Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The 10 million Afghan voters

Some Democratic-oriented bloggers are allowing themselves to hope that, maybe it's not just us, maybe the Republicans are coming across to potential swing voters as pretty weird, too.

Arnie talking about "girlie-men" in his speech.  Apparently the Bush twins were such a disaster that even conservatives were cringing.  I'm glad I didn't see that.  Laura Bush doing her imitation of Pat Nixon was painful enough to watch.

The Republicans also have a strange talking point about the Afghan elections.  A presidential election is scheduled for Afghanistan in October.  Parliamentary elections had been scheduled until recently, but had to be cancelled due to security concerns.  How it's safe to hold a presidential election but not parlimentary elections has never been clear to me.

And it seems that problems with the voter rolls are even more massive in Afghanistan than in Florida.  And that's where the talking points come in.  The Republicans, including both Dubya and Laura, are bragging that 10 million people have registered to vote in Afghanistan.

Problem is, the Afghanistan is estimated to have only 9.8 million eligible voters.

Bush's own use of it came in an interview with Mr. Oxycontin himself, junkie bigot Rush Limbaugh.  Bush says the guy is a "national treasure."  As Matt Yglesias points out, Bush didn't have to worry about getting any tough questions from his host.

I'm not just calling Rush names.  He really was addicted to Oxycontin, aka "trailer-trash heroin."  I don't know if the potential legal charges from his dope-procurement activities have been resolved.

And just this past Monday, he again claimed that the torture at the Abu Ghuraib prison were as harmless as sorority pranks.

Now, I'm all for salvation and people picking up their lives and so on.  But should the president of the United States be appearing on a radioshow with a guy who thinks the gruesome, criminal, sadistic tortures in Abu Ghuraib were all a big laugh?  Just to mention one ofhis extremist themes?

Potemkin convention Day 2 (Tuesday)

I only saw a brief segment of the Republican's "we're really nice moderate folks, honest to gosh we are" convention.

I watched a few minutes of Laura Bush earnestly doing her best Stepford Wife imitation, reading flawlessly from the teleprompter and sounding-like-there-was-a-dash-between-every-word.

Dick Cheney was already looking pained that he had to sit around pretending to take all this asking for the voters' support nonsense seriously.

Our California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took a break from his record-breaking fundraising - his most notable achievement as governor so far - to speak to the convention.

I was born in Europe ...and I've traveled all over the world. I can tell you that there is no place, no country, more compassionate more generous more accepting and more welcoming than the United States of America.

I can say with some degree of confidence that this statement will be met with some degree of, uh, scorn in his native Austria.

I finally arrived here in 1968. I had empty pockets, but I was full of dreams. The presidential campaign was in full swing. I remember watching the Nixon and Humphrey presidential race on TV. A friend who spoke German and English, translated for me. I heard Humphrey saying things that sounded like socialism, which is what I had just left. But then I heard Nixon speak. He was talking about free enterprise, getting government off your back, lowering taxes and strengthening the military. Listening to Nixon speak sounded more like a breath of fresh air.

I must admit, I feel a twinge of nostalgia for the Nixon days myself.  He wasn't as authoritarian as our current president, nor as reckless in his foreign policy.  His administration wasn't so obsessed with secrecy.  As John Dean, Nixon's White House counsel, has said in reference to the exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame, "Planting (or leaking) this story about Valerie Plame Wilson is one of the dirtiest tricks I've seen in lowball/hardball politics. ... I thought they played dirty at the Nixon White House, but this is worse..." (Worse Than Watergate [2004])

Maybe it's quibbling, since in American political language "socialism" just means "bad."  And of course which of those foreign governments over there in Europe could possibly be better than America under Nixon?  But Austria had "Grand Coalition" governments from 1945 to 1970, in which the Socialist Party was the junior partner with the conservative Peoples Party.  The exceptions were a brief period in 1945 when a socialist-led coalition government was installed by the Allies, and 1966-1970 when the Peoples Party had a majority government without the Socialists in the coalition.  Except for those few months in 1945, the first Socialist-headed government in Austria was that of Chancellor Bruno Kreisky in 1970, after Arnie left Austria.

But I guess that's quibbling.

He spent a few words on dressing up Bush's "war on terrorism" with a happy face:

He knows you don't reason with terrorists. You defeat them. He knows you can't reason with people blinded by hate. They hate the power of the individual. They hate the progress of women. They hate the religious freedom of others. They hate the liberating breeze of democracy. But ladies and gentlemen, their hate is no match for America's decency.

We're the America that sends out Peace Corps volunteers to teach village children. We're the America that sends out missionaries and doctors to raise up the poor and the sick. We're the America that gives more than any other country, to fight aids in Africa and the developing world. And we're the America that fights not for imperialism but for human rights and democracy.

Well, sort of a happy face.  But all this talk about how you can't reason with a vaguely-defined Enemy and that hate us because of our freedoms just contributes to the vague sense of fear and menace that doesn't differentiate between terrorist groups targeting Americans and countries like Iraq that the grand strategists of the Bush administration think it would be a good idea to conquer and occupy.

Most of the rest of his speech was kind of standard pablum, really, about what a great country America is and how immigrants should vote for the Republican Party because Republicans like immigrants.

Schwarzenegger's main promise to immigrants in California during the recall coup in 2003 was to get a bill approved to allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses.  As a reminder, the good Republican growers of California are essentially completely dependent on illegal immigrant labor, as are canneries and many home services to a large extent.  The system is corrupt to the bone, of course, but that's the way good California Republicans handle things.  And as long as we have hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants here, it would be helpful to have a car licensing program that encourages them to get at least basic instructions on state traffic laws.

A bill is expected to hit Schwarzenegger's desk soon.  We'll have to wait and see what our immigrant-friendly, smiley-face Republican governor will do.

Crony capitalism at work

The incomparable Daily Howler (Bob Somerby) has been pointing out that our press corps has been doing a generally fumbling job in dealing with the charges of the Swift Boat Liars for Bush.

One of the threads to which he has called attention are the ridiculous claims of William Schachte, who has been implausibly charging that he was present on Kerry's boat and contradicted part of Kerry's story relating to one of his Purple Heart medals.  (Scroll down to WHO IS WILLIAM SCHACTE.)  Among other things, Schachte has changed his story since last year.  Says Somerby:

Is Schachte lying? We have no way of knowing. But what did Schachte tell Kranish last year? If your press corps dared to do its job, they’d call up their colleague and ask him.

Dana Milbank has apparently been doing some work in that direction.  And apparently things have happened that might have encouraged Schachte to reexamine his memories of John Kerry.

A Swift Shift in Stories by Dana Milbank Washington Post 08/31/04.

Kerry has said Schachte was not on the boat that night, adding another mystery to the disputed events of 36 years ago. But other events are not in dispute. According to a March 18 legal filing by Schachte's firm, Blank Rome, Schachte was one of the lobbyists working for FastShip on issues such as the effort to win funding for a new marine cargo terminal. On Feb. 2, Philadelphia-based FastShip announced that it would receive $40 million in federal funding for the project.

Golly, do you think Schachte's memory might have been affected by this success in winning tax dollars for his client?

Swift Boat Liars for Bush accomplish something good

I certainly wouldn't want to be unfair to those fine folks of the Swift Boat Liars for Bush group.

So I feel duty-bound to say that they have indeed accomplished something positive for the world.  They have brought the blogger Hesiod out of his untimely retirement from blogging!

He's not promising to do it all the time.  He's even leaving open the possibility of bowing out again.  Let's hope we see much more of him.  And check out Hesiod's comeback post: I've Had Enough! 08/30/04:

As many of you will certainly recall, I was one of the first people in the Democratic camp to take the so-called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" seriously as a threat.

I posted a number of items criticizing them and going after them.

But, their conduct over the past month has been beyond reprehensible. It has been criminal.

Has it really been nearly three months since Hesiod took a pause from the blogosphere?  The place hasn't been quite the same since.  Hesiod has a niche all his own.  More from his comeback salvo:

What's eerie and disturbing about all of this is that it is almost a carbon copy of what happened to John Kerry in his 1972 Congressional race. Originally, he had a comfortable lead over his Republican opponent.

But the Nixon White House made it their personal mission to do whatever it took to take out John Kerry. And they did.

