Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Early reactions to the SOTU

The official text of Bush's 2006 State of the Union (SOTU) address is available at the White House Web site.

For Spain's El Mundo, the message about the Iraq War and the GWOT (global war on terrorism) seemed most important:

Concluir su "misión" en Irak y mantener la lucha contra el terrorismo, dentro y fuera de EEUU, son las prioridades de la agenda de George W. Bush para 2006, ha señalado el presidente en su discurso sobre el Estado de la Unión. "Nunca nos rendiremos frente al mal", ha asegurado.

[To conclude his "mission" in Iraq and to carry on the fight against terrorism, inside and outside the US, are the priorities of George W. Bush's agenda for 2006, the president pointed out in his discourse on the State of the Union. "We will never surrender to evil", he declared.]

My Blue Voice partner Wonky Muse calls our attention to the fact that antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested during the SOTU, to which she had been invited by a California Congresswoman.

Sheehan was ejected from the speech because she had a t-shirt with a slogan on it, the authorities said.  Steve Gilliard observes, "The 'slogan' was the number of servicemembers killed in Iraq." Freedom is on the march.

Deutsche Welle's brief early report focused on the foreign policy aspects of the SOTU:

The President of the United States George W. Bush has made his annual State of the Union address to the US Congress. In his speech Bush insisted that US-led forces were winning the war in Iraq and ruled out a hasty withdrawal. The US President did not mention a timetable for the pullout of US troops, saying a sudden withdrawal would abandon America's Iraqi allies. Bush used his nationally televised address to challenge Democrats and other critics who have accused him of misleading the public about Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons capacity andmismanaging the conflict.

Vienna's Der Standard took Bush's grandiose claims for America's mission in the world and his threats against Iran as the most newsworthy parts of the speech:

Die USA müssen nach Ansicht ihres Präsidenten im Interesse der nationalen Sicherheit und des Weltfriedens die globale Führungsmacht bleiben. "Unsere Nation ist dem historischen, langfristigen Ziel verpflichtet, die Tyrannei in der Welt zu beenden", sagte George W. Bush in seiner "Rede zur Lage der Nation" am Dienstagaben vor dem Kongress in Washington. Die iranische Führung griff der US-Präsident mit scharfen Worten an.

Eine kleine religiöse Elite habe ein ganzes Volk als Geisel genommen und unterdrücke es, sagte Bush. Außerdem widersetze sich Teheran mit seinen nuklearen Ambitionen der ganzen Welt. "Die iranische Regierung lehnt sich mit ihren nuklearen Bestrebungen gegen die Welt auf, und die Nationen der Welt dürfen nicht erlauben, dass das iranische Regime Atomwaffen bekommt." Bush beschuldigte den Iran, Terroristen im Libanon und in den Palästinenser-Gebieten zu finanzieren. "Das muss ein Ende habe." Der US-Präsident meinte weiters, die USA hofften, dass sie eines Tages zu einem der engsten Freunde eines freien und demokratischen Iran würden.

[The USA must, according to the view of its president, in the interest of national security and world peace remain the leading global power. "Our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal - we seek the end of tyranny in our world", said the president in his "State of the Union speech" Tuesday evening to Congress in Washington. The president attacked the Iranian leadership with sharp words.

A small religious elite has taken an entire people hostage and represses them, said Bush. Besides that, Teheran is opposing the entire world with its nuclear ambitions.  "The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons." Bush accusing Iran of financing terrorists in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. "That must come to an end." The president said further that the US hopes to one day become one of the closest of friends of a free and democratic Iraq.]

Matt Iglesias at TPM Cafe is wondering Which Isolationists? Where?.  Bush  talked about isolationists during the speech as though they were a burgeoning mass movement. Islesias writes:

I'm not hearing prominent members of the opposition party calling for the dissolution of NATO or American withdrawal from its mutual defense pacts with Japan and South Korea. I don't see Democrats advocating that we cut foreign aid spending or shutter embassies. Basically, I don't see any isolationism anywhere.

Matt apprently doesn't hang out a lot at Antiwar.com, where actual isolationists of the Old Right variety are very much in evidence (along with "realist" and "liberal internationalist" critics of Bush's war policies). But he has a good point. Bush on this idea was following in the footsteps of his father.  Andrew Bacevich in his book American Empire (2002) writes about Old Man Bush during his presidency:

But to judge by [George H.W.] Bush's frequent remarks on national security, the most worrisome danger facing the United States lay not abroad but at home. As would be the case with Clinton, Bush professed to be mightily concerned that Americans after the Cold War would again succumb to the temptation to which he believed they were peculiarly susceptible: turning inward and ignoring the rest of the world.

No cause was more important than that of saving his fellow citizens from that error. Decrying the danger of isolationism became a frequent theme of the president's speeches. Bush denounced those who would "retreat into an isolationist cocoon." He railed against those "on the right and left [who] are working right now to breathe life into those old flat-Earth theories of protectionism, of isolationism." He even resorted to unvarnished demagoguery. [LIke father, like son! - Bruce] At ceremonies marking the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the president declared that "isolationism flew escort for the very bombers that attacked our men 50 years ago," thereby finding the millions who before December 7, 1941, opposed U.S. entry into World War II guilty not simply of bad judgment but of treason. ...

There were in fact few indications that the American people after the Cold War were inclined to "turn their backs on the world"- few, indeed, that they had ever done so throughout their history. But by reviving this shopworn refrain - and by portraying every foreign policy issue as a test of whether Americans would stay the course or shirk their duty to the world - Bush used isolationism as a calculated device for shoring up popular and congressional deference to the executive branch. Bill Clinton would do likewise. (my emphasis)

Spain's El País gave top billing to Bush's comments about America's reliance on oil:

En el discurso, Bush ha hablado sobre la necesidad de mejorar la tecnología para poder reducir las importaciones de petróleo en un momento en el que los precios del crudo están alcanzando topes históricos. "América es adicta al petróleo, que normalmente es importado de partes inestables del mundo", ha dicho Bush. "La mejor manera de romper esta adicción es a través de la tecnología".

[In the speech, Bush talked about the necessity to improve technology to be able to reduce oil imports at a moment in which the prices of crude have reached historic peaks.  "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world", Bush said. "The best way to break this addiction is through technology. "]

I'm pretty sure whatever specifics he proposes on this will be some favorite oil industry scheme or some crony-capitalist boondoggle.

Germany's Spiegel also focused on the oil portions: 

Er forderte die Erforschung alternativer Treibstoffe, um Ethanol aus Holz und Getreide zu gewinnen. ... Vom Sparen sagte der Präsident jedoch nichts.

[He encouraged research on alternative fuels, in order to produce ethanol from wood and grain. ... About conservation the president said nothing, however.]

Spiegel also reports on Cindy Sheehan's ejection from the chamber.

Think Progress is cranking out comments and fun facts related to the topics of the SOTU.

Juan Cole offers us a yardstick of progress on that energy independence thing (with a mention of Germany's Green Party along the way):

The way you could tell Bush was serious would be if he ordered the Pentagon to use green sources of energy where possible. If a major US bureacracy spent even a few billions on things like solar power and electric vehicles, there would be technological breakthroughs and prices would plummet.

Or Bush could rescind some of his tax cuts for the super-rich and use the money as incentive for green energy.

But as long as Bush, who is as he keeps reminding us, the chief executive officer of the US government, doesn't even require his own employees to try to use less petroleum, then all he is doing is mouthing plattitudes he stole from Al Gore and John Kerry, without intending to do more than flap his lips.

In the old SPD/Green government in Germany, substantial strides were made toward profitable solar power companies, because of government investment and support. That is what a real energy policy would look like, Mr. Bush. Get one.

I described my own gut reaction over at The Blue Voice.  It starts out:

Maybe it's because I'm in the middle of a book about the opposition in Communist East Germany. But watching Bush deliver the SOTU Tuesday evening, I kept thinking of the label that Billmon uses for Congress when they're knuckling under to Bush: our Chamber of People's Deputies.

It really seemed like that to me this time. The SOTU has turned into a clown show. Dear Leader Bush delivers platitudes, and every few minutes the People's Deputies stand up and dutifully applaud the wisdom and vision of Dear Leader. It's really become silly.

Preparing defenses against terrorism in the Homeland

Remember in the many shifts and new ideas for dealing with "homeland security" that the military was given a whole new level of responsibility? Surely the Bush administration is making use of that fabled Pentagon efficiency to get on top of that, right?

Well, not exactly.  I mean, after the Iraq fiasco, the Katrina fiasco, the Medicare Part D fiasco, etc., etc., we have to remember that spectacular incompetence has been the hallmark of this administration.  And it seems that our man Rummy has other priorities.  In Transformation for What? Dec. 2005 (Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College), reporting on an expert conference in November 2004, John White, former US Deputy Secretary of Defense 1995-97, writes:

Last year [2003], our discussion noted that while establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was the single most important step that the government has taken to meet the threat of catastrophic terrorism, considerable time and effort would be required to build an integrated capability that involved both domestic and national security agencies. This year [2004], one knowledgeable participant argued that progress in mounting a coordinated effort has proven slower than expected, in large part because of DoD’s failure to engage seriously in its role in homeland security. It appears that the current DoD leadership has decided, perhaps because of the pressure of Iraq or perhaps fearing a raid on the DoD budget, not to engage actively in the government-wide process to strengthen homeland security, other than through force protection.

