Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Wilson/Plame Affair: More Links

These are a few more links I've come across.  Not much time to comment on them right now.

At Newsmax, a really conservative site, a very critical piece about Plame's exposure appears next to an "I Like Bush" t-shirt ad. (Via Atrios.)

At the same Atrios link, he excerpts this panel discussion that includes Larry Johnson, a Republican former CIA analyst, from the PBS Newshour.

Billmon has a number of great comments on this issue.  This particular one is not one of the best, but it's intriguing because he goes John Le Carre on us here.

And via Daily Kos, Wyeth Wire focuses on a serious problem that's already come up with how John Ashcroft's Justice Department has handled this.

Stigmatizing Dissent: David Brooks Weighs In (Again)

I've talked about this "stigmatizing dissent" theme in several previous posts. Conservative columnist David Brooks has raised the issue again. In his latest entry, he says the "culture war" of the 1980s has evolved into a new cultural war focused on criticizing the President. He cites a few examples that hardly seem able to carry the weight his argument places upon them. Evidently he thinks it was an act of hatred for Molly Ivins' first book on Bush to be titled Shrub.

It's clear Brooks is only worried about Democratic "haters" right now. He says (all emphases are mine) that the "quintessential new [Democratic] warrior ... will believe anything" about President Bush because it "feels so delicious to believe it [and] it's important to believe it because the other side is vicious, so he must be too." He continues:

To the [Democratic] warrior, politics is no longer a clash of value systems, each of which is in some way valid. ... Instead, [to the Democratic "warrior"] it's ... a brutal struggle for office in which each side believes the other is behaving despicably. ... The presidency wars produce mostly terrible [books] because the [Democratic] hatreds have left the animating ideas far behind and now romp about on their own.

The warriors have one other feature: ignorance. They have as much firsthand knowledge of their enemies as members of the K.K.K. had of the N.A.A.C.P. ... The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it's the [Democratic] haters themselves.

This is just a further elaboration of the idea that criticisms of Bush or his policies are all just based on wild emotion and hate. Hate, hate, hate. It's the kind of thing that will convince those who want to be convinced. But, as a reality check, I'll refer to my account of an appearance by Joe Conason, (here and here) a partisan and persistent journalistic critic of Bush. Readers can judge whether he "will believe anything" about our legitimate President.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Wilson/Plame Affair: More Background

Following are some articles giving explanations of the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame case. The first is doubly interesting. It explains some of the legal considerations involved, and it is written by John Dean, Nixon's White House counsel whose Congressional testimony gave key evidence in the Watergate scandal. Dean says of the leaks on Plame:

[W]hat has surfaced is repulsive. If I thought I had seen dirty political tricks as nasty and vile as they could get at the Nixon White House, I was wrong. ... Indeed, this is arguably worse. Nixon never set up a hit on one of his enemies' wives. ...  This is the most vicious leak I have seen in over 40 years of government-watching. Failure to act to address it will reek of a cover-up or, at minimum, approval of the leak's occurrence - and an invitation to similar revenge upon Administration critics.

This July story from Newsday was one of the first. This July piece from The Hill is a reminder that this was an issue before the Justice Department got a formal CIA referral. 

From the last few days, Clifford May in National Review makes the rather odd defense that leaking Plame's name was no big deal, because lots of people knew she worked for the CIA. "Who didn't know?" he asks, which raises even more questions about how careful this Administration is on such security matters. Daniel Drezner, who acted as an unpaid adviser to Bush's 2000 campaign writes:

What was done here was thuggish, malevolent, illegal, and immoral. Whoever peddled this story to Novak and others, in outing Plame, violated the law and put the lives of Plame's overseas contacts at risk. Compared to this, all of Clinton's peccadilloes look like an mildly diverting scene from an Oscar Wilde production.

Wilson/Plame Affair: A Tangled Web

The Wilson/Plame affair - or is the Plame/Wilson affair - or (groan!) "Wilsongate" - is a very serious matter. It could well become the American version of Tony Blair's Hutton inquiry, in which an occurrence peripheral to the Iraq War winds up dramatically highlighting the degree of deception involved in making the case for war.

Even if this weren't connected to the war the way it is, for the White House to leak the name of an undercover CIA operative would be a big deal. As I understand the law, which was passed at the particular urging of the first President Bush during his time as Reagan's Vice President, this is a felony. It is not a crime for the reporter to receive or publish it, unless it's done repeatedly in a way that shows a pattern intended to damage national security.

In this case, we can certainly question Robert Novak's journalistic decision to publish the information. It was reportedly given to at least five other reporters, none of whom used the information in published stories or broadcasts. So presumably their judgment on the matter was different, whether from ethical reasons or because it was judged not to be a legitimate part of the "uranium from Niger" news story, the context in which it came up.

This story raises many questions. For the other journalists who received the information, is it permissible for them to reveal the leaker(s) on the grounds that Administration officials were breaking the law on a matter unrelated to the uranium story? Can the Justice Department legally require reporters to give the names?

According to White House spokesman Scott McClellan Monday, President Bush knows Karl Rove was not one of the leakers. Yet he also denied that the White House was conducting its own investigation. But why not? And how can Bush know that Rove was not involved unless there has been some kind of White House investigation?

The larger story here is the false prewar claims about "weapons of mass destruction" that the Bush Administration used to justify the Iraq War. When no WMDs were found in Iraq, they had to defend their prewar claims as somehow valid, or at least honestly mistaken. Which led, among other things, to the questions about the Niger uranium claims, which gave rise to the Valerie Plame leak.

Some people would say it's karma. But one way or the other, the WMD lies are coming back on the heads of Bush and his team.

Iraq War: Pinning the Blame

For an Administration that insists that things are going wonderfully in Iraq, there certainly does seem to be a scramble to pin the blame for the failure of a policy that, according to the official line, is succeeding marvelously.  I guess it's kind of a postmodern thing.

The current issue of Newsweek carries a piece called "The Unbuilding of Iraq" that is one of the manifestations of this finger-pointing.  Two quotes stand out for me in particular.  One talks about how the Pentagon (Rummy with some direction from Dick Cheney) was vetoing a number of State Department choices for postwar occpuation officials:

The vetting process "got so bad that even doctors sent to restore medical services had to be anti-abortion," recalled one of [Jay] Garner's team.

The next one pretty much speaks for itself:

There was considerable confusion over who was supposed to be in charge of post-Saddam Iraq. "What do we mean by 'regime change' anyway?" General Franks queried Secretary Rumsfeld in the middle of the war.

Yeah, we've got problems in Iraq.


