Sunday, December 31, 2006

Anthony Cordesman on counting US casualties

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has been following the numbers in the Iraq War carefully.  Mark Silva quotes him at his blog The Swamp in Bush: 'Further sacrifices lie ahead' 12/30/06:

"December is already one of the worst months in terms of U.S. killed," Cordesman writes of the approaching milestone of 3,000 dead. “It is important to understand, however, that an even number in thousands does not say anything about the fighting. In fact, a far more serious even number occurred on Dec. 11. Total U.S. killed and wounded reached 25,000 - some three years and nine months after the start of the war.

"This is a key point to remember in both reporting on total casualties and on the patterns in December," he writes. "The continuing media focus on killed, versus total killed and wounded, means that reporting on the intensity and cost of combat is fundamentally wrong. This is particularly true in an era where military medicine and improved force protection had sharply reduced the number of killed relative to the number of wounded.

"Looking at the data as of December 27th, a total of 6,670 US military personnel from all four services had been wounded seriously enough to require air transport, and another 15,387 had been wounded but did not require air transport," he notes. "(This latter figure can be a misleading indication of the seriousness of wounds since seriously wounded cannot always be moved by air.) The total wounded reached 22,057 - seven times the number killed."

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Three articles to prepare for the new year

"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.

         Richard Lionheart vs. Salah al-Din Yusuf (Saladin)

The coming year could turn out to be more decisive than most of us expect.  It's very unlikely to be the "tipping point" on winning the war in whatever sense the Cheney-Bush administration is currently defining it.  Steve Gilliard, ridiculing the recent proclamation of the Cheney-Bush outlook on the Iraq War and expanding it to Iran by Sen. Joe "HoJo" Lieberman, warns, "But in the end, this [2007] is our last year in Iraq."

Here are three articles, all of which I've blogged about before, that give a good background on the castles-in-the-air approach of this administration to policy, both domestic and especially foreign policy:

 Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop by Jay Rosen, PressThink blog 12/18/06

Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush by Ron Suskind New York Times Magazine 10/17/06

"Iraq: War of imagination" ( Part 1 11/24/06 and Part 2 11/25/06) by Mark Danner Salon.  At this writing, the full article is still available (not behind subscription) at the New York Review of Books, Iraq: The War of the Imagination 12/21/06 issue.

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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

More skepticism on Healer-in-Chief Jerry Ford

Here are a few links to less-than-totally-adoring evaluations of Ford the Healer.

Gerald Ford, Unsentimentally by Matthew Rothschild The Progressive Online 12/27/06:

There’s something profoundly undemocratic and vaguely medieval about the almost mandatory salutes that we, the people, are supposed to offer when a former President dies.

Gerald Ford Was Guilty by Cenk Uygur Huffington Post 12/29/06:

Ford sent the signal not just to the whole nation and all future presidents, but also to Dick Cheney, his Chief of Staff, that the President could break the law - and get away with it. This wound up coming back to haunt the country.

Did Ford Trade Nixon Pardon for Presidency? by Victor Navasky, 12/29/06:

Well, I think he - the most important thing he did was he pardoned Richard Nixon. And he, he - and if that was, indeed, the result of a deal, rather than this he’s being credited, and maybe properly so, with trying to heal the nation. But if he - if his attempt to heal the nation was a result of a deal he made while he was vice president of the United States, that’s an important missing piece of history.

Josh Marshall in this post of 12/29/06 points out that in his interviews with Bob Woodward that are just now being reported for the first time, Ford describes his thinking on the pardoning of Nixon in a way that adds more circumstantial evidence to the idea that the pardon was part of an implicit or explicit deal. Ford told Woodward, "I think that Nixon felt I was about the only person he could really trust on the Hill."

Washington Wise Men: Honor Gerald Ford for his "civility" to D.C. insiders, not his handling of end of Vietnam War by Greg Sargent American Prospect Horse's Mouth blog 12/28/06. Now, Sargent seems to buy into the "healer" meme when it comes to Ford and the Vietnam War.

Whereas I fault Ford for blocking clouding postwar evaluations of what happened and what lessons could be learned from it, in the process promoting the stab-in-the-back notion of the loss in that war. Still, Sargent is right to fault the main coverage of the war for downplaying the significance of the fall of Saigon in Jerry Ford's Presidency.

The speech to which the article cited by Sargent refers is an address at Tulane University on 04/23/1975. Ford said in that address:

Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned. As I see it, the time has come to look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the Nation's wounds, and to restore its health and its optimistic self-confidence. ...

I ask that we stop refighting the battles and the recriminations of the past. I ask that we look now at what is right with America, at our possibilities and our potentialities for change and growth and achievement and sharing. I ask that we accept the responsibilities of leadership as a good neighbor to all peoples and the enemy of none. I ask that we strive to become, in the finest American tradition, something more tomorrow than we are today.

Instead of my addressing the image of America, I prefer to consider the reality of America. It is true that we have launched our Bicentennial celebration without having achieved human perfection, but we have attained a very remarkable self-governed society that possesses the flexibility and the dynamism to grow and undertake an entirely new agenda, an agenda for America's third century.

So, I ask you to join me in helping to write that agenda. I am as determined as a President can be to seek national rediscovery of the belief in ourselves that characterized the most creative periods in our Nation's history. The greatest challenge of creativity, as I see it, lies ahead.

This was the tone that Ford struck in the discussion over Vietnam. Shut up about the failures and think about how great and wonderful America is and always has been. (And, oh yeah, we would have won if the Vietcong-loving Congresshadn't refused my last emergency budget request for South Vietnam.) Yes, a very healing approach.

The Ford Library has some transcripts available at their Web site of Cabinet meetings. At the Cabinet meeting of 04/16/1975, Kissinger declared the stab-in-the-back position:

First, he addressed Southeast Asia, Vietnam specifically. The entire North Vietnamese Army is in the South at the present time. The Secretary indicated that he felt one Marine brigade could take all of North Vietnam. There has been a terrible violation of the Paris Peace Accords and it is obvious to the world that this has happened. This is the first time that American domestic reactions, principally in the Congress, have impacted seriously on the action of a foreign government, it is the age old problem of internal domestic argument and competition effecting the conduct of foreign policy.

The United States had encouraged the South Vietnamese to resist and fight for its right of self determination. By not giving continued aid to South Vietnam and with the Russians and Chinese giving consistent aid to North Vietnam, there developed an imbalance whereby the North Vietnamese Army had much greater force. Had the President not been strong in his speech, it would have threatened United States personnel and friendly Vietnamese who were still in Saigon. The President requested both military and economic aid as the way to achieve a controlled situation. It gives the United States time to evacuate Americans and the Vietnamese as well. (my emphasis)

But Kissinger was still able to focus on reality behind his Nixonian ideology:

The President asked for the full 922 million dollars. That figure was selected because of General Weyand's survey. It was a figure which the State Department and members of this Administration felt they could justify and testify about with conviction, because it was taken from a first hand report.

The Secretary mentioned that in questioning before [Congressional] committees today, they seemed not so concerned about the total dollar amounts, but rather the overall strategy, the overall concept of foreign policy in Southeast Asia. The great challenge to the United States is how does the Country manage its exit from this tragic situation. The answer to that will be the world's perception of the United States foreign policy. These events have a profound impact on world leaders. They are very interested in the United States position, not only in South Vietnam, but how it relates to their specific countries all across the globe. (my emphasis)

This statement shows a couple of things about Kissinger at this moment. One is that he realized that the US position in South Vietnam was finished, and all that remained was to "manage its exit from this tragic situation". Another is that Kissinger was very aware that Congress was concerned not about the additional money that the Ford administration was requesting, but rather about "the overall strategy, the overall concept of foreign policy in Southeast Asia." In other words, they were looking seriously at what America's realistic interests in the situation were. Kissinger, on the other hand, is here suggesting apparently seriously that "one Marine brigade could take all of North Vietnam"! That was just plain nuts. But here he is presenting this at a Cabinet meeting while the South Vietnamese government is just days away from what would prove to be its final collapse.