We must conclude that, as yet, there is no agreement on what the DoD’s role will be in homeland security or, in DoD terms, homeland defense. There are many examples where DoD can and must play a role: (1) terminal air defense within CONUS, (2) longrange maritime interdiction beyond Coast Guard capabilities, (3) participation in high stress hostage rescue teams’ (HRTs) operations, (4) contributions to domestic threat intelligence using approved DoD sources of investigatory information, (5) protecting critical facilities in high threat circumstances, and, most importantly, (6) assistance in the response to an act of catastrophic terrorism, should it occur. (my emphasis)

Well, shoot, it's onlybeen 4 1/2 years or so since the 9/11 attacks.  Hey, just because those people in the 1940s could fight an entire Second World War in less time than that doesn't mean Rummy and his crack team could pull off something like this already, do you?  Okay, okay, he's reporting on 2004, so it had only been just barely 3 years then.

More seriously, the projected role of the Army in this situation may not be appropriate. But the fact that something like this has been neglected as it appears to have been is disturbing.  Maybe some constructive progress was made in 2005. 

Can we take the administraion's "democracy" rhetoric in foreign policy seriously?

Anatol Lieven of the New America Foundation doesn't think it has much substance: The Gap Between US Rhetoric and Reality International Herald Tribune 01/30/06 (also at CommonDreams.org 01/31/06). He writes:

But in truth, the present centrality of the "democratization" idea to administration rhetoric does not come from any study of the Middle East, or of reality in general. Rather, the Bush administration has fallen back on this rhetoric in part because all other paths and justifications have failed or been rejected. The administration desperately needed some big vision that would give the American people the impression of a plan for the war on terror, promising something beyond tighter domestic security and endless military operations.

His judgment is particularly harsh on the administration's use of the rhetoric of democratizing in promoting the notion of war of liberation against countries like Iran:

The administration has also been able to neutralize domestic opposition to its "strategy" because its rhetoric appeals to a deep American belief in the U.S. duty to spread democracy and freedom. This is indeed in itself a noble aspiration, and has been until recently the source of much of U.S. moral authority in the world.
But the Bush administration's combination of preaching human rights with torture, of preaching democracy to Muslims with contempt for the views of those same Muslims, has not helped either the spread of democracy or U.S. interests but badly damaged both.
In fact, the distance between Bush administration rhetoric and observable reality in some areas is beginning to look almost reminiscent of Soviet Communism. And as in the Soviet Union, this gap is also becoming more and more apparent to the rest of the world.

Iraq War: This really COULD be good news

"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 takes a look at recent developments in US negotiations with the Iraqi Sunnis: US Realignment With Sunnis Is Far Advanced Inter Press Service 01/30/06. He writes:

Implied in [US Ambassador] Khalilzad's position is the threat to stop funding units that are identified as sectarian Shiite in their orientation. That could affect the bulk of the Iraqi army as well as the elite Shiite police commando units which are highly regarded by the U.S. military command.

Khalilzad's decision to make the U.S. threat public was followed by the revelation by Newsweek in its Feb. 6 issue that talks between the United States and "high level" Sunni insurgent leaders have already begun at a U.S. military base in Anbar province and in Jordan and Syria. Khalilzad told Newsweek, "Now we have won over the Sunni political leadership. The next step is to win over the insurgents."

As this sweeping definition of the U.S. political objective indicates, these talks are no longer aimed at splitting off groups that are less committed to the aim of U.S. withdrawal, as the Pentagon has favoured since last summer. Instead, the administration now appears to be prepared to make some kind of deal with all the major insurgent groups.

What's especially notable in this is the increasingly sharp disagreement with the Shi'a-dominated elected government in Iraq. Cutting off Shi'a-dominated security units would be admitting to a huge setback for the "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" promises. If the Shi'a government were to start insisting at this point thatthe US leave and cut off cooperation with the Americans, that would make the US position in Iraq completely untenable, it would seem.

Porter describes the risks of a shift to an accomodating position with the Sunni insurgents:

Although it may be a way out of a war that cannot be won, the U.S. shift in political alignment away from the Shiites and toward the Sunnis brings with it a different set of costs and risks.

It is bound to bring to the surface the anti-U.S. sentiments that the Shiite political leadership and militants have kept more or less under wraps since the U.S. invasion for pragmatic political reasons.

And as the Shiites gird for a showdown with their enemies, they will be seeking the assistance of their Iranian patrons. The worst crises for U.S. policy in Iraq are still to come. (my emphasis)

As I've said before, any chance for a genuinely good outcome in Iraq is long gone.  If it ever existed.  (David Hendrickson and Robert Tucker in their Dec. 2005 paper and even of the performance of the Army itself than most Democratic politicians I hear. For instance, David Hendrickson and Robert Tucker in their paper Revisions in Need of Revising: What Went Wrong in the Iraq War of Dec 2005 argue that a genuinely good outcome may have been impossible from the start.)

And so we're at the point where a even an article like Porter's is good news, though it ends concluding, "The worst crises for U.S. policy in Iraq are still to come." War, the Republican Party way. Nothing quite like it.

But if this allows for a rapid and relatively safe withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, that much will be a good outcome.  "Good" in the very relative meaning of the word we have to use in talking about the Iraq War.

Porter quotes from these articles in his piece:

Direct Talks - U.S. Officials and Iraqi Insurgents Newsweek 02/06/06 edition

America's Message To Iraq by David Ignatius Washington Post 01/25/06

US tries to loosen Shiite grip in Iraq: Sunni Arabs gain American backing in negotiations to form anew government by Charles Levinson Christian Science Monitor 01/17/06

Newsweek reports:

U.S. intelligence officials have had back-door channels to insurgent groups for many months. The Dec. 15 elections brought many Sunnis to the polls and widened the split between Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's foreign jihadists and indigenous Sunni insurgents. This marks the first time either Americans or insurgents have admitted that "senior leaders" have met at the negotiating table for planning purposes. "Those who are coming to work with [the U.S.] or come to an understanding with [the U.S.], even if they worked with Al Qaeda in a tactical sense in the past—and I don't know that—they are willing to fight Al Qaeda now," says a Western diplomat in Baghdad who has close knowledge of the discussions. An assortment of some of Iraq's most prominent insurgent groups also recently formed a "council" whose purpose, in addition to publishing religious edicts and coordinating military actions, is to serve as a point of contact for the United States in the future. "The reason they want to unite is to have a public contact with the U.S. if they disagree," says the senior insurgent figure. "If negotiations between armed groups and Americans are not done, then no solutions will be found," says Issa al-Addai al-Mehamdi, a sheik from the prominent Duleimi tribe in Fallujah. "All I can say is that we support the idea of Americans talking with resistance groups."

Newsweek also quotes Vice President Adel Abdel Mehdi of SCIRI, the largest party in the dominant government coalition, as complaining that the Iraqi government had not authorized negotiations between the US and Sunni insurgents.

Ignatius writes, quoting US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzhad:

The American envoy is deploying a weapon the United States hasn't used much in Iraq -- the word "no." He said he is arguing that the new government must give the two security ministries -- Interior and Defense -- to people who have broad national support and aren't linked to sectarian militias. Otherwise, America may have to adjust its massive effort to train and equip the Iraqi security forces.

"The security ministries have to be run by people who are not associated with militias and who are not regarded as sectarian," Khalilzad told me. "The issue is how forces that we're investing a huge amount of money in are perceived by the Iraqis. If they are perceived as sectarian, their effectiveness will not be there. We have insisted on this, stated it clearly. These two ministries need people who are acceptable to all parties of a national unity government. . . . We are saying: If you choose the wrong candidates, that will affect U.S. aid."

Khalilzad's message is aimed largely at Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of the Shiite religious coalition that won the largest number of votes in December's election. The current interior minister is a close ally of Hakim's and a former leader of the Shiite militia known as the Badr Brigade. U.S. officials believe that under his control, the Interior Ministry has condoned torture of Sunni prisoners and increasingly used the police to settle sectarian scores. That must stop, the Americans argue.

Levinson reports:

In the SCIRI headquarters in Baghdad, Redha Taki, does not speak with the confidence one might expect from a leading member of Iraq's most popular political party, the anchor of a coalition that dominated last month's vote. Rather, he speaks like a man under siege.

He says the US, England, Iraq's Sunni Arabs, and his neighboring Arab countries are conspiring to undo Shiite gains.

"We are threatening that maybe in the future we will use other means, because we have a true fear," he says. "It's not possible that we are going to go back to how it was three years ago, ruled by Baathists and Saddamists with a new name. We won't accept it."

