Friday, September 29, 2006

Where does Condi-Condi get her arguments?

Media darling Condi-Condi had a long interview with the New York Times editorial board on 09/26/06.  Some of her answers were, uh, a bit strange:

Now let me speak to the Iraq issue specifically. It is also true that Zarqawi, when he reemerged in Iraq, and let me say reemerged because he was there before the war, had a strategy of trying to make Iraq a focal point for al-Qaida and a focal point for a new Jihad in Iraq. There’s no doubt about that. In fact, we’ve revealed all kinds of things about his communications between – the communications between him and the al-Qaida leadership, things that were found on his computer about trying to recruit Iraqis to his al-Qaida fold.

Zarqawi, who headed the group he called Al Qaida in Mesopotamia until his death earlier this year, was in the Kurdish area of Iraq prior to the war, an area that Saddam did not control.  American and British free-fly zones provided support for what was a de facto Kurdish enclave.  Zarqawi's presence in Iraq was often used prewar to suggest a link between Al Qaida and Saddam, although it's uncertain (even unlikely) that Zarqawi had links to Al Qaida before the war.  (For that matter, how closely his "Al Qaida in Mesopotamia" worked with Osama bin Ladin's group is even questionable.)

By deliberately blurring Zarqawi's prewar and wartime situations in Iraq, Condi-Condi is still trying to suggest a Saddam/terrorism/Al Qaida connection, even though she denies trying to do so.

She also emphasized one of the administration's favorite talking points in this statement:

So there are plenty of excuses and plenty of arguments as to why people ought to go and fight these so-called Western forces. They didn’t need Iraq to do that. They attacked us on September 11th before anybody had even thought of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. And they have attacked in places where the countries were involved in Afghanistan, they’ve attacked in places where the countries aren’t involved anywhere. They’ve attacked without regard to what your policies happen to be.  (my emphasis)

The Cheney-Bush administration, and Tony Blair as well, keep insisting that US and British policies have nothing to do with jihadists targeting the US or European Union countries.  This is just silly.  Of course US policies, from the Iraq War to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and many other things do affect the jihadists' thinking and targeting.

That doesn't mean the US can or should change our policies in a way that would completely stop angering radical Sunni Salafist jihad groups.  That's neither desirable nor feasbile in the foreseeable future.

But it does mean we should be realistic about the dynamics of the jihadist problem.  Mindless ideological assertions that "they hate us for our freedoms" or whatever serve more to blur reality than to bring it into focus.

She also makes a big point about a supposed backlash of Sunnis against the foreign jihadists in Iraq.

Gareth Porter discusses the issue of the relationship of the Iraqi Sunni population to the foreign jihadists in U.S. Writes Sunni Resistance Out of Anbar Story Inter Press Services 09/28/06. Porter discusses efforts over the last year to exploit divisions in the hotly contested Anbar province between domestic insurgents and foreign fighters:

From late November 2005 to February 2006, U.S. command spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch made the fundamental conflict between the Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda a major theme of his briefings. Lynch told reporters, "The local insurgents have become part of the solution."

But the Sunni solution included the demand that the United States set a date for withdrawal in return for their ending the insurgency and cooperating with an Iraqi government against al Qaeda. And in the interim period before a final withdrawal, the Sunnis wanted the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Anbar, along with the largely Shiite army units they had sent in to control the city.

At a meeting at a U.S. base in Ramadi in December 2005, reported by the London Sunday Times last February, a former Iraqi general, Saab al-Rawi, representing the Iraqi Sunni insurgents in the province, asked Gen. George Casey, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Ramadi and their replacement by a brigade of former soldiers from the area.

But Casey angrily refused, accusing al-Rawi of wanting a U.S. pullout so the insurgents could take over the city. The Iraqi general recalled that his forces had protected the city for six months after the fall of Saddam's regime. "You have not protected this city and can never do so," said al-Rawi, "for you are foreigners here - unwanted and unwelcome."

By March, the distinctions between the domestic insurgency and foreign jihadists had dropped down the military's memory hole:

Instead of touting them as important to the solution to the al Qaeda problem, the U.S. military command began to act as though the United States didn't need Sunni armed organisations at all.

In his Mar. 9 briefing, Gen. Lynch dropped the distinction between the Sunni armed organisations and al Qaeda. "The people of Iraq are uniting against the insurgency," he declared. And he added, "Remember, democracy equals failure for the insurgency."

A review of the transcripts of U.S. command briefings since then reveals that the command spokesman has systematically avoided any comment suggesting that there is a third alternative to al Qaeda control over Anbar and occupation by U.S. and Shiite troops.

In other words, Condi-Condi's statement on this to the New York Times editiorialists seems to be off-message from the military version of the last several months.

Where does Cheney get his intel?

Laura Rozen, who covers intelligence issues in her reporting, makes a provocative comment at her War and Piece blog in this 09/29/06 post:

And what is Cheney's source for coordinates for nonexistent WMD stockpiles in Iraq?  Seriously, if you watched Cheney on Tim Russert the other week, you start to wonder if someone is briefing the vice president on intelligence reports that do not appear to be coming from the known US services.  He seems to be being briefed from a totally different stream of intelligence.  It's quite disturbing.  He doesn't seem fully aware even now how much the public analysis of US reports contradicts what he seems to believe is true (for instance, he still seems convinced about Atta in Prague, even though, US intel services that we at least know about contradict that according to the new Senate Select Intel committee Phase II report).

She seems to be implying (although I'm guessing here) that Cheney relies on British or, more likely, Israeli intelligence sources rather than the American ones.

It could also be that Cheney is listening to exile groups like we know he did with Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congres (INC).  But where would they be getting satellite intel?

It could also be, as she hints with her comment about "the known US services", that he's getting information from some rogue intel shop like the notorious Office of Special Plans (OSP).

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kurt Schumacher added to blog title

I've changed the name of this Weblog from simply "Old Hickory's Weblog" to "Old Hickory's Weblog/Kurt Schumacher Weblog".

 Kurt Schumacher, 1895-1952

The change is to recognize - "honor" would definitely not be the right word - the action of the Senate on Thursday, 09/28/06, when they approved the Torture Legalization Act of 2006.  The House of Representatives had previously approved it.  It now goes to President Bush, who will surely sign it into law.

Molly Ivins ended her most recent commentary on the Torture Legalization bill (Beyond the pale 09/28/06) with this comment:

Fellow citizens, this bill throws out legal and moral restraints as the president deems it necessary - these are fundamental principles of basic decency, as well as law.

I'd like those supporting this evil bill to spare me one affliction: Do not, please, pretend to be shocked by the consequences of this legislation. And do not pretend to be shocked when the world begins comparing us to the Nazis.

This made me think about the title of this blog.  Not that Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson was anything remotely like disgraceful characters such as Dick Cheney, George Bush, or Rummy.  They should count it a miracle that he hasn't risen from his grave in Nashville and come after them.

But the reason I chose a blog name in honor of Jackson was that in his time, he was the greatest symbol of democracy and he broadened democratic rights and participation in real ways.  He also fought for the interests of working people, farmers and ordinary businesspeople against the misused power of concentrated wealth.  Like Thomas Jefferson before him, Jackson was fighting primarily for the interests of free, white working people.  But the point is not that he was some kind of secular saint.  It's that, like Jefferson, he strengthened democracy and expanded the possibilities of freedom for ordinary people.

Nothing that the Cheney-Bush administration or this disgraceful Republican Congress do changes any  of that, ofcourse.

But as long as this atrocious torture law is on the books, and as long as the actual practices of torturing prisoners that Cheney and Bush initiated as early as 2001 continues, it somehow doesn't seem reasonable to use  a purely American symbol to convey the idea of Jacksonian democracy.

So I've added a 20th century Jacksonian to the blog title:  Kurt Schumacher, leader of the German Social Democratic Party from 1946 until his death in 1952, one the most important democratic leaders in postwar Germany.  Konrad Adenauer would have been a possibility.  But Adenauer, even though he was very much a democrat, was also a stodgy conservative and political partisan of Big Capital.  Certainly not a Jacksonian, despite his other virtues.