The minutes continue:

There are two areas and questions one must ask. First, were our judgements correct and accurate in the past? And there is nothing that we can do about that now, nor are there any good answers. Secondly, how will America react to crisis? And the answer to that is what the President said in his speech.

In the Secretary's view, the worst thing that could happen would be for the President to say that he is undertaking a global reassessment of United States foreign policy. It would be disastrous to our allies and an advantage for our adversaries. The United States ability to affect events determines war and peace throughout the world, therefore, we must continue to act with confidence and assurance. The problem is lacking enough authority to get done what needs to be done in Southeast Asia.  It seems that the most vocal critics during this period have been those people who got us into Indochina originally [i.e., the Democrats]. (my emphasis)

I would have to say that Kissinger's cold-hearted but reality-based cynicism is almost refreshing compared to the toxic mix of cynicism, arrogance and delusion that has shaped so much of the Cheney-Bush foreign policy.

But, still, this ain't about national "healing" or "reconciliation". It's about saving the Republican Party for blame for how badly they handled Vietnam policy during the Nixon and Ford administrations and to promote a stab-in-the-back version of the loss of that war by blaming it all on the Democrats.

This is how Healer-in-Chief Ford prepared his soothing balm for the jangled nerves of the nation, or whatever similar foolishness the Establishment press is cranking out this week about him. Here's the Healer-in-Chief himself from the same Cabinet minutes:

The President Congress has shown no cooperation in a meaningful way during this period of time. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has suggested or given the President a $200 million emergency fund for Presidential discretion. In the President's opinion, that amount is as bad as getting nothing at all. The Administration's position is to stick to their guns and try to get the entire amount. There are contingency plans in case a lesser amount is appropriated.

There are three things that the President feels members of the Cabinet should stress in talking about Vietnam. First, it will be very bad if Congress does not cooperate in some way to alleviate the bloodshed [i.e., by helping to prolong the war]. Second, the Administration should not talk about evacuation [of American personnel at that moment]. And third, in reference to the amount of money being requested, a unified stance should be that the President is firm and does want the entire amount of money that he requested. (my emphasis)

Ford the Healer dismissed the emergency fund of $200 million that Congress had agreed upon as "as bad as getting nothing at all". And he made it clear he wanted to heal the nation by accusing the Democratic Congress that it refused to cooperate "in some way to alleviate the bloodshed". And if the money beyond the $200 million were really so urgent - and Kissinger's briefing makes it clear that they understood the military situation to be very dire - why is Ford taking the stance "that the President is firm and does want the entire amount of money that he requested"? It doesn't make a lot of sense if his goal is to rush dollars to the South Vietnamese. It makes more sense if they knew the game was up (which Kissinger almost said explicitly in the quote above) and wanted to blame the Democrats for the final collapse of the corrupt, unpopular South Vietnamese government.

Over the top

I was in a Borders store in downtown San Francisco on Thursday and I saw something that was unusual even for San Francisco.  A woman who looked, well, normal (yes, the standards are more flexible in SF, but still) walked up to the edge of the cafe area and started yelling, "All of you are a bunch of mother[Cheney]ers!"  And then she started sweeping books off the display tables and onto the floor and then walked around shouting obscenities and sweeping more books and magazines onto the floor until the staff subdued her somehow.

I guess nobody told her you had to bring a receipt to make a return.

But that was over the top, even for San Francisco.

And speaking of over the top, I was prepared to defend the Associated Press against the war fans' latest conspiracy theory that AP is making propaganda for The Terrorists in Iraq.

Then I saw this:  AP Poll: Bush, Britney get thumbs-down 12/28/06.  Putting a genuine American icon on the same level as Shrub Bush?  Now that's really over the top!  I mean, Britney is going to adopt a tsunami orphan.  Would Bush ever do that?  Nooo-oooo.  But poor Boo has to put up with this kind of press denigration.  It's awful, just awful.

So AP can deal with the warbloggers all by themselves, as far as I'm concerned!  (AP's poll also found that Bush was seen as more villainous than Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.  But let the Republicans trash them for all I care.  I'm not saying a word on their behalf!)

Saddam's hanging

(Above: Cover Illustration from Gates of Hell: The Wrath of Judge Isaac Parker; from Fort Smith National Historical Site Web page)

Josh Marshall captured the problem of Saddam's execution well in this post of 12/29/06 when the execution was still pending from which Wonky Muse quoted in  an earlier post at The Blue Voice:

Convention dictates that we precede any discussion of this execution with the obligatory nod to Saddam's treachery, bloodthirsty rule and tyranny. But enough of the cowardly chatter. This thing is a sham, of a piece with the whole corrupt, disastrous sham that the war and occupation have been. Bush administration officials are the ones who leak the news about the time of the execution. One key reason we know Saddam's about to be executed is that he's about to be transferred from US to Iraqi custody, which tells you a lot. And, of course, the verdict in his trial gets timed to coincide with the US elections.

Marshall also picked up on an interesting historical parallel to the practices of the Inquisition.

Juan Cole writes about the execution in Saddam: The death of a dictator Salon 12/30/06, which Wonky Muse also quotes:

One thing is certain: The trial and execution of Saddam were about revenge, not justice. Instead of promoting national reconciliation, this act of revenge helped Saddam portray himself one last time as a symbol of Sunni Arab resistance, and became one more incitement to sectarian warfare.

Saddam Hussein was tried under the shadow of a foreign military occupation, by a government full of his personal enemies. The first judge, an ethnic Kurd, resigned because of government interference in the trial; the judge who took his place was also Kurdish and had grievances against the accused. Three of Saddam's defense lawyers were shot down in cold blood. The surviving members of his defense team went on strike to protest the lack of protection afforded them. The court then appointed new lawyers who had no expertise in international law. Most of the witnesses against Saddam gave hearsay evidence. The trial ground slowly but certainly toward the inevitable death verdict.

Saddam was responsible for so many crimes, a real tribunal held in a safe location under United Nations auspices would have been able to convict him with solid evidence in a trial of high credibility. In the process, the evidence could have been systematically presented of his criminal misrule in a way that would have left no doubt in the minds of any reasonably honest person about his cruelty and criminality.

Instead, the Cheney-Bush administration opted for a farce of a trial that will allow Saddam to be remembered by many Iraqi Sunnis as a martyr.

I can think of several likely reasons that the Cheney-Bush administration didn't want such a trial to take place. The didn't want it to go before the established International Criminal Court (ICC), because Cheney and Bush oppose the entire concept of the court and the kind of international law on which it is based. Also because they themselves along with Rummy, Abu Gonzales and numerous other officials high and low in their administration have to seriously worry about being tried in front of the ICC.

Saddam was tried an executed on the basis of a retaliation his government made to punish a Kurdish city for anti-Saddam activities originating there, specifically an attempt to kill him. But an ICC or any other sensible international tribunal would have also focused on the Iraqi invasions of Iran and Kuwait, both war crimes in themselves. The reason Cheney and Bush wouldn't have wanted to see those charges aired is painfully obvious: it would remind the international community and even the American public that it is a war crime to invade a country that presents no imminent threat to the invading power. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was just such an act.

In addition, a full prosecution of Saddam on the criminal use of chemical weapons during the Iraq-Iran War would have meant public discussion of embarassing aspects of the Republican administration of St. Reagan and its backing of Saddam's Iraq in its war with Iran. That would include the help given to Saddam's chemical and biological weapons program, the administration's attempt to help cover up Iraq's criminal use of chemical weapons and the US having been for a brief time an actual co-belligerent with Iraq in naval warfare against Iran.

So instead, Cheney and Bush made sure Saddam had a kangaroo-court trial and was hung. And, of course, it was screwy in more ways than one, Cole writes:

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday – and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a “sacrifice” for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public. ...