Sunday, September 28, 2003

Chuckie Watch 7: Chuckie vs. Single Mothers

CHARLIE DANIELS  must have mood swings or something. He'll post a few fairly mellow or inocuous posts in a laid-back "long haired country boy" mood. Then he'll be raging like a John Bircher who's just found out his daughter's marrying a Communist. Chuckie's latest, "Social Shenanigans", is complaining about welfare. He ends up blaming it all on immigrants, somehow, I'm not quite sure how. But we already know that Chuckie don't much like immigrants. But the main thing that's worrying Chuckie's Christian conscience is loose women:

And you've also heard the stories about the welfare mothers who have five different children by five different men and turns them out on the street to run wild and end up in jail by the time they're teenagers and she gets a welfare allowance for each one of them.

But I don't think Chuckie is worried about hiring more auditors at the social services department:

They [politicians who support welfare] encourage the very things which corrode the fabric of society. Teenaged mothers, out of wedlock birth, children who grow up wild on the street without parental guidance or nurturing and eventually end up behind bars or lying in a pool of blood in some intercity back alley.

So according to Chuckie, real men don't want their tax money being spent on feedin' no children. What kind of wuss would support something like that? Real men want those little bastard babies to go hungry to teach their mommas some decent morals. Real men want their taxes to go to Halliburton and Bechtel.

I don't know how we Americans got so far off into goofball thinking that someone could even imagine that this kind of rant would appeal to anyone but half-senile White Citizens Council members. The European Union countries all provide considerable basic assistance to new mothers, on the very sound notion that it's in society's general interest to make sure babies get adequate food and clothing. And by any measurable standard of sexual morality, they certainly are no worse off than the United States.

And, for some odd reason, not even the conservative parties in Europe complain that feeding children is undermining the morals of their mothers.

California Recall: Home Stretch Thoughts

Georgy Russell, California gubernatorial candidate

Some people reading this Weblog probably wonder why I haven't posted more about the California recall, since it's a unique event that's attracting a lot of national attention. The basic reason is that I just haven't had much to say about it. My basic perspective hasn't changed much in the three weeks since I first posted about it over a month ago. I still think the recall will fail.

And I still think that Cruz Bustamonte enjoys a heavy advantage in the current partisan line-up to be the leading replacement candidate for Gray Davis if the recall wins. Even though current polls contradict my prediction that he will be the strongest vote-getter of the replacement candidates.

I should also mention why I've had the Georgy Russell for Governor site in my list of favorite sites. It's not meant as an endorsement. (Sorry, Georgy!) But I've had it there as a kind of protest against the basically dysfunctional way both parties have approached this.

Georgy's campaign is a reminder that politics can be spirited and fun as well as serious. And her site shows some of the potential of the Internet for expanding grassroots democracy, as long as we can stop the corporate giants from finding ways to dominate it, too, when it comes to politics.

The fact that she was able to attract national attention to her campaign through her focused use ofthe Web is a tribute to her creativity. It's also good to see concerned twentysomethings get interested in politics, and her campaign is encouraging that. Jon Carroll gives her some well-deserved praise in this San Francisco Chronicle column.

Did I say national attention? Make that international, as in the BBC and Der Spiegel. Hopefully, she'll keep her Weblog going after the election. Whether she wins or loses.

California Recall: Voting Time

I filled out my absentee ballot today. I voted NO on the recall. I also voted NO on the two propositions on the ballot. Normally, I automatically vote no on initiatives, even when I like the particular provisions, because this is usually a terrible way to make laws.

Prop 53 requires 3% of state general funds to be devoted to infrastruture projects. I have no idea how that compares to current practice. And if the state legislature wants to do that, they have the power to do it now. Why write something like that into a law that can only be amended by another statewide vote (which is the case with initiatives) or by court decisions (also a bad way to make law, although often necessary)?

Prop 54 is some crackpot thing written by opponents of affirmative action to forbid state and local governments from collecting data based on race. I think the idea is that if the government can't collect race-based data, it will be harder for anyone to argue that racial discrimination is occurring. The whole thing is ridiculous.

Prop 54 is another one that's likely to get shot down immediately by the courts if it passes, proving once again that "direct democracy" can enact measures just as flawed as "the politicians" do. There are so many obvious public-policy reasons for collecting this data, from legislative apportionment to public-health records, that it's clearly just a measure aimed at sabotaging the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

There is a big measure of irony in this, too. Measures like Prop 54 are intended to appeal to "angry white men." But non-Latino Caucasians are now a minority in California (though still the largest minority). If there's any state where whites might legitimately worry about possible racial discrimination against them in the future, it's California. Although right now, that problem exists mostly in the over-excited fantasies of Rush Limbaugh fans, even in California.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, California and Non-Stop Elections, this recall farce should be the occasion for Californians to take a serious look at our state constitution, especially the ostensible "direct democracy" provisions for initiative and recall, which in the form that California currently has them, actually do more in practice to inhibit democracy than to strenthen it.

The Plame/Wilson Affair: The Column That Started It

This is the original column by conservative journalist Robert Novak that presumably blew the cover of Valerie Plume (see previous post): "Mission to Niger".

This is the relevant part to the scandal:

That's where Joe Wilson came in. His first public notice had come in 1991 after 15 years as a Foreign Service officer when, as U.S. charge in Baghdad, he risked his life to shelter in the embassy some 800 Americans from Saddam Hussein's wrath. My partner Rowland Evans reported from the Iraqi capital in our column that Wilson showed "the stuff of heroism." President George H.W. Bush the next year named him ambassador to Gabon, and President Bill Clinton put him in charge of African affairs at the National Security Council until his retirement in 1998.

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. "I will not answer any question about my wife," Wilson told me.

Bush's critics suggested at the time that leaking information that Plame was an undercover CIA operative was meant not only to create pressure on Wilson to limit his public criticism of Bush's Iraq War policies. But that it was also meant to intimidate other former officials who might be tempted to criticize some aspect of Bush's conduct.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

A Story to Watch

John Ashcroft's Justice Department will now have a chance to show if it can handle an assignment more substantial than covering up nekkid statues or an undercover operation to find prostitutes in New Orleans. (Not to disparage the latter; it must have taken very skilled and intensive undercover work to locate hookers in New Orleans!)

They just got a case referred by the CIA concerning the exposure of the identity of a CIA agent - by two senior Bush Administration officials. The agent in question is Valerie Plame, the wife of Joseph Wilson, the Ambassador who investigated claims of uranium sales from Niger to Iraq. (At least according to the press reports; neither she, nor Wilson, nor the CIA has publicly acknowledged that she is a CIA employee.) Wilson has been publicly critical of the Administration's use of the Niger uranium claim.

