Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Iraq War: Deaths in Iraq (2 of 2)

Hopefully, the US in Iraq won't be looking at what the Israelis have dealt with in the West Bank and Gaza since the 1967 war. Continued guerrilla attacks, sometimes receding and sometimes increasing, going on and on for nearly 37 years now, with no peace in sight.

Unfortunately, some Americans are already adopting a classical colonialist attitude of resenting the uncivilized Iraqis who should be appreciating all the superior Americans are doing for them more than they are: The Bumpy Road to Democracy in Iraq by Fred Barnes Weekly Standard 04/05/04.

But don't assume a growing economy [!?] and declining terrorism [!??!] spell success. There's a serious obstacle remaining--the attitude of many Iraqis. Kurds, educated exiles who've returned from London and Detroit, and a good number of other Iraqis have embraced what Paul Bremer calls the "new Iraq." But many Iraqis haven't. They don't want Saddam back, but they look unfavorably on the American occupation. Like the French, they may never forgive America for having liberated them.

... Having been cowed by Saddam, many Iraqis seem to be making up for it by distrusting their American occupiers and hectoring them whenever the occasion arises.

One of the complaints Barnes has about the ungrateful natives is that they complain about mistreatment of civilians by American soldiers.  But Barnes knows better. How does he know? Why, he walked around and chatted with some soldiers! (Just a guess, but he probably doesn't speak Arabic to talk directly to most Iraqis.)

... U.S. troops have been trained to be nice to Iraqis, strange as that seems. I saw soldiers deal respectfully with Iraqis all over the country. In meeting soldiers in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower had a great icebreaker. He would ask, "Where you from, soldier?" It put GIs at ease. I tried it in Iraq, and it led to friendly chats every time. The officers are fine, but it's the enlisted ranks these days that are most impressive. They're polite warriors.

This kind of thing is only a small step away from justifying indiscriminate attacks on civilians, because these people should be more grateful for our "liberating" them.

Iraq War: Deaths in Iraq (1 of 2)


Last November, a 21-year-old soldier from my hometown of Shubuta MS was killed in Iraq: 2nd Miss. soldier ID'd in fatal crash Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger 11/19/03. He graduated from the same high school I attended. He sang in the choir at Bethel United Methodist Church. These stories are always heartbreaking:

Damian Heidelberg, the ninth Mississippian killed in Iraq, left behind a brother, a sister and a 2-year-old daughter, Stacy, who lives with her mother and stepfather in Shubuta.

"We have nothing but pride for him," Bitha Heidelberg [his grandmother] said.

"I'm hurting real bad, and I was always afraid for him, but nothing can stop the pride we feel."
Today, we have the gruesome news about from Falluja, Iraq, of civilians being killed by guerrillas, including a woman and at least one American, and then there bodies being mutilated and hung publicly off a bridge. One body was dragged through the streets tied behind a car.

I'm sure that we'll hear lots of comparisons to the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia as various Big Pundits spin the story. And it would be almost silly to say that outrage at the incident is justifiable, because people will obviously be outraged by the story.

This is the kind of war we're in. The Iraq invasion and occupation was the first time that the United States has put itself in a situation in the Middle East comparable to the Israelis in the occupied territories. (Although we don't have an equivalent goal to the Likud hardliners who want to drive Palestinians completely out of their own territory.)

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Afghan War: Part of what the Iraq War cost us (7 of 7)

Clark goes on to recount the Karzai government's dependence on warlords, the perils facing humanitarian workers in the country, the virtual stagnation of the economic development program, the inadequate levels of international economic assistance. And: "By mid-August Taliban and Al Qaeda forces had staged successful large-scale attacks against government, police, and military outposts."

And now, a few months later? Garance Franke-Ruta (Safety Numbers American Prospect online 03/24/04) gives us a current round-up:

"Some two-thirds of al-Qaeda's key leaders have been captured or killed. The rest of them hear us breathing down their neck," the president told Department of Homeland Security employees on March 2. But that may not be as important as it once was. There may have been a moment in time when if you cut off the head, the snake would die. According to al-Qaeda expert Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, though, "If there was a time, it was Tora Bora," the pivotal battle in the 2001 Afghanistan war in which al-Qaeda's leadership slipped from America's grasp. But more than two years later, the group is a hydra-headed monster that has allied itself with local terrorist groups and militias around the world. "The train is long out of the station," says Bergen. "This isn't the Gambino crime family; it's an ideological movement."

And she provides a list of suspected al-Qaeda attacks, noting that "there were at least five major attacks linked to groups or individuals affiliated with al-Qaeda in the eight years before 9-11, and there have been at least 15 such attacks in the two and a half years since then."

I hope Kerry and the Democrats use the opportunity the elections present to drive home the need to focus on fighting terrorist threats to America and not grandiose imperial schemes to spread democracy in the Middle East with a series of Napoleanic wars.

Afghan War: Part of what the Iraq War cost us (6 of 7)

Continuing with the New Yorker quoting Barry Posen on the Battle of Tora Bora:

["]Or it was pure incompetence—using drones and a bunch of mercenaries and bombs in a cordon operation. We couldn't have done a worse job. We should have put in every Ranger in range. There's no excuse. This is very weird. Then they have this second chance, Operation Anaconda"—the American effort to encircle Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Shah-i-Kot valley, in eastern Afghanistan, last March. "My sense is, it was the toughest of the Al Qaeda hard cases, very good and gutsy. The commander"—Major General Franklin Hagenbeck—"didn't know what he was doing. He didn't send enough forces. He didn't take enough artillery. And there was too much reliance on the Afghans. And, it's clear, they were kerfuffled afterward. They went to the Brits for more troops"—England flew in seventeen hundred marines as reinforcements—"and the commander was relieved," by Lieutenant General Dan McNeill. "They knew something was wrong. Opportunity No. 2 was missed. My guess is, most of them got away. So this is disturbing—a war on terror that doesn't focus on the terrorists."

Weird indeed. And what happened in the following months in Afghanistan? Wesley Clark in Winning Modern Wars (2003) (my emphasis):

[B]y the summer of 2003 the situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated: There were persistent rumors about a resurgence of Taliban strength, and the evidence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was too great to deny. The U.S. forces there remained at about 10,000 troops, built around a corps-level forward command post. The International Security and Assistance Force had seen its leadership go from the British to Turkish, then to German-Dutch command, and finally to NATO. But the 5,000-strong force remained locked in Kabul, providing security for President Karzai and his government. By the standards of the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia and Kosovo, these U.S. and international forces were less than one-tenth the size required.

Afghan War: Part of what the Iraq War cost us (5 of 7)

The timing is important. Already by mid-2002, al-Qaeda was spreading out from its relative concentration in Afghanistan and becoming a more diffuse group, perhaps more a movement than any kind of hierarchical organization. Even a much more massive direct attack by US forces on al-Qaeda wouldn't have put an end to our problems with Islamic terrorism. But it was an opportunity unlikely to present itself in that form again with al-Qaeda.

In this 2002 article, Nicholas Lemann interviewed a number of foreign policy "realists" (moderate pragmatists) on their views about the "war on terrorism": The War on What? New Yorker 09/09/02:

The realists agreed wholeheartedly with the Administration's decision to use American military forces to remove the Taliban government in Afghanistan from power, because the Taliban was harboring Al Qaeda, our attacker. And they agreed that the campaign against the Taliban was a big success. But they were not particularly sanguine about American progress against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. "When I put together the evidence, it's not going very well," Van Evera said. "We've nailed eight of the top twenty-five Al Qaeda leaders. We need to roll up the entire leadership. They're still capable of launching attacks. They've attempted about a dozen since 9/11."

Barry Posen, [Stephen] Van Evera's colleague at M.I.T., who specializes in military analysis, maintained that the mop-up campaign in Afghanistan had been severely hampered by American unwillingness to use ground forces, because of fear of casualties and because current American military doctrine overstresses the benefits of air power. "It looks like we missed a number of opportunities," he said, "and the reason was that we didn't want to take risks. Tora Bora was a disaster, universally acknowledged as such, and never explained. The idea that casualty aversion could play a role here— it's extraordinary. If that's true, something's really wrong. The American people would have paid hundreds of dead to get the Al Qaeda leaders.["]

Afghan War: Part of what the Iraq War cost us (4 of 7)

Someone remind me again: how is it that the Bush Administration's record in the "war on terrorism" is supposed to be a political asset for him?

This Newsweek article of 08/14/02 of the Battle of Tora Bora seems to be prophetic now because it was analytically sound at the time:

What went wrong? American officials, both civilian and military, prefer to focus on what went right. In only three months, US forces and Afghan proxies managed to rout the Taliban and deprive Al Qaeda of its base, at modest cost in American lives. American officials concede that there was a mass escape from Tora Bora – as well as a broader exodus by various routes into Pakistan and Iran – but insist that Al Qaeda now is crippled and too busy running to do much damage. "Perhaps we could have got them wholesale," says one senior Defense official. "Now we're doing it retail. In the end, it doesn't make much difference. We're getting them."