Iraq is on high alert, in expectation of protests and guerrilla reprisals. Leaves have been canceled for Iraqi soldiers, though in the past they have seldom paid much attention to such orders. But perhaps the death of Saddam, who once haunted the nightmares of a nation, will soon come to seem insignificant. In Iraq, guerrilla and criminal violence executes as many as 500 persons a day. Saddam's hanging is just one more occasion for a blood feud in a country that now has thousands of them.

Cheney, Bush, Al-Malaki: another heckuva job!

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jerry Ford's legacy: The dark side (3), Rummy and Cheney, "healers"

President Ford chats with Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld’s assistant Richard Cheney in the Oval Office 04/28/1975 (no doubt planning new ways to promote national healing)

(White House Photograph Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library)

Back in Jerry Ford's administration, as we all now know, "healing" was the business of the President. But not single-payer health insurance or any such socialistic deviance. No, it was spiritual or psychological or political or, heck, some kind of healing.

The Healer-in-Chief had Rummy as his chief of staff, and Rummy brought in Dick Cheney as his deputy. Later, Rummy moved to be Secretary of Defense and Cheney became White House chief of staff.

In Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency (2006) by Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, we get the following glimpse at how Rummy and Cheney practiced the healing arts. Ford selected former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller as his Vice President. Rockefeller was the bogeyman of the Reagan wing of the Republican Party, having been Barry Goldwater's chief primary opponent in 1964 in a bitter intra-party contest. Dubose and Bernstein write:

Cheney did more than write memos to Ford. Working with Rumsfeld, Cheney took the vice president [Rockefeller] out of the White House policy process. When the vice president proposed an idea to Ford, the president would hand it off to Rumsfeld, and later Cheney, who would then insure it died somewhere in the bureacracy. "We built in a major institutional conflict with Nelson Rockefeller, a strong dynamic political leader in his own right," Cheney would later acknowledge. "The Vice President came to a point that he was absolutely convinced that Don Rumsfeld and I were out to scuttle whatever new initiatives he could come up with." Rockefeller was right about that.

"They were two little throat slitters," says a journalist who knew Cheney and Rumsfeld socially at the time. (my emphasis)

Jerry Ford's legacy: The dark side (2)

President Ford with George Harrison and Billy Preston in the Oval Office.

(White House Photograph Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library/Photographer: David Hume Kennerly)

Yes, Ford occasionally hung out with hippies. At least for photo-ops.

But another important aspect of Ford's legacy as President that is very much with us today is his role in creating and perpetrating the "stab-in-the-back" mythology of the US and South Vietnamese defeat in the Vietnam War. Ford was of course President during the last months before Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army (PAVN).

Ford was instrumental in enabling more constructive lessons from the Vietnam War to be developed by the government and the military. Part of Ford's "healing" process was to try to get people to shut the hell up about the war and its lessons. John Schaar wrote in The American Amnesia New York Review of Books 06/24/75 issue (behind subscription):

Surely the most striking aspect of the present [1975] political scene is the absence of the recent past from it. There seems to be something like a tacit agreement among the presidential contenders, and between them and the public, that the record of recent events has no bearing on our present condition and future prospects. The closest Ford comes to touching the past is in vague allusions to some dragon called détente, which he will guard us against just as he will preserve our ethnic treasures here at home. Those fronts secured, we can move forward into the third century, which is to be the century of American Individualism. Ronald Reagan sounds like Teddy Roosevelt, all teeth and bluster, about to lead the Rough Riders in another charge, this time into the Panama Canal. Jimmy Carter overleaps the recent past by centuries, and assures us that America still stands in a covenant of nations with God. The people and their leaders agree: let's forget the recent past and get on with the business of building a brighter future. That, of course, is exactly the advice Nixon gave the nation at the height of Watergate.

This silence is all the more remarkable when one remembers that among the events unspoken are a constitutional crisis greater than any since the Civil War, absolute proof that for years national law enforcement and intelligence agencies violated law and elementary decency here and abroad, and a desolating war in Southeast Asia. The constitutional crisis has been reduced to an exciting film entertainment about the thrills and triumphs of investigative reporting, and to something like court scandal based on dubious research methods and ethics. Behind the scenes, the war continues to exist in the same basic doctrines and inflated military budgets that produced and sustained it in the first place. Out front, it exists only in occasional stories about the affairs of Lieutenant Calley and the difficulties of adjustment experienced by the Vietnamese refugees.

As the Mayagüez incident showed, not even the most obvious "lessons" of Vietnam have been accepted. In that episode, President Ford replayed Vietnam in miniature. He unleashed force against a small Asian country without consultation outside the Executive. The force was vastly greater than any sensible appraisal of the situation would have recommended. The affair was misrepresented to the public and casualty lists were falsified. The president crowed that the encounter was a victory for America, proving once again that we would stand behind our word and use our arms to back our interests.

Ford's distinguished predecessor, Tricky Dick himself, laid out his version the stab-in-the-back theory with his distinctive venom and dishonesty in No More Vietnams (1985).  Focusing specifically on the 1974-75 period, he wrote:

I was shocked by the irresponsibility of the antiwar majority in Congress. South Vietnam was a small country that depended on the United States for help in order to survive against a brutal onslaught from a totalitarian power. Senators and congressmen who demanded that our South Vietnamese allies stand alone were being totally unfair. None would expect South Korea to be able to deter an attack from North Korea without the presence of 50,000 American troops. None would expect the countries of Western Europe to hold off the Soviet Union without the help of 300,000 of our troops and a threat of American nuclear retaliation to back them up. None would expect Israel to be able to survive attacks from its enemies without massive military assistance from the United States. Yet they were unwilling to allow us to retaliate against a North Vietnamese invasion or even to provide the South Vietnamese with enough ammunition for their guns.

I could understand their desire to put the Vietnam War behind us. But I could not understand why they seemed so determined to see South Vietnam conquered by North Vietnam. Whatever their intentions, that was the effect of their actions. ...

Hanoi's leaders could not believe their good fortune as the antiwar majority in Congress did their work for them. ...

Congress turned its back on a noble cause and a brave people. South Vietnam simply wanted the chance to fight for its survival as an independent country. All that the United States had to do was give it the means to continue the battle. Our South Vietnamese friends were asking us to give them the tools so they could finish the job. Congress would not, so our allies could not. (my emphasis)

Nobody could lie quite the way Dick Nixon could. It's amazing. Rush Limbaugh will never come close, no matter how much OxyContin he takes.

I addressed the stab-in-the-back myth here back in July 2005. I'll refer you to that post for a fairly long discussion of the whole thing, focusing in particular on the 1974-75 period.

There were many problems that led to the collapse of the South Vietnamese regime.  In those last months, massive corruption problems and abuse of the local population by ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) forces were major factors undermining the Saigon government.

This article, Vietnam: After the Debacle by Jean Lacouture New York Review of Books 05/01/75 issue (behind subscription), from the time just before the end of the South Vietnamese regime noted a major problem generated by the ARVN itself. Reporting on the refugees being generated during what would prove to be the last weeks of the fighting, Lacouture wrote:

If few reports of the exodus have made clear how many of the refugees are tied to the government, some reports, especially in US papers, have at least given us some idea of another factor, showing us that the South Vietnamese army itself has caused terrible disorder, pillaging, extorting, terrorizing helpless local populations. One can imagine the hysteria of people who see turned against them the weapons of their own defenders.

