Saturday, December 31, 2005

January 1, 1863: Freedom to the captives proclaimed

Edward Sebesta at his newly-active anti-neo-Confederate Web site reminds us that ... is the anniversary of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863: Emancipation Proclamation anniversary tonight 12/31/05.

John Hope Franklin described the signing of the Proclamation in The Emancipation Proclamation: An Act of Justice Prologue Summer 1993.  Franklin wrote:

It is worth observing that there was no mention, in the final draft, of Lincoln's pet schemes of compensation and colonization, which were in the Preliminary Proclamation of September 22, 1862. Perhaps Lincoln was about to give up on such impracticable propositions. In the Preliminary Proclamation, the President had said that he would declare slaves in designated territories "thenceforward, and forever free." In the final draft of January 1, 1863, he was content to say that they "are, and henceforward shall be free." Nothing had been said in the preliminary draft about the use of blacks as soldiers. In the summer of 1862 the Confiscation Act had authorized the President to use blacks in any way he saw fit, and there had been some limited use of them in noncombat activities. In stating in the Proclamation that former slaves were to be received into the armed services, the President believed that he was using congressional authority to strike a mighty blow against the Confederacy.

Franklin notes that for the first century after the Proclamation, it was regularly commemorated on New Year's Day each year:

Despite the fact that the Proclamation did not emancipate the slaves and surely did not do what the Thirteenth Amendment did in winding things up, it is the Proclamation and not the Thirteenth Amendment that has been remembered and celebrated over the past 130 years.

And he describes one celebration on the day of the Proclamation in 1863:

A veritable galaxy of leading literary figures gathered in the Music Hall in Boston to take notice of the climax of the fight that New England abolitionists had led for more than a generation. Among those present were John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Francis Parkman, and Josiah Quincy. Toward the close of the meeting, Ralph Waldo Emerson read his "Boston Hymn" to the audience. In the evening, a large crowd gathered at Tremont Temple to await the news that the President had signed the Proclamation. Among the speakers were Judge Thomas Russell, Anna Dickinson, Leonard Grimes, William Wells Brown, and Frederick Douglass. Finally, it was announced that "It is coming over the wire," and pandemonium broke out! At midnight, the group had to vacate Tremont Temple, and from there they went to the Twelfth Baptist Church at the invitation of its pastor, Leonard Grimes. Soon the church was packed, and it was almost dawn when the assemblage dispersed. Frederick Douglass pronounced it a "worthy celebration of the first step on the part of the nation in its departure from the thraldom of the ages."

The trenchant observation by Douglass that the Emancipation Proclamation was but the first step could not have been more accurate. Although the Presidential decree would not free slaves in areas where the United States could not enforce the Proclamation, it sent a mighty signal both to the slaves and to the Confederacy that enslavement would no longer be tolerated. An important part of that signal was the invitation to the slaves to take up arms and participate in the fight for their own freedom. That more than 185,000 slaves as well as free blacks accepted the invitation indicates that those who had been the victims of thraldom were now among the most enthusiastic freedom fighters.

In his third and most complete autobiography (Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time; 1881; Chapter 22), former slave and Abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass reflected on Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant as anti-slavery figures :

My interviews with President Lincoln and his able Secretary, before narrated, greatly increased my confidence in the anti-slavery integrity of the government, although I confess I was greatly disappointed at my failure to receive the commission promised me by Secretary Stanton. I, however, faithfully believed, and loudly proclaimed my belief, that the rebellion would be suppressed, the Union preserved, the slaves emancipated, and the colored soldiers would in the end have justice done them. This confidence was immeasurably strengthened when I saw Gen. George B. McClellan relieved from the command of the army of the Potomac and Gen U. S. Grant placed at its head, and in command of all the armies of the United States. My confidence in Gen. Grant was not entirely due to the brilliant military successes achieved by him, but there was a moral as well as military basis for my faith in him. He had shown his single mindedness and superiority to popular prejudice by his prompt co-operation with President Lincoln in his policy of employing colored troops, and his order commanding his soldiers to treat such troops with due respect. In this way he proved himself to be not only a wise General, but a great man - one who could adjust himself to new conditions, and adopt the lessons taught by the events of the hour. This quality in General Grant was and is made all the more conspicuous and striking in contrast with his West Point education and his former political associations; for neither West Point nor the Democratic party have been good schools in which to learn justice and fair play to the negro.

It was when General Grant was fighting his way through the Wilderness to Richmond, on the "line" he meant to pursue "if it took all summer," and every reverse to his arms was made the occasion for a fresh demand for peace without emancipation, that President Lincoln did me the honor to invite me to the Executive Mansion for a conference on the situation. I need not say I went most gladly. The main subject on which he wished to confer with me was as to the means most desirable to be employed outside the army to induce the slaves in the rebel States to come within the Federal lines. The increasing opposition to the war, in the north, and the mad cry against it, because it was being made an abolition war, alarmed Mr. Lincoln, and made him apprehensive that a peace might be forced upon him which would leave still in slavery all who had not come within our lines. What he wanted was to make his proclamation as effective as possible in the event of such a peace. He said in a regretful tone, "The slaves are not coming so rapidly and so numerously to us as I had hoped." I replied that the slaveholders knew how to keep such things from their slaves, and probably very few knew of his proclamation. "Well," he said, "I want you to set about devising some means of making them acquainted with it, and for bringing them into our lines." He spoke with great earnestness and much solicitude, and seemed troubled by the attitude of Mr. Greeley, and the growing impatience there was being manifested through the north at the war. He said he was being accused of protracting the war beyond its legitimate object, and of failing to make peace, when he might have done so to advantage. He was afraid of what might come of all these complaints, but was persuaded that no solid and lasting peace could come short of absolute submission on the part of the rebels, and he was not for giving them rest by futile conferences at Niagara Falls, or elsewhere, with unauthorized persons. He saw the danger of premature peace, and, like a thoughtful and sagacious man as he was, he wished to provide means of rendering such consummation as harmless as possible. I was the more impressed by this benevolent consideration because he before said, in answer to the peace clamor, that his object was to save the Union, and to do so with or without slavery. What he said on this day showed a deeper moral conviction against slavery than I had even seen before in anything spoken or written by him. I listened with the deepest interest and profoundest satisfaction, and, at his suggestion, agreed to undertake the organizing a band of scouts, composed of colored men, whose business should be somewhat after the original plan of John Brown, to go into the rebel States, beyond the lines of our armies, and carry the news of emancipation, and urge the slaves to come within our boundaries.

This plan, however, was very soon rendered unnecessary by the success of the war in the Wilderness and elsewhere, and by its termination in the complete abolition of slavery. (my emphasis)

Friday, December 30, 2005

Iran War: Widening the war to Iran?

I really hope these reports are wrong. Whatever justification there might be for it - and I'm not convinced at all on that point - the Bush administration is sure to screw this one up, too.

According to this UPI report (German media: U.S. prepares Iran strike by Martin Walker 12/30/05), the administration is asking Turkey to assist in the operation. It seems to be  based in part on week-old German news reports.

The administration is reportedly offering Turkey a freer hand to act against Kurdish guerrillas from Turkey who are currently holing up in Iraqi Kurkistan, Walker writes:

[German news agency] DDP cited German security sources who added that the Turks had been assured of a warning in advance if and when the military strikes took place, and had also been given "a green light" to mount their own attacks on the bases in Iran of the PKK, (Kurdish Workers party), which Turkey sees as a separatist group responsible for terrorist attacks inside Turkey.

This report at the English-language site of Der Spiegel discusses the reports referred to in the UPI article: Is Washington Planning a Military Strike? Der Spiegel Online 12/30/05. The Spiegel article is notably more cautious about the sourcing than Walker's UPI piece:

The most talked about story [on the alleged attack plans] is a Dec. 23 piece by the German news agency DDP from journalist and intelligence expert Udo Ulfkotte. The story has generated controversy not only because of its material, but also because of the reporter's past. Critics allege that Ulfkotte in his previous reporting got too close to sources at Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND. But Ulfkotte has himself noted that he has been under investigation by the government in the past (indeed, his home and offices have been searched multiple times) for allegations that he published state secrets - a charge that he claims would underscore rather than undermine the veracity of his work.

According to Ulfkotte's report, "western security sources" claim that during CIA Director Porter Goss' Dec. 12 visit to Ankara, he asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide support for a possibile 2006 air strike against Iranian nuclear and military facilities. More specifically, Goss is said to have asked Turkey to provide unfettered exchange of intelligence that could help with a mission.

The Spiegel article looks more closely at other sources of such speculation, as well:

But the string of visits by high-profile US politicians to Turkey and surrounding reports are drawing new attention to the issue. In recent weeks, the number of American and NATO security officials heading to Ankara has increased dramatically. Within a matter of only days, the FBI chief, then the CIA chief and, most recently, NATO General Secretary Jaap De Hoop Scheffer visited the Turkish capital. During her visit to Europe earlier this month, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also traveled to Turkey after a stopover in Berlin.

