Sunday, October 31, 2004

Chuckie Watch 70: Chuckie votes

It wouldn't be right to let Election Day git here without checking in on ole Chuckie to see what he has to say about it all.

And Chuckie's been a'talkin'.  Now, you might think, with him being the wannabe Nashville Guru of Patriotic Correctness, plus a Regnery Publishing political analyst and all, that he would be tellin' us who we should vote for.  Well, no, Chuckie ain't even tellin' who he's votin' for.  In Voting (10/22/04), he says he's already voted.  And he does give us some coy hints about who he may have voted for in the presidential race:

I voted for the candidate whom I feel is best qualified to protect this country from terrorism, who will go fourth in the defense of America and Americans regardless of what some of our so-called allies or the United Nations may think.

Yeah, allies, schm-allies, who needs them dang foreigners anyhow?  But I'm not quite sure what Chuckie means about having a president who will go "fourth" in defense of Amurca.  I mean, who's gone go first, second and third?  Chuckie can be a little deep, sometimes.

I voted for the candidate whom I feel will vigorously protect the five thousand year old institution of marriage being only between one man and one woman, constitutional amendment notwithstanding.

I guess Chuckie don't read all them Old Testament stories about Jacob and Solomon and all those wives they had.  And, you know, Chuckie's being pretty philosophical in this one with this "constitutional amendment notwithstanding" thing.  Did we just have a constitutional amendment not allowing marriages between one man and one woman?  How did I miss that?  Gee, maybe I should watch Fox News more often.

I voted for the candidate whom I feel has the most regard for the sanctity of unborn life. I do not believe that abortion is guaranteed anywhere in The Constitution. I voted for the one who signed the bill against partial birth abortion.

Now, who, who, who could Chuckie mean here?  Why don't he just come out and say who he voted for?

I voted for the candidate whom I feel will be the best friend to Israel. America is the only true friend Israel has and there are wonderful promises and dire warnings in the Holy Bible concerning the children of Abraham. America’s future could well hang by our treatment of tiny Israel.

"He who blesses you I will bless and He who curses you I will curse.” And if you don’t believe that take it up with God. He is the one who said it.

Gosh, I hope nobody tells Chuckie that Abraham didn't just have children by his wife.  He would probably be really shocked to hear about Jacob and Leah and Rachel.  I mean, two wives, and they were sisters!  Constitutional amendment notwithstanding.

Chuckie is just being way too theoretical for me in this one.  I mean, he must have had to spend days scouring through rabbinical texts and Latin theologians' writings to figure out that "He who blesses you I will bless and He who curses you I will curse” really meant "America in 2004 should support any violent and crazy thing Ariel Sharon and the Likud Party do no matter how much damage it does to America or to Israel."  Or maybe he's into that "Bible Code" thing from a few years back.

Chuckie took a little break to write a Dissertation [sic] on Turning 68 (10/25/04).  Happy birthday, Chuckie.  And Chuckie shares some of his hard-earned wisdom with us:

When I realize that we’re four years into the twenty-first century, that the Statue of Liberty, which is fifty years older than I am, is one hundred and eighteen years old and that the kids I used to hold in my lap are now graduating high school, it’s enough to make you stop and think.

Wow, the Statue of Liberty is 118 years old.  Think of that.  And then Chuckie gives us an important key to understanding his political commentary:

But you should never stop and think for too long.

And I do believe ole Chuckie lives by that advice.

But, happily for us, Chuckie gives us another shot at hearing what he thinks of This Election (10/29/04).  But still the mystery of who Chuckie is supporting continues:

Be honest with yourself when you walk into that voting booth. Are you really willing to put the safety of your children and grandchildren into the hands of a man who feels that we have to have approval of the United Nations and the blessings of France and Germany before we can respond to a terrorist attack?

Now I knowthat a lot of you people out there will say that is not what Kerry means, but if he doesn’t mean it he shouldn’t say it.

Uh, Chuckie, he has said that he won't make responding to a terrorist attack dependent on any other country, oh, pretty much every time the subject comes up.  Chuckie, you're not telling us Fox News failed to report that, now are you?

Ask yourself whether pulling a fully developed unborn baby’s body out it’s mother’s womb and plunging a sharp pair of scissors into its brain is murder or a constitutional right. John Kerry says it is a constitutional right.

Who, who, who could Chuckie have voted for?  I just can't get through this deep theoretical stuff he's tossing out.

Do you want to be forced to abide by the economy ruining Kyoto Accords, a code which very few nations would come close to abiding by but yet the U.S.A. could be fined and castigated for breaking them?

Yeah, I guess being castigated by a Kyoto Accord could be pretty painful.

Do you want to be a citizen of the United States of America or the United States of Planet Earth?

This is an interesting either-or choice:  the United States, or Planet Earth?  Chuckie seems to think the two are entirely separate places.  But then again, those of us in the Coalition of the Reality-Based just don't see things exactly like ole Chuckie and his friends in FoxWorld do, I guess.

And who, who could Chuckie be planning to vote for?  I hope he lets us in on the secret someday.

The Case for Electing John Kerry (guest post by Bob McElvaine)

See also Index to Robert McElvaine guest posts for other full McElvaine articles at Old Hickory's Weblog.

John Kerry’s record is far better than the Bush campaign has led voters to believe.  He has a real chance to be a very good President.  George W. Bush has already proven himself to be a failure as president.  Much as the man elected in 1980 was not Ronald Reagan but someone named “Not Jimmy Carter,” the winner this time will not be John Kerry, but it may very well be “Not George W. Bush.”

The Case for Electing John Kerry

By Robert S. McElvaine

There is no question that the foremost reason to vote for John Kerry is that he is Not George W. Bush.  This year we have a clear case of the reverse of an old maxim.  This time the devil we know is SOOO bad that even a devil we don’t know has to be an improvement.  But, Republican propaganda notwithstanding, John Kerry is no devil.

Will John Kerry be a great president?  I have no idea.  What we can say with certainty is that he has a much better chance of being a great president than George W. Bush does, since Mr. Bush’s chance of being a great president approaches zero, inasmuch as he has already proven himself to be a disastrous failure as president.

Some critics say Kerry does not have a distinguished record in the Senate and so is not qualified to be president.  We’ll talk about his actual Senate record in a moment.  But what was George W. Bush’s record before he became president?  He avoided service in Vietnam, used family influence to get a variety of positions, headed a failed oil exploration company that mainly served as a tax loss for investors, bought a baseball team and traded Sammy Sosa, and, as governor of Texas, led the “civilized” world in executions.  Admittedly, his pre-presidential record was much better than his record as president, but it was hardly anything to suggest that he was qualified to be president—which we now know all too well he is not.

In the Senate, Kerry broke with the Democrats to become a co-sponsor of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction and Balanced Budget Act.  As Chairman of the Small Business Committee, Sen. Kerry pushed legislation that assisted small businesses in many ways.  He wrote the Healthy Children, Family Assistance Health Insurance Program, which later became the State Children's Health Insurance Program, providing coverage to some five million children.  He led, with John McCain, the investigation of the issue of POW/MIAs in Vietnam.  He was a leader in the Senate on environmental, healthcare, children’s, and housing issues.  The list goes on.

In any case, the fact is that senators don’t usually have especially memorable achievements.  Each senator, after all, is only 1/100 of one of the two bodies of the Congress.  With the exception of Lyndon Johnson, what senator who went on to the presidency in the last hundred years had a more impressive record than John Kerry?

Certainly not John F. Kennedy, whose record in the Senate on civil rights was referred to by biographer James MacGregor Burns as “a profile in cowardice.”  JFK’s Senate record when he ran for president in 1960 was, in fact, far less distinguished than is John F. Kerry’s today.  Yet most Americans still see John F. Kennedy as having been a very good president.

Let us look at where Senator Kerry stands on the issues and what he has committed to do if he is elected president:

Iraq:  The mess into which George W. Bush has taken us in Iraq is going to be difficult to fix.  The basic question of the election is whether a majority of Americans is willing to believe that the people who made the mess are capable of cleaning it up.  Kerry is in a better position to do so simply because he is not Bush.  He has a significantly better chance of restoring international cooperation, because he did not thumb his nose at the rest of the world as Bush did.

Terrorism:  One of the most contemptible things the Bush campaign has done (and there are many candidates for that dishonor) is the repeated statements to the American people that if John Kerry is elected we’ll all be likely to be hit by terrorists.  By rebuilding the alliances that Bush has trashed, by providing funding for inspection of containers coming into the United States, by implementing the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission, and by refocusing our military attention on the real terrorists instead of Iraq, John Kerry will reduce the threat we face in ways that George Bush cannot.

