some Bush Administration official into using the words "civil war" are trying to evoke the US's disastrous intervention in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, but that's hardly necessary; the word "quagmire," which is already on most non-administration lips, carries the same freight. And you're just not going to get them to call what's going on in Iraq right now a civil war because it isn't.

From 1946 to 1989, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a deadly serious struggle for control of our future -- but it was a struggle that neither side could afford to fight with their own armies. The UN treaty and growing cultural norms made it clear that the first country to cross another country's border to change its government except in self-defense would be seen as a monstrous aggressor, as repeating the precedent of Hitler's invasions of Poland and Czechoslovakia. Then, very early in the Cold War, Americans who feared the consequences of unchecked American power stole copies of the plans for the uranium fission nuclear bomb and smuggled them to our Soviet enemies. The Rosenbergs went to the electric chair for treason for that act, but it did more-or-less work; once the Soviet Union and the US both had nukes, they both concluded (except for a brief period of suicidally dangerous bravado on Kennedy's part that came within minutes of triggering global nuclear holocaust) that no matter how determined the USA the the USSR were to to wage war on each other, that war must never be allowed to reach the level where one side's military attacked the other side's. So they quickly evolved a very specific set of rules for a very, very disgusting and dirty kind of war that was fought entirely using helpless, dirt-poor countries as disposable proxies.

By the late 1950s, the war had its own very formal procedures and rules. The "goal" of the both countries was to accumulate as many alliances with other countries as possible. Back then, the Communists and the rest of us had entirely separate commodity markets, so getting a country with certain mineral resources to ally with you over them was a prerequisite for your own side's factories to buy those resources. Having allies let you put military bases in their territories, expanding the border that the other side's army couldn't cross without triggering that global nuclear war. But more importantly than both of those things, the shifting alliances were part of an attempt by the Soviet Union to prove their theory of history right, and by us to prove them wrong. The Communists believed, with religious fervor, that it was natural and inevitable that any civilized country would eventually Communize their government and economy. They believed, and taught, that all economies pass through a series of stages, from self-sufficiency to barter to selling things for money to monopoly capitalism to democratic socialism to communism. The US, out of self-preservation, was driven to prove that theory wrong. Every country that adopted communism was seen by the world as proof of the inevitability of Soviet victory; every country that chose to ally with the US over the USSR, especially those that had formerly been communist and were therefore reversing the Soviets' "inevitable flow of history," was seen as rebuttal.

So the two sides evolved, by trial and error, a set of escalating techniques short of aggressive invasion for changing a country's allegiance from one alliance to the other. Persuasion was tried, of course, but was seldom enough to change anything. Both sides had some financial incentives to offer, but there were limits to how much financial foreign aid each side had to offer and limits to how much loyalty can be swayed by money. Hence, "Cold" War. A multi-stage process was developed by which each side's spy service could, at great risk and moderate expense and tremendous expenditure of 3rd world civilian lives, replace a country's government that was friendly to your enemies with one that was friendly to your own, one that would willingly volunteer to be invaded by your own side's army. Each stage in the game had its own name and its own related technical jargon. The first stage was diplomatic pressure; each side would attempt to make governments they were trying to change look bad by finding things about them that would make them look bad and distributing that information to that country's own citizens, in hope that they would change the government for you. Once in a rare while, that was enough. More often, that was just the first step towards the creation of a hostile, pro-your-side political party, which your spy service would then cover the organizational and media expenses of. This step was called "funding dissidents." In countries that had election processes, sometimes funded dissidents won and changed the country's alliance; in others, sometimes they persuaded their own army to do it. Either way, the net result was the same. But about half of the time, that wasn't enough, so the spy services would intensify their efforts to the third level, creating an insurgency. This was the process of persuading the dissidents you were funding that the political process had failed and it was a matter of life and death, then giving them enough weapons and enough combat training that they could attempt to attack and kill government officials and their civilian supporters. Those fighting against their own government were called "insurgents;" those who fought for their own government (with identical funding and training from their own government's side in the Cold War) were called "death squads."

But the insurgency stage was never more than a stepping stone. You could keep a country at the insurgency stage for as long as you were willing to spend relatively small sums of money, smuggle ridiculously small amounts of weapons, and encourage astonishingly small numbers of mercenaries, but no country ever changed its alliance just because of an insurgency. Neither Cold War side ever gave up hope that this would happen, but in reality such "low intensity conflicts" never changed the outcomes at the polls or in the army's barracks. So where it could be gotten away with, the goal was to sufficiently fund an insurgency, sufficiently outspend your enemy's death squads, that they could organize into a large enough and structured enough military force that they could actually seize, control, and govern at least a small part of the country, and hold it against attempts to reclaim it by both their own military and by pro-government death squads. This almost never happened, but then and only then was it called a "civil war" like the civil wars in Peru, El Salvador, and Angola. The objective of this stage was to sufficiently equip and fund your proxy army of insurgents that they could at least briefly seize the capital city, and hold it long enough that you could move in tons of troops and build permanent military bases without it meeting the definition of an invasion. Even that almost never worked, but both sides tried. The resulting carnage, as Alan Moore pointed out in his graphic novel documentary on the subject, could easily have filled dozens of Olympic-sized swimming pools with human blood.

The same kinds of callous minds that fought this war from 1946 to 1989 are fighting now, too. Only now, the Cold War is between the victors of the preceding cold war versus another ideology that preaches the historical inevitability of their victory: political Islam. Still, the rules are the same, and countries like Syria and Iran and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are playing by those rules. The US broke the rules by manufacturing a pretext to invade Iraq even though our proxy army in the Iraqi civil war we were trying to stir up, the Iraqi National Congress, was nowhere near seizing the capital, but by spending the last of the goodwill we were entitled to as the victims of the Islamists' own rule-breaking attack on 9/11, we got away with it more or less. By the rules of the Cold War game, once the elections were held and the new government voted to allow our troops to stay "for now," the Iranian- and Syrian- and Pakistani-supported proxy armies that are trying to overthrow that government are called "insurgents" and our soldiers are (by those same rules) supposedly-legally "defending" an "allied" government from those "insurgents."

If anything, the time when the Iraq boondoggle could have been called a "civil war" has passed. When the insurgents were holding the town of Fallujah and even our 1st Marines couldn't take it back from them, let alone the mostly only on paper army of the new Iraqi government, they lacked very little of meeting the Cold War definition of a civil war. If they'd worn uniforms and organized into an actual "government" of the territory they were holding, the definition would have been met. But they never got that far, and we actually managed to recapture that territory for the new government in the Second Battle of Fallujah. Nor have they managed to actually capture any other territory to replace it. That means that, just like so many countries during the 1946 to 1989 Cold War, the country of Iraq is trapped at the insurgency stage. We give money and weapons to the government; at least, to our credit, we're trying to get them to fund a real army instead of (as is traditional, and as they're doing) slipping that money and those weapons to pro-government but unaccountable death squads. The Syrian government and the Iranian government and the half of the Pakistani government that created the Taliban and supported (and still supports) al Qaeda all along, supports their own armed insurgency. When the Baathists or any other pro-Sunni army seizes and holds territory again, then goes to the next stage of organizing into a competing army and government, then we'll call it a civil war. Until then, it's "merely" a monstrously evil competition short of civil war.


But who'll play Crockett and Tubbs?

An exercise in unlikely outcomes: It will be George Bush's fault when, in a couple of years, they make a big-screen movie adaptation of the old TV show Miami Vice (which will have little or nothing to do with the original show). George Bush may even have set the wheels in motion that will lead, in a few years, to a big-budget movie adaptation of the classic computer game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Because the Iraq War has used up and worn out just about every soldier, weapon, and other asset in the US Army's inventory, on Thursday Donald Rumsfeld proposed that the US stop using the fleet of seven Blackhawk helicopters that are currently patrolling the Caribbean to interdict cocaine smugglers, so the choppers and their crews can be sent to Iraq. Instead, their current job will be turned over to the Coast Guard, which has only three much slower, much shorter ranged Jayhawk helicopters. Those Blackhawks were sent down there 20 years ago specifically because the Jayhawk helicopters couldn't do the job.

In part because of a few of the CIA's "self funding operations" in Central America in the early 80s, but also because of how easy it was for cocaine smugglers to out-maneuver and out-run the Coast Guard, two things happened in the Caribbean at the time that had a powerful influence on popular culture. The first was that the "cigarette boat," a deep-water racing boat with top speeds that could almost impress a jet pilot, became a cultural icon. Even then-President George H.W. Bush bought one. The other was that, since nearly all of the US's sixteen and a half million dollar a day cocaine trade was coming ashore in Miami, the "Casablanca of the Caribbean" became literally awash in money. With those kinds of profits concentrated in that small a space, even trickle-down economics eventually works, sort of. As a result, Miami politics achieved legendary levels of corruption far, far beyond Florida's already famously high baseline. Miami real estate prices soared, as cocaine importers had so much money they were desperate to find anything, anything at all, to buy with it. And at the intersection of Guys With Too Much Money Street and Way Too Much Cocaine Avenue you always find supermodels hanging out, so the cutting edge of the American fashion industry rushed to finish its migration from New York City to South Beach, Miami, Florida. In the 1980s, Miami became legendary throughout the world for glitz, fashion, conspicuous consumption, political corruption, and murderously deadly drug traffickers.

