Thursday, March 30, 2006

Attacking Iran

Joerg W at the Atlantic blog calls our attention to this article:  Fool Me Twice by Joseph Cirincione Foreign Policy Online 03/27/06.  Cirincione writes about US policy toward Iran:

Nothing is clear, yet. For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran. In the last few weeks, I have changed my view. In part, this shift was triggered by colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran.

I argued with my friends. I pointed out that a military strike would be disastrous for the United States. It would rally the Iranian public around an otherwise unpopular regime, inflame anti-American anger around the Muslim world, and jeopardize the already fragile U.S. position in Iraq. And it would accelerate, not delay, the Iranian nuclear program. Hard-liners in Tehran would be proven right in their claim that the only thing that can deter the United States is a nuclear bomb. Iranian leaders could respond with a crash nuclear program that could produce a bomb in a few years.

My friends reminded me that I had said the same about Iraq - that I was the last remaining person in Washington who believed President George W. Bush when he said that he was committed to a diplomatic solution. But this time, it is the administration’s own statements that have convinced me. What I previously dismissed as posturing, I now believe may be a coordinated campaign to prepare for a military strike on Iran.  (my emphasis)

As Bush himself said in a Tennessee appearance back in 2002, "There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."

The correct saying, of course, ends with "fool me twice, shame on me".  Someone suggested that Bush stumbled over this because he just couldn't bring himself to utter the phrase "shame on me", even in the context of a famous saying.

Conservatives against Mexican flags and funny languages

Good Lord.  The latest things conservatives have a hard-on about (can I say that on AOL?) is the fact that Latino protesters against nativist legislation carry Mexican flags.

If anyone believes that nativist rightwingers would respect the protesters or their cause more if they didn't display any Mexican flags, please contact me.  Boy, do I have an exclusive story for you on the undisputable evidence of Iraq WMDs!  (For a small fee, of course.)

Dr. Demarche at American Future puts it this way:

As I have watched the television coverage of the immigration reform protests over the past few days I have been struck by two things - the number of Mexican flags and the signs stating "We are not terrorists." It would seem to me that if you are trying to make the point that you want to stay in America and celebrate all that America is and means that you would pick up the Stars and Stripes, and maybe chant the pledge of allegiance as you march in your thousands. But that is just me.

It seems to me that the USA would be a lot better off if flag-waving Republicans would give up this American flag idolotry and focus a little more on more essential aspects of Americanism, e.g., democracy and the rule of law.  Of course, conservatives like to claim that part of their motive in bashing immigrants is to enforce the rule of law.

But watch carefully to see how many conservative politicians are going to insist on effective employer sanctions, which would be a critical part of any realistic solution to the illegal immigration problem.  And it *is* a problem.  But watch them.  The employers' associations, especially large agribusiness lobbies, will go to the wall to oppose any effective employer sanctions.

Instead, we get various euphemisms for "there are too many Mexicans around here".   Such as "they're carrying a Mexican flag and not just an American one".  Or, as I heard Orlando Sentinel columnist Kathleen Parker say on TV last weekend, lots of people get upset when they call a help line and hear the instructions that say, "Para espanol, marke el dos".  Get a life, lady.

I usually pick the "marke el dos" option, myself.

What Parker sees is a bunch of scary dark people talking a funny language (When illegal is right, what is wrong? Orlando Sentinel 03/29/06):

There's nothing like the sight of 500,000 protesters on U.S. turf, demanding rights in Spanish while waving Mexican flags, to stir Americans from their siestas.

In Los Angeles, the iconic phrase may be "Si se puede," but in Muncie, it's "What the ... ?"

Suddenly, in the flash of a newscast, polite political debate about guest worker programs visually morphed into what seemed like a full-blown invasion.

It's stuff like this that lets us know that the nativists are not appealing to an abstract respect for the rule of law.  After all, no respectable Republican who supports Bush's warrantless spying program actually believes in the rule of law.  No, they see "a full-blown invasion" of brown people.

Maybe we can make a deal on the flags.  We could have a Constitutional Amendment to ban the Mexican flag.  And also to ban the Confederate flag.  And outlaw flag-burning.  And at the same time make it a felony to display the American flag in any form unless you can prove that you voted in one of the last two elections in your precinct.  How's that sound?

Something to remember when Bush talks about Iranian nukes

Yet another angle on the Iraqi WMD scam, from Prewar Intelligence: Insulating Bush by Murray Waas National Journal 03/30/06:

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration. Rove expressed his concerns shortly after an informal review of classified government records by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address - that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon - might not be true, according to government records and interviews.

 As the 2004 election loomed, the White House was determined to keep the wraps on a potentially damaging memo about Iraq.  Hadley was particularly concerned that the public might learn of a classified one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, specifically written for Bush in October 2002. The summary said that although "most agencies judge" that the aluminum tubes were "related to a uranium enrichment effort," the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department's intelligence branch "believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapons."

Three months after receiving that assessment, the president stated without qualification in his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."

Missed opportunity on negotiating with Iran

Gareth Porter reports on the missed opportunity in 2003 to negotiate with Iran over their nuclear program:  Neo-con cabal blocked 2003 nuclear talks  Asia Times/Inter Press Services 03/30/06.  He describes the Iranian offer:

The Iranian negotiating offer, transmitted to the State Department in early May 2003 by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, acknowledged that Iran would have to address US concerns about its nuclear program, although it made no specific concession in advance of the talks, according to Flynt Leverett, then the National Security Council's senior director for Middle East Affairs.

Iran's offer also raised the possibility of cutting off Iran's support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad and converting Hezbollah into a purely socio-political organization, according to Leverett. That was an explicit response to Powell's demand in late March that Iran "end its support for terrorism".

In return, Leverett recalls, the Iranians wanted the US to address security questions, the lifting of economic sanctions and normalization of relations, including support for Iran's integration into the global economic order.

Leverett also recalls that the Iranian offer was drafted with the blessing of all the major political players in the Iranian regime, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini.

Not only could this have led to greater progress on the Iranian nuclear issue.  But it could have moved things forward in the effort to get Iran to help the US stabilize Iraq.

And why sholdn't they?  The Shi'a government in Iraq is an ally of Iran.  Iran would presumably prefer a stable government that actually controlled the country to a disintegrating Iraq with a bloody and escalating civil war.

But the Bush administration just passed up the chance.  Steve Clemons (America's Botched 2003 Iran Diplomacy: No Talks with Evil People in the "Axis" Washington Note blog 03/30/06) says in commenting on Porter's article:

In corners of the Pentagon, CIA, State Department and National Security Agency - as well as in the Office of the President and Vice President, employees of our government - supported by taxpayers - are considering bombing and other hard shock scenarios to preempt Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. The truth is that we should always have back up plans, hard and soft scenarios, diplomacy backed by resolve ... all of that.

But it's a real travesty when diplomacy is never really attempted -- and when the force that Cheney's wing of the foreign policy establishment wants applied actually wrecks American objectives, undermines our goals and interests, and frequently gives the thugs that we are trying to confront the legitimacy they need to grow stronger.

Iran and Afghanistan

This report prepared for the Congressional Research Service, describes Iran's perceived national interests in Afghanistan:  Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy by Kenneth Katzmanm 03/17/06.  Iran benefitted from the overthrow of the Taliban, as well as by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Katzmann writes:

Iran perceives its key national interests in Afghanistan as exerting its traditional influence over western Afghanistan, which Iran borders and was once part of the Persian empire, and to protect Afghanistan’s Shiite minority. Iranian firms are also profiting from reconstruction work in western Afghanistan, in some cases to the detriment of Afghan firms. After the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, President Bush warned Iran against meddling in Afghanistan. Partly in response to the U.S. criticism, in February 2002 Iran expelled Karzai-opponent Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, although it did not arrest him. Since then, the Bush Administration criticism of Iranian “meddling” has lessened as the pro-Iranian Northern Alliance has been marginalized in the government. For his part, Karzai has said that Iran is an important neighbor of Afghanistan. Iran did not strongly oppose Karzai’s firing of Iran ally Ismail Khan in September 2004, although Iran has opposed the subsequent U.S. use of the Shindand air base.  Iran is said to be helping Afghan law enforcement with anti-narcotics along their border. About 300,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Iran since the Taliban fell, but about 1.2 million remain, mostly integrated into Iranian society.