Jeffrey Record of the Air War College in The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam (1998) looks carefully at the various options open to the United States.  He writes that the PAVN and the NLF (Vietcong) were unable to defeat the American military while they were in the lead combat role:

Yet such a solution could never endure against a determined Hanoi and capable PAVN absent a permanent and significant U.S. force presence in South Vietnam and to a constant U.S. willingness to reenter the war whenever it was necessary to forestall a decisive South Vietnamese defeat.  The United States could not have picked a more intractable enemy and a feebler ally than it did in Indochina, and while the United States was never prepared to accept the Vietnam War's permanent Americanization, neither was it able to build a South Vietnamese nation capable of surviving without a massive U.S. military presence.  (my emphasis)

The North Vietnamese and the NLF probably surpassed the Iraqi insurgents in tenacity and commitment to their cause.  But when it comes to feeble allies, the Thieu regime in South Vietnam was a rock-solid ally compared to the Al-Maliki government in Baghdad or the Karzai regime in Kabul.  But those are other stories.

Record expands on the history of the South Vietnamese government as he evaluates military claims that more bombing, or more this or that would have made a difference in the outcome:

[N]ot even an early grant of the broadest operational ladtude to the military could have compensated for what in the long run Vietnam War historian George C. Herring has correcdy identified as the single greatest obstacle to the preservation of a noncommunist South Vietnam: the "fundamental and apparently unsolvable problem" of "the weakness of the South Vietnamese government." Unless communist military forces, especially the PAVN, could have been permanently crushed, or unless the United States was prepared to stay in the war indefinitely, the GVN was ultimately in a an irremediable situation. John Prados has rightly recognized that "any victory had to utilize what was there, what was available in South Vietnam, and since the national identity and the aspirations of the Vietnamese favored the other side, any potential strategy had an extra obstacle to overcome." As noted, if the United States could not have picked a tougher and more obstinate adversary anywhere in the world than it did in the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam, it also could not have chosen a more feckless ally than it did in the noncommunist Republic of Vietnam. "The war not only had to be won in South Vietnam, but it had to be won by the South Vietnamese. Unfortunately, to the end the South Vietnamese performance remained the Achilles' heel of the allied effort," concludes Guenter Lewy. Even the Chinese in the Korean War proved more politically tractable than did their counterparts in North Vietnam in the 1960s, and the South Korean government and military forces had considerably more vitality and staying power than did their counterparts in South Vietnam. Clark Clifford, who in 1965 counseled President Johnson against intervention in Vietnam and later replaced McNamara as secretary of defense, observed after the war that, "From its beginning,. . . we were constrained by the fact that our South Vietnamese allies were corrupt, inefficient, and poorly motivated. This was critical: in the final analysis, American objectives in Vietnam depended more on the capabilities of our allies in Saigon than on our own efforts. And the more we did for them, the more dependent and ineffectual they became. It was on this very point that our policy would ultimately fail."  (my emphasis)

Record also has some harsh words for our infallible generals of those days:

Finally, it should be observed that the military's desire to increase U.S. forces' operational effectiveness via greater operational authority was not accompanied by a willingness to tackle its self-imposed obstacles to operational effectiveness. It was — and remains — disingenuous of the military and their conservative political supporters to whine about civilian intrusion upon potential U.S. military effectiveness in Vietnam when the U.S. military itself was hobbling that effectiveness through disunity of command, a faulty attrition strategy, rear-area bloat, and idiotic personnel rotation policies. The military's appeal to civilian authority for more operational latitude in Indochina clearly would have carried with it greater moral force had the military first put its own house in order.  (my emphasis)

Whine?  Did he say our holy generals that lead our sacred military "whine"? And that they made actual mistakes? Even maybe at least one "idiotic" one?  The warbloggers will be shocked!

It's also worth noting that before the final collapse and surrender of the ARVN at the end of April, 1975, North Vietnam made an offer to return to the framework of the Paris Agreement of 1973 if Gen. Thieu would step aside and allow Gen. Duong Van Minh to step in as head of the South Vietnamese government.  Gareth Porter provided a look at the cynicism of Jerry Ford's "healing" administration during those weeks in A Peace Denied: The United States, Vietnam, and the Paris Agreement (1975):

But the offer to return to the Paris Agreement's political formula was ignored by Washington and the US Embassy in Saigon. State Department officials had gone out of their way in late March to make it clear to the press that the Peace Agreement was, in their view, "inoperable," and that there was no possibility of a negotiated settlement. In mid-April, Ambassador Graham Martin said in an interview, "There has been no advice from Washington for Thieu to step down."  At the same time, Martin was actively discouraging a military coup against Thieu, assuring former Vice-President Ky that Thieu would soon step down.  This attitude of determined disinterest in a political solution was consistent with earlier reports from State Department sources familiar with [Secretary of State] Kissinger's thinking emphasizing that a North Vietnamese military victory was already considered inevitable and that Kissinger's only concern was to appear to be a "good ally" to the very end.

Instead of trying to end the killing as soon as possible by pressing for a change of regime in Saigon, therefore, the Ford administration went through the motions of asking for an additional $722 million in military aid on April 11. Kissinger, in a background briefing for the press, suggested that the administration understood thatthe war was already lost, and hinted that the posture of all-out support for the Thieu regime was necessary in order to have its cooperation in the evacuation of Americans from Saigon. Kissinger spoke of trying to establish a perimeter around Saigon in the hope of negotiating a cease-fire and evacuating large numbers of Vietnamese from the city. But he did not indicate any intention to work for a political solution by replacing Thieu.  (my emphasis)

And part of this pantomine, perhaps the most important part from the viewpoint of Ford, Kissinger and the Republicans, was to be able to say until the end of time that they had stuck it out with the plucky South Vietnamese government until the end but those evil Democrats in Congress refused to go along with that last infusion of aid that would have saved the day.

And we hear part of the results of that part of Ford's "healing" every time a war fan or Republican politician smears war critics as traitors or allies of The Terrorists.

With "healing" like that, what would it look like if the Republicans set out to wound us?

Oh, yeah.  It would look like the Cheney-Bush administration.

Jerry Ford's legacy: The dark side (1)

President Ford (r) meeting in the Oval Office with Dick Cheney (l) and Rummy (c)

Seeing the obituary tributes in the press to Gerald Ford, pre-written to "accentuate the positive" and to be inoffensive to Republican Party conventional wisdom, made me think more specifically about the Ford administration.  This is a case where the good ole days were much better than they used to be.

So, yes, I'm taking the "Bah, humbug!" approach on the late President Ford's career.

I looked up some contemporary articles in the New York Review of Books (archive is behind subscription, unfortunately).  Ah, the memories!

In Just Plain Jerry by Nicholas von Hoffman New York Review of Books 09/19/74 issue, an article from just after Ford assumed the Presidency, Von Hoffman reminds us of one of the seedier episodes in Ford's career, his attempt to impeach liberal Supreme Court Justice William Douglas:

Nevertheless, the formal biographies in both The New York Times and The Washington Post omit discussion of Ford's attempt to impeach Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas for frisking about with a twenty-three-year-old girl. The formal charges Ford laid against Douglas were hardly more serious than that, involving as they did publication of an excerpt of a book in a magazine containing dirty pitchers and an innocent connection with a foundation that may or may not have had dirty money in its treasury.

I.F. Stone also wrote about newly-installed President Ford in The Fix New York Review of Books 09/12/74 (10/03/74 issue).

He begins by criticizing the deal that Ford made with outgoing President Nixon to allow Nixon to control access to the Nixon White House tapes during his lifetime and even to destroy any he chose after five years.  Fortunately, this agreement was later set aside.  Stone reported on Ford's appearance before the Senate Rules Committee during which he testified about the Nixon tapes, suggesting he would be opposed to allowing Nixon to suppress them:

This is of a piece with [Ford's] conduct on the pardon. He gave the Senate committee and the country the clear impression, without saying so directly, in that disingenuous style of the Nixon and Lyndon Johnson eras, that he would not issue a pardon to Nixon. "I do not think the public would stand for it" has proven to be his most accurate prediction.

