Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Then and now (1)

Let's do NOW first: Fighting unseen enemy creates psychological pressure on troops by Tom Lasseter, Knight-Ridder 08/26/05.

The inability of U.S. forces to hold ground in Anbar province in western Iraq, and the cat and mouse chase that ensues, has put the Marines and soldiers there under intense physical and psychological pressure.

The sun raises temperatures to 115 degrees most days, insurgents stage ambushes daily then melt into the civilian population and American troops in Anbar find themselves in a house of mirrors in which they don't speak the language and can't tell friend from foe.

Most Marines and soldiers in Anbar live behind massive concrete barriers, bales of concertina wire and perimeters guarded by sniper towers and tanks.

Despite their overwhelming military might, they must watch every alleyway for snipers and each patch of road for mines or bombs, which can send balls of flame through their vehicles. That happened earlier this month south of Haditha, when an explosion killed 14 Marines in an amphibious assault vehicle. ...

Walking down an alley in Hit a few days earlier, stepping over pools of sewage, Lance Cpl. Greg Allen had watched the Marines around him. They were picking through garbage, tugging on wires and kicking boxes, looking for bombs and mines and hoping that if they found one it wouldn't go off.

"They (insurgents) are doing a hell of a job fighting this war. They know they can't take us head on but they can do a lot of damage with bombs," said Allen, 19, of Syracuse, N.Y. "There's no one out here to fight."

The men in Allen's squad stopped at a grocery to buy water and sodas. As they walked away, several of them wondered if they'd just given money to an insurgent sympathizer.

On a recent patrol through southern Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, Sgt. 1st Class Tom Coffey, 37, of Burlington, Vt., looked through the thick bulletproof windows of his Humvee. Children were peeking at him from behind a half-closed garage door.

"I'd love to play soccer with them but we'd have to stage gun trucks and then we'd still end up being a large soft target," he said.

After he went back to the base to pick up some supplies, a call came: A roadside bomb had hit one of his Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

THEN: From Home from the War: Vietnam Veterans - Neither Victims nor Executioners (1973) by Robert Jay Lifton.  Relating a conversation with a Vietnam War veteran who recalled his thoughts while in Vietnam, "What am I doing here? We don't take any land. We don't give it back. We just mutilate bodies. What the [Cheney] are we doing here?", Lifton writes (my emphasis):

These questions express a sense of the [Vietnam] war's total lack of order or structure, the feeling that there was no genuine purpose, that nothing could ever be secured or gained, and that there could be no measurable progress. We may say that there was no genuine "script" or "scenario" of war that could provide meaning or even sequence or progression, a script within which armies clash, battles are fought, won, or lost, and individual suffering, courage, cowardice, or honor can be evaluated. Nor could the patrols seeking out an elusive enemy, the ambushes in which Americans were likely to be the surprised victims, or the "search-and-destroy missions" lashing out blindly at noncombatants achieve the psychological status of meaningful combat ritual. Rather, these became part of the general absurdity, the antimeaning. So did the "secret movements" on this alien terrain, since, as one man put it, "Little kids could tell us exactly where we would set up the next night." The men were adrift in an environment not only strange and hostile but offering no honorable encounter, no warrior grandeur.

Now there are mutilations, midst absurdity and evil, in any war. Men who fight wars inevitably become aware of the terrible disparity between romantic views of heroism expressed "back home" and the reality of degradation and unspeakable suffering they have witnessed, experienced, and caused. Onethinks of the answer given by Audie Murphy, much-decorated hero of World War II, to the question put to him about how long it takes a man to get over his war experiences. Murphy's reply, recorded in his obituary, was that one never does. What he meant was that residual inner conflicts—survivor conflicts—stay with one indefinitely. These conflicts, as I was able to generalize from my Hiroshima work, have to do with anxiety in relationship to an indelible death imprint, death guilt inseparable from that imprint, various forms of prolonged psychic numbing and suppression of feeling, profound suspicion of the counterfeit (or of "counterfeit nurturance"), and an overall inability to give significant inner form - to "formulate" - one's war-linked death immersion. This impaired survivor formulation undoubtedly was a factor in Murphy's repeated difficulties and disappointments after his return from his war, as it has been in the unrealized lives and premature deaths of many war heroes; and, indeed, in the paradox quoted earlier (from Charles Omen) about warriors during the Middle Ages being "the best of soldiers while the war lasted . . . [but] a most dangerous and unruly race in times of truce or peace." ...

But the central fact of the Vietnam War is that no one really believes in it. [He refers here specifically to the combat veterans with whom he worked.]

Lifton discusses at some length how these combat conditions created an "atrocity-producing" environment in which murders, rapes and war crimes were more likely to occur.  But he writes about this in order to understand the situation, not to excuse crimes. Yet he stresses the ways in which under certain conditions, almost anyone can be mightily tempted to act in ways that transgress all boundaries, even those drastically altered ones that apply during combat.

The copy of Home from the War with which I'm working comes from a local library and has a sticker inside that says, "GIFT FROM: Country Joe McDonald."  I think that's pretty cool.

Britney Spears and the sad decline of the American press

Speaking of Britney, why do nasty Yankees have to keep making up bad stories about poor Little Boo?

People in the News: Britney reams out sis's co-star Seattle Post-Intelligencer 08/30/05

Are pregnancy hormones causing Britney Spears to rage? Last week, the pop star supposedly stormed the set of little sister Jamie Lynn Spears' Nickelodeon show, "Zoey 101," and screamed at Jamie Lynn's 13-year-old co-star, leaving the teen in tears.
According to an "on-set snitch" for the New York Post, Britney screamed that the teen was an "evil little girl" and that she had better be careful or she'll "never work in this town again!"

And does the Yankee paper give Boo's side of the story a fair shake?  Noo-ooo.  Look how they tell her side (my emphasis):

A spokesperson confirmed the tale, with sugar coating. "She did not yell by any means, she just gave the girl a sisterly talking to and wondered why they just couldn't all get along," the flak said.

Oh, the decline of the press.  Allowing some anonymous source - and a single source, even, look at that! - to diss one of America's greatest cultural icons that way.

It's a shame, I tell you, a crying shame.

Monday, August 29, 2005

MTV Music Awards

I taped it, just to see if Britney Spears would show up pregnant.  But so far I've only watched Shakira's performance.

It sounds like that may have been the highlight of the show (not that I'm surprised to hear that): Stars ablaze in Miami heat by Sean Daly St. Petersburg Times 08/30/05.

You know you're at an especially sinful gathering when video vixen Paris Hilton is one of the most tastefully dressed people there.

From Shakira's show-stealing shimmy to Kelly Clarkson's show-closing wet T-shirt contest, Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards was a sexed-up party for sure. There aren't many events that generate next-day buzz quite like the VMAs. "Shakira turns me on, and I'm not even from that team," said a water-logged Clarkson after the show.

If you're on AOL, you can see Shakira's latest video here: Shakira - "No" Video.  They claim it's an AOL exclusive.

Gene Lyons on cheering for Bush

Gene Lyons has been doing light pieces the last couple of weeks.  But I especially enjoyed his opening paragraphs on this one: Weighing in on presidential fitness by Gene Lyons Daily Dunklin Democrat 08/24/05.

Having voted in my last junior-high student-council election long ago, I am normally unmoved by suggestions that this column adopt a more upbeat perspective regarding President Bush. I can think of no good reason either to feign school spirit or pretend enthusiasm for the administration's manifest failures, foreign and domestic.

Friends in Austin, Texas, assure me that Bush can be disarmingly personable. So can every other confident man who ever ran a successful swindle. I enjoy reminding Fox News devotees, who've adopted the Soviet practice of diagnosing Dear Leader's critics with psychiatric disorders, that no man alive exudes more personal charm than the Arkansas Antichrist, William Jefferson Clinton. (my emphasis)

I guess Bush's nickname in Left Blogostan of "Dear Leader" is catching on!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Iraq War: Turning and tipping

"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'm very hesitant about news of "turning points" and "tipping points" of any kind coming out of the Iraq War.  So I'm trying to take recent indications that we're seeing a "tipping point" for the worse coming out of Iraq with a grain of salt.

But there's caution, and there's foolish optimism.  And the news from there recently doesn't give those in the reality-based community a great deal of comfort about the state of things there.  Here are some recent examinations:

The Iraqi constitution: DOA? Angry and marginalized, Sunnis are threatening to torpedo Iraq's constitution. Disaster looms, and the Bush administration's blunders are largely to blame. by Juan Cole Salon 08/26/05.