Schumacher is not a familiar name to Americans, so describing him takes a bit of background.  Schumacher was a leader in the Socialdemorakitsche Partei Deutschlands (SPD), the German Social Democratic Party, prior to the Second World War.  Born in 1895, he volunteered for service during the First World War.  In the 1920s, he edited a social-democratic paper and served in the state parliament of Württemberg.  He was an SPD member of the national Parliament, the Reichstag, from 1930-1933.

After Hitler became Chancellor and took dictatorial powers - a majority in Parliament voted to give Hitler such powers, a point we should not forget these days - the SPD was banned and Schumacher spent most of the years of the Third Reich in concentration camps, including Dachau.  The camps were set up in 1933 and in the early years were used primarily to imprison social-democratic and communist activists.

After the war, Germany was divided into four zones, each controlled by one of the four United Nations major partners: the US, the USSR, Britain and France.  In the Soviet zone, the Russians required that the SPD, whose national leadership was in their zone, to merge with the KPD (German Communist Party) into the Sozialistische Einheits Partei (SED), the Socialist Unity Party.  The SED was always dominated by the Communists, but technically (or theoretically) it was a united socialist party.  It ruled in East Germany as the SED until 1990.


SPD campaign literature: "With the SPD for a free, social, and united Germany" - the prewar borders of Germany are shown

Schumacher came to Berlin to work with the British officials to re-establish the SPD.  A charismatic speaker and a forceful personality, he had lost an arm and part of a leg due to mistreatment and medical neglect he suffered in the camps.

He was definitely very much opposed to the merger of the SPD with the KPD, but was unable to prevent it.  So he "refounded" the SPD in the western zones and became the party chairman.  When the West German Federal Republic (BRD: Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was established in 1949, Schumacher went to Parliament as the head of the SPD "fraction" (party caucus) and led the SPD as the main opposition party until he passed away 1952.

His significance is the history of German democracy, broadly speaking, is that he established the SPD as a strong, independent democratic party in West Germany.  He prevented the party from being dominated or destroyed by the forced unification imposed in the Soviet zone.  And he established the practice of the SPD acting as a vigorous loyal opposition in the new German democracy.

Schumacher was a staunch advocate of German unification and an opponent of the SED (effectively Communist), Soviet-dominated government in East Germany and also a foe of the Soviet occupation.  The German Microsoft Encarta 2007 gives this brief description of him:

Nach dem 2. Weltkrieg war Kurt Schumacher führend an der Neuorganisation der SPD in den drei Westzonen beteiligt. 1946 wurde er Vorsitzender der SPD, und 1948/49 wirkte er als Mitglied des Parlamentarischen Rates an der Ausarbeitung des Grundgesetzes mit. Als Gegner der Westintegration der Bundesrepublik lehnte Schumacher die Politik Konrad Adenauers als zu einseitig ab. Im Rahmen einer Kundgebung in Berlin am 1. November 1947 erläuterte Kurt Schumacher das Verhältnis der SPD zum Kommunismus: Der Kommunismus in seiner real existierenden Form sei zum „Prinzip des Expansionsdrangs eines Nationalstaates” verkommen und werde als solcher von der deutschen Sozialdemokratie strikt abgelehnt.

[After the Second World War, Kurt Schumacher was a leading participant in the new organization of the SPD in the three western zones.  In1946,he became the Chairman of the SPD, and in 1948-49, he participated as a member of the Parliamentary Council on the development of the Basic Law [the West German Constitution].  As an opponent of the western integration of the Federal Republic [West Germany],he rejected the policy of Konrad Adenauer as too one-sided.  In the setting of a rally in Berlin on November 1, 1947, Kurt Schumacher explained the position of the SPD toward Communism:  Communism in its real existing form has degenerated into the "principle of the expansionist pressure of a national state", he said, and as such would be strictly rejeted by the German Social Democracy.]

"The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the German Democratic Republic": the East German Constitution - not the one Schumacher worked on 

As that description indicates, Schumacher's commitment to parliamentary democracy and opposition to Communism in Eastern Germany did not translate into enthusiasm for the Western Allies.  He even got formally suspended from his parliamentary seat for a few weeks once because he made a grumpy crack after a pro-Western speech by Adenauer that Andenauer was "the Chancellor of the Allies".

The SPD's attitude toward western alliances was very much bound up with the high priority they put on unifying Germany into a democratic state.  They believed that Adenauer's Christian Democractic Union (CDU) was too willing to concede the long-term division of Germany.  They even argued that Adenauer and the CDU were too willing to accept the Oder-Neisse line as the border between East Germany and Poland.  The Oder-Neisse line placed a large portion of the prewar Germany, including East Prussia, into Poland.

Golo Mann in Deutsche Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (1958) described Schumacher as "very German, very Prussian in the tradition of [August] Bebel, patriot and democrat, without doubt seeing the continuing existence of the "Reich", nation, state, socialism in a self-evident unity."  That is to say, in the tradition of the rebels of 1848 and the Social Democrats of the 19th century, Schumacher viewed German patriotism, democracy andsocial-democracy as complementary andnecessary to each other.

He took his role as opposition leader seriously.  Mann may have been a bit satirical when he referred to Schumacher "Jacobin spirit".  But he definitely had a Jacksonian perspective in many ways.  In this speech, Rede von Kurt Schumacher vor dem Deutschen Budestag 21.09.1946 (scroll down; 44 sec.) he reminded that that despitethe silly attitudes of the "Obrigkeiten" (authorities), the SPD intended to keep on being a vigorous opposition voice.

On one occasion, Schumacher declared that Adenauer with his Christian Democratic conservatism also had "a very reserved relationship to truth and honor".

In this speech, Rede von Kurt Schumacher vor dem Deutschen Budestag zu einem deutschen Verteidigungsbeitrag 08.11.1950 (scroll down: 6 min, 13 sec.), he describes his attitude toward militarism.

This brief film shows footage of Schumacher in action:  Dokumentation über Kurt Schumacher und die parliamentarische Demokratie (25.09.2006) Erhard Eppler, in a current essay at the SPD Web site, Gefährliche Vision 25.09.06, provides an example of how Schumacher's vision defined the postwar perspective of the SPD:

In unseren Medien wird häufig beklagt, dass in Deutschland niemand mehr Visionen habe. Das stimmt und das hat seine Gründe. In Amerika ist das anders. Nur sind die Visionen dort nicht die unseren. Präsident Bush beschwört fast jeden Tag seine Visionen vom friedlichen, demokratischen, vom amerikanischen Beispiel beflügelten Nahen Osten, auch wenn seine Art, diese Visionen zu verwirklichen, im Gewaltchaos Irak zu enden scheint. ...

Der demokratische Rechts- und Sozialstaat war die Alternative zur Kommunistischen Volksdemokratie. Und hat gewonnen. Er ist auch die Alternative zum Marktstaat. Und wird gewinnen, zumindest in Europa. Im demokratischen Rechts- und Sozialstaat darf alles dem Markt überlassen werden, was zu Ware taugt. Für Autos oder Kühlschränke gilt Angebot und Nachfrage.

[People often complain in our media that in Germany no one has visions any more.  That's true and there are reasons for that.  In America, it is different.  Only the visions there are not ours.  President Bush almost every day conjuresup his visionsof a peaceful, democratic Near [Middle] East inspired by the example of America, even when his way of bringing these visions into reality seems to end in the violent chaos of Iraq.]

Eppler then discusses something that is virtually incomprehensible to American conservatives, the fact that in Germany, "Keine Partei hat den Marktstaat im Programm."  The best way to translate that into American terms would be, "No party has free-market economics in its program."

It was the conservative party, Adenauer's Christian Democrats, that established the notion of the "social market economy" (Soziale Marktwirtschaft), in which the government providessupport for business and what in America we call a social safety net.  It was Adenauer's Finance Minister (and later Chancellor) Ludwig Erhard whose developed what became known as the "social market economy" policy.  (Erhard developed the policy; it was Alfred Müller-Armack who came up with the name.)

Let me repeat, though a hundred repetitions won't make it sink in for most American conservatives, the Soziale Marktwirtschaft was the program of German conservatives, not of the social-democrats.

The second paragraph of the Eppler quote reads:

[The democratic rule of law and social state was the alternative to the Communist People's Democracy [the name used for the form of government in the Eastern bloc states].  And it won.  It is the alternative to free-market economic.  And it will win, at least in Europe.  In the democratic rule of law and social state, everything can be left to the market that has to do with goods.  For cares or refrigerators, supply and demand applies.]