Leading the chorus of speculation are Turkish newspapers, which have also sought to connect these visits to plans for an attack on Iran. But so far none of the speculation has been based on hard facts. Writing about the meeting between Porter Goss and Tayyip Erdogan, the left-nationalist newspaper Cumhuriyet wrote: "Now It's Iran's Turn." But the paper didn't offer any evidence to corroborate the claims.

Instead, the paper noted that the meeting between the CIA chief and Erdogan lasted longer than an hour - an unusual amount of time, especially considering Goss had previously met with the head of Turkey's intelligence service, the MIT. The Turkish media concluded that the meetings must have dealt with a very serious matter - but they failed to uncover exactly what it was. Most media speculated that Erdogan and Goss might have discussed a common initiative against the PKK in northern Iraq. It's possible that Goss demanded secret Turkish intelligence on Iran in exchange. Regardless what the prospects are for a strike, there's little chance a US air strike against Iran would be launched from its military base in the Turkish city of Incirlik, but it is conceivable that the United States would inform Turkey prior to any strike.

Spiegel Online carried a German article on this on 12/23/05: Spekulationen über US-Schlag gegen Iran.

Other German articles carrying the story include:

USA erwägen Luftangriffe auf den Iran von Arian Faal Wiener Zeitung 27.12.05

USA werben um Unterstützung gegen Iran: CIA-Chef legt in Ankara angeblich Beweise für Zusammenarbeit Teherans mit El Kaida vor - Luftangriffe als Option von Udo Ulfkotte 24.12.05. (This is a version of the Ulfkotte piece for DDP.)

Luftschläge gegen Atomzentren möglich Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger/DDP 23.12.05

Ulfkotte's piece talks about American accusations of Iranian collaboration with Al Qaeda.  Of course.  That's a Bush administration trademark. Maybe we can claim that Iran is hiding those missing Iraqi WMDs, too.

And if these attacks do take place, I'm sure it'll be a heckuva job.

The US-Shi'a alliance

The Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) has made available on their Web site the transcript of a 10/14/05 conference on "A Shia Crescent: What Fallout for the U.S.?"  The panel was moderated by Chas Freedom, president of MEPC and a former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Other participants included Juan Cole of the University of Michigan; Ken Katzman of the Congressional Research Service; Karim Sadjadpour of the International Crisis Group; and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

The theme of the discussion focuses on the fact that one major result of the Iraq War has been to empower the Shi'a majority in Iraq.  The panelists discussed various aspects of Shi'a politics and the possible implications for US interests in the future.

Freeman in his introduction talks about concerns of the (Sunni) Saudi regime in this regard:

The situation in Iraq, which we're discussing today, has become serious enough so that something almost unprecedented happened a couple of weeks ago, namely the Saudi foreign minister issued a public statement. Saudi press releases are oxymorons, as rare as unicorns in the woods, to be found only by virgins in the light of the full moon. (Laughter.) But Saud al-Faisal expressed his concern on two scores, one of which is of much wider concern than simply to Saudi Arabia, and that is that Iraq and the instability in Iraq and the multiple civil wars in Iraq may in fact be coming to resemble the 30-years' war in Central Europe, a struggle within Islam with the possibility of igniting a wider struggle throughout the fifth of the human race that adheres to the Muslim faith. Or, to put it a different way, that this may turn out to be, if it is not managed correctly, a 21st century version of the Spanish Civil War in which Spaniards, for their own reasons, began to kill each other, then drew in the support of others, and began a proxy war and rehearsal for a wider conflict in that case to define civilization within Christendom - in this case, possibly within the realm of Islam.

But the Saudis clearly also, despitetheir own fine relationship with Tehran, are concerned about a second issue, which is the possibility of Iranian domination of a weak and divided Shi'a-dominated Iraq. In a recent visit to the region, in fact, I found a dominant concern in the Gulf countries to be the possibility that the United States, by intervening as we did in Iraq, may inadvertently be creating a Shi'a crescent in the northern tier of the Arab world, which could offer Iran unique opportunities that it has not had for many years, to exercise a dominant role, and to exercise that role in ways that may be destabilizing to others.
(my emphasis)

Freeman later makes a comment about a continuing thread running through discussions like this one that MEPC has sponsored:

But then as many of you who have attended these sessions know, the theme song of these events as [the] Iraq [War] has unfolded has been that we invaded not Iraq but the Iraq of our dreams, a country that didn't exist, that we didn't understand. And it is therefore not surprising that we knocked the kaleidoscope into a new pattern that we find surprising. The ignorant are always surprised.  (my emphasis)

Cole talked about the recent history of the adherents of Ayatollah Sistani and those of the Sadr movement in Iraq. At one point, Saddam's regime seems to have promoted Momammad al-Sadr "as a local Arab cleric as an alternative to the Iranian tradition in Shi'aism".  Sistani was seen as more of an advocate of the "Iranian tradition".  Cole said:

But gradually it turned out that Saddam had things backwards, that Sistani, the Iranian, was anti-Khomenist and relatively quietist, and Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, who was coded as Arab - although the Sadrs have branches on both sides, Iran and Iraq, became increasingly militant. And he put forward what he called the "third way" between Khomenism and the Najaf tradition, but it looked to me an awful lot like Khomeinism. So although it's the third way, I think it tilts towards Khomeini in the sense that his vision of the good society was very, very strict puritan Islamic law imposed on everyone. So he gave a fatwa that Christian women have to veil. And he would upbraid his followers for wearing Western clothes. Some of his followers showed up at a mosque event in the '90s; their children were wearing OshKosh B'Gosh clothing. And he said, why are you giving money to the imperialists? Don't you know they're trying to destroy us? And so Sadeq al-Sadr set up this network of Hezbollah-style clinics and mosques and social services, and was extremely critical of the regime. And of course in 1999 he was killed, he and his two older sons, for defying Saddam. (my emphasis)

Katzman talked about the evolution of American views on radical Islam. It first came on to most Americans' radar in the context of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and there it was radical Shi'a Islamism. Because Iran and Shi'a radicalism more generally were seen as a particular danger to US interests, one of the US responses was to back Saddam's Iraq in its long and bloody war with Khomeini's Iran.

In his 1982 memoirs Keeping Faith, Jimmy Carter described his policy at the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 as one of urging restraint and trying to achieve a cease-fire, in significant part because of fears that war fever might make it more like that Iran would harm the American embassy hostages they held then. He also wrote, "We had no previous knowledge of nor influence over this move [Iraqi threats to invade Iran], but Iran was blaming us for it nevertheless."

Gary Sick, who was Carter's principal White House aide on the Iranian hostage crisis, agreed that the Carter administration had not encouraged the Iraqi invasion of Iran. He argues that an alleged meeting between National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and Saddam Hussein to plot the attack was a myth. But he also writes in October Surprise (1991):

Was this just a case of Iranian paranoia? Yes and no. Although Iranian suspicions of a secret Brzezinski-Saddam meeting were patently untrue, Brzezinski was the leading advocate within the U.S. government for exerting political, diplomatic, and military pressure on Iran to release the hostages. It is also true that during the summer of 1980 Iraq was seriously considering restoring diplomatic relations with the United States. According to Saddam Hussein, "The decision to establish relations with the U.S. was taken in 1980 during the two months prior to the war between us and Iran," but Iraq postponed the decision "when the war started ... to avoid misinterpretation." Finally, the leaders in Iran were no doubt aware that the United States was maintaining contact with a number of Iranian exiles in Europe, some of whom were independently providing advice and encouragement to Saddam Hussein to invade Iran. The United States was not involved in their discussions with Iraq, but the Iranians would never believe that.

But as the war began to go badly for Iraq and Iran started winning, by early 1983 the Reagan administration became alarmed by the prospects, which might include disruption of oil exports from the region.  So they began a heavier diplomatic tilt against Iran and for Iraq.  That included initiating in late 1983 Operation Staunch to reduce arms imports from other countries to Iran.

Katzman explained:

The Reagan and Bush administrations viewed the threat from Iran and Iranian-inspired Shi'a extremism as so acute that the administrations were willing to put aside their distaste for Saddam Hussein's regime and back him in the Iran-Iraq War. The hope was that Saddam would win the war and force a retrenchment of Tehran and Shi'a Islamic fundamentalism.

Militarily speaking, Saddam did win, and Tehran was humbled militarily, although the post-Iran-Iraq War political structure of the Gulf had tilted too far in Saddam's favor and he apparently perceived the U.S. would tolerate Iraqi hegemony. Even after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, Sunni Islamic radical groups such as the Islamic group al-Jihad, which were responsible for Sadat's assassination, barely registered on the U.S. policy radar screen at all. In fact, so inattentive was the U.S. to the potential threat from radical Sunni Islamic groups that the U.S. gave material support to the Afghan Mujahideen, the most active of which was Sunni radical Islamist parties, including one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who remains at large somewhere today. I wish I knew where he was but I don't.
(my emphasis)

But even before the war was over, there were counter-currents among some conservative foreign-policy activists and officials that favored cultivating Iran.  The Iran-Contra scandal resulted from the activities of that group. Bob Dreyfuss writes in Devil's Game (2005):

The context for the secret [William] Casey-[Oliver] North approach to Iran [that resulted in the Iran-Contra scandal] was the National Security Council's 1984 reevaluation of U.S. policy toward Iran. That reevaluation was pushed by a small clique of U.S. officials opposed to the American tilt in favor of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Robert McFarlane, the national security adviser, ordered the NSC review, and several officials - including Howard Teicher and Donald Fortier at the NSC, Graham Fuller at the CIA, and others - began a two-year-long campaign to shift U.S. policy in favor of Iran. Their effort dovetailed nicely with parallel Israeli efforts to isolate Iraq and connect with Iran. At the time, Israel was supplying arms to Iran, backing the rise of the Islamic right in the occupied territories, fueling the Muslim Brotherhood's civil war in Syria, and fiercely supporting the Islamists in Afghanistan.