The problem, however, is that the Kurds and Shiites could compromise in part because they both saw the benefits of regional confederations with claims on local resources, given that both have petroleum. The Sunni Arabs fear that such a system will leave them only with "the drifting sands of Anbar province." A system like Alaska's, in which oil profits are shared as royalties with all citizens equally, might have sidestepped some of the disputes over the prerogatives of provincial confederations, but the American Coalition Provisional Authority that ruled Iraq for a year did not institute that system when it had the chance. The Americans were still dreaming then of privatizing everything in Iraq for the sake of U.S. corporate profits (including the air Iraqis breathed, if possible.) Moreover, the long string of Bush administration mistakes in Iraq, along with the rejectionism of many in the Sunni leadership strata, had so alienated most Sunni Arabs that their negotiators - unlike the populist Kurdish and Shiite leaders - lacked much of a base of popular support, fatally weakening the Sunni bargaining position.

Parliament can clearly ram the draft constitution through at will, since the Shiites and the Kurds dominate it. In fact, the Kurdistan regional Parliament approved the federal constitution on Aug. 24, even before the federal Parliament had. But the real question now is whether the constitution can survive the referendum. The Sunni Arabs dominate Anbar and Salah al-Din provinces, and almost certainly can muster a two-thirds "no" vote on Oct. 15 in both. They may also be able to pull off a rejection in Ninevah province. In that case, Parliament would dissolve, new elections for Parliament would be held in December, and the entire process would begin all over again - a nightmarish prospect. Meanwhile, the Sunni Arab guerrillas continue their macabre war against a new order that cannot seem to get its act together.

Iraqi forces may need years of preparation by Tom Lasseter, Knight-Ridder Newspapers 08/26/05.

Three weeks of patrols and interviews in restive Anbar province suggested that Iraqi security forces will need years of preparation before they're ready to take charge of the complex and violent tribal areas of western Iraq. President Bush has said repeatedly that U.S. troops will withdraw only when Iraqi troops are ready to take over.

Many of the Iraqi troops were in poor condition, unable or unwilling to complete long foot patrols without frequent breaks. They often didn't know what to do in complicated situations, standing back and letting American Marines and soldiers take the lead.

Most of the Iraqi troops interviewed were Shiite Muslims - the majority religious group in Iraq - who were long oppressed by Sunni Muslims, Anbar's predominant ethnic group but a minority across Iraq. That history creates obstacles to establishing trust with the locals.

In Fallujah, after a U.S. assault last November routed the insurgency that had demolished thetown's police force, the Interior Ministry sent in troops from its Public Order Brigade. Residents accuse the battalion of being a de facto Shiite militia.

The version that reporters like Lassater are giving us and the happy-talk versions put out by Dear Leader Bush and his administration simply can't both be true:

The Iraqi National Guard, heralded last year as the answer to security in the area, has been disbanded because morale was low and insurgents had infiltrated it. The old national guard trucks, with their blue emblems, now sit rusting. As with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the predecessor to the national guard, American officials say the new Iraqi army and police will establish security in places such as Anbar.

However, the police force has collapsed in Ramadi, the provincial capital. Two divisions of Iraqi soldiers - a total of 12,000 men - are to establish security, but so far only 2,000 are available, and half of them lack basic training.

Hit, a city of 130,000, has no police force. North of Hit, in Haditha - near the site of attacks that killed 20 Marines this month - the police chief handed over all the patrol cars to the Marines in January. (my emphasis)

It's seeing reports like this that make me so skeptical of even longtime war critics who are still engaging in vague happy talk about ways that the situation can be saved:

A Marine standing nearby suggested to Stickland that maybe the answer was to train Iraqis as traffic police, give them orange vests and have them do traffic stops on their own.

Strickland laughed. "Yeah, until the muj finds out the Americans gave them the vests; then they'll kill `em," he said, referring to the insurgents by the Arabic word for "holy warrior," mujahedeen. "When they have problems, these guys will just leave their uniforms and walk off."

I'm sorry to say that Wesley Clark, who I certainly think of highly in his opinions on military and political matters, is still indulging that now increasingly absurd ritual: Before It's Too Late in Iraq 08/26/05, WesPAC Securing America Website.

Meanwhile, on the military track, security on the ground is poor, not only in terms of suicide bombing but more importantly, in terms of protection of life and property for ordinary Iraqis. The US armed forces still haven't received the resources, restructuring and guidance adequate for the magnitude of the task. Why, in June, 2005, over two year into the mission of training Iraqi forces, was the President announcing such "new steps" as partnering with Iraqi units, establishing "transition teams" to work with Iraqi units, or training Iraqi Ministries to conduct anti-terrorist operations? There's nothing new about any of this – just standard nation-building doctrine which we used in Vietnam. Where are the thousands of trained linguists that we need? Where are the flexible, well-resourced, military-led infrastructure development programs to win "hearts and minds?" Where are the smart operations and adequate numbers of forces – US, coalition, or Iraqi –to strengthen control over the borders?

Given considerations like those described by Lassater's news report, it's already too late to approach the problem in this light.  Any solution now is a matter of minimizing the damage to America, Iraq and the Middle East from the disaster Dear Leader and his warlords have created in Iraq.  Anything along these lines that the United States can still accomplish will have to be done as part of a negotiated exit strategy that removes US troops from Iraq sooner rather than later.

But do I even need to say that even an over-optimistic Wes Clark still makes far more sense than Dear Leader and his supporters? War didn't and doesn't bring democracy  by Wesley Clark Washington Monthly May 2005.

Operating on the theory that if you say something enough times people will believe it, the Bush administration and its allies have in the last few years confidently put forth an array of assertions, predictions, and rationalizations about Iraq that have turned out to be nonsense. They've told us that Saddam's regime was on the verge of building nuclear weapons; that it had operational links with al Qaeda; that our allies would support our invasion if we stuck with our insistence about going it alone; that we could safely invade with a relatively small number of groundtroops; that the Iraqi people would greet us as liberators; that Ahmed Chalabi could be trusted; that Iraq's oil revenues would pay for the country's reconstruction; and that most of our troops would be out of Iraq within six months of the initial invasion. ...

Today, American democratic values are admired in the Middle East, but our policies have generated popular resentment. Although it may come as a surprise to those of us here, there is a passionate resistance to the U.S. “imposing” its style of democracy to suit American purposes. Democratic reformers in the Middle East don't want to have their own hopes and dreams subordinated to the political agenda of the United States. It's for this reason that the administration shouldn't try to take too much credit for the coming changes. Or be too boastful about our own institutions. Or too loud in proclaiming that we're thrilled about Middle Eastern democracy—mostly because it makes us feel safer. A little humility is likely to prove far more useful than chest-thumping. ...

Democracy can't be imposed—it has to be homegrown. In the Middle East, democracy has begun to capture the imagination of the people. For Washington to take credit is not only to disparage courageous leaders throughout the region, but also to undercut their influence at the time it most needs to be augmented. Let's give credit where credit is due—and leave the political spin at the water's edge.

Iran covers all its bets in neighboring Iraq by Warren P. Strobel, Knight-Ridder 08/25/05.

When rival Shiite Muslim factions battled in Iraqi cities this week in a worrisome new turn for the country's stability, neighboring Iran had little to lose: It supports both factions.

Iran has shrewdly pursued a strategy of "portfolio diversification" in Iraq. It backs a wide range of actors - even competing ones -with support, money and weapons to ensure that it has a say in Iraq's future, Western officials and analysts said.

"They are like lobbyists. They're spreading the money around, so whoeverwins owes them," said Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor and expert on Shiite Islam who's criticized U.S. policy in Iraq. ...

"I think the Iranians feel that they are basically winning in Iraq. They feel things are basically going their way," said Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist at the Congressional Research Service, part of the Library of Congress.

Iran has maintained ties to secular Shiite leaders such as Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, the former head of the exile group Iraqi National Congress, and to religious groups such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

It's also reached out gingerly to firebrand nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to the analysts and a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue of Iran's involvement in Iraq is being debated within the American government and involves classified data. (my emphasis)

Chalabi, of course, was the Pentagon's favorite to be America's puppet ruler in Iraq.  Great choice, guys.

And speaking of Turning points? by Jules Witcover Baltimore Sun 08/10/05.

Ms. Sheehan, co-founder of a group called Gold Star Families for Peace, is part of a growing community of Americans directly affected by Mr. Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

This community, slow to mobilize, is showing signs of surfacing in greater numbers and louder voice. A Freedom of Information Act filing triggered a belated agreement that returning caskets of soldiers killed in Iraq can be photographed. And a major march on Washington is being organized for Sept. 24 by United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of anti-war groups.

At the same time, Mr. Bush's approval ratings continue to head south. The latest Newsweek poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates International gives him only 42 percent, lowest of his presidency, as opposed to 51 percent disapproval. Worse, 61 percent of the 1,004 adults polled said they disapproved of his handling of the war, to only34 percent who approved.

Following Mr. Bush's repeated statement that U.S. forces will stay until Iraqis trained to deal with the insurgency can do so, only 25 percent said they agreed, with 38 percent saying they were willing to wait less than a year. Twelve percent said they wanted U.S. forces out now. ...

But a stirring is building that in coming months is likely to test Mr. Bush's resolve in Iraq, and the home front's patience, more than ever before.

