Saturday, July 31, 2004

Henry Wallace on the threat of fascism in America

Quotations from a 1944 article by then US-Vice President Henry A. Wallace (1888-1965) have been popping up in the liberal corners of the blogosphere recently.  I'm not quite sure why.  But I've always liked that particular article.  So I thought I would join the trend.
I'm not sure who started this particular round of it.  A blog called Estimated Prophet posted some excerpts almost a year ago.  The article is called The Danger of American Fascism and first appeared in the New York Times on 04/09/1944.  It was included in a collection of his articles and speeches published as a book that year under the title Democracy Reborn.
Henry Wallace is a controversial figure in recent American history.  As Secretary of Agriculture during the 1930s, he was a leading figure in the New Deal's efforts to meet the farm crisis that actually set in during the 1920s and preceded the Great Depression.  As Vice President 1941-1945, Wallace was a prominent spokesperson for the US government during most of the Second World War.
But in 1948, he broke from the Democratic Party as ran against Harry Truman for president as the candidate of the new, left-leaning Progressive Party.  The American Communist Party provided a great many of the activists for the Progressive Party - in Communist terms they regarded it as a "popular front" party - and Wallace openly accepted their endorsement for President.  Wallace himself was not a Communist.  He later endorsed Truman's decision to go to war in Korea, and was bitter at the criticism of his former allies in the Communist-influenced left of the time.
Ironically, given Wallace's later reputation, he was a Republican up until 1936.  In those days, and well into the 1970s actually, there was a notable faction of the Republican Party known as "liberal Republicans."  It seems a long time ago.  Describing Wallace in 1940 in Freedom From Fear (1999), historian David Kennedy wrote, "Wallace was an unreconstructed liberal reformer and an unflinching New Dealer, qualities that recommended him to Roosevelt."
It didn't escape the notice of either the media or Republican opposition research that 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, then-Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, had supported Wallace for President in 1948.  In his 1977 autobiography Grassroots, McGovern describes his reasons for supporting Wallace as being primarily based on Wallace's criticisms of what McGovern thought was an emerging Cold War policy that overemphasized military confrontation with the Soviet Union.  McGovern's description of his own preference that year provides a good capsule summary of Wallace's career and his place in history:
Thus [because of foreign policy concerns] I was receptive to an alternative to the Truman-Dewey bipartisan policy of 1948.  That alternative was provided by former Vice President Henry Wallace.  Wallace was a highly respected Iowa businessman and farm operator who had developed hybrid-seed corn plants in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio that were selling $4 million worth of seed corn annually by 1933.  He had served as Franklin's Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture and then as his Vice President.  He was forced to resign as President Truman's Secretary of Commerce when he took public exception to the Administration's Cold War policies.
When he emerged in 1948 as a third-party presidential candidate on a platform of international cooperation and "people's capitalism," [my wife] Eleanor and I gave him our support.  Indeed, we went as delegates from Illinois to the Progressive Party convention in Philadelphia.  My most vivid memory of that convention was the group singing led by Pete Seeger.  I also remember enountering a few hard-line Communists whose rigidity and fanaticism I found obnoxious.  But most of the delegates were idealistic meddle-class Americans who wanted a foreign policy based on restraint and reason, and domestic policies geared to the public interest.  Wallace was attacked by his enemies as a "pink" or a "red."  He was, in fact, an old-fashioned free-enterprise capitalist and a practical internationalist.
Wallace's 1944 article on fascism appeared of course during the Second World War, still before the Normandy invasion.  But at that point, the decisive Soviet victory over the Germans at the Battle of Stalingrad made it clear that the tide had turned in the war, and the defeat ofGermany and Japan were in sight, though no one knew at that point how long it might take or how many lives it might still cost.  In his article, we can see the lessons that many in the democratic world were beginning to draw from the experience of the rise of Fascism in Germany and Spain and National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany.
The concept of fascism
My favorite quote from this article has always been:
Every Jew-baiter, every Catholic hater, is a fascist at heart. The hoodlums who have been desecrating churches, cathedrals and synagogues in some of our larger cities are ripe material for fascist leadership.
Today, the word "fascism" has lost much of its meaning, and is known mainly as an insulting epithet.  In 1944, it was much more of a contemporary term, and most people didn't think they needed any special definition of the concept.
Among historians and political scientists, there has been a long-running debate, never resolved to any general consensus, over what "fascism" really is.  Mussolini's movement used the word "fascism" to describe itself, so that one pretty clearly counts.  Spain's post-civil war dictatorship under Francisco Franco (1892-1975) called its governing party the Falange Española, and the Spanish Falangists are generally regarded as a type of fascist rule.
One of the most complicated and interesting questions in this dispute is whether Hitler's National Socialism counts as a form of fascism, or whether it reprsents some kind of qualitatively different form of dictatorship.  Though in 1944, most people would understood "fascism" to include the Hitler regime. 
But without getting bogged down in the poltical science disputes, most definitions of fascism would include a dictatorial government, a one-party state, a capitalist economic system, the promotion of extreme nationalism, and an emphases of military power.  "Militarism" would be normally used to describe the latter.  But in the more technical sense of military officials having the ultimate say in the government, militarism would more accurately describe Japan under the warlords during the Second World War or Germany under Hindenburg and Ludendorff during the First World War, though Franco would qualify as well. While Mussolini and Hitler emphasized military strength and imagery, both governments wer civilian dictatorships in which civilian officials controlled the military.
Wallace view of the threat of fascism 1944
This passage in interesting because, despite the United Nations (US/Britain/USSR) policy of unconditional surrender, Wallace seems to envision a possible future German threat even after the war ends:
The European brand of fascism will probably present its most serious postwar threat to us via Latin America. The effect of the war has been to raise the cost of living in most Latin American countries much faster than the wages of labor. The fascists in most Latin American countries tell the people that the reason their wages will not buy as much in the way of goods is because of Yankee imperialism. The fascists in Latin America learn to speak and act like natives. Our chemical and other manufacturing concerns are all too often ready to let the Germans have Latin American markets, provided the American companies can work out an arrangement which will enable them to charge high prices to the consumer inside the United States. Following this war, technology will have reached such a point that it will be possible for Germans, using South America as a base, to cause us much more difficulty in World War III than they did in World War II. The military and landowning cliques in many South American countries will find it attractive financially to work with German fascist concerns as well as expedient from the standpoint of temporary power politics.
There was a large presence of German immigrants and their descendents in Latin America at that time.  You hear stories and jokes about Nazi war criminals escaping to South America after the war.  But there was actually large-scale German emigration to Latin America a century ago, even before the First World War, including German Jews.  (One of the most notorious terrorist attacks of recent years was a truck bomb attack by the Shi'ite terrorist group Hizbollah against a Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Argentina.)
In what actually developed, the most direct influence of European fascism of that period was in Argentina, in the form of Juan Perón's movement.  Perón (1895-1974) was an admirer of Benito Mussolini, and travelled to Italy to study Italian military methods.  Perón had just become vice-president of Argentina in February of 1944 as a result of the formation of a military junta there, following on the seizure of power in June 1943 by the Grupo de Oficiales Unidos (GOU), of which Perón had a part in creating.
Wallace probably had developments like this is mind, especially since the German communities in South America tended to be quite sympathetic to the Nazi government, in a kind of "more German than the Germans" attitude.
Fascism was not unknown on American soil.  Clumsy German espionage efforts took their own fool racial progaganda way too seriously and imagined that the German-American Bund, a national network of social clubs for ethnic Germans, would somehow mobilize the German-Americans to support the cause of the Nazi party ruling the old homeland.  The Bund overtly propagandized for Nazi ideas and happily displayed their swastika flags.  German-Americans like Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall tended to be singularly unresponsive to such appeals.
Henry Wallace's article stresses the more homegrown versions of the fascist type movements.  These were also familiar to readers in 1944.  The isolationist, antiwar America First group prior to the war had opposed American aid to Germany's foes and painted the Roosevelt administration as a bunch of blithering warmongers.  While many sympathizers of this group were antiwar for more generall pacifist reasons - I believe labor leader John L. Lewis fits this category - other like its most famous advocate Charles Lindburgh were German symphasizers, however much Lindburgh's later admirers tried to play down his German sympathies and anti-Semitic and racial-supremicist attitudes.
Other groups identified with Hitler-and-Mussolini-like outlooks included the radio priest Charles Coughlin, a spiritual and political predecessor of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh; the Silver Shirts of William Dudley Pelley; Gerald L.K. Smith and his so-called Committe of One Million; and, the Ku Klux Klan in its various incarnations of the time.  At least among New Deal Democrats, Louisiana's Huey Long, who ran the state of Lousiana under Mussolini-style conditions while building strong sympathies among many farmers and working families, was regarded as the most likely candidate for an American Hitler.  Sinclair Lewis in his contemporary novel It Can't Happen Here and William Faulkner in his later novel The Mansion took Long as their model of an American fascist demagogue.
It's in this context that Wallace's readers would have understood his article, with statements like this:
American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.
"Cartelists" is a concept that not much used today, although it could be translated into present-day language as something like "the Enrons and the Halliburtons."  As for poisoners of public information, there is an endless stream of "fair and balanced" examples of those available 24/7 for anyone with access to cable television.  And KKK type demogoguery is no farther away than the Web site of Trent Lott's and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's friends at the White Citizens Council (aka, Council of Conservative Citizens).
This observation is still current:
The symptoms of fascist thinking are colored by environment and adapted to immediate circumstances. But always and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power. It is no coincidence that the growth of modern tyrants has in every case been heralded by the growth of prejudice. It may be shocking to some people in this country to realize that, without meaning to do so, they hold views in common with Hitler when they preach discrimination against other religious, racial or economic groups.
Anyone who has has paid close attention to Rush Limbaugh or John Ashcroft can also find contemporary resonance in the following warning.  Substitute "unilaterialism" for "isolationism" and a number of other examples from today come readily to mind.
The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunityto impugn democracy. They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism. They cultivate hate and distrust of both Britain and Russia. They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection. (my emphasis)
His concerns in the following passage give a hint of his later alarm over what he saw in 1948 as the short-sighted Cold War policies of the Truman administration.  But one doesn't have to accept his 1948 foreign-policy viewpoint to notice that American democrats had reason to be concerned that some pressing for aggressive postwar military policies didn't have the best interest of American democracy in mind:
Fascism in the postwar inevitably will push steadily for Anglo-Saxon imperialism and eventually for war with Russia. Already American fascists are talking and writing about this conflict and using it as an excuse for their internal hatreds and intolerances toward certain races, creeds and classes.
It's become such a commonplace today in American politics that the United States is the world's only superpower.  And both parties right now take it for granted that the US should be prepared to assert military dominance anywhere in the world.  Far too little comment is made today on the ways in which such policies can endanger democracy at home.
As John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in The Anatomy of Power (1983), with particular referenceto the US, warned of the exercise of deceptively benign power in contemporary society by institutions that give the public the illusion of greater democratic control than what actually exists, not least because concentrated power is opposed by a diffusion of groups whose actually effectiveness is limited in comparison:
The modern military establishment strongly concentrates power.  It exacts a high level of submission from a large number of individuals within the organization, and in symmetrical fashion it exacts an equivalent obedience outside.  The modern large corporation expects and receives a high level of conformity from the many in its management.  And its property resources accord it an extensive command over the many it employs.  From this flows and extensive submission by the citizenry and by the state.  As in the case of the miltiary, the purposes of the great business enterprise, the ideas that sustain it, are largely, though not quite completely, above debate.  As social conditioning advese to the military is unpatriotic and negligent of national security, so that which is adverse to the modern industrial enterprise is subversive of the free enterprise system.  Not the least of the strengths of the military and corporate power is the diffusion in the sources of power that are brought in opposition [to them]. ... Nothing so serves the military or corporate power as the belief if its opponents that they have accomplished something by holding a meeting, giving a speech, or issuing a manifesto.  No one in a democracy [on the one hand] should be in doubt as to the real effectiveness of organized opposition to concentrated power.  But all [on the other hand] must have an acute understanding of the weakness arising from the diffusion of power and the difference between illusion and practical effect.
And the following passage from that same book of Galbraith's, written over 20 years ago, is an all-too-relevant warning of a key way that demogoguery can be used to concentrate power and stigmatize dissent, in the same way of which Wallace warned 60 years ago:
An essential, even vital, need for the conditioned [i.e., psychological/ideological] power of the military is a specific enemy.  If the military power is to be more than traditional, ceremonial, or precautionary in character, a hostile threat is indispensable.  Such a threat wins the appropriations - the property - from whch compensatory power derives.  It also leads to consolidation of belief withink the military establishment and similar belief outside.  Internal discipline must be kept tight; external dissent or opposition must be subject to the suspicion or assertion that those involved are aiding, abetting, or motivated by the enemy.  At a minimum they are unpatriotic; at most their dissidence verges on treason, invoking the traditional threat of condign punishment [i.e., legal sanctions].  Deeply conditioned attitudes affirm the value of patriotism, and these become of absolute importance when there is external danger. (my emphasis)