Even though Iran’s position in Afghanistan has waned since 2004, it is still greatly enhanced from the time of the Taliban, which Iran saw as  a threat to its interests in Afghanistan, especially after Taliban forces captured Herat (the western province that borders Iran) in September 1995. Iran subsequently drew even closer to the Northern Alliance than previously, providing its groups with fuel, funds, and ammunition, and hosting fighters loyal to Ismail Khan. In September 1998, Iranian and Taliban forces nearly came into direct conflict when Iran discovered that nine of its diplomats were killed in the course of the Taliban’s offensive in northernAfghanistan. Iran massed forces at the border and threatened military action, but the crisis cooled without a major clash, possibly out of fear that Pakistan would intervene on behalf of the Taliban. Iran has confirmed that it offered search and rescue assistance in Afghanistan during the U.S.-led war to topple the Taliban, and it also allowed U.S. humanitarian aid to the Afghan people to transit Iran.  (my emphasis)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Freiheit für Gartenzwerge!

Fortunately, Gartenzwerge (garden gnomes) have their own Underground Railroad now, the Gartenzwerg Befreiungsfront.  From Garden Angels: The Secret History of the Garden Gnome Der Spiegel Online 03/29/06:

But the common garden gnome has fallen on hard times in recent years, his reputation tarnished by campaigns led by mean-spirited elitist intellectuals and even perverts. To intellectuals and other touchy types, he's despised as the embodiment of kitsch and petit-bourgeois parochialism. Some outsiders have even sought to savage the image of the gnome by plunging him into a world of decadence, violence, and sex. There are pornographic gnomes, one-eared Van Gogh gnomes and "Scream" versions à la Edvard Munch.
The press routinely reports shocking attacks even on harmless outdoor gnomes. Vandalism is rampant. At the same time, law enforcers are continually called upon to take action against bare-bottomed or genitally exposed "gross-out gnomes". Gnome theft, too, is spreading in leaps and bounds. Berlin's "Dwarf Mother" recently lamented the theft of 50 of her gnomes. It's possible they were taken to France, where the Garden Gnome Liberation Front abducts supposedly enslaved gnomes and releases them back into their natural habitat.

More thoughts on German "anti-Americanism"

Continuing my comments on some of the post featured this past weekend in the second quarterly US-German Relations blog carnival organized by the Atlantic Review in cooperation with other blogs.

Up today is Heile dich, Deutschland! (Heal yourself, Germany!) by a Polish guy named Greg Grabinski living in Switzerland.  The Atlantic Review's blog carnival featured the following English summary of his post:

Anti-Americanism in Europe is a sentiment that has existed since the creation of America itself. Since then, European thinkers have discussed and discredited America, often without a single visit to the country. They saw in America a degenerate nation with no culture and money as its only religion. These views were mostly born out of 19th Century Romanticism and remain today. Both, before, between and after the world wars, America was perceived as the great liberator, and simultaneously an empire with imperialistic intentions. During the Cold War, America was needed as protector, while despised as before especially true during the Vietnam War and by the socialists of '68 who saw in America nothing less then the imperialistic evil. After the fall of the Soviet empire, America remained the sole superpower on the globe. During this period, all the old clichés of America came back and Europe envied America's liberty to do whatever she liked - something the Europeans have lost. Today, the anti-Americans use such old prejudices rather more subtly, and sometimes not. The reactions to 9/11 have shown that the resentment is profound and that it reemerges even in America's hours of darkness.

His post itself is very impressionistic, and is based on some pretty broad generalizations, just like the English summary.

The last sentence in the summary made my eyebrows scrunch up, for instance.  The German reaction to 9/11 was overwhelming support for the United States, symbolized but by no means limited to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's pledge of "unbeschraenkte Solidaritaet" (unconditional solidarity).  Schroeder rather soon realized that in fact his government had to put some conditions on their solidarity, especially when they saw what Bush was up to with the Iraq War.

See for instance, "We are all Americans" by Daryl Lindsey and Steve Kettmann Salon 09/13/2001.

And for now, the German people are standing behind Americans, as are the citizens of the rest of Europe and most of the world. At times that support has been poignant. In Berlin, many locals have tearfully recalled the Berlin Airlift that kept this city alive in 1948.

At the makeshift memorial set up outside the U.S. Embassy, a postcard of the World Trade Center was taped to a flower and set against the cyclone fence. "We are so sad and shocked. - Olgo and Elmo Kraft, Berlin," the card read. Another, from an elementary school in Berlin stated: "We will pray for the lost souls in this tragedy."

Germany's most important politicians and thousands of citizens converged on Berlin Cathedral Wednesday morning to mourn the losses. The cathedral was so packed that hundreds had to stand at the plaza outside.

As Peter Struck, a Social Democrat[ic] parliamentary leader, said simply: "Today we are all Americans."

Early relations between the Bush administration and Germany had been cool.  For what we might call a brief, shining moment after the 9/11 attacks, it appeared as though this might change.  Noting that NATO had invoked the mutual defense clause of the NATO Treaty for the first time ever in support of the US, Lindsey and Kettmann wrote:

But it all represents a dizzying turnaround from the turbulence in U.S.-European relations that had generated so much press attention in the first months of the Bush administration. Just six months ago, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder visited the White House and found his first face-to-face meeting with Bush so disappointing, he reportedly told people he thought the U.S. president had trouble remembering his name, according to Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

That was the same day that Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, setting in motion months of difficult dealings between Europe and the United States. The split over global-warming policy culminated in July with the European agreement in Bonn, Germany, to go ahead with the Kyoto process, even without the U.S.

This week, that was all forgotten - at least for the time being - along with European worries about Bush's mania for missile defense. Like Tony Blair, Schroeder could hardly have been a more steadfast, even passionate, ally in the wake of the attacks Tuesday. Visibly shaken, Schroeder told the German parliament Wednesday that the terrorist attack was "a declaration of war against the entire civilized world," earning a unanimous show of applause from different political parties.

A day later, Schroeder powerfully invoked history: "When it came to defending the freedom of Berlin, John F. Kennedy said 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' It was the expression of an unbelievable solidarity. Today I think Germany has an occasion to return this solidarity."

But Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld didn't care about goodwill from European wusses.  Their idea of alliance was, the US decides who to go to war with, and then the NATO allies join up and follow orders.  They weren't interested in solidarity.  They wanted obedience.

I was in Austria the week after the 9/11 attacks on a planned vacation, and in Germany the next week.  Both on a personal level and in the news reported in the newspapers, it was clear that people there were very emotionally affected by the attacks and very sympathetic to the Americans.

And out of that, Grabinski gets that Germans' "resentment is profound and that it reemerges even in America's hours of darkness"?

In the German post, he writes:

Anti-Amerikanismus begleitet die deutsche Volksseele seit dem ersten Weltkrieg wie kein anderes Ressentiment bis auf den Antisemitismus.

Blicken wir doch zurück. In der Zeit der Unabhängigkeitserklärung Amerikas gab es schon Anti-Amerikanismus, doch es war eher ein französischer Sport und darauf einzugehen, würde den Rahmen dieses Artikels sprengen.

[Anti-Americanism has been part of the German popular soul [Volksseele] since the First World War more than any other resentment except anti-Semitism.

[Let's look back.  In the time of America's Declaration of Independence there was already anti-Americanism, but it was more a French sport and to go into that would go beyond the scope of this article.]

It's probably just as well that it's beyond the scope.  What history book is he reading?  The French monarchy supported the American colonies in the Revolution.  The wartime ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, was a popular figure in Paris, since he was not only the representative of revolutionary America, but also one of the leading scientists of his day.  Also a literary figure and a sophisticated flirt.  The Marquis de Lafayette is a hero in America to this day for helping in the Revolutionary war.

And it wasn't only aristocratic circles that had friendly inclinations to things American.  The Declaration of Independence and the revoution it declared were an enormous inspiration to the French Revolution. So it's probably better than he didn't try to make the argument that France was anti-American in the 1770s and immediately thereafter.