But it does make a difference. Some European and Arab intelligence experts believe, in fact, that Al Qaeda has mutated into a form that is no less deadly and even more difficult to combat. "We are confronted with cells that are all over the place, developing in a very horizontal structure without any evident big center of coordination," a top European counterterrorist investigator told NEWSWEEK. "Our operational evaluation today is that the threat is a lot greater than it was in December. That is to say, the worst is ahead of us, not behind us."

At a time when leaders in Washington are agitating to move on to the next war – to remove Saddam Hussein – it's perhaps surprising that few if any are critiquing the Afghan campaign. Criticism is deemed to be almost unpatriotic. But the Afghan war is not over, and the primary mission is not accomplished. The fledgling regime of Hamid Karzai has little power beyond the capital, and Karzai himself needs US Special Forces to ensure his safety. Qaeda operatives and their Taliban allies may not coordinate their activities, transfer funds and mount sophisticated operations as easily as they used to, but those activities do continue around the world.

Afghan War: Part of what the Iraq War cost us (3 of 7)

In their book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (2003), Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay are critical of the failure at Tora Bora.

Their description of the failure there gives a good picture of the reluctance to commit American forces to Afghanistan and specifically to use them to go after the al-Qaeda forces temporarily cornered there, probably including Bin Laden himself. As they note, "Most Americans would have supported the use of U.S. troops to get bin Laden, the man responsible for the murder of three thousand of their fellow citizens." But Gen. Tommy Franks "decided to rely on local militias and the Pakistan regular mary to tighten the noose around Tora Bora." As they describe it:

What went wrong? al Qaeda fighters bribed some of the Afghan militias to let them pass. But the most important reason for the failure was that the Afghans and Pakistani forces did not have the same incentive to get bin Laden as the United States did. The Afghanis wanted undisputed control of the area - which getting rid of al Qaeda would do. Pakistani regular army troops might do what they were told, but they were not eager to hunt down fierce Arab fighters in the middle of winter high up in the mountains. Neither cared much about what would happen to Osama bin Laden and his fighters once they had disappeared. Some may even have been sympathetic to his cause.

This, clearly was a job for American troops - not foreign forces with little stake in the result. And American troops were available. U.S. Marines had established a base south of Kandahar. Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division were readying for depoloyment into Bagram airbase north of Kabul, and thousands of additional forces were stationed in the region. As the military historian Frederick Kagan later argued, a few battalions of helicopter-borne trops could have been deployed to seal the escape routes out of the mountains. Yet, despite the fact that Franks had openly doubted the Afghan opposition, he and his commanders decided to rely on local fighters rather than on American troops to accomplish this critical mission. This decision was made even though Bush had put the highest prioirty on capturing bin Laden, including signing a presidential finding giving the CIA authority to kill him.

Afghan War: Part of what the Iraq War cost us (2 of 7)

A specific "opportunity cost" of the focus on Iraq was visible even in 2002 at the Battle of Tora Bora. As the Washington Post reported in April of that year: U.S. Concludes Bin Laden Escaped at Tora Bora Fight 04/17/02.

The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.

Intelligence officials have assembled what they believe to be decisive evidence, from contemporary and subsequent interrogations and intercepted communications, that bin Laden began the battle of Tora Bora inside the cave complex along Afghanistan's mountainous eastern border. Though there remains a remote chance that he died there, the intelligence community is persuaded that bin Laden slipped away in the first 10 days of December. ...

After-action reviews, conducted privately inside and outside the military chain of command, describe the episode as a significant defeat for the United States. A common view among those interviewed outside the U.S. Central Command is that Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the war's operational commander, misjudged the interests of putative Afghan allies and let pass the best chance to capture or kill al Qaeda's leader. ...

In the fight for Tora Bora, corrupt local militias did not live up to promises to seal off the mountain redoubt, and some colluded in the escape of fleeing al Qaeda fighters. Franks did not perceive the setbacks soon enough, some officials said, because he ran the war from Tampa with no commander on the scene above the rank of lieutenant colonel. The first Americans did not arrive until three days into the fighting. "No one had the big picture," one defense official said.

But, true to form, no one in the Bush Administration wanted to admit publicly that anything had gone wrong. Some things don't change.

Afghan War: Part of what the Iraq War cost us (1 of 7)

When Bush began the Afghan War in late 2001, he had an unprecendented level of international support. The United Nations authorized the intervention. NATO, for the first time in its history (and probably the last), had formally invoked the military alliance in defense of the United States in response to the 9/11 attacks. And the war in Afghanistan was generally regarded as a legitimate and necessary response to those attacks.

The Bush strategy in Afghanistan was to rely on the warlords loosely united in the Northern Alliance - which the US and most countries of the world still recognized as the legitimate goverment of Afghanistan - to overthrow the Taliban regime in Kabul through military action under close US-British direction, with supporting US-British airpower, and with the use of US Special Forces in direct combat against experienced al-Qaeda fighters.

But no large numbers of US troops were sent in for massive direct and immediate strikes against al-Qaeda concentrations. And, despite the rhetoric, the level of commitment to "nation-building" and building a strong government in Afghanistan that could effectively deny haven to al-Qaeda type groups can be seen in recent events. National elections just had to be postponed for at least three months because only a fraction of eligible voters are registered. The Karzai government effectively exist only in the capital city of Kabul. And that is only possible because of the NATO force there. Because the Afghan army is virtually non-existent.

The last I heard, Karzai himself is protected by American soldiers acting as bodyguards. He can't even find enough Afghans qualified and loyal enough to act as bodyguards for the country's chief of government.

Rummy and Paul Wolfowitz and the merry gang of neoconservative Iraq hawks were chomping at the bit to invade Iraq immediately after 9/11. In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush began his build-up toward war against the most vulnerable of the "axis of evil" he famously announced in that speech.

Going after al-Qaeda took a back seat to going after Saddam Hussein and his non-existent "weapons of mass destruction." Stabilizing Afghanistan and making it an effective state was never on the Bush Administration's agenda in any serious way.

War and economic strength

Looking back at an article by James Galbraith from a month and a half after the 9/11 attacks (A War Economy... American Prospect 10/22/01), I see that he makes some points that were ignored by the Bush Administration but that still have long-term relevance. One was the fact that a long-term strategy against the new transnational terrorist threat requires a more expansive view of international relations:

The further reality is that the United States needs the sustained support of the world community for diplomatic, intelligence, and military purposes. This cannot be assumed to come for free--especially not from countries that have not benefited at all from the modern global order. A new and more just and stable global financial order will therefore have to emerge from the present crisis or we will eventually become mired indefinitely in fruitless and unending military struggles, with fewer and fewer reliable allies.

We can't say Bush ignored this idea entirely. He had to pay big time to get the "coalition of the willing" together in Iraq. But his Administration has gone so far in the direction of unilateralism that we can say that he went in the opposite direction to this advice.

And it's safe to say that the Enron Republicans have never had any intention of heeding advice like the following, sound though it is:

Finally, there is compelling reason to examine the structural sources of the U.S. trade position. Oil is a major factor; cars are a larger factor still. Reconstruction of our transportation networks and housing patterns so that they rely far less heavily on oil and on automobiles (and on airlines) may be the necessary domestic adjunct of real security abroad. A major national initiative in transportation and urban housing, planned now and launched soon, would also help absorb resources presently being released into unemployment by the private sector.

Life in the Bush era

Hesiod is really on a roll today.  He has two items about the theft of part of a biographer's file of FBI surveillance documents on John Kerry, here and here.

And lest we think police surveillance of antiwar groups is a thing of the past, he alerts us to this item (Hesiod calls posts like this one part of his "Bush Fedayeen Watch"): Police infiltrate peace rallies Muskegon [MI] Chronicle 03/29/04.

And he also links to this article, Questions raised about ethics of Iraq contract Seattle Times 03/28/04, which reports:

A Virginia company that got a $240 million federal contract to develop "a competitive private sector" in Iraq helped write the specifications for the work that knocked its competitors out of the running, a federal investigation has found.

A draft memo by the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development blasts the agency for giving a competitive advantage to BearingPoint, a consulting company that's in court defending itself against allegations of other contracting irregularities and disclosures that its officials inaccurately stated its profits in 2003.

Iraq War: The legal basis

Or not. A legal basis for the invasion of Iraq seems to be in a similar category to all those Iraqi WMDs. Very hard to find.

The Web site of the Carlisle Barracks of the US Army War College has some great stuff. Someone could easily do a daily blog just pulling portions of some the reports they have there and commenting on them. One that recently caught my attention is Bounding the Global War on Terrorism (Dec. 2003) by Jeffrey Record of the US Air Force's Air War College.