Wallace:  It should also be evident that exhibitions of the native brand of fascism are not confined to any single section, class or religion. Happily, it can be said that as yet fascism has not captured a predominant place in the outlook of any American section, class or religion. It may be encountered in Wall Street, Main Street or Tobacco Road. Some even suspect that they can detect incipient traces of it along the Potomac. It is an infectious disease, and we must all be on our guard against intolerance, bigotry and the pretension of invidious distinction.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Wesley Clark at the Democratic convention

Wesley Clark's speech on Thursday at the Democratic convention was understandably overshadowed by John Kerry's.  But it was a good speech, and I think it's worth quoting a few passages.

Clark began by offering applause and a moment of silence for American servicepeople.  Then he focused on the realities of war and proceeded to challenge the partisan brand of patriotism that Bush and Cheney and the Republicans promote:

War. War. I've been there. So has John Kerry. I've heard the thump of enemy mortars. I've seen the tracers fly. Bled on the battlefield. Recovered in hospitals. Received and obeyed orders. Sent men and women into battle. Awarded medals, comforted families, attended funerals. 

And this soldier has news for you tonight. Anyone who tells you that one political party has a monopoly on the best defense of our nation is committing a fraud on the American people. 

Franklin Roosevelt said it best. Franklin Roosevelt said: "Repetition does not transform a lie into the truth."

This hall, this Democratic Party are filled with veterans who have served under the American flag. And this is our flag. Right there, that flag, we saluted this flag. We rose up in the morning and stood reveille to this flag. We fought for that flag. We've seen brave men and women buried under that flag. That flag is ours, and nobody, nobody will take it away from us.

Clark reminded the delegates and the viewers that there are serious problems in the national security strategy of Bush and Cheney:

The safety of our country demands urgent and innovative measures to strengthen our armed forces. The safety of our country demands credible intelligence. The safety of our country demands cooperation with our allies. The safety of our country demands making more friends and fewer enemies.

The safety of our country demands an end to the doctrinaire, ineffective policies that currently grip Washington.

Enough is enough.

Clark, also a Vietnam War veteran, recalled Kerry's wartime career and postwar protests:

John Kerry fought a war, and I respect him for that. And he came home to fight a peace. And I respect him for that, too. ...

John Kerry is a man who in time of war can lead us as a warrior, but in times of peace, he will heed the call of scripture to lead us in beating swords into plowshares.

Clark's use of the Bible is not a rhetorical flourish.  Clark grew up as a Protestant Christian but converted to Catholicism.  Like Kerry, Clark doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve.  But it sounds like he takes his religious faith very seriously.

Kerry comes out swinging

I was worried when Edwards seemed reticent about criticizing Bush and Cheney over the Iraq War.  Kerry obviously wasn't so reticent.

It's a variation on the conventional wisdom (pun not intended but unavoidable) to have the presidential candidate be more aggressive on the attack than the vice president.  But in the context, it worked well.  Kerry offered a contrast to the president who won't take responsibility for appalling failures in intelligence and false claims used to justify going to war:

Now, I know there that are those who criticize me for seeing complexities -- and I do -- because some issues just aren't all that simple. Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so. And proclaiming "Mission accomplished" certainly doesn't make it so.