I think Hesiod has the correct reading of the effect of the controversy over the Swift Boat Liars' bogus claims:

I think, ultimately, the Swift Boat ads will backfire on Bush. That's pretty much conventional wisdom at this point. The first polls taken after the controversy erupted showed a slight amount of slippage in support for Kerry, which is not unexpected.

Later polls will show a rebound effect for Kerry. But those won't manifest until a week or two after the GOP convention.

There is another way in which these ads will rebound on the Bush campaign: It will make John Kerry a sympathetic figure to the millions of anti-Bush voters out there who were waningin their enthusiasm for the Democratic nominee.

John Kerry has now entered the ranks of recent Democratic party martyrs, along with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Max Cleland and even Gray Davis. Only the Bush campaign and radical Republicans could make Gray Davis a sympathetic figure.

He really gets today's Republican Party.

Hesiod, try not to leave us alone in the blogosphere while George W. Bush is still in the White House, okay?  And: Welcome back!!

Go now and read his latest posts.  And bookmark his site: Counterspin Central.

Update:  After a very good two-day run, Hesiod has bowed out again.  Let's hope it's like Frank Sinatra's many retirements.

The Bush unraveling?

Maybe I'm getting carried away by the inherent fascination of the narratives and the mysteries.

But the latest round of espionage stories is starting to look like the death knell for the Bush administration.

Not necessarily Bush's defeat in the fall election.  With the Republicans firmly in control of all three branches of the national government, they may be able to keep the lid on it until after the election.

But what we're seeing come to light more and more is the extent to which Bush's entire foreign policy, or at least the central elements of it, have been run like a rogue intelligence operation.  Iran-Contra as a model for governing.

It's now to the point that investigations of one disaster soon bump up against another.  The story on the possible leak of classified information to the Israeli government involves threads that lead to Iran policy, Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans (OSP) that helped cook up the phony intelligence on Iraqi WMDs, the multi-faceted Ahmed Chalabi fiasco, possibly even to the Valerie Plame exposure.

The common thread is the Bush administration's model of governing by deception and secrecy.  One of the under-appreciated findings by James Mann in his excellent study Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet (2004) is that both Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who had worked together in senior positions in President Gerald Ford's administration, were deeply involved in the "continuity of government" contingency planning for a major national emergency, and heavily influenced by it in their approach to governing.  As Mann describes it:

[Donald] Rumsfeld and [Dick] Cheney were principal figures in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration.  Under it, the administration furtively carried out detailed planning exercises to establish a new American "president" and his staff, outside and beyond the specifications of the U.S. Constitution, in order to keep the federal government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.  Over the years a few details about the existence of this Reagan-era effort have come to light, but not the way it worked or the central roles played by Cheney and Rumsfeld. (my emphasis)

Note that there's nothing inherently sinister about this kind of planning. It's necessary.  But it also provides some important insights into Cheney's and Rumsfeld's sense of how secret government can be used.

But "necessary" is one thing.  This operation during the Reagan administration was something else:

The problem that this program was extralegal and extraconstitutional - that it established a process for designating a new American president that is nowhere authorized in the U.S. Constitution or federal law - is not merely a criticism manufactured by a law professor or an opponent of the Reagan administration.  Rather, this problem was inherent in the Reagan-era program and was indeed part of the very rationale for the exercises. (my emphasis)

Mann points out that the Reagan plan envisioned setting aside existing law for the presidential succession under some circumstances.  The secret program was established by an executive order.  The National Security Council appointed Oliver North, later to become famous in the Iran-Contra scandal, as its "action officer" for the program. Some of these efforts were supervised by then Vice President George H.W. Bush, who had acquired a fascination for secret operations as director the CIA (and possibly a CIA "asset" in earlier days).

Mann emphasizes that neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld initiated this particular idea for the secret continuity-of-government exercises.  But he stresses that its also important to realize the effect that it had on their perspectives:

Nevertheless, as team leaders Cheney and Rumsfeld played important roles in this project.

Moreover, their participation in these Reagan-era exercises demonstrated a broader underlying truth about Cheney and Rumsfeld:  Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials.  Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the Unted States, inhabitants of world in which presidents may come and go, but America always keeps on fighting.

Mann supports the view of Cheney that Josh Marshall has presented in his reporting on the Bush administration as being deeply involved in key policy decisions.  And Mann suggests that Cheney's entire approach to his role in government was heavily influenced by his experiences in the Reagan-era exercises.  Cheney, of course, became famous for his sojourns as Vice President in "undisclosed locations."

Eventually, the "undisclosed location" turned into a national joke, a routine for the comedy shows.  It became part of Cheney's identity.  The blend of solemnity and mystery was fitting for a man who, throughout his career, had embodied the twin propositions that (a) running government was weighty, unglamorous business and that (b) he always had some secrets he could not discuss. ...

Still, out of public view [in the days after the 9/11/01 attacks], Cheney was omnipresent, even when he was off in an undisclosed location and was participating in the administration's meetings only with his image and voice piped in on Secvid, the secure video teleconferencing system.  It was Cheney's specter that hovered over the admnistration's policy deliberations, its internal wrangling, its decision making[,] ... over virtually every foreign policy action the Bush administration took, whether on terrorism or Afghanistan, the Middle East or Iraq...

What we may well be seeing now is the collapse of the elaborate web of deceptions that this hyper-secretive administration has been spinning, not so much to deceive our enemies as to deceive the American voters.

Chuckie Watch 63: Chuckie gits cosmic again

Chuckie must be thankin' that John Kerry's election is a done deal.  Cause he's figures the End of the World must be near:  Dire Warnings 08/27/04.

Now, you might thank gittin' to play for Republicans in New York City this week would have Chuckie upbeat.  But maybe the idea of going to New York City (New York City?!?!) just kinda got ole Chuckie down in the dumps.  Chuckie's hyperpatriotism even seems to be flagging (pun, ouch!):

Iniquity stalks the streets of America. Drugs, murder, rape, robbery and home invasion just to name a few.

Greedy lawyers defend the ones who can pay, no matter how guilty they are, while they would not raise one manicured finger to defend the life of an unborn child who is going to have a pair of scissors stuck into its innocent skull.

A day of reckoning is fast approaching and believe me folks, it’s not something that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of California can reverse.

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, look up your redemption drawed nigh

Yes, "drawed nigh" is what he says.  Chuckie has a bit of a problems with that there grammar stuff sometimes.

Chuckie says that there's an alliance between Iraq, Iran and Russia.  (!?!)  Russia's helping Iran build nuclear weapons, and Israel may attack Iran because of it, and this may git Russia so mad they'll attack Israel, and things will git really nasty, and the world will come to an end and Jesus will come again.

This will be a good thing for Christians.  Everybody else will then be sent to Hail.

How does Chuckie know this is going on?  How does Chuckie know that Iraq, which Chuckie's hero Bush the Hammer of Righteousness supposedly just "liberated," has hooked up with Iran and Russia to invade Israel and destroy the world?

Here's how: "Ezekiel 38 and 39. It tells of a day when practically the whole Muslim world, along with Russia will come against Israel."  That would be the book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

Now, Ezekiel was a Hebrew prophet who lived in the early 500s BCE.  Mohammed, the founder of Islam, lived from 570-632 CE.  Kind of like, a millennium later, Chuckie.  So it seems kind of unlikely that he would have been worrying about Muslim invasions.

Ezekiel lived at the time of the fall of Jerusalem before the armies of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzer II, after which most inhabitants of Judah were deported into exile in Babylon.  That experience, it's safe to say, figured heavily in the prophecies of Ezekiel, which attempted to rally the Hebrews to stay true to their ancestral faith and to hope for deliverance and a return to their homeland.

Now Ezekiel 38 does mention Persia, a long-ago forerunner of today's Iran, where modern Persian is the predominent language.  We read in that same chapter (King James version), "Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in Israel; So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground."

For his contemporaries, this would have resonated with the actual experience of the inhabitants of Israel during the Babylonian conquest, and echo strongly the experience of the northern kingdom of Israel (Samaria) in the Assyrian conquest over a century before.

Now, let give Chuckie and his fellow fundamentalist Protestant apocalypticists some credit.  It takes quite a bit of imagination to read Ezekiel 38-39 and get out of it an alliance in 2004 between Iraq, Iran and Russia, an invasion of Israel by Russia and the Muslim hordes, and the end of the world.