Record has a lot of informative and challenging things to say in that paper.  And this little bit - consigned to endnote 51 - is one of them. I've mentioned before that the difference between "preemptive" war and "preventive" war has to do with more than brand labeling. It's also an important legal distinction:

According to the Defense Department’s official definition of the term, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM was a preventive war, which traditionally has been indistinguishable from aggression, not a preemptive attack, which in contrast to preventive war has international legal sanction under strict conditions. Preemption is "an attack initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent." Preventive war is "a war initiated in the belief that military conflict, while not imminent, is inevitable, and that to delay would involve greater risk." See Joint Publication 1-02, DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, Washington, DC: Department of Defense, April 12, 2002, pp. 333, 336.

A truly preemptive war is legal under the international laws to which the US has bound itself by treaty commitments. A preventive war is a criminal act of aggression in international law.

Security issues in the 2004 election

One of the things that makes following political campaigns interesting but also frustrating is that it's often hard to distinguish between the real analytical projections of commentators and their own assumption that their favorite issue is the decisive one. This comment from Bob Dreyfuss looks like it falls into the latter category:

Democrats: Keep your eye on the ball. The ball is Iraq, not terrorism. The impact of 9/11 is fading into memory, and Iraq is careening toward civil war by summer. Want to blame Bush for something? Try blaming him for unleashing the Iraqi Shiites from Hell.

Dreyfuss has his own perspective, which includes the idea that the threat of terrorism is being wildly exaggerated by the Bush Administration and that focusing on terrorism at all is a losing proposition for Kerry and the Democrats this year.

Phil Trounstine of San Jose State University certainly has his own partisan perspective. But I think he's combining it with a more realistic analysis than Dreyfuss' in this article: Bush's press slaves Salon.com 03/29/04.

The question now is whether political writers covering the race will choose to continue to frame the election as the Bush-Cheney campaign has -- as a battle between the "war president" and an "unsteady" senator -- or whether they will shift their focus to what has finally emerged as the actual crux of the election.

This is not to say that the economy, taxes, medical care, education and the environment are unimportant issues. Of course they're important. But in the light of 9/11, with U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with a president who has defined his status as commander in chief as his overriding quality, it's time for political writers to place accountability of him on that measure at the center of their reporting.

Spanish election polling data

Of course, in the postmodern age of Bush the Younger, we don't have to worry about petty facts taking the fun out of spinning everything that happens to fit with our ideological slogans for the moment.

But Kevin Drum shows a glimpse of what political analysis might be like if people actually paid attention to what happened before they construct their spin. He lays out in English some of the polling data on the Spanish election.

It seems pretty clear from these figures that, to the extent that the 11-M attacks affected the election's outcome at all, the effect was more a function of the conservative Aznar government's misbegotten attempt to manipulate the attacks to their own electoral favor.

But I'm sure the Republicans will keep on moaning and groaning about how the Spanish are wimps who surrendered to terrorism and voted for al-Qaeda.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Afghan War: Is this a joke?

From the Guardian (UK) 03/30/04 (my emphasis):

The [British] government is to announce that 100 more soldiers are to be sent to Afghanistan as part of an ambitious Nato plan to try to pacify the entire country and clamp down on warlords.

The British will lead a multinational Northern Group, defence sources said. British troops initially operated only in the capital, Kabul. Last year, they extended their field of operation to Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, and are now to expand to another northern town.

A few thousand NATO troops are not going to pacify the country of Afghanistan. And look at the second paragraph. The NATO force controls the capital city, more or less. Not the Afghan Army, which hardly exists in reality, but NATO. Then in 2003, British troops "extended their field of operation" to another city.

Spain just announced it was sending some additional troops to boost NATO in Afghanistan.

But how long can the EU governments keeping justifying even the intervention in Afghanistan to their publics? The huge US commitment to Iraq means that the US can't commit to a serious nationwide guerrilla war against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the various warlords on which we've depended up to know to be our allies of the moment in the rest of the country outside Kabul.

When does a war that can't achieve a meaningful objective - that can't be won without a major expansion of available forces - stop making sense?

For now, as Spain's action shows, supporting the NATO mission in Afghanistan functions well as an alibi for EU government's against the charge of being anti-American. But I just don't see how it can last much longer without some major progress in establishing a national government in Afghanistan that can provide real security in most of the country.

This is the kind of stuff that gives cynicism a bad name

Josh Marshall quotes a news article in which unnamed Administration officials are saying they can't declassify all of Richard Clarke's testimony from two years ago that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist suggested would show Clarke had committed perjury. But they're going to go through it and selectively declassify parts of it to try to highlight possible inconsistencies with his recent statements. Marshall asks in amazement:

You know something's wrong -- when an administration is truly out of control -- when they discuss their dirty tricks on background.

Look at what this is: using the CIA and the classification process for an explicitly and exclusively partisan purpose, at the direct behest of the White House. Call me old-fashioned but back in the good-old-days this used to be done with a bit more indirection, subterfuge and cover, no?

Yep, Josh, they did. But Bush's is the first postmodern Presidency. Reality is what Bush and his minions say it is.

And Joe Conason takes a withering look at some of the Republicans, including Frist, who are shocked, shocked that someone would write a book about terrorism and national security and expect to make money on it! As Conason carefully explains, from Frist's own post-9/11 book on bioterrorism to the New Bridges war profiteering firm, Republicans are happy to leverage their public service to make money in the free market. Even Mississippi's new Republican governor Haley Barbour, darling of the White Citizens Council, seems positioned to get a cut of the Iraq profiteering action.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Chuckie Watch 42: Chuckie praises Israel

Ole Chuckie shows us this week what he likes about Israel: Defending Ourselves. Chuckie thinks it's just fine that Sharon ordered a hit on the spiritual leader of Hamas (Sheikh Ahmed Yassin):

Well I don’t care what the rest of the world says, I say, way to go Israel, we could take a lesson from you in this country. What it comes down to is do we destroy our enemies or do we sit back and let our enemies destroy us? And believe me folks, it’s going to be one way or the other, there is no middle ground.

Well, Chuckie, there might be some problems with that. I suppose it would be too much to expect Chuckie to actually read Israeli articles on the action. Like this piece by Ben Kaspit: After Yasin's killing, the worst is yet to come Maariv International 03/22/04. Kaspit says:

Time will tell who will hunt and who will be hunted, who will be predator and who will be prey. Let us pray that the assassination of Yasin will not cause the entire Arab world to rise up against us, not drown us all in a sea of blood and not turn our own maelstrom into a world-wide religious war. Let us hope that it was the right decision.

But in Chuckie's Christian Right worldview, having the whole Arab world rise against Isreal would be a good thing because it helps bring on the Apocalypse.

I would say it's a safe bet that Chuckie never visits Juan Cole's blog. If he did, he might have seen some of Cole's reflections on how the assassination of Yassin increases risks for American troops in Iraq. Like this one:

At a time when American soldiers and civilians throughout Iraq are already daily being targeted by Sunni Muslim guerrillas, for Ariel Sharon to order the murder of Yassin and seven others while they were leaving a mosque is an act of treason against his American ally. It doubles the danger for every American man and woman in Iraq.

No, I'm sure Chuckie cain't be bothered readin' stuff like that. He's too busy cheering for killin' A-rabs to worry about the fine points.

Afghan War: Our Afghan allies

If the United States had anything resembling the "liberal press" that the Oxycontin crowd raves about endlessly, this would have been front-page news for days over the last week:

US Afghan allies committed massacre Observer (UK) 03/21/04

Dramatic corroboration of the massacre of Afghan prisoners by the US-backed Northern Alliance at the start of the war in 2001 was last night provided by American pathologists commissioned to investigate the claims by the UN.

A vivid account of the slaughter was provided to The Observer last week by three Britons who were released from the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba more than two years after they were first seized in Afghanistan. They told how they narrowly escaped the massacre before being handed over to American forces and flown to Guantanamo Bay.

Forensic anthropologist William Haglund, who earlier led inquiries into mass graves in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone, told The Observer how he dug into an area of recently disturbed desert soil outside the town of Shebargan, and exhumed 15 bodies, a tiny sample, he said, of what may be a very large total.

Thanks to the cold and arid climate, they were well enough preserved to carry out autopsies. Haglund's conclusion 'that they died from suffocation' exactly corroborates the stories told by the Guantanamo detainees in last week's Observer .

I believed and still believe the Afghan War was necessary. It's hard to see how anyone who was following the news reports closely even in 2001 couldn't help but be sickened by reports of atrocities like the one discussed in that article. (Hard to see, but I know a lot of people just plain didn't care.)

Afghan War: Is this looking like a success?

US beefs up forces in Afghanistan BBC News 03/26/04.