As president, I will ask the hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system, so policy is guided by facts and facts are never distorted by politics.

And then he proceeded to invoke the historic American attitude toward war  in stating something that is obvious to everyone but neoconservative intellectuals and those on heavy doses of Oxycontin:

And as president, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation.

This is also the centuries-old Christian idea of the Just War as well as international law, though today's Republicans don't seem to care about either.

And, like in the days when he was a highly-visible protester against the Vietnam War, Kerry used his own wartime experience, which the convention highlighted effectively, to great effect in criticizing the Bush-Cheney war policies in Iraq:

I know what kids go through when they're carrying an M-16 in a dangerous place, and they can't tell friend from foe. I know what they go through when they're out on patrol at night and they don't know what's coming around the next bend. I know what it's like to write letters home telling your family that everything's all right, when you're not sure that that's true.

As president, I will wage this war with the lessons I learned in war. Before you go to battle, you have to be able to look a parent in the eye and truthfully say, "I tried everything possible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm's way, but we had no choice... we had to protect the American people, fundamental American values against a threat that was real and imminent."

And Kerry also addressed a subject that's very much on the minds of soldiers and their families today:

And I will build a stronger military. We will add 40,000 active duty troops, not in Iraq, but to strengthen American forces that are now overstretched, overextended and under pressure. 

We will double our Special Forces to conduct terrorist operations, anti-terrorist operations, and we will provide our troops with the newest weapons and technology to save their lives and win the battle. And we will end the backdoor draft of the National Guard and reservists.

It was a new wrinkle for me - and a hopeful sign - that Kerry specifically said that he does not intend to add the 40 thousand troops to the American forces in Iraq.  The idea seems to be that he would seek more international participation and the rapid development of indiginous Iraqi forces, recognizing that an escalating American role will not win the guerrilla war.

And for us die-hard Jacksonians, it was great to see Kerry defend patriotism as part and parcel of democracy, not a partisan slogan for war-loving Republicans:

And tonight, we have an important message for those who question the patriotism of Americans who offer a better direction for our country. Before wrapping themselves in the flag and shutting their eyes to the truth and their ears, they should remember what America is really all about. They should remember the great idea of freedom for which so many have given their lives. Our purpose now is to reclaim our democracy itself.

We are here to affirm that when Americans stand up and speak their minds and say America can do better, that is not a challenge to patriotism; it is the heart and soul of patriotism.

You see that flag up there. We call her Old Glory, the stars and stripes forever. I fought under that flag, as did so many of those people who were here tonight and all across the country. That flag flew from the gun turret right behind my head and it was shot through and through and tattered, but it never ceased to wave in the wind. It draped the caskets of men that I served with and friends I grew up with. 

For us, that flag is the most powerful symbol of who we are and what we believe in: our strength, our diversity, our love of country, all that makes America both great and good.

Kerry emphasized practical and necessary measures like better port security to address the key vulnerabilities to terrorism.  This is an urgent need, and on of the reasons why this unnecessary war of choice in Iraq has been so damaging to the country's efforts to combat anti-American terrorism.

And he also challenged Bush's arrogant assumption that God gives him and his war-profiteering cronies their marching orders:

And let me say it plainly: In that cause, and in this campaign, we welcome people of faith. America is not us and them.

I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my religion on my sleeve, but faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday.

I don't want to claim that God is on our side.

As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side.

And whatever our faith -- whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country.

These aren't Democratic values. These aren't Republican values. They're American values. We believe in them. They're who we are. And if we honor them, if we believe in ourselves, we can build an America that is stronger at home and respected in the world.

Kerry is off to a strong start.  The Republican slime machine has already been after him with $100 million or so of commercials, plus the same array of rightwing propaganda outlets that stayed after Clinton from months before he actually became president and still hasn't entirely stopped.  Drudge, Scaife, Murdoch, Fox News, Oxycontin radio, the whole crew of familiar suspects, plus new variations like the Swift Boat Liars for Bush, will be on the job the rest of the year and for as long as Kerry is president.  As long as any Democrat is daring to challenge the dominance of the Halliburton Republicans.

Good luck, Kerry!

We really need a change of direction and I hope he can give it to us.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Democratic convention and the Iraq War

I was impressed by the Wednesday evening speeches of General John Shalikashvili, the retired former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards.

Shalikashvili identified himself as "an old soldier and a new Democrat."  His views represent not just his personal perspective but the outlook of many, especially in the Army, that not only was the Iraq War poorly prepared and militarily unnecessary.  But also the view that the Rumsfled vision of "military transformation" relying on the promise of high-tech weapons to minimize the number of soldiers needed.

But there are no magic weapons as yet that can accomplish what needs to be done with a large-scale and long-term occupation of a country like Iraq.  As Shalikashvili put it:

[John Kerry] knows that to be truly safe at home we must significantly strengthen the protection of our homeland and that we must not again allow ourselves to be distracted from the relentless pursuit of these terrorists. At this moment thousands upon thousands of our brave troops are deployed in Afghanistan and in Iraq in a protracted and bloody struggle. Still countless other soldiers remain deployed around the world upholding the cause of freedom and representing what is best about America.

John Kerry was the first to warn that these worldwide military deployments are dangerously overstretching our military and particularly our Army. That unless we appreciably increase the size of the Army and restructure it to give it new capabilities needed in the new war against terrorism, we are in real danger of returning to the days of a hollow Army.

And, John Kerry has made it crystal clear that no matter how strong we might be, success in the war on terror or in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and to Iraq will likely elude us unless we bring friends and allies to our side both for the fight and for the long, hard work of reconstruction. We must do this not because we need anyone's approval when we act to protect our security but because we are more effective when friends and allies stand by our side as together we share the burden and the risks. There is no doubt that capable allies and strong alliances are today more important to our security than ever before. ...

I know about the horror of war and thus join with others like John Kerry in believing that we must go to war only when all other efforts to resolve the threat to us have been exhausted. And only then, when going to war becomes absolutely necessary, then to go with full resolve and to use force decisively. But we should never go to war without a comprehensive plan for how to secure the peace once military victory has been won.

As Bob Somerby (the Daily Howler) frequently points out, the press develops what he calls "scripts" about figures in the news.  By that he means a general assumption, a conventional wisdom, which they then use to interpret all his actions and words in a consistent - and comfortable (for the press) - framework.

The preferred press "script" for Edwards seems to be something along the lines of: Edwards is good at creating a sense of empathy with an audience but since he's a "trial lawyer" (a favorite GOP bogeyman), he risks coming across as contrived.

For those of us who actually worry about what a political leader says and what he's likely to do in office, his TV persona is not the most critical thing to examine.  (Although I will make a style statement about his 22-year-old daughter Kate.  What's with the retro-70s look?  Was she trying to ape the Stepford Wives or something?  The woman's a graduate of Princeton.  But she looked like an advertisement for Agnes Scott "finishing school.")

Edwards did a good job of articulating his feeling of solidarity with the American troops at war, which is important for national candidates.  And he addressed some of the issues challenges the country faces in the Iraq War:

But today, our great United States military is stretched thin. We've got more than 140,000 troops in Iraq, almost 20,000 in Afghanistan. And I visited the men and women there, and we're praying as they try to give that country hope.

Like all of those brave men and women, John put his life on the line for our country. He knows that when authority is given to a president, much is expected in return.

That's why we will strengthen and modernize our military. We will double our Special Forces. We will invest in the new equipment and technologies so that our military remains the best equipped and best prepared in the world. This will make our military stronger. It'll make sure that we can defeat any enemy in this new world.

But we can't do this alone. We have got to restore our respect in the world to bring our allies to us and with us.

It is how we won the Cold War. It is how we won two World Wars. And it is how we will build a stable Iraq.

With a new president who strengthens and leads our alliances, we can get NATO to help secure Iraq. We can ensure that Iraq's neighbors, like Syria and Iran, don't stand in the way of a democratic Iraq. We can help Iraq's economy by getting other countries to forgive their enormous debt and participate in the reconstruction.