The Washington Post's Sunday story gives a good background on the case, although it oddly understates the matter in saying "intentional disclosure of a covert operative's identity can violate federal law." The Post story is also notable for this:

A senior administration official said two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and revealed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. ...

"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak. ...

It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another. Asked about the motive for describing the leaks, the senior official said the leaks were "wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson's credibility."

 Several of the leading political blogs have been on this story, including Josh Marshall, Billmon, and Atrios. See especially this from Daily Kos. This is a story we'll likely be hearing a lot more of the next few months.

Spain, the Iraq War and the Death Penalty in Florida

Britain has been the main ally of the US in the Iraq War. But Spain is another European Union country that has backed the US effort there, and continues to do so. They have a small troop presence, but at least one Spanish soldier has died there so far.

The Spanish Minister of Defense, Frederico Trillo, was in Iraq this weekend. While there, he stressed that "Spain did not invade Iraq" and emphasized that their presence there was "solely a force of peace under the mandate of the UN." Presumably he was referring to the UN recognition of the status of the occupying powers, since the UN did not specifically authorize the invasion (although Minister Trillo apparently doesn't want to call it that).

He also insisted that the intervention in Iraq was necessary because of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction," even though none have been found. He made a weird analogy of the WMDs with Saddam Hussein. We used to see Saddam on TV, he said, and we knew he was there. Now we don't see him, but we can't locate him. "Something similar has happened with the weapons of mass destruction: the UN inspectors had proof that this arsenal existed; on the other hand, we haven't found it."

Statements like this are the kind of thing that tends to decrease a government's credibility. But Spain's ruling conservatives, the Partido Popular (PP), and their leader, Spanish President José María Aznar, haven't encountered the difficulties that Tony Blair has in Britain. In part, that's because Spain's military and financial commitment is much smaller.

But the war was very unpopular in Spain, more unpopular than in France or Germany according to the polls. On one weekend before the war began, as much as 5% of the total population of Spain was estimated to have participated in demonstrations against the war. And the postwar polls have reflected some loss in popular support for the PP.

Aznar was in Florida this past week, among other things asking Governor Jeb Bush to commute the death sentence of a Spanish citizen condemned to die there. Given that Aznar provided Jeb's brother in the White House an important part of what little international support he received on the Iraq War, it will be interesting to see if Jeb accommodates Aznar on his death penalty request.

Afternoon in Mississippi

This is a picture of me with my father on the afternoon of his 90th birthday party at home. My cousin Lora took the picture. She warned me it was a bit blurry. But I think it looks kind of cool that way.


Mississippi Politics Meets Iraq War Profiteering

Haley Barbour, former head of the Republican National Committe and now Republican candidate for governor of his native Mississippi, is the focus of this post by Josh Marshall. It deals with Barbour's links to a company called New Bridge Strategies, that was set up to consult with businesses interested in doing business in the New Iraq.

Specifically, according to its Web site, "Its activities will seek to expedite the creation of free and fair markets and new economic growth in Iraq, consistent with the policies of the Bush Administration." As Marshall explains, this has all the outward appearances of crony capitalism at its worst.

Our all-volunteer military draws its soldiers disproportionately from the South. Some small towns in Mississippi have had their entire police forces called up into active duty, because many of them were serving in the reserves. Soldiers from Mississippi are being killed in the Iraq War.

And Haley Barbour wants to be Governor of Mississippi to cut the already inadequate public services in the state, while he positions himself to rake in the bucks from war profiteering. If Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrave doesn't make an issue out of that in his tough race for re-election, you have to wonder how much he really wants to hold on to the governorship.

And while Haley Barbour and his Republican cronies look for ways to siphon profits out of war, Mississippi is taking a huge hit due to the national recession. Mississippi needs jobs and good public services. Haley Barbour and his Enron Republican cronies in Washington will not provide money to even maintain public services in the state, because the core of their domestic program is to provide huge tax cuts for the very wealthiest.

Is this what Barbour and his party expect Mississippians to die for in Iraq?

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Europe and the Iraq War

I was visiting in Austria and Germany a couple of weeks after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. I remember thinking that with the incredible outpouring of sympathy for the United States, Americans might never be so popular in Europe again as they were at that particular moment.

I don't mean that people were walking up to me on the street and saying "Americans are wonderful" or anything. (Yeah, like that's ever gonna happen!)

But the press coverage was positive for the US. And individuals were genuinely sympathetic and understood that the Americans felt collectively attacked.

While I was there, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to the German Parliament. In fluent German. Putin had been a KGB officer at the Russian consulate in Dresden during the Communist days in East Germany. He knows German society and politics, and he speaks their language (literally). His visit to Germany, including a stop to see his old landlady in Dresden, got sympathetic press coverage.

I thought at the time that if the Bush Administration somehow went back to their pre-9/11 anti-Europe track in foreign policy, that Putin's visit should be a very symbolic reminder that the world - and Europe in particular - has changed a great deal since the fall of the Soviet Union. Europe does have other options than to follow America's lead. As we've seen over the last year.

I thought of that today when I saw this item in Der Spiegel (my translation):

The old alliance is the new one. Russia, France and Germany - the opponents of the Iraq War - are increasing the pressure on Bush's government, which has gotten itself into a difficult situation, to turn over power in Iraq to a civilian administration.

No one disputes that the US is militarily the most powerful country in the world. But are we powerful enough to go blast up Iraq and then patch things up and get most of our troops back out of there in a month or two? Obviously not.

It would be foolish to interpret the Russian-French-German position as hostility to the US. On the contrary, they're offering Bush political cover for cutting his losses in Iraq, if he's willing and able to take it. But it's a reminder that even the most powerful nation in the world still needs good, old-fashioned, practical diplomacy. Not just bluster and threats.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Iraq War: Judith Miller Strikes Again

The New York Times is running another story about "weapons of mass destruction" with Judith Miller's byline (along with Douglas Jehl). Any time you see Judith Miller's name on a story, you should not assume any of it is true unless you see it reported separately by a reliable reporter.

For details, check articles on her by Slate's Fred Kaplan, like here, here and here. But it's safe to say that readers should give claims like these in the new Times article zero credibility if a story of Judith Miller's is the only source. In fact, if you want to bet money that the underlying claims will prove to be false, you're not likely to lose. She writes of the upcoming report by David Kay's team looking for WMDs in Iraq:

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Kay and his team had not found illicit weapons. They said they believed that Mr. Kay had found evidence of precursors and dual-use equipment that could have been used to manufacture chemical and biological weapons.