Many artists and writers of the time sought to capture this cultural moment. Not the least of them, political satirist and hard-boiled thriller author Carl Hiaasen owes his entire career to the fact that he picked just that time to be assigned to that classic awful entry-level job in journalism, the night-shift crime reporting beat, at the Miami Herald. But the two works of popular art that captured the imagination, that came to fully symbolize the excesses of Miami, Florida during the height of the cocaine boom, were a buddy-cop TV show about two detectives working the cases at the intersection of cocaine and assassination, called Miami Vice, and the first major upgrade to the now-famous computer game franchise, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in which a convicted former Miami drug dealer who's released from prison at the height of the cocaine boom tries to force his way into the new, bigger money.

Well, with the US so desperate for military assets to send into Iraq, desperate enough to give cocaine traffickers in cigarette boats a free pass into Miami, everything old will be new again. And there was already a long-standing trend towards cherry-picking the pop cultural icons of Hollywood financiers' childhood and remaking them as big-budget movies -- consider, if you will, the Dukes of Hazzard, Charlie's Angels, Josie and the Pussycats, and Super Mario Brothers movies. A few years from now, the odds were already uncomfortably likely that we were going to get a Miami Vice movie and a Grand Theft Auto: Vice City movie. But with the current administration's policies all but guaranteeing that in a few years the old classic Miami Vice and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City plotlines will suddenly be topical again, has the President raised those odds from merely likely to nearly guaranteed?

If You Want to Get (a) Technical ...

I found it tremendously entertaining that the first month I began to subscribe to Auto Assault (which I'm enjoying immensely -- my god, this is the beautiful and realistic weather that I've wished all MMOs had, among other recent delightful discoveries) that I saw an article in BoingBoing about improvised combat vehicles being built by pro-US "military contractors" (mercenaries) in Iraq. An American soldier has published a Flickr photo stream of the ones he's seen. I thought that some of them looked eerily familiar. For example, I couldn't remember for a while if I'd seen this vehicle ...

... at Burning Man, in a post apocalyptic sci-fi movie, in Auto Assault, or some combination of the above. The soldier who brought back the photograph captioned it "Built Ford Tough." Delightful. And in a sick sort of way, it is something of a work of art. But then, as I sat down to write about this, I remembered what it was that it was really trying to make me remember. And you know what?

I don't think the Somalis would be impressed. ) ( photosCollapse )

See Wikipedia: Technical (fighting vehicle).

Sleepy-Time Quicktakes

On a personal note, I just can't stay awake long enough, can't concentrate enough, to get anything written tonight. I'm not surprised; I had to struggle like mad to get the last couple of things written, and they're the culmination of something I've been thinking about ever since I set out to figure out how someone could be as monstrous as our home state's gift to the nation, the left wing's most prolific fund raiser (we have only to mention him in a letter and money comes pouring in), the monster under the bed that liberals scare their children with, former Missouri governor, former US Senator from Missouri, former US Attorney General John "Deacon" Ashcroft ... and still have everybody who knows him personally, both Republican and Democrat, insist that he's actually a pretty nice guy, not any kind of a monster at all. Reconciling the monstrosity of the theocratic and plutocratic positions he's taken his whole political career with his personal reputation was a challenge, to say the least. So I've had a lot of time to think about it.

But maybe I'm coming down with something, or something, but I've done almost nothing but sleep for the last 60 hours. I get up for a few hours, can't keep my eyes open, go back to bed for four to six hours, over and over again. Even when I am awake, I feel like I'm running on maybe half my cylinders. Weird. So, rather than continue the thought above where I could in theory explain to you why I think that John Ashcroft sincerely thinks for reasons that are neither insane, nor ill informed, nor monstrous that he has stood for the right things his whole life, and rather than write any of the things I promised some people I'd get around to writing by now ... you get some more Quicktakes. Hey, at least it gives me an excuse to empty the Temp bookmarks folder some more.

Is This Why Disney Isn't Making Classics Any More? There's a blog out there called Re-Imagineering where former Disney employees scratch their heads over how recent Disney management could have managed to produce so many awful movies and so thoroughly muck up (in their opinion) the signature theme parks. About a month ago, one of the tiki-themed discussion groups I read passed along a link to a point-by-point analysis of the things that were changed between Walt's original Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, the attraction for which audio-animatronics was invented for crying out loud, and the current Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, called "When Birds Attack!" The long and short of it is that to make it more "current" and "relevant," they added Zasu from The Lion King and Iago from Disney's Aladdin to the cast of audio-animatronic birds that decorate the place, complete with extensive dialog. And here's the part that's interesting to me ... the dialog is entirely contemptuous of the Enchanted Tiki Room itself. Is it possible that Disney is dying of irony overdose? Is it possible that there's hardly anybody left at Disney who actually likes their classic products for un-hip, un-sarcastic, un-ironic reasons, that almost everybody at Disney secretly looks down on and despises anybody who likes Disney's old stuff?

Greenpeace Owes Us an Apology. A couple of weeks ago there was a guest editorial in the Washington Post arguing that the safest, most environmentally friendly, most economical, most efficient way for the US to meet its energy consumption needs, and the only way to do so without burning so much coal that we trigger runaway greenhouse effect, is by rapid expansion of our civilian nuclear power capacity. Which would be no big deal, because nuclear industry shills have been saying that for decades now. No, what makes it a big deal is that the essay "Going Nuclear" was written by one of the co-founders of Greenpeace, one of the original and most fervent anti-nuclear lobbying groups out there. It's big of him to admit that he's been wrong about this for 30 years, pretty nearly his whole adult life. Too bad so many people listened to him.

Satire is Impossible. The Onion weighed in on one of the issues I wrote about a few weeks ago. I wish I was sure this was funny: "EPA Didn't Know Anybody Was Still Drinking [Tap] Water." That's just a little bit too plausible.

Hmm. Suddenly I Feel an Urge to be Sequenced. There was a fascinating long science article in the Sunday New York Times entitled "A Question of Resilience," by Emily Bazelon. They're collecting data to see if they can confirm a correlation between people who react badly, for a lifetime, to trauma and a particular genetic variation, the "two short alleles" variation of the 5-HTT gene. Apparently there may be inheritable neuro-chemical reasons why people with one long allele do a better job, after trauma, of reconnecting with people who can help them, and people with two long alleles do an even better job than that, that the people with the naturally more resilient neuro-chemistry do a better job of building new relationships after major trauma. Apparently there's a company called Neuromark that's about to offer 5-HTT tests to the public. I'm tempted to get one.

And, in honor of today's planned marches and boycotts: There are many reasons why Chris Muir's "Day by Day" is the only conservative webcomic I read. It's funny in a way that cartoons about politics haven't been since Gary Trudeau's stuff during the Nixon administration. The characters are fresh, and the female leads the two sexiest characters I've seen in recent fiction, especially Sam. And Muir frequently rises above the conservative/liberal spectrum to find new ways to look at things that are side-splittingly funny. I'm not sure the following metaphor holds up well, but I laughed myself silly over it:

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: Told You So. I predict that history will record that George Bush's popularity bottomed out at 32% and rebounded steadily from there. Why? Many months ago I said that Scott McClellan had broken the one unbreakable rule for a presidential press secretary. You're allowed to tell the story however you want. You're allowed to emphasize any facts you want. You're allowed to ignore any facts you want. You're allowed to refuse to answer any question you want. But the one rule going all the way back to when FDR invented the modern media daily press briefing 60 years ago, the one thing that a presidential press secretary may not do is get caught knowingly lying to reporters. It was a stupid lie, not an even especially important one. But the fact of the matter is that neither the conservative press nor the liberal press nor the corporate press have been giving the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt about anything since then, and Scott McClellan's press conferences turned into daily beatings. I said at the time that if anybody in the Bush Administration had any sense, Scott McClellan would have been encouraged to pursue other interests. Apparently that couldn't be done because McClellan is a person friend of Bush's. So when Bush got desperate enough to bring in a new chief of staff, John Bolton, who actually knew how these things are done, the very first thing he did was exactly what I suggested. And on Tony Snow's first day, his first time at the podium, he told reporters in the White House Press Corps just how much he respected them and looked forward to working with them. Contrast that with Scott McClellan's not-even-thinly-veiled contempt for the entire institution of the press, something that he considered "just another lobbying group," just another business instead of a pillar of freedom, an attitude that was primarily his that the whole White House got blamed for. McClellan was so incompetent at his job that by comparison, a second-rate pro-administration flack from right-wing radio looks both professional and honest. Starting now, you watch and see -- the administration is going to get the benefit of the doubt from the press a lot more often.

Murtha: Coward? Maybe. And He's Not Alone.

