Monday, October 30, 2006

The Cheney-Bush administration and the Christian Right

The War Against Evil never ends (not unlike the "global war on terror")

Gary Wills in A Country Ruled by Faith New York Review of Books 11/16/06 issue (accessed 10/30/06) provides a survey of the influence of the Christian Right in the Cheney-Bush administration:

Bush promised his evangelical followers faith-based social services, which he called "compassionate conservatism." He went beyond that to give them a faith-based war, faith-based law enforcement, faith-based education, faith-based medicine, and faith-based science. He could deliver on his promises because he stocked the agencies handling all these problems, in large degree, with born-again Christians of his own variety. The evangelicals had complained for years that they were not able to affect policy because liberals left over from previous administrations were in all the health and education and social service bureaus, at the operational level. They had specific people they objected to, and they had specific people with whom to replace them, and Karl Rove helped them do just that.

It is common knowledge that the Republican White House and Congress let "K Street" lobbyists have a say in the drafting of economic legislation, and on the personnel assigned to carry it out, in matters like oil production, pharmaceutical regulation, medical insurance, and corporate taxes. It is less known that for social services, evangelical organizations were given the same right to draft bills and install the officials who implement them. Karl Rove had cultivated the extensive network of religious right organizations, and they were consulted at every step of the way as the administration set up its policies on gays, AIDS, condoms, abstinence programs, creationism, and other matters that concerned the evangelicals. All the evangelicals' resentments under previous presidents, including Republicans like Reagan and the first Bush, were now being addressed.

We still hear it said, including by Democrats, that the Christian Right thinks that the Cheney-Bush administration has let them down.  And that may be true of many of the rank-and-file.  But the leaders are still enthusiastic for the Republican Party this year.

Part of the reason that's so often said is surely that Democrats have been pointing out for years that the Republicans use the Christian Right to get votes and then give their concerns a low priority.  That really has not been the case in this administration.  Christian Right leaders complain a lot, including about the administration's service to their desires.  Part of that is the good old Southern whiny-white-folks tradition.  But a large part of it is keeping the pressure on.

After all, the Christian dominionists want a lot more than just federal-funded abstinence-and-proselyizing programs.

Wills discusses Gen. Boykin, whose god is bigger than the Muslims' god, and the very problematic nature of promoting religious wars, or, as Wills calls it, faith-based war:

There is a particular danger with a war that God commands. What if God should lose? That is unthinkable to the evangelicals. They cannot accept the idea of second-guessing God, and he was the one who led them into war. Thus, in 2006, when two thirds of the American people told pollsters that the war in Iraq was a mistake, the third of those still standing behind it were mainly evangelicals (who make up about one third of the population). It was a faith-based certitude.

Iraq War: Signs of deterioration

"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.

Don't miss the report by Anthony Shadid, author of Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (2006), on his return to Baghdad after a year, This is Baghdad. What could be worse? Washington Post 10/29/06:

It had been almost a year since I was in the Iraqi capital, where I worked as a reporter in the days of Saddam Hussein, the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and the occupation, guerrilla war and religious resurgence that followed. On my return, it was difficult to grasp how atomized and violent the 1,250-year-old city has become. Even on the worst days, I had always found Baghdad's most redeeming quality to be its resilience, a tenacious refusal among people I met over three years to surrender to the chaos unleashed when the Americans arrived. That resilience is gone, overwhelmed by civil war, anarchy or whatever term could possibly fit. Baghdad now is convulsed by hatred, paralyzed by suspicion; fear has forced many to leave. Carnage its rhythm and despair its mantra, the capital, it seems, no longer embraces life.

"A city of ghosts," a friend told me, her tone almost funereal.

The commotion in the streets - goods spilling across sidewalks, traffic snarled under a searing sun -- once prompted the uninitiated to conclude that Baghdad was reviving. Of course, they were seeing the city through a windshield, the often angry voices on the streets inaudible. Today, with traffic dwindling, stores shuttered and streets empty by nightfall, that conceit no longer holds.  (my emphasis)

The notion that because there was traffic in the streets and functioning marketplaces and stores then conditions were fine in Iraq has been a staple of war-booster propaganda until recently.  It was always silly, and mainly aimed at those who wanted to be convinced, or who just wanted some slogan to use.  Wars, including civil wars, don't mean violence is occurring in every location every day.  But only by some absurd standard like that could the Iraq War be made to look like a success for the US.  Even in the middle of an insurgency or a war or a civil war, people still have to eat, people still have to get to work.

But even those signs of normality seem to be fading badly.

The headline of the article is taken from this section:

I had come to know Wamidh Nadhme in 2002, before the invasion. A professor of political science at Baghdad University, he was a forthright voice in those tense, uneasy days when Hussein was still in power. He tried to speak with complete honesty despite the possible consequences of doing so in a police state. With an ever-present Dunhill cigarette, he would slowly field questions back then, reasoning out every intricate response, surrounded by his French-style furniture, worn Persian carpets and a framed piece of papyrus from Egypt, where he had spent time in exile as a young activist. But on this visit, reason eluded him, as did explanation.

"I find myself unable to understand what's going on," he said. ...

I asked him whether it would become worse if the American military withdrew.

He looked at me for a moment without saying anything, as though he were a little confused.

"What could be worse?" he asked, knitting his brow.

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

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ten news stories

Ten news stories, with no particular unifying theme other than they struck me as interesting.

Christian Zionism: An Egregious Threat to US- Middle East Understanding Palestinian Chronicle 10/27/06:

Christian Zionism, a belief that paradise for Christians can only be achieved once Jews are in control of the Holy Land, is gathering strength in the United States and forging alliances that are giving increasingly weird shape to American policy toward the Middle East.  The nature of the movement and its detrimental impact on policy was the subject of the 22nd Capitol Hill public hearing presented by the Council for the National Interest yesterday.

A new Zogby International poll commissioned by the CNI Foundation shows that 31 percent of those surveyed in the national poll strongly believe or somewhat believe in the ideas behind Christian Zionism, defined as "the belief that Jews must have all of the promised land, including all of Jerusalem, to facilitate the second coming of the messiah."   Other polls bear similar messages, that 53% of Americans believe that Israel was given by God to the Jews (Pew), and that 59% of the American public believes the prophecies contained in the Book of Revelations will come true (CNN/Time.) ...

The irony of the alliance between Christian Zionists and Jewish Zionists is that the one ideology promotes the ultimate destruction of the other. As [Rev. Robert O.] Smith pointed out, the "Christians United for Israel" is all about Israel, not about the Israelis, and only a little surface digging into Christian Zionism shows how anti-Semitic it really is.  So much so that Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the ceaseless champions of Zionism in this country, has called the Christian right one of the direst threats to American Jews.  This has not prevented top Israeli officials from paying homage to the Christian right, including Ariel Sharon (before he descended into a comatose state brought on by the withdrawal of the settlers from Gaza, Pat Robertson opined), the Israeli ambassador Daniel Ayalon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, and a host of others. The ability of CUFI and other far right Christian religious leaders like Jerry Farwell and Pat Robertson to raise money for Israel, including Israeli settlements, is well documented.  (my emphasis)

Police warn business owners of 'foreign descent' to be alert to danger by Nadia Taylor Mobile Press-Register 10/28/06.

Book paints escape-artist Houdini as spy by Larry McShane AP/Miami Herald 10/28/06.

With Army stretched thin, could the U.S. respond to a new crisis? Retired general says deployments put America in 'strategic peril' by Michael Hedges Houston Chronicle 10/29/06:

The quick pace of comings and goings is evidence of an Army strained to the breaking point, with little in reserve if the United States is forced to respond to a new crisis, according to military analysts.

"One third of our combat units are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are the best troops we've ever fielded, but essentially every other brigade is not ready to fight," said retired Maj. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who makes frequent trips to Iraq as a military consultant.

"America is in a period of strategic peril," he added. "What happens if we have to confront North Korea or Iran?"

Paul Rieckhoff, a former Army captain in Iraq who heads Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said his organization has gathered extensive evidence that has convinced him the Army is nearing a crisis.

"The rate of deployment is absolutely not sustainable," he said. "We are mortgaging the future of the Army. If this goes on much longer, we are going to get a post-Vietnam-type hangover in the military."

Canadians protest Afghanistan mission Globe and Mail/Canadian Press 10/28/06.  The public in the other NATO countries are starting to wonder exactly what sense the Afghanistan mission as currently defined really makes.

The kindler, gentler Satanist: The devil sells out, moves to suburbia and dons a fluffy bunny suit Detroit Metro Times by Sarah Klein 10/25/06.

Vampire tooth lay in wait by Elaine Jarvik Deseret Morning News 10/28/06.  It's almost Halloween, after all.

Washington and Baghdad put smiling face on scuffle over who calls the shots Daily Star (Lebanon) 10/28/06.

In the sprawling Baghdad slum of Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia of hard-line Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, witnesses and two officials of the militia said Friday there was a strong US troop presence backed by air support in the northeast part of the area.

After carrying out searches, the US forces moved on and set up a cordon around the area, outside Sadr City itself, an AFP photographer said.

Katrina: First Anniversary Biloxi Sun-Herald.  Actually, this one is a collection of news stories.

US navy to patrol Saudi oil terminal Aljazeera 10/28/06:

The navies of the United States and Britain have increased their patrols around Saudi Arabia's coastal oil installations citing intelligence that suggests an imminent Al-Qaeda attack.