They also said that Mr. Kay's team had interviewed at least one Iraqi security officer who said he had worked in such a chemical and biological weapons program until shortly before the American invasion in March.

In this story, we've got one guy - one guy - who says he worked in some kind of bio-chem weapons program. So at least General Judy is more modest in her claims this time than her previous whoppers. But even with a crass propagandist like her at work, this is a long, long way from the "25,000 liters of anthrax ... 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin ... materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent ... 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents" Bush talked about in his State of the Union address this past January.

Out of all this fearsome arsenal that we went to war over, all that even General Judy can find now is one guy who says he was involved in some kind of weapons program. It's amazing.

The UN and the Iraq War

The initial responses the Bush's appeal to the UN indicate that it was even more of a flop than critics expected. The Washington Post reports:

President Bush ended two days of meetings with foreign leaders today without winning more international troops or funds for Iraq and with a top aide saying it could take months to achieve a new U.N. resolution backing the U.S. occupation.

Bush's failure to win a promise of fresh soldiers in meetings with the leaders of India and Pakistan -- aides said the president did not even ask -- increased the difficulty the United States will have in assembling another division of foreign troops in Iraq, which senior Pentagon officials say is the minimum needed to relieve overstretched U.S. forces.

Pakistan is saying, unless you come up with big bucks to pay for it, no way we're sending troops. Turkey, which has been discussed as one of the most likely to send troops, says they want to see more UN involvement and a faster turnover of control to the Iraqis before they commit troops.

The best news on foreign assistance came from Germany. "Bush aides said Germany might provide police training."

They might provide police training. And this was the good news. The Pentagon is now looking at more reserve call-ups. No quick-and-easy war on this one.

Bush's Credibility and the Iraq War

When Josh Marshall is on a roll, it's hard to improve on what he says:

I'm hearing many conservatives say now that the White House political office is off their game. But I see no real evidence of this. The problem is more fundamental. For quite some time this White House has functioned like a heavily leveraged business, an overextended investor that suddenly gets a margin call. To extend the business metaphor, the White House has been surviving not on profits but expectations of future profits or, in other words, credibility. The White House has been able to get the public to sit tight with a lot of objectively poor news (a poor economy, big deficits, bad news from abroad) on the basis of trust.

But a combination of the manifest incompetence of the planning for post-war Iraq and the dishonesty of the build-up for the war have become increasingly difficult to defend or deny. And that's struck a grave blow against the president's credibility.

A lot of people who opposed the Iraq War were depressed that there was so much public support for it. But that's basic anthropology, "us" against "them", the foreigners, the outsiders. Every war is popular during the first 30 days. Usually longer.

But losing the public's confidence on prosecuting a war is seriously bad news for a President. (Or, in Tony Blair's case, a Prime Minister.) Despite the incredible impeachment circus, Bill Clinton managed to maintain the trust of the majority on issues of actual public policy.

But it turns out that regular people take lying about the reasons for war (and lying about the progress of the war, and not seeming to have a strategy for putting an end to a war) a lot more seriously than trying to cover up a half-baked love affair.

A lot of Bush's problems on public support for the Iraq War go back directly to the days after the 9/11 attack. He told people the sacrifices they needed to make for fighting terrorism were: shop till you drop to boost the economy, travel a lot to help the travel industry and pay less taxes.  Especially pay less taxes. In other words, he effectively promised that most voters wouldn't have to pay a price in the War on Terrorism.

That promise doesn't have much credibility left, either.


Bush's UN Speech: There Was a Surprise

Okay, so one thing in Bush's speech to the UN did surprise me (my emphasis):

Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: between those who seek order and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man and those who deliberately take the lives of men and women and children without mercy or shame.

For a domestic Republican audience, that's just boilerplate. But it's surprising he would use it for a world audience very suspicious of his own Administration's commitment to world order and international law. With all the publicity about continuing civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and reports of chaotic conditions in Iraq especially, it was certainly an awkward choice of words.

As Glenn Kessler notes in the Washington Post:

But in two speeches that bracketed the president's address, Annan and French President Jacques Chirac suggested that it is the administration's doctrine of "preemption" -- the promise to strike against emerging threats -- that threatens to spread chaos across the globe. Both men bluntly said that the Bush administration is undermining the collective security arrangements that have governed the world since World War II. ...

Annan said that reserving "the right to act unilaterally or in ad hoc coalitions . . . represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last 58 years. My concern is that if it were to be adopted, it would set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force with or without justification."

Not one of Bush's more impressive performances.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

After Bush's UN Speech

Bush's speech Tuesday to the UN General Assembly didn't have any surprises for me, good or otherwise. It was pretty much what I expected: We were right on Iraq; you sissy wimp nations were wrong; but if you beg nicely, we'll let you send troops and money to help us out.

As a diplomatic strategy, it strikes me as deeply unserious.

What did surprise me was how strong (in diplomatic terms) the criticism was of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. All understood that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was referring to that when he said:

Since this organization was founded, states have generally sought to deal with threats to the peace through containment and deterrence by a system based on collective security and the United Nations Charter.

This may be a moment no less decisive than in 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded.

French President Jacques Chirac said (emphasis mine):

The United Nations has just weathered one of its most serious trials in its history: respect for the Charter, the use of force, were at the heart of the debate. The war, which was started without the authorization of the Security Council, has shaken the multilateral system.

Having taken stock of this crisis, our organization is now resuming its onward march, for it is primarily within this forum, the crucible of international law, that we must exercise our responsibilities to the world and to future generations.

Americans of both parties will be quick to dismiss Chirac's words especially as some kind of devious Old World cyncism. But both Kofi Annan and Chirac were all but explicitly raising the issue of the legality of the US war on Iraq under international law.

This puts more immediate pressure on Tony Blair than on Bush. The British public, press and Parliament seem to be more aware of issues around international law than those in America. Britain is also a member of the International Criminal Court.

But it seems to me that, in the longer term, that was a much more significant thing than the immediate outcome of the pending Iraq resolution. Like it or not, Americans haven't heard the last of that one.

Stigmatizing Dissent: Molly Ivins Weighs In

If you haven't heard Molly Ivins speak live, you probably haven't gotten a full dose of her hard-hitting Texas brand of political talk. She's kind of like Bruce Springsteen in that way: seeing her live makes a real difference.

But a lot her style does come through in her writing. Her latest column takes on the notion that criticizing Shrub Bush (a nickname Molly made famous) is "hate speech." Not surprisingly, Molly is impressed only by the cheekiness of the complaint:

Among the more amusing cluckings from the right lately is their appalled discovery that quite a few Americans actually think George W. Bush is a terrible president.