That 61% of Americans who disapprove of various aspects of the war are the targets of the threats of vigilante violence made by the geriatric hate group the American Legion with the tacit - hell, all but explicit - approval of the lying Gen. Myers that I quote at the beginning of my Iraq War posts.

"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 best we can do?

"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 has developed his own proposal for extracting the United States from the Iraq War: The Third Option in Iraq: A Responsible Exit Strategy by Gareth Porter Middle East Policy Fall 2005.

Porter pitches his idea as a middle way of sorts between an "out now" urgency and the "stay the course" option now being publicly advocated by Dear Leader Bush.  But I read it more as a description of what is probably the very best the US can reasonably hope to achieve in Iraq at this point.

Essentially, he proposes the the US negotiate a phased military withdrawal based on a mutual agreement with the main Sunni resistance groups and the Shi'a parties that dominate the Iraqi national government.  Ideally, there would be a political link to the military agreement, one which would provide meaningful power-sharing and on-going political processes based on mutual respect between Sunni and Shi'a groups.

He warns that agreement with the largest Sunni guerrilla groups would not stop all violence against US forces and the Shi'a government.  (He identifies four Sunni groups he has in mind as the Army of Muhhamad, the Army of Freedom Fighters, the Islamic Army and Ansar al-Sunnah, all of whom have proposed "conditions for ending their armed resistance.")  But he arguest tht if an agreement satsifactory to the Sunnis is concluded, then Sunnis would be more willing to collaborate in exposing the foreign jihadist groups and running them out of the country.

Porter doesn't write much in this article about the particular problems of "Kurdistan".  Presumably that's because he's focusing on how to extract the US from the war.  And he thinks the Sunni-Shi'a conflict is the central one that has to be addressed for that purpose:

Thus the official definition of the problem in Iraq as a conflict between a democratic nation and an anti-democratic insurgency is a dangerous fiction. In fact, it is a struggle between two rival sectarian communities over the distribution of power in post-Saddam Iraq. Each side is using the means available to it to defend its interests in that power struggle. The more the United States insists on ignoring that central fact and treats the insurgency as an enemy allied with the forces of global Islamic terrorism, the more it alienates the Sunni population, widens the rift between the two communities and accelerates the momentum toward a Sunni-Shiite civil war. (my emphasis)

And, although it may be somewhat buried at the end of the piece, Porter also describes it as "critical" that the US declare publicly its willingness "to withdraw its forces much more rapidly if the two sides [Sunni and Shi'a] continue to head toward sectarian civil war."

For those in the reality-based community who have been following the news from the Iraq War, the problems in achieving those three goals are immediately obvious.  Dear Leader's administration has no intention of setting a withdrawal date.  The civil war may be unavoidable now; it may be underway already. And the jihadist bases probably can't be eliminated complete until Iraq has a fully-functioning national government with sufficient security forces, a process likely to tak at least five years even under optimal conditions.

In other words, the point at which the US could have had a good outcome in Iraq is now long past - if it was ever there at all.  The fact that a long-shot proposal like Porter's now looks like the best possibile outcome is a sign of how narrow the real existing possibilities are.

In the process of describing his proposal, Porter makes a number of valuable factual and analytical observations:

US political barriers to withdrawal

This popular opposition [by Americans] to continued occupation might be dangerous for the administration, but two factors tend to muffle its political impact. First, the divide in the country is highly partisan: Republicans still support the president by a 3-to-1 margin; while Democrats disapprove 7-to-1 and independents 2-to-1. This gives a Republican president plenty of room for maneuver.

Movement toward an exit strategy, moreover, is still resisted by a large majority of the political elite. In the first clear test, on May 26, an amendment calling on President Bush to devise a plan for withdrawal from Iraq was defeated in the House of Representatives 300 to 128. Thus Congress is far more supportive of a long occupation than is the populace. This has enabled the Bush administration to act as though it were immune to the polling data, declaring that it has a "victory strategy" rather than an "exit strategy."

On the leverage of pulling out troops

Shiite leaders are unlikely to agree to this kind of compromise unless the United States makes it clear that it cannot maintain troops for a transition period without Shiite willingness to offer a reasonable formula on minority rights.

The two main Shi'a parties and militias

Keep in mind that these parties are Our Side.  More-or-less.  For the moment.

The Baathist ideology that undoubtedly still strongly influences the Sunni elite is dismissive of liberal democracy, but the two main militant Shiite parties are hardly more committed to liberal ideology. The Dawa party waged armed resistance to Saddam's regime based on Leninist organizational methods, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its armed militia, the Badr Corps, were born on Iranian soil under the tutelage and protection of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Even taking into account doctrinal differences between Iraqi Shiite ayatollahs and their Iranian counterparts, the ideology of the Iraqi Shiite political movement has far more in common with that of the clerical establishment in Iran than it does with liberal democracy.

However, he also writes that the new Iraqi mukhabarat (secret police) was staffed, at the CIA's insistence, with many former officials from Saddam's secret police.  One reason is instructive:

The administration's motive in staffing the agencywith ex-Baathists was to have reliable allies in the Iraqi state structure with whom it could collaborate against Iran - a state with which the Shiite government clearly intended to have friendly relations.

Sectarian conflict

It is my understanding that the Sunni/Shi'a/Kurdish divisions were not so severe in March 2003 (the invasion date) as American officials assumed.  But asssuming that such conflicts were already severe has become a self-fulfilling prophecy:

While the administration has continued since those elections to portray the conflict in Iraq as part of a global struggle between the forces of democracy and terrorism, the Shiite government and the Sunni opposition have been sliding into sectarian civil war. Before the elections, the Shiites had held their own use of violence in check. Once they had control of the interior ministry, however, violence between the two communities began to spiral out of control. One cause of the vastly increased tensions has been the seizure of Sunni mosques, especially in Baghdad, by Shiites who claim they were taken from them during the Saddam regime.

Porter stresses that because the Shi'a dominate the national government, American support of the government is also in fact (as well as in the perception of the Sunnis) support for the Shi'a faction against the Sunnis in an increasingly violent sectarian conflict.  Speaking of how partisan Shi'a militias have been adopted as official government paramilitary units in Sunni areas, he writes:

There is now credible evidence that such paramilitary operations have involved mass arrests, torture and in many cases, killing of Sunnis, all outside any legal framework.

Porter notes that the Iraqi regime does not currenly consider itself strong enough to defeat its sectarian Sunni rivals and therefore "believe they need at least a few more years of reliance on U.S. occupation forces." (my emphasis)

Foreign jihadists

Porter points to the possibility that the Bush administration has more-or-less-consciously decided to allow Iraq to be a base for jihadist groups for the forseeable future:

In a little-noticed public statement in June, Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the chiefU.S. military spokesman in Iraq, conceded that "this insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and terrorism in Iraq is [sic] not going to be settled, through military options or military operations." It could only be settled, he said, through political agreement.

This conclusion puts in sharper relief the question of whether the administration has essentially conceded al-Qaeda its terrorist haven in Iraq for many more years to come. In this regard, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld made a highly revealing statement in a late June press briefing that "insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, ten, twelve years"[.]  It can reasonably be inferred that Rumsfeld and other key policy makers have decided to accept continued war and a "terrorist haven" In Iraq for the indefinite future.
(my emphasis)

War, the Republican Party way.  Nothing quite like it.

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

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sometimes war stories are like "fish stories"

This story is a good reminder that criticial thinking is needed even about veterans' and soldiers' stories.  Especially since everyone is falling all over themselves to show how much they "support the troops."

Historians and journalists who write about wars know that particular care is required when working with eyewitness accounts of combat.  Because in addition to the usual problems of faulty memory and emotional distortions that affect all kinds of eyewitness testimony, war stories can be affected by considerations particular to the wartime setting: guilt, fear, a desire for glory or sympathy.

The story from the Chicago Tribune (aggravating registration required) reminds us that it's not just combat veterans who sometimes come up with misleading war stories: HOAX! Did Sgt. Dan Kennings die in Iraq? Not really. Did Sgt. Dan Kennings even exist? Well, no. So who was that little girl writing the letters? by Ofelia Casillas, David Heinzmann and Rex W. Huppke Chicago Tribune 08/26/05.

Word that Sgt. Dan Kennings had been killed in Iraq crushed spirits in the Daily Egyptian newsroom. The stocky, buzz-cut soldier befriended by students at the university newspaper was dead, and the sergeant's little girl--a precocious, blond-haired child they'd grown to love--was now an orphan.

They all knew that Kodee Kennings' mother had died when Kodee was about 5. The little girl's fears and frustrations about her father being in harm's way had played out on the pages of the Daily Egyptian for nearly two years, in gut-wrenching letters fraught with misspellings, innocent observations and questions about why Daddy wasn't there to chase the monsters from under her bed.

It turns out Daddy didn't exist. And neither did Kodee.

The Tribune went to southern Illinois to learn about the bond between Kodee and Dan Kennings, and the life Kodee would face without her hero.