The Economy:  Kerry is committed to ending tax subsidies for sending American jobs overseas.  He will provide tax cuts for the middle class and for businesses to stimulate the economy.  He will rescind the huge tax cuts for the richest Americans that Bush put through and move toward balancing the budget that Bush so quickly and spectacularly pushed from surplus to record deficit.

Health Care:  Kerry’s plan will allow all Americans access to the health insurance that members of Congress have.  It will reduce insurance premiums by covering catastrophic illnesses and it will provide coverage for all children.  It will reduce the cost of prescription drugs in a variety of ways, including allowing the importation of medicines from Canada.

Social Security:  Unlike President Bush, John Kerry is absolutely committed to preserving Social Security.  He will not privatize Social Security, draining from the system the money on which retirees depend.

Education:  Kerry will fund the No Child Left Behind program, which Bush has not.  He will establish a national Education Trust Fund, restore the cuts in after-school programs that the Bush administration made and expand after-school programs.  He plans to offer a College Opportunity Tax credit on up to $4,000 of tuition for every year of college.

Environment:  John Kerry has been a consistent champion of wise stewardship of our environment.  He will reverse the many environmentally dangerous actions of the Bush Administration.

Energy:  Kerry will move, though more rapid development of new technology and alternative energy sources to end American dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Science:  John Kerry will support stem-cell research that holds the promise of finding cures for many diseases.

Supreme Court:  John Kerry will appoint justices who are not the sort of right-wing ideologues (similar to Scalia and Thomas) that George W. Bush has said are the kinds of appointees he would choose.  If John Kerry chooses new justices, women will also have a choice.  If George W. Bush chooses new justices, women will lose their right to choose.

One Candidate in this Election is an Extremist, and It’s Not Kerry

The Bush campaign labels John Kerry as an extreme liberal.  The truth is that there is only one extremist in this election and his name is George W. Bush.

One candidate is slightly to one side of center; the other is the most extreme to one side that any American president has been since Coolidge.  The election is a choice between a moderate who is slightly to the left of the American center and an extremist who is far to the right of mainstream America, but has managed to keep the fact fairly well hidden from a majority of voters.

Why vote for John Kerry?  Here are a few very good reasons:

1) He doesn’t confuse himself with God

2) He is willing to take evidence into account and change course if things aren’t going well.

3) The world doesn’t despise and have no respect for him, as it does for Bush.

4) He isn’t the guy who messed everything up, so he has a much better chance of turning things around and getting us out of the mess into which Bush has gotten us.

5) He doesn’t use fear to try to get elected.

6) He is concerned about the well-being of the middle-class and the poor.

Two Questions to Ask Yourself before You Cast Your Vote

In the end, voters should ask themselves two questions before they cast their ballots on Tuesday.  Both were asked in past elections by Republican challengers.  In 1952, in the midst of a war that was going badly and a host of other problems, GOP vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon said to voters, “You wouldn’t trust the man who made the mess to clean up the mess, would you?”  (He was talking about Harry Truman and arguing that Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson was “the man who was picked by the man who made the mess” and so couldn’t be trusted to clean it up, either.)  Unless we conclude that we would trust the man who made the mess we’re in today to clean it up, we will vote for Kerry.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan told voters to ask themselves whether they were better off than they were four years ago.  They weren’t, and voted accordingly, removing Jimmy Carter from office.  It is crystal clear that most of us are worse off today than we were four years ago.  Anyone who actually wants to keep things the way they are should vote for Bush and more of the same.  All of us who want a change have one option: John Kerry and a fresh start.

How will it turn out on Tuesday night, or whenever the winner is finally determined?  Who knows, but my analysis (as well as my heart) says that Kerry will win.  I think the most appropriate analogy is 1980.  An incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, was in deep trouble on many fronts, including a major crisis in the Middle East, a weak economy, and very high fuel prices.  The public definitely thought the country was moving in the wrong direction and that the incumbent should be defeated.  Yet on the weekend before the election, its outcome remained uncertain.  The reason was that many voters had doubts about the challenger.  In 1980, there was real fear that Ronald Reagan might get us involved in a major, even nuclear, war.  Those fears of Reagan were substantially greater than are the fears some people have of Kerry.  Yet, over the last weekend, large numbers of voters decided that they so much wanted to get rid of Carter that they were willing to take a big risk with Reagan, and the challenger won by a substantial margin.

The winner in 1980 was not Ronald Reagan; it was a man named “Not Jimmy Carter.”  Similarly, the winner in 2004 will not be John Kerry, but there’s a good chance it will be “Not George W. Bush.”

*  *  *

Now the job we all have is to contact every possible Kerry voter in person or by phone and be sure that they vote on or before Tuesday.  I’m off to Arkansas to help that effort there, so this will probably be my last pre-election message.

Let’s make America America Again!

{ Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, is the author of Eve’s Seed: Biology,the Sexes, and the Course of History, and is currently completing his first novel and screenplay, What It Feels Like . . . . Websites: and}

Contact information:

Robert S. McElvaine
Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters
Chair, Department of History
Millsaps College
Jackson, MS  39210



Iraq War: Soldiers, veterans and dissent

As the Bush administration increases the number of troops in Iraq and prepares for a new offensive in Fallujah and other rebel strongholds just after the US presidential election, here are a few more articles on the whole issue of the attitude of the anti-Iraq War movement toward soldiers, and more specifically the ways in which soldiers and veterans are a critical part of that movement.

This piece by Andrew Exum makes a very forced argument that he suspects that the "left" is somehow hostile to individual soldiers, though his evidence for it is pretty thin gruel, to put it mildly.

The "Fahrenheit" boiling point by Andrew Exum, 07/14/04

But I fear the American left is beyond the highly nuanced, sophisticated arguments they have always embraced in the past (occasionally to their detriment). For now, they just want to be angry. And Michael Moore and others are happy to meet their needs.

So where does all that anger go? Unfortunately, I do fear it will begin to fall on the soldiers and their families, especially if Bush wins the White House in November. For now, Moore and other antiwar protesters have the election to focus on. But if Bush is reelected, there is no telling what kind of ugly turn the public's anger will take.

I fear the left's view of American fighting men and women will devolve from admiration to ambivalence to disgust the longer this war lasts and the longer we're exposed to simplistic rants from folks like Moore. Witness the illustrator Ted Rall, whose cartoon accusing Pat Tillman of wasting his life fighting for a foolish cause was widely criticized following Tillman's death in April. As soon as the news of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse hit the press, Rall revised his opinion of soldiers and denounced America's fighting men and women in Iraq as "Gestapo thugs." And consider the experience of Jason Gilson, a 23-year-old who was wounded as a Marine serving in Iraq, who says he was booed and called a "murderer" while marching at the Fourth of July parade in Bainbridge Island, outside Seattle.

Are both of those examples anomalies? Sure. But aren't they also the inevitable result when the rhetoric has been ratcheted to such an extreme?

I dealt with the Jason Gilson case in an earlier post.  I didn't like Ted Rall's cartoon that he mentions much either.  I think he misrepresented Pat Tillman.  But he was making a point, even if a mistaken one, about a famous person who he perceived as promoting a thoughtless attitude to war.  It's a huge leap to get from there to assuming a hostility towared soldiers in general even on Rall's part.  Although as the Foster Barton case illustrates, it doesn't take much encouragement for the Freepers to make those leaps of faith.

Speaking of which, Roy Edroso also picked up on the hastiness of the claim that the on-leave soldier Foster Barton had been assaulted by an antiwar zealot in blog posts of 09/22/04 and 09/30/04.

But has been good about covering the problems of soldiers in Bush's War in Iraq, including Mary Jacoby's recent article on the Southern unit that refused a "sucide mission."  Some more examples include:

A Marine declares war on Bush by Michelle Goldberg, 09/30/04.  This is about an Iraq War Marine veteran, Steve Brozak, running for Congress in New Jersey (my emphasis):

When Brozak returned from the Middle East to his post in Arlington, Va., he tried to alert civilians in the Defense Department to the trouble on the ground. But, he says, they were uninterested. "It was that same arrogant, contemptuous attitude. When I came back and said we have a problem, we need to address it right away, we are fighting for our lives, their attitude was, 'We know better than you do.' It was their contempt for the people in uniform, it was their contempt for all Americans" that finally drove him out of the Republican Party.

In fact, Brozak says, Republicans' contempt for soldiers -- coupled with their mawkish reverence for the military in the abstract -- had been bothering him for a while. He first started souring on his party when the Bush team smeared John McCain during the 2000 primaries; he was outraged by the 2002 attacks against Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, who was tarred as a traitorous ally of Osama bin Laden despite the fact that he lost three limbs serving in Vietnam.