Coalition officials said on Friday that they were responding to intelligence that suggested that Al-Qaeda units might target the kingdom's Ras Tanura terminal, the world's biggest offshore oil export facility, and Bahrain's Bapco refinery.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Blowback, Iran edition

From A Selective Partnership: Getting U.S.-Iranian Relations Right by Gary Sick Foreign Affairs Nov/Dec 2006:

The 14-month period between President Bush's "axis of evil" speech and his triumphal appearance on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, in May 2003, was a time of unparalleled hubris in U.S. foreign policy.  Washington had eliminated tyrannical regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, briskly and with remarkably little loss of life.  Proponents of the audacious use of U.S. power to reshape the Middle East were openly debating whether the next target should be Iran or Syria.  In the midst of all the self-congratulation, few U.S. officials were interested in Tehran's offer to hold direct talks on all outstanding issues between Iran and the United States.  According to former officials and even Secretary of State Rice, not only was the message studiously ignored, but the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who represented U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran, was chastised for exceeding his authority simply by having delivered it.

Wherever one looks in the Middle East today, the specter of Iran hovers like Banquo's ghost at Macbeth's table.  Quite inadvertently, the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq empowered Iran by eradicating its two most potent enemies, the Taliban and Saddam.  And for the first time in history, Iraq's majority Shiite population, which is far more sympathetic to Iran than were the formerly dominant Sunnis, has taken the reins of power.  At least partly as a consequence, Iran has become much bolder in challenging the West over its nuclear-enrichment program and in offering gratuitous advice on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict(my emphasis)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Israeli/German military incident off Lebanon? How messy is this peacekeeping going to get?

Oh, great, military confrontations between Israel and Germany? 

IDF: No shots fired in IAF incident with German ship by Amos Harel and Gideon Alon Ha'aretz/Reuters 10/25/06 reports:

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman on Wednesday confirmed that Israel Air Force jets had been involved in an incident with a German vessel and helicopter, but denied reports that the jets had fired shots over the ship.

The Germany daily Der Tagesspiegel earlier on Wednesday quoted a junior German defense minister as telling a parliamentary committee that two Israeli F-16 fighters flew low over the German ship and fired two shots.

The jets also activated infra-red countermeasures to ward off any rocket attack, the paper quoted him as saying, in an advance release from Thursday's edition. ...

Germany assumed command of a United Nations naval force off Lebanon 10 days ago, and has sent eight ships and 1,000 service personnel to join the international peace operation in the region.

The Tagesspiegel report is here:  Zwischenfall mit israelischen Kampffliegern Der Tagesspiegel 26.10.06.

Wie der Parlamentarische Staatssekretär im Verteidigungsministerium, Christian Schmidt (CSU), am Mittwoch vor dem Verteidigungsausschuss des Bundestages mitteilte, überflogen zwei israelische Kampfflugzeuge vom Typ F 16 ein deutsches Schiff und gaben zwei Schüsse in die Luft ab. Außerdem hätten die Kampfflieger Infrarot-Täuschkörper zur Raketenabwehr abgefeuert. Zu Datum und Ursachen des Zwischenfalls machte Schmidt keine Angaben.

The article suggests the incident occurred Monday or Tuesday.

Germany has been one of Israel's closest allies in Europe and has provided substantial aid to Israel.  Does Israel really want to be flirting with military confrontations with the European peacekeepers in and for Lebanon?  From Germany's viewpoint, does participating even at the agreed-upon level make sense in light of the potential for incidents like this?

The agreement just announced this week on the conditions for the German Navy in its anti-weapons-smuggling operations requires that inspections be restricted to between six and 12 miles off shore, but within six miles of shore they are not permitted.

This raises a question of whether the Navy came effectively carry out its anti-smuggling mission under those rules of engagement.

It's also a reminder that presumably the weapons the German Navy would be interdicting would be intended for Lebanese Hizbullah.  Does Israel want to discourage those insprections by harassing the German ships?

It's always worth keeping in mind that, especially with single incidents like this, it could have just been a screw-up.

Bush stays the course. Or not. Or changes the course in order to stay it.

From Bush's press conference today 10/25/06:

Over the past three years I have often addressed the American people to explain developments in Iraq. Some of these developments were encouraging ... Other developments were not encouraging, such as the bombing of the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad, the fact that we did not find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and the continued loss of some of America's finest sons and daughters.

Yes, not finding those WMDs was "not encouraging".  Especially since that was the main justification for the war.

Our security at home depends on ensuring that Iraq is an ally in the war on terror and does not become a terrorist haven like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The obvious: Iraq was not a "terrorist haven" under Saddam's Baathist dictatorship.  The chaos brought by Bush's invasion has created at least the possibility that it would become such.  Although it's more likely that the current civil war will continue for years, which would provide training to some jihadists siding with the Sunnis.  But massive civil war isn't the most likely conditions for terrorists to create a "haven" for themselves.

We learned some key lessons from that early phase in the war. We saw how quickly al Qaeda and other extremist groups would come to Iraq to fight and try to drive us out. We overestimated the capability of the civil service in Iraq to continue to provide essential services to the Iraqi people. We did not expect the Iraqi army, including the Republican Guard, to melt away in the way that it did in the phase of advancing coalition forces.

In other words, the Cheney-Bush team screwed up about everything they could screw up.

Yet the persistent attacks, particularly last February's bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Shia Islam's most holy shrines, eventually resulted in sectarian reprisals. The cycle of violence, in which al Qaeda insurgents attacked Shia civilians and Shia death squads retaliated against Sunnis, has sharply increased in recent months, particularly in Baghdad.

Pretty much everyone but Republican fantasists regard Al Qaeda as a marginal participant in the Iraqi insurgency and civil war.   Although its possible that Bush's formulation here is meant to not overtly blame Iraqi Sunnis in order to facilitate some negotiating channel with the Sunni resistance.  Maybe.  Don't count on it.

As the enemy shifts tactics, we are shifting our tactics, as well. Americans have no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions. Our mission is to help the elected government in Iraq defeat common enemies, to bring peace and stability to Iraq, and make our nation more secure. Our goals are unchanging. We are flexible in our methods to achieving those goals.

The Iraqi government is essentially the Shi'a militias invested with state power.  Or, more accurately, wearing police and army uniforms.  Backing the Iraqi government is essentially the same as backing the Shi'a in their civil war against the Sunnis.

After some initial successes, our operations to secure Baghdad have encountered greater resistance. Some of the Iraqi security forces have performed below expectations. Many have performed well and are fighting bravely in some of Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods. Once again, American troops are performing superbly under very difficult conditions. Together, with the Iraqis, they've conducted hundreds of missions throughout Baghdad. They've rounded up or killed key insurgents and death squad leaders.

While I have no doubt that American troops perform much better than the Shi'a militias in Iraqi army uniforms, there is the kernal of a future alibi here: we (the Americans) did pretty much everything fine, but the Iraqis were too worthless to help us like we needed.

A military solution alone will not stop violence. In the end, the Iraqi people and their government will have to make the difficult decisions necessary to solve these problems. So, in addition to refining our military tactics to defeat the enemy, we're also working to help the Iraqi government achieve a political solution that brings together Shia and Sunnis and Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups.

He laid out some specifics, obviously meant to kick the can a little farther down the road.  But with all the rumors over the last few weeks, it's hard not to see an implied coup threat in this.

This young government has to solve a host of problems created by decades of tyrannical rule. And they have to do it in the midst of raging conflict, against extremists from outside and inside the country who are doing everything they can to stop this government from succeeding.

Any serious thought on the American administration's part prior to invading Iraq about what they were doing would have given them the realization that, no, the US wasn't going to be able to invade, oust Saddam, stick a friendly regime in power, establish permanent US bases for 40,000 or so troops, and send the rest to invade somebody else.

In the current administration lingo, "extremists" are the ones we are against, "moderates" are the ones we support.

We're pressing Iraq's leaders to take bold measures to save their country. We're making it clear that America's patient [sic] is not unlimited. ... The way to succeed in Iraq is to help Iraq's government grow in strength and assume more control over its country as quickly as possible.

Could be a coup threat.  Sounds a lot like it to me.

I know the American people understand the stakes in Iraq. They want to win. They will support the war as long as they see a path to victory. Americans can have confidence that we will prevail because thousands of smart, dedicated military and civilian personnel are risking their lives and are working around the clock to ensure our success. A distinguished independent panel of Republicans and Democrats, led by former Secretary of State Jim Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, is taking a fresh look at the situation in Iraq and will make recommendations to help achieve our goals. I welcome all these efforts. My administration will carefully consider any proposal that will help us achieve victory.

That Secret Plan To End The War is coming after the election!

It's my responsibility to provide the American people with a candid assessment on the way forward.

Yes, but most of us long since gave up hope that we would get that from you.

If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves, and use Iraq as a base to overthrow moderate governments across the broader Middle East. They will launch new attacks on America from this new safe haven. They will pursue their goal of a radical Islamic empire that stretches from Spain to Indonesia.

Okay, an Iraq that will spend years in a three-way civil war among Sunnis, Shi'a Arabs and Kurds, with likely interventions by neighboring countries, with an oil industry that's already been devastated by years of neglect and now 3 1/2 years of war, is going to send massive armies sweeping through all the Middle East, North Africa and Spain.  The words of an old Steve Earle song come to mind:  "It's called snake oil, y'all ..."