He dresses like a statesman in a tailored suit, but when talk turns to US dealings with Sunni Arab insurgents, he speaks like a soldier.

"I am prepared to go down into the streets and take up arms and fight to prevent the Baathist dictators and the terrorists from coming back to power," says Mr. Taki, whose son and two brothers were killed by Saddam Hussein's henchmen.

And this from our Shi'a allies!

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

Monday, January 30, 2006

Remembering an extinct species

Not so long ago, there really were living, breathing Republicans who could be accurately described as "moderate".  Heck, not so very long ago, there were people like Senators Jacob Javits of New York and Mark Hatfield of Oregon who were commonly described - without much exaggeration! - as "liberal" Republicans.

Those days are long gone. But there still are a few Reps out there who, for whatever reason, like to posture as "moderates".  And our Potemkin press corps finds it entertaining to let them do so.

Georgia10 at Daily Kos is not impressed after the ScAlito cloture vote Monday, which in all liklihood is the end of Roe v. Wade and will send abortion back to be regulated at the state level, until the Christian Right convinces the Supreme Court to ban it altogether. And that's won't be the only casualty for women's legal rights from a Roberts-Scalia Supreme Court.  Georgia 10 writes in Chafee to NARAL: Screw You  01/30/06.

Those aren't his exact words of course, but that will be the effect of Lincoln Chafee's vote for cloture. After voting for John Roberts, Chafee reassured a anxious NARAL by declaring "I'm reliably pro-choice." But Chafee appears to be reliably pro-choice only when it suits his role as a "moderate." When push comes to shove - when women's right may truly hang in the balance, Chafee has proved that the only choice he truly respects is his choice to obey the Republican leadership. ...

When Chafee votes for cloture, he is voting to silence those who want to bring Alito's anti-privacy, anti-choice record to light. When his vote brings an unabashedly anti-choice judge one step closer to confirmation, a red-faced NARAL will have to admit that it [Cheney]ed up. Royally.  Because instead of backing a candidate that has a reliable(D) beside his name and that would have added one more voice to our caucus, NARAL chose to to endorse Chafee, who today proves he's not even pro-choice enough to abstain from the cloture vote.

When is NARAL going to realize that there are no pro-choice Republicans?  Snowe, Collins, Chafee (who all, by the way, sit on the Republican Majority for Choice board) cloak themselves in neutral views, but when a woman's right to privacy is immediately threatened by a judge who has spent his life exhibiting an open hostility to Roe and its progeny, they cast that cloak off and show themselves for what they truly are - Republicans, loyal to their party, squirming under the thumbs of their Party leader. (my emphasis)

But fond myths die hard.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm glad whenever Republicans vote for something decent.  It still does happen occasionally.

Then there's that little matter of the "unitary executive theory", aka, "the President-can-break-any-law-he-wants theory" for which Alito has expressed his fondness.  Another bold "moderate" Republican, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, came out forcefully against Presidential law-breaking this weekend: Bush Has More Explaining to Do on Domestic Spy Program by Hope Yen AP 01/29/06

Well, as forceful as it gets these days from our Republican "moderates":

A Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Sunday that President Bush has more explaining to do on his domestic spy program and cast doubt on the administration's assertion of broad executive power.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said he is looking forward to congressional hearings on the legal justification for the secretive National Security Agency program. He remains unconvinced that Bush could allow the program without fully consulting with the courts or Congress.

The Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings beginning Feb. 6; the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold similar closed-door sessions on the matter.

"If in fact the president does believe that our current laws are restricting him because of new technologies … then he should come together with Congress and say we need to amend it," Hagel said on ABC's "This Week."

Hagel "cast doubt" on the President's authority to break laws at his own discretion.  He wants more explanation. He "remains unconvinced" that the President can do that. But, heck, if Bush says he needs to spy on Americans anytime any way he wants with no warrants and no court review, well, shoot, come on down to Congress, Mr. President, and we'll give you anything you want!

That's whatpasses for Republican "moderation" these days.  Actually doing something different than the rightwing hardliners is not required to get the label these days.

Reviewing defense, or, you're doing a heckuva job, Rummy

It's unlikely to get anything like the attention it deserves in the mass media,  especially the television news. But the Pentagon is undergoing its regular Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). And the implications for the foreseeable future are huge.  So far, it sounds as though the Pentagon plans to incorporate essentially no new counterinsurgency capabilities, still hoping against hope and experience that more and more refinements of conventional war capabilities will give the US all the military ability we need.

Meanwhile, the Army Reserve and National Guard are set to be downsized, because the Iraq War and how reserves have been used in it have knocked recruiting down drastically.  The Army itself is stretching itself to the max in order to keep 135,000 troops in the field in Iraq, a war that, in Andrew Bacevich's words, may be unwinnable in a strictly military sense.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to see the US beef up its counterinsurgency capabilities on top of everything else the military is doing and then go all over the world intervening in civil wars and overturning regimes that are annoying the Presidential party at any given moment. The instincts of the officer corps to stay out of counterinsurgency wars is not bad in itself.

But there needs to be a serious look at "right-sizing" the US military.  It's beyond my imagination that we need to keep spending more than half the military budgets of the entire world. Bacevich has suggested that we could set a target of spending as much as the 10 next-highest military spending countries combined and still make substantial cuts to the military.

What? Cut the military budget in the middle of the endless War on Terror?  That's what would happen if the Congress, our "press corps" and the public were to take a good, hard look at the defense budget while placing the actual defense of the US as the top priority.  It's hard to see how incredible boondoggles like Star Wars ("missile defense") would survive.

And the QDR process so far seems to invision mostly a continuing push for "full spectrum dominance" relying of whiz-bang technology - and a very heavy reliance on airpower.  The latter needs to be seriously reexamined, because it has a great deal of potential for "blowback". We see that in the ever-more-frequent reports aboutthe US dropping a 500-lb. bomb on a house in an Iraqi town. The initial reports normally site the military's official good news that 10, 15, 25 "terrorists" were killed.  Then the reports start coming in from neighbors and reporters that most if not all the dead were civilian noncombatants.  All of whom then have a clan obligation to take revenge for the unjustified murder of one of their kin.

Military analyst William Arkin writes of the QDR that Bombing is in the Air Early Warning blog 01/27/06:

The QDR also continues the development of current unmanned bombing vehicles, and restructures the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) program to develop remotely controlled aircraft carrier-based bomber capable of being aerial refueled "to expand payload and launch options, and to increase naval reach and persistence."

Earlier this month, General Dynamics Electric Boat completed conversion of the first of four former Trident nuclear submarines as cruise missile firing boats, each able to carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles. All four will be fielded by the end of next year.

We've got B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers, which themselves are being modernized and made more capable for long-range strike. We've got the new multi-gazillion dollar F-22 stealth fighter just being fielded, which last I looked was claimed able to penetrate any defended airspace. We have cruise missiles galore able to be launched from ships, submarines and bombers. We have aircraft carriers, new missiles and bombs, another new fighter -- the Joint Strike Fighter -- coming down the pike. We even have "black" and boutique weapons -- lasers, high powered microwaves, computer network attack, and electronic warfare -- that can be used to deliver long-range strikes on targets.

So where in the hell, and what in the hell, do we need to bomb in the future that we can't already get to?

Those are exactly the kinds of questions Congress needs to be asking, and in a serious way.

Arkin also gives us a heads-up about the QDR's preferred new term for "the war on terrorism" (GWOT): Goodbye War on Terrorism, Hello Long War Early Warning blog 01/26/06.

Defense experts want the long war to be the new name for the war on terror, a kind of societal short hand that will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Cold War, promoted to capital letters, an indisputable and universally accepted state of the world.

"This generation of servicemembers will be in what we're calling the Long War," Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this week.

"Our estimate is that for at least the next 20 years … our focus will be … the extremist networks that will continue to threaten the United States and its allies."

Perpetual war for 20 years or so.  By then, the Iraq War will have gone on for so long that that there will be another 20 or 30 years worth of menace out there so the Long War can continue.

But the Long War is not expected to consist of successful counterinsurgency operations.  No, we'll have a useless megaback Star Wars system and 20 more years of preparation to vanquish Soviet Army Central pouring through the Fulda Gap in Germany in a conventional war.

And, of course, unlimited "wartime powers" for Republican Presidents would have to remain in place for the duration.  By the time the Long War is done, maybe people will have forgotten about all this personal liberty nonsense Americans once took for granted.  But I suppose if it's true, as Bush and his loyalists keep repeating, that "they hate us for our freedoms", then if we do away with our freedoms entirely, they will no longer have any reason to hate us, right?

Among other good observations in that post, Arkin writes:

The Bush administration has been in panic mode since 9/11, and though it has tripped upon sometimes improved articulations of what it is doing to respond to the scourge of modern terrorism, it has both the wrong vision of the severity of the threat and it has shown itself, in four years of fighting, that no matter how much it articulates that the United States and the world must use all aspects of their power to thwart and defeat terrorism, the Bush administration is only comfortable with the military response, and it is only really happy with secret operations.