Yet another veteran to remember when you hear Republicans yammering about how they "honor our soldiers" and "support our troops" by mindlessly cheering for Bush's war plans.

He talks about what he learned in Bosnia four years ago. "Here was a country where people were living normal lives, and everything just fell apart overnight," he says. "It showed me how fragile societies can be. Make no mistake. Our society is very fragile."

Of course, the right is quick to seize on this kind of language to attack their critics as raving leftists. Yet in the past few years, this note of crisis has been sounded by those who've spent their lives as staid centrists: Al Gore, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Joe Wilson, Richard Clarke. No matter how many respectable establishment types sound the alarm against Bush, though, much of the media continues to write off their warnings as irrational "Bush hatred."

Eventually, Brozak says, "people will start to realize how bad things are." After all, he says, 70 percent of New Jersey's National Guard has been called up. A unit from Westfield, one of the towns in his district, is about to be sent to Tikrit and probably won't be home until 2006.

Operation American Repression? by Eric Boehlert, 09/29/04. About an Army rserver sargeant who faces a possible 20 years in prison because he wrote an article criticize the Bush administration's incompetent conduct of the Iraq War.  I should note that the site on which he published it is, which is a neo-Confederate site.  But they have been opposed to the Iraq War, because they, well, they really do hate America and they don't like to support American wars, or much of anything else the American government does.  But that is not true of every Iraq War critic whose work they've published on their site.  I just mean to say, read especially critically if you're checking out stuff on that Web site.  (They have a whole section on what a vicious, evil tyrant Abraham Lincoln was, so it's not hard to get their drift.)

Turning point by David Morris, 09/16/04.  This article shows another instance of a criticism that's not directly at the war itself as a general concept, but is a definite criticism of the war that's actually being fought.  As criticisms like this mount up, the question becomes more and more, "what are we really doing in Iraq?"

On Sunday, at his change-of-command ceremony, the outgoing top Marine general in Iraq, Lt. Gen. James Conway, gave tragic voice to what thousands of servicemen throughout Iraq have believed for months. He announced that the April assault on Fallujah had been an overly aggressive mistake and that the often-vacillating American approach to the town had undermined U.S. efforts to win the hearts and minds of local Iraqis. ...

Responding to the killing and subsequent mutilation of four U.S. contractors in Fallujah on March 31, Conway had led a 5,000-man Marine force that laid siege to the restive town for over three weeks. Bad press and reports of civilian casualties by Al-Jazeera later caused the Marines to halt their advance into the heart of the city and, on the eve of a renewed offensive, the Marines unexpectedly turned over the town to a local militia force that later became known as the Fallujah Brigade.

Reflecting on the course of the White House-ordered campaign on Sunday, Conway indicated that he had had serious misgivings about the Fallujah operation from the get-go, "We felt that we probably ought to let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge," he told reporters gathered on the sprawling Marine base just east of the embattled town. "I think we certainly increased the level of animosity that existed."

"Bush lied, my son died" by Michelle Goldberg, 09/30/04.  About the political ads of  One of the stories that will eventually be told at some length is about how the military in general, and the Army in particular, managed to take the lessons of their loss of public credibility in Vietnam and turn them into conclusions that let them destroy their own credibility at e-speed, instead of 1960s speed. "I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth."

But is by no means alone in reporting this aspect of the war.

A strident minority: anti-Bush US troops in Iraq Christian Science Monitor 09/21/04

 Inside dusty, barricaded camps around Iraq, groups of American troops in between missions are gathering around screens to view an unlikely choice from the US box office: "Fahrenheit 9-11," Michael Moore's controversial documentary attacking the commander-in-chief.

"Everyone's watching it," says a Marine corporal at an outpost in Ramadi that is mortared by insurgents daily. "It's shaping a lot of people's image of Bush."

The film's prevalence is one sign of a discernible countercurrent among US troops in Iraq - those who blame President Bush for entangling them in what they see as a misguided war. Conventional wisdom holds that the troops are staunchly pro-Bush, and many are. But bitterness over long, dangerous deployments is producing, at a minimum, pockets of support for Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry, in part because he's seen as likely to withdraw American forces from Iraq more quickly.

For Marines, A Frustating Fight by Steve Fainaru Washington Post 10/10/04:

"I feel we're going to be here for years and years and years," said Lance Cpl. Edward Elston, 22, of Hackettstown, N.J. "I don't think anything is going to get better;I think it's going to get a lot worse. It's going to be like a Palestinian-type deal. We're going to stop being a policing presence and then start being an occupying presence. . . . We're always goingto be here. We're never going to leave."

The views of the mortar platoon of some 50 young Marines, several of whom fought during the first phase of the war last year, are not necessarily reflective of all or even most U.S troops fighting in Iraq. Rather, they offer a snapshot of the frustrations engendered by a grinding conflict that has killed 1,064 Americans, wounded 7,730 and spread to many areas of the country. ...

"Every day you read the articles in the States where it's like, 'Oh, it's getting better and better,' " said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder, 22, of Gettysburg, Pa. "But when you're here, you know it's worse every day."

Pfc. Kyle Maio, 19, of Bucks County, Pa., said he thought government officials were reticent to speak candidly because of the upcoming U.S. elections. "Stuff's going on here but they won't flat-out say it," he said. "They can't get into it."

Maio said that when he arrived in Iraq, "I didn't think I was going to live this long, in all honesty." He added, "it ain't that bad. It's just part of the job, I guess."

As a reporter began to ask Maio another question, the interview was interrupted by the scream of an incoming rocket and then a deafening explosion outside the platoon's barracks. Pandemonium ensued.

"Get down! Get down!" yelled the platoon's radio operator, Cpl. Brandon Autin, 21, of New Iberia, La., his orders laced with profanity. "Get in the bunker! Get in the bunker now!"

But in BushWorld everything is going fine.  "Freedom is on the march."

International law and the torture issue

 "I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

"And I wouldn't join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasn't a popular move. But it's the right move not to join a foreign court that could -- where our people could be prosecuted." - George W. Bush 09/30/04

One of the many failings of our Potemkin press corps the last few years is that the mainstream press has been conveying little information about the laws of war and how they work and how they potentially apply to issues like facilitating the murder of prisoners or torture like that this has been taking place in Bush's and Rumsfeld's gulag.

Seymour Hersh's Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib (2004), based largely on work published in the New Yorker, helps fill that gap for us.  And I've come across a couple of recent pieces by Phil Carter that are noteworthy in that regard, as well.

One is "The Road to Abu Ghraib"  by Phil Carter Washington Monthly Nov 2004, which is an essay-review of Hersh's book.  Before I get to some of his excellent points, though, I'll mention that he makes a weird argument in one part of the article, which seems grossly contradictory to the reasoning and good sense of the rest of it.  He writes:

If our political leaders decide that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed needs to be immersed in water so that he spills his guts about the next terror plot, I can accept that—and I suspect the rest of the world could, too. But those who take action should also take responsibility for it. Our soldiers need a better legal framework to deal with these situations, one that gives commanders the flexibility to do what must be done while not stepping on our values or hurting our strategic interests in the process.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a senior Al Qaeda official in American custody somewhere in the gulag.  Among the coercive techniques used in his interrogation has been "waterboarding," which is "a euphemism for forcing a prisoner under water until he believes he will drown" (US forces were taught torture techniques by Suzanne Goldenberg Guardian [UK] 05/14/04).

The problem with this argument is that if torture is considered legitimate with some prisoners, in practice it's virtually impossible to prevent it from spreading to much more general usage, as Carter's article describes as having occurred in the last three years in the American military detention system in Abu Ghuraib, Guantanamo and Afghanistan.

It could be here that Carter was trying to make an argument that in a true emergency situation, one of the kind that actually occurs only in the movies, an official might be morally justified in departing from the law and using torture on a subject, but that the system still needs to enforce the law, and the official would be doing so realizing he had to answer for a criminal act.  But if that was the point he was trying to make, he did so poorly.