Instead, eight days of reporting revealed elaborate fabrications and intricate lies. There is no soldier named Dan Kennings. The charming girl people came to know as Kodee Kennings is someone else entirely, a child from an out-of-state family led to believe that she was playing a part in a documentary about a soldier.

One reason I find this to be a particularly good reminder that scams get pulled around news stories is that, for one thing, this one is not particularly political, and, for another, the actual motive seems very unclear.  It could be a case of someone just wanting to see if they could pull it off, or suffering from some kind of psychiatric condition that attracted her toward confabulation, or who knows what.

The woman involved used an acquaintance to play Kennings, going so far as to take him and the little girl to a church in Detroit this spring, where they spoke to a group of children inspired by their story.

The acquaintance - Patrick Trovillion, a registered nurse from Marion - said he was led to believe he was playing a cocky soldier in a legitimate movie. He was shocked to learn Thursday night that it was a farce and that his character had died.

"This really chaps me a little bit," Trovillion said. "That ain't no way to treat our armed forces."

I also wonder if may be one effect, an eccentric one for sure, of the extreme sentimentalization of soldiers that has grown up in the United States around our all-volunteer force.  (The "backdoor draft" of extended tours of duty is now straining the definition of "all-volunteer", of course.)

You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the story of the pretty little orphan girl whose father had sacrificed all for his country.  But in today's climate, with the Iraq War fans going all-out to identify the prowar cause as identical to "supporting the troops" and to brand war critics as enemies of the soldiers, people are even more likely to shut off their critical thinking abilities around stories involving combat casualties.

Andrew Bacevich in The New American Militarism (2005) chronicles some of the ways in which conservative  Republicans in particular promoted this sentimental attitude for political goals.  Ronald Reagan was particularly successful in promoting this stance.  And it has had a tremendous lasting effect:

Present-day observers might still argue the relative merits of Reagan's legacy for subsequent U.S. military policy. With regard to the political benefits that he accrued fromidentifying his own cause with that of "the troops," no room for argument exists. Reagan showed that in post-Vietnam America genuflecting before soldiers and playing to the pro-military instincts of the electorate wins votes.

Given their pronounced political utility, neither the myths that Reagan conjured up—about past American wars, about the purposes of American military power, and about those who served in uniform—nor the techniques he devised to exploit those myths disappeared when Reagan himself retired from office. Rather they became enshrined as permanent aspects of American political theater. No one did more to affirm the Californian's military mythology and to perpetuate the use of soldiers as political props than did Bill Clinton.

Clinton's problems about his efforts to avoid being drafted are well known.  And after years of hearing today's authoritarian-minded Republican Party recreate reality on a regular basis for the higher glory of Dear Leader Bush, it hardly seems surprising in retrospect that both avoiding Vietnam service (Clinton) and serving in Vietnam (John Kerry, Al Gore, Max Cleland) are equally sinister in the eyes of Republicans - at least when it's Democrats doing either.  While the successful efforts of Dear Leader, Dick Cheney, Rush "don't-bogart-that-OxyContin-my-friend" Limbaugh and other Republican Party notables to avoid Vietnam War service is cheerfully accepted by the rightwingers.

But the sentimentality is there.  And Bacevich gives a very good description of why Clinton and other Democrats felt they had to embrace and promote this attitude in the wake of the Reagan Administration:

By the time Reagan left office, Republicans had managed to brand Democrats as national security wimps. Democrats had gotten the United States into Vietnam, had made a hash of things, and then had washed their hands of the mess they had made, leaving it to Republicans to clean up. When it came to military matters, therefore, the Democratic Party was untrustworthy. Worse, among the party rank and file, undercurrents of anti-military sentiment persisted. Democrats didn't understand and didn't much like soldiers - so at least the story went.

Legionaires Disease II is already speading

Now at one level, it's obviously ridiculous as well as pathetic for the octogenarians of the American Legion to be threatening to come out and rumble with antiwar protesters.

But today I noticed something that hadn't caught my attention before: American Legion criticizes anti-war protesters AP, Home News Tribune (New Jersey) 08/24/05.

It seems that the same Legionaires' convention that called for violence to suppress the expression of majority opinion in the United States had quite a distinguished guest to address them (my emphasis):

The delegates were praised by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Gov. Linda Lingle, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, U.S. Rep. Ed Case and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

Myers said American support for the war on terrorism is critical because "success is hard to define and hard to measure" in a conflict lacking front lines.

"It's vital for Americans to stay resolved, to stay committed, and to be patient," said Myers, who is ending a ten-day tour visiting military bases around the globe and who said the war on terror would "continue to be challenging for some time to come."

"Resolve or will is ultimately what will decide whether we defeat ... extremism and terrorism or whether we give in," he said.

Why is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff addressing the national convention of an organization overtly encouraging extralegal violence - maybe Christian terrorism is a more appropriate name for it - against their fellow citizens who disagree with them in their support of Dear Leader Bush and all his mighty works?  An organization that obviously hates American freedoms?

Actually, I'm serious about this.  It's a disgrace that the highest military officer in a democracy would associate himself with a group taking explicit public positions like that.  The fact that Gen. Myers lent his support to this hate group at that convention really is disturbing.

Yes, I know most American Legion members probably don't pay much attention to the national organization official positions.  Between their cataracts and age-related dementia, most of them probably can't even read the official resolutions.

But this really does stink.  I'm a member of the Rotary Club myself.  And if the national or international Rotary organization were to adopt official positions like the American Legion has done, I would resign immediately.  I have no desire to be a part of an organization that promotes Christian terrorism against majority opinion in America.

I should also say that I can't imagine Rotary adopting such a position.  For one thing, Rotary is a worldwide, genuinely international organization, while the American Legion is a bunch of old American white guys who have apparently let their organization degenerate into a geriatric hate group.  Rotary was actively involved in promoting the establishment of the United Nations and continues to support the UN today.  In today's political climate, that distinguishes them in itself.

But I think it's a perfectly legitimate question to address to members of the American Legion why they are supporting an organization that hates American freedoms and advocates violence against a majority of their own fellow citizens.

And it's legitimate several times over to ask why the Chairman of the JCS is lending his support to advocacy of vigilante violence against peaceful protesters by his appearance there.

Maybe some of those fine Republican "moderates" we keep hearing about will jump all over him for that.  Chuck Hagel? Dick Lugar? Maverick McCain?  How do you great "moderates" feel about this kind of mixing of the uniformed military in advocating political violence in America?  I'm sure we'll be hearing from those brave "moderates" any day now.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

More on Vietnam veterans' protest

Continuing from my previous post on the account of Vietnam veterans' protest against that war in John Prados' The Hidden History of the Vietnam War (1995), I was especially struck by a couple of stories he relates.

At the 1972 Republican Party convention in Miami Beach, veterans organized by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) caravaned to the city in what they called the Last Patrol.  There was a campsite set up for them, where the veterans had also been based during the previous Democratic Party convention in the same city.

Prados tells what happened upon their arrival:

As during the Democratic convention, the campsite set aside for demonstrators at the Republican convention was a walled enclosure in Flamingo Park. The Last Patrol veterans pulled up to discover a strange scene - members of the American Nazi party, mounting a demonstration of their own, had taken over the stage and podium at the park and were haranguing the crowd. While there were only a couple of dozen or so of the Nazis (by veterans' estimates), and perhaps 3,500 or so assorted antiwar activists already in Flamingo Park, no one seemed to be able to do anything about the Nazis. Camp organizers approached VVAW members begging them to get the American Nazi party people off the stage. When Del Rosario of the VVAW national office mounted the stage to ask the Nazis to vacate, someone, evidently a bodyguard for the speaker, picked up a chair and hit Rosario with it from behind. Outraged, the VVAW vets then surrounded the stage and pulled the offenders off one by one, passing them from hand to hand to the edge of the park where a really big veteran named Fred Rosenthal literally threw them out into the street, some by the scruff of their necks. The Nazi speaker reportedly went straight up over the wall, suffering injuries when he landed on the other side.

This incident with the Nazis made the Last Patrol veterans the darlings of Miami Beach, if not of the Republicans. Suddenly a Jewish alderman, who had most vociferously opposed VVAW at every turn during the weeks leading up to the convention, was asking veterans if they had enough portable toilets, if they needed electricity, anything at all. When the veterans refused to camp inside the walled enclosure, which they considered not secure and which was becoming packed with less-disciplined antiwar demonstrators, it suddenly became all right for the veterans to move to a new site two hundred meters south. Jewish residents materialized with baskets of food and bottles of wine, feeding the VVAW that first night as they set up camp. Finally, relations were cemented with the Miami Beach police, who cooperated amicably with the VVAW for the duration of the Last Patrol. When the Nazis later tried to return, with more cars and bodies, they were turned back by Miami Beach residents - little old ladies with garden hoses and men with shovels. When they heard the story, veterans felt proud to have given an example.

That's just such a great story!