The Quadrennial Defense Review now exhorts the military to reform and retool to fight the long war, in everything from its business practices to its training. The backdrop of what the Pentagon is arguing is clear: Whatever constraints exist in the current world to fight need to be changed to increase operational flexibility. "New and more flexible authorities from the Congress" are needed. Old laws, like old Europe, need to be chucked overboard.

Arkin also gives us an example of that secrecy instinct: Rumsfeld's new war plan Early Warning blog 01/25/06.  In discussing the decision to make Special Operations Command (SOCOM) a separate "command" structure that is designed to go after terrorist operations anywhere in the world, he tells us calmly about one of its distinguishing characteristics: it reports directly to Rummy, while the major services report up through civilian Secretaries of the separate services:

But SOCOM has a peculiar position: It is intrinsically a secretive organization that can not even convey the most trivial information about its activities without great pain. It is a military command not a military service and thus though it acts like the Army or Navy, it doesn't have a civilian Secretary.  SOCOM is only accountable to the office of the Secretary of Defense.

Outside of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, we don't really know what SOCOM has done since 9/11, and we don't really know how well it has done. We hope that it is out there being successful finding and disrupting -- killing -- terrorists. But without much information because of the inherent secrecy and then without an effective legal mechanism for outside oversight, we can neither assess the effectiveness nor satisfy any concerns that the "war" is being conducted in accordance with our values.

That's right. Rummy now has his own secret army, reporting directly to him.

Noah Schactman at DefenseTech.org has also been looking at the emerging news on the QDR: QDR: China Tops Iraq, Osama? 01/24/06.

“The United States' experience in the Cold War still profoundly influences the way that the Department of Defenseis organized and executes its mission,” the QDR notes. “But, the Cold War was a struggle between nation-states, requiring state-based responses to most political problems and kinetic responses to most military problems. The Department was optimized for conventional, large-scale warfighting against the regular, uniformed armed forces of hostile states… [Today] many of the United Slates' principal adversaries are informal networks that are less vulnerable to Cold War-Style approaches... Defeating unconventional enemies requires unconventional approaches.”

But it does not require, apparently, a wholesale change of direction. Terrorist-type threats will get some new attention. But the Defense Department isn’t about to optimize for that threat, the way it did for the Soviet Union. Big money will continue to be spent on fighter jets designed to duel with the Soviets and destroyers designed for large-scale ground assaults. Grunts on the ground won’t get much more than they do now. The war on terror may be “long.” But, apparently, it’s not important enough to make really big shifts.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Wars of liberation created a lot of headaches for Napoleon, too

I'm in favor of the United States actively promoting democracy in the world.  It should be primarily in terms of the example we set.  Things like the rule of law, Constitutional government, not torturing people, selecting leaders through competitive elections rather than through the Supreme Court, not allowing corruption to dominate the government, not having the government secretly paying commentators to promote the Party line, not hiring gay hookers to imitate reporters in the White House press corps, heck, maybe even having a press that practices journalism on a regular basis.  Stuff like that.

Seems impossible, I know.  But it could happen.  Really.

On the other hand, the Palestinian election this week reminds us that democracy can be troublesome. And that promoting democracy through wars of liberation in the Middle East might not turn out exactly the way we might hope.  Pat Lang has some thoughts along those lines in The Price of Fantasy Sic Semper Tyrannis blog 01/26/06:

As in Iraq, and with regard to Iran as well, the neocons and other utopians have operated on the assumption that if empowered, Muslim and Arab voters would vote for western style secular liberals, heavily acculturated away from their own people and traditions.  This has not happened anywhere, not in Lebanon, not in Iraq, not in Egypt, not in Iran and now most spectacularly in Palestine.  Nevertheless, the "faith" of people at AEI, Heritage and in the West Wing has not been shaken and we will probably continue to seek the creation of earthly paradise through the mechanism of implementation of electoral reform.  Well, good for us. ...

I live with a very perceptive observer of the Middle East.  She says that the reason we don't "get it" about the Middle East is that we have missed the point that many people in the Middle East really do believe in God and are really more concerned with salvation (look it up) than they are with democracy.

I don't pretend to have a good handle on how "the Arab street" may be processing the Palestinian election.  But I heard Bush saying today that he didn't intend to deal with the newly-elected Hamas.  Do people inthe Middle East see that as being consistent with all this democracy talk?  Not that they believe the democracy talk in the first place.  But still.

For more on the complications Hamas' win causes for Bush policies, see Hamas Upset Rattles Bush Strategy by Jim Lobe; Inter Press Service 01/26/06.

Despite the Republican Party litany of bringing democracy to Iraq, the role of the US in Iraq is in itself an obstacle to promotion of democracy in that region of the world.  Eric Davis argues in his contribution to Patriotism, Democracy and Common Sense (2004):

... that the invasion of Iraq constituted the first step in a larger and audacious process of reshaping the political and economic terrain of the Middle East. I refer to this process as "domino democracy" because it envisions the transformation of Iraq into a democratic polity with open markets and a technocratically and non-ideologically oriented government - a model that the United States would like to see replicated in other Middle Eastern states, particularly Iraq's neighbors. While no one can dispute a foreign policy objective that aims to encourage democratic governance, the real question is what the United States means by democratization of the region and how the policy of domino democracy will affect the citizenry of countries in question. For many Middle Easterners, the stated American goal of promoting democracy in the region is viewed with deep suspicion. They point to past American support for many authoritarian regimes, including that of Saddam Hussein during the 1980s, failure to support Palestinian reformists in their efforts to create a Palestinian state based on norms of political participation and transparency, and failure to bring pressure on autocratic monarchies such as Saudi Arabia to implement democratic reforms. Many Arab and non-Arab analysts also view domino democracy as a cover for extending U.S. economic influence in the region, particularly in oil-rich states such as Iraq. In addition, large contracts were awarded in Iraq, often without a bidding process, to firms such as Halliburton, Bechtel, Parsons E&C, and WorldCom. These corporations were closely linked to Vice President Cheney and other members of the Bush administration. The contracts reinforced the view that our foreign policy was seeking to enhance American economic power in the region. (my emphasis)

The benefits of the support for autocracy inSaudi Arabia that Davis mentions may also be declining.  Robert Dreyfuss at his blog explains that the Saudis have started pursuing stronger ties with China because of their dismay at the results of American policy in Iraq in particular (Pushing Saudi Arabia into China's Arms 01/25/06):

Thus – and this is a big, big irony – America’s military effort to secure hegemony over the world’s oil deposits in the Gulf looks like this: Iraq, a mess, governed by Iran-linked Shiites; Iran, angry once again at the Great Satan and looking toward Russia and China; and Saudi Arabia, the big enchilada, starting to learn to speak Chinese. Some hegemony.

You're doing a heckuva job in the Middle East, Dubya!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

San Franciscans look at impeachment

The case for impeachment: It's not just for radicals anymore by  Steven T. Jones San Francisco Bay Guardian 01/25-31/06

Say what?  There was a time when it just for radicals?

He writes about a Nancy Pelosi appearance in her home district of San Francisco.  Yes, I know, it's San Francisco.  Still:

But outside the beltway, in congressional districts all over America, the "I" word is moving out of the margins. In the wake of the revelation that federal officials have been illegally eavesdropping on American citizens without required warrants – which President George W. Bush not only admitted approving, but promised to continue under his expansive view of executive power – has propelled talk of impeachment into the political mainstream.

Although political leaders and major media outlets have been slow to pick up on the trend, national polls now show a majority of Americans support an impeachment inquiry.

And the sentiment is growing – and getting increasingly vocal. At one point in the meeting, Pelosi was asked whether she will support a resolution by Rep. John Conyers to create a committee with subpoena power to investigate whether members of the Bush administration may have committed impeachable offenses. "I do not intend to support Mr. Conyers's resolution," Pelosi replied.

The eight-term incumbent in one of the most Democratic districts in America was loudly booed.

They even give us a helpful Web page of impeachment links.

A Texan looks at Dubya

The combative Ronnie Dugger suggests we should Impeach or Indict Bush and Cheney Texas Observer 01/27/06 issue:

[W]e are living and working in the very days and nights of the American Emergency, the climactic American Crisis. Our elections are bought, and our government is run by and for the major transnational corporations. Bush announced in 2002 his illegal presidential policy that the United States can and will attack other nations first, waging war on them, when he so decides. He is now waging, as if he were doing it in our names, a bloody war of aggression against Iraq, which on the face of it is a crime against humanity under the Nuremberg principles that we and our allies established and enforced with hangings after World War II. The President, the Vice-President, and their factors sold this war to Congress with twistings and lies that were crafted to infuriate and terrorize us about Iraq’s alleged connections to Al Qaeda and mass-murder endangerments to us from Iraq itself, all of which literally did not exist. In polls now six of 10 Americans do not believe the president is honest. Yet he has three more years of dictatorial control over our nuclear and other arms and our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps and seems now to be maneuvering to use that control to wage another aggressive war on Iran, with literally incalculable consequences.