We must not look at every success of the enemy as a mistake on our part, cause for an investigation, or a reason to call for our troops to come home. We must not fall prey to the sophisticated propaganda by the enemy, who is trying to undermine our confidence and make us believe that our presence in Iraq is the cause of all its problems.

The ghost of Spiro Agnew lives on.  If you disagree with Dear Leader Bush's policies, you're collaborating with the Islamunists!

If I did not think our mission in Iraq was vital to America's security, I'd bring our troops home tomorrow. I met too many wives and husbands who have lost their partners in life, too many children who won't ever see their mom and dad again. I owe it to them and to the families who still have loved ones in harm's way to ensure that their sacrifices are not in vain.

Lots of people have died, so we have to keep the killing and dying going to justify the previous deaths, which will give us more deaths for which we have to keep on going, which will ...   This is the same logic that opposing nations applied during the First World War, turning a war that was already a bloody stalemate a few months after it began into years of useless, massive slaughter.

Every American can take pride in our troops, and the vital work they are doing to protect us.

And every American over the age of, oh, 14 or so can distinguish between the contributions of individual soldiers and the larger policies of the war.  Except, it seems, Republicans who equate "supporting the troops" to "cheering for Bush's policies".  Prolonging American participation in the Iraq War is not protecting Americans or American interests.

I'm confident this generation will answer that call and defeat an ideology that is bent on destroying America and all that we stand for.

Yes, the Islamofasconist ideology, we know.

Q Mr. President, the war in Iraq has lasted almost as long as World War II for the United States. And as you mentioned, October was the deadliest month for American forces this year -- in a year. Do you think we're winning, and why?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, this is a different kind of war than a war against the fascists in World War II. We were facing a nation state -- two nation states -- three nation states in World War II. We were able to find an enemy by locating its ships, or aircraft, or soldiers on the ground. This is a war against extremists and radicals who kill innocent people to achieve political objectives. It has a multiple of fronts.

Are we giving up the Second World War identifications along with the "stay the course" slogan?  Who will break the news to Victor Davis Hanson, undisputed champion of the hack Second World War analogies.

Afghanistan was a front in this war against the terrorists. Iraq is now the central front in the war against the terrorists.

Should Dick Cheney tell Bush that the war in Afghanistan is still going on?

Defeat will only come if the United States becomes isolationist and refuses to, one, protect ourselves, and, two, help those who desire to become - to live in a moderate, peaceful world.  And it's a hard struggle, no question about it.  And it's a different struggle.

Defeat is probably a lot closer than that, Dear Leader.

Q Are we winning?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely, we're winning. Al Qaeda is on the run. As a matter of fact, the mastermind, or the people who they think is the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks is in our custody. We've now got a procedure for this person to go on trial, to be held for his account. Most of al Qaeda that planned the attacks on September the 11th have been brought to justice.

Extremists have now played their hand; the world can clearly see their ambitions. You know, when a Palestinian state began to show progress, extremists attacked Israel to stop the advance of a Palestinian state. They can't stand democracies. Extremists and radicals want to undermine fragile democracy because it's a defeat for their way of life, their ideology.

People now understand the stakes. We're winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done. And the crucial battle right now is Iraq. And as I said in my statement, I understand how tough it is, really tough. It's tough for a reason; because people understand the stakes of success in Iraq. And my point to the American people is, is that we're constantly adjusting our tactics to achieve victory.

Al Qaida, Palesinians, Iraqis.  If you've seen one Islamunists, you've seen them all.  Or so it seems to the President.

I will send more troops to Iraq if General Casey says, I need more troops in Iraq to achieve victory. And that's the way I've been running this war. I have great faith in General Casey. I have great faith in Ambassador Khalilzad. I trust our commanders on the ground to give the best advice about how to achieve victory. I want to remind you, victory is a government that can sustain itself, govern itself - a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself, and serves as an ally in the war on terror - which stands in stark contrast to a government that would be chaotic, that would be a safe haven for the enemy to launch attacks on us. ...

It is - and so this is a war where I say to our generals, do you have what it takes to win.

Democracy is conspicuously missing from that definition of "victory", I notice.  We all know that the generals' formal requests to Bush are a cynical game to allow him to be able to say this.  But let's take it at face value.  That means that our infallible generals are getting everything they say they need to win the Iraq War.  Something to remember when they later claim none of the loss was the military's fault, it was all the civilians that tied the military's hands, yadda, yadda.

But in the real world, should a President be saying stuff like this?  Should he even pretend to be the automatic provider of everything the generals say they need?  Not in my mind.  He's the guy in charge, it's ultimately his responsibility to do the right thing, no matter whose advice he's following.  Later he returns to the theme:

I meet with our - or talk to our generals all the time. And the security situation looked like at that point in time that beginning next year, we could reduce our troop presence. That's what we felt - until the conditions on the ground changed. And when they changed, our generals changed their attitude. And when their attitude changed, my attitude changed.

Look, I want to get our troops home as fast as we can. But I do not want to leave before we achieve victory. And the best way to do that is to make sure we have a strategy that works, tactics that adjust to the enemy, and commanders that feel confident making recommendations to the Secretary and to the Commander-in-Chief. And that's how that happened. In other words, they're saying it looks like things are positive, things are stepping up. The security situation is -- looks like it could be this way. And then when it change, we changed. And that's important for the American people to know, that we're constantly changing tactics to meet the situation on the ground.

But I believe the following is new.  Bush is giving us some specific, quantifiable goals for the needed levels of Iraqi security forces, and distinguishing between soldiers and police:

And what the General was saying yesterday is that there is a three-step process to enable the Iraqi forces to be able to help this government bring security. One was to train and equip. The goal is 325,000 troops; 137,000 military and the balance, police. ...

The key is that our commanders feel that there - they have got enough flexibility to design the program to meet the conditions on the ground. You know, last spring, I thought for a period of time we'd be able to reduce our troop presence early next year. That's what I felt. But because we didn't have a fixed timetable, and because General Casey and General Abizaid and the other generals there understand that the way we're running this war is to give them flexibility, have the confidence necessary to come and make the right recommendations here in Washington, D.C., they decided that that wasn't going to happen. And so what he was describing to you was the way forward to make sure that the Iraqis are fully prepared to defend themselves.

Bookmark this one in your minds.  The generals are calling the shots.  Bush gives them everything they need to win.  He lets them do whatever they want to win.  The Rush Limbaughs of the world will relatively soon be telling a different story.

Q What about the 12 to 18 month estimate [on US troop drawdowns]?

THE PRESIDENT: It's a condition, a base estimate. And that's important for the American people to know. This notion about, you know, fixed timetable of withdrawal, in my judgment, is a - means defeat. You can't leave until the job is done. Our mission is to get the job done as quickly as possible. ...

That is substantially different, David, from people saying, we want a time certain to get out of Iraq. As a matter of fact, the benchmarks will make it more likely we win. Withdrawing on an artificial timetable means we lose.

This may have been a kind of Freudian slip.  For Bush, a fixed withdrawal timetable means Defeat.

Let me finish.  I view that this is a struggle between radicals and extremists who are trying to prevent there to be a democracy, for a variety of reasons.  And it's in our interest that the forces of moderation prevail in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.  A defeat there - in other words, if we were to withdraw before the job is done, it would embolden extremists.  They would say, you know, we were right about America in the first place, that America did not have the will necessary to do the hard work. That's precisely what Osama bin Laden has said, for example.  A defeat there would make it easier for people to be able to recruit extremists and kids, to be able to use their tactics to destroy innocent life.  A defeat there would dispirit people throughout the Middle East who wonder whether America is genuine in our commitment to moderation and democracy.

I wonder how much damage Bush is willing to see the US Army sustain in Iraq before he can find a different way to look at this than a frat-boy testosterone contest.  Credibility is certainly a factor to consider.  But, at this point, how could the United States wind up with less credibility in the Middle East?

Q What if there is a civil war?

THE PRESIDENT: You're asking me hypotheticals. Our job is to make sure there's not one, see. You been around here five-and-a-half years, you know I won't answer hypotheticals. Occasionally slip up, but --

No, it's not hypothetical, unfortunately.  See Is There a "Civil War" in Iraq? by Anthony Cordesman 10/16/06.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You talk about the U.S. government and the Iraqi government working closely together on benchmarks. I'm wondering, sir, why was Prime Minister Maliki not at the news conference yesterday with General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad? Would that not have sent a strong message about there being a very close level of cooperation between the two governments?

THE PRESIDENT: Elaine, I have no idea why he wasn't there.

Q Was he invited, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I have no idea. I'm not the scheduler of news conferences. I do know they work very closely together, and they've got a very close working relationship, and that's important.

Maliki can't be feeling entirely good about the near future right now.

There's a lot of people still furiousabout what happened to them during Saddam Hussein's period. You can imagine that. What happens if your brother or sister had been assassinated by Saddam Hussein and his political party? You'd be -- you wouldn't be happy about it. Reconciliation is difficult in a society that had been divided and tortured by a tyrant.

Is Bush just entirely incapable of self-reflection?

And Prime Minister Maliki has got the difficult job of reconciling these grievances, and different political parties on top of that, plus dealing with violence. I've talked to him a lot. I like his spirit, I like his attitude. He's confident we can achieve the mission. He's not - he's realistic about how difficult it is in Iraq.