Ford made another implied pledge at the same hearing which also deserves more notice than it has received. "The attorney general," he said, "in my opinion, with the help and support of the American people, would be the controlling factor." This implies that the attorney general would be consulted in advance of a decision on pardon—otherwise how could his views possibly be "controlling" and how could public opinion help him block a pardon? But the attorney general said the day the Nixon pardon was announced and has repeated several times since that he was never consulted on the Nixon pardon.

If this is true, and Saxbe's press aides keep repeating it, then the attorney general was as much taken by surprise as Congress and the country. The surprise was all the stronger because at Ford's press conference of August 28 he over and over again gave the impression that he would take no action on a Nixon pardon until legal process had run its course. Yet we now learn that only two days later he disclosed to a few intimates that he had decided to pardon his predecessor. Duplicity is the only word for that sequence.

Stone's verdict of Ford's decision on the tapes was harsh:

This was Nixonism, pure and undefiled.

An honorable man in Ford's shoes before entering into his tapes agreement with Nixon would have consulted the attorney general, the special prosecutor, and the judges who have cases involving Watergate or the tapes. He would have sought the advice of Chairman Ervin of the Senate Watergate investigation committee and Chairman Rodino of the House Judiciary Committee, both of which still have outstanding subpoenas for tapes which Nixon refused to honor.

At his confirmation hearing Ford over and over again expressed disagreement with the withholding of these tapes by Nixon. That he has now acted so differently, and so covertly and so swiftly, speaks for itself about the true character of Gerald Ford. Tricky Dicky has been replaced by Foxy Ford. All this will deepen the suspicion that the pardon was part of a prenomination deal. If not, Ford could have plainly said so before the Senate committee last November instead of evading the issue with his disingenuous remark that "the public wouldn't stand for it." Was he then telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—so help him the God he evokes as effusively and frequently as did Nixon before him?

Stone picked up his reporting on Ford's Presidency in Mr. Ford's Deceptions New York Review of Books 10/24/74 (11/14/74 issue).  Ford appeared before the House Judiciary Committee as President to testify about his pardon of Nixon.  Stone was downright scornful of the performance of the Democratic-majority Committee.  The Committee, he complained, wasted time "in fulsome obeisance to His Imperial Majesty".

This is a reminder of the roots of the Democrats' style of bipartisanship, of which Joe Lieberman has become a sad caricature.  The Democrats had been the majority party in Congress and held the Presidency most years from 1933 to 1974 (when Ford became President).  They expected that a Republican President would have to work with the Democrats in Congress on key legislation.  And they also expected to keep winning the Presidency most of the time, so they had a stake in setting a precedent of cooperation between President and Congress.  In addition, still in 1974 there were many conservative Southern Democrats who would often vote with Republicans in support of conservative issues and still some moderate and even liberal Republicans (yes, liberal Republicans) who would vote with liberal Democrats on many issues.  Today's Republicans have put those days behind them.  But the Democrats, even though they no longer have a segregationist Southern wing to worry about, can't quite let go of that bipartisan inclination, which under Cheney and Bush translates into more "fulsome obeisance to His Imperial Majesty".

I.F. Stone is considered one of the great investigative reporters, a rapidly-disappearing phenemenon in American journalism.  (Not just the "great" ones, but investigative journalism itself.)  But Stone didn't do his work through the kind of "access" for which Bob Woodward sold his journalistic soul to the Cheney-Bush administration.  Stone got much of his material by carefully studying public documents, such as government reports and Congressional testimony, and then teasing out connections between them.  In this article, we see that process at work.  Building on revelations provided by Ford himself, Stone asks some reasonable questions:

Ford says he did not make a deal. Nobody asked him what he meant by a deal. He certainly didn't make a deal in the sense of saying, "Dick, if you resign and give me the presidency, I'll pardon you for any crimes you may have committed." But in the conversation with Haig could they not very naturally and urgently have said to each other that anything would be better for the GOP and the country than a general self-pardon? Was there not a kind of political blackmail in Nixon's implied threat to pardon himself? Did Ford mention to Haig that for him to pardon Nixon would also be embarrassing in view of the position he had taken at his confirmation hearing? Was this Nixon threat "the reality" Ford said at one press conference he had to contend with when asked about his earlier implied pledged not to pardon - the pledge he dismissed as "hypothetical"?

He proceeds to elaborate on the circumstantial evidence suggesting that Ford indeed made a deal with Nixon over the pardon, which I'm convinced he did.

But would Ford actually need to keep such an agreement a secret?  Stone explains, in a passage worth remembering in light of more recent circumstances:

One thing is clear, and was almost certainly brought to their attention by their lawyers in studying the pardon question. Criminal liability attaches to an agreement to grant a pardon except where the contract serves some law enforcement purpose. Section 2 of the chapter on pardons and parole in American Jurisprudence says, "Where, however, personal interest enters into the success of the contract, or the use of personal influence is contemplated, the general rule is that the contract is illegal as against public policy, and so unenforceable." A pardon tainted by fraud is revocable in the courts under a rule already old at the time of Blackstone, who wrote, "Any suppression of truth, or suggestion of falsehood, in a charter of pardon, will vitiate the whole."  It may not be merely public relations or propaganda which leads Ford now to stress that the pardon was given not to help an ailing Nixon but to help an ailing country.

And in light of the sachrine homages to how Ford "healed" the nation with his Nixon pardon, Stone's following observation is worth quoting at some length:

A similarly naïve question might be asked of Ford. If he truly wanted to save the country from more divisiveness and suspicion in the wake of Watergate, why didn't he "touch all bases" before pardoning Nixon? How different the effect would have been if Ford had consulted the attorney general, as he implied he would last November, and Jaworski and the eight congressional leaders who are supposed to be consulted before any step to limit or abolish the special prosecutor's office.

How impressive, how healing it would have been if the Nixon pardon had been countersigned, as it were, by the attorney general, the special prosecutor, and the eight congressional "watchdogs" set up by his charter! How impressive indeed! But even a latter-day Hans Christian Andersen would find it hard to imagine any of these other public officials counter-signing so preposterous and unprecedented a pardon before investigation and prosecution of the Watergate affair, up to and including the Oval Office, had been completed.

To have consulted the attorney general would have been most embarrassing. Under the Code of Federal Regulations—and the Supreme Court in US v. Sirica has just held that such regulations, until repealed, have "the force of law"—a "pardon attorney" in the Department of Justice is in charge "of the receipt, investigation, and disposition of applications to the president for pardon."

The code sets up an elaborate machinery for investigating such applications. It also provides that no petition for pardon can be filed until three years after release of the petitioner from confinement, or three years after conviction if no prison sentence is imposed. But in cases of violation of "income tax laws, perjury, violation of public trust involving personal dishonesty…a waiting period of five years is usually required." That would seem to cover any and all Watergate defendants including unindicted co-conspirator Nixon.

Of course a president can pretty much do as he pleases and get away with it in exercising the pardoning power, as in many other matters. But if the White House or the attorney general had inquired of the pardon attorney, as we did, they would have been told that the present occupant of the office had never heard of a presidential pardon outside these channels, that he had asked his predecessor who took office in 1950, and that the latter too could not recall such a presidential pardon. That covers the last quarter century at least.

Stone proceeds to follow the precedent even farther back.

Ford's pardon of Nixon was precedent-setting, in more ways than one:

The only way for a president to grant a swift pardon outside these time-honored channels is by proclamation, and that is the method adopted by Ford in the case of Nixon. But those at the National Archives to whom we put the question were unable to find a single precedent for the pardon of one man by proclamation. Pardon or amnesty proclamations have mostly been issued in connection with wars and have covered a whole class of persons. The earliest was issued to reward Jean Laffite's pirates for their aid to Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. The famous pardon and amnesty proclamations of Lincoln and Johnson were issued on special statutory authority from Congress under a law repealed in 1867.