Now, in 2005, the US finds itself backing pro-Iranian Shi'a parties in Iraq in their efforts to suppress a Sunni rebellion, in what some are already describing as a low-level civil war.  Katzman said:

The difficulty of centering U.S. policy in Iraq on the Shi'a community, particularly Shi'a Islamist parties, has already been proven. With their Kurdish allies, the Shi'a Islamist parties engineered a winner-take-all draft constitution that has embittered the Sunnis ever further, whether or not it is adopted. The Shi'a Islamist militia parties have virtually displaced the national police force in areas where they are strong, particularly Basra. U.S. policymakers apparently felt that if Saddam were overthrown there would be this flowering of intellectually driven liberal pro-Western parties that would create vibrant democracy. These hopes were dashed almost immediately, and all the troubles in Iraq, in my view, have flowed from that faulty expectation. What has resulted instead is the creeping takeover of Iraq by pro-Iranian Shi'a Islamist parties for now and with the possible exception of Sadr - Muqtada al-Sadr, who we heard about, these parties are cooperating with the U.S. because doing so is in their interest. However, their patience with U.S. mentoring is running thin, and the Shi'a Islamist parties are likely to try to structure post-Saddam Iraq to their ideology, not to the specifications of U.S. policymakers.

There is not more instructive example of how near-total U.S. reliance on the Shi'a Islamist parties can backfire in the case of Muqtada al-Sadr. One day he supports the legitimate political process; the next day his Mahdi army attacks and kills British soldiers in Basra. He agrees to a truce one day then reaches out to Sunni insurgents the next day. This said, in my view he is a clever politician and not to be underestimated. He has kept virtually every conceivable option open for himself: inclusion in the political process, violent rebellion against the political process, or even peaceful rebellion against the political process.

However, he is a vivid reminder of how U.S. relations with the Shi'a Islamists groups can turn on a dime. He has launched two major rebellions against U.S. forces and I believe he would not hesitate to rebel again if he thought that doing so were in his interest. His next rebellion, if there is one, might draw in more disillusioned Shi'as, possibly joined by Sunnis, and it might become harder and harder for the U.S. or other Shi'a politicians such as Grand Ayatollah Sistani to contain him.

Takeyh looks at what a Shi'a-dominated Iraq may do in foreign policy in the coming years:

So what does the Gulf security look like from here on? In the 1970s, there was a discussion of twin pillars where the United States would rely on its allies, the conservative monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the 1980s, there was a discussion where the United States would favor Iraq against Iran, and in 1990s, policy of dual containment with strong American presence in the region would contained both Iran and Iraq. I would suggest that we're beginning to see emergence of a dual pillar policy again, but it's the Shi'ite pillar, where you begin to see Iran and Iraq in a greater degree of cooperation as their strategic interests prove to coincide with one another. (my emphasis)

Cole talks about the problem created by the fact that democratic elections (or something like them) in Iraq resulted in a Shi'a-Islamist-dominated government:

Personally, I think there is a contradiction at the heart of U.S. - of Bush administration policy with regard to Iraq, which is that it wanted to recreate Iraq as a pro-American government with private enterprise and democracy and a glowing view of Washington, but it also I think genuinely did want to unleash democratic forces in the society as a means to that goal. And the problem for the Bush administration is that the political forces on the ground in Iraq - not necessarily terribly democratic, and to the extent that they are, they are not necessarily in line with Washington goals. (my emphasis)

He also mentions the lingering and intense resentment that some Iraqi Shi'a still feel toward the US stemming from the 1991 uprising against Saddam's regime:

Well, there is a great deal of resentment still, as you know, among the Shi'ites of Iraq that the United States stood by and allowed Saddam to put down the 1991 uprising when 16 of 18 provinces went out of the hands of the Ba'ath and the U.S. could have interdicted the helicopter gun-ships that Saddam used to put that rebellion down and did not. This feeling of resentment has been voiced by Grand Ayatollah Bashir Najafi, who's in line to succeed Sistani. He clearly still smarts and has anti-American feelings about that episode. He has given sermons about it in Najaf. 

And he talked about the way the Islamic parties developed during the 1990s as leading opposition political forces, to an extent that even expert outside observers missed to a large extent:

Could I say something about the sort of secular middleclass in Iraq and this image of Iraq as a country in which sectarian divisions weren't so important. That's both true and not true. Actually if you go back in 20th century Iraqi history, there haven't been big Sunni-Shi'a riots or a lot of bloodshed on a sectarian basis in the past. It's not - I mean it happened from time to time in the medieval period, but as a 20th century phenomenon it hasn't been a keynote for modern Iraq. So there was a strong sense of Iraqi nationalism and even to some extent an appeal of general Arab nationalism. And there was a rhetoric of Iraqi unity across these lines, and there was a good deal of intermarriage, of in migration. There were a million Sunnis in the Shi'ite south. There are Kurds - a million Kurds in the Baghdad area and so forth. But I would argue that the late Saddam period was a period in which that salience of that political unity broke down. And the people in Fallujah came under the influence of Jordanian Salafism, and Saddam allowed that in a way that he hadn't before because he was so weak and he felt he needed their support. And the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Da'awa party, the Sudras captured the political loyalty of most of the southern Shi'ites. And I think all of this was going on in the '90s under the radar so that I think it's over with. (my emphasis)

Cole and Freeman also made some important comments about the US position in the Iraq War.  Cole said:

I think there's a very severe danger that oil pipeline sabotage has emerged as a major tool in the Iraq war would then spread to Iran and Saudi Arabia. And you could see 20 percent of world petroleum production knocked offline. I think that would certainly produce a world depression. So I think a very great deal is at stake here, and I think the idea of certain quarters in Washington that it's good to destabilize places like Syria is very, very dangerous to us all.

This El Mundo article of 12/30/05 says that sabotage already threatens to paralyze oil exports from Iraq: Los sabotajes de oleoductos y las amenazas de muerte paralizan las exportaciones de crudo en Irak.

In response to a question, Freeeman talked about the absurdly changing rationales for the Iraq War that the White House has been using:

Well, if I wanted to explain the president, I would work in the White House. I'm not sure I understand very much of what he says under any circumstances - (laughter) - but I note this is the seventh different rationale for the Iraq War that he has come out with. We had weapons of mass destruction; that didn't work out quite the way he had expected. We then had regime change. Well, we did regime removal, but we didn't replace the regime so there was no regime change. Then we had democratization, which turned out to be desecularization under the force of occupation. Then we had terrorism, and it turns out that what we've built is a terrorist-generating incubator rather than the fly paper to catch terrorists that was envisaged. And then we had some business about - well, I'm losing track here - (scattered laughter) - but anyway, I think there was something about creating a model for the region, and then - (pause) - well, now we have preventing a new caliphate, You know, I talk to a lot of Muslims around the world, and I don't find many of them quaking in their slippers over the prospect that there will be a new caliphate any time soon. (my emphasis)

The menace of the new caliphate is sure to be remembered as one of the goofier explanations the administration came up with.  But we'll hear some additional creative justifications, I'm confident.

Freeman also said:

if you listen carefully to what our generals - what our military are saying, they are saying this cannot be won militarily. They are saying it is a political issue requiring political solutions. They don't have the political solutions, so I'm not sure - again, I'm not sure what staying the course means in that context.

War the Republican Party war.  Nothing quite like it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Iraq War: Does this sound like "standing up" Iraqi forces?

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

If this report is true, it makes sense to me that the US would want to clean up the Iraqi security services: U.S. to Rein In Iraqi Police: Military oversight will be bolstered in response to reports of prisoner abuse, reasserting American authority over security forces by Louise Roug Los Angeles Times 12/29/05. Roug writes:

U.S. officials announced plans Thursday to rein in Iraqi special police forces, increasing the number of American troops assigned to work with them and requiring permission for Iraqi raids in Baghdad after a series of prison abuse scandals that have inflamed sectarian tensions.

The decision to impose more day-to-day oversight suggests a recognition within the U.S. military that the heavy-handed tactics of some Iraqi units, which are to increasingly take on the role of fighting insurgents, have aggravated the sectarian strife that helps fuel the insurgency.

More than 2 1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion and 1 1/2 years after the formal end of the occupation, it also illustrates that Americans still carry the final word on security matters.