Maybe Chuckie came across that same pamphlet I did not long ago, that says Ezekiel 38 and 39 are end-time prophecies of Russia attacking Israel because the "Meschech" mentioned there sounds kinda sorta like "Moscow."  Plus - and Chuckie must have missed this - Matthew 24: 15-16 refers to "abomination of desolation," and the first four letters of "abomination" are also the first four letters of "A-bomb."  And atomic bombs cause lots of "desolation."

But I guess having that kind of vivid imagination helps if you're going to be a faithful follower of the Bush Republicans.

The Larry Franklin espionage story

The US-Israeli espionage story is beginning to read like a page-turner of a spy novel.  The current "state of play" is something like this:  The FBI picked up on the activities of Larry Franklin, a Pentagon official specializing in Iranian affairs, as part of an espionage investigation involving the lobby group AIPAC and the Israeli embassy in Washington.  One spin on the story is that Franklin is a naive guy who was overzealous in his policy advocacy and that's what got him in trouble.  Others point out that this is highly implausible picture of Franklin, a key adviser to Pentagon hardliner Douglas Feith.

And it's looking more and more like this case presents yet another glimpse in how the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s may have become a template for the entire Middle East foreign-policy making process in this Bush administration, and possibly well beyond the Middle East.  As I said back last October, "This can't be good. It just can't be good. We've been here before. Been there, done that. It didn't work out at all."

Following are some of the links I've come across.  First of all, this aptly-title article gives some relevant background on the situation:

Iran-Contra II? by Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris Washington Monthly Sept 2004 (accessed 08/31/04).

Josh Marshall and Laura Rozen both have blogs which readers of Old Hickory's Weblog see referenced and quoted fairly frequently.  Juan Cole has also been analyzing this situation at his blog.  Here are some recent blog entries from those three on the espionage case, in addition to the ones I referenced earlier:

Josh Marshall:

08/28/04 post
08/31/04 post

Laura Rozen:

The FBI Investigation Continued 08/28/04
More than just Franklin 08/28/04
Has Franklin already been flipped? 08/29/04
Ghorbanifar 08/29/04
Franklin, Flipped 08/29/04
More investigation of Feith's office 08/31/04

Juan Cole:

Pentagon/Israel Spying Case Expands: Fomenting a War on Iran 08/28/04
Newsweek: Franklin Confesses/AIPAC Under Separate FBI Investigation 08/30/04
Johnson: FBI Furious at Leak 08/30/04
Hollings on AIPAC 08/31/04
Franklin Met with Naor Gilon 08/31/04

All three of those blogs have their own links to various stories.  Here are a few I found looking through other papers.

Spy probe tests US-Israeli ties by Faye Bowers Christian Science Monitor 08/30/04

2d probe at the Pentagon examines actions on Iraq Boston Globe 08/31/04

Report on Iran Key to Spying Inquiry by Mark Mazzetti and Richard B. Schmitt Los Angeles Times 08/29/04
FBI Questions Israeli Lobbyists in Spying Probe by Richard B. Schmitt andTyler Marshall Los Angeles Times 08/31/04
Israel's Albatross: U.S. Neocons by Robert Scheer Los Angeles Times 08/31/04.  (Also at WorkingforChange.com) Scheer writes:

[The Iraq War] has only served to inflame passions across the region, increasing the threat to Israel. Many Israelis concerned for their country are alarmed by President Bush's substitution of militarism for diplomacy, which they believe only benefits those who profit from fear and hate — such as arms brokers and political and religious extremists.

In addition, moderates across the Muslim world have seen their position eroded by popular anger over the U.S. occupation and Washington's uncritical support for Ariel Sharon. Al Qaeda and allied terror groups have seized on the chaos and fury to recruit a new generation of fighters. Extremists are now in control of crucial parts of Iraq and disrupting the rest, while rogue Iran is more politically influential among their co-religionists in the Shiite majority in Iraq than is the U.S. with its 120,000 troops on the ground.

Now, after the missing weapons of mass destruction and Abu Ghraib, comes the latest embarrassing blow to America's image — which polls show has been in free fall since the decision to invade Iraq. ...

The neocons are unstable ideologues, more in love with their own radical dream of breaking the world to remake it in their image than they are with protecting Israel or the U.S. Such unbounded arrogance, embraced by Bush, has greatly amplified the voices of those persistent anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists in the Muslim world and beyond who are now seizing upon the latest Israeli spy rumors.

The following links are to English-language articles in Israeli papers. Ha'aretz is a more liberal paper, while the Jerusalem Post is more conservative and pro-Likud.  Richard Perle, one of the most prominent "neoconservatives", sits on the board of the company that own the PostMa'ariv is more of a centrist paper.

Ha'aretz links:

FBI said in contact with Franklin by Aluf Benn Ha'aretz (Israel) 08/29/04
Analysis: The Franklin affair will damage Israel's image by Aluf Benn Ha'aretz (Israel) 08/29/04
Analyst at center of spy flap called naive, ardently pro-Israel by Nathan Guttman Ha'aretz (Israel) 08/30/04
Show the proof editorial Ha'aretz (Israel)  08/30/04
Israel won't ask U.S. to clarify why official was tailed by Nathan Guttman Ha'aretz (Israel) 08/31/04

Jerusalem Post links:

Shalom: Franklin affair is 'media nonsense' by Janine Zacharia and Herb Keinon Jerusalem Post (Israel) 08/28/04
Who is Larry Franklin? Jerusalem Post (Israel) 08/28/04
The AIPAC kerfluffle editorial Jerusalem Post (Israel) 08/29/04.  The editorial essentially argues reflexively that the charges stem from politics and anti-Semitism.

Ma'ariv links:

Arrest possible soon in new US-Israel spy affair Ma'ariv (Israel) 08/29/04
Spy scandal fizzling out Ma'ariv (Israel) 08/29/04
Israeli diplomat denies any improper behavior by Ben Kaspit and Miriam Fox Ma'ariv (Israel) 08/30/04
A molehill without a mole by Jonathan Ariel Ma'ariv (Israel) 08/31/04. "[A]ccusations of anti-Semitism cannot be made, as there is no evidence to support them. To do so would be to commit the same sin as those who first launched this affair, making unsubstantiated accusations, substituting hype for facts in order to pursue an agenda."

Finally, a source to be taken with huge grains of salt: Suspected Israeli Spy in Pentagon: First the Leak, Then the Fallout Debka.com 08/24/04. Debka.com is a source that has expresses the viewpoint and spin some in Israel's Likud Party who are to the "right" (i.e., more hardline) than Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.  I do not rely on it or trust it as a factual source.  I look at it for an indication of its particular political spin.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Republican convention: McCain rallies the faithful

I didn't bother to watch the film tribute to Old Man Bush that was one of the highlights of the opening evening of the Republican shindig in New York.  It's interesting that they aren't having Bush the Elder speak at the convention.

And little brother Jeb isn't even coming.  They say he has stuff to do in Florida, like cleaning up after the hurricane, or purging black voters off the rolls, or something.

I did catch a choral presentation early in the evening that I didn't listen to that closely.  It sounded something like:

Hail to Bush the Mighty
Who leads us to the fight
We will civilize the heathen
We will smite them with our might

But, like I said, I didn't listen that closely. :) :)

Okay, enough snark.  This is the blogosphere, so we're supposed to do that occasionally, right?  So, on to McCain's speech.

The Republican convention Web site doesn't seem to be in any rush to get a transcript of John McCain's speech up.  But the Washington Post is good about getting the transcripts up quickly:  Remarks by Senator McCain 08/30/04.

McCain and the Iraq War

McCain has a reputation as a straight-talker and a "maverick."  To a large extent, it's deserved.  He has taken the lead on some issues like campaign reform in directions most in his party would have preferred not to go.  And I do think he's a much more decent guy than Bush and most of his administration's high officials.

But that's faint praise indeed, after what we've seen with the Iraq War, torture in the gulag, the Valerie Plame outing, the intelligence leaks to Iran, and Halliburton's craven war profiteering.  And, in fact, McCain's "maverick" image is considerably overrated.

Because McCain supported the Iraq War.  He defends it even now, after the disgraceful deceptions over "weapons of mass destruction."  And he defends Bush's use of preventive war in invading Iraq.