Also, what is a "Volksseele"?  Is that like "national character", a dubious concept at best?  Or maybe Carl Jung's "collective unconscious", also a notion I wouldn't want to have to defend?

The rest of his post sounds more-or-less like a lot of snarky American conservative bloggers.  Gosh, some intellectuals in Germany have criticized various things about America in the last 60 years.  The Communist government of East Germany made propaganda against the US.  But, ha, ha, McDonald's and Starbucks are popular in Germany.

What does all this tell us?  About politics or anything else?  Does Grabinski think Germans should give up their 5-6 weeks annual vacation for the 2-3 weeks that are standard in the US?  Does he think the Bundeswehr should have sent a few thousand troops to Iraq to share the nightmare Bush's policies created there with the Americans and Brits?  Are they supposed to be glad that the US blew off the Kyoto Treaty on global warming?

It certainly matters if American businesses are doing well in Germany and Europe.  I wouldn't want to see a general boycott of American products.

But is it really a sign of pro- or anti-Americanism whether somebody likes McDonald's burgers or not?  And since the Iraq War has become very unpopular in America, is it pro-American for Germans to agree with the Bush administration's policies when that puts them in the position of favoring something a majority of Americans criticize?

Talking about "anti-Americanism" in the abstract can become very squishy very quickly.

Tom Engelhardt on the media and "good news" from Iraq

Discussing Deadeye Dick's recent comment that his Iraq War whoppers (the insurgency is in its "last throes", etc.) "were basically accurate and reflect reality", Tom Engelhardt takes off on Deadeye's attempt to blame everything on the Liberal Press:

This was Cheney's version of an ongoing litany of not-enough-good-news complaints from officials of the Bush administration who are already preparing their (media) stab-in-the-back/we-lost-the-war-at-home arguments to cover their Iraqi disaster. ("A few violent people can always grab headlines and can always kill innocent people" was the way Condoleezza Rice put it on Meet the Press Sunday.) Missing, they regularly claim, are those quiet, behind-the-scenes stories of what's really happening in Iraqi life. They imagines [sic] such missing "good news" reports as like those the U.S. Central Command regularly sends out in its weekly electronic newsletter with headlines like "Darkhorse Marines Deliver Wheelchair to Iraqi Girl" and "Bridge Reopens over Euphrates River." (From Michael Schwartz on Why the Media Gets the War Wrong 03/29/06)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Iraq War: More on Anthony Cordesman's analysis

"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.

The Anthony Cordesman paper I quoted yesterday, Iraq’s Evolving Insurgency and the Risk of Civil War 03/23/06, really has good information and analysis about the Iraq War.

He seems to be somewhat reticent about using the term civil war for what going on now.  But he also makes it clear that the prospects for the immediate future are not entirely rosy:

No one can deny, however, that there is a very serious risk that that the political process will fail. The insurgency has found new targets and new opportunities to drive the nation towards a more intense civil war. The formation of a government gives the insurgency a strong incentive to do everything it can to prevent any meaningful unity between Arab Sunni and Arab Shi’ite, and to provoke counter-violence and attacks by Shi’ites that will drive Iraqi Sunnis to support the insurgency. It can seek to exploit divisions and fault lines within the dominant Shi’ite coalition, and try to provoke the Kurds towards increased separatism.

So far, the constitutional referendum and the election of a new Council of Representatives in December 2005 have not brought added security or stability. They have instead exposed the depth of the sectarian and ethnic divisions in Iraq, and raised serious questions as to whether any form of unified or inclusive national government can be effective. ...

If Iraqi forces become effective in large numbers, if the Iraqi government demonstrates that its success means the phase out of Coalition forces, and if the Iraqi government remains inclusive in dealing with Sunnis willing to come over to its side, the insurgency should be defeated over time - although some cadres could then operate as diehards at the terrorist level for a decade or more.

The negative side is that there is a serious risk of full-scale civil war. The efforts of the insurgents to divide Iraq along sectarian and ethnic lines are having some success and are leading to Shi'ite and Kurdish reprisals that are causing fear and anger among Sunnis. Shi'ite and Kurdish federalism, mixed with the rise of Shi'ite religious factions and militias, can divide the country. The Iraqi political process is unstable and uncertain, and parties and officials are now identified (and identifying themselves) largely by sect and ethnicity. Severe ethnic and sectarian divisions exist inside the government at the national, regional, and local levels. Popular support for the Coalition presence in Iraq is now a distinct minority in every Coalition country.  (my emphasis in bold)

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

Monday, March 27, 2006

Iraq War: Lessons from the loss

"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.

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has a 03/23/06 version of his continually-revised paper about the Iraqi insurgency out.  It's now called Iraq's Evolving Insurgency and the Risk of Civil War.

The latest version runs to 327 pages.  But there's an executive summary that's "only" 26 pages.

Cordesman, a supporter of the Iraq War and of (what's left of) Bush's "stay the course" policy, writes in a section of the summary called "The Limits of Cheerleading and Self-Delusion":

There is no way to avoid the fog of war, but there is no reason to make it a self-inflicted wound. Counterinsurgency cannot be fought on the basis of political slogans, official doctrine, ideology, and efforts to spin the situation in the most favorable terms. Unless warfighters and policymakers honestly address the complexity, unique characteristics, and risks and costs of a given conflict, they inevitably come up with solutions that, as the old joke states, are “simple, quick and wrong.” History shows all too clearly that this “simple, quick and wrong” approach is how Americans have created far too many past problems in US foreign policy, and that it is a disastrous recipe for war. In retrospect, fewer US failures occurred because it lacked foresight, than because it could not resist praising itself for progress that did not really exist and choosing simplicity at the expense of reality.

To use another old joke, Iraq is another case where Americans have tended to treat counterinsurgency as if were a third marriage, “a triumph of hope over experience.” The prior history of the insurgency shows that the US began by underestimating the scale of the problems it really had to face and just how many resources, how much time, and how expensive in dollars and blood the cost would be. Counterinsurgency campaigns cannot be based on hope and best cases if the US wants to win. American policy and military planners have to examine all of the
variables, prioritize, and be very careful about the real-world importance of any risks and issues they dismiss. They must be ready for the near certainty of major problems and gross failure in unanticipated areas.

The reality is that counterinsurgency warfare is almost always a “worst case” or nations like the US would not become involved in it in the first place. The US and other Western states become involved in counterinsurgency because an ally has failed, because a friendly nation has failed or because diplomacy and foreign policy have failed. Almost by definition, counterinsurgency means things have already gone seriously wrong.  (my emphasis)

The latter comment may partially reflect the prevailing idea among the officer corps that only conventional war is "real" war.  But even so, it's probably a good way to put it.

In the summary he includes the same three paragraphs as in the main text on the topic of "Honestly Winning the Support of the American People".  He writes:

The sharp gap between the evolution of the insurgency described in the preceding analysis, and the almost endless US efforts to use the media and politics to "spin" a long and uncertain counterinsurgency campaign into turning points and instant victory, has done America, the Bush Administration, and the American military great harm. Spin and shallow propaganda loose [sic] wars rather than win them. They ultimately discredit a war, and the officials and officers who fight it.

Iraq shows that it is critical that an Administration honestly prepares the American people, the Congress and it [sic] allies for the real nature of the war to be fought. To do so, it must prepare them to sustain the expense and sacrifice through truth, not spin. But there is only so much shallow spin that the American people or Congress will take. It isn’t a matter of a cynical media or a people who oppose the war; rubbish is rubbish. If the US “spins” each day with overoptimistic statements and half-truths, it embarks on a process that will sooner or later deprive itself of credibility -- both domestically and internationally.

Iraq is also yet another warning that serious counterinsurgency campaigns often take five to fifteen years. They don’t end conveniently with an assistant secretary or a President’s term in office. Again and again we deny the sheer length of serious counterinsurgencies. Planners, executers, and anyone who explains and justifies such wars needs to be far more honest about the timescales involved, just how long we may have to stay, and that even when an insurgency is largely over, there may be years of aid and advisory efforts.  (my emphasis)

And this guy supports the war!