It's hard to argue with that last paragraph. If a foreign power is telling the Iraqi government that they can make raids on alleged rebels without American permission, I'd say that's a pretty high level of outside control.  Will the US be able to enforce that direction?  Time and results will tell. 

And maybe not just Baghdad:

Seven of nine Iraqi special police brigades in Baghdad now have 40 to 45 Americans attached to each. Under the new plan, hundreds of additional U.S. troops will team up with each of the nine brigades.

The plan will be implemented in the capital first but may serve as a model for the rest of the country, said a senior U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
(my emphasis)

This part doesn't sound like the "good news" that the FOXists keep telling us is out there all over Iraq:

Unlike the Iraqi army, special police forces grew unsupervised after the overthrow of Hussein's government in April 2003 and now number about 15,000 officers. Some can be seen firing their weapons in the air as they roar through Baghdad in pickup trucks mounted with machine guns.

Withdrawing American troops, the White House keeps telling us that as "they stand up, we'll stand down".  However necessary it may be, it sure sounds like we're having to force some of the Iraqi security forces to "stand down".

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Iraq War: The possibilities for spillover

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

And what happens if the Kurds break with the rest of Iraq?  One potentially very serious spillover effect could be conflict with Turkey.

I also found this an intriguing report dealing with the PKK, a guerrilla group based in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, one which is on the US list of terrorist organizations:

These days, most PKK militants are based at semi-clandestine camps inside northern Iraq. The Kurdish regime there says it deplores their presence, but is doing nothing to force them out. This outrages the Turks. During the 1990s they regularly sent army units to attack the PKK inside Iraq. Now that Iraq is under American military occupation, they can no longer conduct these operations. Nor are the Americans, tied down as they are in Iraq, willing to attack PKK strongholds themselves. Turks are watching American and Iraqi Kurd tolerance of the PKK in Iraq with rising frustration. (Kurds in Turkey: The Big Change by Stephen Kinzer New York Review of Books 12/14/05; 01/12/06 issue; my emphasis)

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The antiwar movement, right and left

Edward Sebesta has moved his blogging to Blogspot, specifically to Anti-Neo-Confederate.

In a post earlier this week (Cindy Sheehan and her adventures with Neo-Confederates 12/26/05), he talked about the strange political bedfellows which the far-right and liberal-left war critics make.  He mentions Cindy Sheehan's former close association with the crowd and observes provocatively:

This is a distressing aspect of the so-called "Left-Right" anti-war alliance which would be better called the "Left-Racist" alliance.

But he also says, "I don't know if Cindy Sheehan knew what the Lew Rockwell people were about," and reports that she "did drop at least any outward associations with the Lew Rockwell people."

Check out the post and the new site.

I want to mention here a couple of aspects of this "strange bedfellows" antiwar phenomenon that he doesn't discuss in his relatively short post.

Rightwing isolationists and their baggage

One I've discussed at some length before here, as in my post Justin Raimondo, an isolationist critic of the Iraq War of 11/13/05. That is the fact that conservative-isolationists opponents of the Iraq War tend to be coming from what can be meaningfully described as an Old Right perspective, Old Right meaning pre-Second World War rightwing isolationists.  My 11/13/05 post goes into some of what that meant historically in terms of foreign policy.

Here, I would stress that a lot of baggage often comes along with that Old Right foreign-policy outlook.  Regular old racism in the Southern segregationist vein is often one of them, the point Sebesta's post discusses.  Anti-Semitism is another.

And in social policy, the Old Right viewpoint generally includes some or all of the following: bitter hostility to unions; extreme suspicion of the positive contributions of government, including democratic government (maybe especially democratic government!); ideological celebrationof guns (never to be confused with actual proficiency in using them or practical knowledge of self-defense); Reconstruction/Dominionist Christianity, or some bizarre variant of such; hostility to government regulation of business, including especially anti-discrimination laws; tolerance of crony-capitalist corruption; and total opposition to even the most basic social legislation like child-labor laws, the minimum wage and social insurance (e.g., Social Security).

And even in foreign policy, the Old Right isolationist perspective comes from the same fundamental nationalistic/jingoistic perspective that animates the Bush/Cheney/Rummy policies, even though Dubya is inclined to dress it up in pseudo-Wilsonian rhetoric.  The Old Right is very much opposed to international alliances, the United Nations and arms-control agreements.  Although they may oppose Republican unilateralists on an issue like the Iraq War (for many of them, not least because they perceive it as being a pro-Israel policy), they share the same basic faith in heavy reliance on military threats in foreign policy.

The Iraq War has changed a lot of thinking

The second aspect is that the Iraq War has stimulated a certain amount of realignment in American politics.  How much we won't know for a while.  And it obviously depends on many variables that people can influence.  It seems to me that the Iraq War has had far more of such an effect than the 9/11 attacks did.

That means that there is a lot of genuine rethinking of past positions going on right now.  I think of a guy like Andrew Bacevich, for instance, who had been known as a conservative voice on foreign policy during the Clinton years.  But he's coming from a democratic and pragmatic perspective that has made him one of the country's leading critics (at least as far as I'm concerned!) of the Bush foreign policy.

Then there are former intelligence officials who are speaking and writing about their concerns on the Bush foreign policies, and the Iraq War in particular.  Ray McGovern seems to fall more into a liberal internationalist strategic outlook. Pat Lang and Michael Scheuer seem to be more in the hard-boiled realist mode.

Scheuer in particular seems almost naive and simplistic in some of the things he says about more general foreign policy questions.  But he's also one of the best-informed people in the world (literally) on Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and jihadist terrorism.

People like this have professional experience that make them keen and perceptive observers of current events.  And their concerns about the Iraq War and about how the Bush administration is approaching the fight against jihadist terrorism leads them right now to find a lot of common ground with people from the liberal-international, and even leftwing anti-imperialist, viewpoints.  Pat Lang a few days ago explained a bit of his "libertarian conservative" outlook: The "Threat" and our Liberties Sic Semper Tyrannis blog 12/26/05.

I use those individuals as examples. But what is true for them is also true for many people who wouldn't know what you meant if you asked them to describe themselves as "liberal internationalists" or "realists" in foreign policy. Some of them are going to wind up thinking about politics differently as a result of the current debates.  Maybe someone who has previously thought Republican promises to cut taxes on the upper brackets was the pinnacle of wisdom has suddenly become more worried about the perils of a reckless foreign policy.

Some people who previously saw the Republicans as being the most reliable on security issues will wonder if their confidence hasn't been misplaced, as they look at failed prosecutions in terrorist cases, neglect of important disaster preparations and billions squandered on questionable crony-capitalist contract deals with the Halliburtons and Bechtels.  Some people who genuinely worry about government sticking their noses into people's personal lives will start to see NSA mega-surveillance as more frightening than IRS forms.  And some people who saw the Republicans as practicing the kind of values that would keep their teenage daughter from getting pregnant will start questioning more seriously the Christian Right values that end in worshipping war and looking forward to an apocalyptic slaughter in the Middle East which they think it's the job of America to help bring about.

As the Spanish European leader Javier Solano once said, only idiots never change their minds. So a certain amount of mixing of ideas among the internationalist liberals and the isolationists conservatives may end up encouraging them to support more policies not favored by the neo-Confederate types.

Of course, people can also change their minds in idiotic ways. So it's always possible that some people will find their antiwar stance a bridge from a more liberal outlook to a reactionary one.  It happens.

A last thought about political bedfellows

Finally, in looking at these things, it's well to remember that "politics is politics", as Joe Stalin famously said shortly before he made his Nonaggression Pact with Hitler Germany. When Germany finally dumped that agreement and invaded Russia, Winston Churchill said that if Hitler had just just invaded Hell, he would find a few nice things to say about the Devil on the floor of Parliament.

Sometimes groups with very different agendas and very different outlooks find themselves on the same side of particular issues.  But as Edward Sebesta reminds us, a tactical political understanding on a particular issue doesn't mean we can or should close our eyes to what groups like are ultimately about.

Iraq War: That "good news" can be awfully hard to find

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Gareth Porter warns that the US-Shiite Struggle Could Spin Out of Control Inter Press Service 12/27/05.  He pulls together a number of pieces of information to argue that the Bush administration is in a high-stakes political struggle with the Shi'a-dominated regime in Baghdad to professionalizes its internal security services and make them into truly national institutions.

As others have observed and Porter's article reminds us, the US could wind up being overtly and actively opposed by the Iraqi government. And it could happen within months.

But at the moment, the administration is using things like the Iraqi torture houses to bring public pressure inside and outside Iraq on the Shi'a parties to broaden the control of the security services:

The looming confrontation is the result of U.S. concerns about the takeover of the Interior Ministry by Shiites with close ties to Iran, as well as the impact of officially sanctioned sectarian violence against Sunnis who support the insurgency. The Shiite leaders, however, appear determined to hold onto the state's organs of repression as a guarantee against restoration of a Baathist regime.