Yesterday, I saw some of the most amazingly awful, most disgusting video ever to come out of the US capital. For those of you who didn't watch last night's news, here's the synopsis of the back-story.Collapse ) Republicans were trying to make the point that Murtha's resolution was already hurting US troop morale by suggesting that we were going to cut and run immediately, in the next couple of days, in an exact replay of the ugly scene of the US withdrawal from Saigon. When the Democrats refused to concede the point, insisting that Republican mis-management of the war was doing more to hurt troop morale than anything the Democrats were doing, Ohio representative Jean Schmidt got up and said that she had just got off the phone with a soldier in Iraq. "He asked me to send Congress a message: stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

That was as blatant a violation of House rules as anyone is capable of making. You simply do not call names on the floor. You especially do not call a decorated war hero a coward. But wait, it keeps getting uglier. House rules permit, in such cases, an offended representative to approach the speaker's desk and, as a point of order, call for the offending representative to be chastised and their insulting remarks excised from the official record of the session. It is not, however, anticipated that what will happen is that dozens or hundreds of reps will jump out of their chairs at once, yelling and screaming insults and booing and hollering, and mob the speaker's desk in an angry rush. The accusation that Congressman Murtha is a coward shattered the thin veneer of civility that makes actual discussion of issues, actual performance of their duties as US Representatives, possible. It took a long time, and a lot of pounding of the gavel, to get everybody to stop screaming and sit back down; during that time, someone obviously did back Schmidt into a corner and tell her off, because practically the next order of business was, well, the fakest apology I've heard all week. She flatly denied having called Murtha, specifically, a coward, suggesting that what she really meant was that the Murtha resolution would make our Marines in the field act like cowards -- but then asked specifically that her remarks be stricken from the Congressional Record.

Janice Schmidt openly and bluntly called John Murtha a coward on the floor of the US House of Representatives, and by so doing, very nearly triggered a riot. But was she wrong? I think that John Murtha is being a coward -- but not for the reason she said it. And so are all but 3 of the House Democrats also being cowards. Let's compare the two resolutions. They differ only by a couple of words. The resolution that was voted on called for US troop withdrawals from Iraq to begin immediately. The Murtha resolution calls for US troop withdrawals to begin "as soon as is practicable." What in the hell does "as soon as practicable" mean? Christ, the Bush Administration already intends to withdraw US troops "as soon as is practicable." What they consider to be "as soon as is practicable" is "as soon as Saddam Hussein has been executed and the new Iraqi government is no longer in blatant danger of terrorist attacks leading to civil war." You can agree with that or disagree with that, but it at least means something. Now, ask John Murtha, or any of the hundreds of outraged Democrats who were angry that Murtha's meaningless resolution wasn't going be voted on instead, when they consider it to be "practicable" to withdraw American troops. And watch the room fall silent. Then watch them change the subject, and lie about their intentions, and insist that no, of course they mean to keep our troops in there until we've won the war. In other words, watch while they back-pedal from any interpretation of the Murtha resolution that would actually mean anything.

That's cowardice. The Murtha resolution would have been a way for the Democrats to express anger at "Scooter" Libby and his unindicted co-conspirators for dragging us into Iraq, without actually doing anything about it. The Republicans called their bluff and said in effect, "OK, do you actually want to do anything about it, or are you just grandstanding?" They did it in the ugliest way possible, they did it with maximum possible rudeness, they did it in a way that shows poisonous contempt for the traditions of democracy. But they asked a fair question, and all but 3 of the Democrats (Jose Serrano D-NY, Cynthia McKinney D-GA, and Robert Wexler D-FL) cowardly backed down from actually asking for what they wanted it to look like they were asking for.

Waiting Game

There's not much going on in my head right now. On a personal level, I'm waiting for my back-pay settlement, I'm waiting for City of Villains to come out, I'm waiting for Halloween. On a national level, the big news story won't break until Thursday, and until then both Republicans and Democrats are holding our breath and waiting to see who gets indicted by the Plame Affair grand jury.

We can stop waiting for the 2000th US casualty in Iraq. That was yesterday. I remember that when the war started, I was working across a cubical wall from a guy who got all of his news from Bill O'Reilly's and Rush Limbaugh's radio shows; if you didn't listen to those shows, and if you got any of your news from anywhere else, his favorite insult was, "You just don't know the facts." No, really. On the day the Iraq War began, he was jubilant, and predicted that it would all be over in a matter of days, with no more casualties than the Gulf War. I offered to bet him money that we'd lose more than 200 in the first year, and more than 500 before it was all over. He wouldn't take my bet because he thought it was macabre to be betting on US soldiers' deaths, and I guess there may be something to that. But in hindsight, I'm struck by how cautious my bet was. At this rate, we'll pass five thousand, not five hundred, before all is said and done.

Anyway, while we're waiting for the grand jury to unseal their indictments on Thursday, I want to engage in some idle speculation, some of it perhaps as macabre as betting on US soldiers' deaths.

Last weekend, US Secretary of State (and George Bush work-wife) Condoleeza Rice took British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on a very public 3-day tour of her home state of Alabama. At the time, people were scratching their heads and asking what the Secretary of State's job has to do with a memorial to murdered African American children in Birmingham, tossing the coin for a football game at her college alma mater, or touring a Hurricane Katrina refugee camp. In hindsight, I see that some of the reporters gave a detail that was missing from the early reports I saw: this is the test run for a pilot project of hers to help other countries' ambassadors and Foreign Secretaries get better acquainted with what the US is like outside of the only parts that most of them see, New York City and Washington DC. So OK, maybe there was a foreign-relations point to that trip. Maybe.

But I wasn't the only one who thought at the time that it looked more like an exploratory tour by a prospective 2008 Presidential candidate.

And then, in day before yesterday's news, the bombshell was that the plot to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson by associating him with his wife, CIA covert operative Valerie Plame Wilson, may (and I want to stress that word "may," because we really don't know yet what was in the grand jury testimony) have gone all the way up to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Which raises the slender possibility that Dick Cheney may be indicted for anything from lying to a federal investigator to mishandling classified information, or maybe something really out of left field. It seems like a long shot to me. (But then, I'm naturally cautious in my predictions; see above.) If it is true, though, Cheney is probably finished. There's nothing in the Constitution or in the law that says that the Vice President of the United States can't continue to serve while under indictment and facing trial. However, there is a long precedent that no US President would even vaguely consider keeping a Vice President who'd been indicted. Yes, George W. Bush values loyalty and that goes both ways with him -- but that was true with Nixon, too, and this is how Nixon lost his first Vice President, Spiro Agnew, when Agnew was indicted for tax evasion in a case not entirely unlike the one facing former House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

The possible relevance of this to Condoleeza Rice's big publicity tour is obvious. It could well have been a trial balloon from an Administration that doesn't know yet if they need to be shopping for a new Vice President. Even they don't know what the prosecutor is going to do, so they have to plan for all contingencies. By now, they have a plan in place for if he indicts nobody, if he indicts a few low-level people, if he indicts one high level person but nobody important, and yes, even if the indictments reach all the way up to Dick Cheney. Only one of those contingency plans is going to be used. We probably won't know what's in the other ones, even as suddenly leaky as the White House has become, until everybody involved is retired and writing their books.

But the macabre thought I can't get out of my head is that George Bush would be stark raving insane, or at least possibly terminally foolish, to nominate someone as relatively popular as Condoleeza Rice for his replacement Vice President. Up until now, my thinking goes, Dick Cheney has been his assassination insurance. You see, there's this superstition in American politics that because of an ancient Native American curse, the President who has been elected every 20 years, in every year ending in zero since 1840, has been assassinated, shot, or otherwise died in office. Some say that Reagan broke the curse when he survived his assassination attempt through the wonders of modern medicine. Still, even I think about the curse often enough that during the November 2000 Florida elections fiasco I said, "If I were going to steal an election for President of the United States, I sure as heck wouldn't do it in a year ending in zero. That's tempting fate." So the part of me that's superstitious enough to believe, sort of half-heartedly, in Tecumseh's Curse, thinks that if some prospective assassin weren't more terrified of Bush's Vice President than he is of the President, well, then I sure as heck wouldn't want to be invested in whichever insurance company under-wrote his life insurance.

Of course, this could have nothing to do with a possible Cheney indictment, even if the foreign-relations cover is just a shallow cover. It could actually be what it looked like, a trial balloon for a possible 2008 Presidential run of her own. I even saw one column from a political analyst who speculated that 2008 might be the year that both political parties nominate their first female Presidential candidates, a race between Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Condoleeza Rice for the Republicans. I think that's crazy talk. My money, if I had any money on the race this early, would be on Bill Richardson for the Democrats versus John McCain for the Republicans, betting on McCain for the win. But then, my money was on 500 total casualties, too, so what do I know?

Just Watch. And Remember, I Told You So

I had an idea for something I really want to write. But the catch is that it's too long for a comfortable single journal entry, probably about two of them, maybe three. And until I make up my mind in what order I want to organize it, I'm not quite ready to start typing. Probably starting Tuesday I'll run a few journal entries in a row on the subject of sex instead of politics. But as a placeholder between now and then, and frankly because of a headline in the current news, I'm going to talk about politics. And specifically, I'm going to remind you that, "I told you so."