I love that part, "rubbish is rubbish".  A great way to put it.  And notice that he says that the credibility gap affects not only the war, but "the officials and officers who fight it."  (my emphasis)  Yes, he's criticizing our infallible generals, too.

But with the Bush administration, it's more like "the Party line is truth whether it's rubbish or not".

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

Do Germans think Americans are killers?

This past weekend was the second quarterly US-German Relations blog carnival organized by the Atlantic Review in cooperation with other blogs.

One of the blogs featured in the March carnival is the American Future blog, specifically this post by Dr. Demarche:  Why Aren't We in This Together? 03/24/06. He illustrates his main point by the following personal anecdote from the summer of 2004, when he attended a "German-American Volksfest" in Berlin:

After an early evening of good beer and a close approximation of bar-b-que ribs my friend and I, accompanied by several Americans and Germans who work with him, headed for the U-bahn (subway) to go downtown in search of more beer and food. On the train we were approached by a somewhat tipsy German fellow who mentioned, in impeccable American accented English, that he had seen us at the fair. He went on to say that the fair was not the same with the U.S. troops no longer in Berlin - followed almost casually by a quip that he was sorry to see his friends leave Berlin and to go on to massacre people all over the world. Why, he wondered, had the American people become such killers? We were all too stunned to really answer, so he asked again - where had we learned that this was the way to solve problems? After a beat or two had passed one of the Germans with us answered in a sad tone of voice "perhaps they learned it from us." There ensued a brief argument in German too fast for me to follow, and we exited the train soon after. Later what bothered me the most was not that this unknown German had a low opinion of us, but that my friend's colleague appeared to agree with the sentiment that we have become a too violent player on the world stage.

I'm not sure we can draw very broad conclusions from the passing political thoughts of a drunk in the U-Bahn. But Dr. Demarche makes it clear he's using the story to illustrate what he perceives as a broader German  attitude  toward  Americans. And his perception is consistent with polling data.

Why would ordinary Germans think the US has become "a too violent player on the world stage"? There are several plausible reasons. The biggest single one is that the Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003, a country that had not attacked the US and was not a threat to the US, let alone an imminent threat. Based on the German experience of two world wars, and on the outcome of the Nuremburg Trials in which German war criminals were convicted of planning and waging "aggressive war", Germans across the political spectrum take a very dim view of wars of aggression. The whole European Union project is also aimed at eliminating the highly destructive wars that Europe experienced for centuries. (The official term today in international law for what was called "aggressive war" at Nuremburg is "preventive war".)

Germans did not want their soldiers participating in an unnecessary, unjustified war. As a recent controversy showed, they didn't even want their spies participating in the war. And when they look at American troops bogged down in an Iraq that's clearly in civil war, a civil war that may very well spread into a regional war involving Germany's NATO ally and EU candidate Turkey, and, yes, and lot of them think Bush's America is "a too violent player on the world stage".

In fact, most American now agree in the case of Iraq. Public support of Bush's Iraq War policies is now pretty much down to white fundamentalist Christians, especially in the South.

Even most soldiers serving in Iraq agree that the war was unnecessary. In that sense, it's not stretching to say that they also think the US is "a too violent player on the world stage", at least on the Iraqi part of that stage.

It's not difficult to see why ordinary Germans would think so, as well. As far as Iraq goes, the answer to the question Dr. Demarche poses in the title of his post, "Why aren't we in this together?", a better question would be, "Why are the Americans still in this mess?" Or, "When will they get out?"

(Cross-posted at The Blue Voice)

Anti-"anti-Americanism" in Germany

The second blog Carnival of German-American Relations went up this past weekend.  Check out Joerg's post at the Atlantic Review to see one set of links.  Plus he links to others highlighting different posts.

This whole area is one of my favorite subjects.  So I'm going to take the opportunity to comment on some of the posts highlighted in the March blog carnival.  Starting with Anti-Americanism: Don't be afraid, it's only business! by Olaf Petersen at Extrablog.

Extrablog is a German blog that comes from a liberal viewpoint.  Which already requires an explanation to translate the meaning into American terms.

"Liberal" in Germany and Europe generally (including Britain) is associated with what is often called the classical liberalism of "free markets and free men".  And in the 19th century, it general meant free *men*.  Today, the liberal party in German is the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which is part of the Liberal International (LI).  And you thought only socialists had Internationals!  Actually the Socialist International, aka, the Second International, is still around, too.  It includes Britain's ruling Labour Party, Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), the French Socialist Party, the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and Israel's Labour Party, among many others.

If you check the LI's Web site's list of "liberal thinkers", you'll find among those featured Ayn Rand and Friedrich von Hayek, even Jean Baptiste Say, the latter being the originator of "Say's law", long discredited by real experience but which nevertheless was the theoretical basis (such as there was) for Reagan's "supply-side" economics.

Which gives you a hint of the orientation of German liberalism.  It more closely resembles what in America what we would call "libertarianism".  So someone from the FDP might sound like a free-market Republican zealot on business regulations and labor laws, but like an ACLU hardliner on issues of freedom of speech, due process and separation of church and state.  In German politics, you can even have something called a "rightwing liberal"; the words are translatable into American English, the concept doesn't translate at all.

This explanation is probably already longer than the post on which I'm commenting.  But the meaning of "liberal" in America is translated as "links" (left) in German explanations of this.  The Democrats are more in favor of a "positive" role for government in business regulations, labor protections and social programs.  This doesn't mean than some easy equation can be made between the major German and American parties.  The leading conservative party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), is very different from American conservatives in many ways.

But German political junkies may not always be aware of the way in which Republican propaganda, especial hate radio and Republican State television (FOX News), portray liberals as threatening and even unpatriotic.  Reinforcing this is an important religious dimension, which has great influence due to the power of the Christian Right in the US.  The main theological bogeyman for Christian fundamentalist is "liberal" theology.  And although liberal theology and liberal politics aren't necessarily connected, the Christian Right isn't inclined to make the distinction.  And so "liberal" to the fundamentalists means not only wrong, but evil, ungodly, even Satanic.  That latter edge is not something that German liberals have to worry about very much.

All of this is by way of explaining that of all the German parties, the liberal FDP comes the closest to favoring the American economic model.  And some significant part of what is called "anti-Americanism" in Germany and Austria is a critical view of many aspects of American social and economic policies, many of the criticisms shared by left and right.  In my own anecdotal experience, Germans and Austrians are often surprised, for instance, to hear that Americans have any kind of health insurance at all, because they're so used to hearing that America is not a "social state".  And it's amusing to try to explain to Americans, even many who are well-informed about Germany, that the concept of the "social market economy" was promoted in the postwar periods by *conservatives*.  Based on American experience, the idea of "conservatives" being critical of the US for having insufficient government-sponsored social services is a very hard concept to process.

Historically, in the postwar period, the Social Democrats were thought to be less pro-American in foreign policy than the Christian Democrats.  But that also is not so simple.  The highly-regarded Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher defied the Old Man Bush administration years ago by recognizing the independence of Croatia and Slovenia.  Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer supported the Clinton administration in the Kosovo War against strong opposition inside his own Green Party, and defied the current Bush administration over the Iraq War.

So it's useful to distinguish between supporting on opposing the US on *foreign policy*, on the one hand, and cultural/political criticisms of the US, on the other.  Because the FDP sees much of the American approach to economic policy as positive and desirable, they are more "pro-American" in their outlook than the other parliamentary parties in Germany.

That's the context in which Olaf Petersen's post should be read.  He writes that when he visited in Washington, he noticed in the subway station at the Pentagon a bookstore which contain the biggest pile of "'anti-American' literature" that he had ever seen.  Since he doesn't give any details about the bookstore or even the books he saw, I have to wonder if he happened on a Revolutionary Communist Party shop, or maybe some neo-Confederate outlet.  He continues:

Anti-Amerikanismus und Verschwörungstheorien sind in den USA seit langem ein etablierter Bestandteil der Literatur, sind big business. So erstaunt es natürlich nicht, dass auch die meisten deutschen Vertreter dieser Branche sich regelmässig auf amerikanische Quellen berufen. Ob es Chomsky oder Moore sind, ob Polit-Thriller aus Hollywood - die amerikanischen Exporte nach Europa erreichen jedes Jahr neue Höchstmarken. US-Verschwörungswebsites wie Paranoia oder Fraktali haben gar schon vor Jahren begonnen, deutsche Übersetzungen ihrer dubiosen Theorien anzubieten.