One of the things that Ford revealed at that hearing was that Nixon had considered issuing a blanket pardon for himself and all the other Watergate criminals.  Stone also focused on the fact, which Ford had revealed at the hearing, that "Nixon's main concern during his last days in office was how to avoid prosecution".  That's something that we should keep in mind about the current Vice President and President.  Journalists almost never mention it.  But it's clear that the possibility of serious legal trouble is a major concern on their minds.  (See Bush is bracing for new scrutiny: White House hiring lawyers in expectation of Democratic probes by Julie Hirschfeld Davis Chicago Tribune 12/26/06 for an exception to press silence on that matter.)

Gary Wills expressed his own dissent from Ford's nice-guy reputation in He's Not So Dumb New York Review of Books 10/16/75 issue:

He has even turned a half-joking reputation for dimwittedness to political advantage. When he performs hack work or malicious hatchet jobs—even the Douglas campaign, which lasted more than a year and sank to vicious tactics—he remains "good old Jerry" just doing someone else's dirty work. That is how members of the confirmation committee treated the affair, even though Ford renewed his Douglas trouble with unconvincing stories under oath. No one suspects him of being tortuous or Machiavellian; an engaging simplicity absolves him from ability to scheme. He intuitively plays on this. As Nixon blundered down, Ford took Pollyanna flights around the country, delivering pep talks on Republicanism. Some advised him to stay in Washington, to bone up on his future job. They did not reflect that the first thing he did, after being chosen to supplant Charles Hoeven as chairman of the Republican Conference, was to leave the country. He managed three vacations while his backers managed his coup.

He will do almost anybody's dirty work - Dirksen's, or Nixon's, or Mitchell's, or Agnew's - but he is careful to have others do his own. Even his lies before the committee were received as exercises in doomed loyalty to Nixon rather than in personal mendacity. Ford knows when to let others do the ground work for him. He only needs a wink, and then he can relax - a rare gift among politicians, who like to be doing something about their careers all the time. Ford credibly repeated that he was making no preparation to be president while Nixon fought the sheriff off. Bob Hartmann and Phil Buchen were doing the preparing. They assembled the transition teams, without Ford's formal acknowledgment (much like the "draft" campaigns for candidates, undertaken without the formal approval of their beneficiaries).

"He will do almost anybody's dirty work ... but he is careful to have others do his own."  I'm sure he and Dick Cheney got along just fine.

Wills also includes the LBJ quote that I screwed up a bit in my comments to Wonky Muse's post about Ford's passing:

When he has to, [Ford] can change his story on the stand. Those who think Jerry Ford "too dumb to fart and chew gum at the same time" ... need only read the confirmation hearings to see he can maneuver inch-by-inch to save his skin.

Juan Cole recalls Ford's foreign policies in his post, Ford and Foreign Policy: Snapshots from the 1970s, Informed Comment blog 12/27/06.  He writes:

All presidents make errors, and some abuses occurred on Ford's watch, though they often were initiated by [Ford's Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger. But Ford faced with no illusions the challenges of his era, of detente with the Soviet Union, continued attempts to cultivate China, the collapse of Indochina, the fall-out of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and the beginnings of the Lebanese Civil War. Ford was right about detente, right about China, right about Arab-Israeli peace, right about avoiding a big entanglement in Angola, right to worry about nuclear proliferation (one of his worries was the increasing evidence that the Middle East had a nuclear power, Israel, and India was moving in that direction).

Ford's challengers on the Reagan Right were wrong about everything. They vastly over-estimated the military and economic strength of the Soviet Union (yes, that's Paul Wolfowitz). They wanted confrontation with China. They dismissed the Arab world as Soviet occupied territory (even though the vast majority of Arab states was US allies at that time) and urged that it be punished till it accepted Israel's territorial gains in 1967. They insisted that the Vietnam War could have been won.

But despite its illusions and Orwellian falsehoods, the Reagan Right prevailed. Ford only momentarily lost to Carter. Both of them were to lose to Reagan, who resorted to Cold War brinkmanship, private militias, death squads, offshore accounts, unconstitutional criminality, and under the table deals with Khomeini, and who created a transition out of the Cold War that left the private militias (one of them al-Qaeda) empowered to wreak destruction in the aftermath. The blowback from that Reaganesque era of private armies of the Right helped push the US after 2001 toward an incipient fascism at which Ford, the All-American, the lawyerly gentleman, the great Wolverine, must have wept daily in his twilight years.

Cole is being generous to Ford in the last sentence.  And his thought may be accurate.  But I don't recall hearing anything about Ford expressing any great reservations about the Cheney-Bush policies at home and abroad.  Declining health may have affected his ability and willingness to do so.  But Ford was a loyal Republican.  And if he didn't express such doubts, well, no evidence is no evidence.

Cole is right that the difference betweenn Ford Republicans and Reagan Republicans was significant.  But it's easy to overdraw that distinction.  The "moderate" Republicans like Ford hardly bolted the party as it went farther and farther in the direction of rogue operations, to the point where today's Cheney-Bush foreign policy is basically one big set of rogue operations.

Ford also appointed Old Man Bush as CIA director, strenthening the Bush's dynasty's intelligence ties.  Some of Old Man Bush's actions as CIA director and later in using his intelligence connections have never been adequately investigated, specifically the Iran-Contra affair and the "October surprise" deal with the Iranian theocratic government in 1980 to delay release of American hostages until after the Presidential election.

Update 12/28/06:  Via Laura Rozen, I see that Ford did speak out against Dear Leader Bush's Iraq War.  Although speak "out" may be the wrong term, since it was in an "embargoed" interview.  God forbid that denouncing an unjust war terribly damaging to the United States should take precedent over avoiding embarassment for the Republicans in an election year.  And what Bob Woodward is reporting hardly counts as a ringing denunciation. From Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq by Bob Woodward Washington Post12/28/06:

Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. "I don't think I would have gone to war," he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford's own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gabriel Kolko on Rummy

I always feel a bit guilty whenever I link to something at the neo-Confederate Web site  I certainly don't want to promote their group or their ideology.

But they also run some important articles by critics of the Iraq War and of American foreign policy by critics who have something substantial to say and are also not neo-Confederate.

This column by historian Gabriel Kolko counts as one of those Rumsfeld and the American Way of War 12/26/06.  Kolko did some important and widely-recognized work that challenged the dominant Cold War consensus on American foreign policy.

He writes of the current American dilemma in the Iraq War:

Disjunction and irrationality become the norm in these kinds of situations, and responses that seem bizarre are fairly predictable. Rationality often disappears in this process and denial – and delay – becomes the norm. That is happening now in Washington, and probably in London and Canberra as well, because Bush's foreign policy has produced an immense disaster and there is less peace and stability in the world and security at home than anytime since 1945. Donald Rumsfeld's December 15th farewell speech as Defense Secretary should be read in this light, but also as a reflection of the much larger problem of the way American foreign and military policy has been conducted for decades. It is probably the precursor of those we have yet to hear – and will. If his speech were not so important it would simply be pathetic.

He writes that on Rummy's watch as SecDef:

... national defense spending, which had been stable in the 1990s, increased from $294 billion in 2000 to $536 billion in 2006, and as a percentage of the GNP it grew 37 percent from 2000 to 2006. All kinds of weapons, many the futuristic products of junk science concocted by well-placed manufacturers, were funded for eventual production – a dozen years being a short delivery time for many of them.

And the phenomenon Kolko describes is very real:

[Rummy] always premised his ambition, which various defense secretaries had attempted before him and failed, on the notion that the secret of military success was better and more weapons – "more bang forthe buck" as an illustrious predecessor phrased it. More bucks also made the Pentagon requests that much more palatable to a pork-hungry Congress eager to increase spending in their districts.