But, he continues, education is not a product, it's a human right.  Every person has the right to personal security; that's why the government has a "monopoly of force".  (A state "monopoly of force", by the way, is a basic concept of sovereignty, meaning that only the government has the right to use violence to enforce order.  You see American officials sometimes talking about the need to establish a state monopoly of force in Iraq, i.e., to overrule the power of private militias.)

And, he writes, "Ärztliche Hilfe bei Krankheit ist ein Bürgerrecht, auch für Menschen, die sie nicht bezahlen können."  [Medical care during sickness is a civil right, even for people who can't pay.]

Good Jacksonian-democratic  ideas.  Ideas verymuch in thetradition of Kurt Schumacher, as well.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Afghanistan War: A measure of Bush's success

From The True Failure of Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ by Ivo Daalder TPM Cafe 09/27/06:

A spate of recent articles, including the excellent piece by Jon Landay ... and a stellar report by David Rhode in the New York Times, attests to the fact that Afghanistan is once again becoming the place it was before the Taliban was toppled almost five years ago: a place where jihadists of all stripes can train and engage in terrorism against infidels of all kinds.  Since, as the NIE notes, the same dynamic is also taking place in Iraq, we now have two Afghanistans instead of one.  That’s the true measure of Bush’s failure.   (my emphasis)

I couldn't locate the David Rhode article he references.  The Landay article is Five years into Afghanistan, U.S. confronts Taliban's comeback by Jonathan Landay, McClatchy Newspapers 09/26/06.  Landay reports:

Afghanistan has become Iraq on a slow burn. Five years after they were ousted, the Taliban are back in force, their ranks renewed by a new generation of diehards. Violence, opium trafficking, ethnic tensions, official corruption and political anarchy are all worse than they've been at any time since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001.

By failing to stop Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden from escaping into Pakistan, then diverting troops and resources to Iraq before finishing the job in Afghanistan, the Bush administration left the door open to a Taliban comeback. Compounding the problem, reconstruction efforts have been slow and limited, and the U.S. and NATO didn't anticipate the extent and ferocity of the Taliban resurgence or the alliances the insurgents have formed with other Islamic extremists and with the world's leading opium traffickers.

There are only 42,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops to secure a country that's half again the size of Iraq, where 150,000 U.S.-led coalition troops are deployed. Suicide bombings have soared from two in all of 2002 to about one every five days. Civilian casualties are mounting. President Hamid Karzai and his U.S. backers have become hugely unpopular.

Lindsay's article also reports on continuing complicity of the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) with the Taliban:

Taliban leaders quietly re-established bases and training camps in Pakistan's border areas, where they were welcomed by Pashtun tribes, and rebuilt their ranks with religious students recruited from among the 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

They also received money and weapons from al-Qaida and from sympathetic current and former officers of Pakistan's powerful military intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), according to current and former U.S., European and Afghan officials, commanders and experts.

U.S. intelligence has significant evidence of ISI complicity, said Seth Jones, an expert at the RAND Corp., a think tank that advises the U.S. government. Middle- and junior-level ISI officers are providing the Taliban with intelligence and have foiled several U.S. operations by tipping the insurgents off in advance, he said.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

That NIE

Bob Dreyfuss in Beware The NIE 09/26/06 makes an important point about the current hoopla over the still-classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) called "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States."  According to news reports, it says that the Iraq War has increased the danger of terrorism to Americans, an interpretation which the Cheney-Bush administration deny.

He reminds us that even the press reports didn't quote the document directly.  So we still don't have a good idea of what it says.  (During the day today, the White House released selected excerpts.) Plus, the NIE has been in preparation since 2004, and NIE's can show considerable political influence.

His main point though, is this:

In their eagerness to knock down Bush’s war in Iraq by using reports about the NIE, the Democrats risk giving another boost to the president in the “other” war, namely, the so-called war on terrorism. By embracing the NIE’s reported conclusion that the war in Iraq has made the threat of terrorism worse, the Democrats play into Bush’s strong suit. While most Americans think that the war in Iraq is wrong and not worth fighting, polls continue to show that support for President Bush as the commander in chief of the Global War on Terror. Ironically, by endorsing the idea that radical Islamist terrorism is a major threat to the United States, the Democrats could end up driving U.S. voters into the arms of the president once again.

Dreyfuss argues that, while it's clear even without the classified NIE that the Iraq War has damaged American interests in various ways, including making the Middle East a less friendly place for the US, we should be careful not to equate hostility to "terrorism":

My own discussions with top, former U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials do indeed reflect an understanding in the intelligence community that the war in Iraq has inflamed radicalism in the Muslim world. Indeed, that has been widely understood for more than three years, and many of these same officials predicted exactly that before the war in Iraq, when they warned that the looming invasion would generate anti-American anger and bitterness.

But it is a long leap from anti-Americanism to terrorism. Arabs and Muslims seized with hatred or disdain from the United States have many options besides forming a terrorist cell. They can vote for Hamas, if they are in Palestine, and they’ve done that. They can vote for Hezbollah and join its militia, in Lebanon, and they’ve done that. They can join the anti-U.S. Sunni insurgency in Iraq, and they’ve done that. They can oppose moderate, pro-American regimes in Cairo, Amman, Riyadh, and Islamabad, and they’ve done that, too. And so on. ...

It’s a mistake, and a dangerous one, to confuse anti-Americanism with terrorism. Even states that militantly oppose U.S. policy in the Middle East, such as Iran and Syria, haven’t used terrorist proxies against us. Violent insurgencies, such as Hezbollah and Hamas - along with Islamist insurgencies in Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Algeria and the Philippines - haven’t attacked us, either.  (my emphasis)

Iran War: Iran's new hostages

"God may smile on us, but I don't think so." - anonymous Pentagon adviser quoted by Seymour Hersh April 2006 on Bush administration plans to pressure Iran militarily

Gareth Porter reminds of one of the major risks an attack on Iran would create: US troops in Iraq are Tehran's 'hostages' Asia Times Online/Inter Press Service 09/22/06.  He writes:

For many months, the administration of US George W Bush has been complaining that Iranian meddling in Iraq is a threat to the country's stability and to US troops. The irony of this publicity campaign over Tehran's alleged bid to undermine the occupation is that Iran may well be the main factor holding up a showdown between militant Shi'ites and US forces.

The underlying reality in Iraq, which the Bush administration does not appear to grasp fully, is that the United States is now dependent on the sufferance of Iran and its Iraqi Shi'ite political-military allies to continue the occupation.  (my emphasis)

                          Muqtada al-Sadr

Porter argues that the main threat to the US occupation right now comes from Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army:

But the Bush administration and the military in Iraq still appear to believe that there is some way to contain Muqtada's power. They have not yet accepted that Muqtada has both the intention and the capability to bring down the US occupation.

Yet Muqtada has made no secret of his intentions. In an interview with the Washington Post published on August 11, his top deputy, Mustafa Yaqoubi, said, "If we leave the decision to [the Americans], they will not leave. They'll stay. To get the occupiers to leave, they need [to make] some sacrifice."

As he reminds us, the Iraqi Shi'a bear a long-term grudge against the US.  In their view, Old Man Bush encouraged them to revolt right after the Gulf War of 1991, and then left them in the lurch.

I thinkthey're basically right about that.  Robert Fisk discusses that incident at some length in The Great War for Civilisation (2005).  That was one of the main underlying reasons that the reception of the American forces in 2003 was less enthusiastic than expected.  The Shi'a were our natural allies in that situation.  But they didn't trust us because of 1991.  Porter writes:

If Muqtada and his followers are already preparing for a showdown with the US occupation forces, the only factor that appears to be restraining the Mehdi Army now is Iran.  After all, Tehran's interest lies not in forcing an immediate withdrawal of US forces, but in keeping them in Iraq as virtual hostages.  The potential threat to US forces in Iraq in retaliation for an attack on Iran is probably Tehran's most effective deterrent to such an attack. ...