The new turn in U.S. policy came in mid-November, when the administration decided to confront Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari publicly over the torture houses being run by Shiite officials in the Ministry of Interior at various locations in Baghdad.

The decision was not the result of a new revelation, because the U.S military command and U.S. Embassy had known about such torture houses for months, from reporting by U.S. military officers. ...

[After the US raid on a torture house on Nov.13,] The embassy then used the torture house revelation to issue a public demand that the militant Shiite parties give up their power over the key state security organs. On Nov. 17, the embassy said, "There must not be militia or sectarian control or direction of Iraqi Security Forces, facilities or ministries."

As Porter recounts, the administration has pressed the Shi'a parties before over the security services.  They had a face-down, and Bush blinked:

Nevertheless, [US Ambassador Zalmay] Khalilzad still has the Kurdish card to play. The UIA will need the support of the Kurds to form a new government, and the Kurds, whose military alliance with the United States is central to their political strategy, have now signaled that they will demand the inclusion of Sunni representatives in the government. ...

The last time the UIA was in the process of trying to form a government after the first parliamentary election in January, Kurdish demands played a major role in delaying the formation of the new government for three months. That Kurdish negotiating strategy dovetailed with U.S. efforts to exert pressure on Shiite leaders to allow former Baathist officers to keep leading positions in the military and Ministry of Interior.

When the SCIRI leadership refused to back down on control over the Interior Ministry, the Bush administration relented rather than create a political crisis. This time, however, the stakes are higher. If sectarian violence continues to worsen, the White House risks a collapse of political support at home. And the administration has already warned publicly that it will not accept a continuation of the status quo.

This Knight-Ridder report is not encouraging, either: Kurds in Iraqi army proclaim loyalty to militia by Tom Lasseter 12/27/05.  See also Pat Lang's comments on it in his post "Old Wine in New Bottles" Sic Semper Tyrannis blog 12/28/05.

Juan Cole's recent post on what he ses as ten myths of the Iraq War is a useful piece to read in connection with Porter's article: Top Ten Myths About Iraq in 2005 Informed Comment blog 12/27/05. Cole is making a plea for realism in judging what's happening in Iraq, and not letting one's own prowar or antiwar positions lead us into wishful thinking.

Cole, who personally experienced the Lebanese civil war, thinks it's an exaggeration and misjudgment to call the current levels of sectarian conflict a civil war. He also continues to argue that although Ayatollah Sistani insists on Islamic law (sharia) being enforced, Sistani does not favor Iranian-style clerical domination. Cole suggests that the leading Shi'a parties, SCIRI and Da'wa, are notably more pro-Iranian and more in favor of Iranian-style governance than Sistani is.

The Iranian connection can be spun so many different ways that it's especially hard to judge individual news stories on that. What seems very clear is that the dominan t Shi'a parties have strong ties to Iran. One report that I haven't seen convincingly refuted, claimed that an Iranian interrogation specialist was supervising the torture operations being conducted by the Iraqi Interior Minister.  (Critical scrutiny is required on all such stories.)

But it's also not as though Iran is going to annex the Shi'a provinces of Iraq. The new government, when it is formed, can be expected to be cooperative with Iran, not subordinate to it.

Liberals and libertarian war critics have been looking with various levels of chagrin and/or bitterness at the pro-Iranian slant of the new Iraqi regime and at the imposition of sharia. Both are genuinely negative developments for the United States. US leverage on Iran over issues of terrorism and nuclear proliferation as been seriously compromised by the US war in Iraq. The fact that someone from Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress group leaked signals intelligence to Iran didn't help either.

Teheran knows that a US invasion of Iran is infeasible as long as the Army's being stretched to the breaking point (or beyond) in a counterinsurgency war in Iraq, they have tremendous potential to cause trouble for American troops in Iraq if the US attacks Iran or presses Iran too hard.

Not all forms of sharia are as extreme as that practiced by the Taliban in Afghanistan or that in force in Iran. But even the milder forms can seriously disadvantage women. And it often features abusive curbs on freedom of expression, such as outlawing blasphemy or criminalizing proselyzation of Muslims by adherents of other faiths, i.e., mostly Christians.

Christians in Iraq are already felling pressures against practicing their religion that are more serious than under Saddam's reign.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The way we were ... and the way Presidential war powers are

Sometimes my innner political-science geek just gets the best of me.  So I got all excited when I came across a really, really cool set of Congressional testimonies from constitutional law experts on Presidential war powers.

Back in 2002, after Bush's "axis of evil" speech but before the Iraq war resolution was passed and the Democrats were still in control of the Senate, a Judiciary Subcommittee headed by Russ Feingold held hearings on "Applying the War Powers Resolution to the War on Terrorism".

One of those testifying was Alton Frye of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Among other things, his testimony of 04/17/02 addressed the idea that Bush and his supporters are now promoting almost frantically, the notion that only a failure of the public Will can cause the Bush administration (and our infallible generals) to "lose" in Iraq, however the administration is defining winning and losing this week.

Back on 12/08/05, Rummy was interviewed on the PBS Newshour by Jim Lehrer.  With his usual subtlety and elegance, Rummy stated this stab-in-the-back-alibi in the making as follows:

DONALD RUMSFELD: No, I think what is happening -- and this is the first war that has ever been conducted in the 21st century when you had talk radio, the Internet, e-mails, bloggers, 24-hour news, digital cameras, video cameras, instant access to everything, and we haven't accommodated to that yet.

JIM LEHRER: We meaning?

DONALD RUMSFELD: The world, the society. And we're up against an enemy that understands that they can't win anything in Iraq. They cannot win a battle. The only place they can win is in Washington, D.C. And they know that. And they have media committees. And they are --.

JIM LEHRER: You say this -- excuse me, you say they can't win a battle but they killed 34 people, innocent people on a bus today, they killed 40 Iraqi police two days ago.

DONALD RUMSFELD: It does not take a genius to strap a suicide thing on your body and go in and kill yourself and kill other people.That's not a battle.

JIM LEHRER: But it's a war, isn't it?

DONALD RUMSFELD: It is an aspect of war. But they can't win the war over there. The only place they can win it is in Washington, D.C. And they know that. And they are working it; and they are working it skillfully. And they lie. (my emphasis)

Frye anticipated this discussion back in the spring of 2002:

Steadiness and perseverance are indispensable in warfare, and committing the United States to use force carries an inevitable implication that the effort will be sustained until the mission is successful. Some would argue that too frequent involvement of the Congress will risk weakening or qualifying the resolve necessary to carry out the military tasks. Popular anxieties percolating through the Congress may encourage adversaries to persist in hopes that American will and stamina may falter.

This is one topic on which public discussion got really sloppy in the decades since the Vietnam War.  Qualities like "Resolve" and "Will" are fine if you're doing something necessary and worth doing.  But what happens when conditions change?  Or when things don't turn out as planned?  Or when the costs mount far beyond what had been anticipated?

Frye laid out the other side of this consideration, too. The following is in paragraph form in his testimony.  But I'm breaking it into bullet points here because it's a good look at the balancing considerations.  And even though the possibility of war with Iraq was clearly in everyone's mind at that time, his testimony was almost a year before the invasion of Iraq and thus prior to the particular polemics through which these ideas are discussed right now.

"Against those concerns one must weigh other truths, " he testified:

* Wars often go wrong.

* Costs in lives or resources prove excessive.

* New dangers arise that may justify a change of course and reallocation of military capabilities.

* Presidents, as well as Congress, can make mistakes – and find great difficulty in extracting themselves from commitments gone awry.

* Unless the people and their representatives in Congress give sustained support to military action, such action cannot continue indefinitely.

* Just as the executive branch will have to adapt its military strategy to changing circumstances in the field, Congress needs to retain the ability to adapt and refresh its policy stance in light of those changing circumstances.

The testosterone theory of warfare - we can't back off from a war or the other side will think his God is bigger than our God - has a certain emotional appeal.  So does suicide under certain circumstances.  And driving drunk.  And having sex without STD protection.

But not every war can or should be war for total victory and total destruction of the enemy.  And some judgment about prospects, costs and benefits always enter into consideration, even though they may be swept aware by other factors, like war fever.

Helen of Troy's disappearance (kidnapped or eloped?) may have been worth launching a thousand ships and undertaking years of Bronze Age warfare.  But now that we know that the two official war aims of removing the threat of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" (of which there were none) and ending their cooperative relationship with Al Qaeda (which also didn't exist) were actually accomplished before the war began, it's perfectly legitimate for the people and for Congress to ask just what the costs and benefits to the United States are of fighting another three, five, ten years to impose an Islamist government onto Iraq.