So long ago that I can't find it right now, during the earliest preliminaries to Saddam's trial, it came out that when Saddam found out they had scheduled an election while he was in jail, he said good, he hoped he'd be acquitted by then. If so, he planned to run for re-election, and he was confident that he'd win. I was saying at the time that this wasn't as silly as it sounds, not least of which because he has a very good chance of being acquitted. No, really. And what's got me bringing it up again, and saying, "I told you so," is that as I read the latest headlines, it seems to me that the Bush Administration is bringing the same genius to the Saddam Hussein trial that they brought to rebuilding Iraq, "saving" Social Security, and providing hurricane relief in New Orleans. Here's the article: Robert H. Reid, "Saddam Case a Chance for Speedy Conviction," Associated Press, Saturday, October 15th, 2005.

In order to secure a death penalty conviction for Saddam Hussein as fast as possible, they're not trying him (at least, not yet) for his worst atrocities. Instead, they're concentrating on one smaller atrocity where the documentation tying him to it is exceptionally good. After all, they don't have to convict him of murdering tens of thousands of people to sentence him to death; the 150 or so in this case will do just fine. You can check the article for the full details, but the summary is this:

In 1982 during the Iran/Iraq war, one Iraqi Shiite town on the border called Dujail was known to be sympathetic to the Iranians, and strongly suspected of providing aid, shelter, and assistance to the enemy. In order to try to negotiate them back to their own country's side, then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein scheduled talks with the town's leaders. When he showed up, dozens of armed men ambushed his convoy, resulting in a several-hour gun battle from which the Iraqi army was barely able to extract the President alive. He then ordered the army and the secret police into that town in force, capturing somewhere around 1500 residents. Those were questioned, including the use of torture in some cases, to find out who had staged the ambush; as a result of the evidence so provided, 150 people were sentenced to death and killed. The current collaborationist government in Iraq, with extensive US supervision and assistance, is planning on charging Saddam with 1500 counts of torture and 150 counts of murder for the Duhail massacre. The morons.

There was a leak from Saddam's defense team a couple of months ago that Saddam was considering stipulating every fact in the prosecution's case, which threw people into a tizzy. Some of the dimmer talking heads on television wondered if Saddam was trying to get the collaborators to kill him, to make himself a martyr for Baath Socialism. Because, you know, he'd do that, that's so consistent with his history ... um, no. I know why he's considering stipulating the facts in the Duhail massacre. There's an old lawyer's adage, "When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When the law is on your side, argue the law. When the facts and the law are against you, pound the table." The facts are, pretty clearly, what the prosecution thinks they are. But the law isn't.

Can anybody show me any provision in Iraqi law, on the books in 1982, that prohibits military tribunals, especially during wartime, from executing traitors, especially traitors who attempted to assassinate the president of the country? Can anybody show me any provision in Iraqi law, on the books in 1982, that says that the President of Iraq can't order criminal suspects detained for questioning under torture, especially in such a case? You may think that what he did was pretty despicable. (Never mind how many Iraqi civilians we've killed ourselves because Saddam's guys tried an even less successful assassination plot against President Bush's father; this is about Saddam's guilt, not Bush's. So far.) But even if it was despicable, what you can't do, so far as I can tell, is prove that it was illegal. So I'm suspecting that on day one of the trial, Saddam will get up, and ask the court that, if the defense were to stipulate all of the facts in the prosecution's case, just exactly what provision of Iraqi law as of 1982, by chapter and paragraph, are they charging him with? And when they stutter and stammer and try to accuse him of "crimes" that weren't actually banned by the law, he'll move for dismissal with prejudice, for summary judgment of innocence. And then where will we be? Imbeciles.


Theory and Practice of Suicide Bombing

I forgot to mention one of my hypothetical, theoretical principles of suicide bombing as a weapon of resistance against an occupation force and its occupiers the other day. I mentioned my theory that for suicide bombing to be used as a weapon by a successful resistance movement it must be planned so as to at least have the theoretical possibility that the heroes might survive to fight another day. I mentioned my theory that it must be a rare and uncommon tactic, reserved only for high value hardened targets, and not the only weapon for which the resistance movement is known. I don't know how I forgot (I blame the mind-sapping heat and noise of the other day), but I also theorize that in order to actually aid the resistance instead of hurting it, suicide bombing, like sabotage and targeted assassination and all the other weapons of a resistance, must be targeted only at occupation forces, citizens of the occupying nation who are in country, and local civilians only when it can be clearly shown that they are willingly collaborating with the enemy or encouraging others to do so.

So, those three theoretical principles enumerated, let's add four current examples, good and bad, to the Free French resistance movement that I used as day before yesterday's example.

Lebanon versus Israel. Background: Anti-Israeli Syrian and Iranian forces were using the chaos of the Lebanese Civil War as an opportunity to stage deniable attacks on northern Israel. Ostensibly it was local Lebanese militias and Palestinian refugees who were using weapons that they were given by Iran and Syria for the civil war, "misusing" them to attack farms across the border in Israel. Because of this legal fiction, Israel chose not to counter-attack Iran and Syria (yet again), and instead moved their own troops, with US backing, into the pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian strongholds in southern Lebanon, and set about exterminating them. The US sought, and received, UN authorization to send in a "peacekeeping" force to occupy the Beirut waterfront, and use it as a base to bring the 17 warring sides in Lebanon to the bargaining table, where, under US mediation, they were presumably going to be "encouraged" to select a pro-US, pro-Israel government. Suicide Bombing: Hamas and Hezbollah had been fighting using all the traditional tactics of civil war. Most of their attacks were against military targets, with the proviso that Israeli civilian settlers in occupied Palestine are not widely accepted to be true civilians. The overwhelming majority of attacks were by artillery (both traditional and rocket), sniper, and commando forces who struck and got away. But in October 1983, two separate solo truck bombers drove delivery trucks, each carrying approximately six tons of explosives, directly into UN barracks, US Marine Corps and French paratrooper. The US had 241 dead and 60 wounded, all occupation military; the French had 58 dead and 15 wounded. 3 Lebanese civilians and the 2 resistance fighters died. Final Outcome: The US and France both vowed to stay and fight on, but facing public pressure at home, both countries withdrew less than five months later. The resistance continued until 2000, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon. At the time, Israel said that they were doing so to remove an obstacle to peace talks with Syria, but Hezbollah claims at least partial credit for their resistance.

Occupied West Jordan and Gaza versus Israel. Background: As a result of the failed invasions of Israel by Egypt and Jordan (among others), Israel pushed into, captured, and still occupies the Egyptian city of Gaza, and western Jordan to the banks of the Jordan river. Suicide Bombing: At least four separate resistance movements have waged a nearly 40 year war to expel Israel from those territories, and ideally from southwest Asia altogether. Tactics used have ranged all the way from passive resistance and stone-throwing children up to snipers, roadside bombs, commando raids on Israeli settlements in occupied territory, and suicide bombings. For most of the history of the resistance, suicide bombings were used only against Israeli military targets that could not be successfully attacked in any other way. However, the Israeli military got better and stopping suicide attacks on their positions, and at guarding Israeli occupation settlements. At this point, at least two of the resistance movements shifted their targets to relatively unprotected civilians deep inside Israel proper, usually shopping areas but also including at least one civilian religious service. Outcome: Around the same time that the Palestinian resistance switched tactics to almost exclusively suicide bombing and almost exclusively against Israeli targets outside the occupation area, world opinion, which had previously been almost unanimously pro-Palestinian (except for the US and the UK), started turning against the Palestinians. However, this is usually blamed (rightly or wrongly) on successful American diplomacy rather than on the change in Palestinian resistance tactics. A two-state solution is still being pursued, but under the control of Israel who are backing their own side, mostly against the former resistance elements inside the occupation territories.

Chechnya versus Russia. Background: The formerly independent nation of Chechnya was annexed by the Tsars over a hundred years ago. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, Chechen resistance fighters sensed weakness, and stepped up what had been mostly a nuisance campaign into a full-fledged war of resistance, reaching at times to the level of military force traditionally identified with civil wars, in this case a war of secession. Suicide Bombing: As I said, the Chechen secession movement has used all of the tactics of both resistance and war, but there have been a couple of dozen suicide attacks in the last five years. Nearly all were against Russian military targets and pro-Russian government targets inside Chechnya, but there have been 6 attacks on civilians, including a few spectacular attacks on civilians in Moscow. In the most famous incident, the Chechen fighters had a plan to get out, with poison gas bombs as a deterrent and emergency fall-back plan for taking some Russians with them if they failed; they ended up triggering those bombs. Outcome: Unclear, but the suicide attacks on civilians in Russia (combined with the US's pressing need to keep Russia out of our war in Iraq) lead directly to the US taking Russia's side in the conflict, at least on a diplomatic and propaganda level. And since the 2003 terror attacks inside Russia, the resistance has lost virtually all of the ground that it had previously controlled.