Only Iran's ability to persuade Muqtada to hold off on his effort to end the occupation can prevent a violent confrontation between Shi'ite militants and the occupation forces.  But Bush's advisers may still not understand how fundamentally the power equation in Iraq has shifted.  (my emphasis)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Torture in the Bush Gulag: The politics of sadism

"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

Steve Gilliard has been on a "liberals need to keep some historical and practical perspective" binge lately.  Specifically, In partciular, he's been griping about bloggers who dismiss the importance of economic issues in the midterm elections this year and think the Democrats should focus exclusively on the Iraq War, or the torture issue, and not emphasize the bread-and-butter economic issues.

Now, Gilliard has been anything but indifferent to the Iraq War.  He's thought it was a terrible idea from the start.  And his blog has been consistently one of the best sources for information (mainly through excellent news links) and analysis about the very real problems going on in the war.  He's been especially good about noticing early on the tremendous damage the war has done to the Army, in terms of internal discipline and quality of recruits.

And he's also been all over the torture issue for a long time.  Anyone who's followed his blog knows that he considers those important issues.

In About Torture 09/24/06, he objects to the American-exceptionalist argument against torture, such as the one Joe Galloway uses in his column, We've sunk to Osama's level McClatchy Newspapers 09/20/06.  (Gilliard doesn't mention Galloway in particular, but it's clear this type of argument is what he had in mind.)

One of his points on the torture issue is that he reminds us that it doesn't exist in isolation.  When the US undertook a colonial-type war ("neocolonial", if you prefer), it took on the kind of war that is extremely likely to produce these kinds of abuses.  As Gilliard puts it:

People need to come to grips with something. All colonial powers use torture. How else can they control their enemies. The British used it against the Irish, the French against the Algerians, and the Americans against the Afghans and Iraqis.

Khalid Sheik Mohammad is one of hundreds, if not thousands of people who have faced some form of American torture. I would think the prisoners of Abu Ghraib would trade a little waterboarding for the rape of children.

Bush and Rumsfeld wanted to show how ruthless they were, so they went for torture as a way to show their enemies times have changed. Of course, torture is the idiots way of interrogation, and now Bush lives in fear of open courts and public testimony.

What I would add to this is that, in the past, tolerance for torture or war crimes was informal.  That didn't make it okay, to say the least.  But it was and is illegal.  Harry Truman didn't go to Congress during the Korean War to ask them to legalize torture.  Nor did Lyndon Johnson or even Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War.  The Army may have preferred to keep quiet about massacres in Vietnam.  But the My Lai incident came out, no least because it was observed by some many Army personnel who knew that what had occurred was blatantly illegal.

And 2001 was not the first time the CIA has tortured someone or arranged to have them tortured.  What's different in the Cheney-Bush administration is that torture has been adopted as a systematic policy for the treatment of terrorist suspects.  And now the Republicans want to legalize it.

Still, Gilliard's historical point about colonial wars is an important one.  Such wars as the Iraq War or the French war in Algeria are especially like to create what Robert Jay Lifton calls, "atrocity-producing situations".  See Heart of Darkness PBS Newshour 05/11/04.

In Conditions of Atrocity The Nation 05/31/06 issue, Lifton writes:

We can thus speak of a three-tier dynamic. Foot soldiers--in this case MPs and civilian contractors--do the dirty work, as either orchestrated or at least sanctioned by military intelligence officers in charge of interrogation procedures. The latter in turn act on pressure from higher-ups to extract information that will identify "insurgents" and possibly lead to hidden weapons.

What ultimately drives the dynamic is an ideological vision that equates Iraqi fighters with "terrorists" and seeks to further justify the invasion. All this is part of the amorphous, even apocalyptic, "war on terrorism," as is the practice of denying the human rights of detainees labeled as terrorists, a further stimulus for abuse. Grotesque improvisations can occur at different levels--whether in the form of interrogators' ideas about inflicting sexual humiliation or in foot soldiers' methods of carrying out those instructions or responding to more indirect messages from above. ...

In environments where sanctioned brutality becomes the norm, sadistic impulses, dormant in all of us, are likely to be expressed. The group's violent energy becomes such that an individual soldier who questions it could be turned upon. (A Vietnam veteran who had been at My Lai told me he had felt himself in some danger when he not only refused to fire but pointedly lowered the barrel of his gun to the ground.) To resist such intense group pressure, an unusual combination of conscience and courage is required.

The effects are very different when such behavior really is aberrant, something done by only a "few bad apples", compared to when the civilian and military chains of command order and/or encouraged the use of torture.  The latter results in a more far-ranging breakdown of law and organizational discipline.

I should add atthis point that neither Lifton nor Gilliard nor I are making an argument to minimize the ethical and legal culpability of the individual soldiers or civilian who commits atrocities or torture or war crimes.  Even if Congress passes the torture legalization bill and Bush signs it into law, the law is still clear that those committing such acts are responsible.  The US is a party to the Geneva Conventions and, however much Republican nationalists may dislike it, those laws are still binding on the US.  (The practical ways in which they could be enforced is another question.)

Gilliard's other point has to do with the war in Iraq.  It's not the only issue in Congressional elections.  But it is an important one.  What he argues at the end of his post is that putting an end to the torture policy means first and foremost putting an end to the Iraq War.  I'm not convinced of that.  The Iraq War as it was concieved and executed has tended to maximize atrocity-producing situations.  A more serious approach to atrocities and war crimes violations on the part of the officer corps would undoutedly make improvement even now, although the discipline problems and the quality of more recent recruits work against that.

But there's an ugly and destructive cycle in which the jingoism that the Iraq War allows the Cheney-Bush administration to keep cooking at a high level generates support for the torture advocates, and as explicitly sadistic cruelty becomes more and more legitimzed, it feeds the jingoism, and so on.

He also makes an important historical point: anyone who was paying close attention could see that even in the early weeks of the Afghanistan War in 2001, the laws against torture and other war crimes were being treated lightly by some of those directing the American war effort.  There were reliable reports, since comfirmed several times over, of our Northern Alliance allies in the Afghanistan War summarily executing prisoners of war.

In December 2001, that bad apple Robert Novak asked Rummy this question:

Do you feel, Mr. Secretary, there is a problem, however, when apparently most of the prisoners, all of the prisoners, are in the hands of the Northern Alliance, which I don't believe signed the Geneva Convention and are not the nicest guys in the world? Does that bother you at all?

As I explained in the linked post, the Geneva Conventions most certainly were binding on the Northern Alliance.  Rummy's reply:

The fact that they [the Northern Alliance] don't happen to subscribe to some convention that we do or that other countries do is a fact. It is also a fact that we have to stop those terrorists from killing more Americans. And I don't feel even the slightest problem in working with the Northern Alliance to achieve that end.  (my emphasis)

That one answer of Rummy's, and the ugly incident of the Secretary of Defense sneering at the laws of war codified in the Geneva Conventions as just "some convention" should have sent both Republicans and Democrats in Congress rushing to investigate. 

What happens when you have a Secretary of Defense who sneers at the laws of war?  This:

And this:

And worse.

"The President is always right." - Steve Bradbury, Acting Deputy Attorney General, 07/11/06

Can everyone stop calling Thomas Edsall a liberal now?

There are real liberals around:

Eric Alterman at his relocated-to-Media-Matters Altercation site linked today to this article: Seeing Red: A Response to George Will by Thomas Edsall New Republic Online 09/25/06.

Alterman directs the comment to Howie Kurtz:  "And as it happens, Edsall is hardly a liberal, bub. Just ask (or read) him.) "

I've thought just that ever since I read Edsall's book Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (1991).  Yet we keep seeing him referenced as a liberal.

The piece he linked has Edsall complaning indignantly that George Will had called him a liberal.  Among other things, Edsall confidently asserts, "the elite of the Democratic Party is as far from the ideological center as are the moralists of the Christian right"

Is he talking about the Democratic Party in the United States?


The San Francisco Chronicle had an informative article on Venezuela in its Sunday edition:  Chavez drives a hard bargain, but Big Oil's options are limited by Robert Collier San Francisco Chronicle 09/24/06.  Collier writes:

Just as there is no love between President Hugo Chavez and the Bush administration, there is little love lost between Chavez and the foreign oilmen who are pumping up the huge reservoirs of underground oil. But they need each other. The United States needs Venezuela to help quench its bottomless thirst for oil, and Chavez needs America to buy it from him in order to fund his dreams of spreading his leftist ideology around the hemisphere.