Ich persönlich finde es schon ziemlich smart von den Amerikanern, dass sie einen Weg gefunden haben, selbst denen noch das Geld aus der Tasche zu ziehen, die Amerika nicht mögen. Aber andererseits empfinde ich es auch als Heuchelei, wenn manche Amerikaner sich hinterher künstlich ob der Effekte aufregen, den diese Exporte unweigerlich haben müssen.

[Anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories have been an established field of literature for a long time in the USA, they are big business.  So it's naturally not surprising that also most German representatives of this type cite American sources regularly.  Whether it's Chomsky or Moore, whether its a political thriller from Hollywood - the American exports to Europe achieve new high marks every years.  US conspiracy theories like paranoia or fraktali [?] had already begun years ago to demand German translations of their dubious theories.

[I personally find it pretty smart of the Americans that they have found a way to make a buck [das Geld aus der Tasche zu ziehen] from people who don't like America.  But on the other hand, I also consider it hyprocrisy that many Americans are artifically outraged by the effects that these exports must unavoidably have.]

The only clues to what Olaf considers "anti-American" in this context are his mentions of Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore.  Now, I'm sure that Chomsky's books have some marginal influence on intellectuals in Europe.  But, come on.  Does the German and European public get its critical ideas about America from their exposure to Chomsky - a one-trick pony who interprets every bad thing that happens as part a dark master plan - or from Michael Moore films?  I would defend them both against the label "anti-American" in any case, although the term sounds a bit different in America than to German liberals.  And Michael Moore, more so than Chomsky, represents a pro-labor, reformist, protesting perspective that's as American as apple pie.

But I think we can reassur Olaf that most Americans aren't huffing and puffing about the gutless and unfaithful Europeans.  The ones doing that would be our FOXists, the hardcore Bush supporters, neoconservatives, the Christian Right, both the Cro-Magnon and Halliburton wings of the Republican Party.  And they don't like Europe because the EU countries are democracies who believe that even presidents and prime ministers are required to obey the law, and because they believe in international law.  Yes, Olaf, they "hate your for your values".  And they also don't like it that Germany didn't jump into the Iraq War like good vassals should when Bush ordered them to.

I haven't seen any polls directly on this question.  But I doubt very seriously at this point that a majority of American would hold it against Germany that you didn't invade Iraq with us.  Most Americans now wish we had never done it.  And most people this side of OxyContinLand (by that I mean Republican hate radio) can distinguish being "anti-American" from choosing not to do something stupid (oh, and criminal) like invading Iraq for no good reason.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Where angels fear to tread (but not Georgia legislators)

Some Georgia legislators have decided it would be a nifty idea to make the Christian Bible a public school textbook.  Of course, they are presenting their goal as promoting an "academic" study of the Bible:  Georgia may OK Bible as textbook: If a new law passes, it would be the first state to establish the Bible in its public school curriculum in modern times by Patrik Jonsson Christian Science Monitor 03/27/06.  Jonsson reports:

Though students in many states enroll in classes related to the Bible, Georgia would become the first to require its Department of Education to put in place a curriculum to teach the history and literature of the Bible. Schools would use the book itself as the classroom textbook. Specifically the bill would establish electives on both the New and Old Testaments.

It has overwhelmingly passed both chambers, but needs a final vote on a minor House change. The vote is expected as early as Monday. If it passes, the state's Department of Education has a year to establish Bible elective courses in the curriculum. ...

The Bible is already being used as a course study in as many as 1,000 American high schools, according to the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools in Greensboro, N.C. The US Supreme Court allows it as long as it's presented objectively, and not taught as fact. But the Georgia legislature's unprecedented decision to wade into what is usually a school district initiative has created concerns.

For example, the bill's use of terms such as Old and New Testament reflect a Protestant bias, some critics say. After all, Catholics and Jews have different interpretations and names for the tome. "To pick one is to suggest that is the right Bible, which is a school district making a faith statement," says Judith Schaeffer, a lawyer for People For the American Way, which works to maintain the separation of church and state.

Others worry that this trend - Alabama and Missouri are also considering statewide Bible study classes - is part of the broader culture war over the role of religion in civic life, and seeks to satisfy social conservatives rather than enlighten students.

Actually, Catholics call the Hebrew Bible the Old Testament, too.  But the Church recognizes several books as part of the Old Testament canon that are not in the Hebrew Bible, and Protestants do not.  The Hebrew Bible contains the books in the Protestant Old Testament, but in a different order.  The Christian Bible places the prophets last in the Old Testament because Christian theology traditionally held that everything in the Old Testament was pointing toward Jesus Christ.

It would do a lot more to promote genuine academic study of the Bible if the Georgia legislature were to make a big push to teach students Hebrew and Greek.  I mean, I'm sure that Jesus Christ spoke English, no question about it.  But the books about him were written in Greek.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The American antiwar movement (Pt. 2 of 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Combat morale and motivation is not exactly an obscure subject, given the role that war has played in the history of our very flawed human race.  As a general rule, unit cohesion is the critical factor in maintaining morale in actual combat.

The general well-functioning of the military organization is also critical.  This is why the Bush administration's torture policy, which has obviously been implemented and tolerated by important elements of the officer corps despite it's illegality and sadistic cruelty, would be a serious internal problem for the armed services even if the Bush war policies themselves were wildly popular at home.

Another of Warner's guests, Kelly Dougherty, "co-founder and southwest coordinator of Iraq Veterans Against the War", described the current state of the antiwar movement in this comment, which shows an appreciation for the fact that demonstrations are a part of the movement and an important part, but not all of the movement by any means:

Well, I just got back from a march from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans with hurricane survivors and veterans to call attention to the Iraq war and the effects that it's having on our own communities here in the United States. And we had a large number of Iraq veterans against the war, plus veterans from other conflicts, the most that we've had together in one place.

And I think we're all hopeful that, because of the turning viewpoints - not only among the American public, but among soldiers in Iraq, 72 percent of which who were polled said that they think there should be a complete withdrawal within the next year - that this will help speed the end of this conflict, because already we have over 2,300 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed because of our involvement in Iraq.

So to me, it's heartening, but polls don't necessarily turn into tangible conclusions and actions.

I don't see Ruy Teixeira's Donkey Rising blog cited that much in news blogs lately. I'm not quite sure why, because he writes some of the clearest and most sensible analyses of political polling results that I see anywhere.  In The Iraq War, ThreeYears On 03/22/06, he gives us an important comparisonof the current antiwar movement with that of the anti-Vietnam War movement, which did have lots of big demonstrations:

All very interesting. But perhaps the most interesting finding is this. Gallup asked a question that gave respondents four different options for dealing with the war in Iraq: "withdraw all troops from Iraq immediately, withdraw all troops by March 2007 - that is, in 12 months' time, withdraw troops, but take as many years to do this as are needed to turn control over to the Iraqis, or send more troops to Iraq?" The response is a clear majority (54 percent) for withdrawing all troops within a year, with 19 percent wanting immediate withdrawal and another 35 percent favoring withdrawal by March, 2007.

That seems pretty clear. And how about this other fact provided by Gallup. In early August, 1970, Gallup asked the same question about the Vietnam War, giving respondents the same four options and found 48 percent wanted to either leave immed1ately (23 percent) or within a year (25 percent). In other words, there is stronger sentiment now for leaving Iraq within a year than there was about leaving Vietnam within a year in 1970, after the killings at Kent State and at practically the height of antiwar movement.

Now that's impressive.

A couple of final thoughts about antiwar sentiment.  It's a commonplace in market research that surveys are good at identifying what consumers see as problems that they want solved.  But they are not good at identifying what would be the most marketable solutions.  In other words, a survey could tell you that most consumers think a particular style of cell phone is ugly; but it couldn't produce precise descriptions of what the ideal alternative design would be that would get rid of the features producing the perception that its ugly.