Iraq versus USA. Background: Rather than let the sanctions imposed by the Gulf War cease fire lapse under a wave of international pressure, the US fabricated evidence of Iraqi intent to equip terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, and invaded. At the moment, US forces are still providing the overwhelming majority of the military support for a collaborationist (they would say "pragmatic") government. Suicide Bombing: Until the Second Battle of Fallujah, the Iraqi resistance was primarily depending on sniper attacks and improvised land mines and other explosive devices; suicide attacks mostly consisted of resistance fighters, caught at checkpoints with explosives in their cars, choosing to detonate the explosives rather than be captured. Since the resistance's catastrophic failure in the Second Battle of Fallujah, however, the bulk of the native resistance has laid down arms and are negotiating peace terms in hopes of finding a place in the new government. Foreign fighters (mostly al Qaeda), largely deprived of local support since Second Fallujah, have continued with the only tactic they know how to use, suicide bombings. Most bombings have been at least nominally against neighborhoods that house collaborationist opinion leaders and mosques that preach at least limited collaboration, but the remaining "resistance" have done a very poor job of explaining their strategy, both in the world press and locally in Iraq. Outcome: The suicide bombings continue, but with ever-declining popular support within Iraq, among the civilians within the occupying nations, and on the world stage. At this point it is pretty clear that the occupation will result in a successful setup of a pro-US government, although how long that government will stay pro-US once our troops pull out is unclear, at best.

Excuse me while I clear my head.

The second half of the thing on suicide bombing tactics will have to wait until tomorrow, because in the last 48 hours, I think I've slept less than five, and fitfully at that. It's not primarily the heat that's keeping me awake, I've slept just fine with it somewhat warmer than this. It's the noise. To keep the temperature down in here, I'm running both window air conditioners full blast, plus a couple of fans. That's in a tiny little 3 room apartment. The net effect is that it is substantially louder in here than it's been in any computer room I've ever worked in. As in, I've been wearing 28db earplugs to bed ... and the noise that makes it through is still louder than most normal conversation. We're supposed to get a break in the weather this afternoon, so presumably tomorrow morning I'll be somewhat less scatter-brained. Until then, my apologies.

Just so that this isn't a totally content-free post, how many of you were waiting for me to comment on Judge John Roberts? Well, you can probably stop waiting. I don't see any reason to bother. The time to worry about who Bush would nominate for the Supreme Court was last November, not now. The whole country knew, going into the last election, that at least one and probably two Supreme Court justices were going to retire between 2004 and 2008. They also knew that Bush's party was going to have a majority in the Senate. That means that whether they agreed with who Bush was going to pick or they didn't agree, a solid majority chose to accept whoever Bush wanted to name to the Supreme Court in order to not have to be governed by John Kerry during the War on Terror. If you don't like that fact, the time to have done something about it was last October and November. If you did and it wasn't enough, you'll just have to live with it. If you didn't, you're not entitled to complain now. If you voted for or campaigned for Bush last time, then no matter what your reason, you either did it knowing what kind of Supreme Court justices his administration was going to nominate in which case you're not entitled to complain because you chose this, or you're an imbecile, in which case who cares what you think?

If I cared, I'd be more concerned about his membership in the Federalist Society than about any of the few court opinions he wrote as an appeals court judge or any of the mind numbingly evil legal opinions he authored for the Bush administration. But, it's water under the bridge now. He's not scary enough to successfully Bork, so he's probably in. Moot point. Go back to beating on the Plame Affair, like everybody else. That Bush, who promised never to flip-flop, rather blatantly has flip-flopped is current news. The lengths to which Rove was willing to endanger this country in order to silence critics of the Iraq War are current news. It's not too late to care about those, and something may actually be able to be done about it.

Lessons from a Failing Insurgency

The two largest Iraqi groups of the Iraqi insurgency have entered peace talks, are seeking amnesty, and are being offered an entry into the political process. According to this news story, the two groups that are in surrender negotiations with the interim government make up at least half of the insurgency, including nearly all of the actual Iraqi members of the resistance.

Stick a fork in it, it's done.

This isn't the Bush Administration bragging "Mission Accomplished," here. Although I know it angers and baffles some of you, I've been rooting for the insurgents ever since we crossed the Iraqi border. I wasn't proud of the fact that this put me on the wrong side of the troops who went into Iraq, including some of you. Since the order that sent you in there was an illegal order, in my opinion the best alternative would have been mass refusal to go; failing that, I was rooting for a fast rout and our troops to come home by way of UN remediation after a brief stay in an Iraqi prisoner of war camp, ideally ending with top US government and military officials standing trial for war crimes. I will make one more attempt to explain how I, who love this country more than most, could hope for this, and then I might as well let it go. This war is flagrantly illegal. The UN Charter is a signed and ratified treaty, which according to the US Constitution elevates it to the "supreme law of the land," co-equal with the Constitution itself. The UN Charter, at our insistence, includes a binding oath by all signatories that they will not use military force except in self-defense after being attacked, or to prevent an imminent attack. Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, had not attacked us, nor were they poised to do so in any kind of imminent way. Therefore, this was by US law an illegal war of aggression.

If it ends, as it now appears it will, as a successful US war of aggression, then it will certainly lead to further wars, as a triumphalist Bush administration claims a mandate to further "liberate" Syria, Iran, and every other oil-producing Islamic country they can in the time remaining to them. Over a thousand of our finest have already died; many thousands more will die. And for what? In the end, when "democracy" has come to the Middle East, middle eastern racist demagogues will be democratically elected to fascist, racist, radical Islamist governments that will obtain weapons of mass destruction and use them, against us and our allies, and then our death toll will reach into the tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. And now that the first phase of this illegal war is clearly being won, it is pretty much too late to save those thousands of soon-to-be-dead Americans, and so offering them up to be the first of us to be killed is not my idea of "supporting our troops."

But this bucket has been to the well too many times. Any of you who are not currently persuaded probably never will be, nor are you going to change my mind. So I'm going to drop the subject and ask you, at least in the comments to my journal, to do the same. Instead, let's talk about what lessons can be learned from the failure of the Iraqi resistance. After all, the study of resistance movements is a valuable thing in and of itself. May the gods forbid that we Americans ever need to know how to wage a successful insurgency, but still, it's good to know.

Lesson One: Ideas are more important than bullets and bombs. When the Iraqi resistance was attacking American invaders for being invaders, they were heroes to the Iraqi people. When the Iraqi resistance was attacking Iraqi collaborators and making it clear that they were doing so because they were collaborators, they were still heroes to most of the Iraqi people. But after the elections, the Iraqi resistance scaled their attacks on Americans way back, because they were taking losses they couldn't sustain. They also broadened their definition of "collaborators" to include almost everybody working in the public sector in Iraq. By the rules of war, and the lessons of history, both of these decisions are somewhat defensible. But they didn't make their case for it to the Iraqi people. So while they were congratulating themselves on how many collaborators they were killing, they were making themselves hugely unpopular with their own civilian countrymen, who came to see them more and more as people who had stopped waging war on actual military targets and were only killing helpless people. If they had made their case, the resistance might not be in the sorry state it is in today.

Lesson Two, a corollary: Zealots make lousy propagandists. Someone inside your resistance, someone with veto power, someone with communications skill and links to the media locally and abroad, must be someone other than a True Believer. There must be someone who was only reluctantly persuaded to take up arms, someone who feels guilty or regretful for the things the resistance does. Only that person will know what it is that the resistance has not yet persuaded people of.

Lesson Three: The enemy of my enemy is seldom really my friend. Some time in the last year, the Iraqi resistance conceded most operational authority, most recruiting responsibility, and nearly all external communications to al Qaeda. As I said the other day, this probably seemed like a good idea at the time, because they probably believed al Zarqawi when he claimed to be able to deliver thousands of trained soldiers and millions of dollars' worth of aid to a resistance that was starting to burn through their carefully dispersed and distributed hordes of ammunition. In fact, this was the decision, more than any other, that cost them their freedom, because al Zarqawi isn't an Iraqi. He isn't fighting for his own country; in fact, he really couldn't care less what happens to Iraq or to any Iraqi, as long as he gets to fight against "Imperialist Zionist Crusaders." What's more, being a true believer and a foreigner, it would never occur to al Zarqawi that any of his strategic or tactical decisions needed to be justified to the Iraqi people he was supposedly fighting for, nor would he have understood where the Iraqi people were coming from.

Lesson Four: You don't weaken an enemy's will to fight by committing atrocities and openly allying with his worst enemies. A year ago, roughly half of the American people opposed the US war in Iraq. But then, a year ago, when the Bush administration said that the Iraqi resistance was being run by al Qaeda, they were full of crap; now, they're not. Six months ago, there were still a lot of people even in this country who were queasy about American atrocities against Iraqi prisoners. Now, people balance those past atrocities against a resistance movement that currently kidnaps reporters to sell them for cash, and that not only murders the kidnap victims but mutilates their corpses when they don't get it soon enough to suit them. Never, ever, ever forget that if you are fighting a war of resistance against a foreign invader, your most important allies are the civilians in his country who didn't want their sons and daughters to be there in the first place. If you lose their support, your invader is no longer fighting with one hand tied behind his back.