This sounds an awful lot like "Maliki's doing a heckuva job".

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Does the United States want to maintain permanent bases in Iraq? And I would follow that by asking, are you willing to renounce a claim on permanent bases in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: Jim, any decisions about permanency in Iraq will be made by the Iraqi government. And, frankly, it's not in much of a position to be thinking about what the world is going to look like five or 10 years from now. They are working to make sure that we succeed in the short-term. And they need our help. And that's where our focus is.

Permanent bases have always been part of the Cheney-Bush goal in Iraq.  It's a key reason why they won't consider a phased withdrawal.

You know, it's interesting, if you - I'm sure people who watch your TV screens think the entire country is embroiled in sectarian conflict and that there's constant killing everywhere in Iraq. Well, if you listened to General Casey yesterday, 90 percent of the action takes place in five of the 18 provinces. And around Baghdad, it's limited to a 30-mile area. And the reason I bring that up is that while it seems to our American citizens that nothing normal is taking place - and I can understand why, it's a brutal environment there, particularly that which is on our TV screens - that there is farmers farming, there are small businesses growing, there's a currency that's relatively stable, there's an entrepreneurial class, there's commerce. General Abizaid was describing to me what it was like to go to Baghdad markets.

I'm glad to hear that there is farmers farming in Iraq.  Bush apparently believes in Rummy's magic, where with the right incantations you can just eliminate the concept of civil war from human history.  Once again, see Is There a "Civil War" in Iraq? by Anthony Cordesman 10/16/06.

But if things are this great, why are we drawing down the American troops instead of sending more there?

The security of this country - and look, I understand here in Washington, some people say we're not at war. I know that. They're just wrong in my opinion.

What the [Cheney]?  Who exactly says we're not at war?

At least he ended up on a humorous note:

If any person in any party fails to live up to high standards, they ought to be held to account, Richard. It's important for there to be trust in the halls of Congress and in the White House, and throughout government. People got to trust elected leaders in order for democracy to work to its fullest extent. And I fully expect people to be held to account if there's wrongdoing, just like I expect corporate executives to be held to account for wrongdoing; just like I expect people throughout our society to be held to account for wrongdoing.

People do have to take responsibility for the decisions they make in life. I take responsibility for the decisions I make. I also understand that those of us in positions of responsibility have the duty to bring honor to the offices we hold. People don't have to agree with somebody's opinion, there's all kinds of opinions here. But in order to make this country work, and to make democracy succeed, there's got to be high standards, and people must be held to account to achieve those standards.

I ask again, does this man have any capacity for self-reflection?

Iraq War: Overrun at Credibility Gap

"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 current US commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., said of Iraq on Wednesday:

This is not a country that is awash in sectarian violence.  The situation's hard, but it's not a country that's awash in sectarian violence.

Larry Johnson comments on this in The Shame of General Casey No Quarter blog 10/24/06.

This kind of rah-rah bull**** from a ground commander is criminal.  Unfortunately, he is gladly carrying water for a Commander-in-Chief who insists we must stay the course but denies saying that we must stay the course.  I guess Casey believes he must behave like President Bush and endorse deception, delusion, and lies.  But in making this Faustian bargain, Casey seems oblivious to the price being paid in blood by our men and women serving in Iraq.  This may explain in part why some U.S. soldiers and Marines are petitioning their members of Congress to end the war in Iraq.

Again, for a reality check, see  Is There a "Civil War" in Iraq? by Anthony Cordesman 10/16/06.

I actually have somewhat mixed feelings about situations like this.  The idea of encouraging generals to overtly disagree with the  position of the civilian government on a key foreign policy matter is not something that I'm thrilled about.

But telling whoppers like this isn't good, either.  It certainly has the practical effect of diminishing the credibility of the generals and others who act as spokespeople for the military.  They'll whine about it.  But this is something that, to a large degree, our infallible generals have brought onto themselves.  The lies by civilian officials contributed to it, at least in creating an atmosphere of deception on their side and justified distrust on the public's side.  But when the generals go out and talk trash like this, it can't help but undercut their credibility.  And they really can't blame the civilians authorities for that part of it.

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More on those hippie protesters

Pat Lang's post that I commented on in my previous entry here was somewhat surprising to me, in that he still seems to accept old Nixonian propaganda stereotypes about the anti-Vietnam War movement.  Even though he as a longtime critic of the Cheney-Bush administration and the Iraq War is now one of the targets of just those same kinds of slams.

In particular, this comment of Lang's is worth revisiting:

Some people fought the war and others supported the enemy. ...  It was a terrible thing.  Some Americans marched inthe streets behind the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese flags chanting "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.  The NLF are going to win" while other Americans were dying or being maimed under the US flag.

Now, it's true that some critics of the Vietnam War expressed some degree of sympathy for the Other Side.  Even that some demonstrators carried Viet Cong flags in antiwar marches.

But it's very safe to say that if the tensions between the military and civilians which Lang writes about had been limited to those civilians who carried Viet Cong flags or who specifically sympathized with the Vietnamese Communists, then that period would surely have seen the most harmonious civilian-military relations in all of American history.

Now, it's true that the 1960s was a time when radical-left ideologies enjoyed greater acceptance than previously, or than now.  But let's be real.  Actual left parties, whether the Communist Party or the Peace and Freedom Party or others, barely registered in the votes.  George Wallace's rightwing American Independent Party found far more voters and fans.

It was a time when nice respectable white folks were freaked out over integration in the South and urban riots in the North.  After Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, there were riots in so many cities that you didn't have to be a pants-wetting conservative to call it a spontaneous urban uprising all across the country.  But it was a matter of people venting rage and frustration, oftem in ways that were destructive to their own communities.  It wasn't something organized by the Communist Party or the Black Panthers or the Students for a Democratic Society.

Add to that dope-smoking, tie-dyed clothes, Indian gurus, psychedelic art, LSD, and the Summer of Love (and "free love") in San Francisco in 1967, and you've got a cultural trauma that is apparently as alive for today's "cultural warriors" as it was back then.  And gay marriage wasn't even an issue then!  Actually, it would be tough to decide what was more traumatic for the 1969 version of the culture warriors:  the birth-control pill, civil rights for black people, antiwar protesters or boys with long hair.

Spiro Agnew, the Rush Limbaugh of 1969 (that's Joe McCarthy's face in the puzzle)

Then you have the Republicans and Nixon's "Southern Strategy", aimed at getting conservative Southern whites to desert the Democrats and Wallace to come to the Republican Party.  But trying to do it wihout driving moderate voters away.  Running campaign commercials about how that there black man is after pure white women would have been considered over the line by the Republicans back then.  Obviously, times change.  Also see the response.

But let's not be too nice to the Nixon crowd.  They weren 't a very nice bunch.  And they may have been doing a balancing act on race.  But going after hippie protesters - or the bogeyman image they wanted Southern whites in particular to have in their heads of protesters - was right up their alley.

It's also important to remember that in 1969, as I mentioned in my previous post, the Nixon-Agnew administration was freaked out over the very prominent veterans antiwar groups, and particularly over the photogenic John Kerry.  Agnew came up with stuff like the following as red meat for their targeted "angry white man" voting segment.  As Jerry Lembcke describes in The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam (1998):

In the speeches Spiro Agnew gave after [the successful, veteran-led antiwar demonstrations of] October 15 [1969], anti-war movement for siding with an enemy aggressor (October 19), for applauding our enemies, condemning our leaders, and repudiating the four hundred thousand American war dead in this century (October 20), for manufacturing homegrown totalitarianism (October 30), for marching under the flags and portraits of dictators (November 20), and for revering totalitarian heroes (December 3).  Although such accusations might be dismissed as vice presidential cant for awhile, Agnew's rancor was bound to have an effect if he continued speaking out long enough.  And continue he did.  On February 21,1970, he called anti-war activists "the best publicized clowns in our society" and their statements "seditious drivel." He called on leading anti-war organizations, such as Students for Democratic Society, to "transfer their allegiance from Mao Tse-tung and Castro and the Viet Cong to the United States of America."  On August 17, 1970, he warned that if a congressional proposal to cut off funding for the war, the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment, passed, it would be known as "the amendment that lost the war in Vietnam."

The old Agnew propaganda images are still alive and kicking for today's cultural warriors of the Christian Right.  And even for some people who should know better from seeing the same thing, in even more virulent form, from the Cheney-Bush administration and its loyal followers.

Pat Lang wondered in that post:

What flag will the demonstrators march behind this time?

The American flag, I would think.  Most of us war critics, anyway.

But if you wanted to create a 2006 parallel to Agnew's 1969 "flags and portraits of dictators", you could point to the fact that neo-Confederates like those at are opposed to the Iraq War.  And you could characterize the anti-Iraq War sentiment this way:

"The anti-war movement is a bunch of dirty hippies and gays and lesbians and feminists who support the Islamic fundamentalist enemy.  They condemn our leaders and repudiate the four hundred thousand American war dead in this last century.  They're manufacturing homegrown Islamofascototalitarianism, these sexual libertines.  They march under the Confederate flag, the flag of treason, and they honor men  like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, the most notorious traitors in our history.  They revere white-supremacist heroes.  These people like Pat Lang and Richard Clarke and Jack Murtha are the best publicized clowns in our society.  And what they have to say is seditious drivel.  They should transfer their allegiance from Jefferson Davis and Osama bin Laden and that Ahmadinejad fellow to the United States of America.  And if Congress were to prohibit tortures like mock executions by partial drowning, that would be known as the amendment that lost the war in Iraq and the Great Crusade against the Islamunists."