We can do this for the Iraqi people. We can do it for our own soldiers. And we will get this done right.

A new president will bring the world to our side, and with it a stable Iraq, a real chance for freedom and peace in the Middle East, including a safe and secure Israel.

And John and I will bring the world together...

The impulse is a good one: try to find a real international solution for Iraq.  Bring in allies to provide some of the troops that are needed but we can't provide.  Get support on debt forgiveness.

But most of it is wishful thinking.  And here is where both Edwards and Kerry are limited by their own foolish vote to give Bush a blank check for war in Iraq in October 2002.  Bush's loss of credibility over Iraq has been spectacular.  He made up the reasons for war.  The terrible horrible threat of Iraqi WMDs that he beat the American public over the head with for months was fake.  Non-existent.

And yet Edwards didn't attack him on that point.  Shalikashvili did a much better job of articulating the dismay of most people at the idea of starting a war of choice using the excuse of a looming threat that didn't exist.

The Vice Presidential nominee istraditionally expected to be the "attack dog" of the campaign.  As moving as Edwards' vision of opportunity and hope is, he didn't attack very hard last night.  And on Iraq, the issue on which Bush's credibility and image as a national leader is most vulnerable right now, Edwards worded his speech in a way to allow those who wanted to draw the impression that he and Kerry would press for escalating the Iraq War.

This is a risky game.  It seems bizarre to committed partisans that any voters might perceive Kerry as more belligerent on Iraq than Bush.  But I noticed on the PBS commentary last night, Republican loyalist David Brooks commented that Kerry seems to be positioning to "run to the right" of Bush on Iraq.  That's BigPunditspeak for "sounding more warlike" than Bush.

In reality, there is no realistic prospect at the moment that events in Iraq can be made to appear peaceful and optimistic in the next two months, outside the Fox-News-and-Oxycontin alternative universe where its always been a cakewalk there.  But if Kerry and Edwards give swing voters the impression that they would escalate the war in Iraq, while Bush and Cheney give reassuring-sounding sound bites about how successful we are there, they could lose the election on that issue.

And if they don't use the opportunity to attack Bush's credibility over the issue, they would foregoing the use of one of their strongest cards.  I haven't heard all the speeches.  But I haven't heard a single mention at the Democratic convention of the torture issue.  Have our politics become so morally degenerate that even the Democratic politicians are afraid they might alienate some potential voter by saying a word against the sick, sadistic, criminal acts of torture that have been committed in the gulag at the direction of Rumsfeld and probably Bush himself?

More specifically for Edwards, will he challenge Dick Cheney head-on during the campaign and during the Vice Presidential debate about his lies on WMDs and Iraq/al-Qaeda ties, and about his office's role in the torture scandal and the Valerie Plame leak?  About his support of the super-sleazy Ahmed Chalabi and the leak of highly sensitive signals intelligence to Iran?

Edwards was impressive on Wednesday evening.  But if Kerry and Edwards want to win the election, they will have to be much more aggressive in going after Bush that Edwards was in his convention speech.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Does weakness cause terrorism?

Dick Cheney things so.  In fact, it's a favorite Republican (and not just Republican) clichee.

Juan Cole takes a look at Cheney's latest warmongering rant and does a reality-check.  Cole points to the example of Lebanon in the 1980s, in which Israel's exercise of strength in intervening there in 1982 would up giving birth to Hizbollah, the Shiite terrorist group.

On the other hand, he notes that the exit of the US from Lebanon in 1983 after a terrorist attack and from Somalia in 1993 after the "Black Hawk Down" incident are used by Osama bin Laden as examples showing that the US is a paper tiger.

The lesson I take away from all this is that the US should not get involved in places that it may get thrown out of, because that projects an image of weakness and vulnerability to the country's enemies. There was no way the United States could possibly have maintained a presence in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and Reagan was foolish to put those Marines in there, and even more foolish to put them in without pilons around them to stop truck bombs. The country was embroiled in a civil war, and it would have taken a massive commitment of troops to make a difference. In the wake of the Vietnam failure, the American public would not have countenanced such a huge troop build-up. Likewise, Bush senior was foolish to send those troops to Somalia in the way he did (which became a poison pill for his successor, Bill Clinton).

I have never understood why Bush thought it was necessary to send US troops into Somalia in 1992.  I've always suspected he did to distract attention from European pressure to intervene in the former Yugoslavia.

Cole also cites Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island expressing concern over the progress - or lack thereof - in the Iraq War:  GOP Senator Criticizes Bush for Iraq War  (AP) Kansas City Star 07/27/04.  As well as concern about the saber-rattling on Iran.

Chafee took issue with Bush's "harsh words" for Iran in recent weeks, and said the administration needs to work more closely with that country, Jordan and Syria.

The United States believes Tehran is developing nuclear weapons, a view reinforced by Iran's recent decision to resume construction of centrifuges - a key step in the development of a uranium-based bomb. Iran said its nuclear program has nothing to do with weaponry and is meant to meet domestic electricity needs.

"I feel there's been a whole host of mistakes," said Chafee, a moderate in the GOP. Among them, he said, was insufficient troop levels.

Washington is spending $1 billion a week in Iraq, according to Chafee. Yet the senator said he has heard electricity does not work in some places, some schools are not open, and water treatment plants remain out of commission. The senator said the country is more dangerous now than when he visited in October. (my emphasis)

Part of the potentially destructive logic at work here is that war critics wind up looking at the way the military and reserves are stretched to the limit and say, we need more troops.  Which is true - if we're going to be a long-term military presence in Iraq and if we hope to win the guerrilla war there.

This also provides them political cover by letting them be "tough on defense" while criticizing the current policies.

The danger in this is that we can wind up with majority support in Congress for more troops and for massive military-spending boondoggles like Star Wars anti-ballistic missiles, instead of making long-term strategic decisions that would avoid Iraq-style wars in the future.

Guest Blog: A Pennsylvanian take of Teresa's Heinz' harsh words

A first-ever for Old Hickory's Weblog: guest blogging by my friend Kenn Lippert of Pennsylvania. 
I'm sure the Teresa Heinz "Shove it" comment is going to be all over the news, especially Faux.  It is important to realize that the reporter in question (really the opinion page editor) works for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a Scaife owned, RNC lapdog of a rag.  This is the same "newspaper" that pushed and pushed the "Vince Foster was murdered" story long after all the other conservative media outlets had given up on it.
It used to be the Greensburg Tribune-Review (a rural eastern suburb of Pittsburgh, out towards that part of Pennsylvania known as 'Arkansas' to some), but when the Pittsburgh Press (a defunct afternoon daily) was on strike the TR tried to move in and call itself Pittsburgh's paper.  The Pittsburgh Post Gazette absorbed the Press, and is the now major Pittsburgh newspaper in town, but the Tribune-Review tries to  lay claim to that as well.

Back when Ricky "Don't look at my dog like that" Santorum  first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1994 , his opponent was Harris Wofford.  Wofford was a Democrat that had been appointed the U.S. Senate seat  after John Heinz's untimely death. Wofford had won the special election to the seat in November 1991.  The Santorum campaign was particularly hard and nasty, Ricky displaying his flair for smirkiness and pomposity all the while wrapping himself in a shroud of conservative Christian values, and foreshadowing the lack of civility we see from the GOP today.  When Teresa Heinz decided not to support Santorum in his race against  Wofford - a champion of civil rights and cofounder of the Peace Corp, Ricky accused her of turning on the Republican party because she was "having an affair with a Senator from Massachusetts.

Teresa began moving away from the what the Republican party was becoming, and  the Greensburg Tribune-Review has had it out for her ever since.

Here's what Tribune-Review writer Dimitri Vassilaros recently wrote:

If Teresa Heinz Kerry did not violate federal election laws to help finance her husband's presidential campaign, why does she refuse to make full financial disclosure? Memo to Teresa: Burn that green pants suit you wore here recently -- and fire any assistants who said it looked good on you.