We're sending 2000 more Marines to Afghanistan to hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. This BBC piece talks about the "new offensive" that was launched two weeks ago called Operation Mountain Storm. This might or might not be the "spring offensive" that US officials indicated weeks ago would be launched. Pakistani General Saftar Hussein commented on recent operations in the Pakistani "tribal area" of South Waziristan: "He said the mission to destroy hundreds of militants and deny them sanctuary had been accomplished."

Mission accomplished. We're turning the corner. Light at the end of the tunnel. Glad to hear it.

Meanwhile, the Afghan national elections scheduled for June are being pushed back to September or later. Afghanistan Elections to Be Delayed At Least 3 Months Los Angeles Times 03/28/04. As I've mentioned before, Bush's claims of having "liberated" Afghanistan may have been a bit premature.

Plus, one of the US' favorite Afghan warlords, Ismail Khan, a real prince of an Islamic-fanatic kind of guy, has been having shootouts with a rival faction: Minister's Death Threatens to Plunge Western Afghanistan Into Chaos Radio Free Europe 03/22/04.

This October 2002 report by Human Rights Watch discusses "emir" Ismail Khan's methods of rule in his province of Herat. The reports I've seen indicate that his style of governance remains largely unchanged. The prospects of his provicial militia merging itself into the still-fledgling army of Afghanistan seem to be very minimal.

State Sponsors of Terrorism (4 of 4)

Clark approves of the decision to intervene in Afghanistan soon after 9/11. However, he emphasizes that the most important strategic goal was not that of ousting the Taliban regime:

...[T]he strategic opportunity of the operation was to knock out Al Qaeda. The correct aim  should have been to deliver a knockout blow against the terrorist network, not just against the supporting state. We missed our chance when enemy forces were able to scurry into the surrounding. Al Qaeda had been scattered - not destroyed. It might never again be so easily targetable.

Then the focus shifted quickly toward preparing a conventional war against Iraq. Although Iraq's threat as a state sponsor of terrorism was emphasized in the buildup to war, above all the threat that its (non-existent) "weapons of mass destruction" might be given to terrorists groups to use against the US, it's questionable based on what we know now how seriously the Bush Administration itself took those claims.

As the Iraq War pressed their case, Clark heard from one military officer a joke making the rounds at the Pentagon: "That if Saddam didn't do it [i.e., 9/11], too bad, he should have, because we're going to get him anyway." Clark reflects on his reaction to this notion:

I looked at him as he spoke. We both knew that all this would distract us in the fight against Al Qaeda: first, the time demands on the military and intelligence leadership themselves - every hour spent planning operations against Saddam would have been used against Al Qaeda. Second, consider the intelligence collection systems: imagery, electronic intercepts, linguists, and agent networks surely would be more productive if not focused on collecting the tactical and targeting information against Saddam. Next consider the resources issue: Would we not have more financial resources to spend on military and homeland security needs if we were not simmultaneously going after Iraq?

State Sponsors of Terrorism (3 of 4)

Wesley Clark gives a good description of how, by the late 1990s, it was becoming clear to Clinton officials and those outside the government who took the new transnational terrorism seriously as a problem that the model of focusing on state sponsors was obsolescent:

It seemed unlikely that we would be able to put a state "face" on terror: Afghanistan was playing a cagey game of talking and offering assistance, then failing to follow through; Iran had reportedly suspended terrorist aims agains Americans in 1996. In Somalia there was no government to hold accountable. Yemen was slowly warming up to U.S. overtures. In addition, there were problems with U.S. allies in any prospective campaign: The Saudis were uncooperative, the Egyptians heavy-handed. Excessive reliance on Israeli intelligence and support in the Middle East ran the risk that the United States would undermine relations with friendly regimes, thereby conflicting with other foreign policy objectives. This had all the markings of a long and very difficult effort.

Clark also recounts events in some detail in the year prior to the 9/11 attacks. The attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 was not finally determined to be the work on al-Qaeda until after the election. But the outgoing Clinton Administration tended to see it as a turning point requiring the need for a more comprehensive approach to fighting al-Qaeda that simply retaliatory strikes.

Last week's 9/11 Commission testimony has focused a lot of attention on how the Bush Administration did and did not respond to the terrorism threat during their first months in office. Wesley Clark's 2003 book does not focus on the issue highlighted by Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke in their more recent books, of how the Bush team seemed intent from the very first on finding reasons to go to war against Iraq.

But Wesley Clark's Winning Modern Wars does review information both from Clark's own sources and other reports already in the public record last year on how their was serious consideration after 9/11 for going to war immediately with Iraq. And he develops his analysis of how the excess focus on "state sponsors" through his discussion of the Afghan and Iraq Wars.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

State Sponsors of Terrorism (2 of 4)

This focus on "state sponsors" has been central to the Bush Administration's astonishing neglect of necessary anti-terrorism measures, both before and after the 9/11 attacks.

Continuing with Gen. Clark's Winning Modern Wars on the development of the current situation, Clark recounts the rise of al-Qaeda, "[f]orged in the struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and organized originally by the United States with Saudi funding and Pakistani support." After the Soviet withdrawal for Afghanistan, Bin Laden's group began to expand its activities in the Middle East and other areas.

In 1993, the World Trade Center was attacked by Islamic extremists associated with Al Qaeda. And Al Qaeda became one of several different organizations seen as increasingly hostile to Americans. It was only after the bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996, in which nineteen Americans were killed, that we seemed to become clearly focused on the specific threats directed against us.

And this new threat was indeed different from the nature of the Cold War challenge from the Soviet Union. Although al-Qaeda formed alliances with so-called failed states like the Sudan and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, they were not a proxy organization for inter-state rivalries. Their ideology was largely based on an extremist version of Islam and they drew most of their recruits, as Clark says, "from the anger, ignorance, and despair within 'moderate' Arab regimes we supported."

The danger posed by nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists also became a new focus of nuclear nonprofileration concerns.

Clark criticizes even the Clinton Administration for being too concerned with Iraq as a potential ally of al-Qaeda. Not only was there no evidence of such an alliance, it was always highly unlikely. Saddam "was a controlling personality, hardly likely to give destructive weapons to a group of Islamic extremists who were far beyond his control and viewed him and his state as an enemy." And by the late 1990s, it was becoming increasingly clear that transnational terrorism had to be viewed in a new context than the "state sponsor" paradigm.

State Sponsors of Terrorism (1 of 4)

Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo has been a pioneer as well as a continuing trend-setting in the blogosphere. He's also been on top of the increasingly hysterical Republican campaign to discredit Richard Clarke.

But he's also keeping his eye on the policy issues involved. The Republicans, of course, hope to replace discussion of those issues with sleaze-slinging against Clarke. Loyalty to Bush the Magnificent seems to come before all other values for the Reps these days. But, as Marshall points out, Clarke's criticism of the Bush Administration's badly deficient policies on terrorism focuses on the notion that terrorism stems from state sponsors, a concept which does not fit the al-Qaeda variety of international terrorism:

The key, as we've noted before, was the new administration's abiding belief in the centrality of states as the actors in international affairs. That assumption not only preceded 9/11 but, perversely, survived it.

... [T]he hidebound unwillingness to rethink that assumption after the 9/11 attacks is at the root of most of our greatest mistakes and strategic failures over the last two and a half years.

In his excellent book Winning Modern Wars (2003), Gen. Wesley Clark also discusses this idea, which is really a decisive strategic issue:

U.S. perceptions were chiefly shaped by our Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union and our strategic alignments in the Middle East, especially with Israel. LiKe Israelis, Americans looked first for state sponsors, because if we could deprive terrorists of bases, financing, and arms - all provided by states - we could drive them out of business, even if we couldn't penetrate their organizations or identify all their members. The Israelis, of course, went farther, developing detailed intelligence within the region. We tended to work at the state level, building allies that would help us contain Soviet influence and expansionism, using others' intelligence and covert action capabilities while working to cut off support to terrorists.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Spain Apologizes to the UN

Inocencio Arias, Spain's ambassador to the United Nations, has apologized for pushing for a resolution condemning the Basque terrorist group ETA for the 11-M attacks on the day following. The Security Council actually did pass the resolution.

We now know that the conservative government was deliberately trying to steer public attention to ETA as the culprits in hopes of winning votes based on their well-known campaign against ETA. With the connivance of their friends in the White House. Ironically, the deception seems to have backfired, with public anger and criticism directed at the conservative party for the deception itself within two days after the attack, thanks in no small part to the opposition social-democratic party's willingness to confront them on the issue.

Arias said in his statement to the press, "We acted in good faith, but in haste. Next time, unless we have one hundred percent certainty, we should not be precipitous. We must apologize for this." (El embajador español en la ONU se disculpa por impulsar una resolución contra ETA el 11-M El Mundo 03/27/04, my translation)

An opposition party that's not afraid to challenge the ruling party on blatant deception of the public on national security issues. A government that actually apologizes for misleading the United Nations. No wonder some Americans find Spanish democratic politics radically different from the American variety.