This is why I never took the earlier talk about John Kerry recruiting McCain as his vice-presidential candidate very seriously.  McCain is a Republican, a supporter of the Iraq War and a supporter of preventive war.  His positions on current foreign policy issues are drastically different than Kerry's.

In Monday's speech, McCain said:

After years of failed diplomacy and limited military pressure to restrain Saddam Hussein, President Bush made the difficult decision to liberate Iraq.

In fact, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was restrained, as McCain and the rest of the world know.  It's nuclear-weapons program had ceased.  It's chemical and biological weapons programs had ended, and its supplies of those weapons had been destroyed.  "Straight-talking" McCain simply glossed over those realities to justify Bush's invasion of Iraq.

And whether it becomes a "liberation" becomes more doubtful by the day.

Those who criticize that decision would have us believe that the choice was between a status quo that was well enough left alone and war. But there was no status quo to be left alone.

Whatever that means.  In fact, in March of 2003, Iraq had no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, nor programs to make them.  It was not threatening any of its neighbors with invasion.  It was not attacking the United States.  It was not working with Al Qaeda or any other terrorist group making attacks against Americans.  But despite all that, McCain thinks it was fine to invade Iraq and occupy it, with all the negative repercussions for American security and all the deaths of American soldiers it has entailed and will entail.

The years of keeping Saddam in a box were coming to a close. The international consensus that he be kept isolated and unarmed had eroded to the point that many critics of military action had decided the time had come again to do business with Saddam, despite his near daily attacks on our pilots, and his refusal, until his last day in power, to allow the unrestricted inspection of his arsenal. (my emphasis)

Of course, one of the companies that was interested in doing business with Iraq was Halliburton under CEO Dick Cheney.  But "straight-talking" McCain is mainly blowing smoke here to justify war.  The "near daily attacks on our pilots" is not as phony a claim as those on WMDs.  But again, faint praise.  That refers to antiaircraft fire against American planes enforcing "no-fly" zones in Iraq, attacks which McCain knows quite well were singularly ineffective.

But let's see how "straight-talking" McCain characterized Iraq's compliance with weapons inspections.  Saddam refused to allow them until his last day in power, the "maverick" Republican tells us.  Now, I'm sure some of our conservative friends, who love to dance on commas, would be glad to parse that to explain how it is technically true.  But, to those of us not initiated in the arcane mystical art of comma-dancing, what was happening before the war was that Saddam was complying with the UN demand for inspection.  Demands that Bush and John McCain claimed to support.  The inspectors were asking for more time.  But Bush ordered them to clear out of Iraq because he had a war to start.

Let's be fair to McCain.  Bush has said that Saddam refused to allow the inspectors back into Iraq.  McCain's version is at least not as bald-faced a falsehood as Bush's rewriting of not-so-distant history.

But let's also be fair to ourselves and to all those yet to fight and die in the Iraq War.  Those weapons of mass destruction that Bush and McCain used to justify the war did not exist.  They weren't there.  No amount of dancing on commas will change that.  Next time you hear some journalist recite the conventional wisdom about McCain the "straight-talking maverick," try to recall this speech.

Perhaps the most revealing part of McCain's speech was the following:

Whether or not Saddam possessed the terrible weapons he once had and used, freed from international pressure and the threat of military action, he would have acquired them again.

My friends, the central security concern of our time is to keep such devastating weapons beyond the reach of terrorists who can't be dissuaded from using them by the threat of mutual destruction.

We couldn't afford the risk posed by an unconstrained Saddam in these dangerous times. By destroying his regime, we gave hope to people long oppressed, that if they have the courage to fight for it, they may live in peace and freedom. (my emphasis)

"Straight-talking" McCain says invading and occupying Iraq was justified whether or not the "weapons of mass destruction" existed.  Again a bit of not-quite-straight talk.  Because the weapons didn't exist at the time of the invasion.  Those weapons were part of the condition that McCain approved in the Congressional war resolution on Iraq in 2002 which he supported.  But now "straight-talking" John McCain, the man who is said to be the Democrats' favorite Republican, the "maverick", tells the Republican convention and the world it's perfectly fine for him that Bush lied in our faces, and in the faces of Congress.  McCain was for war anyway!

Let's all remember that when "straight-talking" McCain tells us that he's convinced that Iran is a mortal danger to the United States because of their weapons and weapons programs and we have to go to war with them.  Let's remember that when McCain tells us he's convinced that Syria is supporting terrorists and cooperating with Al Qaeda and we have to go to war with them.

And let's remember that when McCain told us about the dangers of Iraq, when he voted for a war resolution that put specific conditions on going to war with Iraq that the president disregarded, when it turned out the horribly menacing weapons of mass destruction didn't even exist, McCain the "maverick" stood up at the Republican convention and said, what the heck, you suckers didn't think us Republicans needed to give you an actual reason to go to war did you?  Look, you rubes, we tell you when to go to war and who to make war against.  And you people are expected to cheer for the Noble Cause.

Let's really remember that.  On the Iraq war, McCain may have been deceived by Bush's false claims about WMDs.  But when he found out they were false, he laughed in our faces just like Bush and Rummy did.

Not a word from McCain Monday night about the torture scandal.  Nor about the pathetically botched postwar planning.  Nothing about the shameful deceptions of the Congress, the American public and the United Nations.  Certainly nothing about Bush's violation of the 2002 Congressional resolution on war with Iraq.  Or about the multiple violations of international law in the various economic laws imposed on Iraq by Bush's occupation government.

I think it's likely that if McCain were president, he would not have botched the Iraq situation so badly as Bush and his crew have.  But there's no reason to let what-if speculations obscure what McCain is saying: he supported the Iraq War and supports it still.  There is no reason to think that in a second George W. Bush administration that McCain would dissent from Bush's disastrous Iraq policies in any significant way.  Nor is there any reason to think that he will seriously attempt to hold Bush or Rumsfeld or anyone else accountable for their misdeeds either in the runup to war or in their conduct of it.

McCain backs the Iraq War.  He supports Bush's policies in pursuit of it.  Bush's Iraq War is John McCain's idea of a desirable foreign policy for the United States.

Nice words for the "straight-talking maverick"

Commentator Mark Shields suggested today on the PBS Newshour that McCain was George W. Bush's de facto running mate.  If that's Bush's campaign strategy, it's a good one.  McCain is a much more attractive figure that Dick Cheney.  Cheney's the kind of character you expect to see take a chuck out of someone's arm when he's on TV.  McCain, on the other hand, is a much more effective advocate for Bush's own policies than Bush or any of the people on his team, Colin Powell included.

For example, it looked on TV like Dick Cheney would have liked to have taken a chunk out of McCain's arm Monday night after McCain gave a more fair characterization of Kerry's general criticism of Bush's "war on terrorism" than we're likely to hear from anyone else at the Republican convention this week:

My friends in the Democratic Party -- and I'm fortunate to call many of them my friends -- assure us they share the conviction that winning the war against terrorism is our government's most important obligation. I don't doubt their sincerity.

They emphasize that military action alone won't protect us, that this war has many fronts: in courts, financial institutions, in the shadowy world of intelligence, and in diplomacy.

They stress that America needs the help of her friends to combat an evil that threatens us all,that our alliances are as important to victory as are our armies.

McCain then proceeded to reassure the audience that Republicans are for that stuff, too.  Their actions show something different, of course.  But it was a reassuring message.  And probably true, as far as McCain's view is concerned. 

In general, McCain gives a much more appealing presentation of the whole Republican version of the GWOT (global war on terrorism) than Bush and most of his team.  But more on that in a minute.

McCain probably caused considerable gnashing of teeth among Republicans across the country when he elevated Michael Moore's status by referring to him, not by name but unmistakably:

And certainly -- and certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe...


Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

MCCAIN: Please, please, my friends.

That line was so good, I'll use it again. Certainly not a disingenuous film maker...


MCCAIN: ... who would have us believe, my friends, who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace, when in fact -- when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children inside their walls.

It seemed to me watching PBS's live coverage that the audience reaction in the convention hall was far more enthusiastic and sustained than for anything else McCain said.

But he also boosted Moore's status as an important voice in the debate over the Iraq War by bringing him into the speech.  Moore himself is there at the convention, and the PBS coverage showed Moore flashing a V-sign during the massive booing that followed McCain's mention of him.  Given the helpful publicity it gives him, it's a toss-up whether that was a V for "peace" or a V for "victory."