Monday, December 26, 2005

A good word from Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons, as regular readers know, is one of my favorite columnists.  His pre-Christmas piece is one more example why: Police-state methods no answer to terror Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 12/21/05.  Checking in on the latest revelations about the Bush administration extra-legal domestic spying, he writes:

Anybody who rationalizes George W. Bush’s illegal use of secret,  warrantless wiretaps against American citizens is no friend of democracy. They may call themselves “conservatives.” But they might with equal accuracy dub themselves Martians or Zoroastrians. In reality, they are ideologues who place party over country, enemies of the Constitution and its freedoms. There’s evidently no outrage they won’t rationalize so long as a Republican’s doing it. For reasons best left to historians, the Republican right has made itself captive to a brand of callow authoritarianism that’s found its hero in this swaggering mediocrity who appears invariably to draw the wrong lessons from what few scraps of history he knows. The last time no-warrant, presidentially authorized wiretaps came before the Supreme Court was 1972, courtesy of President Richard M. Nixon, who used the FBI to spy on political foes and famously decreed that “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” The court voted 8-0 against Nixonian presumption. In his concurring opinion, Justice William O. Douglas quoted his illustrious predecessor, Justice Louis Brandeis : “Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty.”

He also reminds us of an important aspect of the President's role under the Constitution:

Bush and his legal enablers hold to an extremist interpretation of the “commander-in-chief” clause of the U. S. Constitution that would give him virtually unlimited executive powers in times of war—even a “war on terror,” a metaphorical struggle against an abstract noun which theoretically could go on forever.

It’s an absurd argument. The president commands the armed forces, not the United States. The Founding Fathers meant to assure civilian control of the military, not to establish a wartime strongman.  (my emphasis)

It's a sign of militarization of American politics that the President is so often referred to in a generalized way as the "Commander-in-Chief".  He's the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.  He's not the Commander-in-Chief of any civilian or anyone outside their role as a soldier.

It's not a rhetorical distinction, as Lyons indicates.  It's basic to our democracy.

Iraq War: Robert Dreyfuss is pessimistic

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Yep, this qualifies as pessimistic:

The last hope for peace in Iraq was stomped to death this week. The victory of the Shiite religious coalition in the December 15 election hands power for the next four years to a fanatical band of fundamentalist Shiite parties backed by Iran, above all to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Quietly backed by His Malevolence, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sustained by a 20,000-strong paramilitary force called the Badr Brigade, and with both overt and covert support from Iran's intelligence service and its Revolutionary Guard corps, SCIRI will create a theocratic bastion state in its southern Iraqi fiefdom and use its power in Baghdad to rule what's left of the Iraqi state by force.

The consequences of SCIRI's victory are manifold. But there is no silver lining, no chance for peace talks among Iraq's factions, no chance for international mediation. There is no centrist force that can bridge the factional or sectarian divides. Next stop: civil war. (From Iraq: Game Over 12/20/05)

I hope he's wrong.  A negotiated settlement among the Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds could allow for withdrawal of American troops and the effective suppression of the international jihadist groups operating in Iraq.

I hope Dreyfuss is wrong in his pessimism. But we've seen an awful lot of optmistic hopes snuffed out in the Iraq War.

And Dreyfuss' prediction of even the best outcome doesn't look pretty:

For Bush, the results present  an almost excruciatingly difficult problem. The White House will begin to look ridiculous as it touts Iraq's scandal-plagued, fraud-ridden election as the birth of democracy, especially as a brutal Shiite theocracy begins to take shape. The continuing resistance will make it impossible for the president to cite progress in the war. When President Bush starts to order a drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, as he must, he will not have the convenience of a peaceful, stable Iraq to point to. And the rise of Iran's power in Iraq presents another Rubik's Cube conundrum for the president. Some eager neocons, of course, will start to argue that the United States has no choice but to take the failed war in Iraq into Iran, to batter those who torment the U.S. occupation in Iraq. For others in the Bush administration, who at least live on planet earth, the problem of Iranian power in Iraq vastly complicates their ability to put a positive spin on the Bush administration's Iraq project. ...

But it also means that every day that the U.S. forces remain in Iraq, the United States creates another day for the Shiite religious forces to strengthen their hand, to build their militia, and to make plans for cleansing Sunnis from majority Shiite areas. (It is, of course, with the help of the U.S. army that the Shiite militias are being incorporated into the new Iraqi army, unit by unit.) By getting out of Iraq as soon as possible, Jack Murtha-style, the United States can at the very least ensure that the Shiites do not grow all-powerful, and it might prevent a further radicalization of the Sunni-led resistance. When there are no good options, then prudence suggests that it's time to choose the least bad one. (my emphasis)

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Christmas Truce of 1914

This is one of my favorite Christmas stories.  Actually, it's one of my favorite stories of any kind.  And it really happened: The Christmas truce: When the guns fell silent: So extraordinary was the Christmas truce of 1914 that some no longer believe it could have happened. But as a new film recreates those days, Stanley Weintraub says it was no myth Independent 12/24/05.

On Christmas Eve 1914, when the First World War was still in its initial year, peace broke out in Flanders on a large part of the lines between German troops on the one side and French and British on the other.  It wasn't everywhere along that front.  But it happened over a large part of it. Weintraub writes:

Live-and-let-live accommodations occur in most wars. Chronicles since Troy record stops in fighting to bury the dead, to pray to the gods, to assuage a war-weariness, to offer signs of amity encouraging mutual respect. But none had happened on the scale or duration - or the potential for change - as when the shooting suddenly stopped on Christmas Eve 1914.

The difference then was in its potential to become more than a momentary respite. In retrospect, the interruption of the horror, to soldiers "the sausage machine", seems unreal, incredible in its intensity and extent, impossible to have happened without consequences for continuing the war. Like a dream, when it was over, troops wondered at it, then continued with the grim business at hand.

He describes part of how this brief peace broke out:

German troops in Flanders, accessible from home by land, received, along with their wooden gift boxes decorated with a wreath and a Flammenschwert - a flaming sword - tabletop-size Christmas trees with candles conveniently clamped to the branches. The law of unintended consequences activated itself. On Christmas Eve, as darkness came early, the Germans - at some hazard - placed trees atop trench parapets and lit the candles. Then they began singing carols, and though their language was unfamiliar to their enemies, the tunes were not. After a few trees were shot at, the British became more curious than belligerent, and crawled forward to watch and to listen. And soon they began to sing.

By Christmas morning, no man's land between the trenches was filled with fraternising soldiers, sharing rations, trading gifts, singing, and - more solemnly - burying the dead between the lines. (Earlier, the bodies had been too dangerous to retrieve.)

William Faulkner's 1954 novel A Fable built on this brief experience to imagine a complete halt to the war having occurred. And, like the ficitional generals in Faulkner's story, the senior officers on both sides rushed to correct this shocking interruption in the business of mass killing:

The high brass on both sides quickly determined that they could not let the situation develop. In the national interest, the war had to go on. Peace has always been more difficult to make than war, but it was materialising. Under threat of court martial, troops on both sides were ordered to separate and restart hostilities. Reluctantly, they drifted apart. General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien's order to II Corps from his cushy rear-area headquarters read: "On no account is intercourse to be allowed between opposing troops. To finish this war quickly we must keep up the fighting spirit."

Weintraub ends with an appropriate characterization of that experience, when soldiers on both sides momentarily declared peace against the wishes of the warlords and the war profiteers and the pompous politicians and the jingoistic newspaper editors:

A Christmas truce seems in our new century an impossible dream from a more simple, vanished world. Peace is indeed, even briefly, harder to make than war.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Voice)

Iraq War: Christmas Eve thoughts on the war

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

I hope some day our "press corps" will treat optimistic pre-holiday announcements from the sitting administration with the skepticism they deserve.  Our press corps and punditocracy seem to be the only ones involved with politics that aren't aware that such pronouncements, especially before holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, are standard operating procedure.

The latest round of hints and veiled claims about US troops withdrawals from Iraq are no exception.  When you cut through the fog, the extra 20,000 or so troops that were put in before the elections are being pulled out.  Then the "baseline" force in-country will be reduced, maybe, by a couple of thousand or so.  Essentially, though, the administration has never committed to anything more than that.  Also, the media routinely ignore the level of "private contractors", aka mercenaries, that are there more-or-less taking direction from the Pentagon.

There is a broad consensus that the combination of Army personnel constraints, Iraqi political pressure and American political pressure will produce some kind of notable drawdown during the next few months beyond that currently committed.  But the alleged increase in the abilities of the Iraqi forces that is supposedly making drawdowns possible may not be all it's cracked up to be in the Bush administration's claims.  And, of course, a great deal in the short run depends on what kind of government is formed in Iraq during the next month or two.

Gareth Porter explains Why the War Has Already Been Lost by Gareth Porter 12/24/05. His piece has a brief but informative summary of the evolution of the US strategic posture in Iraq during 2004 and 2005. He writes:

Despite the new surge of public belief in victory [ among the American public], however, the United States is no closer to success in defeating the insurgency – in the sense of unilaterally reducing its operations to a minimum level – than it was two years ago. On the contrary, all three major elements of US strategy in Iraq – US military operations against the insurgents, creating indigenous security forces and the political attraction of Sunnis into the Iraqi political system – have been shown to have failed to achieve any traction. The US may continue the war for some time, but it no longer has any strategy for winning.