The following is not original or unique to Gabriel Kolko.  But it's well said and, unfortunately for the US, true:

Rumsfeld and his peers know the American military cannot win the war in Iraq. Just as during the Vietnam war, they have the quixotic hope that a solution for the profound and bloody turmoil that reigns there can be found politically – at first the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds were to have parliamentary elections and then make a political deal. They did not. Then they were to write a constitution, which they eventually managed to do but it changed nothing. Now they are hoping that the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, can miraculously cobble together some kind of consensus that will produce peace, but Bush's closest advisers think it is very likely he will fail. They have no one else to turn to. Politics, like military power, will not prevent the United States from losing control over events in Iraq – thereby losing the war. A "surge" in American troops in Iraq, as even the Joint Chiefs of Staff now argues, is only a recipe for greater disasters. Attacks against U.S. coalition forces, their Iraqi dependents, and civilians have now reached a peak and are over twice that two years ago. The Bush Administration today confronts disaster in Iraq, and probably the worst foreign policy failure in American history. Futility is the hallmark of all its efforts.

Kolko gives particular attention to Rummy's speech of 12/15/06.  And he describes the situation, which is a key military issue that needs to be thoroughly debated in Congress, which is the overwhelming emphasis of the US military on preparing to fight conventional wars:

The fact is that the immense and costly American military today bears no relationship to politics and reality. It accounts for nearly half of the world's military expenditures but it cannot win its two wars against the most primitive enemies, enemies who exist in multiple factions who often fight each other more than Americans and who could not care less what Washington spends on weaponry and manpower. But America's leaders have always assumed convenient enemies who calculate the way the U.S. wants them to. Moreimportant, politics was never complicated; it existed as an afterthought and never interfered with fighting and winning wars the American way. But the Soviet Union and Communism no longer exist, and absolutely nothing has changed in America's behavior and thinking. The Pentagon is superb at spending money but its way of warfare in now in a profound and perhaps terminal crisis. It has lost all its wars against persistent guerillas armed with cheap, light weapons that decentralize and hide.

Christmas Truce 1914

One of my favorite stories is that of the Christmas Truce of 1914.  Stanley Weintraub, author of Silent Night: the Remarkable 1914 Christmas Truce wrote about the event more briefly in The Christmas truce: When the guns fell silent Independent 12/24/05.  A fairly recent French film has been made about it, called Joyeux Noël, which I hope will make it to American theaters one day.

The photo above is part of the back cover of Der kleine Frieden im Grossen Krieg [The Little Peace in the Great War] (2003) by Michael Jürgs.  The caption says, "There has never been a good war and never a bad peace."

While most of us could think of a war we considered good in some way and likewise a peace that was less than good, the sentiment is a basically sound one.

Describing the Christmas Truce, Weintraub writes:

By Christmas morning, no man's land between the trenches was filled with fraternising soldiers, sharing rations, trading gifts, singing, and - more solemnly - burying the dead between the lines. (Earlier, the bodies had been too dangerous to retrieve.) The roughly cleared space suggested to the more imaginative among them a football pitch. Kickabouts began, mostly with balls improvised from stuffed caps and other gear, the players oblivious of their greatcoats and boots. The official war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment says "Tommy and Fritz" used a real ball, furnished by a provident Scot. "This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter. Das Spiel endete 3:2 fur Fritz." Other accounts, mostly German, give other scores, and British letters and memories fill in more details.

And he laments:

A Christmas truce seems in our new century an impossible dream from a more simple, vanished world. Peace is indeed, even briefly, harder to make than war.

William Faulkner projected the Christmas Truce on a much larger scale in his novel A Fable (1954).  (English professors seem to think it's not technically a novel but literally a fable but don't ask me to explain the difference.)  This 1968 Signet paperback edition pictured the protagonist as a Christ figure, and Faulkner indeed uses Christian symbolism heavily in the novel/story/fable:

For some reason, Faulkner wrote part of this book on the wallpaper in one of the rooms of his small mansion in Oxford, MS, Rowan Oak.  You can still see it there.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Secret history of Santa: Santa and Coke

Coca-cola, that is:

Presumably today Coke would also be interested in marketing to the G.I. Janes, as well.

Mary Lisa Gavenas did a piece this year giving a sketch of the history of Santa's commercial activitis: The man in the red suit Salon 12/23/06.

Secret history of Santa: Techno-Santa

Another little-known fact about Santa is that he is an early adapter of new technologiess.  He was the one of the first to use the manual calculator to help out with the calculations.

It led to some unexpected unpleasantness, though, when Santa's newly-efficient calculating methods made him realize that a couple of the elves had been skimming profits.

Santa has kept up with the times.

But don't think he's still relying on hardcopys.  No way!  He went completely digital several years ago.  He mostly uses a laptop in the office now.  And when he's doing deliveries, he relies on his combination cell phone/Pocket PC.  With a healthy supply of digital music downloads, of course.

Secret history of Santa: A moment of self-realization

This is the year Santa realized that he would be better off not trying to do his deliveries stoned.

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Secret history of Santa: Victorian Santa

Santa was also going vegetarian at that time.  So he was honoring the animals with the giant animal-cracker tree decorations.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Secret history of Santa: A bad year

Santa even got into OxyContin one year.  It got ug-ly!

Not only did he neglect his appearance.  He also started having wild paranoid fantasies about how Hillary Clinton and the Liberal Press were after him.

Secret history of Santa: The cloning scandal

Yes, it was in San Francisco that Santa's participation in a stem-cell cloning trial had unexpected consequences.

Secret history of Santa: The moon phase

This British Santa stamp of 1997 recalls the year that Santa re-imagined himself as a multicultural moon god with a white tail.

By coincidence, it was also the year that he got heavy into reading Carlos Casteneda and exploring the potential of peyote and mescaline.

Secret history of Santa: The relatives

Santa is publicly very reserved about his family.

Santa's vampire cousins are a particularly touchy topic.

Secret history of Santa: Before and after

Santa in his young-dandy days:

Santa when he discovered some of the drawbacks of cocaine usage:

Oh, Tannenbaum

Austrian Christmas tree decorations in California:

Der Weihnachtsmann (the Chritmas-man), one of Santa's European helpers:

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Andrew Jackson Christmas decoration

This is a Christmas ball from the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's residence outside Nashville:

Another angle:

Pre-Christmas news stories of note

A lot of important developments, particularly in American policy in the Middle East, have happened since the November election.  Here are a few items that I would hate to see buried in the pre-Christmas rush.

This may be the strangest one.  The Cheney-Bush administration has generally followed policies that were suitable for Israeli hardliners, not least because the Christian Right who supports those policies are the most important part of their electoral base.  Now, the administration is pushing Israel not to negotiate with Syria even though the Olmert government wants to.  The Cheney-Bush government is now more "pro-Israel" than the current hardline Israeli government.  See Pat Lang, "Israel, Syria and Bush’s Veto" Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006 blog 12/22/06; Daniel Levy, The Syria Litmus Test Huffington Post 12/21/06; and, Israel, Syria and Bush's Veto The Jewish Daily Forward 12/22/06.

Military analyst William Arkin who blogs at the Washington Post consistently provides much more interesting and important reading in his Early Warning blog than the Post's official columnists.  In More Troops Buys Silence of the Lambs 12/21/06, he explains how our infallible generals and the Cheney-Bush administration ran a little bait-and-switch game right under our noses over the troop-increase issue that he approved this past weeek.  They deliberately blurred the increase of permanent troop levels for the Army and Marine Corps with the upcoming escalation "surge" in Iraq.  They're not connected.  Except, as Arkin says, in "horse trading".

Arkin writes:

The first thing that should be understood about more though is that adding tens of thousands of troops to the U.S. military isn't instant. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month that it would take two years to recruit and train a new division.  In other words, it is not about winning inIraq now.  (my emphasis)

The Democrats need to face the fact that the Republicans will always accuse them of being "soft on defense", no matter what they do or say.  So the Dems should proceed on pushing for a much more realistic foreign policy and a military policy to go with it.  And they should hold up things like this permanent troop increase to public scrutiny.  If they do it enough, maybe even our "press corps" will start paying more attention.