That applies to attitudes toward war, too.  The more instructive poll results in that regard are the ones that measure the depth of public dissatisfaction with the Iraq War.  But asking the public to pick solutions gives a squishier result.  So, for instance, unless the polling questions provide very clear definitions of the term, it doesn't mean much when respondents are asked whether they want the US to withdraw "quickly".  For some people, "quickly" mightmean two years.  For others, a month.

That's why the Gallup poll comparison cited by Teixeira is so interesting.  It asks the respondents to choose between concretely defined alternatives.  And it can be benchmarked against comparable findings from the most intense period of anti-Vietnam War protest and antiwar activity.

Finally, I don't see much of the commentary on public antiwar sentiment taking real account of the very large antiwar demonstrations before the invasion of Iraq.  That was really a remarkable outpouring of public sentiment against the war, and one which reflected very justified doubts about the false claims the Bush administration was using to justify the war.  And this was before the Abu Ghuraib pictures, before the news of the massive warrantless domestic wiretapping program, before the Halliburton highway robbery, before the Valerie Plame outing, before Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress gave highly-sensitive intelligence to Iran.

I don't know if any professional study on this aspect of it has been done.  But I assume that those massive prewar demonstrations were an important part of making people take a more critical look at the Iraq War and the claims of the administration and of our infallible generals after the invasion and the counterinsurgency war began.  I just don't buy the argument that some writers make (Eric Alterman and Harold Meyerson among the more sensible of them) that antiwar demonstrations have the effect of increasing support for the war.

The argument is based on a mistaken understanding of the history of the anti-Vietnam War movement.  Any active and visible movement is going to polarize opinions among the hardcore opposition.  In fact, if you look at Bush's attacks on the press and the ferocity of Republican war supporters in demonizing war critics, we see the same phenomenon today.  Opposing a war is going to piss off the supporters of the war.  That's pretty obvious.  That doesn't mean that actively opposing it is counterproductive to the antiwar cause, even if it doesn't reach today's state of a large majority rejecting the Bush war in Iraq.

Another idea that seems to have charmed the punditocracy is the notion that American casualties are the decisive feature in generating opposition to awar.  This idea is associated with one of the genuine experts on war and public opinion, John Mueller, whose article <a href="">The The Iraq Syndrome Foreign Affairs Nov/Dec 2005 is widely cited.  He argues:

American troops have been sent into harm's way many times since 1945, but in only three cases - Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq -- have they been drawn into sustained ground combat and suffered more than 300 deaths in action. American public opinion became a key factor in all three wars, and in each one there has been a simple association: as casualties mount, support decreases. Broad enthusiasm at the outset invariably erodes.

The only thing remarkable about the current war in Iraq is how precipitously American public support has dropped off. Casualty for casualty, support has declined far more quickly than it did during either the Korean War or the Vietnam War. And if history is any indication, there is little the Bush administration can do to reverse this decline.

He's right about the latter claim, that, as the song says, "when it's gone, it won't be back again".  (The song being "When It's Gone".)  But his claim that it's American casualties as such that is the only meaningful reason for this hasn't convinced me, to put it mildly.

In the World poll cited by Teixeira in the post linked above, the findings don't conform with Mueller's argument:

Support for drawing down US troops does not appear to be related to the growing number of US troop fatalities. The strongest factor appears to be the perception that the presence of US troops provokes more attacks, followed by the lack of confidence that the operation will ultimately succeed. (my emphasis)

That one is worth bookmarking in our minds.  The stab-in-the-back crowd will be eager to claim that the wimpy public folded on the war because we're wussies about casualties.

More seriously, a great deal of the military's current approach to warfare is based heavily on the assumption that the US public is generally casualty-averse, regardless of the purpose of a conflict.  This is a major reason why our infallible generals have such a heavy preference for massive bombing and heavily reliance on artillery, even in limited encounters in counterinsurgency conditions.

I would argue that public aversion to casualties is decisively related to general perceptions of the value or justice of the war in question.  All wars are popular during the first few weeks.  The human inclination to "us against them" thinking in crisis situations guarantees that.  But however normal it may seem to war profiteers, infallible generals or Big Pundits to have soldiers killing and dying for causes bearing no reasonable relationship to national safety, over time most people don't think so.  In the end, the biggest benefit of democracy may be that, even with an all-volunteer military, those who decide on wars have to account for their decisions to the general public.

Here are some more details from the study:

A common view is that it is the rising number of US troop fatalities that is prompting the public’s desire to disengage. If so, it would follow that those who believe that the number of US troop fatalities is relatively high would be more eager to withdraw than those that have relatively low estimates. But this does not appear to be the case.

The public overall is fairly accurate in its estimate of American troop fatalities to date. During the week the poll was in the field, the number of fatalities most commonly disseminated in the media was about 2,300, with approximately 1,800 of these due to hostile fire. The median estimate was 2,000 fatalities due to hostile fire, and 45 percent gave a roughly accurate estimate - between 1,700 and 2,500.

Comparing those who estimated below 1,700 fatalities and those who estimated above 2,500 fatalities, the numbers wanting to withdraw all US troops within six months were not significantly different. The numbers wanting to reduce US troops were also no different (though those who estimated high were more likely to say that the US made the wrong decision in going to war with Iraq—64%, compared to 49% for those estimating below 1,700 fatalities).

A regression analysis reveals that the most powerful factors related to the desire to draw down US troops in Iraq is the perception that the US military presence is "provoking more conflict than it is preventing["].  Among those who believe that Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing, 43 percent favor reducing and 44 percent want to withdraw completely within six months. Among those who believe that the US presence is a stabilizing force, only 4 percent want to reduce troops and only 36 percent want to withdraw completely within six months.

Another key factor is the level of confidence that the Iraq operation will succeed. Among those with low confidence that the operation will succeed, 44 percent want to reduce US troops and 40 percent want to withdraw completely within six months. Among those with high confidence, 31 percent want to reduce and just 5 percent want to withdraw completely within six months. (my emphasis)

This latter point is one of the key assumptions behind Bush's current PR campaign for his war policies.  As Juan Cole explains:

There is no great secret about why Bush is so eager to deny that Iraq is in a state of civil war. He knows only too well that the moment Americans come to believe that Iraq is in a civil war, virtually all support for Bush's war of choice will end. As the Washington Post reported nine months ago, Bush's domestic political spin on the war is guided by the work of two Duke University political scientists, Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, who have examined public opinion on Iraq and previous conflicts. They argue that the U.S. public will only support wars if it believes the mission will succeed. Public support for the Iraq war has faltered because the American people cannot see progress toward a well defined goal and toward success. If Iraq really has fallen into civil war, there is obviously little hope for victory, and Americans are not going to want to go on spending $60 billion a year on a failed enterprise.

To prevent this from happening, Bush has been giving speeches and answering public questions, attempting to spin Iraq as a budding success story that just needs a little more time (along with the unstated further half-trillion dollars, and a few thousand more dead Americans) to succeed. Beyond that, the Bush administration has tried to reassure Americans that if Iraq did slip into anarchy, the U.S. wouldn't get drawn in. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld startled and dismayed many Iraqis by announcing that if Iraq did fall into what he called civil war, Iraqi forces would have to deal with it, while American troops stayed on the sidelines. During the sectarian disturbances after the al-Askari shrine bombing in Samarra, many thought U.S. troops had orders to remain in their barracks, lest they be sucked into the communal violence.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Voice.)

The American antiwar movement (Pt. 1 of 2)

The literary plutocrats of the punditocracy have been wracking their brains lately to make sense of the antiwar movement in America.  Partly because they equate "movement" with street demonstrations, they are genuinely surprised that the Iraq War has become so incredibly unpopular.  Gosh, how could the Big Pundits possibly have predicted that a war launched to great fanfare to find "weapons of mass destruction" that allegedly threatened a "mushroom cloud" in an American city any day, that a war like that would become terribly unpopular when it turned out that the justification for war was, like, totally bogus?

How could it be, that after years of turning points and tipping points and endless optimistic predictions from the trustworthy Bush administration and an unbroken string of pronouncements of progress and victories and insurgents killed and weapons captured from our infallible generals, why, why, why would the war become so unpopular?