It wouldn't be entirely wrong.  Neo-Confederate groups do tend to oppose the Iraq War.  But since a large majority of the American people oppose the war and the Cheney-Bush administration's handling of it, does a rant like that make jack for sense as a description of war opponents in 2006?

Actually, Republican war fans wouldn't actually condemn people for neo-Confederate and white supremacist sympathies.  They would offend too large a proportion of the core Republican base if they did that!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Those wild and crazy hippie protesters

Pat Lang posted on Sunday about his perception of one cultural effect of the Vietnam War (Back to the "Follies" 10/22/06):

The Vietnam period was a really bad thing for the United States.  In that time the country split left, right and center.  Some people fought the war and others supported the enemy.  There were even some who were actually pacifists.  We don't have that split yet and people on all sides should draw back from re-enacting it.  It was a terrible thing.  Some Americans marched inthe streets behind the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese flags chanting "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.  The NLF are going to win" while other Americans were dying or being maimed under the US flag.

Those of us who remained in the armed forces after the war remember just how bitter was the feeling on both sides, and it is with mixed feelings that Vietnam veterans see the appropriate and good way in which soldiers are treated today.  The mythology of Vietnam lingers on today with many people in the population still believing that veterans of that war are ruined, drug soaked losers guilty of crimes they won't admit, and unable to adjust to normal life.  In fact, the opposite is true, but that does not stop people from thinking otherwise. 

After Vietnam it took many years of "hard work" (quoting the pres.) to overcome the psychological gap between those who serve the Republic and those who are served.  Iraq is dragging us back to that hateful period in American history. You only had to see that demonstration in Washington last week to know that the danger of deep division is upon us.  What flag will the demonstrators march behind this time?

At least he doesn't use the "hippie girl spitting at soldiers" line that's so popular among Republicans.

But I question the extent to which feelings of antagonism were "bitter ... on both sides".

It's somewhat ironic what he writes about the Vietnam War days, because his post is really focused on today's version of what made the public rightly suspicious of the military's credibility during the Vietnam War: senior officials and military spokespeople going out in public and saying things about the Iraq War that are clearly bogus.  People just stopped believing them after a while.

Civilian life and military life are obviously different spheres, so some feeling of tension between the two is always inevitable.  But what Lang describes above is obviously a whole different level of perceived conflict.

I would argue that the tension came more from the military side, specifically from the officer corps who felt extremely defensive about the loss of the war in Vietnam and the change in general public attitude toward the military's public claims from awe to skepticism and even cynicism.

The image of the antiwar hippies who hated the military is largely a propaganda construct deliberately promoted by the Nixon administration, particularly reflected in Spiro Agnew's public tirades before he had to resign in disgrace over taking bribes when he was Governor of Maryland.  Lang would probably call it an "information operation".

Pat Buchanan, one of Agnew's speechwriters, gives an example of the Vice President's approach to encouraging what Nixon called "the silent majority" (i.e., "respectable" white people) to viewing antiwar protesters - really, young people in general - as antiwar hippie commies in league with the threatening Negroes (Spiro Agnew: Prophet Without Honor Internet Brigade 05/29/1998):

On April 13, 1970, in Des Moines, Iowa, Vice President Spiro Agnew deplored "a trend that may drastically depreciate those national assets," U.S. colleges and universities. "(T)here are two methods by which unqualified students are being swept into college on the wave of the new socialism. One is called a quota system, and the other an open-admissions policy. Each is implemented by lessening admissions requirements. They may be equally bad."

This is another quote along those lines:

Yippies, Hippies, Yahoos, Black Panthers, lions and tigers alike - I would swap the whole damn zoo for the kind of young Americans I saw in Vietnam.

This was long before the Yahoo! that we know today.  I'm not sure who he meant by that one.  But the point is clear.  He's lumping all the images that looked scary to a lot of conventional-minded white people - radical blacks, protesters, long-haired dope-smokers - and comparing them to animals and contrasting them to the soldiers in Vietnam.  It was still unusual in those days for a Vice President to talk like Rush Limbaugh.  Times have changed.

Despite thiscontrast between the respectable "boys" in Vietnam and the collection of dirty hippies and bad Negroes that Agnew liked to draw as red meat for the "angry white man" voters, a big part of the conception of military officers that the "counter-culture" was hostile to them may well have been from various forms of social nonconformity and dysfunction that they encountered in the military itself.

A famous article, The Collapse of the Armed Forces by Marine Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr. Armed Forces 06/07/1971, gave a detailed accounting of such problems.  (It's worth keeping in mind that there was and is inter-service rivalry between the Marines and the Army which may color his presentation of problems largely experienced by the Army.

It is a truism that national armies closely reflect societies from which they have been raised. It would be strange indeed if the Armed Forces did not today mirror the agonizing divisions and social traumas of American society, and of course they do.

For this very reason, our Armed Forces outside Vietnam not only reflect these conditions but disclose the depths of their troubles in an awful litany of sedition, disaffection, desertion, race, drugs, breakdowns of authority, abandonment of discipline, and, as a cumulative result, the lowest state of military morale in the history of the country.

Sedition – coupled with disaffection within the ranks, and externally fomented with an audacity and intensity previously inconceivable – infests the Armed Services:

At best count, there appear to be some 144 underground newspapers published on or aimed at U.S. military bases in this country and overseas. Since 1970 the number of such sheets has increased 40% (up from 103 last fall). These journals are not mere gripe-sheets that poke soldier fun in the "Beetle Bailey" tradition, at the brass and the sergeants. "In Vietnam," writes the Ft Lewis-McChord Free Press, "the Lifers, the Brass, are the true Enemy, not the enemy." Another West Coast sheet advises readers: "Don’t desert. Go to Vietnam and kill your commanding officer."

At least 14 GI dissent organizations (including two made up exclusively of officers) now operate more or less openly. Ancillary to these are at least six antiwar veterans’ groups which strive to influence GIs.

Whatever Heinl's intent was in the article, it provides some important contemporary evidence of the kinds of issues that were going on in the services that gives us some insight into the "culture war" memories of officers from that period.  Notice that what he describes as "sedition" in the section just quoted is mostly focused on antiwar sentiment among soldiers and the interactions between service people (then as now mostly men) and civilian antiwar activists.

In fact, the anti-Vietnam War movement included veterans from the early days, and the participation and leadership of veterans in that movement became more prominent as the years went on.  Conservatives still hold it very much against John Kerry that he was an antiwar activist and leader.

But were Kerry and other war opponents, both veterans and non-veterans, hostile to soldiers?  Did they fail to "honor the troops", as the current phrase has it?  I think it's safe to say that those antiwar coffeehouses that Col. Heinl wrote about were not inviting servicemen in to spit on them or insult them.

Back during the 2004 campaign, Joe Conason provided us with a retrospective on how threatening the veterans' antiwar movement appeared to the Nixon-Agnew administration in Salon 04/23/04.

Houston attorney John E. O'Neill, the Navy veteran who has emerged recently as a harsh and ubiquitous critic of John Kerry's military service, tells reporters that he has never really been interested in politics and isn't motivated by partisan interests. In the media, O'Neill is often described simply as a Vietnam vet still enraged by the antiwar speeches Kerry delivered more than 30 years ago. That was when O'Neill first came to public attention as a clean-cut, pro-war protégé of the Nixon White House's highest-ranking dirty trickster (aside from the late president himself), Charles Colson.

Colson, who went to prison for Watergate crimes, saw O'Neill as a perfect foil to Kerry, whom Nixon and his aides feared as a decorated, articulate and reasonable opponent of the war and their regime. Indeed, O'Neill was perfect -- a crewcut officer who had served on the same Navy swift boat that Kerry had commanded, although their stints in the Mekong Delta didn't overlap. In June 1971, Colson brought O'Neill up to Washington for an Oval Office audience with Nixon. His impressions live on in a memo filed later:

"O'Neill went out charging like a tiger, has agreed that he will appear anytime, anywhere that we program him and was last seen walking up West Executive Avenue mumbling to himself that he had just been with the most magnificent man he had ever met in his life."

Now O'Neill has emerged from those decades of silence, roaring denunciations of the man who will become the Democratic nominee for president this summer. "I saw some war heroes," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday. "John Kerry is not a war hero."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rummy resorts to magic

The Witch of En-Dor (I Samuel 28)

Eric Rosenberg of Hearst Newspapers wrote the kind of article that now seems like a throwback to an earlier, bolder era of American journalism.  He points out that the current Party line that Rummy has declared for the Pentagon about civil war in Iraq is absolute bull-pucky.  It's called  Changing the standards of 'civil war' : Russian revolution, Bosnia and Lebanon conflicts wouldn't fit new definition San Francisco Chronicle 10/22/06.

The Cheney-Bush team have become so "postmodern" that they think they can solve problems in the real world by just redefining words:

By the standards put forward by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, numerous conflicts - including the U.S. Civil War, the civil war in Russia that followed the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, and Lebanon's civil war - don't qualify. ...

Also by Rumsfeld's and Casey's logic, the U.S. Civil War is disqualified because the institutions of government functioned throughout the four-year conflict. Indeed, they worked well enough that the Union was able to conduct a presidential election during the war's height. And in large portions of the country, especially in those areas where few battles were fought, schools remained open and many people went about their daily lives without witnessing violence. New England factories produced weapons and war supplies unimpeded.