Chuckie Watch 41: Chuckie vs. Spain

Chuckie's been hearin' about what's been happenin' in Spain. And Chuckie don't like it: Political Terror.

In ChuckieWorld, things are pretty simple. Unless you think about it much. Or unless you think about it at all. But that doesn't usually happen in ChuckieWorld. So things stay simple.

In ChuckieWorld, fightin' The Terrorists means doin' whatever George W. Bush says. Especially when it comes to killin' foreigners. If you don't do what Bush the Magnificent says, why then you're heppin' The Terrorists, boy!

But let's see some of it in Chuckie's own words:

We have been making a lot of headway in our war on terror but last week the terrorists won a huge battle when the bombing of a train in Spain swayed the outcome of a very important election.

We all know the outcome of the election, a hard liner was defeated by someone who will, from all appearances, be much softer in his approach to fighting terror.

But that’s not the point, the people of Spain have the sovereign right to elect whatever kind of government they so desire, conservative, liberal, socialist or communist for that matter, but the point is that their decision was made under duress. They went to the polls scared to death and in essence told the terrorists, ”We’ll get our troops out of Iraq, just don’t hurt us anymore.”

Now, not one sentence of that has any clear basis in reality. If we wanted to be generous to the dweller(s) of ChuckieWorld, we could say that the first sentence is at least an interpretation. But the only real evidence that the 11-M attack in Madrid actually affected the election has to do with two things: a higher turnout than expected, and popular anger at the government for not being honest about the attack in the immediate aftermath.

All the rest - that the new Spanish government will be "softer" on terrorism, that Spainards voted "under duress" (unlike some precincts in Florida in 2000 when old-fashioned Southern techniques were used to intimidate black voters), or that Spanish voters think that withdrawing from Iraq will make them safe from attack - is pure Republican fantasy. (And I wonder how they distinguish between liberal, socialist and communist in ChuckieWorld.)

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Hearings

Two worthwhile articles on the 9/11 hearings:

Clarke's Book Shows Why Bush Fears Truth by Joe Conason New York Observer 03/25/04.
A sad tale of arrogance and ignorance by Molly Ivins WorkingforChange.com 03/25/04

Conason focuses on the way Bush and his team spread "mystifying nonsense" about their post-9/11 responses to promote his Bush the Magnificent, Defender of the Homeland and Scourge of the Terrorists image. But, he says:

[Richard Clarke's] book confirms in detail what some of us have long suspected: During the first nine months of 2001, the Bush administration largely ignored loud alarms about Al Qaeda sounded by Mr. Clarke, by C.I.A. director George Tenet and by other former Clinton administration officials. Preoccupied with national missile defense, the scuttling of the Kyoto and anti-ballistic-missile treaties and, above all, with Iraq, the administration had no time for the terrorist threat until too late.

The ever-observant Molly Ivins notes:

Then we come to the White house campaign to discredit Clarke. What a travesty. ...

I need to counsel those innocent little Heathers in the Washington press corps who think the White House attack on Clarke is confused simply because it is often contradictory -- "Democrat," "disgruntled former employee," "out of the loop" and "we did everything he wanted." Y'all, Karl Rove often issues contradictory attacks -- just throws a whole lot of stuff up in the air so people will think, "There must be something to all this noise."

The Bush administration's record of sliming its critics is getting to be a scandal in itself. Joe Wilson's wife was outed as a CIA agent. Poor former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill (who was the focus of a book that certainly confirms the administration's obsession with Iraq) was dismissed as a nutcase. And now it's Clarke's turn. I suppose we should all be grateful no one is investigating anyone else's sex life.

Afghan War: Blowback in action

This article from USA Today has a couple of good observations on the way that earlier US and Pakistani policies in earlier years is producing unwelcome "blowback," which is another word for unintended consequences in the situation in Afghanistan today: Fundamentalism encouraged in tribes (03/23/04). The article concerns the current US-British-Pakistani offensive against al-Qaeda and the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, including the "tribal areas" in Pakistan:

A decades-long official strategy of benign neglect has molded the semiautonomous tribal areas into hospitable terrain for Islamic militants. Starved of education and employment opportunities, people on the harsh border with Afghanistan have embraced fundamentalist theology and all who uphold it. ...

In the 1990s, when the Pakistani government supported the radical Islamic Taliban's drive for power in neighboring Afghanistan, Islamabad encouraged the locals' leaning toward fundamental Islam and the Taliban. "These ideas have been put into the minds of the tribesmen by the Pakistani establishment," sys Abdul Latif Afridi, a politically active lawyer from one of the tribal areas.

U.S. policies, too, contributed to the current situation. During the 1980s, Washington supported fundamentalist mujahedin when they fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. After that war, as U.S. interest in the region waned and Afghanistan was consumed by internal  strife, Muslim fighters fled to Pakistan's tribal areas. "These people have children there. They have married there with local women. That's why they are considered locals and not terrorists," said Qari Mohammed Fayyaz Alvi, a member of the religiously based Jamaat-e-Islami party.

It's worth remembering that when the US was funding, arming and otherwise encouraging the mujahideen guerrillas in Afghanistan against the Soviets, the American press and politicians of both parties here cheerfully regarded them as "freedom fighters." But that was where the particular brand of poisonous extremism that we identify today with al-Qaeda was being bred and nurtured.

Mississippi Towns

Posting again from the Waynesboro-Wayne County Library, Ground Zero in Mississippi's ongoing battle against treason and subversion.

I saw something yesterday that I never though I would see: a scholarly book about my hometown. It's called Life and Death in a Small Southern Town: Memories of Shubuta, Mississippi (2004) by Gayle Graham Yates. And it led to another experience. I was looking for a copy in the excellent (near-legendary, actually) Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson. I told one of the bookstore clerks what the name was, and he asked, "Is that a book about Shubuta?" That is probably the first time in history that those words have ever been uttered in a bookstore anywhere.

Yates has actually done a scholarly history of Shubuta, whose peak population in the past half century would have been around 750 or so. She taped extensive oral interviews in 1993 with follow-up interviews several years later, and consulted various archival resources for original material.

It seems that she has been very careful with her sources. Although I should add that the folklore about the book in Shubuta is already running wild. I haven't yet found any of the stories that rumor is circulating about what is in there. I'm tempted to stay around here for another week to make a record of the rumors about the book.

After I've had a chance to read it, I'll do a review here. But I might as well say now that I can't be entirely impartial about this one. My father, Alton B. Miller, is mentioned by name in the book, where the author saw him at the senior center in town having lunch one day in 1997. That alone is worth several generations of prestige in Shubuta!

The blurb linked above says of Yates' book:

Ultimately, she shows us Small Town southern America: a strong, frail, fascinating, and complex human community.

So, just to be clear, I'm not just from the South, I'm from the archetypal Southern Small Town. (Well, okay, there's Jefferson in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, but that's meta-reality.)

Monday, March 22, 2004

James Galbraith on the Job-Loss Recovery

James Galbraith doesn't get nearly the attention from the blogosphere his work deserves. But he's now the regular economics columnist for Salon.com, so we'll be hearing more from him on a regular basis. Which is great.

One of his recent columns (03/15/04) takes a pessimistic look at the current job situation: Behind the jobs debacle. Galbraith is certainly no fan of Bush or his economic policies. But he thinks that, while critics like Paul Krugman are right to criticize Bush's failures, the job-loss recovery reflects deeper problems. He argues that the Administration's jobs forecasts have been persistently low, not so much due to deliberate deception: "Bush's jobs forecast failed because a jobs recovery never began at all." And he says:

The conditions for this disaster were set by the tech debacle, by the enormous and unsustainable accumulation of household debt, by the decline in our trade competitiveness and trade balance (under the "high dollar policy"), and by the unsustainability of regressive and opportunistic state and local tax structures. Not since the 1920s had growth been so dependent on speculative investment and mortgage finance. Not in history has our trade position been so weak.

He argues that much of the underlying weakness of the economy was evident in the recession during the first Administration, but that most economists missed it. His take on the policy problems underlying the current dilemma:

The failure of Bush and his economists ... lies in the wanton pursuit of a strategy of tax cuts for the long term aimed at the political, not economic, objective of exempting plutocrats and their fortunes from federal tax. In lies in the rush into military adventures -- from missile defense to Iraq -- that achieve little, waste vast resources and make a proper jobs-and-security policy even more difficult down the road. Most of all, it lies in failing to care, one way or another, what might happen.

Galbraith hopes a Kerry Administration will be taking office in January. And he hopes it will take a pragmatic, flexible approach to a policy aimed at boosting American employment.