But despite that glaring exception, Carter gives a good summary of the events that led to the widespread usage of torture in the gulag, and in doing so provides some excellent background on the legal considerations involved.  The Bush administration, Carter writes, sanctioned "a wholesale abandonment of the law" on treatment of prisoners of war:

They began with the plausible argument that the Geneva Conventions were anachronistic in an age of asymmetrical, non-state warfare. Al Qaeda didn't wear uniforms or fight according to the laws of war, they reasoned, and so they were not necessarily entitled to the conventions' protections. But the lawyers—including White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Defense Department general counsel William Haynes II, Vice President Cheney's counsel David Addington, and Jay Bybee of the Justice Department (who now sits on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals)—went further. They advised the president to sign a blanket statement of policy that the men captured in Afghanistan would not be subject to the Geneva Conventions, and that by executive fiat, they would all be declared “unlawful enemy combatants,” a category that does not exist in international law. White House, Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers also pushed President Bush to sign a secret finding on Feb. 7, 2002, that would have far-reaching consequences for the nation and the world. “I… determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world,” this document determined, adding that the White House also had “the authority under the Constitution to suspend Geneva as between the United States and Afghanistan, but I decline to exercise that authority at this time.” For all intents and purposes, these memoranda gutted the Geneva Conventions.

Carter's article also gives a good sense of how inadequate training, combined with high-level approval for criminal conduct, could make it very difficult in practice for some soldiers to resist illegal orders.  And he does it without either exonerating the low-level perpetrators at Abu Ghuraib or deflecting responsibility from senior officials:

There are few slopes more slippery than the one from small war crimes to large ones, as evidenced by the incremental movement of U.S. interrogation tactics from “a little bit of smacky face,” as one intelligence officer described the officially-sanctioned tactics at Gitmo [Guantanamo Bay] to The Wall Street Journal, to the abuses depicted in the Abu Ghraib photographs. For decades, the laws of war have stood as a braking point on this slippery slope, establishing bright-line rules about what is forbidden even in the heat of combat. Generally speaking, absolute rules are the only ones that work well in wartime. Where only vague guidance exists, junior military leaders may exploit ambiguity to employ tactics that fall outside the boundaries of acceptable conduct. In war, there is always some battlefield exigency or necessity which can be invoked as a justification before or after the fact. It's one thing to argue that there was a compelling need for these tactics, and that therefore they were implicitly authorized in certain situations but always tightly controlled; it's quite another to loosen the rules altogether and let junior soldiers take the initiative to do what they think must be done.

And he reminds us that laws protecting prisoners of war are not some frivolous excess of humanitarian soft-heartedness:

There's a reason why career military officers are among those who have expressed the greatest revulsion over the Bush administration's cavalier treatment of the laws of war. These officers aren't soft-minded idealists who believe in the rule of law for its own sake. Quite the contrary; three generations of military officers have grown up respecting the Geneva Conventions for extremely practical reasons. When the administration publicly declared in February 2002 that those conventions would not apply to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, many of America's soldiers worried that this policy would be reciprocated by our nation's enemies, should Americans themselves ever be captured in a future conflict. It is worth noting that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who saw combat in Vietnam and helped run the first Gulf War, strongly opposed this move, as did his chief legal adviser, William Howard Taft IV. The principle of reciprocity has long served as one of the chief mechanisms for compliance with the laws of war. The Bush administration's approach has put future generations of U.S. military personnel in grave risk of mistreatment.

Yet another example raising the question of what good has Colin Powell's alleged professionalism and moderation and scruples been, when he goes right on facilitating the misconduct of this administration.

He makes another puzzling statement at the end of the article:

It's true that the administration has garnered some human intelligence through its use of torture. Arguably, some intelligence gathered this way helped lead to the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003.

Is it true?  He follows up in the same paragraph with:

But it's unlikely that torture would be a useful tool day-to-day; a vast body of literature on the subject indicates that, on the contrary, coercive interrogations tend to elicit unreliable intelligence more than they do useful information.

This is literally the first time I've seen it suggested that any piece of specific information gained by torture in the gulag has been useful in providing actionable intelligence the last three years.  Hersh doesn't make that claim in the book under review, and Carter doesn't cite his source for it.  In the nature of the thing, it's a vague kind of claim, and it fast leads into sophomore-philosophy-class abstractions.  In practice, as he said immediately following that claim,torture is notorious for producing bad information.

And that's not its purpose in practice, either.  Its purpose is to terrorize a target population.  Many of the prisoners at Abu Ghuraib had been arrested in sweeps by American soldiers who didn't even speak Arabic.  Those American prison guards piling naked, hooded men on top of each other and forcing them to masturbate and simulate oral sex and so forth didn't have any idea whether there was the slightest reason to think any of them had actionable intelligence information.  They just knew that they had been given permission to exercise their sadistic impulses on the prisoners, and some of them did, as we now know.

Phil Carter also has a blog that provides good information on a regular basis about intelligence-related aspects of foreign policy.  This post is a good companion piece to the review referenced above:  Another Zany Justice Department Memo Intel Dump blog 10/28/04.  It deals with a further instance of government attorneys cooking up excuses for administration officials to break the laws governing treatment of prisoners of war.

This article is from this past May.  But in it, Carter explains why Americans could find themselves on trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) anyway, despite Bush's belief that he's removed that threat from hanging over the heads of his national security team:  Do the Right Thing: Keeping the ICC out of Abu Ghraib by Phillip Carter Slate 05/07/04.

But even though the United States is not part of the ICC and Iraq is not a member, we might still find our troops wrangled into ICC jurisdiction by a provision that lets non-ICC member states refer cases to it anyway. Once the Iraqi government takes sovereignty on June 30, it might decide to do just that, especially if the Iraqi people demand international justice for the crimes at Abu Ghraib. The United States will surely lobby the future Iraqi government not to refer charges to the ICC. But once we hand the reins of sovereignty to the Iraqi government, this decision will be theirs to make.

The interim government of Prime Minister Allawi hasn't done that yet.  And who knows?  Some British government without Tony Blair at its head might decide that the British citizens who claim they were tortured in Guantanamo have credible enough evidence that those responsible should be hauled before that "foreign court" that Bush thinks he's bypassed.  Characters like Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (whose office also got involved in formulating torture policy) might want to select their foreign travel destinations carefully when they leave office, or they might find themselves unexpectedly paying a long visit to that "body based in The Hague."

Seems unlikely right now.  But then who expected the Red Sox to win the World Series?

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bush's vision: The real thing?

This article gives us a glimpse at another facet of Bush's vision of war, and why he wound up being especially receptive to the appeals of the "neoconservatives" and their grand fantasies of wars of liberation.

Bush Wanted To Invade Iraq If Elected in 2000 by Russ Baker, Guerrilla News Network 10/27/04.  Also available at

Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.

"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade·.if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency." Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's shadow. The moment, Herskowitz said, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. "Suddenly, he's at 91 percent in the polls, and he'd barely crawled out of the bunker." ...

According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush's beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House - ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. "Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade."

Once again, the long shadow of Dark Lord Dick Cheney appears.  Cheney has been one incredibly destructive public figure.  One of the worst in American history, actually.

Baker continues:

Bush's circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister MargaretThatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: "They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches."

Republicans, Herskowitz said, felt that Jimmy Carter's political downfall could be attributed largely to his failure to wage a war. He noted that President Reagan and President Bush's father himself had (besides the narrowly-focused Gulf War I) successfully waged limited wars against tiny opponents - Grenada and Panama - and gained politically. But there were successful small wars, and then there were quagmires, and apparently George H.W. Bush and his son did not see eye to eye.

Josh Marshall puts high credibility in this story in a 10/31/04 post.  So does James Moore, a journalist who has been covering Bush for 15 years:  Bush's Tactical Lying by James Moore, 10/30/04.   (Via Steve Gilliard).

James Wirtz and James Russell on preventive war and the Bush Doctrine

"I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

"And I wouldn't join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasn't a popular move. But it's the right move not to join a foreign court that could -- where our people could be prosecuted." - George W. Bush 09/30/04

The following article provides some useful perspective on the Bush Doctrine of preventive war, although the authors' views are friendlier to the Bush Doctrine than I've ever been inclined to be.

U.S. Policy on Preventive War and Preemption by James J. Wirtz and James A. Russell, The Nonproliferation Review (Monterey Institute of International Studies) Spring 2003 (*.pdf file).

Wirtz and Russell make the important observation that transnational terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda are indeed difficult if not impossible to deter, as the administration also argues.  But they raise and important qualification on "rogue states," and in the process refer matter-of-factly to the inadequacy of the administration military response in Afghanistan (my emphasis):

No one has challenged the Bush administration's thinking about deterrence as it relates to transational terrorist organizations.  Al-Qaeda was not deterred by the array of military capabilities possessed by the Untied States.  And while the aggressive U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks may not have been anticipated, al-Qaeda remains undaunted and has continued its attacks on the United States and its allies around the globe.  The United States was able to force a regime change in Afghanistan through overwhelming military force, but not the elimination of the terrorists it was after.  Simply put, a-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden have not been deterred.  What many find more controversial, however, is the Bush administration's asssertion that rogue states, like terrorists and terrorist organziations, cannot be deterred.