He talks about how problematic the high expectations for Iraqi security forces (ISF) are at the moment. After 2004, he writes:

The US command would never again trust Sunnis to form local security forces. Instead it brought in nearly 2,000 Kurdish peshmurga militiamen to control Mosul. It also brought in five battalions of predominantly Shi'ite troops, with a smattering of Kurds, to replace the Sunni police in Ramadi, Samarra and Fallujah. The Iraqi commando units brought into fight in the Sunni provinces are also Shi'ites and Kurds.

These deployments further reinforced Sunni loyalties to the insurgency, because of the intense dislike and distrust between the Sunni population and the non-Sunni militias and commandoes. Despite administration claims that it has succeeded in recruiting 5,000 Sunni soldiers in 2005, the fact remains that it is still Shi'ites and Kurds who patrol the streets of Sunni cities and who search for Sunni insurgents.

He believes that the near-razing of Fallujah a year ago not only failed to significantly discourage the insurgency, but actually energized it by increasing Sunni hostility to the Americans.  He forsees a time coming when the United States, maybe even the Bush administration, will decide they have no choice but to call it quits:

The failure of the "political strategy" leaves the administration with no plan that promises the defeat of the insurgents. The failure of all three elements of US strategy in Iraq suggests that the administration will be forced in the end to negotiate some kind of an agreement with the insurgents to end the resistance. Indeed, the process may already have begun, even as Bush insists that the United States is winning the war. When it comes, that agreement will undoubtedly be preceded by still more such bluster and by an escalation of violence. But it will represent a true compromise, not a peace imposed by the United States. And the national debate over whether the entire endeavor was a success or a failure will begin.

In some ways, it's already begun.  Bush's claim that only a failure of Will here at home can cause the US to be defeated in Iraq is laying the groundwork for a stab-in-the-back claim against the  Democrats.  You don't have to listen to hard to the statements of senior military officers and the retired ones now acting as commentators to see that the generals are already concentrating on how to avoid blame for the Iraq disaster.

The Bush administration and its supporters aren't the only ones celebrating this month's Iraqi elections: Iran hails “first Islamist Arab state” in Iraq Iran Focus 12/23/05.  This article reports:

The editorial of Iran’s leading hard-line daily hailed the outcome of Iraq’s parliamentary elections as “the creation of the first Islamist state in the Arab world”, and warned against “American plots” to prevent the formation of the new Iraqi government by Iranian-backed Shiite groups. ...

Kayhan said the election outcome will “increase pressures, both inside and outside the U.S., on [President George W.] Bush to withdraw American troops from Iraq”. “Bush will have to give in and withdraw the bulk of his forces from Iraq in the next few months”, the daily, which reflects the views of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wrote.

The paper listed the consequences of American withdrawal from Iraq, describing the current situation in Iraq as “the biggest crisis America has faced in recent decades”.

“The American defeat and withdrawal from Iraq will forever bury the Neoconservative current in the U.S.,…while the formation of an Islamist state in Iraq, which will be a natural ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran and will forma contiguous link between Iran and Palestine through Syria and Lebanon, will bring about a sea change in the geo-strategic balance in the region in favour of Iran and to America’s detriment. This new alliance with its huge size will directly influence all developments in the Arab and Muslim Middle East”.

The PBS Newshour for 12/23/05 had a segment featuring Col. Thomas Hammes, author  of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century (2004) who focuses on counterterrorism warfare, and Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis,  who they identify as "a consultant who served in the Army for 30 years".  The segment was on Military to Reduce Troops in Iraq.  It provides a very good example of an Army conventional-war viewpoint (Maginnis) differing with a counterinsurgency perspective (Hammes). 

Maginnis argues that the Army should get itself out of the direct counterinsurgency operations and leave those to the Iraqis.  He wants the Army to pull back to a few secure bases and be available to "react to crises, especially on the border where unfriendly neighbors may try to interject some type of activity".  In other words, the Army could revert to standard conventional war mode almost completely and minimize the need to adapt its approach to active counterinsurgency operations.

Maginnis also notes that along with the announced withdrawals, "we're going to hold a reserve of sorts down in Kuwait in case something goes wrong," once again raising the question of just how serious the withdrawal talk by the administration really is.

Hammes presented what in the current situation is a very hawkish view of the Iraq War. But he also did so in a way that is far more candid than what we typically hear from official sources or from politicians like that famous Maverick McCain who also call for escalating the American role in Iraq.

Hammes emphasized that the US and its allies in Iraq currently don't have enough forces to wage a successful war against the current insurgency. He says that if we want to actually defeat the insurgency, we should not be looking at building up the ISF as substitutes for American troops.  Instead, for the foreseeable future they should be seen as additions to the total forces, while maintaining or increasing the current US troop levels.  Hammes said:

As [the ISF] stand up, they will reinforce us until we get real security, at that point we can draw down - if I'm going to draw down the first people who need to go are the armed contractors, they are the real source of irritation.

I mean, our forces are a source of irritation but the armed contractors from the Iraqis I worked with when I was there, they really don't like those people. They need to go.

And although Hammes worded his statement carefully, what he said at the end was that if we're serious about defeating the insurgency, it's going to require a sizable American troop presence engaged in active combat for years to come.  And that the Army is facing serious personnel shortages.

Hammes' comments are in contrast to the wishful thinking that is still far too common in discussions of the Iraq War.  It's exactly considerations like this that people like Joe Biden and Maverick McCain should have insisted on thoroughly discussed before they approved the 2002 war resolution.  (That would be the resolution that Bush violated anyway with his invasion of Iraq in 2003 without fulfilling either of the two conditions under which the resolution authorized military force.)  See my post from earlier this month, Why shouldn't we call a lost cause a lost cause? 12/09/05, for more discussion of such issues.

In another reminder of the need to read wartime news with a critical eye, Juan Cole questions the recent report of forged Iraqi ballots being smuggling in from Iran (20,000 Protest Election Fraud in Iraq /Leading Sunnis Scorned as Baathists Informed Comment blog 12/24/05):

There was a story floating around last week that a "tanker" full of "hundreds of thousands" of forged ballots coming from Iran was discovered and confiscated at the border, with the names but not the rest of the ballots filled in. This story, which has fed Sunni Arab discontent, makes no sense. First of all, you can't get hundreds of thousands of ballots on one truck, even a tanker. Paper is bulky. How would Iran have a list of plausible Iraqi voters? Iranians mostly print in nasta'liq script, not the naskh favored in the Arab world, and mostly use Persian, not Arabic. While Iranian printers could pull off such a thing, you have to ask, why? If you were going to print fake Arabic ballots for Iraq, why not just do it in Basra? It is not as if the United Iraqi Alliance, the presumed beneficiary of the alleged forgeries, does not control Iraqi printing presses in areas secure enough for it to commit fraud if it liked. I don't find the story plausible, but it appears that the US military has actually arrested Fazel "Abu Tayyib" Jasim, a provincial council member of Kut and a member of the Shiite Badr Organization (the paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq), implicating him in the affair. I'd like to see the truck and the ballots on television. One tanker, or even a fleet of them, couldn't affect centrally an election with millions of voters.

Cole is raising questions about the report here, not declaring that he believes it was a fake.  One consequence of the lack of security in much of Iraq is that it's hard for reporters to travel around the country and try to get details about stories like these.

Here's a war-related story that illustrates how urbanmyths get transmitted: From Heckles to Halos: In dramatic contrast to the Vietnam War era, U.S. service personnel now are being treated to strangers' spontaneous bursts of gratitude by Faye Fiore Los Angeles Times 12/24/05.

Many Americans have conflicted feelings about the Iraq war, but not aboutthe warriors. The gestures of gratitude and generosity that occur with regularity at Peggy Sue's - across Interstate 15 from Ft. Irwin, a military desert training site - have become commonplace across the United States.

A spontaneous standing ovation for a group of soldiers at Los Angeles International Airport. Three $20 bills passed to a serviceman and his family in a grocery store in Georgia. A first-class seat given up to a servicewoman on a plane out of Chicago.

These bursts of goodwill have little to do with the holiday season or with political sentiments about the war. In contrast to the hostile stares that greeted many Vietnam veterans 40 years ago, today's soldiers are being treated as heroes throughout the year, in red states and blue, by peace activists and gung-ho supporters of the Iraq mission. The gestures are often spontaneous, affiliated with no association or cause, and credit is seldom claimed.

I've posted a number of times here about the rightwing claims that seem to never die out about how Vietnam veterans were allegedly despised, scorned, etc., during the Vietnam War.  Were there "hostile stares that greeted many Vietnam veterans 40 years ago"?  It's a claim that would be hard to document - or to disprove.

But Fiore's article doesn't do much more than to pass on the urban legend from the Vietnam War era about scorned soldiers.  And she does document the positive and generous attitude that Americans show, even spontaneously, to servicemen and women today.  People in the Vietnam War days were just as capable of distinguishing their doubts and criticisms about the war from their personal appreciation of soldiers.  But that didn't stop the urban legend from blossoming, with the conscious help of political polemics from the rightwingers to that effect.

And reports like this won't stop similar claims from popping up when the US exits the Iraq War and the push to establish a stab-in-the-back myth is on full throttle.  But it's nice to see this documented like this so that the reality-based will be able to check out what really happen if they want.