When I first saw in the Rude Pundit's blog that the Bush administration is gearing up to create another set of death squads, my reaction was not too far off from the Rude Pundit's own reaction, allowing for his tendency to dramatic exaggeration. I was not only horrified, but shocked. That policy was such a total failure the last dozen or so times that it was tried, that it blows my mind that the idea still has any currency anywhere. Never mind that it's as immoral as anything the Third Reich or Stalin ever came up with, it doesn't work. And my first reaction was, Dear Ghod, this is what it's like to have the most "uncurious" President in American history. The man doesn't know any history, doesn't want to know it. So whenever he comes up with some obvious idea, he doesn't know if it's been tried before and failed, so he doesn't have any reason not to try it again.

But I'm glad I got distracted from writing about it for a while, because it gave me time to realize that no, that's not what's going on at all. First of all, it's incredibly unlikely that he doesn't know, because so much of that history affected him personally, and I don't care what quantity of cocaine and alcohol he's gone through in his life, he has to remember some of it. He was in the service (more or less) during Vietnam, and going to college when Operation Phoenix was in the news and one of the burning issues on campus. Odds are he doesn't remember much about Operation Phoenix, but he has to have at least heard of it and must remember that a lot of people hated it; he must also remember that despite (or because of) Operation Phoenix, Vietnam fell anyway. It's possible that he doesn't know that the Shah's Iranian death squads were what lead to his downfall, but given that that was a Democratic Party screwup, surely somebody most have told him. But here's the kicker, whether George W. Bush remembers it or not, the huge failure and horrible blowback of the American-backed death squads in Latin America happened during an administration that included Cheney and Rumsfeld, and I guarantee to you that they remember it. What's more, when this policy blew up in the Reagan/Bush administration's face in the late 1980s, Bush's dad was one of the people that Congressional Democrats were gunning for. Bush the Younger may not have personally cared, but I guarantee you that his mother made him pay at least some attention to that part!

A quick overview of the subject of pro-American death squads, for those of you who never paid much attention to the subject: Read more...Collapse )

This strategy was tried in Vietnam; it has a lot to do with why we lost. This strategy was tried in Iran, and was the direct cause of why we lost. This strategy was tried, is still being tried, almost everywhere from Guatemala to Columbia, and it has made the US look really, really evil. But on the other hand, it occurred to me today, it may well look to Rumsfeld and Cheney like in Latin America, it worked. After all, the death squads have been able to prevent a Marxist takeover in almost every country where they are being used. What's more, where they weren't tried in time, in Nicaragua, anti-Marxist death squads are credited by most American Republicans as having successfully defeated the Marxist-lead coup d'etat that put the Sandanista Party in power there. So for all that the policy killed hundreds of thousands in Vietnam and many hundreds of thousands in Latin America, and for all that nearly all of the dead were civilians, this administration may actually consider that policy to have been a success.

Pro-American death squads, in our name, raped and tortured nuns and priests to death because it was believed that their "liberation theology" was encouraging the Marxists. Pro-American death squads, in our name, burned down schools with the children and teachers barricaded inside, so that the Marxists wouldn't get credit for providing education. Pro-American death squads, in our name, murdered doctors and nurses, and blew up clinics and water treatment and sewage handling facilities, if they suspected that they had been paid for with Moscow's rubles, again so that the Marxists wouldn't get credit. And if they suspected the residents of a village of disapproving of the fact that their doctors, nurses, teachers, children, and sanitation workers had been murdered, then sometimes whole villages were murdered in our name for being Marxist sympathizers. When all of this came out in Congressional hearings over money illegally sent to the Contras in Nicaragua, some Democrat (Kennedy?) asked some White House official (Rumsfeld? I forget) how this was any different from terrorism? The reply was, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

So now the US military is facing a 300,000 or more combatant entrenched insurgency in Iraq, one that assassinates collaborators and occupation troops with impunity from one end of the country to the other, and just as in Vietnam the killers effortlessly slip back into a civilian population that will not turn them in to the collaborationist government or to the US occupation troops. And now Rumsfeld is floating a trial balloon, leaking to the media to see if the American public will sit still for the idea of taking Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and Islamist Shiite militias, who might hate the Iraqi resistance for their own personal reasons, bringing them back to the School for the Assassins, equipping them with fully automatic assault rifles and explosives and body armor, and turning them loose on Iraq's Sunni population, and if they rob and kill a few tens of thousands or a hundred thousand innocent Sunnis but manage to contain or even kill the leaders of the Iraqi resistance, well, then, we win, right? And since it won't be US troops doing the killing, or even the collaborationist government, we can't be blamed for it, right?

News Flash: It's not "our freedoms" that they hate. It's stuff like this. The Newsweek article says that nothing has been done yet, that the idea is only being debated. There's an update from 3 days after the article in which Rumsfeld seems to be backing away from the idea, in which case the punditocracy by raising outrage will have done their job. But God, it's a frightening thought to think that people at the top of the US government might actually think that the death squad policies of Vietnam, Iran, and Central America were a good idea, a success, something that should be tried again, that they might think that the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dead poor brown people were actually a good thing.

Well? Are You?

I'll keep it simple. It really can be this simple. In America, in any state-wide or national election involving an incumbent running for re-election, there are all kinds of issues that get kicked around, to satisfy the minority who are single-issue voters on some issue or other. Then the rest of the public makes up their minds on the answer to one question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

US Dept of Labor Civilian Employment-Population Ratio, 1989-2004:

Congressional Office of Management and the Budget
Actual Federal Deficits/Surpluses, 1992-2004:

In November of 2000, the American public was suffering from scandal fatigue, and (more or less) voted in George W. Bush, a man whom they trusted to keep for them the things that Bill Clinton had gotten for them, but to also uphold higher standards of personal conduct and morality. It is now four years later, and in that four years the percentage of the American adult population with any kind of a job has dropped from that high of 64.7% to 62.3%, a loss that almost completely erased eight years of job gains in only four years, a net loss of at least a million jobs, roughly a million families wrecked by poverty. The odds are that you know at least one of them personally, and I'm not even counting me in that list; I have a job. What's more, the Employment-Population Ratio doesn't tell you how many of those people took steep wage cuts and gave up their health benefits to find any work when unemployment benefits ran out. The odds are that you know more than one family in that predicament. What's more, with both houses of Congress controlled by his own party, he hasn't submitted a single balanced budget in his entire time in office, nor has he even so much as threatened to veto even one single federal spending measure.

George Bush has told you over and over again why this happened: 9/11. But what he wants you to forget is that in the weeks following 9/11, he announced a plan to recover from the economic shock of 9/11. If we gave him the legislation he wanted, he promised us that within 2 years, the economy would have recovered. It passed by wide margins. It's now been three years. Has the economy recovered? No. So why hasn't it?

Well, first, let's look at how the 2001 Economic Stimulus Plan was designed, how it was expected to work. What Republicans think is that if you give money to poor people and to the lower middle class, they go down to Wal-Mart and spend it all on cheap imported goods, which does nothing for the American economy except maybe hire a few more clerks at Wal-Mart. But if you give money to the upper middle class and the wealthy, people who already have the consumer goods they want, and if you also give money directly to the big businesses that hire the most people, then they invest that money looking for higher returns, and that means more American jobs. That's only logical, right? So why didn't it work? It sounds like it should have worked, doesn't it? So what's wrong with it?

What's wrong with it is that those investors put that money where they thought it would create the most return for them. That money was invested in companies, companies that did hire and created tens of thousands of new jobs. But those jobs were only created where those people thought that hiring more workers would create the most return: from one end of the Third World to the other. Why invest $80,000 and hire one American when you can invest that same $80,000 and hire four people in India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Mexico, China, Vietnam, or Malaysia? The more "stimulus" that George Bush gives this economy, the more American jobs will be lost.

George W. Bush doesn't know this. He still thinks the Republican stimulus plans should work. That's why he's promising to make his temporary stimulus package permanent, even though it's done so much damage so far. He doesn't think that his stimulus package was what did the damage, so he's promising you four more years of the same. Do you want four more years of the same? If so, vote for George Bush. If not, vote against George Bush. It really is just that simple.

P.S. I know that some of you are going to vote your fears, not your pocketbooks. Before you do, take a fresh look at the American death toll in Iraq (1,102 as of this minute), and the civilian death toll in Iraq (right this minute, a confirmed counted minimum of 14,219). Does this look "safer" to you? Every single one of those 14,219 dead Iraqis has surviving family members. Every single man among those surviving family members now wants to join Al Qaeda, if that's the only way he can avenge what we did to him. No matter how "strong" we think we are, George Bush is making new terrorists much faster than we can find and lock up or kill the ones we have. And if/when the Iraqi elections are held, whether it's in January or not, they will elect an Islamist cleric like the late Ayatollah Khomeini, you know they will. So, tens of thousands of new anti-American terrorists plus yet another pro-terrorist anti-American state. Tell me again why this makes you feel safer?