I quoted their definition of "preventive" and "preemptive" wars in a post last August devoted to that subject:

Although the terms often are used interchaneably, "preventive war" and "preemption" are distinct strategic concepts.  Preventive war is based on the concept that war is inevitable, and that it is better to fight now while the costs are low rather than later when the costs are high.  It is a deliberate decision to go to war.  Preventive war thinking seems to dominate Bush administration planning about Iraq: It is better to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime now than to deal later with a regime armed with nuclear weapons or other WMD.  Preventive war thinking, however, can turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, since treating war as inevitable can help make it inevitable.  It also can lead to unnecessary conflict because few things are inevitable...

Preemption, by contrast, is nothing more than a quick draw.  Upon detecting evidence that an opponent is about to attack, one beats the opponent to the punch and attacks first to blunt the impending strike.  States that fear preentive war often adopt preemptive strategies: During the Cold War, preemption, often referred to as a "launch-on-warning attacks," was depicted as a desperate doctrine to thwart an opponent's effort to bring the Cold War to a final showdown. (my emphasis)

Wirtz and Russell remind their readers that:

Terrorist often seek a disporportionate response from the government they attack in the hope of provoking a sympathetic response from some target audience.  Thus, savage reprisals in kind can actually play into the hands of terrorists.

Which the Bush administration has done on a large scale by using the war fever related to the 9/11 attacks to justify the invasion of Iraq.  And the military seems to be doing this on a small scale many times over in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since our lazy mainstream press provides pitifully little information on subjects like this, the section of the Wirtz/Russell article on "The International Legal Framework Governing the Use of Force" is especially useful.  They note that countries that seem to "meet the Bush administration's standards for preventive war include al-Qaeda, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, and North Korea."  We've already used it against Iraq, and presumably Libya is now off the list, at least for the moment, since Bush advertises it as an example of the brilliant success of the intimidating effects of the Bush Doctrine.

They observe:

Most Americans ... assume that the Untied States will use force only to defend itself, which implies that it will not be the first to go to war in a crisis.  For example, revelations that the Tonkin Gulf incident [of 1964] was more of a confused melee than a deliberate North Vietnamese attack on U.S. warships were treated as a scandal by most Americans, because it is important to them that the United States engage in combat only a matter of self-defense.

The Bush administration's credibility received a severe blow from the discovery that their claims of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq were not only exaggerated, but completely bogus.  Now we've got "neoconservative" ideologue Ken Adelman making the insane argument that a country even pretending to have WMDs is a reason to launch a preventive war.

Wirtz and Russell also recall an important American definition of preemptive military action:

In the aftermath of the British preemptive attack on the USS Caroline in 1847, Secretary of State Daniel Webster provided an enduring international legal formulation clarifying when preemptive attack was warranted: (1) when "the necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation" and (2) if such an attack was proportional to the threat.

It would take a heavy dose of Oxycontin for most people to imagine the situation in March 2003 justified the invasion of Iraq based on those grounds.

And, a useful reminder to those who sneer at the United Nations and international law, they note, "The principle of using force in self-defense is enshrined in the [United Nations] charter."

Their discussion of whether Kennedy's use of a naval blockade of Cuba was an instance of a preventive war type action is good, though brief.  Advocates of preventive war have, not surprisingly, tried to make that argument.  But Wirtz and Russell are on solid grounds in concluding, "Perhaps a more accurate characterization of this situation is that the quarantine (otherwise known as a blockade, which is an act of war) was just one step removed from a preventive military attack."

Wirtz and Russell were mistakenly optimistic in assuming that the Bush administration's goal at the time of the writing of their article was to avoid war with Iraq.  But they were technically correct at that prewar time in writing, "In effect, the Bush administration is not following a policy of preventive war or preemption vis-a-vis Iraq, but is instead engaging in a form of diplomatic and military activity known as coercion or compellence."

The make the important point that military activities that are actually directed against Al Qaeda can scarcely be considered "preventive war" in light of the multiple attacks on the US by Bin Laden's group.

And this observation restates a fundamental problem with preventive war:

History also suggests that states that act aggressively always justify their action on the grounds of self-defense, which in part explains why the UN Charter takes such a dim view of preventive war or preemptive attack.

Rosanne Cash on the election

Rosanne Cash has a "monthly comment" at her Web page on the election, dated 10/03/04.  Rosanne is one of my favorite singers and songwriters and also one of my favorite prose writers.  She writes beautiful short stories.  She's published an anthology of her short stories called Bodies of Water, a children's book called Penelope Jane: A Fairy's Tale and an anthology of short stories by songwriters (including a very interesting science fiction tale by herself) called Songs Without Rhyme.

She's also a Kerry supporter and has played for at least one fundraising concert for him.  She writes:

I read that Bush said that "God wanted [him] to be president." This kind of comment makes my blood run cold. Anytime anyone, including the president of the United States, presumes to know the mind of God and uses that presumption for his own purposes, all my alarms go off. Red flags everywhere. As Lincoln said, and I paraphrase badly, "Let us not assume God is on our side, Let us hope we are on God's side".

The kind of thinking that leads one to declare that he knows what God wants and what God thinks and is certain that he is acting under divine Ordinance and Will, is exactly the kind of thinking that leads people to fly airplanes into tall buildings and kill thousands of people. Does that sound like a radical statement? Yes. Fundamentalism of any stripe is radical. Doesn't matter if it's Islamic, Christian, Mormon, or Judaic... fundamentalism is, by definition, intolerant at best, catastrophic at worst.

It is my opinon that we must get George Bush out of office. If he is given four more years, I fear that he will use it as a mandate to lead us to the edge of the apocalypse. As it is, our grandchildren will still be sorting out the disaster in Iraq, paying for the environmental regressions he has instituted, trying to extricate Halliburton from our energy policy, attempting to restore the finer points of the Constitution that have been trampled on by the Patriot Act, and still trying to get affordable health care. Just for starters.

Rosanne is one of my favorite writers, by the way. :) :)  And the best sort of Jacksonian democrat.

Changing Horses in the Middle of THIS Stream is Imperative (guest post by Bob McElvaine)

See also Index to Robert McElvaine guest posts for other full McElvaine articles at Old Hickory's Weblog.

There’s a time for every proverb under Heaven: a time not to change horses in midstream and a time when it is absolutely necessary to change horses, because the one we’re on has taken us into the raging waters of a stream we never should have entered and doesn’t have enough horse sense to change course.

Changing Horses in the Middle of This Stream is Imperative

By Robert S. McElvaine

“Don’t change horses in midstream,” the saying goes.  For those, like George W. Bush, who have certain “principles” from which they will not deviate, no matter whether they working, that saying may be applicable to the current election.  To them, it matters not whether the stream is one worth crossing or whether the horse is capable of reaching the other side.  Like the “Big Fool” in Pete Seeger’s song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” they just shout “push on” as they drown.  But for people who consider evidence, it is necessary to examine both the horse and the stream in which we find ourselves before deciding whether changing horses is wise or foolish.

Yesterday, after a confetti cannon fired prematurely at a Bush rally in New Hampshire, a befuddled President Bush had another of the Freudian slips that have become his trademark.  “My determination is wrong – uh . . . strong,” the self-professed Great Leader stuttered.  Just so.  Mr. Bush is all determination, no facts, no common sense, and all wrong.

The second Bush administration is the most incompetent in memory.  Bush and his aides are totally incompetent in foreign policy, in taking us into an unnecessary war with no plans to win the peace, in economic policy, in healthcare, and a host of other areas.  In fact, there is only one area in which they are competent: running political campaigns.  There, the same qualities that have led to disaster in all areas of government have proved effective: refusal to change course, lying, and misrepresentation of their opponents’ positions.

Is that a horse we should continue to ride?

The Only Thing Bush has to Sell is Fear Itself

How can the President have the gall to charge that John Kerry is trying to use scare tactics about Social Security to win?  Fear itself is the only thing that George W. Bush has to sell.  Of all the terrible things he has done, probably the worst is the way he has used the September 11th attacks for his own political purposes.  He wrapped himself in the flag to disguise the fact that he is, without his resort to the last refuge of scoundrels, an emperor completely without the clothing of any positive achievement in his presidency.

President Bush and his administration have people throughout the country thinking they may be hit by a terrorist attack, when in fact in most parts of the country a person is more likely to be struck by lightning—twice on the same spot—than to be the victim of a terrorist attack.