The Iraq War and the general militarization of foreign and domestic policies committed by the Bush administration under the rubric of the GWOT (global war on terrorism) has exposed some serious, deep-rooted problems in American society.  And while the Republicans rave on about the Liberal Press Conspiracy, some of the real weaknesses of the mainstream press have been laid bare for those in the "reality-based community" who are willing to look at them.  The best shorthand to describe them? Judith Miller.

It's a major sign of the dysfunction of our Potemkin "press corps" that one of the more sensible commentators on the Iraq War has been Chris Matthews, widely known as "Tweety" in Liberal Blogostan.  Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby has been one of Tweety's most severe critics, citing him as one of the worst "journalists" in the business.  But Somerby gives him credit on the war.

Somerby's been harshing on liberal bloggers for the last year or so, and his commentary on that topic can be faulted for failing to fully appreciate the difference between news-and-politics blogging in general - is anyone calling it "blogism" yet? - and news journalism.  But he has a decent point in criticizing bloggers for being careless in assuming that because Tweety is generally useless across the board on most issues, his commentary on the Iraq War is an exception.

On Friday, the Howler wrote:

Matthews says a lot of utterly foolish, embarrassing things; [Todd] Gitlin has a long list of them in his piece. ([Tweety's] abject fawning to Giuliani continued last night, although Gitlin skips this embarrassing theme - understandably, since he had many to choose from.) But more and more, the liberal web and liberal journals have begun to cherry-pick and distort claims in the way the pseudo-conservative world has done for these past many years. And the progression concerning Matthews has been especially weird. When Matthews was an unvarnished, unalloyed nightmare for Dems, the liberal world stared into space and said nothing. Now that he presents a weirdly mixed bag, we have begun to complain - and to put our thumbs hard on the scale as we do. Media Matters gimmicks a pointless complaint from a program where Matthews went after Bush hard. And Gitlin betrays no real idea of what Matthews has done for three years.

Matthews says a lot of embarrassing things. In the past few years, he has fawned to Republicans on personality issues - while going after Bush's defining policy [the Iraq War]. But then again, what about us? Do we have to be so much like the crackpots we all used to criticize? Can't libs and progressives be a bit smarter? Or are we really just secret Sean Hannitys, deep in our cherry-pickin' souls?

Meanwhile, despite the astonishing derilection of duty by most of what Robert Dreyfuss called the "press corpse" the other day, there's an honest-to-gosh antiwar movement with widespread support.  And, yes, it does include demonstrations, too.  Lisa Söderlindh reports in "Troops Home" Call Echoes Across U.S. Inter Press Service 03/24/06:

"The most important thing coming out from this week is that the activities happened all across the U.S.," Hany Khalil of United for Peace and Justice, one of the largest anti-war groups here, told IPS. "It reflects that the peace movement really has been mainstreamed."

Anti-war demonstrations in the United States have drawn fewer participants than just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, but the wide range of local activities "is far more important than one giant demonstration", Phyllis Bennis of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies said at an anti-war conference Monday.

The nationwide events are "an example of an ongoing opposition to a war that the American people, more than the U.S. administration, and even more than the Congress, understand has no legitimacy left", she said.

Iraq War veterans are taking a more and more visible role in actively opposing the Bush war policies.  Also something to remember for the long term, when jingo Republicans will accuse the antiwar movement of stigmatizing "all soldiers" as "baby-killers and torturers" or some other variation of the whiny white-folks claim that the jingoes will come up with. 

Citing the renowned civil rights and political activist Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who spoke out against the Vietnam War at a rally in New York in April 1967, Iraq veteran Geoffrey Millard said "a time comes when silence is betrayal", and that time has "now come for the U.S. in relation to the war in Iraq".

Millard served in Iraq for 13 months. "I just happened to be a dumb 17-year-old kid who only needed his mom's permission to go to the war," he said at a town hall meeting in New York Tuesday, adding that it ended up being the biggest mistake of his life.

Söderlind has the highest figure I've seen yet on the nubmer of Iraqi civilians likely to have been killed:

Since the Iraq invasion, more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians are estimated to have been killed, and some figures point to 200,000. More than 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died, and some 15,000 have been wounded, according to the latest figures reported by the U.S. Defence Department.

The PBS Newshour, which is far from the hotbed of incidiary liberal agitation that the residents of OxyContinLand imagine it to be, ran a decent segment on Friday featuring four Iraq War veterans:  Veterans Discuss Iraq 03/24/06. One of Margaret Warner's guests, Marine Corps Captain Nathaniel Fick, who she idetifies as "a platoon commander in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars", took on the accusation made by the President and Republican jingoes that criticism of Bush's war policies or of our infallible generals is somehow damaging the fighting morale of American military units in Iraq and thereby endangering their lives.  Fick debunked the charge by referring to the realities of combat motiviation:

I think there are two factors at play here.

First of all, the active-duty members of the U.S. military are professional volunteers. And as such, they swear an oath to the Constitution, not to the president, or a policy, or an administration. And they swear to obey the lawful orders of the democratically elected government, full-stop.

And so public opinion doesn't affect them very much. When I was in Iraq, we listened on a shortwave radio to protests in Washington and in London, and we had our own opinions about the justice or injustice of the war, but as an active-duty serving member of the U.S. Military, that doesn't matter.

The second factor is that this opposition to the war, growing opposition, is very passive in nature because the war simply doesn't affect many American citizens. During Vietnam, for instance, you saw college campuses as hotbeds of activism. Right now, they're islands of apathy, because most people really aren't affected.

So the opposition becomes sort of a knee-jerk, popular thing to do, or say, or believe. It's not true analysis. And so I think that that's disheartening, and it speaks of a wide civil-military divide in our society.  (my emphasis)

(Continued in Part 2)

Terry Waite on torture and its political consequences for the US

Terry Waite, who was held hostage by Hizbollah in Lebanon during the 1980s has written about his views of the torture issue:  Were My Captors Worse Than The Guantánamo Jailers? Guardian 11/23/05.  He writes:

Western democracy has many attractive features and has brought manifold benefits. It takes no intelligence to recognise that it also has its dark side and that it cannot, nor necessarily ought it to be, exported to all parts of the world. If the optimistic statements made by some British and US politicians before the Iraqi war - when it was stated that the conflict would be concluded in weeks - were truly believed then one can only despair at the level of understanding demonstrated.

The destructive eruption following 9/11 has struck at the roots of democratic freedom. The arguments will continue for a long time about which particular category terrorist suspects belong to. The fact is that on the basis of suspicion alone people have been detained, and in some cases subjected to processes that should not be part of a civilised nation.

Let me give a personal example. I was detained by a group of hostage takers in Beirut because they suspected me of engaging in dubious political activity. They blindfolded me and kept me in poor conditions without any contact with the outside world. They subjected me to physical and mental abuse during a lengthy period of interrogation. Had I not been able to convince them of my innocence I would not be walking free today. What is the essential difference between the methods deployed by my captors, who were labelled terrorists, and those of the authorities that detain suspects in Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere? They have been detained on suspicion and treated in a way that no civilised nation ought to condone.

One must make reference to the belief that sometimes evidence obtained under torture has been used against suspects. Such measures should have no place in a society that respects the rule of law. Such methods must be outlawed. One does not fight terrorism by adopting the methods of the terrorist. When one does, the terrorist has won a victory, for he has succeeded in undermining some of the fundamental values of society.  (my emphasis)

Iraq War: Unintended consequences

"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.

Michael Matza wrote last fall about how "Iraq is seen as training ground for wider violence", Philadelphia Inquirer 11/15/05 (the link has expired).  He reported:

Increasingly, jihadists opposed to America and its Middle East allies have staged large-scale attacks in neighboring Arab countries, and jihadist supporters have poured money into armed organizations inside Iraq to keep tensions high, particularly between Muslim Sunnis and Shiites.

The attacks at three luxury hotels here last week in which three suicide bombers killed 57 people - mostly Jordanians -and wounded hundreds, are just the latest examples on a growing list of international targets.