Robert Novak is quoted as saying in all his 44 years of covering politics, he has never seen anything like the detestation of Bush. Charles Krauthammer managed to write an entire essay on the topic of "Bush haters" in Time magazine, as though he had never before come across such a phenomenon.

Oh, I stretch memory way back, so far back, all the way back to -- our last president. Almost lost in the mists of time though it is, I not only remember eight years of relentless attacks from Clinton-haters, I also notice they haven't let up yet. Clinton-haters accused the man of murder, rape, drug-running, sexual harassment, financial chicanery and official misconduct, and his wife of even worse.

She has some more choice comments about the Krauthammer column that I mentioned a few days ago.

Chuckie Watch 6: Chuckie Scolds the (Democratic) Politicians

Nashville's avatar of Patriotic Correctness CHARLIE DANIELS is off his mellow-Soapbox streak.  In his latest, "People, Politicians and Foolishness", Chuckie's telling us how he don't like politicians that do things that damage the country. You know, politicians like Tom Daschle, Charles Rangle, and Hillary Clinton (double dose).  His intro to the whole thing is pretty cute:

I believe that the form of government we have in the U.S.A. is the best in the world. The only thing wrong with it is the politicians.

Let's see, we have the Best Government in the World but the politicians that make it up are all screwy. Now, how does that work? Oh, yeah, there's a definite pattern to the politicians he thinks are irresponsible. If we could just git rid of them there Democrats, everything would be fine.

And given Chuckie's, uh, less than thorough knowledge about basic American values like freedom of religion, I have to wonder just how extensive his knowledge of comparative politics is. But we'll let that slide.

And Chuckie don't like Charles Rangle's talkin' about no draft for the military. He says, "I take Congressman Rangle's proposal as a slap in the face of our military." I don't exactly follow that. But I wonder how Chuckie will react when Bush and Rummy reinstate the draft. Which they will have to do soon after the 2004 election if they win and intend to keep on with their current foreign policy.

Wild guess here: Chuckie will be all for it.

Let's be fair. Chuckie does mention a Republican:

And how about the big to do about Trent Lott. I'm not defending what he did, it was political suicide and he should have known it. But how about Hillary Clinton hugging that Middle Eastern leader's wife? Guess it just depends on who's doing the hugging.

Translation from Chuckie-speak: Nah, I ain't defendin' ole Trent.  (Ain't criticizin' him either.) But it was political suicide because there's a lot of, you know, certain kinds of people who'll criticize you for kissing up to white supremacist groups. But, hey, look! Hillary Clinton hugged an A-rab!!!

And there's some other stuff about spotted owls and dead babies and wasting money and stuff. Yeah, Chuckie's back on the Dark Side this week.

Powell and Rice on "Weapons of Mass Destruction"

For better or worse, the rest of the English-speaking world gets a different kind of international news than we typically do here in America. At least it's presented quite differently.

This Australian report (via Juan Cole's blog) on a documentary that aired on British TV (ITV1, not the embattled BBC) is focused on the implications for the Austrialian Prime Minister John Howard's diplomatic support for the Iraq War, but it's certainly of interest to Americans:

[Investigative journalist John] Pilger uncovered video footage of [Secretary of State Colin] Powell in Cairo on February 24, 2001 saying, "He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."

Two months later, [National Security Adviser Condoleeza] Rice reportedly said, "We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."

Powell boasted this was because America's policy of containment and its sanctions had effectively disarmed Saddam.

A brief review in the British Guardian gives you the idea that, gosh, maybe not everyone else in the world thinks America is always the Greatest Country in the World, as our politicians of both parties are so fond of saying:

The film's high points came when Pilger confronted the beady-eyed apologists of the Washington regime. One Douglas Feith, an undersecretary of defence [and a leading Iraq hawk], denied Pilger's evidence of civilian casualties, denied the fact that the US and the UK had supplied arms to Iraq, and seemed ready to deny that fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly until he was stopped by a sinister, unseen military minder. Others squirmed under the lash of Pilger's research, but were unshakeable in their faith in America's divine right to be right.

Maybe Fox News will pick upPilger's documentary and run it in the US. :) :)


Bush and the UN

The only way I've been able to make sense out of Bush's current effort to get additional troops and money for Iraq from the United Nations is to assume it was more for domestic political consumption than a serious attempt to get international help.

But maybe it's a mistake to try to make sense out of it. Maybe they're just floundering. Because with the Iraq War, it Bush and Rummy are looking more and more like the guy in Buck Owens' song who has "got a tiger by the tail." They can't hang on forever this way. But any immediate alternative is very risky.

And the risk calculations have already been bad. Going into Iraq the way they did, with reasons for war that were, well, fake, now appears to have been a "bet the farm" kind of gamble. If the war was quick and easy, the potential payoff was big in terms of domestic political prestige, military clout in the Middle East, access to Iraqi oil and contracts for Halliburton and Bechtel. But now that it's turned out not be be quick or easy, there are huge downsides. (Halliburton and Bechtel seem to be doing okay so far.)

Today's San Francisco Chronicle has a good analysis of the prospects for action on a new Iraq resolution. Barring some big breakthrough, Bush is likely to get a cosmetic Security Council resolution offering some kind of very limited UN participation in the eventual transfer of power. But the US will still maintain full control over the occupation and the transition. And any international military or economic assistance will be limited. The Chronicle's analyst is probably being over-optimistic when he says:

The Bush administration is hoping that a resolution would pave the way for U.S. troops in Iraq to be substituted by 10,000 to 15,000 troops from Pakistan, Turkey, Bangladesh, India and the Arab nations. But Turkey is considered the only sure bet.

I won't count Turkey as a "sure bet" until the troops are on the ground in Iraq. Given the tensions between Turkey and the Kurds in northern Iraq, even then it's still more of a gamble than a "sure bet."

Bush just delivered his speech a few minutes ago. We'll soon see what the response from other countries will be. 

Monday, September 22, 2003

Iraq War Critics: Gerhard Schröder

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is scheduled to meet President Bush this week, had an op-ed piece in the New York Times last week.  One line especially caught my attention:

I put my own political future on the line in 2001 when I asked the German Bundestag for a vote of confidence for sending troops to Afghanistan, a military commitment unprecedented for Germany.

This incident says a lot about how the Bush Administration deals with long-standing allies. When Schröder and his Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer decided to commit German troops to Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, they needed approval from the lower house (Bundestag) of Parliament. Schröder insisted that it be on a "vote of confidence." That meant that if the proposal didn't win a majority in the Budestag with the votes of only the governing coalition parties (Social Democrats and Greens), the government would have fallen. A new coalition would have had to be formed or new elections called.