Oh, actually, he does provide some of that good news:

The national resistance to Bush, Cheney, Rove, et al., is coming into focus, too. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, which is the logical source for impeachment initiatives, has taken the significant step of calling for an investigation of Bush and Cheney with a view to censure, which obviously could metamorphose into impeachment. Tom Daschle, until recently the Minority Leader in the Senate, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, are all calling for investigations of Bush and Cheney. Elizabeth Holtzman writes for impeachment in the current Nation, and the Internet is on fire with initiatives to impeach Bush and Cheney for crimes committed in office, foremost among them lying our nation into a war of aggression. Impeachment is unlikely as long as the House remains firmly in GOP control, but this year it would be gratifying to see citizens seeking the election of House candidates - whether Democrats, Republicans, or independents - who promise explicitly to vote, if elected, to impeach Bush and Cheney.

And he gives us a warning from the Texas experience of how Democrats laying down and playing dead in the face of Republican bullying and corruption is not likely to be a very productive course of political action:

Since 1994, although the polls show a majority of Texan citizens support progressive reforms such as adequate taxation for equal education for Texas schoolchildren, the leaders of the disappearing Texas Democratic Party and their statewide candidates, finking out on every ethically important political issue, have proved again and again that nothing fails like failure. Rot-gut Republicans have swept every statewide office and achieved mercenary domination of the Texas courts, too. In my opinion, Texas Democrats ought to have concluded by 2002 at the latest that they should be choosing, from among the waves of the on-comers, entirely new sets of state and local party leaders and candidates. For example, rather than be taken in, even a jot, by the torrent of contemptuous abuse directed at Ronnie Earle by Tom DeLay, his lawyers, and that ilk, Texans should be realizing that - just as the dramatic prosecutions of Thomas E. Dewey in New York made him a Republican presidential candidate and now the populist prosecutions of Eliot Spitzer in New York State are making him a national figure - Ronnie Earle has fully qualified himself as a front-rank leader in Texas politics. For another example, this year, in my opinion - shared, by the way, by Jim Hightower - Texans are very fortunate to have running for Attorney General the lifelong labor lawyer and Democratic firebrand David Van Os of San Antonio. The Observer does not make political endorsements, but I may say here for myself alone that David, in my carefully considered personal judgment, is the Ralph Yarborough of his generation.

The title of this post is a play on a notorious far-right pamphlet from the 1964 Presidential race, A Texan Looks at Lyndon, self-published by one J. Evetts Haley.  It complained about how the Chamber of Commerce was in bed with that infamous revolutionary organization, the AFL-CIO.  It was once used as a classic example ofcompletely frivolous and dishonest political writing.

But in these days of the junkie bigot Rush Limbaugh, FOX News and the Swift Boat Liars for Bush, it would qualify as a scholarly work.  Heck, it wouldn't surprise me if Regnery Press were to issue a revised edition.  (You can order a used copy through Amazon.com for $0.38.  Don't rush, though, they're not exactly a hot item.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The limits to the "honor the soldiers" slogan

Dishonorable actions don't deserve to be honored, whether they occur in the officer corps or in the ranks.  In "Requiem for the Bush Doctrine", Current History Dec 2005, Andrew Bacevich writes:

Especially in a democracy, a doctrine of preventive war also requires soldiers who manifest a consistently high level of professionalism. To maintain public support for what is, stripped to its essentials, a policy of aggression, the military forces committed to the enterprise must acquit themselves with honor, thereby making it easier to suppress questions about the war's moral justification. As long as us soldiers in Iraq behave like liberators, for example, it becomes easier for President Bush to maintain the position that America's true purpose is to spread the blessings of freedom and democracy.

Sadly, in the dirty war that Iraq has become, a number of American soldiers have behaved in wavs that have undermined the administrations liberation narrative. This is a story in which the facts are as vet only partially known. But this much we can say tor sure: after the revelations from Abu Ghraib prison and the credible allegations lodged recentlv bv Captain Ian Fishback regarding widespread detainee abuse in the 82d Airborne Division, and with other accounts of misconduct steadily accumulating from week to week, it is no longer possible to pass off soldierly misbehavior as the late-night shenanigans of a few low-ranking sadists lacking adequate supervision. Unprofessional behavior in the ranks of the American military may not have reached epidemic proportions, but it is far from rare.

More sadly still, the chain of command seems determined to turn a blind eye to this growing problem. ...  The American officer corps once professed to hold sacrosanct the principle of command responsibility. No more. At the very least it no longer applies to those occupying the executive suites in Baghdad and Washington.

The US military may well be teetering on the brink of a profound moral crisis. Another conflict like Iraq could easily prove the tipping point. That prospect alone ought to temper the Bush administration's enthusiasm for any further experiments with preventive war. (my emphasis)

Is the Bush administration being more pragmatic than it pretends on Iran?

Gareth Porter argues that the recent threats of military action against Iran, particularly those stemming from news reports about the US notifying Turkey and other NATO countries about preparations for an early strike on Iran, are essentially bluffs: US Tries to Pressure Iran with Attack Stories Inter Press Service 01/25/06.

He also reminds us that both the outgoing Social Democratic/Green administration in Germany and the incoming Grand Coalition headed by Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats opposed the Bush administration's open military threats against Iran:

Porter writes that after an August 2005 press conference in which Bush talked about "all options" being open against Iran:

It took Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder only a few hours to respond to Bush's move to put the military option ostentatiously on the table by declaring that the alliance should "take the military option off the table".

In September, however, Schroeder's Social Democrats were defeated by the opposition Christian Democrats, as the administration had hoped, and by early October Angela Merkel was on her way to forming a new government. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns was then dispatched to meet with representatives of Britain, France and Germany to "begin discussing ways to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran", according to a report by the Wall Street Journal's Carla Anne Robbins on Oct. 6.

Burns' top priority was certainly to get the European allies to integrate the idea that the military option is "on the table" into its negotiating stance on Iran's nuclear policy. Subsequently, Britain's Tony Blair began to echo Bush's position on the military option, presumably at U.S. insistence, but Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac avoided any endorsement of that posture.

Having failed to get agreement by the European three to exploit the military option in the diplomatic maneuvering with Iran, the Bush administration apparently felt that it needed to take other steps to increase the pressure on Tehran, including arranging for sensational newspaper articles to appear in the Turkish and German press.
(my emphasis)

Porter argues that the Bush administration is likely to realize that not only and invasion of Iran but a massive aerial campaign are not practical options.  He points to many indications that the administration intends to rely on targeted commando operations to sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities rather than a larger-scale assault.  Porter writes:

Jushua Kurlantzick of The New Republic wrote in Gentleman's Quarterly last May that top officials had adopted a new strategy of "deterrence and disruption" toward Iran in the fall of 2004 that was aimed ultimately at covert operations by special forces to damage nuclear sites, according to a government official.

Kurlantzick's source confirmed, in effect, an earlier report by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker that the administration had approved conducting covert probes by reconnaissance missions in Iran to identify potential nuclear sites as targets for later military strikes. But it suggested any such strikes would be by commando teams rather than from the air.

"You'll start seeing reports of an 'accidental gas leak' at Natanz [an Iranian nuclear facility]," the official was quoted as saying.

The Republicans seem to have endless faith in these sorts of operations.  But the actual record of such clandestine sabotage operations doesn't seem to justify their optimism.

Three thoughts on military threats against Iran

1. The threat.  If we listen to the Charles Krauthammers and Maverick McCains of the world, the same ones who drank Ahmad Chalabi's Kool-Aid on Iraq's nonexistent "weapons of mass destruction", Iran could develop a nuclear weapon any day now.  But given their record on Iraq, why would anyone in their right mind listen to them on Iran?  The people with actual credibility who have been looking at this seem to think the worst case would be that Iran is still years away from being able to produce nukes.

2. Threatening over the threat. Given that any immediate threat to the US from the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program is years away, does it really make sense for the Bush administration and the current Israeli government to be threatening military strikes against Iran's nuclear power program?  "No president should ever take the military option off the table", says Dick Cheney, the Dark Lord of Torture.

But you don't need a Georgetown degree in international relations to know that talking publicly about "keeping the military option on the table" is a way of publicly threatening war.  In the circumstances, this puts Iran in the position that if they back down, the leaders look like they're caving in to military threats from America and Israel.  It seems to me this makes a settlement less likely in the short term.

3. Bluffs get called.  Israel doesn't have a credible capability to make the hundreds of air and missile strikes on targets all over Iran that would be required to take out Iran's current nuclear program.  So why are they publicly threaning Iran with a military strike?  It could be something risky but rational like trying to build support for an American strike among Chrisitan Right voters, whose leaders take it as God's will that there should be wars and rumors of wars in the Middle East until the end of time.  (Literally.)  Or maybe they are just being reckless.