"If you are talking about conflicts confined to limited geographic areas, that would be the case in the U.S. Civil War and the case of the Russian civil war of 1917-1921," said David Laitin, a political scientist at Stanford University and an expert on civil conflicts. "It would be hard to find a civil war that doesn't have relatively specific arenas of high conflict."

Other conflicts that wouldn't be called civil wars under the Rumsfeld/Casey definition include Lebanon's civil war of 1975-1990 that was concentrated in and around the capital of Beirut, andthe Bosnian civil war of 1992-1995, much of which occurred in and around the capital of Sarajevo.

Gee, and they wonder why they have a credibility problem with the public on Iraq.

For a real-world discussion of what civil war in Iraq is about, see Is There a "Civil War" in Iraq? by Anthony  Cordesman 10/16/06.

One of the philosopher Herbert Marcuse's insights - though not unique to him - is his analysis of the way words can function in politics like ritual magic.  He normally did not write in a "popular" style, so his arguments often aren't easy to summarize in a sentence are two.  But I'll try a brief summary.

He made this argument in his 1958 book Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis, with particular reference to the ritual use of Marxism as a state ideology.  The basic idea is that words in the official doctrine start to function as directives on what people should believe, even though they also know it's not true.  As he put it, an ideology used in this way "is not 'false consciousness,' but rather consciousness of falsehood".

But it's nevertheless a picture of reality that is supposed to be treated as though it described reality.  That's what reminded me of this about Rummy's defining the civil war in Iraq away.  Even the Party faithful know that civil war in Iraq changes the character of the American intervention from what they've claimed it is for the last three years.  But they're supposed to act as though it doesn't matter, because it doesn't really exist.  Even though it does.

Saul visits the ghost of the prophet Samuel in En-Dor

Here's how Marcuse put it, in his signature Hegelian style:

It is senseless to treat the propositions of the official ideology at the cognitive level: they are a matter of practical, not of theoretical reason.  If propositions lose their cognitive value to their capacity of bringing about a desired effect, that is to say, if they are to be understood as directives for aspecific behavior, then magical elements gain ascendancy over comprehending thought and action.  The difference between illusion and reality becomes just as obliterated as that between truth and falsehood if illusions guide a behavior that shapes and changes reality.  With respect to its actual effect on primitive socieites, magic has been described [by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski] as a "body of purely practical acts, performed as means to an end."  This description may well be applied to formally theoretical propositions.  The official language itself assumes magical character.

Unfortunately, Rummy and his generals in their actions in Iraq have turned out to be less master wizards than sorcerer's apprentices, unleashing forces that they cannot control.

"The Queen" movie, or, how subservient is Tony Blair?


I just saw the movie "The Queen".  I thought it was entertaining, not least because it shows what a weenie Tony Blair is.

The story of the movie is the interaction between Queen Elizabeth and Tony Blair over the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997.  We see Blair, the middle-class regular guy, start out skeptical about the royal family's pretensions and their tone-deafness to public opinion.

By the end, Tony Blair has become the Queen's faithful puppy.  The final scene even shows Blair and the Queen stolling with three or four of her canine dogs.  The dramatic climax comes when a normally calm Tony Blair goes  ballistic when his former top political adviser, Alistair Campbell, refers to the Queen as "the old bat".

The story is a bit slow.  And the portrayals of the stiff royals contrasting to the in-touch-with-the-common-people Tony Blair are overdrawn to the point of melodrama.  But it's often entertaining, and I found plenty of laugh lines.

There's even a sly reference to the fact that the Windsors are actually part of the German House of Saxony-Anhalt.  Prince Philip asks in a moment of sneering at the unwashed masses who are making demands on the royal house, what's next, will they be asked to change their names to "Hilde and Hector"?  Critics of the existence of the monarchy have bee known to demonstrate with slogans like, "Out with the Germans!"

Prince Charles comes off as relatiely sympathetic.  I think it's intended for Blair to come off as particularly impressive.  But the actor who portrays him got his actual attitude down so well, completely with the dorky smile plastered on his face, that it looks obvious why Blair would eventually wind up snivelling at George Bush's feet.  God save the Queen, God save the Emperor!

The thing I kept thinking as Blair kissed up to the Queen more and more was, this guy is theoretically the leader of Britain's socialist party.  And he's totally focused on saving the royal house from their own shortcomings.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Iraq War: A lost war becoming a Lost Cause?

"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.

Framing the Iraq War into a Lost Cause would certainly give white Southerners of a traditional mindset the basis to form a narrative about why the Americans lost the Iraq War.  But recent poll results show that Southerners are pretty much as opposed to the Iraq War as everyone else.  (See Southern and National Opinion on Iraq from the Institute of Southern Studies and the discussions at New Report: Poll finds opposition to war growing in the South by Chris Kromm, Facing South blog 10/12/06.)

Here are another couple of posts that are sounding the alarm that the option to "cut and run" in the Iraq War may be rapidly shrinking to "run - if you can".

Are things really this bad off?  Unfortunately, they could well be.

Steve Gilliard weighs in with a well-thought-out post on the currrent state of affairs in Iraq in Bush and Tet 10/20/06, reminding us that if (when) the Shi'a militias turn on the American forces, the US position becomes far less tenable:

What we need to realize is that as long as the Shia only tippy toe into challenging the US, leaving is still an option without massive bloodshed. ...

What has to be understood about Iraq is that there is a disaster on the cusp. [Al Qaida] guerrillas march in the streets of Anbar's towns and the neigborhood clearance plan for Baghdad is an utter failure because they lack the men to enforce it.

He also explains how "Tet", the Tet Offensive of 1968, functions in American ideology, which is why Bush's comparison of the current situation in Iraq to Tet Offensive could mean a number of different things:

Military historians regard Tet as the greatest US victory of the Vietnam War. It broke the back of the VC and forced the NVA on the defensive for four years. What the Tet offensive did was basically destroy the PAVN/VC [the Communist forces] at the cost of the cohesion of the US Army. ...

But in American politics, Tet is a Rohrschact test. To historians, it's a military victory, buta political defeat, to conservatives, it's when the media stabbed the US Army in the back. To liberals, it's when the American public turned against the war. So of course, the White House doesn't mind it as an example, because it means many things to many people. (my emphasis)

He describes how the current position of the US in Iraq is notably different - and worse off - than during most of the Vietnam War:

What I would say is that Bush is wrong in comparing the 4th Ramadan offensive to any event in Vietnam. Because the ARVN [South Vietnamese Army] was a professional army, not an armed militia. There was real support for the existing government in Saigon, corrupt as it was. US military lived off-post and dated, even married the local women. The People's Army of North Vietnam, or what non-historians call the NVA, was a highly professional, trained Army led by a cadre of battle hardened veterans throughout the ranks.

Iraq is nothing like this. It is vastly more dangerous, despite the lack of conventional combat.  When Jim Webb and some of the readers here went into the Central Highlands, they were facing soldiers in another army, with uniforms, ranks and organization.  But when US troops face Iraqis, there is no such cohesion, despite their lavish armaments. I would suggest that they are the best armed guerrillas in modern history.  Every Iraqi with a modern weapon and enough ammunition.  Which is amazing.  A country with a high degree ofmilitary training.  Only [the past insurgencies in] Algeria and Kenya come close to having this level of ex-soldiers engaged in combat.

And he makes a valuable observation about today's antiwar movement:

People have mistaken the opposition to the Iraq war. The anti-war movement has blocked the enlistment of thousands of kids, quietly, effectively, helped thousands of UA members escape or stay underground, has mobilized veterans against the war. While this isn't the generation defining movement of the 1960's, it's also vastly more effective.

But because it's one on one, there is no massive repression or sterotyping of the movement. Cindy Sheehan is hardly Abbie Hoffman. The attacks by the right have largely been ineffective.

And unlike the Vietnam War, 50 veterans are running for office as Democrats, something unimaginable two years ago.
Lots of people, including many war opponents, seem to have the idea that if they don't see something resembling the Republicans' wildly-distorted memories of masses of rowdy hippies marching in the streets every weekend, then there must not be a real antiwar movement.  That's not a realistic understanding of what antiwar sentiment is and how it's expressing itself.  I think Gilliard sometimes gives short shrift to the anti-Vietnam War movement, but his point about today's antiwar movement is a good one, and one too often missed.

Stirling Newberry in The Facts of War: Signs of an Impending Meltdown in Iraq TPMCafe 10/20/06 also warns that American options are shrinking fast.  Noting the news report that followers of Muqtada al-Sadr (the Mahdi Army militia) have seized control of the city of Amarrah, he writes:

In the last few days the destabilization point has been reached - the attempt to hold the Battle of Baghdad has been lost.  As importantly it was lost to an operational offensive by the insurgency, amidst mounting coalition casualties.

These developments put even the ability to engage in a withdrawal from Iraq in danger - since Amarah would be key to any withdrawal by sea, and Baghdad a key to any withdrawal by air from the center of the country. The only exit left would be to head north by land and exit through Kurdistan and Turkey.

(Some of the reports this weekend suggest that the Mahdi Army is not directly in control of Amarah, though the nominal government in Baghdad isn't, either.)