Mississippi Blogging

I'm on a Mississippi trip this week, so I'm blogging from the Waynesboro City Library. It's really a nice library for a small city. And their computer lab is well-equipped with good high-speed connections.

The last time I was posting from here, I overheard a conversation in which a young thirtysomething woman was talking about her house in this area.  She said, "We bought our house for nine thousand dollars and we've already paid it off." That was one of those, "Yes, Toto, we're not in California any more" moments.

Today I had to sign a new form to use the computer. I had to promise not to use the library computer to post any "inappropriate" or "treasonous" or "subversive" material. I'm sure the requirement is unconstitutional as it can be. But I figured since I didn't plan to post any neo-Confederate nonsense, that I wasn't likely to run afoul of the "treasonous" and "subversive" clauses.

Lord only knows what the city authorities in Waynesboro would consider "inappropriate"! But I'm sure I'm not posting anything that qualifies. :) :)

I did stop behind a guy in a pickup with a Confederate flag on it today. I was tempted to run into him just to mess up his Confederate decal. But I figured the rental car company wouldn't appreciate it. I also noticed that the guy did not have a Dean for President sticker on his car.

Afghan War: Did Bush "liberate" Afghanistan?

Juan Cole has some worthwhile speculations about the role Tony Blair may have played in persuading the Bush Administration to focus on Afghanistan immediately after the 9/11 attacks. If Blair agreed to support a later Iraq invasion as part of a deal by which the Bush Administration would first strike against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, that would be at least a partial explanation of why he threw himself so recklessly into the Iraq War, at such cost to his own standing as a leader.

He also has some timely observations in references to Bush's Iraq War anniversary speech, on how "liberated" Afghanistan is at this point:

It is true that the Bush administration overthrew two harsh regimes, the Taliban and that of Saddam in Iraq. But in Afghanistan they only overthrew the Taliban because the latter stood in the way of getting at al-Qaeda. They accomplished the task by allying with the Jami`at-i Islami, or "Northern Alliance," the anti-Taliban Islamist movement among Tajiks, with which the pro-Iranian Hizb-i Vahdat of the Hazara Shiites was allied. Two years later, Afghanistan does not have an elected government (the so-called Loya Jirga or tribal council doesn't count for lots of reasons). Elections are scheduled for summer of 2004, but President Karzai is talking of postponing them. Afghans won't be "liberated" until they have an elected government and a sovereign parliament. At the moment, Karzai is the mayor of Kabul. Warlords like Ismail Khan rule provinces like Herat harshly, with Taliban-like restrictions on girls and personal liberties. The Taliban are resurgent in some Pushtun provinces in the south. 2/5s of gross domestic product is generated by drug production, raising fears of narco-terrorism. ...

It is disturbing that the Afghan and Iraqi elections may both be postponed past the US presidential elections. The likelihood is that both parliaments will be dominated by Islamists, which would be a public relations problem for Bush in the campaign. By cleverly postpoining the elections, he ensures that no embarrassing poll results emerge from his two "liberated" projects.

Spain: Repercussions of the 11-M attack

European Union foreign ministers are working this week on strategies to improve cooperation among the EU memeber states in combatting terrorism. The fact that Spain misled German intelligence about their information on the nature of the 11-M in the hours following the Madrid attack emphasizes the need for better coordination. The early hours after an attack can be crucial to apprehending suspects for fairly obvious reasons, such as the perpetrators trying to get to safer countries.

Not surprisingly, better coordination of policies among EU countries is one of the main priorities. One of the measures being discussed is to create a new central anti-terrorism office under Javier Solano, the Spanish social-democrat who is an EU High Commissioners for foreign policy and security issues.

While these measures may seem like dull bureaucratic and police business, that would a large part of the fight against terrorism really is. For Americans, it's notable that the EU measures under discussion do not include preparing for the invasion of additional Middle Eastern countries. The EU is focusing on the law-enforcement aspect of terrorism, not on "neoconservative" fantasies of remaking the Middle East on the basis of American armed force.

Spain is also making a special provision for non-citizens who were injured in the 11-M attacks to apply for Spanish citizenship within the next six months. The action was authorized by royal decree. (Spain is a constitutional monarchy.)

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Iraq War: European opposition

I'll probably be blogging on a lighter schedule than usual the next few days. But at the moment, I'll refer to this post by Josh Marshall, who has a pretty good take on how Europeans tend to view the Iraq War:

(One heartening, encouraging sign in today's papers comes from the Wall Street Journal, which reports that "Germany -- which helped thwart Washington's pursuit of a United Nations Security Council endorsement for the invasion -- privately has asked Spain's likely new leadership to tone down its anti-U.S. rhetoric." This is precisely the sort of drawing back from the brink -- and distinguishing rather than conflating these different issues -- that we need right now on all sides.)

If there is anything good that can come out of this Spanish tragedy, and it certainly looks like close to wall to wall bad, it is that it may force us to shake the attitude of denial that we're in about the nature of our coalition. A couple of the columns above are right to talk about the increasing danger this all poses to the Atlantic alliance.

But the truth is that we've just been fooling ourselves with all this mumbojumbo about New Europe and whatever Spain had meant, up to this point, about Western unity. The idea that there was a hawkish, pro-American, anti-dirigiste New Europe that we were allying ourselves with against Old Europe (i.e., Germany and France) was never more than a fantasy or a farce.

There was some variation in attitudes toward our policies in Iraq across the continent -- most notably in Poland. And support was somewhat higher in some countries in the post-Communist east. But by and large popular opposition to our policies was close to overwhelming from one end of the continent to the other.

Chuckie Watch 40: Chuckie on Spain

How did I miss this? Chuckie did a separate post on Spain. Chuckie don't waste a lot of time expressing sympathy for the victim of 11-M attack in Madrid. In fact, the sum total of what the says about it is this: "But there comes a time when words alone are meaningless. This morning the news was full of accounts of the terrorist bombings in Spain, 170 dead and still counting."

Chuckie was writing before the election, so he didn't yet have the Spanish people to trash as appeasers, etc. The rest is just ranting about terrorists being bad:

While the United Nations talk and talk and talk, people are dying. The time for talk is over and the time for action is at hand. Either they are eradicated, yes I mean killed, or they will kill again and again.

A concerted world effort could rid the planet of this scum, and I mean all of them, by whatever name they go by.

Well, Chuckie likes that rhetorical swagger. And Chuckie has faith. He thinks them there Iraqi WMDs are still lurking out there somewhere, just waiting to jump out and git us:

Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Well you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re still somewhere (my guess would be Syria) waiting to be used against us at the first opportunity. I’ve got a dreadful feeling that if we don’t stay the course we’re going to find out first hand where they are when they’re turned against us.

And Chuckie, I've got a feeling that Nashville's would-be Guru of Patriotic Correctness is clueless. I'm not even sure Chuckie actually knows what a terrorist is. He seems to think there is only a finite quantity of them in the world:

Who are we fighting in Iraq? Terrorists from all over the Middle East, that’s who, and if we don’t stop them there, we could well be fighting them on the streets of Atlanta.

And Chuckie asks, reflectively, "Is the war in Iraq preemptive? Yes, I think so..." Say what?

Well, at least we know that Chuckie don't like them there terrorists. Whatever they are.

Chuckie Watch 39: Chuckie questions Kerry

Chuckie's heard that this here Kerry feller is gone be the Democrat candidate for President. And Chuckie don't like it.

Chuckie's written up a Questionaire for John Kerry. The questions give a little clue of why Chuckie actually thinks Fox News is fair and balanced.

Do you really believe that your support among veterans is as strong as you claim? The reason I ask is that my email indicates otherwise, in fact some of the 'Nam vets feel downright vitriolic towards you and consider you a traitor to the military because of your post Vietnam
endeavors.
(my emphasis)

Now, as we saw way back in Chuckie Watch 4, Chuckie was against the Vietnam War. Because, he says, "We could have won that war, if it would have been fought on the battlefiedl instead of the halls of Congress and the Oval Office." Whatever that means. Chuckie's not always too clear. But I'm not sure why it's okay for Chuckie to have criticized the war as a citizen but not okay for Kerry, a citizen and a veteran, to criticize it. And I've talked a couple of times about the kind of "soldiers' letters" Chuckie gits (here and here). Somehow, they all wind up sounding pretty much like Chuckie.

This question for Kerry is pretty cute, too:

You seem to be a big fan of the United Nations. If elected would you give over the sovereignty of this nation to the U.N.? Would you assign our troops to a U.N. commander to serve in a cause that may not benefit the USA? If this nation were in eminent danger would you take it to the U.N. and not act against the threat until the move was ratified by the Security Council? For instance if we had another 9/11 incident would you go to the U.N. before you sent troops?

Uh, Chuckie, your heroes in the Bush Administration went to the UN before they sent troops to Afghanistan or Iraq. In the first case, the UN authorized the military action. (Like I said, Chuckie isn't too clear sometimes.)