The stakes here are huge. The area around El Tigre, known as the Orinoco Oil Belt, possesses the world's biggest petroleum reserves -- 1.3 trillion barrels of so-called extra-heavy oil. Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and dozens of other foreign firms are here, using recently developed technologies to extract the tarlike, sulfurous crude and refine it.

"Everyone agrees that the Orinoco Belt has the biggest reserves in the world," said Alberto Quiros, a Chavez critic and former president of Royal Dutch Shell's Venezuela operations. "What Chavez will do with them is another question, but there's no doubt that Venezuela will take Saudi Arabia's place as No. 1."  (my emphasis)

The rest of the article has quite a bit about the general state of negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the multinational oil companies.

Like most articles in the mainstream press on Venezuela, this one seems to take rather too seriously the official line on Chávez' "leftist ideology".  Venezuela under Hugo Chávez doesn't have to bean enemy of the United States.

Iran War: Coming to us this fall?

"God may smile on us, but I don't think so." - anonymous Pentagon adviser quoted by Seymour Hersh April 2006 on Bush administration plans to pressure Iran militarily

Former Colorado Senator Gary Hart thinks the Cheney-Bush administration could well launch a preventive war against Iran even before the November elections.  He spells out the immediate steps that would precede war in The October Surprise Huffington Post 09/23/06:

The steps will be these: Air Force tankers will be deployed to fuel B-2 bombers, Navy cruise missile ships will be positioned at strategic points in the northern Indian Ocean and perhaps the Persian Gulf, unmanned drones will collect target data, and commando teams will refine those data. The latter two steps are already being taken.

Then the president will speak on national television. He will say this: Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons; if this happens, the entire region will go nuclear; our diplomatic efforts to prevent this have failed; Iran is offering a haven to known al Qaeda leaders; the fate of our ally Israel is at stake; Iran persists in supporting terrorism, including in Iraq; and sanctions will have no affect (and besides they are for sissies). He will not say: ...and besides, we need the oil.

Therefore, he will announce, our own national security and the security of the region requires us to act. "Tonight, I have ordered the elimination of all facilities in Iran that are dedicated to the production of weapons of mass destruction....." In the narrowest terms this includes perhaps two dozen targets.  (my emphasis)

Irresponsible though it may be, Hart reminds us that a normal sense of responsibility is not something we can expect from the Cheney-Bush administration:

In more rational times, including at the height of the Cold War, bizarre actions such as unilateral, unprovoked, preventive war are dismissed by thoughtful, seasoned, experienced men and women as mad. But those qualities do not characterize our current leadership.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Will the Democrats fight the Torture Legalization act?

The seed planted there in Nuremberg in '47
Started to sprout and grow
Gradually I understood what that verdict meant to me
When there are crimes that I can see and know

                     - Pete Seeger, "My Name Is Lisa Kalvelage"

Being a Jacksonian Democrat and all, I hate to indulge in bashing the Democratic Party for any reason, especially during election season.  But the fact that the Cheney-Bush administration's Torture Legalization Act of 2006 - the official name is the "Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2006" - is on the verge of passing and being signed into law, possibly as early as the end of this week, it's pretty discouraging to see that the part of Jefferson and Jackson has taken such a passive role in the Congressional debates.

I've posted some of my thoughts on this at length, including an audioblog, at The Blue Voice.  I won't try to repeat that here, not least because the subject is such a grim one.

But it's hard not to sympathize for the moment with Glen Greenwald's complaint in the War Room blog in his post Battling Democrats' indifference 09/22/06:

With all those facts assembled, it is truly difficult to avoid indifference over the outcome of this upcoming election.  But then one ponders what the next two years is likely to bring our country if the Bush administration continues to exercise full-scale, unchecked power over all facets of our government - a Congress that rubber-stamps a war with Iran (if it is allowed to vote at all); a likely Supreme Court nomination to replace the 86-year-old John Paul Stevens, which would create an executive-power-worshiping majority on the Supreme Court for the next couple of decades; more presidential lawbreaking, and the further entrenchment of one-party rule.  And then one realizes that indulging the desire to see the timid, meek, frightened, principle-less Beltway Democrats get what they deserve (still more defeat) is something that our country simply cannot afford if it is to have any hope of avoiding passing the point of no return, where both our national security and our national character are fundamentally degraded in a way that is irreversible.

The "opposition party" is literally missing, silent, mute and invisible.  And yet the only hope for reversing or at least halting any of this is to have that same Democratic Party actually somehow win an election and provide some desperately needed gridlock and balance and investigative processes to find out what our government has been doing. That is about as bleak of a picture as one can imagine.

There's also the fact that Bush has already announced he intends to make another push for his Social Security phase-out plan in 2007.  The Democrats are doing nearly as much as they should.  But they have been doing a good job fighting to preserve and protect Social Security and on many other issues vital to the well-being of working families.  So it's not at all a matter of indifference who wins the midterm Congressional elections this year.

But the torture legalization bill is a very important issue.  The Democrats should not be found AWOL on this one.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Maverick and his steadfast Principled Supporters take another dive

Glenn Greenwald takes a shot at the "Myth of the Independent Republican Senators" in War Room 09/22/06.  The inspiration for his post, of course, is what looks like the complete capitulation of Maverick McCain and the other two or three supposedly "principled" Republican Senators who were challenging the CIA piece of the Cheney-Bush torture program.  He writes:

Anyone who, at any time over the past five years, has placed faith in those Republican senators who parade around as independent checks on the president has suffered nothing but one disappointment after the next. The poster child for this complex is Arlen Specter, who may be the most vivid example, but he is far from the only one. Is there any significant Bush administration policy or action over the past five years that "moderate, independent" Republicans have stopped or even diluted (or even tried to stop) in any meaningful way? They engage in the pretense of independence over and over, but then end up not just failing to impede, but actively enabling, the administration's most extreme measures.

Certain pundits who have been decrying the Bush administration's use of torture as the ultimate evil have, at the same time, been glorifying Sen. John McCain (and others like Sen. John Warner) as exemplary independent political figures. Andrew Sullivan is an example of such a pundit, as is David Broder. What will Sullivan and Broder say now that their allegedly independent and principled heroes have expressly endorsed a legislative framework that authorizes torture? It is time for every honest and rational person who wanted to believe in the Myth of the Independent Republican Senators (and I include myself in that group) to declare this myth dead and bury it once and for all.



Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Air power always wins (at least its zealous believers think so)

Col. Dave Belote seems to think that for the Air Force, the Iraq War has been a stunning success:  Counterinsurgency Airpower: Air-Ground Integration for the Long War (09/01/06) Air & Space Power Journal Fall 2006.  He writes, with plenty of acronyms:

General [Thomas] Metz is not alone in his enthusiasm for the current partnership between ground power and airpower.  At the Joint Fires and Effects Seminar at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 2005, a number of speakers emphasized the interdependent relationship between fire and maneuver.  The RAND memo to Secretary Rumsfeld highlighted the “increasing inter-dependence of air and ground forces,” noting in particular how “air operations reduced substantially the costs and risks of ground operations” in Iraq.  Recent events demonstrate that jointness has taken root even more deeply in current operations. Army and Air Force personnel in Baghdad cemented their partnership in MNC-I’s [Multinational Corps-Iraq] JFEC [fires and effects cell] and ASOC [air support operations center ]; the trust and closeness they developed grew to encompass all the players involved in focusing joint fires and effects within Iraq. The Marines’ DASC, Baghdad’s ASOC, and the CAOC [combined air operations center] in Qatar jointly managed an air war that facilitated success in Fallujah; the CAOC in turn led a process that worked through the JFEC and tactical-level FSEs to maximize airpower’s nonlethal influence on Iraqi elections.

Because many of these elements had never practiced together, they stumbled occasionally, and soldiers, sailors, marines, and Airmen should work together to correct those deficiencies. As RAND’s memo argued, “fixed wing aviation should be better integrated with ground forces by increasing the realism and frequency of joint training.”  At the same time, the services can work to create a more-effective joint lessons-learned process, develop innovative joint-assignment policies, and adjust newly developing fire-support doctrine - all to ensure that future commanders understand how maneuver and fire enable each other so they can start every joint game with top players in the lineup.  (my emphasis)

Rummy's notion of "military transformation" involves heavy reliance on the vision of warfare promoted by air power zealots.  When Rummy says that "air operations reduced substantially the costs and risks of ground operations”, he's expressing the eternal faith of air power enthusiasts that aerial warfare can win wars more quickly and reduce the cost in lives for Our Side.