The fact that McCain description of Moore's film Fahrenheit 9-11 was scurrilous won't diminish Moore's stature. (Yes, comma-dancers, I know McCain didn't actually name the film in his speech.)

McCain on the GWOT (global war on terrorism)

Eloquent though he may be, every voter would do well to think carefully about what McCain actually said about the GWOT, keeping in mind that he's one of the more rational, sensible and least fanatical of the whole Republican crowd.

It's a big thing, this war [the GWOT].

It's a fight between a just regard for human dignity and a malevolent force that defiles an honorable religion by disputing God's love for every soul on earth. It's a fight between right and wrong, good and evil. ...

We must learn from our mistakes, improve on our successes, and vanquish this unpardonable enemy. (my emphasis)

It's worth being clear on this, and taking McCain's words seriously.  Many Americans think we're in a fight, most would approve the use of the term "war," against terrorists who are targeting American citizens and American interests.  Specifically, the network of fanatical jihadists known as Al Qaeda.  The ones who have been attacking Americans and American interests for years, most spectacularly on 9/11/01.

But McCain here is endorsing the view of those neoconservatives and regular old warmongers who just plain miss the Cold War, with its open-ended promise of more and more military spending with an endless supply of threat and fear and individual occurrences to justify it.

Think about what he's literally saying here.  A war for Human Dignity against Those Who Dispute God's Love.  A war between Right and Wrong.  A war between Good and Evil.  A war against an vaguely-defined "unpardonable enemy."  Negotiating or making compromises or concluding peace treaties with Wrong, with Evil, with an Unpardonable Enemy is not just a mistake.  It's a sin against God.  And Those Who Dispute God's Love had better be prepared to be bombed into the next world.

Earth to John McCain: the United States is not going to defeat Evil.  As long as the United States exists, as long as human beings exist, Evil will exist.  A war between Right and Wrong, a war between Good and Evil, in pedestrian reality translates intoa military budget far beyond any rational need for self-defense, an endless state of fear and "readiness" against a vague Enemy - "Enemy" with a capital "E" - that will periodically break out into actual episodes of avoidable violence like the Iraq War.  Will Tom Ridge set up a color-coded Evil Alert for us next?

Again, I'm sure the comma-dancers can come up with various examples of hyperbole from presidents and respected national leaders in other circumstances.

But what's important to recognize is that it is an astonishing example of hubris to imagine that it is the role or the mission of the United States to wage a war of Good against Evil, of Right against Wrong.  It's psychological arrogance, it's nationalistic arrogance, it's religious arrogance.  And in practical reality, it can only translate into international isolation and various kinds of disasters for America.

And McCain's speech is a good example of why.  He used the GWOT, the grand war of Good against Evil as he characterized it, to justify the Iraq War, which actually makes the problem of Islamic extremism and terrorism directed against the United States worse.  His speech is a strong reminder of to what a great extent the GWOT has been sidelined by the Iraq War.

I think we seriously have to question what kind of "moderation" it is that supposedly characterizes John McCain when he stands up in front of the country and tells us it is America's job to wage a war of Good against Evil.  This isn't statesmanship or even politics.  It's theology, and bad theology at that.


And speaking of bad theology...

Former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani was there to invoke heroic images of 9/11 and to aid in the Potemkin effort to make the Republicans look like something other than the war-obsessed, Christian-Right-dominated party that they are.  Giuliani, who practices more moderate politics and a less moderate lifestyle than anything officially approved by the grandees or the Christian Right would approve, recalled 9/11/01 for the delegates:

At the time, we believed that we would be attacked many more times that day and in the days that followed. Without really thinking, based on just emotion, spontaneous, I grabbed the arm of then Police CommissionerBernard Kerik, and I said to him, "Bernie, thank God George Bush is our president."


GIULIANI: I say it again tonight. I say it again tonight: Thank God that George Bush is our president, and thank God...


And thank God that Dick Cheney, a man with his experience and his knowledge and his strength and his background is our vice president.

A friend of mine whose young daughter was attending temple school once asked her what Rosh Hashanah was about.  The little girl said, "Rosh Hashanah.  That's when everybody forgives God."

Now, I'm willing to consider the idea that maybe God needs to be forgiven for some things.  (I mean, that Flood in Genesis was pretty drastic, after all!)

But I think it's over the top to try to blame God for the misdeeds of the Scalia Five and their various Florida cohorts in 2000.  I mean, fair is fair, no matter what Bush thinks he's hearing in those private conversations he claims to be having with the Almighty.

Catching Up: Thanks, Chuckie and comments

I've been away for the weekend hiking at Jack London's old estate near Sonoma, California, which is now a state park.  With the Republican convention under way, I need to catch up quick.

First of all, thanks to John Scalzi for highlighting my Chuckie Watch feature.  Chuckie (CHARLIE DANIELS) is my favorite rightwing punching bag here at Old Hickory's Weblog.  I would feel like it was kind of unsportsmanlike because his rants are such obvious airhead nonsense.  But he's such an obnoxious gasbag it's hard to work up any guilt about it.

And, then, look at Rush Limbaugh.  Chuckie is a good example of the next step in devolving chain of evolution of messages in the Republican media echo-chamber.  From the Republican National Committe, it goes to Fox News and rightwing radio.  If Chuckie's political rants have any redeeming social value at all - and I'm not claiming to have found any! - it's because they're a consistent example of form in which the messages get translated to the "end-users," though he holds them just this side of the crudest manifestations.  (Which can be found at FreeRepublic.com in abundance, if curiousity overcomes you.)

Plus, Chuckie is promoting a primitivist, nativist, bigoted notion of both country music in particular and of Southerners in general.  I love country music too much to want to see it identify with blowhard bigots like Chuckie.

And while it's statistically true that Southern white guys would be more likely to agree with Chuckie's political attitudes than most, it still makes me sick to see him promote this hick, bigoted image of Southerners.  Especially since he's pimping for military adventurism for which Southerners disproportionately bear the burden and for government-for-the-wealthy from which most Southerners don't benefit at all.

I've also been catching up on responding to comments.  I usually try to respond to comments.  I have mixed feelings still on whether it would be good for AOL to open up the comments for easier posting from non-AOL members.  They can do it with an AIM account, of course.

But seeing some of the comments at other blogs, it is a nice contrast that I don't get many "troll" comments.  Most of the ones I get, even the ones strongly disagreeing, are still within the realm of actual thought.

And in these days of Fox News and Oxycontin redio, that really saying a lot!

Saturday, August 28, 2004

More on the Vietnam War 1970

Here are another couple of contemporary quotes from Americans on the Vietnam War.  These are both from the book Why Are We Still in Vietnam? (1970), Sam Brown and Len Ackland, eds.  Sam Brown was later to become director of the Peace Corps.

The introduction was written by New York City's Republican Mayor John Lindsay:

No one can now justify silent passivity on the question of war and peace.  The stakes are too great.  In the minds of millions of Americans, whether the war ends soon may well determine whether our system can work at all.  Citizens, and especially public officials who are part of the system, have an obligation to make it work, to rebuild faith in the free processes of our democracy by using them to achieve peace.

From my perspective, the obligation to act is reinforced by a daily awareness of the war's consequences for my city and for other cities.  So much of what should be done - for the poor and for the middle class, to reclaim the environment and to enhance the quality of American life - must be put off or forgotten because a fantastic proportion of our national resources is wasted on a bankrupt foreign adventure.  Foremost among those irreplaceable lost resources are, as I write, more than forty-two thousand of our own men.  We owe them the commitment of our talents and energies to a continuing campaign to end the war.

Another is from Jeffrey Record, who had served with the US Agency for International Development (AID) as a psychological-operations adviser in Vietnam.  AID was often a front for CIA operations.  I've quoted here before from a recent paper by him, Bounding the Global War on Terrorism, from the US Army War College Carlisle Barracks Web site.  In 1970, he wrote:

Mr. Nixon believes that America is committed to defend Vietnam.  Lyndon Johnson's problem was to justify a commitment that did not yet exist; the President confronts a commitment already made.  The question of prior formal obligation (the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, the Eisenhower-Diem letters, etc.) is made irrelevant by an additional reason to stay in Vietnam: a "commitment" to the tens of thousands of Americans who have already lost their lives in that fruitless struggle.  The "They-shall-not-have-died-in-vain" argument, with its clearly potent political implications, is alone enough, in the calculus of the [Nixon] administration, to compel continued American prosecution of the war.  A new corrolary to this argument is that the protection of American lives dictated the invasion of Cambodia.  But there is no evidence that pouring additional American blood into Southeast Asia is in any way either effective or redemptive of those Americans who have already died.