Of course, today's war-loving keyboard commandoes would surely be shocked! shocked! that these antiwar protesters were impolite to the Nazis who were trying to break up their antiwar protest.  This just shows what shameful hypocrites those dirty, smelly, antiwar hippies were!

Prados also relates the story of how some creative VVAW protesters managed to dump motor oil on a ramp that the Republicans were using to bring people into the hall to sing hosannahs for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.  (The 1972 Republican convention may have been the most royalist event in American history.)  Prados relates what happened then:

The next bus to come along promptly stalled [because of slipping on the oil]. As other buses lined up behind it the entire entry system [of bus shuttles] collapsed.

The delegates on their buses perforce had to confront the demonstrators. Many rolled down their windows and shouted at the state troopers to "get" the veterans. Several VVAW members heard shouts of "Gas 'em!" The troopers deployed and began to use teargas. Then a remarkable thing happened - the wind changed direction and blew the gas back toward the convention hall. The buses with open windows were soon filled with gas. Worse, the hall had opened its garage door in expectation of buses entering, and the gas wafted inside. Spiro Agnew stopped briefly in the middle of his introductory speech, tears in his eyes. Richard Nixon himself writes, "My eyes burned from the lingering sting of tear gas as I entered the hall."

This story also provides a good self-test.  If an involuntary smile didn't come to your lips upon reading about Tricky Dick and Spiro Agnew getting gassed with their own tear gas, you ain't no true Jacksonian Democrat.  You may be a loyal Dem and a lot of other good things.  But a hardcore Jacksonian, you're not!

Reading that latter story made my whole day, actually.

And those poor Republican white folks in the buses yelling "gas 'em" and then having their own buses filled with tear gas.  Gosh, I feel so sorry for them!

Antiwar veterans in action - and, yes, some veterans got spit on

Sometimes you come across a really good story.  This one is about the Vietnam veterans' activism against the Vietnam War, from John Prados' The Hidden History of the Vietnam War (1995).  He tells in one chapter about some of the Nixon administration's attempts to discredit, undermine, demonize and even imprison antiwar veterans.

The current administration's nasty tactics of trying to brand war critics as traitors for daring to dispute Dear Leader Bush's version of reality didn't just spring full-blown out of the brow of Karl Rove.  The Nixon administration was a key political influence on the current Bush team, not least among them Don Rumsfeld and Dark Lord Dick Cheney.

One of the more successful pieces of propaganda coming out of Nixon's miserable abortion of an administration was the notion that antiwar protesters were hostile to the troops themselves.  The longevity of Nixon propaganda is illustrated by this otherwise informative and decent article: War Could Pivot on U.S. Hearts and Minds by Josh Getlin and Elizabeth Mehren Los Angeles Times 08/21/05.  In the middle of it comes this whopper straight out of the scam-the-rubes Republican jive machine.  Comparing the antiwar sentiment against the Vietnam War to the public worries about the Iraq War, they write:

There was a national draft during Vietnam that caused millions of parents to fear that their sons could be sent to war. That war also spawned a protest movement that seemed to aim much of its anger at U.S. forces. The Iraq war is being fought by an all-volunteer army, and most critics make a point of condemning the war, not the warriors. (my emphasis)

The article has some of the better observations I've seen in the mainstream press about how public attitudes about wars are shaped.  But right in the middle of it is this bonehead claim.  Can't the writers and editors do the most minimal research before they pass on stale, 35-year-old Republican fabrications as thought they were any other than the relics of the Watergate administration?

But that's the degraded media culture we have in the United States today.  In his book, Prados talks about how the intelligence in Vietnam was often fudged to meet the predelictions of policymakers.  No, that didn't start with this Bush administration either.  But credit where credit is due.  Not even the Johnson and Nixon administrations in their most dishonest moments just completely fabricated the reasons for going to war.  Dear Leader has the dubious honor of being the boldest and most spectacular of Presidential liars.

But I digress.  Prados mentions that one of the things that analysts got wrong was, well, the number of residents in South Vietnam.  As it puts it, probably not with hyperbole, "In this most quantified of conflicts, half the data was fictitious."  Compared to the Bush administration's intelligence on Iraqi WMDs, of course, that sounds like a fabulous record.  But writing in 1995, before we had the perspective we have now on such things, Prados was amazed by the degree of intelligence failure.  And he wrote, leading in to his discussion of the antiwar movement:

Is it any wonder the Vietnam War was lost?

In a way the troops saw more clearly than everyone else. The "grunts" in the field, the men doing the fighting and being killed, who saw the mines and booby traps, even the guns their generals insisted could not be there because the people wielding those weapons or placing those traps were not represented on the NVA [North Vietnamese Army] order of battle [which includes troop counts] - the grunts saw what was real, and their growing qualms effectively stopped the war. More and more soldiers rejected the insanity of the system by tuning out, by becoming less and less willing to take on missions, by questioning their orders, not merely carrying them out. "GI resistance" became a reality during the Nixon years. As much as anything else, that meant that the war had to be brought to an end. Typically, however, before that point was reached, the Nixon administration tried to shoot the messengers, supposing that its problems would go away if only the antiwar movement could be eliminated.  As a result the Vietnam War led to a war at home, a war directly against Americans, especially those Vietnam veterans who came home to oppose the war.  (bolded emphasis mine)

Let's walk through this one nice and slow.  Not that any Republican trolls could keep it in their heads no matter how slow you said it or how many times you repeated it.  For them, if junkie bigot Rush Limbaugh and his like aren't saying it, it can't be true.

The growing protest of Vietnam veterans was a key element in stopping American participation in the Vietnam War.  The soldiers in the field - those that good Republicans claim to idolize - "rejected the insanity of the system ... by becoming less and less willing to take on missions, by questioning their orders, not merely carrying them out."  The Nixon adminstration directed its venom particularly at antiwar veterans.  You know, the veterans our good Republicans claim to idolize.

I'll tell more of this story in the next post.  But in 1972, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) was a very visible presence at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, which both happened to be held in Miami Beach that year.  At the Republican convention, supporters of the antiwar Republican Pete McCloskey got four VVAW activists into the convention hall.  Three of them were in wheelchairs, including the Ron Kovic who was protrayed by Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July. At one point, they started making their presence known to these Republicans who love and honor our veterans so much:

When they raised signs these were ripped from their hands and torn up; when they shouted, Republicans tried outshouting them and security guards ejected them from the premises. Nevertheless Bobby Mueller, Bill Wieman, Mark Clevinger, and Ron Kovic felt they had been effective. So hostile was the atmosphere that Kovic, in his wheelchair, was spat upon, but at another point he was interviewed for more than two minutes on network television and was able to get his point across. (my emphasis)

Now why would these folks dishonor and hate our soldiers so much that they would spit on a veteran in a wheelchair just because he was protesting the war?  Why? Why? Why?  Well, let's see, might be because they were, uh, mean Republican white folks who didn't give a flying [Cheney] whether these guys had been crippled serving their country in the Vietnam War?  Yeah, that explains it for me.

This is why the Republican jive story that seems to be hard-wired into the brains of today's war fans about antiwar protesters spitting on veterans returning for Vietnam is such a bizarre projection of what prowar rightwingers were actually doing themselves.  When he researched this piece of urban folklore for his book The Spitting Image (1998), Jerry Lembcke found no documented instances of or even contemporary references to Vietnam veterans being spit upon by antiwar protesters.  But he did find that "most of the documentable incidents of abusive behavior toward Vietnam veterans involved pro-war people against anti-war veterans." (my emphasis)

Prados tells us:

Ultimately it is impossible to bring closure to the story of the Vietnam War, to Americans' understanding of what happened to them and around them, without confronting the myths that have grown up surrounding the image of a monolithic antiwar movement. When one breaks the old molds, the first thing discovered is that Vietnam veterans played key roles in the antiwar movement just as they did in the war itself. Most everyone has heard of the largest such veterans' group, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), particularly its April 1971 action in Washington, where almost a thousand veterans met to hold an intensely emotional demonstration on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. (my emphasis)

More on this in the next post.

That Maverick McCain strikes again

How corrupt is today's Republican Party?  Molly Ivins' occasional collaborator Lou Dubose gives us a vivid glimpse:

Senatorial Courtesy: Will John McCain Let Republican Perps Walk? by Lou Dubose Texas Observer 08/26/05 issue (accessed 08/25/05)

Yes, that intrepid Maverick McCain seems to be holding back some of that famous "straight talk" when it comes to the cesspool of Republican Party corruption.  (Check out this post at De Profundis for more on Maverick McCain's courageous straight talk: McCain's Regression 08/24/05.) Dubose writes:

On September 29, 2004, Arizona Senator John McCain made a promise to six Indian tribes defrauded in an $82-million lobby billing scandal perpetrated by two close associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay: “To the aggrieved tribes and Native Americans generally, I say rest assured that this committee’s investigation is far from over. Together we will get to the bottom of this.”