There are many problems with this model, not least of which is the effect of the massive destruction and loss of civilian lives that even the most "surgical" air strikes impose on the enemy population.  The Israeli Air Force (IAF) succeeded in hitting the targets it aimed for in Lebanon during this summer's war.  But the enemy (Hizbullah) had adapted to the IAF's capabilities and to the heavily-air-power-reliance style of warfare on which Israel has come to depend.

And when the Marines fight a battle in a city like Fallujah with urban guerrillas and call in air power to blow up a house from which they know or believe an enemy guerrilla is operating, that may a sign that "that jointness has taken root even more deeply in current operations".  But the subsequent damage and loss of life to civilian noncombatants means that it's not always the most efficient counterinsurgency strategy.

The air power advocates ask, though, would you rather see more American soldiers killed than the "collateral damage" of civilians in the combat zone being killed?  Civilian deaths being invariably "collateral damage" or "terrorists" when the bodies are counted, if they are counted at all.

General Billy Mitchell, patron saint
of the air power zealots

But after three and a half years of successful "jointness" by air and ground forces and the "trust and closeness they developed grew to encompass all the players involved in focusing joint fires and effects within Iraq", the US now controls our own basis and the Green Zone compound in Baghdad where the government is housed, and that's about it, for all practical purposes.

The sophomore-philosophy-class speculation about the tradeoff of Arab civilian noncombatant lives versus good American lives may be intriguing.  But a more real-world question is, how can such a war be fought in a way that Our Side actually wins?

But in the battle for defense dollars, the Air Force and their industrial suppliers stand to be long-term winners in the Rummy-style "transformation".  That one they are winning.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Iran War: Bush lies awake at nights worrying about the oppressed Iranians

"God may smile on us, but I don't think so." - anonymous Pentagon adviser quoted by Seymour Hersh April 2006 on Bush administration plans to pressure Iran militarily

    Liberation is at hand!

Robert Fisk in The Great War for Civilsation (2005) describing George Bush's appearance at the United Nations four years and one week ago:

How small he looked in the high-backed chair.  You had to sit in the auditorium of the UN General Assembly to realise that George Bush Junior - threatening war in what was built as a house of peace - could appear such a little man. But then again Julius Caesar was a little man, and so was Napoleon Bonaparte.  So were other more modern, less mentionable world leaders.  Come to think of it so was General Douglas MacArthur, who had his own axis of evil, which took him all the way to the Yalu River.  But on 12 September 2002, two-thirds of the way through George W. Bush's virtual declaration of war against Iraq, there came a dangerous, tell-tale code which suggested that he really did intend to send his tanks across the Tigris River.  "The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people," he told us in the UN General Assembly.  In the press gallery, nobody stirred.  Below us, not a diplomat shifted in his seat.  The speech had already rambled on for twenty minutes but the speechwriters must have known what this meant when they cobbled it together.

Before President Reagan bombed Libya in 1986, he announced that America "has no quarrel with the Libyan people."  Before he bombed Iraq in 1991.  Bush the Father told the world that the United States "has no quarrel with the Iraqi people."  In 2001, Bush the Son, about to strike at the Taliban and al-Qaeda, told us he "has no quarrel with the people of Afghanistan."  And now that frightening mantra was repeated.  There was no quarrel. Mr. Bush said- absolutely none - with the Iraqi people.  So, I thought to myself as I scribbled my notes in the UN press gallery, it's flak jackets on.  (my emphasis)

In Bush's address to the United Nations 09/19/16, the phrase "no quarrel" did not appear.  But how close is this?

To the people of Iran: The United States respects you; we respect your country. We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to civilization. You deserve an opportunity to determine your own future, an economy that rewards your intelligence and your talents, and a society that allows you to fulfill your tremendous potential. The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons. The United Nations has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Tehran meet its international obligations. Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program. We're working toward a diplomatic solution to this crisis. And as we do, we look to the day when you can live in freedom - and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace.  (my emphasis)

Achtung, heathens!  Bush the Magnificent, Liberator of Peoples, is ready to scourge thy terrorist iniquity away with the mighty sword of the Lord!

The Pope tries to walk back his anti-Muslim polemic

Pope Benedict XVI (aka, Ratzinger I, Papa Ratzi) has caught quite a bit of criticism of the ill-considered portion of his Regensburg speech last weekend in which he approvingly quoted a medieval Christian polemic against the Prophet Muhammad for having brought nothing but evil and inhuman things into the world.  He first apologized for the fact that Muslims were upset with him, a classic non-apology apology.  He later extended it to something more but not quite an apology, saying he didn't actually agree with the quote he used - although he clearly was using it in an approving context in the speech.

Dear Lord, what's next?  Pretending I
don't think Jews are "Christ-killers"?

The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized on A papal apology 09/19/06:

It's rare - almost unheard of - for a pope to apologize for personal remarks, yet that's what he had to do.

Given that precedent, that's probably about as much of a retraction as we'll see from Papa Ratzi.  The editorial concludes:

The Vatican's rarely used spin machine went into overdrive, producing days later a brief statement from the pope that he was "deeply sorry.'' His own thinking was nothing like the quote, he said. He wanted a "frank and sincere dialogue'' about religious differences.

It's hard to know if he'll get such a discussion going. All of the field pieces of public opinion in the Mideast rolled into position and blasted away at the episode. There were riots and effigy burnings.

Pope Benedict has plans for a November trip to Turkey, a largely Muslim nation where the Byzantine emperor once reigned. His contrite message that he was sorry for last week's speech is a first step. The upcoming visit gives him a chance to speak his mind clearly about Islam.

There are other indications, though,that Ratzinger may not think that highening Christian-Muslim religious tensions is entirely a bad thing.  For instance, Pope remarks reveal harder stance by Peter Gould BBC News 09/16/06:

One of the first signs of a toughening of the Vatican's stance came with the removal from office of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald.

The British-born cleric ran a Vatican department that promoted dialogue with other religions. A distinguished scholar on Arab affairs, he was an acknowledged expert on the Islamic world.

The decision by Benedict XVI to remove him from his post, and send him to Egypt as papal nuncio, was widely seen as a demotion.

Some wondered about the wisdom of the move.

Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit scholar and an authority on the workings of the Vatican, told the BBC news website of his concerns: "The Pope's worst decision so far has been the exiling of Archbishop Fitzgerald," he said in an interview in April this year.

"He was the smartest guy in the Vatican on relations with Muslims. You don't exile someone like that, you listen to them.

"If the Vatican says something dumb about Muslims, people will die in parts of Africa and churches will be burned in Indonesia, let alone what happens in the Middle East.

"It would be better for Pope Benedict to have Fitzgerald close to him."

It's important to keep in mind what is happening, though.  Juan Cole writes in Khamenei's Conspiracy Theory Links Pope to Bush's Crusade, Informed Comment blog 09/19/06

In fact, I don't know of any major mainstream Muslim leader or institution that has called for a violent response. The tiny guerrilla cells in Iraq don't count. This point is worth stressing, because of the false allegation that Muslims have in some normative way responded with violence. There has been almost none of that, despite a handful of regrettable incidents, and even the peaceful demonstrations have been tiny for a community of 1.4 billion. 150 people came out in Basra, a city of over a million.

Tina Beattie in Pope Benedict XVI and Islam: beyond words 09/18/06 takes a nuaned look at Ratzinger's speech, givinghim creditfor emphasizing the importance of reason in religious matters.  But she suggests that it's difficult to understand how he would have made a mistake of this kind:

 All this can be argued even before we come to the defamatory quotation which Benedict saw fit to include: the emperor is alleged to have said: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." This part of the quotation is superfluous to the pope's argument, so why did he include it?