As long as the Bush campaign and the media insist on re-debating the Vietnam War, it's worth remembering how widespread criticism of the war had become by 1970-71, what solid reasons there were to criticize it and how generally unpopular it was.

Juan Cole on AIPAC and related issues

Juan Cole has posted a long, thoughtful and critical essay about AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee), the espionage case reported Friday and US Middle East policy.  While I think Cole overstates the amount of influence Israel exercises in Congress, his post is well worth reading: Israeli Spy in Pentagon Linked to AIPAC 08/28/04.

Cole notes:

Note that over 80% of American Jews vote Democrat[ic], that the majority of American Jews opposed the Iraq war (more were against it than in the general population), and that American Jews have been enormously important in securing civil liberties for all Americans. Moreover, Israel has been a faithful ally of the US and deserves our support in ensuring its security. The Likudniks [supporters of the rightwing Israeli Likud Party] like to pretend that they represent American Jewry, but they do not. And they like to suggest that objecting to their policies is tantamount to anti-Semitism, which is sort of like suggesting that if you don't like Chile's former dictator Pinochet, you are bigotted against Latinos. ...

The [Israeli] Likud [Party's] policies of reversing Oslo and stealing people's land and making their lives hell has produced enormous amounts of terrorism against Israel, and the Likudniks have cleverly turned that to their political advantage. Aggression and annexation is necessary, they argue, because there is terrorism. Some of them now openly speak of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians, using the same argument. But when the Oslo peace process looked like it would go somewhere, terrorism tapered off (it did not end, but then peace had not been achieved).

The drawback for the US in all this is that US government backing for Sharon's odious policies makes it hated in the Muslim world. ...

Moreover, AIPAC leverages its power by an alliance with the Christian Right, which has adopted a bizarre ideology of "Christian Zionism." It holds that the sooner the Palestinians are ethnically cleansed, the sooner Christ will come back. Without millions of these Christian Zionist allies, AIPAC would be much less influential and effective.

On another item related to the espionage case, long-timereaders of Old Hickory's Weblog may remember this item:  Will the Iran-Contra Crowd Ever Go Away? 10/17/03.  It referenced a Guardian news article about two Pentagon officials meeting with the Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, a prominent player in the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s.  The Guardian did not name the two Pentagon officials.

This Knight-Ridder story - FBI investigating whether Pentagon official spied for Israel by Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott 08/27/04 -  names the two as Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin.  Franklin is the official named by Laura Rozen and now by the Washington Post as the person targeted by the FBI probe.  Rozen speculates that the FBI may be leaning on Franklin to give to implicate someone else in something more serious than the leak of which the news reports claim the FBI suspects Franklin.

Whenever the names of Iran-Contra figures pop up in connection with Bush administration operations, expect trouble.

Friday, August 27, 2004

FBI seeks Israeli spy in Pentagon

This is bad in so many ways I don't like to think about it: FBI Probes Pentagon Spy Case CBSNews.com 08/27/04.

I actually first say the story at the Spanish site for El Mundo, whose headline included the most dramatic element of the story: El FBI cree que hay un espía israelí entre altos cargos del Pentágono 08/28/04. (The FBI believes there is an Israeli spy among high officials of the Pentagon.)

The CBS story (which is the source for the El Mundo piece) reports:

CBS News has learned that the FBI has a full-fledged espionage investigation under way and is about to -- in FBI terminology -- "roll up" someone agents believe has been spying not for an enemy, but for Israel from within the office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.

60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl reports the FBI believes it has "solid" evidence that the suspected mole supplied Israel with classified materials that include secret White House policy deliberations on Iran.

The story reports that the secret material was reportedly passed to Israel through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), lobby group.  AIPAC is a leading pro-Israeli lobby group.  Needless to say, it figures heavily in any number of conspiracy theories, most of them with an anti-Semitic edge.  AIPAC has become more of an advocate for hardline policies in the Middle East in recent years, and is considerably more conservative in that sense than the general opinion among American Jews.

This article provides some good background on AIPAC: Deal Breakers by Michael Massing American Prospect 03/11/02.  Massing writes:

Jews remain one of the most liberal groups in American society. And although concern about Israel's security has pushed some of them to the right, the majority have supported the peace process, including the efforts of President Clinton late in his term to bring about an agreement with the Palestinians. During and since those years, however, the two Jewish organizations with the most influence on foreign policy have had leaders who are far more conservative and hard-line than are most American Jews.

One of those groups is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Long regarded as the most effective foreign-policy lobby in Washington, AIPAC has an annual budget of $19.5 million, a staff of 130, and 60,000 members. Those members constitute a powerful grass-roots network that can be activated almost instantly to press Congress to take this action or that. ...

This is sensitive territory. On the streets of Cairo, Beirut, and Tehran, vendors hawk anti-Semitic pamphlets claiming that a small cabal of Zionists runs the world. Among Arab elites, it's an article of faith that the "Jewish lobby" dictates U.S. policy toward the Middle East. In fact, that policy reflects an array of factors, including America's dependence on foreign oil, its fight against Islamic terrorism, its efforts to contain Iraq and Iran, and the fact that Israel is the one and only democracy in the region. What's more, American Jews, in seeking to influence U.S. policy in the area, are simply exercising their rights as American citizens to organize politically and press their interests.

Now, after the fiasco of the Wen Ho Lee affair, in which it's a toss-up whether the government prosecutors or the press behaved more irresponsibly, I'll be watching what actually develops on this one closely.

This story is going to send the conspiracy theorists wild.  But it will be well to remember the old joke, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you." If AIPAC employees and/or a Pentagon official has involved themselves in espionage with Israel, it's serious business, even though anti-Semites will be quick to seize on it for their purposes.

And it's a serious problem in foreign policy, as well.  Neither more secular Arab nations nor the Islamac fundamentalists of various sorts among them needed any encouragement to think the US is part of a "Zionist conspiracy" against the Arab countries if not all of Islam.

The Bush administration has not helped the image of the US, nor advanced the cause of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, by backing the aggressive policies of Ariel Sharon's rightwing Likud Party more-or-less uncritically.  The most recent incident was the American agreement with Sharon's plans to expand the Israeli settlments in the West Bank.  The settlements are illegal under international law and are probably the worst single obstacle to reaching a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

All previous US administrations had tried to maintain not only the appearance but the reality of being an honest broker in the Middle East while making clear American support for the survival of Israel as an independent state.

Conspiracy theorists have also seized on the fact that a number of leading "neoconservatives" (though by no means all) are Jewish.  In fact, the "neoconservative" viewpoint has been heavily influenced by Likud Party hardline policies.

But, despite all the gnashing of teeth among the conspiracy-minded about AIPAC and Jewish conspiracies, by far the most important influence on the Bush administration Middle Eastern policies is the Christian Right.  I've discussed their particular apocalyptic views that translate in practice into support for the most hardline policies of the Israeli Likud Party and opposition to any meaningful peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The article on the story in Ha'aretz (Israel) is based mainly on the CBS and AP reports, and adds a brief note about Jonathan Pollard, arrested in 1985 and later convicted for spying on the US on behalf of Israel:  Report: FBI probing whether Israeli spy operating at Pentagon 08/28/04.

Laura Rozen at her blog names the individual at the Pentagon who is the most likely target of the FBI probe:  The FBI Investigation 08/27/04.  And has quite a bit to say about the case.  Among other things, the names of two major figures from the Iran-Contra scandal, Elliot Abrams and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, pop up in connection with this story.  One of the worst things the Bush administration has done is to involve itself with so many Iran-Contra figures.

In any event, the repercussions from this case are likely to be significant.  We'll be hearing lots more about this one.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Chuckie Watch 62: Chuckie plays for the Republicans

Ole Chuckie (CHARLIE DANIELS) is gittin' more attention in the blogosphere.  The invaluable Atrios has even graciously linked to my Chuckie Watch index which lists my various responses to the Patriotically Correct pronoucements of our guy Chuckie.