Friday, March 19, 2004

Europe, America and the new (pseudo-) Cold War

Continuing with the comments from the last post, the 03/29/04 print edition of Business Week has a lead article which is the cover story for the European edition called "Fighting a New Cold War." It's by Bruce Nussbaum, who does some decent writing on foreign policy.

And this one does have some clear-headed moments, rejecting the fantasies of the "neoconservative" dreamers:

It is increasingly clear that the Bush Administration's unilateralism in Iraq created a major diversion from the larger war against terrorism and a major division among the allies in fighting it. The September 11 World Trade Center catastrophe and the war in Afghanistan brought the U.S. and Europe as close as they have ever been in fighting a common enemy. But the White House's adherence to a one-sided foreign policy led the U.S. into Iraq without the legitimacy of either NATO, the U.N., or a coalition of all the major nations that have stood with America in times past. Unilateralism, not terrorism, separated Europe from America.

But dreamy Cold War nostalgia isn't going to fix that. This section of the article gives a flavor of the "new Cold War" dream:

The apt analogy is the Cold War. It is time to think not in terms of specific tactics, policies, or battles but in terms of an enduring campaign with an overarching theme that unites America and its allies against a common enemy. The defeat of communism was accomplished by a combination of military, political, and economic policies over a long period. From the time the Soviet Union lowered an Iron Curtain across Europe until the day the Berlin Wall fell, nearly half a century passed. The U.S. pumped billions into Western Europe through the Marshall Plan, generating economic growth and jobs to curb the immense power of Communist Parties in France and Italy and keep them from taking over. The Truman Doctrine provided U.S. military aid to Greece to defeat communist insurgents. Lest we forget, battles large and small raged around the globe. Some were won, some lost.

If nostalgia could beat The Terrorists, we would have already won.

Iraq War: Establishment Fantasies

One of the hallmarks of the pre-Iraq War days was the proliferation of bad historical analogies. How many times did we hear about World War II and Pearl Harbor and tortured analogies about who did what? We were fighting the "Islamofascists," a concept whose only apparent use is to provide reomantic Second World War imagery. We heard about Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It's enough to make you think that people don't learn much from history.

The latest print edition (03/29/04) of Business Week pushes the notion that we're in a new Cold War.  BW is not nearly as nutty in their editorials as the Wall Street Journal. But in this issue, in an editorial called "War on Terror: New Lessons," you have a hard time not thinking about a stereotypical movie plutocrat, puffing a cigar behind his expensive desk in his plush private office in his mansion, cynically reminiscing about how great it was to have the Commies to fight:

Similarly, short-term military or tactical victories in Afghanistan or Iraq today -- including the possible capture of Osama bin Laden -- are not sufficient. Instead, the U.S. and the leading European powers must think in terms of emphasizing common interests that will sustain a long-term fight against terrorism and fundamentalism. Individual freedoms, women's rights, democracy, open markets, and free trade -- these are all values, shared by the U.S. and Europe, that could form the framework for sustained cooperation against a common enemy. The goal is not simply to capture individual terrorists but to drain the swamp that produces them -- a task that could take years.

All I can say is, get a grip, people. The Bush Republicans are about as blatantly hostile to the democratic nations of Europe as they can be. Just a few days after the horrible 11-M attack in Madrid, the Republicans were howling from the radio talk shows to Congress about what contempible cowards the Spaniards are.

If you want the good old Cold War days, read some Ian Fleming novels. And as convenient as it may be to recycle old editorials that used to serve as boilerplate during the Cold War, Osama is not Stalin, Islam is not Communism, and the Europeans are not going to bail us out in Iraq. Fantasize about something else. Like that Mars trip that Bush talked about for a few days in January.

Sierra Club Alert

You don't usually think of the Sierra Club as a target for a rightwing takeover. But that's exactly what's going on in the club's board election for April 21.

Three candidates are representing hardcore anti-immigrant groups that are trying to take over the organization. Dick Lamm, David Pimentel and Frank Morris are the three nativist candidates. Yes, that's the Dick Lamm who was formerly governor of Colorado and had a decent environmental record.

Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center has some comments on the Sierra Club situation. He's running for the board himself: Dees runs for Sierra Club board. That page also has links to further information on the takeover attempt.

[Note 03/22/04: Check out Marigolds2's earlier and longer post on the subject with additional links that she mentions in the comments here.]

Minds divided on the Iraq War

I very much like the War and Piece blog by Laura Rozen, an experienced war correspondent. In this post, she confesses to being influenced somewhat by neoconservative advocates (although the part I've bolded shows she's not a total convert!):

But I have to say, I am starting to think that the Iraq war was the right thing to do, for none of the stated reasons the Bushies did it. I think if we don't totally let it go to hell that it is good for the Iraqi people, I think it will positively affect the neighbors, and I think it was good to project American power and willingness to take serious casualties to all sorts of potential and current enemies, including Al Qaeda. The negatives are clear to me too, including seriously alienating US allies in Europe, and inciting even more hatred and suspicion of the US in the Arab and Muslim worlds. But still, I want us to succeed in Iraq, in spite of the fact that Bush deserves to lose the election for screwing it up so badly, among other crimes.

I would emphasize in connection with those thoughts that recognizing that the US has a national interest as well as legal obligations in doing a good job in the postwar transition is not the same thing as endorsing Bush's preventive war in Iraq.

But this is also more of an intellectual game than real policy choices at this point. The decision the United States has to make - and there will be more than one decision point - is whether it's practical and desirable to continue to occupy Iraq with an ongoing insurgency and a potential civil war in the making.

The US' ability to insure a desirable outcome with any reasonable or acceptable cost is extremely limited. It's very likely that the eventual resolution of the conflict for the US will be optimal only in the sense of minimizing further pointless losses. I hate to be pessimistic. But I'm not running for office. And the news sounds more pessimistic than otherwise to me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Administration spins the Spanish election

Sidney Blumenthal, who became a bogeyman for the right when he was a Clinton advisor is also looking at the Bush conservatives' response to events in Spain: To the Atocha station Salon.com 03/018/04.

Blumenthal points out that the Bush Administration, which doesn't seem to have done much to help their good buddy Tony Blair, at least tried to help the Spanish conservatives by echoing their partisan-motivated line that ETA was responsible for the 11-M attack. "Within hours of the attack, President Bush and Secretary of State Powell helpfully pointed their fingers at ETA. There was no mention of al-Qaida at the White House."

The focus of his piece is how Bush is now forced to ideologically interpret even events like 11-M  in such a way as to justify the Iraq War:

After Spain, the White House that had originally insisted it was ETA and not al-Qaida that was responsible for the Atocha station attack pivoted its argument. The Spanish vote was not a triumph of democracy, a revulsion against the political manipulation of terror. Instead it is being construed as a victory for al-Qaida, a blow in the "ideological war on terrorism," as the neoconservative editorial writer Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post put it.

The neoconservative chorus is as one voice. "Are Europeans prepared to grant all of al-Qaida's conditions in exchange for a promise of security? Thoughts of Munich and 1938 come to mind," wrote Robert Kagan in the Washington Post, in an anxious updating of his famous planetary projections of Europe as Venus and the U.S. as Mars. Astrology, not history, is the long suit here. What would the Spanish know of fascism? Charles Krauthammer, another Post columnist, held forth on Fox News, "We are hearing the voice of European decadence."

The Bush Doctrine as a doctrine has evaporated. Whether it was ever a doctrine rather than a rationale for an already decided upon invasion of Iraq is questionable. Certainly, the war in Afghanistan was a response to an attack on the United States, not a preemptive strike. Rejected now by a member state of NATO through its democratic process, the doctrine per se has no practical future as an instrument of foreign policy, if it ever did.

Did Spain cave in to terrorists?

Timothy Garten Ash makes some pragmatic observations about the turn of events in Spain this past week. He observes that al-Qaeda may will interpret the change of government in Spain as a victory for terrorism. Welcome to the Titanic Guardian 03/18/04.

But he also pleads for people to recognize:

that two things can both be true: 1) Blair was wrong to take us to war on Iraq, which has not helped us defeat al-Qaida; 2) Blair is right to warn us that we are all threatened by an Islamist terrorism which predates the Iraq war, which would target us even if we were not in Iraq, and which will be encouraged by the promised Spanish retreat from Iraq.

However, he has harsh words for those who accuse the incoming Zapatero government of "appeasement":

Rightwing American commentators charge Spanish voters with "appeasement". This is crass. More than three-quarters of the Spanish electorate turned out for a massive defence of democracy in the face of terror. Every single Spanish voter was a soldier in the "war on terror". They voted different ways for all sorts of reasons. Historically, high turn-outs have favoured the left. Some of the former communist electorate voted tactically for the socialists. Many swing voters punished the conservative government of José María Aznar for initially attributing the attacks to the Basque terrorist organisation Eta. And, yes, some emotionally blamed him for having made Spain a more likely terrorist target by supporting Bush's war on Iraq. But to say that this vote adds up to "appeasement" is a stupid slur.