There have been numerous ingenious attempts to argue that, as he was quoting from another source, he was not expressing his own opinion. But he does not sufficiently distance himself from the sentiments expressed in the quotation, although it has been pointed out that the German version of the speech describes this comment as "astoundingly harsh - to us surprisingly harsh", which in the English translation is rendered more mildly as "startling brusqueness". Nevertheless, some readers could justifiably be left with the sense that perhaps our contemporary Pope does not find this an entirely inaccurate description of Muhammad and his followers, so that this lecture may give us a revealing glimpse of Benedict's own prejudices.

Tomás de Torquemada (1420-1498) who was also "harsh" toward Muslims, and Jews, too

I provided both English and German texts of the relevant passage in an earlier post.  The Vatican's official English version says, "he [the Emperor being quoted] addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness".  The German version says, "wendet er sich in erstaunlich schroffer, uns überraschend schroffer Form", which Beattie has translated correctly.  Still, I agree with her characterization that one could hardly conclude from the original speech that the Pope was disagreeing with the quotation he was using.

Bradley Burston, on the other hand, writes in Ha'aretz that The Pope did us all a favor 09/19/06:

There is no way of knowing why a Holy Father would say such a thing. ...

There is no way of explaining why the Holy See, having sparked Muslim ire worldwide, and having already decided to issue an unprecedented apology, would content himself with an expression of regret worthy of the most Polish of Jewish mothers, the equivalent of "What kind of person reacts this way to things like what I said?"

Unless, somewhere inside, he meant what he said in the first place.

But I don't find his argument terribly convincing that "getting it out into the open" is wonderfully healthy:

Maybe it's time we opened up the little box of horrors inside every one of us. The one full of what we truly believe. ...

Opening the box, in this sense, does not mean simply collecting the venom in order to throw it into the face of those who vex us, annoy us, oppose us, believe in other faiths or political movements.

It does not mean, for example, firebombing churches to defend Islam from charges that it is a religion of violence. It does not mean advocating the wholesale slaughter of Muslims in order to make sure that a Holocaust does not recur.

It means opening the box so that we can examine what's in there, for good and, often, ill. Expose it, for once, to light and air.

The Pope is the leader of the largest Christian organization in the world, the Catholic Church.  He shouldn't be careless or deliberately inflamming religious tensions with pre-Reformation and pre-Enlightenment polemics against Islam and Muslims.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jerry Brown starts major ad campaign in California attorney general's race

Jerry Brown is starting an aggressive advertising campaign in his race for state attorney general against rightwing Republican Chuck Poochigian: Brown Airing Attack Spots: The Democrat's ads paint GOP attorney general rival Poochigian as an extremist by Eric Bailey Los Angeles Times 09/15/06

Jerry Brown

Bailey reports:

Brown, mayor of Oakland and a former California governor, hits Poochigian, a state senator from Fresno, in his 30-second spots for Poochigian's opposition to a ban on 50-caliber sniper rifles, abortion rights, stem cell research and tougher environmental rules. A fourth commercial extols Brown's support from California police chiefs and other law enforcement groups.

With early polls showing Brown enjoying a big lead over Poochigian, the start of a fight on the airwaves nearly two months before election day may signal a quick escalation of the "down-ballot" race, which has attracted national attention because of the presence of the former governor.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hans Küng and Pope Ratzinger I's "dogmatic rigidity"

The Swiss theologian Hans Küng, who has been at the German University of Tübingen for many years, says that in his controversial recent visit to Germany, Pope Ratzinger I displayed his "dogmatic rigidity":  Theologe Küng sieht bei Papst «dogmatische Starre» Yahoo! Nachrichten/DDP.

His actual Papal title is Benedict XVI, but I call him Ratzinger I because the reactionary reputation he earned as Cardinal Ratzinger when he was head of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith still fits.

Hey, all I said was that the Prophet Muhammad brought nothing but evil.  I'm sorry all you heathens are so upset about it.

Christian ecumenical theologian Küng on the other hand, is arguably the most influential living Christian theologian.  And my own personal favorite.  I've done several posts dicussing his major book on Islam.

Speaking of Ratzinger's retrograde polemics against Islam, Küng said Ratzinger showed that he understands neither the Reformation and Enlightenment nor Islam from within."  ("weder Reformation und Aufklärung noch den Islam von innen her versteht").

Between Dear Leader Bush declaring the coming of a new Christian Great Awakening in America and Benedict bashed the Prophet Muhammad, we may get to that "clash of civilizations" yet.

Juan Cole has been harshing on Pope Ratzinger I for his anti-Islam polemic at his Informed Comment blog.  In Pope Gets it Wrong on Islam 09/15/06, he writes:

The address is more complex and subtle than the press on it represents. But let me just signal that what is most troubling of all is that the Pope gets several things about Islam wrong, just as a matter of fact.

He notes that the text he discusses, a polemic against Islam by a Byzantine emperor, cites Qur'an 2:256: "There is no compulsion in religion." Benedict maintains that this is an early verse, when Muhammad was without power.

His allegation is incorrect. Surah 2 is a Medinan surah revealed when Muhammad was already established as the leader of the city of Yathrib (later known as Medina or "the city" of the Prophet). The pope imagines that a young Muhammad in Mecca before 622 (lacking power) permitted freedomof conscience, but later in life ordered that his religion be spread by the sword. But since Surah 2 is in fact from the Medina period when Muhammad was in power, that theory does not hold water.

In fact, the Qur'an at no point urges that religious faith be imposed on anyone by force.

These aren't minor slips.  Aside from the fact that the Pope is, well, the Pope and therefore has a small army of theological resources at his disposal, Ratzinger himself was also a highly-regarded theologian back in the day.  Hell, he was even a liberal theologian in his earlier years!  Yet he includes bonehead mistakes like these in a major speech on Islam?  More from Cole:

Another irony is that reasoned, scholastic Christianity has an important heritage drom Islam itself. In the 10th century, there was little scholasticism in Christian theology. The influence of Muslim thinkers such as Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and Avicenna (Ibn Sina) reemphasized the use of Aristotle and Plato in Christian theology. Indeed, there was a point where Christian theologians in Paris had divided into partisans of Averroes or of Avicenna, and they conducted vigorous polemics with one another.

Finally, that Byzantine emperor that the Pope quoted, Manuel II? The Byzantines had been weakened by Latin predations during the fourth Crusade, so it was in a way Rome that had sought coercion first. And, he ended his days as a vassal of the Ottoman Empire.

What Ratzinger quoted from Manuel II was probably the most provocative part of the speech for Muslims, as well.  The Pope said:

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and ofman, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (*4V8,>4H - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (F×< 8`(T) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

The Vatican's official English text can be found at Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections 09/12/06.  I assume he delivered the lecture in his native German; the official German text is Glaube, Vernunft und Universitär: Erinnerungen und Reflexionen:

All dies ist mir wieder in den Sinn gekommen, als ich kürzlich den von Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) herausgegebenen Teil des Dialogs las, den der gelehrte byzantinische Kaiser Manuel II. Palaeologos wohl 1391 im Winterlager zu Ankara mit einem gebildeten Perser über Christentum und Islam und beider Wahrheit führte. Der Kaiser hat vermutlich während der Belagerung von Konstantinopel zwischen 1394 und 1402 den Dialog aufgezeichnet; so versteht man auch, daß seine eigenen Ausführungen sehr viel ausführlicher wiedergegeben sind, als die seines persischen Gesprächspartners. Der Dialog erstreckt sich über den ganzen Bereich des von Bibel und Koran umschriebenen Glaubensgefüges und kreist besonders um das Gottes- und das Menschenbild, aber auch immer wieder notwendigerweise um das Verhältnis der, wie man sagte, „drei Gesetze“ oder „drei Lebensordnungen“: Altes Testament – Neues Testament – Koran. Jetzt, in dieser Vorlesung möchte ich darüber nicht handeln, nur einen – im Aufbau des ganzen Dialogs eher marginalen – Punkt berühren, der mich im Zusammenhang des Themas Glaube und Vernunft fasziniert hat und der mir als Ausgangspunkt für meine Überlegungen zu diesem Thema dient.