The US could bring in the weaponry and weapons platforms to make the strikes.  But the US Army is stretched to the max at the moment, and is being badly damaged by the Iraq War and its various ramifications.  It may sound macho to threaten to widen the war to Iran.  But the truth is that Iran has the capability to strike back at the US, in Iraq and elsewhere, in ways that would cost America more than any possible benefit from eliminating an alleged threat that is anything but imminent.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hillary, Israel and an Old Right isolationist

The editorial director of the Antiwar.com site is harshing on Hillary over Iraq, Iran - and Israel:
Hillary Clinton, War Goddess: She wants permanent bases in Iraq – and threatens war with Iran by Justin Raimondo 01/23/06.

As I've discussed before, as in my post of 11/13/05, much of what Raimundo writes is valuable and sensible.  And he seems in many ways to be a careful researcher.  But he's clearly not immune to the pull of some of the Old Right's prejudices, particularly when his fixation on Israel starts sounding like old-fashioned Jewish conspiracy theories.

He doesn't entirely avoid the latter in this column, although here it takes the form of references to "Israel's amen corner in the U.S." and "the War Party" (in caps).  Both are nudge-nudge wink-wink terms which those familiar with far-right terminology will understand as references to a grand Jewish conspiracy.  (It's for that reason I have generally avoided using the term "war party" even in lower-case in discussing the Middle East, although it's a perfectly good term that is commonly used to describe those pressing for war in a given situation.)

So why bother discusssing a column that could be brushed off as anti-Semitic?  Because it's a reminder of how the Democratic Party could blow an historic chance to push forward a significant realignment in American politics around foreign policy issues.

The Iraq War has brought to the forefront what is essentially an irreconcilable contradiction in the US position.  One the one hand, US policy since the end of the Cold War has been predicated on the assumption that the US is and must remain the overwhelmingly dominant superpower in the world.  And that has translated into an increasingly heavy reliance on military force as the primary instrument of foreign policy. This was true in the Bush 1 and Clinton administrations.  But the current Bush administration has taken it to a whole new level.

Yet at the same time the US spends half or more of the military budgets of the entire planet, our ability to get our way with saber-rattling has been seriously compromised.  In the Vietnam War, the United States fielded over 500,000 troops in Vietnam while maintaining extensive commitments in Europe and elsewhere.  In the Iraq War, the US is unable to suppress an insurgency while maintaining around 135,000 troops in the country for nearly three years is severely damaged the National Guard and reserve structures and created major problems for the regular Army and  Marine Corps themselves.

But at the same time, both the Democratic and (especially) the Republican Party are firmly committed to a policy of comforting the comfortable.  So while the Republicans howl about the dangers confronting the US and smear critics of Dear Leader Bush's war in Iraq as traitors, instituting a draft to supply personnel for the war is the second-to-last thing we can expect them to do.  The last thing would be to require the wealthiest Americans, the ones enjoying the greatest material benefits from the American economy, to forgo any of their massive tax cuts to support their country and our massive military commitments.

It's a time of real opportunity for the Democrats to seize on the dissatisfaction with a militarized foreign policy to build a consensus for a less aggressive policy that focuses much more sensibly on actual defense, such as "homeland security" measures to defend against terrorism. 
But if the Democrats follow the lead of Joes Biden and Lieberman and also Hillary Clinton, they will only offer an alternative of a belligerent foreign policy that will maybe be more competently executed than Bush's.  But playing "we're more warlike than the Republicans" over Middle East foreign policy will strangle off the development of meaningful alternatives.  And the US seriously needs the latter right now.

Raimondo's criticisms of Hillary

He criticizes her for her hawkish position on Iraq and Iran, criticisms which I share.  (See my Blue Voice post of ... for instance and the comments.)  But he also focuses in particular on her mentions of Israel in her speech of 01/18/06 at Princeton that got so much attention. In that speech, she said:

 I believe that we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations. I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines. But let's be clear about the threat we face now: A nuclear Iran is a danger to Israel, to its neighbors and beyond. The regime's pro-terrorist, anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric only underscores the urgency of the threat it poses. U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal. We cannot and should not - must not - permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. In order to prevent that from occurring, we must have more support vigorously and publicly expressed by China and Russia, and we must move as quickly as feasible for sanctions in the United Nations. And we cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran - that they will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons. (my emphasis)

And also:

The security and freedom of Israel must be decisive and remain at the core of any American approach to the Middle East. This has been a hallmark of American foreign policy for more than 50 years and we must not - dare not - waver from this commitment. As President Truman first recognized, this commitment was forged by the horrors of the Holocaust, but it has endured because of the strength of the unique relationship between the American and Israeli peoples. A relationship based on shared values that predate either of our nations, values that are rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic, values that respect the dignity and rights of human beings. ...

When the history of this period is written, I believe Prime Minister Sharon will be remembered for his life-long commitment to Israel's security and his own remarkable journey that led him to the conclusion that Israel would be best served by creating the unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the separation of the Israelis from the Palestinians. But we will also remember and admire the strength and stability of the state of Israel and its people at such a challenging time.

I doubt very much that Ariel Sharon will be much remembered for any constructive achievements for Middle East peace.  His unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and his reinforcing the settlements in the West Bank have moved the possibilities for a peaceful permanent settlement farther into the future.

Raimondo focused in particular on the passages from her speech that I have highlighted above.  For instance, he writes:

"A nuclear Iran," she avers, "is a danger to Israel, to its neighbors and beyond" – an interesting order of priorities, to say the least. She doesn't bother making any explicit connection between the pursuit of American interests and this relentless campaign to demonize the Iranians: it is enough that Tehran poses a potential threat to Israel. For Clinton, that alone is reason enough to go to war.

This phrase caught my eye when I say the reports of the speech, as well.  In the passage I just quoted, Raimondo is making a valid point, and he's not pulling her sentence out of context.  The fact that Iran is hostile to Israel is a practical concern for US policy.  It's not any justification for launching preventive war against Iran and increase the dangers for American troops in Iraq.

On the second highlighted comment, Raimondo writes:

While Israel is an American ally, so are Saudi Arabia and Jordan. And don't forget the newly installed "democratic" and supposedly pro-American government of Iraq. Israel "at the core" of U.S. policy in the Middle East? I don't think so. Such an Israelicentric viewpoint, while not out of place in an Israeli politician, seems just a mite strange coming from an American - even if she is a senator from New York. It ought to go without saying that the foundations of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East - or anywhere else - have to be predicated on purely American interests, and that the "core" of that policy has to be our own economic well-being, which is inextricably linked to the stability of the region.

Here we see the deep-rooted kinship of Old Right isolationists with the Republicans, when he says that "our own economic well-being" has to be the core of our Middle East policy.  The national security of the United States involves a lot of things, including economics.  But our physical security from military attacks and terrorism are not synonomous with the profits of oil corporations or cheap gas at the pump. Comforting the comfortable is the basis of the policies Old Right "liberatarians" like Raimondo favor.

But he also has a valid point in that regard.  Israeli interests are not identical with American interests.  And it's perfectly legitimate and necessary to ask whether American foreign policy in any area should bepredicated on having the national interests of another country be "decisive and remain at the core of any American approach".

It's important to understand this in the context of historic American policy toward Israel, which has never (prior to the Bush administration) been as one-sided as Clinton's speech seems to advocate and that Raimondo seems to assume.

(On the other issue in his article's title, it's not at all clear to me that Hillary's speech was such a clear-cut endorsement of permanent US bases in Iraq, which is how he reads it.  It seems much more likely to me that she was suggested some sort of redeployment to secured bases for some period of time as a part of an exit strategy from Iraq.)

The politics of supporting Israel

The United States has recognized Israel and supported it as an ally since its founding with the authorization of the United Nations in 1948.  From the Truman administration through the Clinton administration, US policy always supported Israel with critical reservations.  Eisenhower pressured Israel, Britain and France to withdraw from the Suez after their joint military operation to seize it.  After the Six-Day War of 1967, the US took the position that Israel must have secure and defensible borders while also maintaining that the occupied territories could not be unilaterally annexed to Israel.

The cooperation between the US and Israel is based on a number of things.  Israel is in many ways a European country placed in the Middle East, and has such has been an important bridge for the US to understand the area.  In the most practical sense, Israel's intelligence services have provided valuable information for the US - although Israeli intelligence proved just as wrong about Saddam's WMDs as the official Bush administration version did.  Despite their near-legendary status among many Americans, Israeli intelligence has its own flaws.

Part of the US support for Israel is also based on the voting clout of Jewish Americans.  This in itself is neither secret nor sinister.  On the contrary, it's very common for American foreign policy to be influenced in significant ways by domestic ethnic/national groups.  US policy towards Poland, Ireland, Vietnam and China have been influenced by domestic groupswith ancestral ties to those countries.  Cuban-American voters are still largely concentrated in one state, Florida, but they have nevertheless had a huge influence on American policy toward Cuba.

In the case of Cuban-Americans, their influence has generally supported intransigent, hard-right policies toward Cuba.  However, Jewish voters in America are much more in favor of a negotiated settlement for the Israel-Palestine problem than Israelis themselves.  The major pro-Israel lobby groups, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations are much more oriented toward the Likud Party's aggressive policies toward seizing Palestinian land.  (For more on this, see Deal Breakers by Michael Massing American Prospect 03/11/02, which I also referenced and quoted in this post of 08/28/04).