The Tribune-Review has also published as fact, urban legends about the organizations which the Howard Heinz Endowment supports.  It is no wonder Teresa reacted as she did to Colin McNickle.

We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Not about the convention...

This post isn't really about the convention, it's about people writing about the convention.  So I'm not violating by one-a-day rule.  I can quit any time I want to, I tell you!!

Anyway, I see that Mitch Cohen's Thorn Papers blog picked up on some of the same Jimmy Carter quotes that I did.  He also adds some good extras from a Carter interview afterward with Jim Lehrer.

When someone like Carter is expressing himself this strongly on a central foreign policy issue, it would be best if everyone could hear what he was saying without first filtering it through a thick screen of partisanship.  But I'm only dreaming there.

There's been a lot of next-big-thing type hoopla about blog coverage of the convention.  From what I've seen of the first day's sampling of it, I'm not impressed so far.  Tom Tomorrow's account of walking around with Michael Moore is interesting because it's well-told and because I didn't realize Moore had become quite such a Big Celebrity and because of his tale of Moore's encounter with Bill "Shut up!" O'Reilly.

But mostly, the first-hand blogger coverage has struck me kind of the way in did Steve Gilliard in this grumpy assessment:

Why am I irritated? Because I read the National Journal and found out only bloggers have decent wi-fi access. And it took the BBC to report how veteran political reporter Walter Means was laughed out of the room whem he said he was objective. Uh guys, that's something I want to read about. And not in the BBC, either.

Gilliard also had this observation about the ridiculous arrangement for protesters, which looks like something the masterminds of Guantanamo and Abu Ghuraib came up with (which is more or less the case):

If you guys hadn't been so impressed with your entry passes, you might have noted the insanely dangerous conditions for protest. The Protest Prison as the sign there called it, is one scary place. It was barely filled when the answer crowd did their apologia for the Palestinians, without noting that even the Palestinians are sick of the corruption of PA. If there is a large crowd, and things get wacky, people will get hurt. Oh yeah, the cops are perfectly poised to drop tear gas in that small area, with two narrow egress and entry points. If something goes wrong, people will get hurt, maybe trampled or killed. It is the most dangerous setting I have ever seen for a protest. [ANSWER is an antiwar protest group that actually sees itself as "left" rather than "liberal," a distinction probably incomprehensible to Fox News fans.]

I was happy there wasn't a crowd there. Because the City of Boston was slick, they picked a place to limit protest and a place no delegate has to go to unless they want to. By setting up that pen, they limited protest better than a simple ban. By setting up a funnel to the protest prison they may have a secure area, they also have the potential for a bad riot.

AOL-J'er Armandt seems to think this arrangement is some kind of partisan Democratic scheme.  Wrong.  This is the way our new Homeland Security State treats protest.  When Bush visited London the last time, the American security people demanded that the protesters be kept completely out of sight of our legitimate president.  Even the Tony Blair's government couldn't quite go along with that.

The scene in New York next month at the Republican convention is likely to be more appalling.

More (dubious) praise for the 9/11 Commission's "new strategy"

Earlier I wondered why conservative war fan David Brooks was so receptive to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that seemed on the face of it to be a departure from the Bush administration's War on Terrorism line.  I suggested that Brooks' perspective might not be reflective of a more pacific turn in his thinking.

Now I see that Daniel Pipes is also enthusiastic about the Commission's suggested war of ideology.  Daniel Pipes is one of the most outspoken advocates of an aggressive, warlike policy in the Middle East.  The fact that he finds so much to praise in the Commission's ideas on the ideological struggle - or at least finds the language so easy to adapt to his purposes - suggests again that the report deserves to be treated with caution and skepticism:  The 9/11 Commission Findings: An accurate definition of the enemy by Daniel Pipes San Francisco Chronicle 07/27/04. 

Pipes is no Rush Limbaugh type.  So he knows to talk about "Islamism" instead of Islam:

As Thomas Donnelly points out in the New York Sun, the commission has called the enemy "by its true name, something that politically correct Americans have trouble facing."

Why does it matter that the Islamist dimension of terrorism must be specified? Simple. Just as a physician must identify a disease to treat it, so a strategist must name an enemy to defeat it. The great failing in the U.S. war effort since late 2001 has been the reluctance to name the enemy. So long as the anodyne, euphemistic and inaccurate term "war on terror" remains the official nomenclature, that war will not be won.

Since virtually everyone in the US identifies Islamist extremism as a problem, the sarcastic sneer about "politically correct Americans" is a reason to read closely.  Although worded carefully, Pipes encourages his readers to see Islam itself, at least "real existing" Islam (to borrow a term from the old East German regime's self-description) as the real problem:

The Islamist outlook represents not a hijacking of Islam, as is often but wrongly claimed; rather it emerges from a "long tradition of extreme intolerance" within Islam, one going back centuries and in recent times associated with Wahhabism, the Muslim Brethren and the Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb. (my emphasis)

Not a hijacking of Islam, but effectively the religion of Islam itself.  And this requires the United States to adopt a strategy of revolutionizing the Islamic world, or at least the Arab part of it.

Although in this essay, he sticks to praising the Comission's language that the "cures" for the problems of Islamic societies - or of Islam itself - "must come from within Muslim societies themselves. The United States must support such developments."

But in the view of war-oriented anti-Islamic hardliners like Pipes, "supporting" such developments can very quickly become an idological gloss to support wars of "liberation" like the doomed one we're fighting in Iraq right now.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Mad Annie vs. USA Today

This post is only kinda-sorta about the convention.  But via Daily Kos, I came across this article from the conservative Human Events site Banned In Boston! The Ann Coulter Column Too Hot for USA Today by Ann Coulter 07/26/04.

That would be Ann Coulter, the blond whack job who is the Oxycontin crowd's favorite blond airhead.  Although most people think she's a fanatical rightwing sleaze, or maybe just goofy.

Anyway, this article has Coulter's by-line, even though it writes about "Ann Coulter, the witty, vivacious HUMAN EVENTS columnist and best-selling author" in the third person.  It seems that Mad Annie had a gig with USA Today, not exactly a leftwing outlet, to cover the Democratic convention from her own perspective.

According to this account anyway, they wouldn't accept her first column.  The purported comments that USA Today made on her column are included.  Apparently, her description of the "corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call 'women' at the Democratic National Convention" didn't really go over well with her editor.

Ditto her loopy comment about the Boston police reverting "to their natural state of being fascist, racist pigs."

It's tempting to have a touch of sympathy for her.  I mean, what did USA Today think they were getting when they hired Mad Annie Coulter to write about the Democratic convention?

As for the facts of the story, remember: the by-line is Ann Coulter.

Jimmy Carter gits down with Bush

I can't begin to compete with the snappy insights all over the press and the blogosphere about the nature and experience of the Democratic convention.  So for today, I'll settle for quotes from Jimmy Carter's speech Monday night (video here), with my emphases added.

As many of you may know, my first chosen career was in the United States Navy, where I served as a submarine officer. At that time, my shipmates and I were ready for combat and prepared to give our lives to defend our nation and its principles. At the same time, we always prayed that our readiness would preserve the peace. 

I served under two presidents, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, men who represented different political parties, both of whom had faced their active military responsibilities with honor.

They knew the horrors of war. And later as commanders in chief, they exercised restraint and judgment, and they had a clear sense of mission. 

We had a confidence -- we had a confidence that our leaders, both military and civilian, would not put our soldiers and sailors in harm's way by initiating wars of choice unless America's vital interests were in danger. ...

Today, our Democratic Party is led by another former naval officer, one who volunteered for military service. He showed up when assigned to duty and he served with honor and distinction. He also knows the horrors of war and the responsibilities of leadership. And I am confident that next January, he will restore the judgment and maturity to our government that nowadays is sorely lacking. ...

As you all know, our country faces many challenges at home involving energy, taxation, the environment, education and health. To meet these challenges, we need new leaders in Washington whose policies are shaped by working American families instead of the super-rich and their armies of lobbyists in Washington.

But the biggest reason to make John Kerry president is even more important. It is to safeguard the security of our nation.