Normally, when the government of a friendly nation makes that kind of gesture on behalf of an ally (the US), it buys them some major credibility with the ally. Not in this case.

In 2002, when Schröder raised his opposition to the Iraq War in his election campaign, the Bush Administration reacted with public anger. The conservative challengers, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP), were actually more critical of Bush's Iraq policy than Schröder. But in irritation at Schröder, Bush seemed to be all-but-overtly favoring the challengers.

To add insult to injury, after Schröder's coalition won the election, Richard Perle, then the chair of the Defense Advisory Board and known to be one of the main architects of the Bush/Rumsfeld foreign policy, said in an interview with a German newspaper that Schröder should resign from office!  The Chancellor declined the suggestion. (This incident gives an idea of why Perle's admirers nicknamed him "the Prince of Darkness.")

This whole process was a strong signal not only to Germany but to other allies that when you put your political future on the line to support Bush's foreign policies, you can't expect much gratitude inreturn. Britain's ever-loyal Tony Blair may be wishing he had paid more attention to the lesson about now.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Iraq War Critics: Joe Conason in Berkeley (Pt. 3 of 3)

The 9/11 conspiracy-theory folks weren't satisfied. They kept bringing up various things, and even started a little heckling at one point, which fortunately lasted only a few seconds. But he stuck to his position.

At the end, one guy insisted that Conason was wrong in thinking the Democrats' foreign policy would be any better than Bush's and that American adventurism abroad went back 150 years. Conason ended by saying he didn't agree with that viewpoint. "Maybe I should apologize for that, but ... I don't."

He also showed his pragmatic streak in addressing a pessimistic question about the mainstream media by saying that people needed to remember that media outlets are human institutions, and therefore have complicated motives in their approaches. He singled out some good reporting on Bush's deceptions over the Iraq War by the Washington Post, which editorially has been very prowar. He expressed optimism that the Internet (including Weblogs) are giving people more alternatives to access good-quality news about national and international events.

Check out Joe Conason's Weblog on Salon.com, which also has some long excerpts from the book. And then read all of Big Lies. It's very good.

Iraq War Critics: Joe Conason in Berkeley (Pt. 2 of 3)

Conason spent most of his time responding to questions. The thing that impressed me most about his responses was his strong pragmatic streak. Although his book has a Big Concept and deals with national issues and foreign policy, he constantly encouraged people to think about things they could do to advance their views. He told people to focus on things they could do themselves and with people they know, and the larger picture would take care of itself.

I asked him how he thought the BBC would come out in its current confrontations with the Conservative Party and Tony Blair's prowar faction of the Labour Party. He explained some of the background of the controversy and said the current attacks on the BBC were comng from Conservative circles (like the Daily Telegraph) who don't like its independent journalism, and also from media barons who would like to privatize the whole thing.

He mentioned that he listens to the BBC regularly and that its Iraq War coverage was much better than that of most Amerian media outlets. And he also had a suggestion. Since Tony Blair values his popularity in America, he thinks that if Americans wrote letters to Blair telling him it would be a terrible thing to have the BBC suppressed, it might have some positive effect. (See Conason on the BBC here.)

A couple of people in the audience pressed him on the idea that Bush & Co somehow had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He insisted that he had never seen any evidence for their foreknowledge. But he did talk about how the Bush Administration had been negligent in dealing with the al-Qaeda threat in the months prior to 9/11.

(Cont. in Part 3)

Iraq War Critics: Joe Conason in Berkeley (Pt. 1 of 3)

I heard Joe Conason in Berkeley Saturday evening talking about Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth. As one might guess from the title his book is unapologetically liberal and partisan.

However, the book is also proof that a journalist can be both partisan and professional. Conason is one of those I would call a partisan with integrity. Which means Big Lies would also be a good one for conservatives to wrestle with.

In his brief prepared presentation, he discussed the strategy that Bush's political guru Karl Rove announced to Republicans, of stressing national security as the key partisan advantage of the Republicans. And the efforts that flow from it to paint the Democrats as unpatriotic.

Conason is a keen observer of political propaganda. I've been using a term on this Weblog, "stigmatizing dissent," that I picked up from one of his articles, and which he also used Saturday evening. I thought it must have been fun for him to present the book in a setting like Berkeley, where liberals are the more conservative portion of the population. And, sure enough, he took some flak from some in the crowd for being too conservative.

He thinks it's very important for the Democrats to have a tough dove like Wesley Clark or John Kerry on the Presidential ticket in 2004 to counter Republican efforts to define patriotism as a partisan virtue. He also cited with approval an article from last week by Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran who lost three limbs in the war and lost his Georgia Senate seat in 2002 to a Republican who attacked his patriotism. The Cleland quote to which Conason referred was at the end of an article about how Iraq is starting to look like Vietnam: "Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn't go when you had the chance."

(Cont. in Part 2)

Stigmatizing Dissent: Bush Weighs In

Bush says his critics shouldn't be uncivil. Oh, my, isn't that a nice thought? It would be funny if it weren't so cynical. Bush made the comment in an interview scheduled to be broadcast in full Monday on Fox News, the unofficial but faithful voice of the Republican Party:

I don't mind people trying to pick apart my policies, and that's fine and that's fair game. But, you know, I don't think we're serving our nation well by allowing the discourse to become so uncivil that people say -- use words that they shouldn't be using.

What makes this a sad joke are the endless rantings of drooling-at-the-mouth Republican cheerleaders like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Fox's own Bill O'Reilly, and many others of their kind. Being civil would wreck their whole act.

I'm sure the Republicans would like the war critics to tippy-toe around with their criticisms, while the likes of Ann Coulter run around accusing the Democrats of being traitors. As one of Clint Eastwood's characters said, "I don't think that's gonna happen."

Bush was responding to the comment last week by Senator Edward Kennedy:

There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office showed that only about $2.5 billion of the $4 billion being spent monthly on the war can be accounted for by the administration. "My belief is this money is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops," he said.

Bush's comment follows House Republican firebrand Tom DeLay saying that the Democrats "have spewed more hateful rhetoric at President Bush than they ever did at Saddam Hussein." This is the Bush Republicans' idea of civil discussion.

And it's a continuation of a trend I discussed in earlier posts of the Republicans trying to deligitimize criticism of Bush and his policies.

Chuckie Watch 5: "America the Apostate"

Why is it that self-appointed guardians of Patriotic Correctness like CHARLIE DANIELS are ready to trash the patriotism of anyone who criticizes a war they're cheering for, but have no hesitation about making the most sweeping condemnations of America themselves?