Much of Newberry's post is devoted to general comments on counterinsurgency strategy.  On the specifics of the Iraq situation, he writes:

The attacks on Baghdad, and the fall of Amarah - which figured in some of the few sharp tactical resistence moments of the invasion - show that the insurgency is executing shatter attacks. The hold of the territorial power is crumbling, and it is time to decide how to dipose of the remains of involvement. It is likely that the "elected" government will have to come to some terms with the insurgent elements, or, itself, fall. The United States and Britain must now begin planning for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, before the word "meltdown" - because that is what is in danger of happening - begins to make the rounds. Once more - the situation in Iraq is on the verge of being untenable for US forces.

We are now at the point where even withdrawal is imperiled by the monumental blunders of George Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and their, even the word henchmen would imply a greater degree of competence than is possessed.   (my emphasis)

Ivo Daalder on After Iraq, What? TPMCafe 10/18/06:

Bad things may happen when we withdraw; but bad things are happening while we're there.

Leslie Gelb in Would Defeat in Iraq Be So Bad? Time; column dated  10/15/06

Although the last thing Americans want is a defeat in Iraq, events may be sliding in that direction and we need to shrink the fallout. The nightmare scenario could begin now, or in the next two years as troops are withdrawn, or thereafter, abruptly or slowly. To speak of defeat is not to advocate it but to prepare to minimize it.

To speak of it is not to advocate it? It's bizarre that Gelb even sees the need to make such a qualification.

But part of his idea is to rely on the Baathists to fight Al Qaida:

We have allies at the ready (the Kurds, the Saudis, the Turks, the Jordanians, etc.) who fear the jihadis as much as we do and potential allies (the Baathists and the Sunni tribal leaders) who want to rule their own piece of Iraq and also fear and despise the jihadis. As we gradually withdraw, we and others could provide Baathists the wherewithal to crushthe terrorists. Without a large U.S. military presence, they probably would do a better job of it.

That last part has an ominous sound to it.

Bruce Jentleson looks at Iraq, Vietnam and the Credibility Trap TPMCafe 10/20/06 and the Cheney-Bush emphasis on "credibility" as some kind of vague testosterone contest:

This conception of credibility, though, is a trap. It was a trap in Vietnam. And it’s a trap in Iraq. It’s a trap because it defines credibility in terms of resolve, but not in terms of judgment. ...

[The Iraq War] is NOT just a matter of will and resolve. The American public’s unwillingness to stay the Bush course is not a lack of stomach but rather a questioning of the soundness of the strategy they are being asked to support, to pay for, to suffer for. There’ve already been good analyses done about how in going into Iraq we may well have done exactly what Al Qaeda hoped we would. And in then defining it as about resolve we’ve increased their options and reduced our own.

Brad DeLong lays out a more realistic best-case scenario for getting the US out of Iraq:

Our four possible options in Iraq that might succeed are (a) draft and train 500,000 Arabic-speaking military police, (b) pay somebody else's price for them to commit 500,000 Arabic-speaking military policy, (c) strike a deal with Iran and Syria, (d) pull out and leave it to the Iraqis.

His post references Glenn Greenwald's takedown of phony "moderate" John McCain's ludicrous posturing on the Iraq War, John McCain unveils his Grand Plan for Victory in Iraq 10/20/06.

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

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Blumenthal on Bush

Sidney Blumenthal's weekly columns have been a consistent source of insight to the shortcomings of the Cheney-Bush administration.  A journalist and former Clinton White House staffer, he brings a career of relevant experience to the task.  A collection of his essays has just been published as How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime.

In one recent article, he writes about Bush's Radical Consistency TPM Cafe 09/14/06:

Perhaps another way to approach that question is to examine how Bush’s temperament fuels his radical policies. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., famously remarked about Franklin D. Roosevelt that he had a “second rate intellect but a first rate temperament.”

Bush has a radical temperament that is apparent in his willful refusal to assess objective evidence that might upset his ideological preconceptions and harsh rejection of pragmatic adjustments. He has an extraordinarily self-defensive resistance to acknowledge error or responsibility. His inability to accept the notion of accountability, indeed, his denial of it, is profoundly rooted and runs through his policies, permeating to the core of his presidency.

... His stubbornness, lack of curiosity, shallow reservoir of knowledge, Manichean division of the world, and contempt for “nuance” are parts of a personality that key members of his administration play upon to get their ways. They carefully restrict the flow of information to him and flatter him as a  great historical figure misunderstood by the mere mortals of his age. ... The will to absolute power almost always has a radical style. Bush’s example is unique, but it also fits the historical pattern.

When questioned about any failures, he retreats into fantasy. “I’m often asked what’s the difference between Iran and Iraq,” he said.  “We tried all diplomatic means in Iraq.”  But, of course, he forced out the United Nations weapons inspectors before they completed their mission of searching for Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.  Bush had announced his intention to topple Saddam long before the inspectors even began their arduous task.  He was too impatient to get on with shock and awe to let them find outwhether theWMDs were actually there.  Now he insists he did allow them to do so. Is this an example of his principles or his cynicism?  (my emphasis)

In a long Salon article, he provides a good overview of the Cheney-Bush Presidency:  How bad is he? 09/12/06.

The whole thing is worth reading.  One observation I found especially interesting was the notion that Bush's prior career, even through the 2000 campaign, provided no clear hint of how extreme his approach to governing would be.  The first real clue was the notorious Florida vote-counting battle.  And even then most of us didn't realize what it indicated about the approach of the Cheney-Bush team:

Few political commentators at the time thought that the ruthless tactics used by the Bush camp in the Florida contest presaged his presidency.  The battle there was seen as unique, a self-contained episode of high political drama that could and would not be replicated.  Tactics such as setting loose a mob comprised mostly of Republican staff members from the House and Senate flown down from Washington to intimidate physically the Miami-Dade County Board of Supervisors from counting the votes there, and manipulating the Florida state government through the office of the governor, Jeb Bush, the candidate's brother, to forestall vote counting were justified as simply hardball politics.

The Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, by a five to four margin, perversely sanctioned not counting thousands of votes (mostly African-American) as somehow upholding the equal protection clause of the 15th Amendment (enacted after the Civil War to guarantee the rights of newly enfranchised slaves, the ancestors of those disenfranchised by Bush v. Gore).  In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that counting votes would cast a shadow on the "legitimacy" of Bush's claim to the presidency.  The Court concluded that the ruling was to have applicability only this one time. By its very nature, it was declared to be unprecedented. Never before had the Supreme Court decided who would be president, much less according to tortuous argument, and by a one vote margin that underlined and extended political polarization.

The constitutional system had ruptured, but it was widely believed by the political class in Washington, including most of the press corps, that Bush,who had benefited, would rush to repair the breach.  The brutality enabling him to become president, while losing the popular majority, and following a decade of partisan polarization, must spur him to make good on his campaign rhetoric of moderation, seek common ground and enact centrist policies.  Old family retainers, James Baker (the former Secretary of State who had been summoned to command the legal and political teams in Florida) and Brent Scowcroft (elder Bush's former national security adviser), were especially unprepared for what was to come, and they came to oppose Bush's radicalism, mounting a sub rosa opposition.  In its brazen, cold-blooded and single-minded partisanship, the Florida contest turned out in retrospect to be an augury not an aberration.  It was Bush's first opening, and having charged through it, grabbing the presidency, he continued widening the breach.  (my emphasis)

Iraq War: Leave and let leave

"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.

We're starting to hear more warnings that an end to the US involvement in the Iraq War may be coming, chosen or not.  Gareth Porter writes in Leave Or Be Forced Out by Gareth Porter 10/17/06:

It is not that the civil war won't get worse in Iraq; it now seems very likely that it will. But the United States is not militarily capable of preventing the worse war yet to come, and trying to do so would only start a new war between the United States and the Shiites who want the U.S. to leave. Since we cannot prevent sectarian violence, the only question is whether we leave before the inevitable confrontation with Shiites—a battle U.S. troops would certainly lose.

... With the buildup of the Shiite sectarian militias - and particularly the Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr - the U.S. occupation force no longer represents the predominant military power in Iraq. A study issued in August by Chatham House, the influential British strategic think tank, said the Mahdi army, which was believed to have fewer than 10,000 men under arms when the United States tried to destroy it August 2004, may now be “several hundred thousand strong.” In addition, the Badr Organization, which is affiliated with the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen.

Sadr is confident that, once the Shiite government has gotten everything it can out of the United States to strengthen Shiite forces, they can defeat the Sunnis by military force.

Andrew Bacevich in On the Offense American Conservative 12/23/06 issue (accessed 10/18/06) writes:

Step by bloody step the Iraq War moves toward its denouement.  Having set this tragedy in motion, the United States today finds itself consigned to the role of bystander, the world’s only superpower having long since lost control of events. As things unravel, the president—the most powerful man in the world - is demonstrably powerless to affect the outcome. Meanwhile, American soldiers fight on, even as it becomes increasingly apparent that the Army only recently thought all but invincible will not win this war.