Today, our dominant international challenge is to restore the greatness of America, based on ...based on telling the truth, a commitment to peace, and respect for civil liberties at home and basic human rights around the world. 

Truth is the foundation of our global leadership, but our credibility has been shattered and we are left increasingly isolated and vulnerable in a hostile world. 

Without truth, without trust, America cannot flourish. Trust is at the very heart of our democracy, the sacred covenant between a president and the people.

When that trust is violated, the bonds that hold our republic together begin to weaken

After 9/11, America stood proud -- wounded, but determined and united. A cowardly attack on innocent civilians brought us an unprecedented level of cooperation and understanding around the world. But in just 34 months, we have watched with deep concern as all this good will has been squandered by a virtually unbroken series of mistakes and miscalculations

Unilateral acts and demands have isolated the United States from the very nations we need to join us in combating terrorism.

Let us not forget that the Soviets lost the Cold War because the American people combined the exercise of power with adherence to basic principles, based on sustained bipartisan support. 

We understood the positive link between the defense of our own freedom and the promotion of human rights.

But recent policies have cost our nation its reputation as the world's most admired champion of freedom and justice. 

What a difference these few months of extremism have made.

The United States has alienated its allies, dismayed its friends, and inadvertently gratified its enemies by proclaiming a confused and disturbing strategy of preemptive war

With our allies disunited, the world resenting us, and the Middle East ablaze, we need John Kerry to restore life to the global war against terrorism.

In the meantime, the Middle East peace process has come to a screeching halt. For the first time since Israel became a nation, all former presidents, Democratic and Republican, have attempted to secure a comprehensive peace for Israel with hope and justice for the Palestinians. 

The achievements of Camp David a quarter century ago and the more recent progress made by President Bill Clinton are now in peril.

Instead, violence has gripped the Holy Land, with the region increasingly swept by anti-American passions. This must change. 

Elsewhere, North Korea's nuclear menace, a threat far more real and immediate than any posed by Saddam Hussein, has been allowed to advance unheeded, with potentially ominous consequences for peace and stability in Northeast Asia. 

These are some of the prices of our government has paid for this radical departure from the basic American principles and values that are espoused by John Kerry.

In repudiating extremism, we need to recommit ourselves to a few common-sense principles that should transcend partisan differences. 

First, we cannot enhance our own security if we place in jeopardy what is most precious to us, namely the centrality of human rights in our daily lives and in global affairs. 

Second, we cannot maintain our historic self-confidence as a people if we generate public panic

Third, we cannot do our duty as citizens and patriots if we pursue an agenda that polarizes and divides our country. 

Next, we cannot be true to ourselves if we mistreat others. 

And finally, in the world at large, we cannot lead if our leaders mislead.

You can't be a war president one day and claim to be a peace president the next, depending on the latest political polls. 

When our national security requires military action, John Kerry has already proven in Vietnam that he will not hesitate to act. And as a proven defender of our national security, John Kerry will strengthen the global alliance against terrorism while avoiding unnecessary wars.

Ultimately, the basic issue is whether America will provide global leadership that springs from the unity and the integrity of the American people, or whether extremist doctrines, the manipulation of the truth, will define America's role in the world.

At stake is nothing less than our nation's soul

Carter ended on an upbeat and optimistic note of hope.  But Carter's speech represents some of the the toughest criticisms of current policies that any well-known political figure is making today.  And he's dead right about what he's saying.

The quotes above are taken from the Washington Post's transcript.  But our sad political press corps is well-scripted not to actually focus on what political leaders say in situations like this.  (Especially when it's Al Gore.)  So actually looking at what someone like Carter actually says is almost a form of alternative media in itself.

Political conventions: I can quit anytime I want to!

Political party conventions are to political junkies what honey is to a bee.  Or maybe like headlights to a deer.  Or windshields to bugs.  Something like that.  But you get the idea.  So I'm going to try to limit my posts on the Democratic convention this week to one a day.  Even though I'll be tempted to do more than that.

Even though we know that in practice they are more giant marketing shows than "hard news" events.  Veteran reporter Jules Witcover describes it well:  Conventionally Boring Los Angeles Times 07/25/04.  He says Kerry has "taken the thrill out" of the Democratic convention:

He's done that by choosing his running mate, John Edwards, before the convention has even started and by unifying his traditionally combative, disagreeing party simply by not being the despised George W. Bush. What's there to decide and argue about?

Once again, as indeed has been the case ever since the Democrats needed three ballots in 1952 for Adlai Stevenson to claim the prize, there will be only one roll call for the presidential nomination. It's been even longer since the Republicans had a floor fight; for that, you have to go back to the three ballots it took to settle on Thomas E. Dewey in 1948. ...

With no controversial vice presidential pick and issue differences largely papered over, the convention has become little more than a huge pep rally for the troops for the fall campaign. But still they come, with bells on, once every four years for a front seat at a show that continues, for all its faults, to advertise democracy at work.

The Democrats plan to stay "on message," though they probably can't hope to manage the message-control of the increasingly authoritarian Republican Party.  They want to present a positive image of Kerry without bashing Bush too much, for fear of alienating swing voters.

Even the position of the party and of John Kerry on the Iraq War won't be dramatically different on the face of it from Bush's.  He's taking an approach similar to that of Eisenhower in 1952 on the Korean War ("I will go to Korea") or Nixon in 1968 with his secret plan to end the Vietnam War.  (The latter is still secret, by the way.)

But not all Democrats think this totally-unified-message approach is necessarily the best thing: Democrats go easy on Bush - this week San Francisco Chronicle 07/26/04

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown recalled the union members who protested on his behalf at the 1992 convention in New York, chanting, "Let Jerry speak! Let Jerry speak!'' when Bill Clinton's campaign tried to deprive his former rival of a forum.

This year's speaking schedule has been tightly scripted by the Kerry campaign, which is carefully screening each speaker's comments in advance to make sure they do not stray from the planned, upbeat message.

"We've reached a rather ironic point in our society, when debate is no longer regarded as healthy,'' said Brown, who is not a delegate but will be in Boston most of the week.

Yet Brown conceded that to have Democrats openly voice their disagreements on the convention floor would be counterproductive.

"The trouble is, if they become too acrimonious, the (elections) become hard to win. TV shows acrimony. The debate is no longer at the convention. It has to be in the primary.''

Juan Cole thinks that Kerry's cautious position on the Iraq War, while it may be driven by more immediately political considerations, is also a pragmatic reflection of the situation that the Bush crew has created for the US there:  Democratic Convention Will not Denounce Iraq War 07/26/04.

I fear this realism is warranted. If John Kerry wins, he will inherit the Iraq morass and will not have good options there. He can't just pull out the troops and leave oil-rich Persian Gulf to fall into chaos. The idea that the international community can be persuaded to come in and rescue us seems far-fetched. We'll just have to muddle through. This outcome is a kind of poison pill bequeathed all Americans by the jingoist party in Washington (both so-called realists and neoconservatives). We broke it, we own it, as Powell warned (threatened) Bush.

It's worth noting that Cole is a severe critic of the Iraq War.  He's opposed to the Bush Doctrine of preventive war, he pointed out before the war that the intelligence claims were exaggerated and that there were huge risks involved in invading Iraq, and he's been highly critical of the way the occupation has been administered.  But he also doesn't see any easy or quick exit.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

A new strategy from the 9/11 Commission?

David Brooks, New York Times columnist and Bush loyalist, is attracting atttention for this column, which seems on the face of it to break from Bush orthodoxy on the "war on terrorism": War of Ideology New York Times 07/24/04.

Brooks reads the 9/11 Commission report to say, "We're not in the middle of a war on terror ... We're not facing an axis of evil. Instead, we are in the midst of an ideological conflict."

We are facing, the report notes, a loose confederation of people who believe in a perverted stream of Islam that stretches from Ibn Taimaya to Sayyid Qutb. Terrorism is just the means they use to win converts to their cause. ...

When you see that our enemies are primarily an intellectual movement, not a terrorist army, you see why they are in no hurry. With their extensive indoctrination infrastructure of madrassas and mosques, they're still building strength, laying the groundwork for decades of struggle. Their time horizon can be totally different from our own.