Amid allegations that foreign fighters flow through Syria into Iraq, deadly border clashes between U.S. and Syrian soldiers, and al-Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and now Jordan, it appears the first steps toward democracy in Iraq have done little to bring stability to the region. Nor have they stopped Iraq's chaos from spilling dangerously across the Middle East.  (my emphasis)

This article is datelined for Amman, Jordan, and has particular reference to the then-recent terrorist attack on hotels there.  Matza also writes:

"The consequences of the absence of a clear strategy to contain the aftermath of the war in Iraq are reflected on neighboring countries and probably on the world as a whole," said Nasser Lozi, Jordan's former information minister.

One of those consequences, experts say, is how Iraq has become a breeding ground for exportable violence.

"It has actually replaced the role of Afghanistan in the late 1980s in providing a training ground... in suicide bombings and war-of-attrition tactics," said Jordanian political analyst Rana Sabbagh, a former editor in chief of the Jordan Times.

Jordan "is a legitimate target in the eyes [of al-Qaeda]," said Sabbagh, because of Amman's close relations with the U.S. administration, its logistical support for U.S. operations in Iraq, and its signing of the 1994 bilateral peace treaty with Israel.

"Everyone was... warning the Americans that invading Iraq would be like opening Pandora's box," said George Hawatmeh, Jordan's former information chief in Washington, who recently returned to Amman. "Iraq would be broken up into states, causing instability in the region and accordingly, regional violence would spread."  (my emphasis)

That sounds oddly similar to what US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said earlier this month:  "We have opened the Pandora's box and the question is, what is the way forward?"

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

Iraq War: According to the strategy

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

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

I've just been browsing through the official National Strategy for Victory in Iraq (Nov 2005).

It's really just an extended set of Bush administration talking points.  But it can make for some at least mildly interesting reading:

With democratization has come the emergence of new groups, not all of whom have shared the goal of a free, pluralistic, and democratic Iraq. Some groups – like members of the Mahdi Militia – have sought to maximize discontent with the Coalition presence and have at times clashed violently with other parties.

Muqtada al-Sadr's group - the "Mahdi Militia" in the Strategy's words - are now part of the Shi'a government we have been backing. 

Do the leading groups in the government like SCIRI and Da'wa really share "goal of a free, pluralistic, and democratic Iraq"?  It hasn't looked a lot like it lately.

The continued existence and influence of militias and armed groups, often affiliated with political parties, hamper the rule of law in some parts of Iraq. These groups have also infiltrated the police forces and sparked violent exchanges in areas of the country that are otherwise peaceful.

Those same militia and armed groups to a large extent are the Iraqi army and police forces.

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

The Republican culture of corruption

From California's 'Duke' heads to the pokey by Joe Conason 12/06/05:

Has the capital been infected by a “culture of corruption”? That culture has existed for well over a century, in both parties, at least since Mark Twain described Congress as America's only native criminal class. Before the Republicans won control of the House in 1994, its Democratic overlords had certainly proved capable of self-dealing and misconduct. A few of them went to jail, too.

What has happened since then seems unprecedented, however — at least during the postwar era. The sale of influence has been institutionalized in ways that earlier generations of politicians never imagined. Friends of Newt Gingrich — not a morally squeamish man — say he is dismayed. Members of the generation he brought to power are not revolutionaries but grifters, who have made a bad situation much worse.

Conason also reminds us what a flag-waving public patriot the Duke made himself out to be:

During his career on Capitol Hill, Mr. Cunningham's style was loud, mindlessly reactionary and full of flag-waving bluster. He once described Bill Clinton as a “traitor” and compared Senator John Kerry to Jane Fonda on the House floor.

This hyper-patriotic scoundrel also turned out to be avaricious, deceptive and as eager to sell himself as a male escort. He misused his authority to steer federal contracts to the contractors who bribed him, and he doesn't seem to have hesitated to damage the national interest if his personal interests were served.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Blogging German-American relations and a post on Tony Judt

The folks at the Atlantic Review blog are doing a great job using the "blog carnival" approach to publicize blogs that deal with German-American relations in the broadest sense.

They do the blog carnival quarterly, in conjunction with other blogs.  The March one goes up tomorrow.

One of the blogs I discovered from the December carnival is Dialog International.

Dvicker2 posted on Friday about Tony Judt and his comments in an interview with the "neo-fascist weekly Junge Freiheit" (which is a fair description of that notorious publication): Open Letter to Tony Judt 03/24/06.  He praises Judt's current book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945.  I quoted Judt a few days ago on McCarthyism.

Dvicker's comments on Junge Freiheit give a good glimpse of the sort of arguments that the radical right in Germany and Austria make these days:

Junge Freiheit stands for the opposite of a free and peaceful European Union, the birth of which you [Tony Judt] describe so vividly in your book.  On the contrary, JF promotes a reactionary völkisch nationalism that seeks to turn back history to a prewar era.  Here are some other considerations concerning JF:

* JF consistently relativizes the crimes of the holocaust by equating them to the firebombing of German cities in WWII.

* JF is hostile to women's rights - promoting a retrograde Kinder, Kueche, Kirche [children, kitchen, church] mentality. The basic complaint of the editors of JF is that Muslim women are outbreeding German women in Germany, which will lead to racial and cultural calamity.

* JF is a racist publication. During the Katrina crisis they blamed the chaos of the reovery effort on the victims of the hurricane - the "blacks" - rather than on the incompetence of the local and federal officials.  The lack of a "racial homogeneity" in the United States was the root cause of the human disaster.

He notes at the bottom of the post that Judt has replied directly to him, and he is requesting Judt's permission to post his response.

Iraq War: Why do they (American soldiers) fight?

Iraq War supporters, including the President himself, like to say that criticism of Bush's war policies or of our infallible generals hurts the morale of "the troops" in the field.  The implication is that some soldier in Iraq hears that John Kerry criticized Bush for not putting enough soldiers in Iraq to begin with, and so he becomes to dispondent to raise his gun and fire when a guerrilla starts firing on his unit.

It's always struck me as pretty unlikely.  Since that recent poll showed that a huge majority of the soldiers in Iraq thought the war had not been worth it, if that claim were true, it's hard to see how we could be having the unbroken string of victories we keep hearing about from the administration and other war supporters.

I thought of that when I read this:  On 3rd anniversary, sense of obligation motivates troops by John Koopman San Francisco Chronicle 03/19/06.  Koopman reports:

People have debated throughout the war over the meaning of the invasion and whether it was the right thing to do. But not the troops.

Which is not to say they don't discuss the topic privately. Many wonder about the reasons for the war, but it's really a moot point to most of them. They signed a contract, put on the uniform and picked up a gun. They were told to go to Iraq, and they went.

In any case, whatever the reasons for the invasion, there is always talk in Iraq of fixing what has been broken. You hear the phrase "moral obligation" a lot.

Meza has a wife and two kids back home.

"They understand it's my obligation and duty to come here," he said. "I'm doing it because I want to do it, not because I'm forced to. I could have found a different job or found some way to get around it."

Why does he want to be here?

"It's my obligation as a Marine and as a man," Meza said. "If I didn't stand up for this, what else would I stand up for?"

Capt. Melissa Schroth, 26, of Westchester, Pa., has been in the corps for five years and is on her first tour in Iraq.

"I had no reservations about coming," she said. "Wherever the Marines need me to go, I go." (my emphasis)

The article does mention some of the strains the war is putting on individuals and the Army and Marines:

For the American troops, the constant strain of moving in and out of Iraq is starting to take a toll. As motivated as the Marines and soldiers may be, their families are having a hard time dealing with absent fathers and mothers.

Oliva said he has missed half of his 6-year-old daughter's life. He calls himself selfish for doing what he wanted to do, and leaving his family behind. After this tour, he said, he wants to find a position in the Marines that will allow him to stay in the States for a while. He owes it to his family, he said.

Meza said he hears more and more stories of wives leaving husbands, or worse - a buddy called home recently and the phone was answered by his wife's boyfriend.  [God, don't you hate it when that happens?]

Retention is down, and so is recruiting. People in Washington have started calling the global war on terrorism "the long war," but it's unclear whether anyone has thought about the impact that line of thinking has on the troops on the ground.