Chuckie's gone be performing in New York next week.  G.O.P.'s Southern Strategy? Cranking up Lynard Skynard New York Times 08/25/04.  (via Josh Marshall, who takes on the Lynard Skynard song "Sweet Home Alabama"):

On the Sunday night before the first day of the Republican National Convention, the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd (or its latest incarnation) will be performing at the nightclub Crobar in Chelsea for a party honoring Southern Republicans in Congress. ...

Skynyrd is not the only member of the Southern rock delegation: on Monday, ZZ Top is scheduled to perform at a party at B.B. King's; the Charlie Daniels Band and 38 Special will perform the same night at an event at Crobar, and on Wednesday night the Marshall Tucker Band is scheduled to play at a concert at a Midtown club with the Dickey Betts Band (Mr. Betts being a former member of the Allman Brothers). ...

Throwbacks, maybe, but that does not mean they are uncontroversial: Charlie Daniels recently angered some Arab-Americans with a song that included the lyrics "This ain't no rag, it's a flag, and we don't wear it on our heads." And Lynyrd Skynyrd is known for waving a giant Confederate flag during their rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama."  (my emphasis)

Yep, the Republicans should feel right at home with ole Chuckie.  And Chuckie's been gittin' in the mood lately, too.  He's been thankin' about America the Horrible 08/23/04.  Chuckie says that according to some people (kind of like Fox News' "some people say", I guess):

America is a monolithic, evil, greedy, heartless, monopolistic, uncaring, devious, crooked, irredeemable, domineering, thieving, throat cutting, disloyal, arrogant, gluttonous, power seeking, back stabbing, callous, coldhearted, rotten, misguided, non compassionate, murdering, land grabbing, bloodthirsty, dishonest, mindless, lying, cheating, truth suppressing, claimjumping, backshooting, ozone depleting, snail darter killing, spotted owl destroying, slime slobbering monster which has only survived two hundred and twenty eight years and become the world’s only super power by sheer luck and treating the rest of the world like inferiors.

Dang, Chuckie, who've you been hanging around with lately?  Chuckie seems to think all this has somethin' to do with Elvis sightings and John Kerry.  But it sounds more like something somebody might say after they've just read a Jerry Falwell pamphlet about how sinful America is and then took a heavy dose of Oxycontin, or something.

Or maybe he's just been around too many sourpuss Republicans.  Anyway, I'm sure there'll be plenty of them in New York next week who'll be happy to hang around with Chuckie and discuss how decadent and sinful the country has become.  All because of Bill Clinton and the liberals, of course.

Chuckie also don't like Michael Moore, it appears:

I don’t have a problem with people who want to change this country, that’s their right, but wanting to tear it down and blame all the blood that was shed by innocent people on 9-11 on America or any American is way beyond the pale.

Are you listening Michael Moore?

Actually, Michael Moore never blamed America or any American for 9-11.  But this is how rumors git started, Chuckie.

But I believe Chuckie when he says he doesn't have a problem with people who want to change America.  Some of them anyway.  In fact, less than a year ago, ole Chuckie hisself was describing the country as America the Apostate (09/19/03).  For all you godless secular heathen liberals out there, "apostate" means bad.  Really, really bad.  Chuckie was sayin' back then:

Sodom and Gomorra were totally destroyed for their rampant sins. The Hebrew children were banished from the promised land for forsaking their God. Why will America be any different?

I don’t really worry about Osama Bin Ladin and his fanatics destroying this country. I don’t believe that there is a nation or a combination of nations on earth who can defeat us militarily.

What concerns me is America’s rampant apostasy and losing divine protection.

I sometimes wonder how long God will put up with us.

Let me see if I've got this straight, Chuckie.  America is an apostate and an enemy of God.  But it's wrong to blame that on any American.  Or even on Bin Laden.  We should just blame it on God instead?

That Chuckie, he's a deep thinker.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The anti-Vietnam War movement: Soldier discontent and the Calley case

Hundreds of thousands of Americans served in the armed forces in Vietnam.  And each of them had their own story to tell.

The Republican Party had its own ideological story to tell about the Vietnam War.  And about those who protested against it.  Despite the active participation of Vietnam veterans in the antiwar movement from the start, despite the generally good relations between antiwar activists and soldiers, the Republicans succeeded in popularizing an image of antiwar protesters as being hostile to soldiers, even to the point of personally attacking and insulting individual veterans they didn't even know.

Hopefully one of the things that comes out of the rehashing of John Kerry's war and antiwar experiences will be a wider realization of how unhistorical and phony that image really is.  Just as today, veterans of the Iraq War criticize the war itself and/or particular policies, just as families of servicepeople voice very diverse opinions, just as individual soldiers take risks to uphold the law in cases like Abu Ghuraib where they see other soldiers committing crimes, it was like that during the Vietnam War, too.

The disaffection of the soldiers

In 1971, the Armed Forces Journal published an article in its June 7 edition by USMC Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., called "The Collapse of the Armed Forces."  Col. Heinl was no admirer of antiwar sentiment in the military.  In fact, his article refers to it repeatedly as "sedition."

But his article does give a vivid picture, one supported by other sources as well, of how widespread discontent had become in the armed services by 1971 - the year John Kerry testified before Congress against the war.  It's doubtful that Col. Heinl was any fan of Kerry's that year.  But his article shows that the romantic notion of the Vietnam War today's Republicans propagate was not shared by many soldiers still in Vietnam by that time:

The morale, discipline and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.

By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officer, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near-mutinous. ...

Elsewhere than Vietnam, the situation is nearly as serious.

Intolerably clobbered and buffeted from without and within by social turbulence, pandemic drug addiction, race war, sedition, civilian scapegoatise, draftee recalcitrance and malevolence, barracks theft and common crime, unsupported in their travail by the general government, in Congress as well as the executive branch, distrusted, disliked, and often reviled by the public, the uniformed services today are places of agony for the loyal, silent professions who doggedly hang on and try to keep the ship afloat. ...

While no senior officer (especially one on active duty) can openly voice any such assessment, the foregoing conclusions find virtually unanimous support in numerous non-attributable interviews with responsible senior and midlevel officers, as well as career noncommissioned officers and petty officers in all services. ...

"Search and evade" (meaning tacit avoidance of combat by units in the field) is now virtually a principle of war, vividly expressed by the GI phrase, "CYA (cover your ass) and get home!"  

That "search-and-evade" has not gone unnoticed by the enemy is underscored by the Viet Cong delegation's recent statement at the Paris Peace Talks that communist units in Indochina have been ordered not to engage American units which do not molest them. ...

Symbolic anti-war fasts (such as the one at Pleiku where an entire medical unit, led by its officers, refused Thanksgiving turkey), peace symbols, "V"-signs not for victory but for peace, booing and cursing of officers and even of hapless entertainers such as Bob Hope, are unhappily commonplace.

The article is interesting in a number of ways.  But remembering the context is also important.  For one thing, this is a Marine officer writing, and his criticism is directed mainly at the Army.  In fact, he says in the first section that "the Army seems to be in the worst trouble."  While the Marines, he says, "seem, with their expected staunchness and tough tradition, to be weathering the storm."  So there may be a touch of inter-service rivalry involved in his presentation.  I'm not sure, for instance, that the description of drug addiction as "pandemic" is entirely accurate.

We can also see in Heinl's argument the contemporary version of the argument we still here today that criticizing the war is somehow "dishonoring" or "blaming" the soldiers.  The Nixon administration had been pushing this notion heavily, trying to position itself politically as "supporting the soldiers" while encouraging the public to look at antiwar protesters as irresponsible people who were blaming the soldiers for everything that was wrong with the war.  In fact, one of the reasons that Nixon and his team went to such lengths to oppose Kerry and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War - with Nixon personally interviewing John O'Neill (now of the Swift Boat Liars for Bush group) to encourage him to head a prowar veterans shell group - was that the existence of articulate, outspoken antiwar veterans like Kerry threatened to undermine that particular political ploy.

Some of Heinl's specific phrasing: "scapegoatise ... distrusted, disliked, and often reviled by the public" is more a reflection of the political slogans of the time than an actual description of the public's attitude.  It's worth noting, though, that Heinl specifically says that soldiers are "unsupported in their travail by the general government" both by Congress "as well as the executive branch," which I'm sure didn't entirely please Nixon partisans.