But, as I've also posted about before, the present-day sentimental attitude toward soldiers - which is pretty much present in all wars - has a particular dark twist.  Or maybe unintended negative consequences would be a better phrase.  And Fiore's article gives us a glimpse of that, too:

This is not a nation at war so much as it is an army at war. Service members and their families mostly bear the weight of the Iraq and Afghanistan missions alone - family separations, career dislocation and danger. Many soldiers are serving third tours, and there is no clear end in sight.

For civilians, the chance to directly touch a military member or family can be irresistible, so much so that people break the comfortable anonymity of public places - airports, hotels, supermarkets - to walk up and pat a soldier on the back.

"For probably the first time in American history, civilians are asked to make no sacrifices in a time of war. We don't have a draft. There is no gas rationing the way there was in World War II. There is no increase in taxes; we get tax cuts instead," said Charles Moskos, a leading military sociologist at Northwestern University. "These acts are small ways of showing some recognition, because we're not doing it any other way."

And sentimentalizing soldiers into abstract heroes can also make it easier for armchair warriors and the 101st Fighting Keyboarders to cheer for wars that abstract soldier heroes will have to kill and die and lose limbs in - not themselves or members of their family or their circle of friends. 

It's also worth mentioning that the Christian Right has tried to adopt the military and its soldiers as their partisans in the so-called "culture wars".  Andrew Bacevich in his book The New American Militarism (2005) devotes a separate chapter to this phenomenon.  He argues that formany of a more conservative turn of mind, the US defeat in Vietnam along with socialchanges at home presented a cultural and moral crisis.  He writes:

No group in American society felt more keenly the comprehensive nature of this crisis than did Protestant evangelicals.  It was here, among committed Christians dismayed by the direction that the country appeared to be taking, that the reaction to Vietnam as a foreign policy failure and to Vietnam as a manifestation of cultural upheaval converged with greatest effect. ...

Moreover, at least some evangelicals looked to the armed services to play a pivotal role in saving America from internal collapse. In a decadent and morally confused time, they came to celebrate the military itself as a bastion of the values required to stem the nation's slide toward perdition: respect for tradition, an appreciation for order and discipline, and a willingness to sacrifice self for the common good. In short, evangelicals looked to soldiers to model the personal qualities that citizens at large needed to rediscover if America were to reverse the tide of godlessness and social decay to which the 1960s had given impetus.

In practice, this has translated in part to imparting "religious sanction to the militarization of U.S. policy and helped imbue the resulting military activism with an aura of moral legitimacy," as Bacevich puts it.

No, this sentimentalizing of soldiers is not entirely a positive thing.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday arguments at the family gathering

Interesting article in Salon by Wil Wheaton, known to most of us as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He has his own blog, too.  (I know what you're thinking, "Doesn't everybody?")

His Salon piece is The real war on Christmas 12/22/05. But it's not specifically about the FOXists' huffing and puffing about the phony "war on Christmas".  It's about how his parents went from being affluent, laid-back liberal types when he was a kid to be hardline rightwingers, in part through the influence of Republican hate radio.

His family was getting ready to celebrate Christmas dinner early, when the Tookie Williams execution came up.  His father wound up pretty much loosing it, to read Wil's version:

"Well," I said, "I don't believe in the death penalty, so ..."

You know those optical illusion drawings, where you're looking at a smiling man, then suddenly he's become a werewolf? Faster than you could say "Fox News," my dad was screaming at me, Bill O'Reilly-style.

"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth! He killed four ..." - he stabbed at the air with four fingers on his left hand - "four people in cold blood and deserves! to! die!"

... While my dad continued to scream about biblical vengeance, I went into shock. Just minutes earlier, we'd stood together outside on the deck and laughed with each other as he congratulated me for a great finish I'd had the previous day at a poker tournament in Las Vegas. In fact, I'd cut my trip short, specifically so I wouldn't miss the family Christmas.

What a difference five minutes makes. While he screamed at me, I wanted to ask, "Who are you, and what have you done with the man who raised me to be tolerant, patient, peaceful and charitable?" Instead, I said, as calmly as I could, "Dad, I just don't believe in the death penalty. It is unevenly applied to poor people, and clearly doesn't work as a deterrent."

"It doesn't work as a deterrent because they allow these scum to stay alive for 25 years before they give them what they deserve!" I hadn't seen my dad this angry since I was asophomore in high school and my friends and I woke up my mom after midnight one night because we got a little worked up in a Nintendo game of "Blades of Steel."  ...

He violently shook his head at me and drew a deep breath. "The victims' families get to watch that animal die! If they don't get to watch him die, how can they get the closure they deserve?" Before I could reply, and he could launch into another round of talking points, I was unintentionally saved by my brother, who called our dad to come outside and help him with the turkey on the barbecue.

He turned quickly, and stormed out of the room, followed by my sister.

Now, as a general rule, I don't think it's really desirable to publicly describe contemporary family arguments in print - or even on blogs - in no small part because nobody really cares but the people involved and it bores everyone else.  But in this case, Wil's story isn't boring.  And it made me think about how political polemics trickle down to the living room.

Wil's take on that question in this case goes like this:

The thing is, though, I know better than to bring up politics with my dad. Ever since he started listening to talk radio for hours out of the day, he's slowly lost his ability to objectively look at the facts and draw his own conclusions. If Rush, Hannity, Dennis Prager or O'Reilly say it, my dad believes it as surely as he believes anything. Thanks to this abdication of rational thinking, both of my parents completely bought into the Swift Boat liars, still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11, and recently decided to move to Montana, which my mother described as "the real America" to me and my siblings. When Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor, my mom's impression of him, having worked with him as a model in the 1960s, mysteriously transformed from "a steroid-shooting lech" to "a total gentleman, who was always taking his supplements, which were injected in those days."

Wil gives his story a happy ending, with the family having a happy and emotionally positive Christmas dinner and he and Dad making up and declaring their mutual love for each other.  Which makes it kind of a classic Christmas story.  The psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, Freud's friend and biographer, once wrote, "Psychologically [Christmas] represents the ideal of resolving all family discord in a happy reunion, and to this it owes its perennial attraction".

But I think Wil may be letting his father off too lightly in that article.  What he describes is verbally abusive, bullying behavior and a reaction seemingly all out of proportion to the situation.  It's possible to discuss issues about which people have strong feelings without resorting to this kind of thing.

I guess as time goes on, I get less and less generous about this way of acting.  I had an encounter in a business situation this past year where someone had a very similar reaction and started yelling and trying to browbeat me over an issue (not a political one).  I wound up just getting up and saying, "This is totally inappropriate and you're not going to deal with me in this way," and walked out.  Blowhard bullying behavior is just that, and I'm not inclined to put up with it.

But Wil's article made me think of the ways in which today's Republican celebrities, like O'Reilly and junkie bigot Rush Limbaugh and Crazy Annie Coulter, invite people to turn political stereotypes - often dishonest caricatures - into personal hostility.  And when the President himself calls Limbaugh a "national tresure", it tends to add to the dope fiend's credibility among loyal Republicans.

And when you've got the President himself saying in speech after speech that critics of his disastrous Iraq War policies are giving aid and comfort to The Terrorists - traitors, in other words - how can someone coming from that point of view even hope to have a civil conversation with someone on that issue who's not already drunk on the war Kool-Aid?

I mean, if someone tells you to your face you're a traitor, any appropriate response would have to include at least a couple of profanities and instructions on where to stick the insult.  Actually, a punch in the face would be an appropriate response, though I recommend not employing that one.  You could probably beat an assault charge by arguing that those were "fighting words", but why go to that hassle if you don't have to?

The truth is today's Republican Party has gone off the tracks in many ways.  And while they would say they are simply responding to alleged extremism on "the left", there is no remotely comparable level of demonization of ordinary Republicans on the part of Democrats.  Yes, we're critical of actual instances of treason, like Scooter Libby outing Valerie Plame as political retaliation against her husband, and like the even more serious leaking of signals intelligence to Iran.  But I haven't seen or heard even the most stridently critic of the Plame outing suggest that anyone who tries to defend Libby's actions are themselves traitors for doing so.

But that kind of charge has now become routine from the Presidential level all the way through the Republican Noise Machine.  And of course some of it winds up dripping into living rooms and crawling into family dinners.

I wish I had some kind of "can't we all get along?" suggestions.  Maybe if some of those allegedly "moderate" Republicans would publicly tell Bush and O'Reilly and Mr. OxyContin to shut the hell up with some of that kind of talk, that would be a start.

But I certainly can't recommend letting people think that call you a traitor (or some other crazy thing from the drughead fantasies of Rush Limbaugh) is normal or acceptable behavior.  Nothing good comes of that.

Oh, and back to Wil's father for a minute, I seriously doubt that attending an execution gives any of the victims' families any real emotional "closure".  And the kind of unrestrained "angry white people" rage that today's Republican Party promotes never gets any "closure".  They can always imagine traitors and scary black people and dangerous immigrants are coming to get them.