At the time, McCain probably meant what he said. But if he is to be a viable candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he may have to slow down the investigation he began a year ago. Because at “the bottom” of the inquiry McCain directs from the chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is a second scandal that extends beyond the $82 million Mike Scanlon and Jack Abramoff took from the six tribes they were working for. Abramoff and Scanlon did more than enrich themselves. They enriched the Republican Party. The two Washington political operatives moved millions out of the accounts of the Indian tribes and into the accounts of Republican campaigns and advocacy groups whose support McCain will need for a presidential run in 2008. The personal contributions they made, such as the $500,000 check Scanlon wrote to the Republican National Governors Association in 2002, were derived from illicit billings of Indian clients.

The article casts light not only on the political considerations that explain Maverick McCain's behavior toward the Republican hard right.  Dubose observes:

McCain has requested ATR’s financial and membership files and Norquist has refused to deliver them. Norquist claims McCain hates him. Perhaps. But Norquist’s unofficial position of power in Washington places him beyond the Senator’s reach.

It's a long, fascinating investigative report, focusing on Abramoff's tribal lobbying operations mentioned in the excerpt above.  The kind that mainstream newspaper and - yes, it's true - even television news used to do with some frequency.

It also provides some an insight into the cynical practical politics of the Christian Right, which I discuss in this Blue Voice post:  Political and financial entrepreneurship by the Christian Right 08/25/05.

This parenthetical passage is titillating:

Abramoff’s six-count, wire fraud indictment unsealed August 11 is not related to Indian gaming, but to an allegedly fraudulent $23 million wire transfer in his purchase of a Florida gambling and cruise ship business. Abramoff did however rely on the support of DeLay and his staff to advance the deal. And Bob Ney entered a statement in the *Congressional Record* praising Abramoff’s venture and criticizing the previous owner, who disagreed with the terms of the purchase and who died in an unsolved, gangland-style shooting.

Even Dear Leader's office could be tainted by investigations into the Abrramoff-Scanlon-DeLay axis:

The White House couldn’t ignore the broadening scope of McCain’s investigation. Abramoff had raised $300,000 for Bush, been invited to a funders’ thank-you at a ranch near the President’s Crawford ranch (declined because he doesn’t travel on the Jewish Sabbath), served on Bush’s transition team in 2000, and had been to the White House on numerous occasions after Bush was elected. According to a source who has been interviewed by the FBI, Abramoff told tribal clients that he met regularly with Karl Rove, who insisted on meeting outside the White House so Abramoff’s name wouldn’t appear in public records. Norquist was selling casino Indians face time with President Bush for $25,000 a head. Bush’s Secretary of the Interior was changing Indian policy to accommodate Abramoff, at the request of DeLay and Speaker Denny Hastert. The scandal that started on K Street reached south toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

This is your Republican Party on OxyContin.  Not a pretty sight.

Jules Witcover writes a memorable goodbye to Baltimore

Since I'm a blogger and not a journalist, I'm going to wait until after I post excerpts from this column before I try to look up the backstory.

But when you read this column - and this is one that you really should go read the whole thing - it's hard not to imagine that there's an interesting backstory here: Goodbye, Baltimore by Jules Witcover Baltimore Sun 08/19/05

I've quoted Witcover here often, because he's one of the best journalists and political analysts we have.  It's truly bizarre that a tired, cynical, shallow writer like David Broder is referred to as the "dean" of the American press corps.  But then, he's far more refective of the caliber of the Big Pundits that Jules Wicover is.  Because the Witcovers of the journalistic world, of which we have tragically far too few, is far above the Big Pundit standar of today.

Also, Witcover's most recent book, The Party of the People (2003), is a history of the Democratic Party.  And his description of Andrew Jackson there is outstanding.  That alone earns him lots of points with me.

This column is framed as a goodbye to his Baltimore Sun readers.  Witcover is still going to be writing in syndication.  But he will be leaving his Baltimore Sun home base, as he explains.

This farewell column is an explanation of why he has devoted so much attention to the Iraq War the last three years.  Again, it's a reflection of the degraded standards of our public discussion these days that such a thing would require any kind of explanation.

Do read the whole thing.  But this part near the end really jumped out at me (my emphasis):

Into 2003, I took ever-firmer positions against Mr. Bush's actions, noting only when the invasion began that U.S. forces deserved support without my surrendering my obligation to examine and criticize the policy.

At the outset, I received much e-mail accusing me of disloyalty and even treason, but as the situation in Iraq festered and Mr. Bush's rationales for the invasion crumbled, the mail began to turn around. In time I was criticized by some readers for not calling for Mr. Bush's impeachment for misleading the nation into war.

I wrote then that there was a more realistic vehicle for expressing public disfavor - the approaching 2004 presidential election. I argued that those who were against the war could use the election as a referendum on what I argued was an illegal war begun under false premises.

Many voters obviously did so, but not enough, in part because the Bush campaign succeeded in making Democratic nominee John Kerry, himself ambiguous on the war, and his Vietnam service record the issue rather than the man who had started that war. In retrospect, I lament not having advocated impeachment, even as achieving it was unlikely.

Now, I've caught Witcover a time or two repeating conventional press corps scripts, e.g., Al Gore having claimed to invent the Internet.  But Witcover's work on the Iraq War and related issues is good to wash away quite a few sins of conventional wisdom.  And his recognition of Andy "Old Hickory" Jackson as a champion of democracy earns him even more absolution for the occasional conventional-wisdom slip.

So, in honor of Witcover's transition: Yes, George W. Bush richly deserves to be impeached.  Along with his vice president, Dark Lord Dick Cheney.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hating freedom

Check out the official bio of "commander" Thomas Cadmus, who proudly calls for violent suppression of war critics:  Thomas P. Cadmus/National Commander/The American Legion/2004.

What is it about old white guys that makes so many of them lose their minds sporadically?  It's kind of like the young guys I hear on the street sometimes who just let out a cry of "wooo-ooooh" for no apparent reason.   Maybe it's a hormone imbalance or something.

Is it just because they hate our freedoms?

Who do these fools think they are?

American Legion Declares War on Protestors -- Media Next? Editor & Publisher 08/24/05 (via Atrios)

The American Legion, which has 2.7 million members, has declared war on antiwar protestors, and the media could be next. Speaking at its national convention in Honolulu, the group's national commander called for an end to all “public protests” and “media events” against the war, constitutional protections be damned.

"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group's national convention in Honolulu.

The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism." ...

The "national commander" also vented the usual lying Republican dupe-the-rubes line about the anti-Vietnam War movement:

Without mentioning any current protestor, such as Cindy Sheehan, by name, Cadmus recalled: "For many of us, the visions of Jane Fonda glibly spouting anti-American messages with the North Vietnamese and protestors denouncing our own forces four decades ago is forever etched in our memories. We must never let that happen again….

What, has the American Legion decided to reorganize itself from a veterans social club to a national goon squad?  Do they plan to start practicing Christian terrorism against war critics?

Or maybe it's just one more instance of blowhard white guys spewing their anger at being old.  And still trying to avoid the fact that Bush and his Republicans snookered them like little children on the "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.

And maybe it's time for pro-democracy Americans to ask members of the American Legion why they are part of an organization that declares their hatred for American freedoms and promotes Christian terrorist violence?  It's a fair question.

Iraq War: The counterinsurgency dilemma

Jason Vest looks at the US military's lack of preparation for counterinsurgency warfare in the upcoming Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Willful ignorance: How the Pentagon sent the army to Iraq without a counterinsurgency doctrine July/Aug 2005

Scholars and soldiers alike have often used the phrase "the American way of war" to describe not just a predilection, but a virtual strategic obsession, which holds that wars are fought by gathering the maximum in manpower and materiel, hurling them into the maelstrom, and counting on swift, crushing victory. While this approach may work against a conventional army, it's nothing short of disastrous when fighting insurgents engaging in unconventional guerrilla warfare. Thus far in Iraq, the U.S. effort, though not entirely devoid of successes, has been hallmarked by overwhelmed and underprepared troops effecting heavy-handed, large-scale roundups of civilians (in some cases errantly or overzealously harming them); or the destruction of large swaths of cities and towns. Meanwhile, cycles of insurgent attacks continue to effectively target current and newly recruited Iraqi police, soldiers, and politicians, as well as Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers.

Vest's article looks at the way in which lessons from past counterinsurgencies have not been integrated into "the American way of war."  And how Donald Rumsfeld's version of "military transformation" will move them even farther away from doing so.