Brooks concludes that what we need now is "our own idological offensive."

The commissioners don't say it, but the implication is clear. We've had an investigation into our intelligence failures; we now need a commission to analyze our intellectual failures. Simply put, the unapologetic defenders of America often lack the expertise they need. And scholars who really know the Islamic world are often blind to its pathologies. They are so obsessed with the sins of the West, they are incapable of grappling with threats to the West.

A conversion or a marketing ploy?

Now, on the face of it, this seems to be a refreshing change from the bull-headed arrogance that is characteristic of so many fans of the War on Terrorism who blindly cheered the Iraq War, even though that war increases the danger of anti-American terrorism, rather than reducing it.  Including David Brooks.

Which is enough in itself to make us wonder about this sudden conversion.  Have war fans like David Brooks seen the error of their ways in cheering a militarized approach to the war on terrorism, which led them to cheer even the Iraq War that was counter-productive to the fight against terrorism?  Or is this just a campaign-time shift of marketing to go with Bush's latest flip-flop from "war president" to "peace president" who promises four years of peace?

Time will tell.  Laura Rozen is giving Brooks the benefit of the doubt for the moment, calling his argument "compelling."  Of course, she's not so confident as Brooks that the Bush Dynasty can handle evem an ideological against the jihadists.

I firmly believe the battle of ideas is as or more important than the military campaign, but that this administration is uniquely ill equipped to wage it. Why? For one, because Bush himself is uniquely uninterested in ideas, in thinking itself, in trying to understand or engage with people who do not see the world as he does. ... Two, Bush's national security team, the Vulcans, share the preeminent fixation on the Pentagon and military force as the vehicle for US foreign policy. America's alienation from and isolation among its allies has never been greater in my lifetime -- a consequence of the administration's striking disdain for and incompetence at persuading allies by diplomatic or other non military means. ... Three, the people who are genuinely interested in the war of ideas in the Bush camp, the neoconservatives, are so deeply discredited . . .

What the report says

When I looked at the strategy section of the 9/11 Commission report, which begins on page 378 of this *.pdf document, I must admit I was underwhelmed  (the chapter is called "What To Do? A Global Strategy").  Here are some excerpts, with my first take on them:

Now threats can emerge quickly.  An organization like al Qaeda, headquartered in a country on the other side of the earth, in a region so poort that electricity or telephones were scarce, could nonetheless scheme to wield weapons of unprecedented destructive power in the largest cities of the United States.

This kind of rhetoric can easily be appled to any situation that the Bush administration decides to highlight withalarming claims.  It reminds me a lot, actually of this:

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. (Bush's 2003 State of the Union address; my emphasis)

Not that the one general statement I quoted from the Commission report is wrong.  It's just that there's a lot of fairly general statements in that strategy section that can be used in different ways.  More Commission excerpts:

In this sense, 9/11 has taught us that terrorism against American interests “over there” should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against America "over here.” In this same sense, the American homeland is the planet.

In light of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war, the notion that the United States should consider the entire planet our "homeland" can't be comforting to most other nations in the world.

But the enemy is not just “terrorism,” some generic evil. This vagueness blurs thestrategy.The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific

It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism—especially the al Qaeda net-work, its affiliates, and its ideology.

So far, so good.

As we mentioned in chapter 2, Usama Bin Ladin and other Islamist terror-ist leaders draw on a long tradition of extreme intolerance within one stream of Islam (a minority tradition), from at least Ibn Taimiyyah, through the founders of Wahhabism, through the Muslim Brotherhood, to Sayyid Qutb.

That stream is motivated by religion and does not distinguish politics from religion, thus distorting both.It is further fed by grievances stressed by Bin Ladin and widely felt throughout the Muslim world—against the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, policies perceived as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and support of Israel. Bin Ladin and Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: to them America is the font of all evil, the "head of the snake,” and it must be converted or destroyed.

At this point, I began to wonder.  It's become a truism among American conservatives - at least those who don't feel tied to the Saudi monarchy due to oil issues - that Wahhabism is the source of the West's problems in the Islamic world.  The part I just quoted seems to tiptoe around that (it is the product of a commission, after all!), but it doesn't shed much light on the subject.

The conservative, Wahhabi brand of Islam defended by the Saudi monarchy has contributed to the Bin Laden brand of jihadism.  But the present-day jihadist ideology emerged in its modern form from the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.  Probably neither Democrats or Republicans on the Commission wanted to take a hard look at what the bipartisan strategy of supporting the mujahadeen "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan has really cost the US and the world.

It is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it there is no common ground—not even respect for life—on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated. … (my emphasis)

It's telling that Brooks quotes that last phrase in his column.  It's one thing to say that we have a strategy of not negotiating in particular situations with particualar means, e.g., trading arms for hostages as rightwing hero Oliver North did in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.

But this is Bush's Good vs. Evil rhetoric on a somewhat more limited scale.  And it sure looks like an open door for rightwing political and Christian-fundamentalist fanaticism to me.  Not to mention justification for S&M torture rooms for prisoners accused of being "terrorists."

Should the United States say that we would never negotiate with jihadists in Kashmir in order to help ease tensions between the two nuclear enemies Pakistan and India?  This "no common ground ... destroyed or utterly isolated" business sounds all macho and action-movie and so forth.  How realistic it is as a policy, or as an ideological vantage point, is more than questionable.

Our enemy is twofold: al Qaeda, a stateless network of terrorists that struck us on 9/11; and a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world, inspired in part by al Qaeda, which has spawned terrorist groups and violence across the globe. The first enemy is weakened, but continues to pose a grave threat.

The second enemy is gathering, and will menace Americans and American interests long after Usama Bin Ladin and his cohorts are killed or captured. Thus our strategy must match our means to two ends: dismantling the al Qaeda net-work and prevailing in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism. …

I can see why a David Brooks might want to endorse this kind of rhetoric, even without a road-to-Damascus conversion experience.  Itoffers an open-ended ideological crusade, "decades of struggle," in Brooks' words.  And while it is true that the US has a long-term interest in opposing jihadist ideology, what is the extent of our national interest in opposing jihadist movements that restrict themselves to, say, the Phillipines, or Indonesia?

I suspect that Brooks and other fans of what we can still realistically call the military-industrial complex see this as an opening for a new Cold War, which is what the Republicans have tried to create out of this situation.  They want an ideology to be dominant in which us Good Americans are forever menaced by Evil Foreigners, and we have to constantly maintain worldwide military commitments and enormous military budgets - the US currently accounts about half the military expenditures of the entire world - to keep us safe.

What should Americans expect from their government in the struggle against Islamist terrorism? The goals seem unlimited: Defeat terrorism anywhere in the world. But Americans have also been told to expect the worst: An attack is probably coming; it may be terrible.

With such benchmarks, the justifications for action and spending seem lim-itless. Goals are good.Yet effective public policies also need concrete objectives. Agencies need to be able to measure success. …

That's true.  And this can legitimately be taken as a criticism of the Bush administration's cyncial policy of using "homeland alerts" or whatever they're called to remind people that diligent President Bush is protecting us against the Evil Ones.

Vague goals match an amorphous picture of the enemy. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are popularly described as being all over the world, adaptable, resilient, needing little higher-level organization, and capable of anything.The American people are thus given the picture of an omnipotent, unslayable hydra of destruction.This image lowers expectations for government effectiveness.

It should not lower them too far. Our report shows a determined and capable group of plotters.Yet the group was fragile, dependent on a few key per-sonalities, and occasionally left vulnerable by the marginal, unstable people often attracted to such causes.The enemy made mistakes—like Khalid al Mihd-har’s unauthorized departure from the United States that required him to enter the country again in July 2001, or the selection of Zacarias Moussaoui as a participant and Ramzi Binalshibh’s transfer of money to him. The U.S. government was not able to capitalize on those mistakes in time to prevent 9/11.