For the Bush White House, September 2006 will be remembered as the month when the roof caved in.  Bad news came in successive waves: the Marine intelligence report declaring Iraq’s critical Anbar Province all but lost; the failure of an all-out effort to win “the Battle of Baghdad”; the warnings from senior military officers that the Army, its readiness in free-fall, is nearing the end of its rope; opinion polls showing that a large majority of Iraqis simply want the Americans out of their country; above all, the leak of the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) declaring, “the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terror leaders and operatives.”  In response to all of this, the administration has had little to offer other than to repeat President Bush’s conviction that “the only way to protect this country is to stay on the offense.” (my emphasis)

In Iraqi Endgame Approaching, Bush Ready or Not Inter Press Service 10/17/06, Jim Lobe writes:

If Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki were inclined to bet his life on President George W. Bush's latest assurances that there will be no timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, he should probably give it a second thought.

While Bush, true to his self-image as an uncommonly firm leader in the mold of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, is undoubtedly sincere in his determination to press ahead, political circumstances -- not to mention the accelerating slide into an appalling civil war in Iraq -- are clearly conspiring against him.

Plus, longtime war boosters are now scrambling to find excuses and alibis.  The obtuse Jonah Goldbert writes in Iraq Was a Worthy Mistake Los Angeles Times 10/19/06, "The Iraq war was a mistake," and acts like he's bravely speaking truth to power.  When actually he's ducking for cover.

Then he says liberals are traitors:

In the dumbed-down debate we're having, there are only two sides:  Pro-war and antiwar.  This is silly.  First, very few folks who favored the Iraq invasion are abstractly pro-war. Second, the antiwar types aren't really pacifists.  They favor military intervention when it comes to stopping genocide in Darfur or starvation in Somalia or doing whatever that was President Clinton did in Haiti. In other words, their objection isn't to war per se.  It's to wars that advance U.S. interests (or, allegedly, President Bush's or Israel's or ExxonMobil's interests).  I must confess that one of the things that made me reluctant to conclude that the Iraq war was a mistake was my general distaste for the shabbiness of the arguments on the antiwar side.

I know it's generally pointless to treat sleazy drivel like this as though it involved serious ideas.  But I can't help but wonder why Goldberg would sneer at his imaginary oppenents who oppose wars that are in "ExxonMobil's interests".  Does he seriously think it would be wrong to oppose a war fought only for the business interests of ExxonMobil?

Goldberg's argument isn't too coherent.  (Not that his ever are that persuasive.)  Republican warmongers are mostlyin the stage of throwing arguments up against the wall to see what sticks.  For instance, this is about the oddest play on the "stab in the back" imagery that I've ever seen:

According to the goofy parameters of the current debate, I'm now supposed to call for withdrawing from Iraq. If it was a mistake to go in, we should get out, some argue. But this is unpersuasive. A doctor will warn that if you see a man stabbed in the chest, you shouldn't rush to pull the knife out. We are in Iraq for good reasons and for reasons that were well-intentioned but wrong. But we are there.

The war was a mistake that compares to stabbing someone in the chest that we were supposedly helping.  But now the war is a good idea.  Except people who had the good sense to oppose the war to begin with or who call for withdrawal now are traitors.  Or something like that.  And he ends up saying that if we keep fighting (for how many years or with what soldiers he doesn't say), "the war won't be remembered as a mistake"

So, I guess the short version of his column would be:  The Iraq War was a mistake.  But not really.  And liberals are traitors.

Yes, on its merits it's a worthless argument.  But out of mush like this will eventually come one or two narratives that will be broadly accepted by Republicans about why the loss in the Iraq War was all the fault of the Democrats.  So we might as well keep an eye on the sloppy process by which Republicans whose ideas about war are bonkers come up with their excuses.

Goldberg's fellow neocon Max Boot, also writing in the Los Angeles Times, has his own take in Bring Iraqi Forces Up to Speed 10/18/06. 

Cheerfully ignoring the fact that the official Iraqi armed forces are, to a significant extent, Shi'a militias with army uniforms, he boldly criticizes the Bush administration for not putting enough effort into training them.  (Later he can say he "criticized the war" while it was still going on.)  He wants the US to give the Iraqis better quarters, more ammunition and armored vehicles.  And, expecially, assign more than the current 4,000 "advisers" who are training Iraqis. 

He is righteously and indignantly criticizing the Cheney-Bush administrationfor not moving fast enough on training.  That conservative fondness for sounding like they're speaking truth to power again.  But if what he describes is true:

It's not only a matter of money. We have more than 140,000 troops in Iraq, but fewer than 4,000 of them act as advisors. There are barely enough to go around for higher-level Iraqi headquarters; there are no "embeds" available to consistently operate at the company and platoon level, where most of the action occurs. The Iraqi police forces are even more neglected.

That means Bush and the Republicans have been lying their behinds off when they keep telling us how well the training is going and how the Iraqis are "standing up" so our troops can "stand down".

The rest of his column is taken up by criticizing the Army for making training a less career-enhancing assignment for officers that field command and combat experience.  I'm not assuming he's giving a fully reliable account of how that process works.  But how can the Army not make field command and combat experience more important for promotion than training assignments?  Since direct combat is their core mission and their most serious one, how can those not be priorities for promotion?

The last two paragraphs illustrate how spacy and essentially phony his "advice" (alibi) is at this stage of the war:

There is still a need for many more first-rate U.S. advisors to work with Iraqi army and police units down to the platoon level. T. X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel, believes that 20,000 to 30,000 advisors are needed and that we should be sending officers who have successfully led American battalions and brigades. "We're at least an order of magnitude off," Hammes told me. "If our main effort is advisory, why aren't our best people going to become advisors?"

Perhaps because this would force a shake-up in the U.S. armed forces, with officers having to be pulled out of plum staff billets and field assignments. That's a tough change to make, but it may be necessary. A country of 26 million can't be controlled by 140,000 troops. If we're not going to send a lot more soldiers, it might make sense to draw down to about 40,000 to 50,000 troops so that we could free up officers and NCOs for advisor duty. Iraq may be too far down the road to civil war for this step to make any difference, but we need to try something different to salvage a situation spinningout of control.

Uh, what's going to happen when we pull 50,000 troops out of combat assignment right away?  During the interim they are training more Shi'a militias (aka, the Iraqi army), what will happen to the 90,000 troops who are left to do what 140,000 have been unable to do?

This is just an alibi for disappointed warmongers.  They wanted a conventional war with Iraq.  They didn't expect or want a guerrilla war.  And they didn't want a draft.  And they don't want to retreat under fire, as a withdrawal would be in their minds.  So now they're having to make up alibis and excuses for cheering to create what even Max Boot now has to call "a situation spinning out of [American] control".

Bush himself seemed to accept a comparison of theIraq War to the Vietnam War this week:  Bush accepts Iraq, Vietnam comparison by Michael Rowland ABC News.  Rowland reports:

US President George W Bush has conceded there could be similarities between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam war.

Mr Bush has been asked whether he agrees with a newspaper columnist [Tom Friedman] that the recent surge in violence in Iraq is similar to the Tet offensive in early 1968, widely acknowledged as a turning point in the Vietnam war.

"He could be right. There's certainly a stepped up level of violence," Mr Bush said.

But Mr Bush has once again vowed that America will stay the course in Iraq.

But this isn't the awakening that many people make take it to be.  Juan Cole explains in this 10/19/06 post:

Many commentators are saying that he finally admitted that Iraq is a quagmire like Vietnam, but this is a complete misreading of what Bush is saying.

Bush's position is that things are going just great in Iraq, and that a few trouble-makers have managed to hijack the US media with a small number of limited bombings and other sabotage, and have made it look like the US isn't making progress. Bush believes that the media and Americans are falling for a get-up job. So he is is trying to say to the American public that just as the Tet offensive was a military defeat for the Viet Cong but a propaganda defeat for Washington, so the October offensive of the Sunni Arab guerrillas is so much smoke and mirrors, a mere propaganda stunt with no substantive importance for Iraq.

But in fact, the current guerrilla war against US troops and the new Iraqi government isn't at all like the Tet offensive. It is deadly serious. Because the US military is not defeating the guerrillas militarily any more. They have succeeded in provoking an unconventional, hot civil war, which was their "poison pill" strategy for getting the US out. The US has alienated the Sunni Arab population decisively. In summer of 2003, only 14 percent of them supported violent attacks on US troops. In a recent poll, 70 percent supported such attacks. And, the guerrilla movement is well-heeled, well-trained, and adaptive.

I don't fully accept the picture of the Tet Offensive that Cole goes on to describe as "a political show put on to weaken the will of the fickle American public".  The North Vietnamese Army and the NLF ("Viet Cong") in 1968 actually expected more substantial immediate military and political gains from the Tet Offensive than they achieved.  The reason it became a turning point in American public opinion was that it revealed the extent to which both civilian and military officials had been lying in their faces about how well the situation was going in Vietnam.

Cole seems to give too much credence to the preferred Republican stab-in-the-back narrative of the Vietnam War.  Their version of Tet goes something like this:  Our glorious military completely defeated the Godless Communists in the Tet Offensive and Final Victory was at hand.  But those sneaky Vietnamese Commies had shrewdly calculated that a large portion of the American public was composed of civilian wimps, hippies and cowards, so they did the Tet Offensive just to break the Will of the American voting public.

After seeing how many Republicans still believe that there were WMDs in Iraq in 2003, it's not surprising that a version of the Vietnam War that has only a tenuous relation to actual history could win such widespread support among Republicans.

But Cole's characterization of Bush's comment is perceptive.  In RepublicanSpeak, a comparison of the current situation to the Tet Offensive of 1968 (no matter how unrealistic the comparison may be) is a symbol of Victory for America.  And that's what Bush is saying he sees going on here.

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