Now, a few predictions made on Sunday night, and a few minor endorsements. Unless voter turnout is huge and the Republicans are stopped from throwing out tens of thousands of legal votes, Kerry is still going to lose in the Electoral College, and lose big, even though the popular vote will be very close in most of the states he loses. He may get a couple of dozen more electoral votes than I predicted, but he blew this election by spending most of it "speaking Kerry," especially by giving much worse answers to attacks from the SBVs and the Bush campaign than he could have given. (Don't blame me, I voted for Dean.)

Now the local races. It's too close to call, but I think Claire McCaskill is going to get a narrow win, and you know how happy I'd be if that happened. I can't predict any of the other state elective offices, but Jay Nixon has been so incredibly effective a state attorney general that I can't imagine even that many Republicans voting against him; it'll be a shining red-letter day for fraudsters and scammers, over whom he has hovered like a hungry hawk his whole career, if he loses. Kit Bond, for all that he's moved frighteningly far to the right since the Clinton impeachment trial, will thump Nancy Farmer like a tub, and that's a shame; the man went from being the kind of Republican I used to vote for to the kind that has always scared me. Clay and Akin are going to skate to easy reelection in the Missouri 1st and 2nd Congressional districts; neither party put up serious opponents. The 3rd district on the other hand is so hard to predict. It's been a Democratic safe zone for a long time, but that was before Gephardt retired and before the big explosion of White Flight into Jefferson County. I hesitantly predict a narrow (and unfortunate) win for the Republican, Federer, over Democrat Russ Carnahan, which means one more pick-up seat for the Republicans in the US House.

I think that Gene McNary is going to beat St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley handily, not because of race or because of anything that either one is likely to do differently, but because of the nostalgia factor: I suspect that a lot of Countians emotionally (and irrationally) associate McNary with the County's better days. I predict that St. Louis County Proposition A will pass, but that it won't make any difference, because the courts will strike it down. I think that Charter Reform will fail in the City, because when push comes to shove there are more St. Louis City voters who like the corruption they have now than who hate it; you could see that in the last attempt at reforming the school district.

If Bush, Blunt, Federer, and McNary all win on Tuesday, then the next local Republican who whines to me about how oppressed they are by liberals will get called a simpering idiotic crybaby to his face. At that point, the Republicans will control:
  • The Presidency
  • Both houses of the US Congress by solid majorities
  • Five out of nine US Supreme Court justices and the majority of the federal bench
  • Locally, the Missouri governor
  • Majorities in both houses of the Missouri legislature,
  • Both Missouri US senators
  • 2/3 of St. Louis's congressional delegation
  • the St Louis County Executive, and
  • the entire St. Louis County board of commissioners.
Conservatives, how badly do we have to lose, by what whopping margin do you have to win, before you no longer feel threatened by liberals? Does the USA have to be a single-party state before you'll stop being afraid for America? Will nothing short of our extermination satisfy you? What's more, at that point there won't be anything stopping conservative Republicans from doing anything they want to the US or to the state of Missouri. So if it doesn't produce the results that you want, how will you blame the liberals next time?
I have a plan to win the war in Iraq. It's crazy, but it would work. As soon as I suggest this, virtually everybody in America is going to laugh, but I'm right. It would work. It will work. Eventually, if we don't want to get our butts handed to us again like we did in Vietnam, we're going to have to think of it. But for now, for most of you, my plan is probably unthinkable. You're going to think I'm kidding.

Send Canada.

Most Americans who read that sentence will go into a state of total cognitive dissonance and dissolve into helpless giggles. Most Americans think of Canada, if they think of it at all, as sort of like Minnesota only even funnier. They think of the MacKenzie brothers, the "Great White North," the butt of South Park jokes and others. It's this tiny little mostly frozen and vaguely silly socialist country with a funny accent way up north, notable primarily as a place for 18 year old Detroit kids to go to drink. It's got a declining currency that's openly called the Loonie, and sometimes made fun of as the Snow Peso. How can Canada win a war that the US can't win?

Ah, but you see, there's something that most Americans don't realize about the Canadians: they absolutely rock at peacekeeping. They are Earth's greatest peacekeeping force. They've been doing successful UN peace-keeping missions since 1948. There's a long list of hellhole countries that descended into madness and anarchy, and when we stepped in to settle things the feuding locals put aside their hatred of each other long enough to send our "only superpower" army packing with its tail between its legs. Lebanon? We got blown up and retreated, Canadians had no serious trouble with it. Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, the whole Yugoslav civil war? When we got tired of bombing things and found out we were only increasing the massacres, the Canadians went in and saved Madeleine Albright's behind. Somali warlords humiliated our crack troops in front of Al Qaeda; the Canadians went in and quieted things down in no time, averting a horrific military and humanitarian tragedy. Back when the US was Israel's only defender, Israel got invaded by some country or other every few years. Then Canada stepped in at several border hotspots, and while you can't exactly call the resulting situation "peace," it's no Six Day War, either. And the one that really impresses me is that after centuries of war between the Greeks and the Turks, Canadian UN peacekeepers landed on Cyprus, and so thoroughly pacified things that in record time the island is actually close to unification on friendly terms. And that's just scratching the surface. Take a good look at this list. Not one loss in the list, and most of them in countries or regions that the US tried to pacify and failed. And in 50 years of getting in between the warring sides in the worst hellholes on the planet, they've only lost a total of 107 soldiers, fewer than we lose in training accidents.

Why can Canada do these things and we can't? Well, I only know a few parts of it. Probably no American can understand why Canadians are so much better peacekeepers than we are, or else we'd have learned it from them by now. But for one thing, unlike the US military, they actually care about it, and study in depth, and train some of their best elite troops to specialize in it. (Compare this to the chronic disrespect the rest of the US military has for our nearest equivalents, the "civil affairs" units.)

Heck, it was a Canadian Prime Minister who practically coined the term "peacekeeping" back in 1956. In 1994 they set up the world's leading military academy for peacekeepers. Soldiers looking to conquer and/or rule compete for chances to come to West Point in the US to study war-making. Would-be peacekeepers from all over the world go to Canada to study it under the real pros. The US has war memorials in every city, and dozens of big ones in our capital. Canada has a National Peacekeeping Monument in their capital.

Canada is a relatively wealthy nation, maybe a little poor by comparison to the wealthiest in the US but who isn't? They're NATO members, equipped with military equipment that's every bit as good as ours, and their troops are trained to NATO standards. But despite all of this, nobody fears Canadian conquest. Canada never had an empire. Canada has only invaded one country in its whole history: the US. They're still inordinately proud of having stood up to the US and having burned the White House, even if the US did eventually win the war of 1812. Those things count for a lot in the Third World. Go ahead, try to say "running dog imperialist Canadians" with a straight face; you can't do it, can you?

What's more, they've shown time and time again that they really don't have any intention of taking any side in any conflict but one: they're against aggression. They can step between the Croats, the Serbs, and the Bosnians and say with a straight face that they really don't give a fart in a windstorm who ends up owning any particular chunk of ground. All they care is, who fired first? That guy's today's bad guy. When he stops, he's no longer the bad guy. They go into hot spots like Somalia and surround the fighting spots, keep them from getting reinforcements. Then in the first lull, they go in and tell everybody firmly, "Knock it off! The next guy to shoot, we shoot him. Any questions?" And they do something that Americans can't do when they try to imitate Canadian peacekeepers: make it stick, stay impartial. The US can't help take sides. The Canadians can't seem to be bothered to take sides. And that they can't be bothered to care enough to take sides seems to make them remarkably good at negotiating the differences that keep flaring up as shooting wars.

There's only one reason to worry that they might not be able to pacify Iraq the way they've pacified Timor and the Golan and the Suez and the western Sahara and the Balkans et al, and that's that right now they're stretched a little thin. Madeleine Albright created too many screwups at once, so now Canada has almost as many peacekeepers in the field as they can afford. It's not being made easier by the fact that global currency traders are hammering the Canadian dollar. Globalist investors can't stand the idea of any country offering decent wages and a safety net; those countries have to have their currencies sold short until they knock it off. How much money to allocate to peacekeeping was apparently a hot topic in the last round of Canadian federal budget negotiations.

Obviously what they need is economic aid, to be hired by the whole UN to be the world's chief peacekeepers. Obviously we'd have to fund most of that; we're who could afford it. (Yes, we can, if only because it'll be many tens of billions cheaper than what we're currently spending on Iraq.) But we'd have to fund them through the UN, or barely maybe NATO or something. If they got perceived to be our hirelings, their essential perception of impartiality might vanish. That's why, for all that we claim that we're peacekeeping too, they weren't willing to join the Coalition of the Willing; they knew they'd be perceived as on America's side, and then every Canadian peacekeeper in the world would be less safe.

This is my only hope that when John Kerry says he'll convene an international summit on how to solve the Iraq problem, it might actually lead to a useful solution. George Bush says he meets with world leaders all the time, but Canada won't take over in Iraq if he asks them to. Never mind the whole lying about WMD and terrorism thing, Canadians know what'd happen if they rescued us in Iraq with George Bush still in command of the US Army: as soon as our troops got out of Iraq, they'd be in Iran. Then if the Canadians could stretch themselves thin enough to also peacekeep in Iran, as soon as Bush got our troops out of Iran, they'd be in Syria. And if there were enough Canadians to pull peacekeeper duty in nearly the whole Mideast, as soon as we got our troops out of the mideast they'd be in North Korea, and then who knows what'd happen. Canada knows better than to play the part of "enabler" to the American neocon movement's war-aholism. But if John Kerry asked them, I bet that they'd do it. I'm not sure he's even thought of it. But I hope he does, because frankly, it looks to me like our only hope.