But it wasn't just the blowhard white guys who dismissed warning about the need for counterinsurgency preparation:

Throughout the 1990s, both students and professors at the military's war colleges produced a number of papers and studies making the case that insurgent scenarios were likely to become preeminent in the near future, and that the military couldn't afford to continue ignoring the study of counterinsurgency. Among the early and most articulate of these was Steven Metz, an Army War College professor whose respective 1993 and 1995 papers "The Future of Insurgency" and "Counterinsurgency: Strategy and the Phoenix of American Capability" both cautioned against the continued red-headed stepchild status of the field in military studies and outlined practical progressive reforms. In his 1995 study, he wrote that the U.S. military had to be "both looking backward at previous attempts to reconstitute counterinsurgency capabilities and looking forward to speculate on future forms of insurgency and the strategic environment in which counterinsurgency might occur. To do this now will shorten the period of learning and adapttion should counterinsurgency support again become an important part of American national security strategy."

It all came to naught.

According to Vest, one of the few authoritative studies of insurgency with which officers are familiar is Bard O'Neill's Insurgency and Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare (1990).  One anonymous former student of O'Neill's that Vest interviewed cited the familiar criticisms of the Iraqi occupation that the Iraqi army should not have simply been disbanded and that the occupation authority stumbled badly on restoring basic services like water and sewage.

But he also noted that beyond giving people the universal basics, few in the occupation seemed to have much interest in understanding certain complicated cultural and political historic realities of Iraq. Among these, he said, was that for the coalition to succeed, at least in the short term, it would have to understand that Saddam's oppressive reign was not just about terror. "Saddam's whole history is one of doing nothing but insurgency and counterinsurgency," he said. "Starting with the coup, and then doing an internal divide-and-conquer for years by using carrots and sticks--he was good at knowing when to be deftly brutal, or simply brutal, or simply deft. . . . Where he needed to fight fire with fire--like [suppressing] the al-Dawa [political party] or the Kurds--he did, killing people. Where he could do it by clearing a slum and rebuilding it, putting a Shiite from one tribal clan into a position of power, giving a village something it sorely needed, he did. My point here is that as brutal as Saddam was, he understood that in some cases, delivering basic services was enough to pacify some elements of the population that would otherwise be insurgents." From where he sat, he said, between the coalition's inability to comprehend and deliver, and the military's fixation with the trappings and illusions of conventional warfare, he did not feel buoyant about the next several years.

Vest also refers to "an unclassified but very closely held white paper" prepared by three of the Army's intelligence specialists in November 2003 (nearly two years ago):

The "center of gravity" under attack by insurgents was not--as everyone from President George W. Bush to the Pentagon brass had asserted--exclusively "American will."

Rather, the report noted, the real target was Iraq's tribal socio-political structure. Continued failure to understand this was dooming the occupation's chances of success. "Iraqi history has shown that there is a dialectical relationship between the authority of the state and the power of the tribal elites," it explained. "When the state was powerful, it would tend toward direct rule by avoiding, or even eliminating, the tribal elites. When vulnerable to external aggression and internal strife, the state, through the power of the tribal elites . . . would rule indirectly through key tribes." So far, the report held, occupation forces had not only done a poor job of realizing this and engaging with tribal leaders in a constructive and validating way; they were also engendering ill will by, among other things, the "rough handling of family heads in front of their families." Such things were deeply offensive, the report held, and "the greatest wild card that the insurgents can exploit is the Coalition's lack of cultural understanding and ability to communicate with the rural population to reinforce the idea that our policies are attacks against cultural norms, honor, and way of life."

Vest wentions one of the dumber practices that both military and civilian spokespeople have adopted in the Iraq War: "And when even a slight dip in the number of attacks takes place, U.S. officials proudly proclaim it as possibly the beginning of the end--apparently failing to remember that many of the most successful counterinsurgency campaigns have spanned upwards of a decade."

Finally, citing a 2004 study by Steven Metz and Raymond Millen (Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century Strategic Studies Institute Nov 2004;*.pdf file), Vest writes:

Yet what makes the report so striking is its implicit criticism of the current Pentagon leadership. Almost all of itsrecommendations for defining how the army thinks about the likely staple of current and future warfare--the need for more and better training and education of American troops, more civil affairs and engineering units, better relationships between the army and non-military government agencies, as well as simply an actual acknowledgment of the importance of counterinsurgency doctrine--are far removed from the type of "transformation" pursued by the Rumsfeld Pentagon. Moreover, another of the report's central contentions--that the U.S. military should not exacerbate or legitimize liberation insurgencies by deploying increasing numbers of troops to those conflict zones--stands at odds with a current bipartisan orthodoxy that simply sees increasing enlistments and deployments (without any commensurate doctrinal reform) and new weapons systems as the cure-all. But as Sun-Tzu famously observed, all warfare is based on deception--which, apparently, includes self-deception as well.

See also these pieces also cited by Vest in his article:

Toppling Saddam: Iraq and American Military Transformation by Stephen Biddle, et al, US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute April 2004. (Takes a while to load.)

Doomed to Fail: America’s Blind Faith in Military Technology by John Gentry Parameters (US Army War College) Winter 2002-03

How Technology Failed in Iraq by David Talbot MIT Technology Review Nov 2004

The United States' Approach To El Salvador by Robert Coates (1991)

Learning from the Vietnam War's Phoenix program

This paper at the Army War College's Carlisle Barracks Web site is an examination of the controversial Phoenix counterinsurgency program during the Vietnam War: From the Ashes of the Phoenix: Lessons for Contemporary Counterinsurgency Operations by Kenneth Tovo 03/18/05 (*.pdf file)

As the title may suggest, it is an attempt to find useful lessons in the experience of that program.  Tovo "blips" over the many problems of that effort by saying that "unfortunately, decentralized operations in an uncertain, ambiguous environment did lead to abuses."  But it's clear from other comments (see below) that he recognizes that the negative and problematic sides were very real.

But it seems to be a careful and serious analysis of the program, with some important observations about the difference between counterinsurgency warfare and the conventional variety.  He also argues plausibly that despite the failures and "abuses" of the program, "Phoenix was the U.S. government's largest and most systematic effort [in the Vietnam War] to destroy the insurgency's political and support infrastructure - a critical element in a counterinsurgency campaign."  So it's worth examining for practical lessons, both positive and negative.

Here is an example of some of the basic considerations involved, considerations that seem to have largely been neglected in the Iraq War:

Vietnam was a classic example of a mass-oriented insurgency. The VC sought to discredit the legitimacy of the South Vietnamese government in the eyes of the population through a protracted campaign of violence, while offering its own parallel political structure as a viable alternative to the ‘illegitimate’ government.42 The ‘battlefield’ in a mass-oriented insurgency is the population – both the government and the insurgents fight for the support of the people.

As [Larry Cable] has suggested, both sides in this type of conflict have two tools in the struggle for control and support of the populace: "…popular perceptions of legitimacy and a credible power to coerce."43 He goes on the note that the target of coercion, the populace, defines the threat’s credibility, not the employer of the threat.44 Consequently, conventional military power does not necessarily equate to credible coercive power. The conventional force may possess state of the art weaponry and overwhelming destructive power. Nevertheless, if the populace believes it will not or cannot be used against them, it has limited coercive value - particularly if the insurgent is able to punish noncompliant members of the populace and reward supporters.

Tovo's suggestion that the international jihadist movement be viewed essentially as a single insurgency in some important sense is flawed, at least insofar as he merges the guerrilla wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into the same concept.

The jihadist movement certainly promotes insurgencies.  But the Afghan and Iraqi insurgencies are certainly not identical to the jihadist movement.  So an anti-jihadist strategy would have to be distinct from counterinsurgency in those particular situations.

But Tovo's approach to the jihadist movement includes some valuable observations that are quite different from the conventional wisdom (or, more accurately, the daily Party line) of the Republican Party.  For instance, Tovo writes of the international jihadists, "A militant Islamic insurgency, no 'terrorism' is the enemy."  And he explands on the idea in his conclusion:

The current militant Islamic insurgency [i.e., the international jihadist movement] directly threatens vital U.S. national interests - potentially the most vital of its interests, national survival. The United States must recognize and identify this threat in order to defeat it. Words matter; when the National Security Strategy for Combating Terrorism identifies a technique, terrorism, as the enemy, it can only lead to strategic and operational confusion.

And one of the lessons he draws from the negative side of the Phoenix program is the following:

Legal and moral issues are of paramount concern in a counterinsurgency. These issues have the potential to wield considerable influence on the population’s perception of legitimacy. Operations must stand the long-term scrutiny of world and U.S. popular opinion. Negative perceptions of Phoenix drew intensive scrutiny from Congress and the media and weakened the legitimacy of the governments of the U.S. and South Vietnam. South Vietnam’s inability to house, process, and adjudicate the large numbers of detainees the Phoenix Program generated dramatically hampered its overall effectiveness. In many cases, the system became a revolving door, with hard-core VCI released prematurely. In other cases, lengthy detainment of innocents abetted the enemy’s recruitment effort. Detainee interrogations provided the best source of targeting information; however, accusations of inhumane treatment weakened the regime’s legitimacy.