We do not believe it is possible to defeat all terrorist attacks against Americans, every time and everywhere. A president should tell the American people:

*No president can promise that a catastrophic attack like that of 9/11 will not happen again. History has shown that even the most vigilant and expert agencies cannot always prevent determined, suicidal attackers from reaching a target.
* But the American people are entitled to expect their government to do its very best. They should expect that officials will have realistic objectives, clear guidance, and effective organization. They are entitled to see some standards for performance so they can judge, with the help of their elected representatives, whether the objectives are being met.

This was also a welcome pragmatic note in the Commission's report.  But combined with the other parts quoted above that seem to legitimize a decades-long crusade against an always-present threat, one which could bring a day of horror like none we have ever known, I'm not convinced that the Commission's recommendations represents a radical new direction in anti-terrorism policy, especially with the Bush Dynasty in office.

For now, I'm sticking with the suspicion that Brooks' reading of the report is a selective one, aimed more at dressing up the "war president" in a peaceful aura for the next three months, than any serious break with administration ways.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Sandy Berger and the Ken-Starr-ing of American justice

Before I get into discussing the 9/11 Commission report, I want to focus on some really important stuff, like Sandy Berger’s socks!

The Daily Howler has been dissecting the mainstream media’s use of the unlikely tale of Sandy Berger stuffing documents into his socks.  (07/21/04 edition and the two following days.) It’s so bad, even Bill O’Reilly stands out as being particularly professional in reporting on the story!

Josh Marshall has been following this story closely at his blog, with multiple posts beginning with this one of 07/19/04, with plenty of links.

There doesn’t seem to be much doubt as to the basic facts of the Berger story.  In preparing for his testimony to the 9/11 Commission, Berger was reviewing classified documents held at the National Archives.  He violated the rules on handling the documents by taking some of them out of the viewing room.  He also took notes which he carried with him when he left.

The facts themselves are not really in dispute.  (Leaving aside the silly “socks” angle.)  Berger admits to having taken the documents and the notes.  He just says taking the documents was inadvertent, which isn’t terribly credible since he was the National Security Adviser under Clinton and has had considerable experience in handling classified documents.

The Justice Department has been investigating the case for a year or so.  But they haven’t brought charges or otherwise settled the case yet.  It’s obvious that Berger won’t be able to get a security clearance again, so he won’t be able to serve as any kind of official adviser to a Kerry administration.  He’s also resigned as an adviser to the Kerry campaign, embarrassing his candidate along the way.

Beyond that, the story gets murky.  Beyond what I’ve just described, there doesn’t seem to be much there there (to rip off Edith Stein’s famous comment about Oakland).  If any harm was done by the taking of the documents, I haven’t heard about it yet.  (Tucker Carlson’s fantasies don’t count.)  Berger’s career is limited in new ways and Kerry’s campaign suffered some embarrassment.

But, given that there is apparently no real dispute about the facts of the case, why hasn’t the Justice Department settled this or brought charges after a year’s investigation?  From what I’ve read, there were multiple witnesses and clear documentation, besides the fact that Berger admits to the violations.

It’s clear that there have been leaks sanctioned at a pretty high level on the Berger case.  Politically-motivated leaks by the Ashcroft Justice Department are nothing new.  As Josh Marshall said, “Given the timing and other context I don't have much doubt this was a politically motivated and malicious leak. It's as dirty as it comes, but also highly predictable.”  And also:

The one thing I'm certain about in this Berger matter is that I really wish the folks investigating his case were investigating the Plame case because if that investigation leaked as much as this one does my life over the last year would have been quite a bit easier.

Ashcroft’s handling of such matters is a direct continuation of the highly-partisan approach to law that we saw with Kenneth Starr’s interminable investigations of Bill Clinton.

A number of observers have called attention to the very different attitude of Republicans in both the administration and in Congress toward this Berger case than in regard to the far more serious cases of Valerie Plame and the leak of signals intelligence to Iran.  Nick Confessore notes this fact witha touch of bitterness:  Another Country Heard From TAPPED 07/22/04.

The story of the story

Apart from the actual legal issues, and the undeniable damage to Sandy Berger’s ability to act as a government official or adviser in the future, what goals are the flood of leaks likely to serve?

There has been considerable speculation that the timing of the initial leak and the many follow-up leaks was meant to distract attention from the 9/11 Commission report.  That may well be part of it.  But the 9/11 Commission report is such a big deal that even our shockingly dysfunctional political press corps can’t avoid giving a great deal of attention to it.

Laura Rozen, citing Swopa at the Needlenose blog, thinks it has more to do with development in the Valerie Plame case, the one involving the felonious outing of Plame as an undercover CIA agent to retaliate against her husband Joe Wilson for daring to criticize Bush’s false claims of evidence for a (non-existent) Iraqi nuclear weapons program.  Rozen says, “Someone appears to be planting just the kinds of stories you would expect to see were the administration to be anticipating indictments in the Plame affair very soon.”

Both of them cite an article in the administration-loyal Washington Times (aka the Moonie Times; Swopa calls it “the Republican house newspaper”) offering an explanation convoluted enough to have been cooked up by an East German Stasi operative: CIA operative named prior to column by Bill Gertz 07/23/04.

Essentially, it says that Plame’s name had been exposed before the column appeared, and therefore the administration operatives that leaked it to that hack Bob Novak to publish to the world didn’t violate the law in what they did.  The Moonie Times argument:

Mrs. Plame's identity as an undercover CIA officer was first disclosed to Russia in the mid-1990s by a Moscow spy, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In a second compromise, officials said a more recent inadvertent disclosure resulted in references to Mrs. Plame in confidential documents sent by the CIA to the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana.

The documents were supposed to be sealed from the Cuban government, but intelligence officials said the Cubans read the classified material and learned the secrets contained in them, the officials said. …

However, officials said the disclosure that Mrs. Plame's cover was blown before the news column undermines the prosecution of the government official who might have revealed the name, officials said.

”The law says that to be covered by the act the intelligence community has to take steps to affirmatively protect someone's cover," one official said. "In this case, the CIA failed to do that."

Swopa summarizes that argument this way:

That this argument is based on thoroughly unprovable allegations with no clear news "hook," not to mention being obviously implausible (Cubans secretly breaking into sealed documents show that the CIA is not trying to protect her identity?!), just underscores how unlikely it is to be suddenly showing up in a newspaper. Some Bushite official consciously researched this and handed the information to a reliably friendly reporter at this precise moment in time. Why?

Swopa doesn’t answer the question.  But it sure sounds like a “trial balloon” for an excuse to let the criminals behind the Plame leak walk.

Ashcroft’s Justice Department is pretty much what you would expect if Kenneth Starr was running the place.  This is a continuation of the highly politicized, partisan approach to the law that characterized Starr’s renegade Special Prosecutor’s Office.

The Starr style of justice

Speaking of which, I would highly recommend the new documentary film, The Hunting of the President, based on the book of that title by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons.  It spells out in a compact way how extremely partisan that whole business was, and how supposedly sophisticated reporters as well as alleged upright prosecutors were willing to usethe sleazy fabrications of a bunch of real Arkansas low-life scammers to justify their jihad againstClinton.

Orcinus has a good review of the film up on his blog.  In comparing the film (which he abbreviates as THOTP here) to Fahrenheit 9/11, he writes:

Even more than Moore's film, however, THOTP drives home what is, to me, the most important aspect of the dilemma we face: namely, the fact that the multiple problems we now face -- whose origins, it should be clear, can be readily found in the Clinton madness -- boil down to a malignant and disgracefully dysfunctional media.

What drives the Fahrenheit 9/11 phenomenon (from which THOTP stands to immediately benefit as well), in fact, is the very presence of this dysfunction -- and the reality that a large portion of the population is perfectly aware of it. Both films present important information that should have been part of the national dialogue and which instead has been systematically excluded, suppressed and ignored. (Check out the ridiculous pattern of non-reviews that greeted the publication of THOTP, for instance.) There is in fact a great demand, a real hunger, for this information. Both films help satisfy that hunger -- and feed even more.

THOTP is both stylistically and contextually quite different from Moore's film, and in some ways is an important second voice, because it provides much of the backdrop for the latter. It's not as emotionally involving or as entertaining, but it may be more essential.