The William Calley case

Antiwar activists, in particular, normally viewed the soldiers, both draftees and volunteers, as victims of bad policies.  It even went to the extreme that some critics of the war even defended the war criminal William Calley, who was the instigator of the My Lai massacre, because they thought he was being a scapegoat for the war planners.

This even strikes me as an example in which some critics of the war let their sympathy for the soldiers and their opposition to the war override good sense.  Calley's crime was clear and extremely well documented.  As described on PBS' American Experience Web site:

As the "search and destroy" mission unfolded it soon degenerated into the massacre of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly. Calley ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had been no report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped, and then killed. For his part, Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a fury of machine gun fire.

The description that Calley "was said to rounded up" that group is too mild.  Telford Taylor, who had been the US chief counsel at the Nuremberg war crimes trial after the Second World War, wrote in Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy (1970):

There was certainly nothing clandestine about the killings.  About 80 officers and men went into the Xom Lang [My Lai] area on the ground.  Above them, at various altitudes, were gunship, observation and command helicopters.  A reporter and a photographer from an Army Public Information Detachment went in with the troops virtually from start to finish.  The pilot of an observation helicopter, shocked by what he saw, reported the killings to brigade headquarters and repeatedly put his helicopter down to rescue wounded women and children.  Command helicopters for the divisional, brigade and task force commanders were assigned air space over the field of action, and were there at least part of the time. (my emphasis)

The documentation and supply of witnesses, in other words, was impressive.  Note also that an soldier in an observation helicopter rescued some of the victims who were still alive and reported the butchery, as his duty required him to.  Although the Army tried to cover up this particular crime, Calley was eventually tried and convicted, and was initially given a life sentence.

In an action that showed what kind of values it was on which he operated, President Nixon reduced his sentence so that he got out after serving only a few years.  This encouraged those who saw Calley as somekind of hero or at least a sympathetic figure.  To be fair, that attitude was mainly prevalent among those inclined to be hardliners on the war, not war critics.  But even a longtime critic of the war like Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas expressed the notion that Calley was a "scapegoat."

It's hard for me to muster up the slightest sympathy for a murderer like Calley.  He intended to just kill everyone in the village, unarmed civilian noncombatants.  And pretty much succeeded. What he did was illegal.  It was by no means the only atrocity of that kind.  But it did not represent the policy of the US Army.  On the contrary, if he received orders to do that as he claimed, he knew that he was obligated as a soldier to disobey those orders, as did those serving under him.  At least one of his soldiers did his duty and refused to participate in the massacre.

In my mind, excusing Calley for that gruesome massacre is the worst kind of insult to all those American soldiers who served in Vietnam without committing war crimes, without violating their duty and without deliberately murdering civilian noncombatants.  As an example of how muddled some of the notions about war crimes had become in the early 1970s, the psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote about the Calley case in a 1973 book, Whatever Became of Sin?  He used the example of Nixon's leniency to Calley and the sympathy expressed for him by many as an example of how the moral sense of right and wrong had become seriously degraded for most people.

And yet he also wrote the following, which I find astonishing:

Lt. Calley was one of those millions of marching men equipped with killing machines and told by us to use them.  He did.  He herded women and children and old men into a group and mowed them down - then pushed them into a ditch [also described as a canal].  But how can this be called a sin? Not distinguished for his intelligence, good judgment, culture, kindness, or social concern, Calley was nevertheless a "good soldier," i.e., a killer who obeyed orders, not a sinner.

Maybe it was careless editing, but the statement that Calley was acting as a "good soldier", even in quotation marks, shows a basic lack of understanding of the whole notion of laws of war.  No, he was not being a good soldier when he massacred civilian noncombatants.  He was being a criminal.  The soldier who refused Calley's orders - Calley even pointed his rifle at the guy and threatened to kill him - was being a good soldier.  The helicopter pilot who rescued the wounded and reported the crime was being a good soldier.

Taylor, an expert on war crimes, gave his readers a good idea of what he thought of Calley's action.  He displayed a graphic account of Calley having villagers taken to a canal and gunned down opposite a description of SS men taking Jews to a pit and gunning them down in the Ukraine in 1942.

Menninger was trying to make a larger point about the corrosive effects of war, and a valid one.  But even in criticizing the admirers and overt sympathizers of Calley, he also slipped into the kind of fuzzy thinking and basic misunderstanding of what the laws of war are about that at least some in the antiwar movement also shared.  Those critics of the war who made excuses for Calley were displaying a very misguided sense of sympathy for the soldiers.

A last comment about the Menninger quotation above.  That paragraph appears as part of a much longer, careful analysis of the concept of "sin" in modern society.  As I said, that one paragraph alone doesn't give any clear idea of the larger argument of which it is a part.  Yet someone who saw only that paragraph, and read it superficially, might jump to the conclusion that this guy was saying that all soldiers in Vietnam were criminals just like Calley.

Things like this make up what slim factual basis exists for the modern-day Republicans folklore that antiwar activists taunted Vietnam veterans as "baby killers."  It's a slim basis, indeed.  As I just explained, taken out of context, it actually looks like a defense of Calley's crime.  But the Nixon administration, still in power when that book was published, was encouraging people to make just such interpretations of statements by antiwar critics.

And people like John O'Neill and the Swift Boat Liars for Bush are still at it.  The Nixon legacy lives on.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Another Swift Boat Liars for Bush parallel

I mentioned in an earlier post the parallel between Bush's use of the Swift Boat Liars group and his attacks on John McCain in 2000, in which he pretended to keep himself above it all.

Here's another parallel.  This one involves more Old Man Bush, aka, George H.W. Bush, who was Vice President under Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989.  It has to do with Iraq's use of chemical weapons in its war with Iran.

Old Man Bush was deeply involved in both the formulation and execution of Reagan's policies in this situation.  It was very complicated, as those who have some familiarity with the Iran-Contra scandal know.  The US was actively but covertly backing Iraq.  But also selling arms to Iran.

At one point, the Reagan administration, with Old Man Bush as a main player in this action, provided 2,000-lb. MK-84 bombs to Iraq through Saudi Arabia and encouraged Saddam's regime to become more active in the air war against Iran.  Their goal was to increase Iran's need for anti-aircraft missiles, so that they could make more arms-for-hostages exchanges with Iran.  This is the way the Bush dynasty operates.

In House of Bush, House of Saud (2004) Craig Unger describes what happened after Iraq's chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in March 1988.  He notes that this incident "was later used as a reason by President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003."

But the attitude of the Reagan/Bush administration at the time was quite different.  As Unger explains:

Various accounts have blamed the Iranians for the gas or have suggested that both Iran and Iraq were using chemical weapons at Halabja.  But according to Joost R. Hiltermann in the International Herald Tribune, the U.S. State Department instructed its diplomats to blame Iran as well to mute the condemnation of Iraq for using chemical weapons.  "The deliberate American prevarication [lying] on Halabja was the logical outcome of a pronounced six-year tilt toward Iraq. ... Sensing correctly that it had carte blanche, Saddam's regime escalated its resort to has warfare, graduating to ever more lethal agents.  Because of the strong Western animus against Iran, few paid heed.  Then came Halabja.  Unfortunately for Iraq's sponsors [the US and Saudi Arabia], Iran rushed Western reporters to the blighted town. ... In response, the United States launched the 'Iran too' gambit.  The story was cooked up in the Pentagon, interviews with thr principals show.  A newly declassified State Department document demonstrates that United States diplomats received instructions to press this line with United States allies... the UN Security Council['s] choice of neutral language (condemning the 'continued use of chemical weapons in the conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq' and calling on 'both sides to refrain from the future use of chemical weapons') diffused the effect of its belated move.  Iraq proceeded to step up its use of gas until the end of the war and even afterward."

Now, obviously, the stakes at Halabja, where five thousand people were killed by poison gas, were a lot more serious than the immediate stakes in the Swift Boat Liars controversy.

But the tactic is strikingly similar.  Our ally Iraq used poison gas?  Let's evenhandedly condemn the use of poison gas by both sides, whether both sides were using it in this incident or not.

Our allies are lying shamelessly about our opponent's past?  Let's evenhandedly condemn the use of attack ads by both sides.

Yeah, if you tug at the threads of the Swift Boat Liars business, it shows an awful lot about how the Bush dynasty operates.