When Israel struck the Osirik reactor in Iraq in June 1981, the Reagan administration joined in the unanamous UN Security Council Resolution of 06/19/81 condemning the Osirik bombing.  It's worth quoting six of the seven points in that resolution:

Considering that, under the terms of Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter of the United Nations: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations",

1. Strongly condemns the military attack by Israel in clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct;

2. Calls upon Israel to refrain in the future from any such acts or threats thereof;

3. Further considers that the said attack constitutes a serious threat to the entire IAEA safeguards regime which is the foundation of the non-proliferation Treaty;

4. Fully recognises the inalienable sovereign right of Iraq, and allother States, especially the developing countries, to establish programmes of technological and nuclear development to develop their economy and industry for peaceful purposes in accordance with their present and future needs and consistent with the internationally accepted objectives of preventing nuclear-weapons proliferation;

5. Calls upon Israel urgently to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards;

6. Considers that Iraq is entitled to appropriate redress for the destruction it has suffered, responsibility for which has been acknowledged by Israel ...

The George W. Bush administration is the first American administration to essentially give Israel a free rein in its policies in the occupied territories and with other policies.  And yet the Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry won an overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote.

The Christian Right, on the other hand, are superficially more pro-Israel than American Jews.  This is in part based on the currently-prevailing "eschatological" views (ideas about the end of the world), which invision a massive military confrontation in which most of the Jews of the world are killed as part of the events preceding the Second Coming of Christ.  They hope by encouraging aggressive Isreali policies to hasten the death of those events, which presumably don't sound so appeal to Jews as they do to Christian Right true believers.  And part of the Christian Right's support for hardline Israeli policies stems from an admiration for what they see as tough white people kicking the A-rabs arounds.

The Christian Right's position has been far more important in shaping the Bush administration's policies than those of Jewish voters.

The political dilemma this creates is real.  Because "support for Israel" is a powerful emotional issue for these two important blocs of voters, politicians understandably want to tread carefully in dealing with the issue. And there are two distinct levels of the policy question.  One is the preservation of Israel within internationally-recognized and defensible borders.  There is widespread consensus in the US over that policy.  And that has been the bedrock position of the US toward Israel since 1948.

The other policy level has to do with the occupied territories.  The Christian Right supports Israeli annexation of that land and supports the settler movement trying to bring that about.  Sometimes the support is in concrete financial terms, helping to finance illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  But there is no general consensus in the US for supporting the Likud hardliners' maximum program of absorbing the West Bank and Gaza, and even wider territories that are taken to have been part of the kingdom of David and Solomon.

US policies for the future

The invasion of Iraq has made American policy toward Israel more urgent.  We're part of the Middle East neighborhood now, in a way that the US has never been before.  That means that Israeli actions in the occupied territories, or towards Iran or other countries in the area, can have an immediate - and deadly - effect on US troops in Iraq.

Whether Americans understand or sympathize with the feeling, there is strong sentiment in the Muslim world for a settlement of the Palestinian question and the status of Jerusalem.  A practical settlement of those two issues would do more toward improving America's image among Muslims than just about anything else, with the possible exception of exiting Iraq.  It would also give Israel and Palestine a much more secure existence.  Although at this stage, it's hard to imagine a settlement that would mean an immediate end to all anti-Israeli terrorism.

Such a state is not desirable for Israeli expansionists, the settler movement or the Christian Right.  They all picture Israel's state for the foreseeable future as being one of more-or-less continuous war.  That may satsify their religious and/or other needs.  But it's not in the interest of the United States for such a permanent-war situation to continue in Israeli-Palestine.

That's why it's important for American politicians, including the Hillary Clintons and Joe Liebermans, to develop a way of articulating American differences with the Likud hardliners - and that especially involves opposing the settler movement - while conveying to voters that they support an American commitment to Israel within defensible borders.

And one of the domestic consequences of failing to do so will be that the "highbrow" anti-Semites will gain more credibility than they should have with their criticisms of Israel.  A successful "liberal internationalist" foreign policy in the Middle East depends on getting American troops out of Iraq and achieving a solid, practical settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Those goals, especially the latter, will not be achieved if the United States defines our own interests as synonomous with that of whatever ruling party is in power in Israel - or, even worse, with the Likud hardliners even when they are not inpower.  Until the current Bush administration, the US never defined our international interests as being identical with those of Israel.  Neither Democratic nor Republican administrations should continue Bush's policy in that regard.

Monday, January 23, 2006

UCLA presentations on Islamic extremism and related issues

UCLA's International Institute has made available reports from several scholars available at its Web site on topics related to American relations with the Muslim world.  They include Juan Cole Examines Jihadist Groups and several others for which links are available in the sidebar next to the piece about Cole.

Larry Diamond and Gilles Kepel, a French expert on Islamism, are among the contributors.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Torture in the Bush Gulag: The latest dog-and-pony shows

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

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

"Men without conscience are capable of any cruelty the human mind can imagine." - Dick Cheney 01/26/05

One of the reasons I like the St. Petersburg Times is that they still do some real journalism, not the FOX-and-Judith-Miller kind.  This column, for instance: The antitorture law that wasn't by Robyn Clumner St. Petersburg Times 01/22/06. Clumner writes:

Bush appeared to be handing McCain a victory when he eventually acquiesced to language barring the "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of anyone in U.S. custody. But it was a Br'er Rabbit protest. Bush was getting more than he was giving up. The protections against abuse that Congress gave with one hand it took back with the other. And Bush declared in an accompanying signing statement that he plans to ignore it all anyway.

The swirl of press surrrounding passage of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 focused on the provision that protected prisoners from mistreatment and directed the military to abide by the interrogation techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual.

It appeared to be an affirmation of America's finest principles - what made this nation stand as a model of justice and humanity for more than 200 years. But the measure had numerous other provisions, nearly all of which stripped prisoners in Guantanamo of rights and protections. Congress grandly declared the end of cruel treatment, while more quietly making it impossible to assert that right.

Reflecting again how deep the bipartisan tolerance of torture runs, the provision to deny habeus corpus to detainees in the Bush Gulag was sponsored by conservative Repubican Sen. Bob Graham and liberal Democratic Sen. Carl Levin.  Graham has gotten some good press, Maverick McCain-style, for grumbling about torture.  But it's no real surprise that he would sponsor an obvious pro-torture measure like this.

Then there's Carl Levin, supposedly a liberal, who has been quite critical of Bush's Iraq War policies.  Yet he's pro-torture, too.  And I don't mean that in some vague sense he's "objectively pro-torture" or something like that.  He co-sponsored this measure knowing that the effect would be to allow Bush to continue criminal, sadistic torture in the gulag.

If we had a real press corps, they would have reported this as McCain posturing for the cameras with a Potemkin anti-torture measure.  And Graham and Levin would have been highlighted as defenders of torture.

Robyn Clumner, at least, gets it right:

So what we have with the antitorture bill is a whole lot of hoopla signifying nothing. Bush is determined to keep dragging us through the mud, no matter what laws he has to break or manipulate into irrelevance, and Congress seems willing to go along. It's a disheartening, demoralizing disgrace all around.

Are the Big Pundits so supercilious that they really don't get this?  Or do they just go along with the script because they don't really care what happens - except for their own status as members of the group we generously call the Washington "press corps"?

Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues its prosecutions of low-level perpetrators, just this past week giving Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, Jr., a conviction carrying a maximum three-year sentence for suffocating a prisoner to death, a prisoner who had also been badly beaten by Welshofer or somebody else: Carson GI convicted in death of detainee: Negligent homicide found, not murder The U.S. soldier was on trial in the suffocation of an Iraqi general in 2003. He could spend up to three years in prison by Erin Emery Denver Post 01/21/06.

The charges on which he was prosecuted included murder, but the court martial let him off with an incredibly light sentence.

The trial put a spotlight on abuse of the detainee by U.S. forces and the CIA, the types of techniques allowed by interrogators, and the confusing and conflicting guidance issued by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top general in Iraq in the fall of 2003.

During closing arguments Saturday, [lead prosecutor Maj. Tiernan] Dolan said: "This case has been and remains about our officer corps, and our officer corps need to set the standards and maintain the high ground, especially in a country like Iraq, where our presence may be resented.

"And if we can't hold the high ground in a country like Iraq, we can't hold it anywhere."

Dolan said Welshofer should have known that his actions were dangerous and could cause death or serious injury - the theory under which he was charged.

"He treated that general worse than you would treat a dog, and he did so knowing he was required to treat him humanely," Dolan said.

The message being sent by the officer corps is, go ahead and treat the prisoners like dogs, murder them if you feel like it - just don't let it get into the papers.

The implications of the Bush torture policy are wide-reaching and long-lasting. We're only beginning to see the consequences of it.

And while we're on the subject, here are a few other, older articles on the topic.