One of the great ironies of this election is that the few places that are really likely to be targets of terrorists attacks—New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, to name the most likely targets—are voting solidly Democratic, while the vast interior of the country, where truly the only thing they have to fear is fear itself (as FDR put it in 1933 in words that are so applicable to 2004, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”), fearful people are supporting Bush because they think they will be safe from terrorist attack if he wins.  They’re right about that.  They’ll be safe from terrorist attack no matter who wins.

The Nature of the Stream into which this Horse has Taken Us: “Isolated Internationalism”

George W. Bush must be defeated.  The future of our nation is at stake.  This year’s election is the most important in my lifetime.  The reason it is so important is that the Bush administration has taken our nation on a radical detour from our traditional policies and that detour endangers us all.

Prior to World War I, the United States generally followed a policy of isolation from the rest of the world.  Woodrow Wilson changed that policy when he took the nation into the European war.  Wilsonian internationalism was rejected after the war and most Americans reverted to isolationism until World War II.  Many Midwestern Republicans remained isolationists after that war, but American presidents from Franklin Roosevelt through George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were internationalists, realizing both the need for the United States to be involved in the world and the desirability of forging broad international coalitions.

George W. Bush is neither a traditional isolationist nor an internationalist.  Rather, he is what might be called an “isolated internationalist.”  He will engage with the world, but only by telling other nations that they must do whatever he demands.

Bush thinks of himself as Good, which is Very Dangerous

Surely Mr. Bush doesn’t think himself to be evil.  He thinks the opposite, which is much more dangerous.  He believes himself to be acting for God, and so incapable of error.  When he has been asked to identify a mistake he has made, he can’t do it, because he thinks he is doing God’s work and so is incapable of error.  Nothing is more dangerous than the combination of such a belief with extraordinary military power.

Actually our horse in Mr. Bush’s War—the American military—isn’t the problem.  What we need to do is change the person holding the reins in midstream—get rid of the man who foolishly whipped our horse into a treacherous stream where he is (and we are) drowning.

But, to return to the customary image of the horse in midstream, when we find ourselves astride a horse that has taken us into a stream we never wanted to enter and should never have entered and the horse is drowning and doesn’t have enough horse sense to change the course that he has followed into deep, swirling waters both in Iraq and on the economy, we better have more sense than the horse and try another mount.

{ Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, is the author of Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History, and is currently completing his first novel and screenplay, What It Feels Like . . . . Website:}


Contact information:

Robert S. McElvaine
Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters
Chair, Department of History
Millsaps College
Jackson, MS  39210


More thoughts on the Bin Laden 10/29/04 tape

One of the best-informed interpreters of Bin Laden's jihadist thought in English is the CIA counterterrorism analyst Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror (2004), the author designated as Anonymous on the book.  (See The Secret History of Anonymous by Jason Vest, Boston Phoenix 07/02-08/04 for more information on Scheuer.)

Previous Bin Laden messages to the American people

Scheuer argues that Bin Laden's appeals to the people of the United States are mainly aimed at justifying terrorist attacks against Americans, and at justifying attacks on unarmed civilians by implicating ordinary citizens in what the jihadists - and some significant portion of the Muslim world - understand to be crimes by the United States.  Bin Laden has argued before in his statements that because the US is a democracy, the people of the US have the power to end these crimes against Muslims.

It's worth noting what a range of actions Bin Laden considers crimes against Muslims.  Scheuer in Imperial Hubris quotes Bin Laden from 2001-2 as follows (he refers to "documents" apparently in the context of responsding to criticism of the wills written by the 9/11 hijackers):

For God's sake, what are the documents that incrimate the Palestinian people that warrant the massacres against them, which have been going on for more than five decades at the hands of the Crusaders and the Jews.  What is the evidence against the people of Iraq to warrant their blockade and being killed in a way that is unprecedented in history.  What documents incriminated the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzogovina and warranted the Western Crusaders, with the United States at their head, to unleash their Serb ally to annihilate and displace the Muslim people in the region under UN cover.  What is the crime of the Kasmiri people and what documents do the worshippers of cows [Hindus] possess to make them sanction their blood for more than fifty years.  What have Muslims in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and the Central Asian republics committed to warrent being invaded by the brutal Soviet military regime and after it communism's killing, annihilating, and displacing tens of millions of them.  What evidence did the United States have the day it destroyed Afghanistan and killed and displaced the Muslims there.  It evenlaunched prior to that the unfair blockade of [the Afghans] under UN cover.  Under the same cover Indonesia was ripped apart; Muslims were forced to leave Timor. ... Under the UN cover, too, it intervened in Somalia, killing and desecrating the land of Islam there.  It is even the first to urge the Crusade rulers in the Philippines to annihilate our Muslim brothers there.  There are many other countless issues.  We say that all the Muslims that the international Crusader-Zionist machine is annihilating have not committed any crime other than to say God is our [God].

It should be obvious from this list of offenses by the "Western Crusaders" that simply leaving the war in Iraq will not end the ongoing sins of the United States in Bin Laden's eyes and those of his followers and sympathizers.  There is no foreseeable combination of policies under either a Bush or Kerry administration in 2005-9 that would do so.

Bin Laden's argument - again, directed only in form at Americans, but really aimed at justifying attacks against American civilians in the eyes of Muslims - is that because the American people elect the government that participates in these various kinds of "Crusader-Zionist" war against Islam, they have no right to complain that the jihadists are killing civilians.  Scheuer quotes Bin Laden from 2002:

Well this argument contradicts your claim that America is the land of freedom and democracy, in which every American irrespective of gender, color, age, or intellectual ability has a vote.  It is a fundamental principle of any democracy that the people choose their leaders, and as such, approve and are party to the actions of their leaders.  So "in the land of freedom" each Americans is"free" to select their [sic] leader because they have the right to do so and as such they give consent to the policies their elected Government adopts.  This includes the support of Israel manifesting itself in mmany ways including billions of dollars in military aid.  By electing these leaders, the American people have given their consent to the incarceration of the Palestinian people, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the slaughter of the childrenof Iraq.  The American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their Government, yet time and again, polls show the American people support the policies of the elected Government. ... This is why the American people are not innocent.  The American people are active members in all these crimes.

The new tape

This gives some context to the tape played on Al-Jazeera on Friday:  Bin Laden Speaks to American People (Reuters) Washington Post 10/30/04.

O American people, I am speaking to tell you about the ideal way to avoid another Manhattan [i.e., 9/11-type attacks], about war and its causes and results.

Security is an important foundation of human life, and free people do not squander their security, contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom. Let him tell us why we did not attack Sweden, for example.

It is known that those who hate freedom do not possess proud souls like those of the 19, may God rest their souls. We fight you because we are free and because we want freedom for our nation. When you squander our security, we squander yours.

These statements are in line with those from 2002 quoted above.  When he says here "you squander our security," he's not just talking about Bush and Rumsfeld, or about Republicans only.  He's addressing "O American people," at least formally.  It's really a continuation of his earlier justification for blaming ordinary Americans for the crimes against Islam and thereby jusfying the targeting of civilian noncombantants in America for terrorist attacks.

A reminder of Lebanon

I am surprised by you. Despite entering the fourth year after September 11, Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth from you, and therefore the reasons are still there for a repeat of what happened.

God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the towers. But after the situation became unbearable and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly werethat of 1982 and the events that followed -- when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the U.S. 6th Fleet.

In those difficult moments, many emotions came over me that are hard to describe, but that produced an overwhelming feeling to reject injustice and a strong determination to punish the unjust.

As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me to punish the unjust the same way [and] to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and stop killing our children and women.

This is another indication that this message is really intended for an Arab and Muslim audience, not for Americans.  Most Americans can barely remember the incidents to which he's referring, if they can remember them at all.  A large number of the American soldiers in Iraq weren't even born in 1982.  It's also most likely a reminder to his real Muslim audience of the suicide attack against an American Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983 that killed 241 American soldiers and prompted the Reagan administration to withdraw US troops that were stationed in Lebanon.  That was part of a joint mission with France, who lost 58 soldiers killed in a separate attack on the same day.  The jihadists consider this a succesful example of a humiliating defeat of the Americans, or the "Crusader-Zionist" forces.

Since both the jihadists and some of our own "neoconservative" zealots think the withdrawal from Lebanon represented a failure of American will that encouraged The Terrorists by showing weakness, it's worth remembering some details of how the decision to withdraw came about.  Lou Cannon described the process in his excellent President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (1991), written long before current disputes over the Iraq War.  Reagan's initial reaction, and that of his Secretary of State George Schultz, was to keep the troops in Lebanon.  Reagan made a classic statement using the sacrifice of the dead to sanctify the cause that October, saying, "We must not strip every ounce of meaning and purpose from their courageous sacrifice."