In der von Professor Khoury herausgegebenen siebten Gesprächsrunde (διάλεξις – Kontroverse) kommt der Kaiser auf das Thema des Djihād, des heiligen Krieges zu sprechen. Der Kaiser wußte sicher, daß in Sure 2, 256 steht: Kein Zwang in Glaubenssachen – es ist eine der frühen Suren aus der Zeit, wie uns die Kenner sagen, in der Mohammed selbst noch machtlos und bedroht war. Aber der Kaiser kannte natürlich auch die im Koran niedergelegten – später entstandenen – Bestimmungen über den heiligen Krieg. Ohne sich auf Einzelheiten wie die unterschiedliche Behandlung von „Schriftbesitzern“ und „Ungläubigen“ einzulassen, wendet er sich in erstaunlich schroffer, uns überraschend schroffer Form ganz einfach mit der zentralen Frage nach dem Verhältnis von Religion und Gewalt überhaupt an seinen Gesprächspartner. Er sagt: „Zeig mir doch, was Mohammed Neues gebracht hat, und da wirst du nur Schlechtes und Inhumanes finden wie dies, daß er vorgeschrieben hat, den Glauben, den er predigte, durch das Schwert zu verbreiten“. Der Kaiser begründet, nachdem er so zugeschlagen hat, dann eingehend, warum Glaubensverbreitung durch Gewalt widersinnig ist. Sie steht im Widerspruch zum Wesen Gottes und zum Wesen der Seele. „Gott hat kein Gefallen am Blut”, sagt er, „und nicht vernunftgemäß, nicht „σὺν λόγω” zu handeln, ist dem Wesen Gottes zuwider. Der Glaube ist Frucht der Seele, nicht des Körpers. Wer also jemanden zum Glauben führen will, braucht die Fähigkeit zur guten Rede und ein rechtes Denken, nicht aber Gewalt und Drohung… Um eine vernünftige Seele zu überzeugen, braucht man nicht seinen Arm, nicht Schlagwerkzeuge noch sonst eines der Mittel, durch die man jemanden mit dem Tod bedrohen kann...".

Torture in the Bush Gulag: Five quotes relating to Congress' latest torture debate

"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

David Brooks, PBS Newshour 09/15/06, arguing the Cheney-Bush administration's case for torture while pretending to feel uncomfortable about doing so:

Now, the White House case, they do have a case. One, as the president said, it's the Geneva Convention is vague. Two, that, you know, when our soldiers are - our Marines are captured, they're not going to be treated fine. The idea that there's going to be any reciprocity is nonsense. And, third, that we're in a different technological age, that if we capture somebody, they know about some plot that's about to kill millions of people, don't you want us to be able to do whatever we need to do?

And the Israeli answer - and they face this every day - is that, in that kind of extreme circumstance, you break the law, but otherwise you keep the rules. (my emphasis)

Telford Taylor, US Chief Counsel at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunals, Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy (1970):

There are at least two reasons - or perhaps one basic reason with two formulations — for the pre ervation and continued enforcement, as even-handededly as possible, of the laws of war. The first is strictly pragmatic; They work. Violated or ignored as they often are, enough of the rules are observed enough of the time so that mankind is very much better off with them than without them. The rules for the treatment of civilian populations in occupied countries are not as susceptible to technological change as rules regarding the use of weapons in combat. If it were not regarded as wrong to bomb military hospitals, they would be bombed all of the time instead of some of the time.

It is only necessary to consider the rules on taking prisoners in the setting of the Second World War to realize the enormous saving of life for which they have been responsible.  Millions of French, British, German and Italian soldiers captured in Western Europe and Africa were treated in general compliance with The Hague and Geneva requirements, and returned home at the end of the war.  German and Russian prisoners taken on the eastern front did not fare nearly so well and died in captivity by the millions, but many survived.  Today there is surely much to criticize about the handling of prisoners on both sides of the Vietnam war, but at least many of them are alive, and that is because the belligerents are reluctant to flout the laws of war too openly.  (my emphasis)

Richard Falk in Crimes of War: Iraq (2006):

[R]ecourse to war, conduct in war, and the severe abuse of state power within a sovereign state are regulated by international law that deserves respect by all governments.  It follows from this claim, as confirmed by the war crimes trials after World War II, that those responsible for deliberate violations of this prohibition on aggressive war making and other international legal norms should be held personally accountable.  Historically, the United States government, more than any other government, has supported this approach and was the mam architect of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of German and Japanese leaders in 1945.  More recently, in the 1990s, the U.S. government was a strong advocate of establishing special criminal tribunals under the auspices of the United Nations to try individuals responsible for international crimes in connection with the breakup of Yugoslavia and those associated with the 1994 massacres in Rwanda. In these instances, the central idea is that the doctrine of sovereignty no longer trumps the Rule of Law.

It would seem that theU.S. government has now repudiated this development, at least with respect to the accountability of its own leaders.  While initially backing the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC), Washington gradually backed away from the undertaking as the ICC moved from proposal to reality. In the end, the U.S. government signed the Rome Treaty setting up the ICC in 2000, on the last day of the Clinton presidency. President Bush, accentuating his unilateralist approach to foreign policy, withdrew the American signature, something that had never previously been done with respect to a negotiated treaty.  It was a gratuitous slap at the idea of individual accountability, as the Bush administration could have avoided American participation in the ICC simply by failing to submit the treaty for ratification to the U.S. Senate.  Even so, it was widely known that the treaty would never have received the two-thirds vote in the Senate required for ratification.  When the ICC came into being in 2002, the Bush leadership worked feverishly to conclude agreements with as many foreign countries as possible that Americans would never be turned over for prosecution to the ICC regardless of the evidence against them.

... [I]t would seem that two conclusions emerge:  The Untied States government, for understandable yet not acceptable reasons, uses its power to exempt its leaders from potential international accountability for for aggressive war making and illegal conduct in wartime; at the saem time, the U.S. has not hisitation about imposing such accountability on those it considers to be its enemies [e.g., Saddam Hussein].  This manner of conduct can be understood either as "empire's law" or as simple hypocrisy.  (my emphasis)

Jimmy Carter in Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis (2005):

[I]n a time of conflict, the hatred and brutality of the battlefield are very likely to be mirrored within military prison walls. Other well-known factors are that wartime secrecy often cloaks the orders and policies of superiors and the actions of subordinates, and some elements of national hatred and fear are elevated by the psychology of war.

My own family experienced the impact of these factors when my favorite uncle, navy petty officer Tom Gordy, was brutally treated as a prisoner of war after being captured in Guam by the Japanese within a month of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. After two years he was reported to be dead but was found after Japan's surrender, weighing eighty-five pounds, debilitated by four years of physical and psychological mistreatment.

The prevalence of such abuse of captured servicemen and -women during World War II induced the community of nations to come together to define quite precisely the basic guarantees of proper treatment for prisoners.  These restraints are the result of an international conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1949, and redefined and expanded what are known as the "Geneva Conventions." The authenticity and universal applicability of these guarantees were never questioned by a democratic power - until recently, and by America! Instead of honoring the historic restraints, our political leaders decided to violate them, using the excuse that we are at war against terrorism. It is obvious that the Geneva Conventions were designed specifically to protect prisoners of war, not prisoners of peace. ...

Aside from the humanitarian aspects, it is well known that, under excruciating torture, a prisoner will admit almost any suggested crime.  Such confessions are, of course, not admissible in trials in civilized nations.  The primary goal of torture or the threat of torture is not to obtain convictions for crimes, but to engender and maintain fear. Some of our leaders have found that it is easy to forgo human rights for those who are considered to be subhuman, or "enemy combatants."  (my emphasis)

Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo blog 09/16/06:

The torture debate in Congress - I never expected to write such words - is as surreal to me as watching the collapse of the Twin Towers. If the Democrats are able to take control of at least one chamber in November, then surely the President's pro-torture bill will be viewed in hindsight as the nadir of the Bush presidency. If not, how much lower can things go?

I am beyond being able to assess the political implications, one way or the other, of this spectacle. Regardless of which version of the bill finally passes, this debate is a black mark on the soul of the nation. Of course passage of a pro-torture bill willdiminish U.S. standing internationally and jeopardize the safety and well-being of U.S. servicemen in future engagements. But merely having this debate has alreadyaccomplished that. Does anyone honestly believe that if Congress rebuffs the President in every respect that the rule of law and the inviolability of human rights will have been vindicated? Of course not.   (my emphasis)

"The President is always right." - Steve Bradbury, Acting Deputy Attorney General, 07/11/06