That's right, our only hope to save the world is to send Canada. Americans, stop snickering. I really mean it.

Can Journalists Report What They See?

I've been looking for a while for an excuse to write about journalistic standards, and there's a beautiful example going on right now. Because my question is this. If a journalist reports on facts that they, themselves observe, is that commentary, editorial, opinion, reporting, or fact? If they draw a conclusion that is entirely supported by what they are seeing, is that bias or not?

Here's a quick historical overview: from the dawn of journalism over two thousand years ago until fairly recently, all journalism consisted of a journalist collecting as many facts as he or she could, balancing contradictory accounts to try to figure out what the truth of the story was, and then writing a single consistent story that reported on what had really happened. Then in the late 20th century, a whole bunch of things happened that made that seem like less of a good idea. Consolidation in the newspaper business left almost every city in America with a single newspaper. That meant that if you only had one journalist reporting on a story, which was pretty normal, then whatever conclusions he or she drew about what had really happened were likely to be the only conclusions reported, to the vast anger of the people who'd seen the same events and drawn different conclusions. On November 22nd, 1963, the most powerful and important man in the world was murdered in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses, no two of whom agree on what actually happened; a major investigation at the highest levels of government also failed to come up with a convincing single factual account of what had happened, and settled for an unconvincing one. As public relations became a more and more scientific and mathematically analyzed part of political campaigning, no single account was likely to remain unchallenged by increasingly aggressive lobbying and PR groups for all of the sides involved.

So along about 30 years ago, newspapers and TV networks and journalism schools changed the rules of journalistic ethics. Now, reporters never, ever, ever draw conclusions. They don't compare what the sources say, themselves. They don't compare what the sources say to the known facts. Any more, they don't even report what they actually saw themselves, under most circumstances. They don't dare. If they did, then the first person who wanted to not believe what the reporter had seen would accuse the reporter of either misperceiving the events because of built-in prejudices, or they'd accuse the reporter of selective reporting to support their "side" of the story. So, anymore, reporters don't report. They show up, collect press releases or prepared statements from everybody who wants to submit one, sort them into piles based on "sides" making sure to have at least two sides, and write a "story" in which all they do is plug an equal number of quotes from each side's press releases into a standard news story outline.

Let's imagine that a journalist receives a report that the gostak is distimming a dosh, and rushes to the scene. The pro-gostak side says that the gostak did no such thing. The anti-distimming side says that the dosh sure as heck was distimmed. The dosh reports that it was distimmed, and identifies the gostak as the distimmer. The gostak reports that it did no distimming, and claims to be the victim of an anti-gostak propaganda campaign. Now, if the journalist hasn't seen the gostak distim the dosh with his own eyes, what should the journalist do? Should the journalist collect additional accounts and compare them with forensic evidence until the journalist can conclusively prove whether or not the gostak distimmed the dosh? No, say the journalistic ethics teachers, because whatever conclusion the journalist comes to will be affected by the journalist's innate pro-gostak or anti-gostak, pro-distimming or anti-distimming, pro-dosh or anti-dosh prejudices. Just report both sides and let the reader decide. Never mind that the reader will decide based entirely on their own prejudices, influenced only by the relative rhetorical skills of the advocates for each side; it is not the job of the journalist to take sides. If it matters whether or not the gostak distimmed that particular dosh, then the courts can sort it out, and then it will be the journalist's job to report the verdict and what the losing side says about the verdict.

But what if the journalist made it to the scene in time to catch the gostak distimming the dosh? What if the journalist saw it with their own eyes, and knows for a fact that that particular dosh was distimmed by the gostak, and that the pro-gostak side, and the people who say that a gostak would never distim a dosh, are either in error or lying? Is it ever correct for a journalist, under today's journalistic code of ethics, to report their own perceptions? If the journalist knows, for a fact, that it is absolutely beyond all shadow of a doubt a fact that a source is lying, is it ever appropriate for them to say so? According to current official canons of journalistic ethics, the answers are no, no, and no. The journalist must never draw any in print or on-air conclusions, even based on their own eye-witness testimony, for fear of being accused of being biased.

And it is is in this context that I want to discuss Farnaz Fassihi.

For those of you who've missed this story, here's a quick recap. Farnaz Fassihi is a traveling international reporter for the Wall Street Journal, one of the vast army of on-the-scene correspondents that make the WSJ famous for the depth and breadth of their news coverage. She has been stationed in Iraq since the war began, reporting on the war for the WSJ. In her official reports, she followed the journalists' code, never reporting anything in her own voice, only passing along what the various sources that she had access to were saying in their own voices. On September 29th, in a dark moment of self-doubt, she wrote a personal email to 40 of her personal friends, most of them fellow journalists, about the frustrations of reporting on the Iraq war under current conditions. You can find a complete copy of that email, in its entirety, on the journalistic professional discussion web site Poynter Online. If you have a moment, please go read it now, it's brief.

In that email, she wrote about some absolute facts, things she had witnessed with her own eyes - instructions she had been given, private security briefings for reporters she had been in, attacks that she had lived through. She accurately reported her own feelings, and sourced them correctly, as her own feelings. She also accurately described her own opinion about the state of the war and its probable outcome. This was not in a story submitted to the WSJ, it was a private email, but at least one of those 40 recipients unethically leaked her email to the anti-war weblogs. They had a field day with it, because here was the right wing WSJ's own reporter on the scene saying, among other things, that the US was losing the war in Iraq, and that she didn't see any way that the situation could be improved, that it was only going to get worse. Almost immediately she was placed "on vacation" by the WSJ, a vacation that she and they say was planned in advance before the email leak, but that oddly enough she didn't mention in her email to her friends.

Since then, I've seen a widespread consensus that now that Ms. Fassihi has let it slip that she has any kind of an opinion about how the war is going, she is no longer entitled to report on it. For example, journalist ethics expert Alv Colon wrote a column for Poynter Online in which he more or less admits that it is possible for a reporter to be "too truthful" to be allowed to be a reporter; the only alternatives once that happens, he says, is to move their work to the opinion pages and label it as one side's opinion, or to take them off of that beat. Baltimore Sun media columnist David Folkenfilk says that by reporting her own observations instead of sticking to sources, she's one of the many journalists lately who've mistakenly opened themselves up to accusations of bias. The closest thing I could easily find to a defense of her email was by Columbia Tribune columnist Tony Messenger, who compares her to Tom Wolfe, which if you think about what real working journalists think about Tom Wolfe is pretty slant-wise praise.

Me, I want to know why what she wrote isn't journalism? Because as far as I can tell, every single statement in that email is accurately reported and fully sourced. The only thing that anybody can pick on is that for some of the facts reported on, she is the single reporting source. At the end of the email, she draws a conclusion that some people won't want to hear. But she accurately sources that conclusion ("those of us on the ground"), and in the same paragraphs offers a fully sourced contrary opinion!

Now, Tony Messenger thinks she could be the next Tom Wolfe? I'm more worried that she's going to be accused of being the next Jane Fonda. You see, here it is less than three weeks after she wrote that, and the US 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is attacking Fallujah again. You may recall that when they were ordered to capture Fallujah after the murder of four US mercenaries, they utterly failed, and retreated from they city after the humiliating spectre of America's crack fighting unit being pinned down and having to beg repeatedly for a cease fire. Now they're going in again, in an attempt to shut down the resistance command, control, and resupply centers that have sprung up inside resistance-controlled Iraq. Make no bones about this -- it will be extremely hard. Dozens of Americans finest troops are going to die before we even find out whether or not the conquest of Fallujah is even possible. If the invasion goes ahead beyond that point, we're still likely to take hundreds of casualties, hundreds of dead or crippled American marines, even in the unlikely event that they succeed. If they fail catastrophically enough, we could lose almost the entire 1st MEF.

When the artillery shells are falling all around them, and bombers are flying overhead, do you think that the Iraqi Resistance won't be passing around printouts of that email now, rallying the troops by reminding them that they're winning, that the Americans are desperate, that if they resist this one last time it may well be over? Does it change her responsibilities that her own country, governed by a political party that her newspaper openly supports, is at war against an entrenched urban force? In addition to the journalistic canon that says that she must never let anyone know that she observed any part of the news herself and must never let anyone know that she drew any conclusions thereby, does she have a responsibility as an American citizen to protect the lives of American marines, to keep them from dying at the hands of revitalized and re-energized Iraqi insurgents? Was putting those thoughts in writing not only a career-limiting mistake but treasonous?

I know some people will say so. All I have to say is that I wish that journalism didn't have to work this way. I remember the good old days when journalists were expected to report the news, not just collate press releases. The American people need to know the truth. Just telling both sides isn't telling the truth.