But Reagan was persuaded to withdraw the troops 3 1/2 months after the successful terrorist attack.  Cannon describes thepressures at work:

Republican politicians on Capitol Hill and within the White House took a different view [than Reagan and Schultz].  With few exceptions, they had lined up loyally behind the president on Lebanon [i.e., supported military intervention], even though Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker [R-Tenn] had always been skeptical about the merits of intervention.  Now, Republican congressmen and White House Chief of Staff James Baker [the Bush family "fixer"] looked at Lebanon and saw Vietnam.  The two Bakers knew that [the invasion of ] Grenada [just after the Beirut attack] and the president's October 27 speech had bought them time, and they wanted to use it to construct a rationale for withdrawal.  The Bakers believed that Lebanon had the potential to become a major Republican political liability in 1984.  Though neither of them had rapper with [Defense Secretary Casper] Weinberger, they became de facto allies of the Pentagon in the attempt to manuever Reagan into withdrawing the Marines.  In hindsight, this withdrawal seems inevitable.  But in the aftermath of the bombing in Beirut, the Bakers were uncertain if Reagan could be persuaded to redeploy [i.e., withdraw] the Marines.  As distanced as he was from day-to-day decision-making, Reagan could be stubbornly resistent to changing his position once he had taken a stand.  He believed what he had told the nation on television.  He did not want to abandon what he called the "successful" U.S. mission in Lebanon.

Four events forced Reagan to face political reality.  The first was the failure of a retaiatory mission that was pushed by the State Department and opposed by the Pentagon.  The second was the report of the Department of Defense Commission on Beirut, chaired by retired Admiral Robert Long.  The third was the reaction of Congress, agitated by changing public opinion during its Christmas recess.  And the fourth was the collapse of the Lebanese Army, on which the administration had lavished much equipment, training and false hopes.

I don't actually recall hearing much criticism of the decision to withdraw from Lebanon in 1984 until after the 9/11 attacks.  The intervention was questionable in the first place.  And the fact that a number of US Marines had died there may have given a special moral sanction to the effort.  But it didn't increase the practical chances of its success.  Reagan went on to a landslide reelection that year, and his alleged toughness in foreign policy is invoked by Republicans today at every opportunity.

The fact that some enemies of the US may have interpreted it at the time - or now - as a defeat for the US does not mean the decision to withdraw was incorrect.  On the other hand, the decision to withdraw soon afterward and the inevitable bureacratic and political damage-control efforts may have led policy-makers and military planners to overlook some important lessons to be learned from what was undoubtedly the failure of that particular mission.

Bush=Unjust Muslim rulers=the American people

Also in Bin Laden's statement Friday:

We had no difficulty in dealing with Bush and his administration because they resemble the regimes in our countries, half of which are ruled by the military and the other half by the sons of kings. . . . They have a lot of pride, arrogance, greed and thievery.

He [Bush] adopted despotism and the crushing of freedoms from Arab rulers and called it the Patriot Act under the guise of combating terrorism. . . .

The actual audience here seems again to be the Arab Muslim world.  In the terms of the Islamists, Bin Laden is saying that the "near enemy" (home country regimes) are as evil as the widely hated "far enemy," the United States, and the Bush administration in particular.

We had agreed with the [the Sept. 11] overall commander Mohamed Atta, may God rest his soul, to carry out all operations in 20 minutes -- before Bush and his administration could take notice.

It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the American forces would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone at a time when they most needed him because he thought listening to a child discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than the planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers. This gave us three times the time needed to carry out the operations, thanks be to God. . . .

This is obviously mocking Bush.  But I get the feeling I'm missing something here in this reading.  Bin Laden seems to be claiming direct, detailed involvement in the minutuae of planning the 9/11 attacks, which is certainly a questionable claim.  And what does it meanthat Bush left the people in the tower "to face those horrors alone"?  Is he criticizing Bush for not flying personally to the Twin Towers immediately?  I have the feeling I'm missing something here.

Your security is not in the hands of [Democratic presidential candidate John F.] Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands, and each state that does not harm our security will remain safe.

This is essentially saying that both Kerry and Bush will continue to pursue anti-Muslim policies.  And that therefore Al Qaeda will consider American civilians targets for attack.  Seen in this context, it has little if anything to do with the election at all.

Same song, different verse

After looking at this message more closely, it seems to me that the content is really a restatement for Muslims of why Bin Laden and his jihadists considered it religiously justified to deliberated attack American civilian noncombatants.  The timing just before the election is a way to emphasize his point that the fact of elections makes the American people, as a whole and individually, guilty of crimes against Islam.

Scheuer summarzed Bin Laden's earlier messages formally addressed to the American people as follows, and nothing in the current message seems to change the basic theme:

To paraphrase the foregoing [from Bin Laden]:  I will be mostly quiet.  I will attack those who help you.  I will wage war on you in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  I will incite all Muslims against you.  I will strike you again in the United States, if possible with a weapon of mass destruction.  I will try to destroy your economy.  Though you are evil, I care nothing for you, your beliefs, or your ways, but I will force you to end several of your policies toward Muslims.  I will not grow weary, weak, or irresolute.  I will not compromise.  You will, God willing, be defeated.

Writing about evenearlier versions of Bin Laden's messages to America, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon write in The Age of Sacred Terror (2002):

He continued to rail against the prsence of U.S. troops on the Arabian peninsula, and, although he called them "the shadow of the American presence," he spoke less about Saudi Arabia's rulers.  In March 1997 he gave CNN's Peter Arnett the first television interview with a Western broadcaster, in which he declared:  "The concentration at this point of jihad is against the American occupiers."  In an interview two months later with John Miller of ABC News, he complained that "the truth is that the whole Muslim world is the victim of international terrorism, engineeered by America at the United Nations.  We are a nation whose sacred symbols have been looted and whose wealth and resources have been plundered."  Without taking responsibility for the OPM-SANG and Khobar Towers bombings in Saudi Arabia, he described them as a natural reaction to American depredations.  But he pointedly remarked that because of the horrors being inflicted on the umma [Muslim community] everywhere, removal of the American troops [from Saudi Arabia] would not stop his campaign:  "The driving-away jihad against the US does not stop with its withdrawal from the Arabian peninsula, but rather it must desist from aggressive intervention against Muslims in the whole world."  For halting the fight, at least againt "the Western regimes and the government of the United States of America," bin Laden offered a piece of advice:  "If their people do not wish to be harmed inside their very own countries, they should seek to elect governments that are truly representative of them and that can protect their interests."

The tape this week is new, but the basic message is not. The latest message echoes the "advice" to American and other Western voters from that ABC interview in 1997.

Bin Laden is still planning and inciting jihad against the United States, and will continue to do so after the 2004 election, regardless of the outcome.  Sadly, this is unlikely stop our Potemkin press corps from interpreting the tape as yet another incident in the American presidential campaign, and obsessing about the nuances of this or that political operative's response to it.

Friday, October 29, 2004

The 10/29/04 Osama bin Laden tape

Our view of the war on terror has become so completely politicized - and so highly partisan - that when Al-Jazeera broadcast a new tape from Osama bin Laden on Friday, the mainstream media and the Big Pundits fixated immediately on the possible effect on the US presidential election.

My own view is that it's likely to have little if any effect on Tuesday's election.  Although in a very close race, a little shift can mean a lot.  See Florida 2000.

Thinking about it, I realize that my view of that is heavily influenced by my understanding of the effect of the 11-M (March 11) attack in Madrid on the Spanish national elections.  The Republicans here quickly made their assumption that the 11-M attack threw the election to the anti-Iraq War Socialists, and that influencing the election was the main purpose of the timing of the attack.

While it's impossible to say with precision, I'm not sure either assumption is correct.  The likelihood that the attack itself made people vote for the opposition Socialists is highly doubtful.  The polls prior to the attack were showing a trend toward the Socialists, and the final outcome was consistent with that trend.  (The attack was on a Thursday, and the election was the following Sunday.)

There is good evidence that a number of voters were upset by the ruling conservative party's quick attempt to shift blame for the attack onto the Spanish separatist ETA terrorist group.  This was perceived by many as a trick to deflect any possible criticism of the government for having made Spain more vulnerable to terrorists by participating in the Iraq War, and they were outraged that the government wasn't being straight with them about what they knew about the attack.  But there was no real evidence from the polls that any such backlash effect swayed the vote to any significant degree, either.

The Iraq War was tremendously unpopular with the Spanish public, and that discontent was decisive in the election.  The 11-M attack did not change that.