Chuckie is at it in his Soapbox column of 09/19/03, which he titles "America the Apostate." It's really a pretty whacked-out rant about how God's gone git us because America is so mired in sin that total destruction is all we deserve.

Am I exaggerrating? "Sodom and Gomorra were totally destroyed for their rampant sins. ... Why will America be any different?" This is what you call a "fire and brimstone" message.

What sins are bothering Chuckie? Well, let's see, there's separation of church and state, a gay Episcopal bishop, homosexuality in general, revisionist history, "new age", abortion, the if-it-feels-good-do-it attitude, and "man's own brilliance." Mentioning Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Chuckie also says the Founders' generation wanted the government to be thoroughly religious:

So did our forefathers, the framers of the Constitution intend for us to do away with the Judeo Christian principles on which this country was founded? There is not one shred of evidence in any of our federal papers which say so.

Actually, Chuckie, America's first confrontation with Muslim terrorists (the Barbary pirates) was resolved under the Administration of President Washington and Secretary of State Jefferson with the Barbary Treaties. Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797 says [emphasis mine]:

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims],-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Sorry, Chuckie. Washington and Jefferson didn't see things your way.

Two Articles on the Iraq War

Today's Los Angeles Times has two articles that shed important light on the situation our soldiers are facing in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Deadly Mistake Typifies Shaky Line U.S. Walks is a detailed look at an incident in which two Marines shot a civilian vehicle, killing three non-combatants.

The other is a column by military analyst
William Arkin, focusing on the importance of good intelligence:
American armed forces have now been at the so-called war on terrorism for two full years. The White House, defending the increasingly controversial military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, released a progress report Sept. 10 declaring that the United States "has dismantled the repressive Taliban, denied [Al Qaeda] a safe haven in Afghanistan, and defeated Saddam Hussein's regime."

Dismantled, denied and defeated. Those are strong, even definitive, words. Yet the American military remains as fully engaged as ever in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Congress is being asked to add $87 billion to the Pentagon budget to continue the fight. ...

[I]t may surprise some to learn that a man like [Maj. Gen. Victory] Renuart [Jr.] sees victory in the war on terrorism hinging on something other than the military: He sees the key as providing education and economic development to countries where the seeds of terrorism grow.

"This is not just a military problem," he says. Terrorists "find a home in ungoverned spaces" and in countries "that are sorely lacking for jobs and a future for their people." The U.S., he says, must "invest in the world."
"If you can't get the angry young men off the streets," Renuart believes, "you are going to have to fight them."

Even with the wisest of policies and the best of luck - neither of which we're having at the moment - US troops are likely to be involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for quite a while yet. The more the public understands about what's going on, the better.


Friday, September 19, 2003

Chuckie Watch 4: Chuckie Wins the War (Pt. 2 of 2)

(Cont. from Part 1.) Yeah, it'd be grand if them there "Baathist diehards" and "Taliban remnants" would come out and fight like a regular army so we could kill 'em quick. But they just don't seem to be cooperating in that plan.

And just identifying the enemy is also a big factor in counterinsurgency. If you go blasting away indiscriminately at small bands of guerrillas ("shoot at the enemy every time you see him and you keep on shooting"), especially in urban settings, the troops are likely to kill civilians or friendly police. Which has already been happening in Iraq way too much as it is. And large-scale guerrilla warfare requires lots more than quick-and-easy battles that make exciting stories on Fox News. It requires police, paramilitaries and a regular army from the country where the insurgency is going on.

But Chuckie thinks they all need to be quick and easy:

And then, after he is thoroughly beaten and you can deal from a position of absolute authority, sit down at the peace table with him, work out something sensible, and get our troops the heck out of there.

If we're not willing to go all out to define and attain victory, we should never, ever get into another war.

"Absolute authority" - there's that Old South touch again. But isn't that what Bush and Rummy have already done in Afghanistan and Iraq? In both cases, the enemy government collapsed so completely there was no one to sit down with at the peace table. But our troops haven't been pulled "the heck out of there." Bush and Rummy also still seem to be working on that defining and attaining victory part. Does anyone know how to tell when we've won in either Iraq or Afghanistan?

Yet Chuckie's still cheering for both wars. And I can't help thinking that reconstructing Iraq to be a model democracy for the Middle East - which Chuckie's hero Bush still says we're going to do - may be a little more complicated than "working out something sensible."

In other words, Chuckie's macho formula for winning wars is just a bunch of bluster and hot air.

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Chuckie Watch 4: Chuckie Wins the War (Pt 1 of 2)

CHARLIE DANIELS, would-be arbiter of Patriotic Correctness for country performers and fans, has a book out called Ain't No Rag, published by the rightwing Regnery Press. One of the essays is called "Veterans," which recycles a blowhard "lesson" of the Vietnam War, one that anyone who grew up in America has heard a few dozen times. And to let us know where this fits in the culture wars, he writes:

When I think about brave men and women being spit on by dirty, stoned-out, jobless, pseudo-intellectual hippies whose only contribution to this nation had been to burn their draft cards, it makes my collar get about two sizes too small.

Now, Chuckie's not too big on citing sources. But presumably he knows about some incident in which a couple of intoxicated unemployed guys with poor personal hygiene who read Hermann Hesse novels and had burned their draft cards spit on some veterans. Or maybe they were just drunk and threw up on them.

However that may be, Chuckie knows about fightin' wars:

We could have won that war [Vietnam], if it would have been fought on the battlefield instead of the halls of Congress and the Oval Office.

Now, I'm not quite sure how it is that the US could fight a war without the President and Congress being involved. But anyway, Chuckie says:

In my book, when you go to war you shoot at the enemy every time you see him and you keep on shooting until he either surrenders or doesn't exist any more. You throw everything you've got at him every hour of every day until you grind him into the dust. Bomb him; shoot him; overrun his positions; cut his supply lines, and do it consistently until you pound him into submission.

Now, this sounds to me more like a description of an antebellum Southern slave patrol going after some planter's human property who had absconded from the plantation than like guerrilla warfare.

But here in the real world where American troops are involved in guerrilla wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that's not very useful advice. One of the particular challenges of counterinsurgency warfare is to find ways of protecting your troops while targeting guerrillas, avoiding civilian casualties and proceeding with normal government and development, all at the same time.

(Cont. in Part 2)

Stigmatizing Dissent: "Anger-Baiting"

David Corn has written on what he calls "anger-baiting," essentially the same phenomemon I addressed in my previous two posts.