The soft-pedaling of crimes committed by GI's against Iraqis is not new: U.S. soldiers get off easy for crimes against Iraqis, review finds by Russell Carollo and Larry Kaplow Palm Beach Post-Cox News Service 10/03/05. (The original link is dead, but the text of the article is available as of this writing at this link, near the bottom of the page.)

Juliette Kayyem wrote in The Torture Debate, Some New Disclosures TPM Cafe 09/25/05 about indications that the President's Office of Legal Counsel and the Justice Department had begun to have major reservations about the Unitary Executive Theory promoted by John Yoo as allowing the President to order violations of the law at hisown discretion.  She wrote:

What this means is that the myth perpetuated by the right - that their legal theory was sound, but that the disclosures at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo forced them politically to retract - are simply bogus.  The legal theorists of the right have consistently argued that their critics are a consortium of human rights activists, international legal theorists and, sometimes, military and State Department lawyers who worry about our standing abroad (rightfully so).  If the Office of Legal Counsel found that its own reasoning was unsound (and this wasn't a change of Administrations, afterall), then the legal theories that may have contributed to the unforgivable behavior of detainees - with the resulting loss of confidence in America by our allies and the rest of the world - never had much weightiness in the first place.  And now, possibly, you can quote the Bush Administration's Justice Department for that proposition.

This hasn't stopped the administration from using the justifications, though.  Bush invoked the unitary executive theory in his now-infamous signing statement nullifying the McCain anti-torture legislation.  And the same idea is now used (along with a fatuous interpretation of Congress' 2001 resolution to take all necessary military action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks) to justify illegal spying on Americans.

Marty Lederman provides amuch more detailed explanation in Silver Linings (or, the Strange But True Fate of the Second (or was it the Third?) OLC Torture Memo) Balkinization blog 09/21/05.

Scott Horton  in Shirking Responsibility Balkinization blog 09/25/05 wrote:

We are rapidly arriving at the point where the denials of military senior brass and political appointees who supervise them can only be viewed either as shirking responsibility or as confirmation that torture and abuse are official U.S. policy. It is hard to judge which of these alternatives is more harmful to the nation and its armed forces.

Horton in that post discusses the long-term damage the torture policy has created:

As a highly regarded Army reserve lawyer - now called up to active duty in Iraq - recently wrote, these developments cumulatively reflect "abdication of responsibility by the Defense Department and the Army. The question is not whether these officers actually directed the abuses or participated in them; rather, the question is how they acted as generals and leaders to facilitate the abuses,fail to prevent them, or fail to stop them." The introduction of torture and abuse as interrogation practices has badly corrupted military intelligence and is undermining morale and discipline throughout the service. The decision to scapegoat the "grunts" for decisions that clearly were taken at or near the top of the chain of command has further undermined confidence in the chain of command and in the integrity of the Army as an institution. The systematic denial of the doctrine of command responsibility threatens the ethic of the military on the most fundamental level. One must wonder when and where this whirlwind of destruction that now engulfs our military and threatens to undermine our national security will end. (my emphasis)

"The primary goal of torture or the threat of torture is not to obtain convictions for crimes, but to engender and maintain fear." - Jimmy Carter, Our Endangered Values (2005)

One of my favorite sayings

"Maybe we should have a cult in which accountants are worshipped; projects related to that cult would probably be very successful." - Michael Phillips, The Seven Laws of Money (1974)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The latest Bin Laden message

It's worth taking a critical look at major statements by Al Qaeda leaders, especially Bin Laden's.  The American press doesn't do enough of it, as I talked about in this post of 01/15/05.  But what can we expect from a Potemkin press corps?

I included in that earlier post an excerpt from this editorial in the Tampa Tribune, which quotes the CIA analyst who wrote Imperial Hubris (2004) under the pseudonym Anonymous: Exactly What Does Bin Laden Want? 07/22/04.

In an interview with NBC, the unidentified veteran agent speculated on bin Laden's motives: "He's not a man who rants against our freedoms, our liberties, our voting, our - the fact that our women go to school. He's not  the Ayatollah Khomeini.

"He really doesn't care about all those things. To think that he's trying to rob us of our liberties and freedom is, I think, a gross mistake. What he has done, his genius, is identify particular American foreign policies that are offensive to Muslims whether they support these martial actions or not - our support for Israel, our presence on the Arabian Peninsula, our activities in Afghanistan and Iraq, our support for governments that Muslims believe oppress Muslims, be it India, China, Russia, Uzbekistan. Bin Laden has focused the Muslim world on specific, tangible, visual American policies."

This latest Bin Laden offer of a "truce" seems to be similar to the kind of offers included in other messages, like those of late 2004.  (See my posts of 10/29/0410/30/0411/02/04, and  11/30/04.) It's directed not at any expectation of negotiating a peace agreement with the US.  It's saying to Muslims, see, we've offered the Americans a chance to repent, and they haven't done so. And the idea is that, because they elect their own government, ordinary Americans are legitimate targets  for retaliation for policies of the Bush government.

It certainly sounds like Bin Laden is announcing an impending attack on American soil.  Let's hope the Bush administration is doing a better job in planning for dealing with this one than they did on predicting the "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, or in responding to the Katrina emergency.

Following are excerpts from other analyses of the latest Bin Laden message:

CIA: Voice is Bin Laden Aljazeera 01/20/06

Richard Clarke, a former White House anti-terrorism chief, said: "The initial significance of this is that he is still alive.

"The only new element in his statement is that they are planning an attack soon on the United States.

"Would he say that and risk being proved wrong, if he cannot pull it off in a month or so?" Clarke asked.

Of the truce offer, Clarke said: "I think it is designed to make him look more reasonable in Arab and Muslim eyes.

"He's a very sophisticated reader of world opinion and American opinion, and he obviously knows he can't affect American thinking. He is too reviled."

Larry Johnson: Why we can't nab Bin Laden No Quarter blog 01/20/06.

"If ifs and buts were candy and nuts it would be Christmas everyday". This old saying seems appropriate in light of Bin Laden's latest message to the world. If Bin Laden's desires equaled actual capabilities then we would face daily attacks by Al Qaeda operatives. Fortunately, Al Qaeda's actual ability to hit us has been significantly degraded. Despite carrying out spectacular attacks in Spain (March 2004) and England (July 2005), Al Qaeda has not been able to sustain offensive operations in either country, not to mention the United States. We can hinder and even destroy their ability to attack us, but we must make it a priority. Unfortunately, despite tough talk from the White House, we have made finding Bin Laden a low priority. Left unmolested Bin Laden can hurt us and hurt us bad....

I do not want to hear anymore the nonsensical excuse, "who could have known"? from the Administration . Let there be no doubt, we have been warned.

Pat Lang: A Truce? - Unlikely Sic Semper Tyrannis blog 01/19/06.

[A]fter listening to the larger message of the tape, I am inclined to think that the "truce talk" is intended for the Muslim audience as assurance that the Jihadis do care about the welfare if the Islamic masses, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to deliver the message that it is the Kuffar (infidels) who are responsible for the continuation of the misery of war.

This tape is basically a pep talk for the Faithful, wherever they may be.  For us, in the West, it means nothing.  Did we think they had "gone away?"

From:: New Al-Qaeda strategy behind Bin Laden message by Syed Saleem Shahzad, Adnkronos International 01/20/06.

Well-placed intelligence sources say that for the core of al-Qaeda 2005 was dedicated to a major overhaul and focused on consolidating its network for future operations. During the second half of theyear al-Qaeda achieved many of its objectives, in particular the establishment of various secure operational bases, something that had been wiped out in the US bombings of the hostile Tora Bora region in Afghanistan.

The al-Qaeda leadership has secured a series of safe havens in Khost-North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Kunar-Chitral, Kunar-Bajur; all remote mountainous tribal areas on the Afghan-Pakistan border where 'enemy' intelligence services or military have little hope of penetrating. ...

Of these, South and North Waziristan are considered the most significant as the government of Pakistan has lost any semblance of control in a traditionally lawless zone. Pakistani security operatives are unable to move far beyond South Waziristan’s heaquarters of Wana and North Waziristan’s headquarter of Miramshah.

Pro-Taliban militants have almost complete control and Waziristan is an information 'black hole'. Local journalists are not allowed to file stories without prior approval by local militants and no journalists from Pakistan's mainstream media are allowed to enter the area.

Sources in various Jihadi organisations confirmed that both North and South Waziristan have become the hub of all Jihadi activities in South Asia. ...

Sources warn that sorting out fresh bases and fresh recruits are the prime successes of al-Qaeda in preparation for a new offensive, and say Osama bin Laden’s re-appearance confirms this to his followers. (my emphasis)

Anti-terrorism experts like Michael Scheuer have given close attention to Bin Laden's statements.  There's now a collection available in a popular edition.  (If you aren't too worried about getting on some list for buying it.)  See: Read bin Laden’s own words in new book: Bruce Lawrence brings together 24 of bin Laden’s statements and videos MSNBC/AP 11/30/05.