Whether or not we need more soldiers and Marines should not be considered apart from the long-term considerations of how the soldiers will be used.  Are our infallible generals going to continue to prepare almost exclusively for fighting Soviet Army Central, i.e., for conventional war?   Or are they going to give much more emphasis to what the Pentagon calls OOTW (operations other than war), e.g., counterinsurgency and nation-building?

And that's not a purely technical military decision, by any means.  If we're going to adopt a policy of never getting involved in counterinsurgency - which is the logic behind the Pentagon's force posture since the Vietnam War - then we need a foreign policy that just says no to interventions like the Iraq War or even the Afghanistan War.

If we are going to prepare for possible counterinsurgency wars like in Afghanistan, then that requires some major military reform.  It also requires a drastic change in the current "transformation" of the military, which will mean less corporate welfare for defense contractors and war profiteers.  It's not at all a simple matter of adding more authorized troops strength.

I would also note that the time-frame Perfect Peter Pace mentioned above of two years to train another division also applies to draftees.  In other words, if Bush's bet-the-farm "surge" fails, even instituting a draft won't provide anything like immediate relief.

Another of Pat Lang's recent posts that should not go down the memory hole is this one: IO [Information Operations] in the US? Legitimate or not? Sic Semper Tyrannis blog 12/06/06.

In that post, he reminds us of how a bad "lesson of Vietnam" plays into rightwing Republican ideology about the Liberal Press conspiracy:

As I have mentioned before, propaganda and information content management have become major pre-occupations of the US armed forces in the post Vietnam era.  Why?  It is because all of us who experienced defeat in Vietnam have spent decades trying to understand why that happened and the conclusion reached (mistakenly I think) is that the left successfully propagandized the American people against us and our effort.  As a result the military now speaks of "kinetic operations," (fighting with material weapons) and "information operations," (propaganda and media manipulation.

Lang also cites a disturbing example of a serving military officer conducting an illegitimate propaganda function aimed at the American people in the form of this op-ed: Why We Persevere By William Caldwell IV (the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq) Washington Post 12/06/06.

This is one of many areas in which the public in general and the Democratic elected officials in particular need to demystify military affairs and take a close look at this kind of activity.  One thing that I see from browsing some of the "milblogs" is that they see the feel-good propaganda pieces at the CENTCOM Web site as an alternative source to the Liberal Press that is providing the "real story" of the war in Iraq.

In The War Managers (1977), Douglas Kinnard reported extensively on the results of a survey he did in 1974 of generals who had served in Vietnam.  Their opinions of the news media and their performance during the Vietnam War was a major topic.

Kinnard notes an important turning point early in the war that made the reporters covering Vietnam particularly skeptical of military claims about progress in the war:

In January 1963 there occurred an action the aftermath of which destroyed good relations between the press and the military in South Vietnam — the battle at Ap Bac in the northern Delta between an armored element of the ARVN [South Vietnamese Army] Seventh Division and a Vietcong unit. It was a disaster for the ARVN; yet American headquarters in Saigon referred to it as a victory. The American andBritish correspondents who were there knew otherwise, and reported what they knew. Some stories quoted John Paul Vann, then a lieutenant colonel, on the high quality of the VC and the cowardly actions of the ARVN.

The reaction of the American Mission [in Vietnam] was violent — the correspondents were "inexperienced," "unsophisticated," "irresponsible," and their reports "sensationalized." In Washington, reports coming from field correspondents were characterized as "emotional" and "inaccurate." [David] Halberstam [of the New York Times], in particular, was singled out to the point where President Kennedy tried unsuccessfully to have him reassigned.

After Ap Bac, correspondents, convinced that the Mission was lying to them, relied on their own sources - in fact, withdrew into their own community. It should be noted that they were not questioning the propriety of the American presence; that was to come later. No doubt existed at this point regarding the premises of United States involvement or of its ability to prevail. There were questions about the South Vietnamese ability to fight and about the tactics being employed, but as yet the correspondents were not raising the big question of whether we should be there at all. (my emphasis)

The American advisers like Vann knew very well it was a disaster for the ARVN.  But the official Pentagon spokesmen wanted to lie about it.  As in many cases like this, it's worth asking who they were trying to deceive.  The advisers?  Hardly.  The Vietcong?  It's was the Vietcong who won the battle; they certainly knew about it?  The US generals?  Hopefully they knew the truth about it.  The South Vietnamese public?  Probably.  The American public?  Undoubtedly.

It wasn't a matter of military security, in other words.  It was a matter of propaganda for the folks back home.  That's why it seems so incredibly gullible to me when I see the "milbloggers" promoting some smiley-face CENTCOM press release as being the real scoop on the Iraq War.

There is a lot to be said about media coverage of the Vietnam War, particularly the role of TV.  I'm inclined to think that the role of TV coverage as such in turning public opinion against the war tends to be grossly overestimated by both fans and critics of the Vietnam War.  But what I want to focus on here is the lesson that Pat Lang referred to about the role of the media in the Vietnam War.  The generals in the 1974 survey indeed mostly drew the kind of lesson that Lang describes:

[William] Westmoreland's [commander in Vietnam under Lyndon Johnson] generals shared his negative view of the performance of the news media in Vietnam. That they would have such a view is not surprising, but the intensity of their feelings is: 89 percent negative toward the press, and 91 percent negative toward television. On only one other matter in the survey, the quality of ARVN, was a consensus so nearly approached. It should be noted that the different wording of the two negative questions on each medium indicates a far deeper negative orientation toward television than toward the [print] press...

There was a great deal of commentary on these questions. It can be grouped into clusters. Several of the respondents felt that the reporters had made up their minds in advance that going into Vietnam was a mistake and were out to prove their point. Many generals attributed a lack of support of the war by the American people to the media. One senior general said that the media conducted "a psychological warfare campaign against the United States policies in Vietnam that could not have been better done by the enemy."

A large number of respondents commented on the media's representation of the war, some saying that the reporters simply did not understand the war, and in other cases that reporting was distorted for effect. In some instances editors at home were blamed for distorting stories or writing misleading headlines. A former Chief of Staff studied combat photography closely and was convinced that much of it was staged. One Division Commander tells of seeing a telegram from one of the major TV networks to a field reporter in his area which read, "Get footage of American soldiers misbehaving."  [Kinnard does not cite any documentation of this other than this survey response comment.] (my emphasis)

This negative attitude on the part of the generals was, of course, highly self-serving; it wasn't our brilliant generals who failed and who lied to the public about the war, it was those evil reporters not telling the story the way the generals wanted ittold.  It's also worth noting that these attitudes very much reflect the position that the Nixon-Agnew administration took in demonizing The Media in general, not just over the Vietnam War.

Kinnard also notes that some of the generals did have what I would call a more realistic view:

Not all of the generals were critical of the media. A minority saw shortcomings in the military's handling of reporting the progress in the war. One respondent put it this way: "We placed too much emphasis on the positive, and were over-sensitive to criticism, while engaging in false reporting to cover up setbacks. This, in time, led to our losing credibility."  (my emphasis)

Kinnard also makes this important observation:

One would expect the military managers of the war to have a negative attitude toward media coverage of events in or concerning that tragedy. Aside from problems of waging the war itself, there are more fundamental reasons. The traditional authoritarian nature of military services requires a tight control of all events, including news distribution. The professional expertise of officers concerning military operations permits them to be more critical of news coverage of such matters than civilians. Also, their deep involvement in military matters causes them to evaluate the treatment by media of matters concerning the military.  (my emphasis)

Authoritarian civilians also tend to be hostile toward a free and critical-minded press, as well.  The fact that the rightwingers keep up an unending and often downright hysterical rant about the "liberal media" even today, when the press is far less critical and far more subservient to the incumbent administration's wishes and far more eager to adopt Republican Party talking points than was the case in the 1960s, is a good illustration of that characteristic of the authoritarian outlook.

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