A sample of his take on it:

Perhaps I'm being slow on the uptake, but I've noticed that the Right has found a way to try to diminish left-of-center partisans. In recent weeks, conservative commentators have branded the Bush opposition "The Angry Left," which apparently is not meant as a compliment. ...

The moniker is designed as a put-down, one meant to signal that those afflicted with anti-Bushism are motivated by emotion, not rationality, that they cannot be reasoned with, that they and their ideas need not be taken seriously.

I suspect we'll be hearing much more of this one.  I'm not sure if "anger-baiting" will stick as a name for it. But it's a clever label.

Loving Bush or Stigmatizing Dissent? (Pt. 2 of 2)

Do some Democrats hate George W. Bush? Of course. Politics is politics. But the articles to which I referred in Part 1 argue that Democrats are generally seized with an irrational hatred for Bush comparable to the Republican obsession with Bill Clinton, from Vince Foster conspiracy theories to Whitewater to impeachment over a rather sad love affair.

So is there anything to the idea? Actually, not much. The evidence cited in the articles I mentioned in Part 1 are mostly examples of Democrats disagreeing with Bush, or instances of what are, at worst, examples of partisan rhetorical hyperbole.  For example, both Brooks and Krauthammer cite an article by Harold Meyerson which ends by comparing Bush to Jefferson Davis.

Now, even if one thinks the comparison is excessive, is it evidence of hate-mongering? Only if you think having someone's name associated with Jefferson Davis is an extremely scandalous thing. Brooks and Krauthammer should clue in some of their Republican friends like John Ashcroft and Trent Lott, who are known for kissing up the the "neo-Confederate" movement.

So what's going on? It's actually a continuation of a strategy articulated by Newt Gingrich during the height of his "Republican Revolution" a decade ago. As Joe Conason reports in his book Big Lies, Gingrich advised Republican candidates that when they talked about Democrats, they should "emphasize terms like decay, sick, liberal, permissive attitude, antifamily and bizarre." The Democrats-hate-Bush theme provides an opportunity for more of that.

Krauthammer's piece is a good example. Accepting it as a given that Democrats are seized with irrational hatred for Good President Bush, he describes their alleged emotions with terms like "unhinging of the Democratic Party ... contempt ... disdain ... hatred ... near pathological ... depth of feeling ... fury and bitterness ... explosive ... primal anti-Bush feeling ... anger ... seething ... loathing ... desperately ... seized with a fever."  Gosh, sounds bad.

In other words, the Democrats should muzzle their criticisms andbe nicey-nice. While the Michael Savages and Ann Coulters of the world continue to howl about the alleged depravity of the Democrats.

Loving Bush or Stigmatizing Dissent? (Pt. 1 of 2)

"Democrats really hate Bush!" I've been hearing a lot of stuff along those lines lately from Republicans. So I've been following up on the idea a little bit.

The first one I heard advancing the notion that Democrats were somehow going overboard because of an emotional hatred of Bush was from conservative columnist David Brooks, who wrote a piece on the topic for the Weekly Standard. He also mentioned it in his regular gig opposite Mark Shields on the PBS Newshour.

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal's Weblog has also taken up the theme, for instance in this piece whose title in their archives claims, "Two years later, some Americans hate the president more than the terrorists."  He says that after the 2002 elections, "the Democrats lost control of themselves."

A Congressman from Arizona picks it up for the National Review.  He says, "Bush hating addles the mind and rots the senses."

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer does a version for Time, calling it "the unhinging of the Democratic Party."

And, for the lowbrow version, who better than our friend Chuckie (CHARLIE DANIELS)?

Some journalists like to use the word "meme" for something like this, an idea that is picked up and gets repeated over and over, not necessarily because there's anything to it.

It's actually an example of conservatives attempting to stigmatize dissent. But I'll say more about that in part 2.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

More on Iraq and 9/11

It's pretty sad when the President and his senior officials tell the truth for once on something to do with Iraq War and that fact is front-page news. But lots of folks, including new AOL blogger Progressive Musings, have been wondering why the sudden turnaround on the claim on Iraq being linked to the 9/11 attacks.

Again via Tom Tomorrow, I came across a new theory on that from Bob Goodsell that is actually plausible. The family of John O'Neill, a former FBI counter-terrorism chief that died in the World Trade Center attack, is filing a lawsuit seeking $1 billion from Iraq over his death. The suit argues that there was a connection between the Iraqi government and the attack.

Goodsell suggests that the Administration suddenly realized that there might be some legal complications arising from the Iraq-9/11 argument that could wind up costing big bucks. They also may be worried that this legal action, and any others that might follow if it seems to be doing well, might turn up some embarrassing information.  Like possibly how little reason there was to think such a connection was there.

But who knows? Maybe they just decided to tell the truth.  Well, some of it anyway.  This Los Angeles Times article on Bush's take on that issue this week provides some good context. It also points out that Bush is still claiming links between Saddam and al-Qaeda - claims which are also very thin.

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Tony Blair's Star Sinks Again

More trouble for Tony Blair, this time a surprising Labour defeat in a special election (they call them by-elections in Britain) in what was thought to be a safe Labour district. A candidate from Britain's third party, the Liberal Democrats, which opposed the Iraq War, won the seat.

A Reuters analysis explains:

On the face of it, a marginal reduction in Blair's huge 165-seat parliamentary majority looks inconsequential.

But timing is all. The political damage to Blair will be heavy at a time when opinion polls show most Britons no longer trust him and his annual Labour Party conference looms, with activists angry about a war they opposed.

Foreign policy is never the only issue in these things. But it played a significant role in this one.

I do feel sorry for Blair, up to a point. I had seen him as a very sympathetic figure, up until he backed the Iraq War and agreed to participate in the invasion without UN approval.  And he's paid a heavy price for what he apparently saw - with more faith than judgment - as a moral imperative. His credibility is wrecked. He's lost one of his most key long-time advisers, Alistair Campbell. He runs a real risk of being outsted as Prime Minister by his own Labour Party.

It seems to me that Blair tried to play Britain's traditional role of being a bridge between the US and the other countries of Europe. The problem in this case is that he failed to understand just how drastic Bush and Rummy's foreign policy was breaking from previous Administrations. The European democracies expected to be America's allies. Bush and Rummy expected them to be something more like vassal states. In the end, Blair wound up being derided by critics at home as "America's poodle" and blowing his credibility with Europe, as well.

Blair is joining German Chancellor Schroeder and French President Chirac for a three-way summit this weekend. We'll see if they come up with any meaningful progress on the Iraq mess. With expectations low, they have a good chance of surprising everyone if they accomplish anything at all.