So I'm inclined to think that the new Bin Laden tape is unlikely to sway many voters in America between now and Tuesday.  Of course, if one of the campaigns makes some big goof with it, or if the media coverage goes wild, that could make me wrong.  But I haven't heard anything about the tape that makes me think it adds anything to our knowledge of Bin Laden's intentions or the candidate's proposed anti-terrorism approaches that should change anyone's mind.

Another thing about Spain's experience that has been striking to me is that Spanish authorities continue to uncover evidence about new jihadist strikes against Spanish targets.  That's not surprising.  American conservatives assume that the jihadists targeted Spain because of the Iraq War.  But that was only one factor.  In the jihadist worldview, promoted by Bin Laden and shared by his admirers, Muslims have a mission from God to regain control of all the areas once ruled by Muslims.  And what is now Spain was mostly Muslim-ruled.  Regardless of the Iraq War, the jihadist see Spain as a long-term enemy.

And that makes me wonder whether Bin Laden's latest tape had anything to do with an intention to influence the election one way or the other.  It wouldn't surprise me that the timing of the release had something to do with the election, because it would be likely to get more attention, worldwide and in the US so close to the election.

But I just don't know enough about how Bin Laden and other jihadists view democratic elections in countries that are not predominantly Muslim to speculate very much about how he may see the US elections.  He may well think elections in a country not ruled by sharia (Islamic law) are meaningless, or worse.

And while he is a shrewd politician in his particular niche, he also sees the world in religious terms.  And it's a view in which dreams and visions and signs and portents play a large role.  He may not be as clinically disengaged from reality as your average cult leader.  But he's looking at the world in terms of what he understands to be God's plan, and expects that in the grand course of history, a united Muslim Caliphate will be established one day that will unite all current and former Muslims land under godly rule.

The fact that Osama hears very different messages from God than George W. Bush doesn't mean he doesn't take them very seriously.  So while our TV talking heads and our Potemkin press corps merrily process Osama's message through the limited set of American political clichees to which they restrict themselves, Bin Laden surely to see the significance of the US presidential election in radically different terms than most Americans.

Bin Laden sees the struggle for Afghanistan as particularly important, given its supposed role in the fall of the Soviet Union and in the creation of the present-day jihadist movement.  Bin Laden could well be thinking that Kerry could pull out of Iraq and concentrate more heavily on Afghanistan.  Would that be preferable from Bin Laden's point of view?  I don't know.

Maybe he would see that as an opportunity to escalate the fight against the "Jewish and Christian crusaders" on more favorable turf in Afghanistan and bring about their inevitable fall faster.  He would surely claim an American pullout from Iraq as a victory.  Presumably, this would lead him to prefer Kerry.

Conversely, he may well see that as a more threatening scenario, depriving the jihadists of the dramatic evidence they receive every day in Iraq that the "crusaders" are out to destroy Islam.  And a shift by the US to a greater focus on fighting the jihadists in Afghanistan could well appear to him as a potentially catastrophic development.  This view would seem to make him more inclined toward Bush.

It may well be that he's not thinking in terms of preferring one candidate to the other at all.  And that he doesn't care which party heads the US government, as long as the jihadists defeat it in the Muslim world.  Or he may think, like many Christian fundamentalists in America profess to believe, that the choice of the president is divinely ordained, and therefore that it's pointless for him to prefer one party to the other.

If our government had focused for the last three years on combatting Bin Laden and other anti-American jihadists, maybe our lazy media would at least have a broader set of superficial scripts from which to work while attempting to process something like the latest Bin Laden tape.  Instead, we've had to learn about the sacred sites of Najaf and the slum dwellers of Baghdad and the clan structures in Fallujah.

So when a new Bin Laden tape comes in, about all the talking heads can give us is mindless chatter about how it may help this or that candidate.  Big Pundit conventional wisdom at the moment, so far as I can tell from my limited perspective, seems to assume that a focus on terrorism helps Bush, although it's part of the mystical knowledge granted only to Big Pundits to see how that is so obviously the case.

Summation: The Case Against Bush (Guest post by Bob McElvaine)

See also Index to Robert McElvaine guest posts for other full McElvaine articles at Old Hickory's Weblog.

George W. Bush sent Americans to die and be maimed in an unnecessary war that has lost us support around the world and multiplied the number of terrorists who seek to do us harm.  It is hard to imagine anything worse that a president could do and that, in itself, is clearly much more than sufficient reason that he must be voted out of office.

But there are so many other reasons why he must be defeated.  A few of those reasons are enumerated below.
Summation: The Case Against Bush

By Robert S. McElvaine

In his book Where the Right Went Wrong, arch-conservative Patrick Buchanan provides all the reason anyone should need to vote Bush out of office:  Bush, Buchanan points out, "invaded a country that did not threaten us, had not attacked us and did not want war with us, to disarm it of weapons we have since discovered it did not have."

"In war," General Douglas MacArthur famously proclaimed, "there is no substitute for victory."
There is also no excuse for a leader who misleads his nation into an unnecessary war.

There is nothing a president can do that is worse than sending our troops to die in a needless war.  On that basis alone, George W. Bush must be voted out of office.
But that is just the worst thing he has done.

The Bush Record in Brief

During his three-plus years as president, George W. Bush has:

* Taken, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the greatest worldwide outpouring of goodwill the United States has enjoyed at least since World War II and squandered it by insisting on pursuing a foolish go-it-almost-alone invasion of Iraq, thereby transforming almost universal support for the United States into worldwide condemnation.

* Misled (to use the most charitable word and interpretation) the American public about weapons of mass destruction and supposed ties to al Qaeda in Iraq and so into a war that has plainly (and entirely predictably) made us less secure, caused a boom in the recruitment of terrorists, is killing American  military personnel needlessly, and is threatening to suck up all our available military forces and be a bottomless pit for the money of American taxpayers
 for years to come.

* Failed to follow through in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda are regrouping, once more increasing the threat to our people.

* Wrapped himself in the flag to disguise the fact that he is, without his resort to the last refuge of scoundrels, an emperor completely without the clothing of any positive achievement in his presidency.

* Insulted and ridiculed other nations and international organizations and then found it necessary to go, hat in hand, to those nations and organizations begging for their assistance.

* Completely miscalculated or failed to plan for the personnel and monetary needs in Iraq after the war.

* Failed to order the securing of ammunition storage dumps in Iraq at the time of the American invasion, thus creating the very thing he claimed to be fighting against:  massive amounts of explosives falling into the hands of potential terrorists.

* Presided over the loss of more than 1.5 million private sector American jobs, the worst record since Herbert Hoover.

* Inherited an annual federal budget surplus of $230 billion and transformed it into a $400+ billion deficit in less than three years.  This negative turnaround of two-thirds of a trillion dollars is totally without precedent in our history.  The ballooning deficit is rapidly approaching twice the dollar size of the previous record deficit, $290 billion, set in 1992, the last year of the administration of President Bush’s father and, at almost 5percent of GDP, is closing in on the percentage record set by Ronald Reagan in 1986.

* Cut taxes four times, sharply reducing the burden on the rich, reclassified money obtained through stock ownership as more deserving than money earned through work.  The idea that dividend income should not be taxed – what might accurately be termed the unearned income tax credit – can be stated succinctly: "If you had to work for your money, we’ll tax it; if you didn’t have to work for it, you can keep it all."

* Curtailed the very American freedoms that our military people are supposed to be fighting to defend.

* Called upon American armed service people, including Reserve forces, to sacrifice for ever-lengthening tours of duty in a hostile and dangerous environment while he rewards the rich at home with lower taxes and legislative giveaways and gives lucrative no-bid contracts to American corporations linked with the administration.

* Given an opportunity to begin to change the consumption-oriented values of the nation after September 11, 2001, when people were prepared to make a sacrifice for the common good, called instead of Americans to "sacrifice" by going out and buying things.

* Proclaimed himself to be a conservative while maintaining that big government should be able to run roughshod over the Bill of Rights, and that the government must have all sorts of secrets from the people, but the people can be allowed no privacy from the government.

The list could go on and on.  Indeed, it is difficult to think of anything positive that this failed presidency has accomplished.

Currently many people around the world make a distinction between Bush, a man they see as an arrogant fool, and the United States.  Should the American people reelect this man, the distinction between him and the American people – us – will blur.  Such an outcome would be disastrous for our nation.

For the future of America, this man must be defeated.

{ Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, is the author of Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History, and is currently completing his first novel and screenplay, What It Feels Like . . . . }


Contact information:

Robert S. McElvaine
Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters
Chair, Department of History
Millsaps College
Jackson, MS 39210