This, by the way, is one reason I have so little patience with the blowhard white guy version of war talk.  Here is a serious military analyst taking a serious look at strategies to deal with the urgent problem of dealing with insurgencies, and drawing on the American military experience in Vietnam to do so.  And he's writing things like, "Legal and moral issues are of paramount concern in a counterinsurgency," the kind of things our superpatriotic blowhards quickly as wimp talk, as they scratch their behinds and swagger about how great it is to have wars where someone else does the killing, dying and torturing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Iraq War: Debating how to get out

One of the great entertainments for Democrats is trashing each other over the nuances of abstract policies.  If you don't get some pleasure out of doing and/or watching that, you shouldn't be a Democrat.

We're starting to see a bit of that now over the Iraq War.  I think Atrios hits the right note about the current discussion among war critics in this post: Policy and Posture 08/22/05.

[Matt] Yglesias says there are genuine policy differences about Iraq in the party and we should therefore welcome a genuine argument about that. Fair enough, to the extent that it's true. But, look there are two issues here, even though they tend to be confused.

The first issue is whether the Iraq war, and supporting it, was a good idea. We'll allow some wiggle room for hindsight conversions, as in "if I knew then what I know now..." but basically that question is still out there. War supporters don't want to come back to that issue, preferring to brush it under the table in favor of debating the "what we should do now" question. But, as a matter of political posture, the only way for the Democrats to be the "anti-Republicans" on the Iraq war is in fact to take the position that the war was a bad idea. I actually can't fathom why unity on this matter is so hard to achieve, other than the fact that the Democratic political industrial complex which supported the war can't admit error. ...

The Democrats may not want to be the "Iraq was a bad idea" party. But, frankly, that's the only real coherent political posture available to them. And, while bloggers and pundits and everyone else can figure out where on the spectrum between "get out now" and "stay the course" they actually sit, it's largely a pointless policy debate. Given the complexity of the situation, the only real policy position is "put competent people in charge." We didn't manage to do that in '04, and I don't imagine that the "we should've gone to war but then not [Cheney] it up" posture will work any better in '06 and '08. Given the rising anti-war sentiment in this country it will certainly do worse.

Politically, the most important difference within the Demcratic Party is between those who oppose the Bush policy in Iraq and those (like Joes Biden and Lieberman) who essentially support it.  Opposing the policy means basically insisting on an early exit.

The entire history of the Iraq War from the preparatory buildup to today suggests that the Bush administration will handle it incompetently, whether it's a continuation of the present situation, escalation or withdrawal.  What the Democrats need to do is articulate the "get out" position and the reasons for it.  There's not much point in getting too bogged down in the details of the various risks and possible scenarios.

The Iraq War is a disaster.  It will end badly for the US.  Democrats who try to set up a pretty and successful option are just opening themselves up to be blamed for whatever goes wrong when we eventually pull out.

And it shouldn't need to be repeated much, but with today's Dems you never know: The Republicans will try to blame the Democrats and war critics for their unbelievable disaster in Iraq.  Better to concentrate on undercutting that argument now be hitting it head-on than to try to take meaningless defensive positions to avoid the accusations.  The accusations will be there.  And the Reps won't hesitate to use them against the Joe Bidens of the Party if they think it's convenient.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Light posting alert

Posting here at Old Hickory's Weblog will be light-to-nonexistent for the next week.

But my partners at The Blue Voice will be keeping up with the misdeeds of the Republicans all that time.  So check them out.

My own most recent posts there include:

VDH Watch 7: Someone else is watching Vic, too 08/17/05

Summer Reading? 08/17/05

Speaking in the tongues of the Christian Right 08/14/05

Bush hearts flat-earthers 08/08/05

Will wonders never cease? The Establishment press notices the antiwar movement

Thanks to the gutsy Cindy Sheehan, our Potemkin "press corps" has finally discovered that there is an antiwar movement.  Although even some liberal and antiwar partisans seem to have trouble recognizing that it exists.

These are four of the more informative pieces I've seen on the subject recently, from some of the more realistic writers out there:

Dog Day Afternoon by Billmon 08/14/05.  This is a good analysis, although Billmon surprisingly accepts the wrong-headed conventional wisdom that says the anti-Vietnam War movement was ineffective at best, counterproductive at worst.  For now, let's just say that's a crock.  One that war critics need to clear their heads about, by yesterday.  But most of it is good.  Like this on the Bush team's response to Cindy Sheehan's protest:

There's a kind of comical desperation about it - like watching cartoon elephants dance in hysterical fear at the sight of a cartoon mouse. I said recently that the Rovians attack what they fear most. And when your greatest fear is the mother of a combat soldier who wants to ask the president why her son had to die in Iraq, you know you've got some serious PR problems.

Dumbo [guess who he means], on the other hand, still doesn't understand what all the fuss is about ...

Antiwar sentiment gets champion by Brad Knickerbocker and Kris Axtman Christian Science Monitor 08/15/05.  This article has some useful observations mixed with the conventional assumption about the "ineffective" anti-Vietnam War movement.  For some reason, our alleged "press corps" has trouble recognizing stuff like this as an antiwar movement:

CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll this month, echoing other surveys, shows that Americans by a 55-44 majority now believe the US "made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq." Some 56 percent say some or all US troops should be withdrawn now.

The hardening sentiment hasn't gone unnoticed in Washington. Many Democrats have become more vocal about the need for a definitive timetable for the withdrawal of troops, and they have been joined of late by some Republicans. The recent special congressional election in Ohio - where the Democrat was an Iraq war vet who nearly won in a heavily Republican district - has added to concerns about the war in some GOP circles.

Within the military, some senior commanders have talked about a timeframe for starting to bring home troops. But late last week, Bush tamped down any expectations of a quick withdrawal, saying it was too soon to say when the number of troops might be reduced.

Of course the Republicans and the war profiteers and the press barons don't want people to recognize that in a democracy, the people can decide about war and peace.  Even when, as in the Iraq War, the mainstream press all-but-completely failed in its role in providing news and acting as a watchdog on the powerful.

But us Jacksonians just don't process things the way our economic royalists do.

It's about accountability by David Neiwert, Orcinus blog 08/1505.

The Cindy Sheehan matter has produced more than its fair share of dumbassery from the usual suspects: i.e., right-wing bloggers for whom fealty to the Bush agenda is the chief gauge of a person's worth. You know the type.

But I've seen an inordinate amount coming from ostensibly mainstream media folks, too. However, considering what Sheehan's campaign is really all about, maybe there's a reason for that, too.

Our sad excuse for a press corps is almost as "postmodern" as the Bush administration, only lazier about it.  They figure if the Big Pundits haven't noticed it, it must not exist.  Gosh, imagine that.  Ordinary people don't like the idea of invading a country and getting bogged down in a nasty war based on totally fabricated reasons.  Who would have thought such a thing?

Apparently not our pathetic substitute for a national press.

Cindy, Don, and George: On Being in a Ditch at the Side of the Road by Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com 08/14/05.

Over the last two years, administration officials, civilian and military, have never ceased to talk about "turning corners" or reaching "tipping points" and achieving "milestones" in the Iraq-War-that-won't-end. Now it seems possible that Cindy Sheehan in a spontaneous act of opposition -- her decision to head for Crawford, Texas, to face down a vacationing President and demand an explanation for her son's death -- may produce the first real American tipping point of the Iraq War.

As a million news articles and TV reports have informed us, she was stopped about 5 miles short of her target, the Presidential "ranch" in Crawford, and found herself unceremoniously consigned to a ditch at the side of a Texas road, camping out. And yet somehow, powerless except for her story, she has managed to take the President of the United States hostage and turned his Crawford refuge into the American equivalent of Baghdad's Green Zone. She has mysteriously transformed August's news into a question of whether, on his way to meet Republican donors, the President will helicopter over her encampment or drive past (as he, in fact, did) in a tinted-windowed black Chevrolet SUV.

Pentagon's 9/11 commemoration prompts number of questions by Jules Witcover Baltimore Sun 08/17/05.  Witcover addresses one of the more outrageous stunts that this authoritarian-minded administration has pulled:

It may be just a coincidence that the Pentagon is planning a "Freedom Walk" on the fourth anniversary of 9/11 to commemorate the victims - just 13 days before critics of the war in Iraq hold a protest march of their own to the Pentagon. ...

The 9/11 commemoration is to include a concert featuring country singer Clint Black singing "Iraq and I Roll," whose lyrics include this stanza: "You can wave your signs in protest against America taking stands; the stands America's taken are the reason that you can." Another notes: "It might be a smart bomb, they find stupid people too, and if you stand with the likes of Saddam, one just might find you."

The Pentagon's event could work to the advantage of the war protesters. Until recently, they had achieved relatively little success in drawing news media attention to the anti-war movement. This minor dust-up in the press could oblige the sponsoring news outlets, and the Post, to pay more attention to the Sept. 24 protest march, part of a three-day event.

Part of the scam here is to try to set up country music - which has a lot of fans among the Reps most hardcore constituency of Southern white guys - as Republican, prowar music.

This will not stand.  No pasaron.  Diese geht nicht.  That ain't gonna happen.