A year after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, it's becoming increasingly clear how badly this adventure has detracted from international efforts to combat al-Qaeda terrorism.

American conservatives' reaction to the Spanish election

Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian comments on how quickly American conservatives seemed to take on open hostility to the Spanish people, less than one week after the horrendous 11-M attack, because of their desire not to participate in Bush's grand adventure in Iraq: Spain got the point 03/17/04.

Witness David Brooks in yesterday's New York Times, outraged that the Madrid bombings prompted Spanish voters to "throw out the old government and replace it with one whose policies are more to al-Qaida's liking. What is the Spanish word for appeasement?" Rightwing blog artist Andrew Sullivan also raided the 1930s lexicon for the same, exhausted word: "It seems clear to me that the trend in Europe is now either appeasement of terror or active alliance with it. It is hard to view the results in Spain as anything but a choice between Bush and al-Qaida. Al-Qaida won." Not to be outdone, former Bush speechwriter David Frum, the man who coined "axis of evil", sighed at the weakness of the Spanish: "People are not always strong. Sometimes they indulge false hopes that by lying low, truckling, appeasing, they can avoid danger and strife ... And this is what seems to have happened in Spain."

Perhaps this is how the Bushites hope to avenge what they saw as European insensitivity two and half years ago, by defaming the Spanish even as Madrid still weeps. But this assault should not go unanswered if only because, if allowed to settle in the public mind, it will widen yet further the already yawning transatlantic gulf of misunderstanding.

Freedland goes on to point out that this reaction not only shows a lack of respect for the processes of democracy. The Iraq War has always been extremely unpopular in Spain. But also and more importantly, it shows how completely the Bush supporters identify the Iraq War with the so-called War on Terror. As he says, "it is quite possible to be strongly opposed to the Iraq adventure and militantly in favour of the war against Bin Laden - indeed the two sentiments can be strongly linked."

The Spanish electorate were not voting for a cave-in to al-Qaida. On the contrary, many of those who opposed the war in Iraq did so precisely because they feared it would distract from the more urgent war against Islamist fanaticism.

Juan Cole on the Spanish elections

Juan Cole has some very worthwhile thoughts on the Spanish election, the Iraq War and the fight against Islamicist terrorism: Did al-Qaeda Win the Spanish Elections? 03/16/04

This silly question is being asked by billionnaire Rupert Murdoch's and Conrad Black's media outlets all over the world in blazing headlines. For some strange reason, the billionnaires aren't happy that the Socialist Workers' Party won the elections in Spain, and are trying to portray the outcome as cowardice on the part of the Spanish public.

The entire argument is specious from beginning to end. First of all, the Iraq war had nothing to do with the battle against al-Qaeda. Nothing whatsoever. Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and others were pressing for a war against Iraq in the 1990s before al-Qaeda had even become much of a threat to the US (certainly, they do not bring it up in their writings of the period). There is no evidence for any significant collaboration between the secular socialist Arab nationalist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the neo-Caliphate hyper-Sunni fundamentalist movement of al-Qaeda. (Az-Zaman is reporting that Saddam proposed Bin Laden for "Man of the Year" in 2002; I believe the report is a fraud, but even if it were not, it would have been nothing more than a publicity stunt. It wasn't a terrorist operation or proof of one).

He calls attention to the disparity in the Bush Administration's financial investment in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda has enjoyed and still enjoys a significant presence:

Let me repeat that. Maybe $1.3 billion for Afghanistan. $250 billion for Iraq. Bin Laden and his supporters are in Afghanistan. What is wrong with this picture?

And on the Spanish voters' choice:

There is no evidence at all that the Spanish public desires the new Socialist government to pull back from a counter-insurgency effort against al-Qaeda. The evidence is only that they became convinced that the war on Iraq had detracted from that effort rather than contributing to it. This is not a cowardly conclusion and it is not a victory for al-Qaeda.

Omer Bartov on contemporary anti-Semitism

Historian Omer Bartov, the author of an important study of the German Wehrmacht on the eastern front, recently wrote about contemporary anti-Semitism in Europe: Memories Are Short, Hatred Is Forever Los Angeles Times 03/15/04.

The new anti-Semitism employs images strikingly similar to Hitler's. It condemns the Jews as controlling the world's only superpower and seeking to take over the rest of the world, as promoting a destructive policy of globalization, as supporting the allegedly criminal and illegitimate Nazi-like state of Israel. It is obsessed with fantasies of secret cabals, visions of bloody upheaval and apocalyptic devastation. Like its Nazi predecessor, it promises to do to the Jews what they are supposedly doing to the world. It is inherently, then, genocidal.

But rather than being the policy of one state, this new anti-Semitism is the domain of very different cultures, political ideologies and religious teachings. Its more soft-core manifestations can be found in the European left, camouflaged as anti-Americanism and an anti-Zionism that denies Israel's right to exist. Right-wing anti-Semitism has also come out of the shadows, as was most clearly seen when the German Christian Democratic parliamentarian Martin Hohmann publicly described the Jews as a "people of perpetrators." ...

But the new anti-Semitism has found its most lethal incarnation in the Muslim world, where it has become a prevalent subculture, a focus of identity, a rallying cry for the masses, a tool to divert attention from the real reasons for poverty and despair, and a cause for militant mobilization and destructive urges. Ranging from the speech of Malaysia's former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, to the charter of the Palestinian organization Hamas, this rhetoric is infused with the same terrifying images of Jews that were haunting Hitler. And we know where Hitler's obsession led.

In Mel Gibson's nauseating film "The Passion of the Christ," the Jews are not satisfied with the tortured body of Jesus and scream over and over again, "Crucify him!" While Pontius Pilate washes his hands, they cry (without English subtitles), "His blood is on us."

More on *The Passion*

While I'm on the subject of Mel Gibson, I wanted to mention some additional post by David Neiwert at his excellent Orcinus blog on The Passion and the issues surrounding it.

The Passion of Mad Max Beyond Braveheart 02/26/04
All bow to Mel 02/27/04
Are the Gospels anti-Semitic? 03/04/04
Prioritizing our 'problems' 03/09/04
Divided Passions 03/10/04

I want to especially call attention to the first post listed here, which discusses the film in connection with some of Gibson's other films. Neiwert calls The Passion "a revenge melodrama - without the satisfying catharsis of revenge."

He believes the movie is anti-Semitic. But he puts that aspect of it into the specific context of the ultraconservative Catholicism that Gibson and his Holocaust-denier father espouse:

The medievalist kind of Catholicism really is Christianity at its most primitive. It harkens back to a Catholicism that wrought not just pogroms but inquisitions. Anyone who understands the dualism of that worldview understands that it is going to be in fairly obvious conflict with modern sensibilities.

Is Mel getting stranger?

Mel Gibson now says he's considering a movie about the Maccabean revolt of the Jews against their Seleucid Greek rulers in the second century BCE. Gibson links it to the story behind the Jewish festival of lights, Hanukah. As he conceives it:

 "The story that's always fired my imagination ... is the Book of Maccabees," the actor and director told ABC Radio talk show host Sean Hannity on Tuesday.

"The Maccabees family stood up, and they made war. They stuck by their guns and they came out winning," he said. "It's like a Western."

So far, none of the articles I've seen on this mention the thing that immediately jumped to my mind, though. 2 Maccabees 7 gives a brief but graphic description of seven Jewish resisters being tortured to death in front of their mother. 4 Maccabees has even more graphic detail of the event in chapters 8-12. The word "macabre" derives from the name Maccabee due to this story.

Yeah, I can see where ole Mel is going with this one. And I was mostly kidding when I speculated earlier on what other Bible stories might interest him!

Kerry takes Hesiod Theogeny's advice on Spain

The blogger Hesiod advised John Kerry this past Monday:

He must make a public statement about the Spanish elections, in which asks Prime Minister Zapatero to hold off on pulling Spain's troops out of Iraq.

He must say to the new Prime Minister that once he is President, he will get that UN mandate, and that he wants Spain to be an important part of the coalition to stabilize Iraq, and make sure freedom takes root there.

On Wednesday, Kerry did that:

"If we had built a true coalition, they would not have to fight almost alone -- and Americans would not have to bear almost all the costs in Iraq," he said. "At times, conflict comes, and the decision must be made. For a president the decision may be lonely, but that does not mean that America should go it alone."

Kerry called on new Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to reconsider his decision to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, saying he should "send a message that terrorists cannot win by their acts of terror."

Zapatero is extremely unlikely to respond to such calls since Kerry obviously won't be President until next January at the earliest. But it makes good political sense for Kerry to make the appeal.