Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Matt Taibbi on the problems with the press (part of it, anyway)

All my posts today are dedicated to the memory of Molly Ivins.

Following up on my recent post, ironically Matt Taibbi has just done a column slamming the bad habits of the press: Punish the Right-Wing Liars 01/31/07. But he does what most journalists done when they address this, as the Daily Howler endlessly points out. He focuses on the fantasists and polemicists at FOX News and Oxycontin radio. And, of course, on those naughty bloggers who have shaken up the neat and orderly kingdom of the David Broders and Tim Russerts.

Do I need to say there was not a hint of self-reflection about his vapid, silly piece on Hillary Clinton that I previously discussed?

Of course, Republican media is bad on a lot of different levels. But the primary media problem for Democrats looking to have their issues put before the voting public, and for the general public wanting to get accurate information on issues that affect our lives like Social Security or health care or war with Iraq or Iran, is not the rightwing media. Our problem is the incredible dysfunction of the Establishment press, the respectable, sober, sensible, responsible, mainstream press, both print and broadcast. And the problem is only partly political and class bias. It's also laziness in fact-checking, a phony this-side-says/the-other-side says concept of "balance", an unwillingness to point out straight-up falsehoods from powerful officials, kissing up to sources for that precious Access by softballing their reporting on them, an obsession with scandal and trivia, an addiction to shared conventional "scripts" about individuals and issues.

Yeah, it took a group of sleazy unreconstructed Arkansas segregationists to cook up the initial batch of horse poop that became collectively known as "Whitewater". But it took the Jeff Gerth of the New York Times to be conned by a group of guys so dubious that most people wouldn't trust them to give directions to the store around the corner to legitimate it and make it into a long-term political war. Bob Woodward acting as court historian to the Bush administration added a great deal of credibility to the administration's pretensions to Churchillian greatness. Judith Miller's disgraceful pimping of Ahmad Chalabi's war propaganda on the front page of the Times added completely undeserved credibility to the phony charges about Iraqi WMDs.

And look at what we're seeing in the Scooter Libby trial and the whole Plame case. Judith Miller, Bob Novak, Bob Woodward and other reporters making shameless pandering to their sources (to put it gently!) a higher priority than their any obligation to the public to report the news.

Matt Taibbi trashes Hillary Clinton in the silliest way. And then points to the bad boys and girls at FOX News and Republican hate radio as the people who are screwing up journalism.

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The "Democrat Party"

You know, it really doesn't bug me when Republicans use their cutesy little label "Democrat Party" instead of the normal "Democratic Party".

I mean, if the Republicans want to advertise their lack of command of English grammar, that's fine with me. It really is.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dems on the way ... but not there yet

Tonight's PBS Newshour featured a good example of the authoritarian swamp in which the Republican Party has mired itself - and an example of how the Democrats let them get away with it.

It was an interview with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who's a good guy, and Republcian Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who's a Party hack:
President's Nominee Acknowledges Need for New Iraq Solution 01/30/07.

They were talking about the Iraq War. Cornyn basically did nothing but recite the Party talking points of the day like a zombie: Democrats are hypocrites, Democrats don't have alternatives, yadda, yadda. But one of the Reps' talking points of the day is this, in Cornyn's robotic version:

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), Texas: Well, I've been here in Congress in the Senate the last four years, and we've had a lot of debate about Iraq. But clearly, as we all know, what we have been doing has not been working, particularly with the rise of insurgent violence, but I don't think these resolutions, nonbinding resolutions are going to accomplish anything.

As a matter of fact, I think the only thing they are going to accomplish has already been accomplished, and that is to send a negative message to the folks who are out there on the front line, on the mission that we've asked them to do, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And I think it's demoralizing.
Now, the ordinary TV viewer will hear this for what it is, a sleazy slur that critics of Dear Leader Bush's war policies are traitors. This has been amazingly common the last couple of weeks - it's the Party line of the moment - and some Democrats, and even Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, have done a decent job of tossing that back in their faces.

Just to be clear - it's not just "rightwing" Republicans who have been floating this. Even "moderates" like Sen. Richard Lugar have gone along with this sleaze. That's assuming there's any meaningful distinction left between "rightwing" and "moderate" Republicans, which I seriously doubt.

Cornyn kept it up:

GWEN IFILL: Would you go as far as Secretary Gates did last week, when he said that this kind of debate is emboldening the enemy?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Well, that's what General Petraeus, of course, the new commander who was confirmed unanimously on Friday, has said during his confirmation hearing, as well. And it's ironic, Gwen, to say we're going to confirm the commander who's the architect of this plan, and we're going to send him over there, you know, but we're going to undercut them, in terms of their ability to accomplish the mission.

I just think it's a mixed message, a bad message. And I wish we'd reconsider.
Now, Durbin seems to be a decent guy and even a nice guy, from what I can tell. Here was his response immediately following:

SEN. DICK DURBIN: Not at all. First, let's make it clear: We stand behind these troops. They've done everything we've asked them to do. They've risked their lives and continue to do it, while we debate this in the safety of the Capitol.

But the simple fact of the matter is that the policy of this country needs to be decided. That decision is made by the government, by the Congress and by the president.

This kind of deliberation and debate is what America and democracy are all about. And those who want to quiet this debate and want us all to march in silent lock-step don't understand the noise of democracy as something that we shouldn't either ignore or criticize. For our troops in the field, we'll stand by them.
Now, this was a decent response. The problem is, Cornyn's slur wasn't decent, it was sleazy as all hell. He was bullying Durbin. And I'm guessing to most viewers it came across like it came across to me, that Durbin was letting Cornyn verbally push him around with the cheapest sort of sleaze.

But when a sleazy Republican practically calls you a traitor in front of a nationwide TV audience while sitting there right beside you, that's an in-you-face comment. And it deserves and in-your-face response. It's not enough to say what any normal citizen knows, "This kind of deliberation and debate is what America and democracy are all about."

Dick, the problem isn't that Cornyn doesn't understand "the noise of democracy". The problem is he's calling you a traitor to your face!

Durbin should have at least called him specifically on "slinging sleaze" or "using poisonous language" or something. Even better, he could have waved his finger in his face and said something along the lines of, "I'm pretty damned tired of the President's supporters trying to intimidate the people's elected representatives into not criticizing his failed policies when three-quarters of the American public are fed up with them!"

The Democrats are off to a good start in their new Congressional majority. Hey, I hear that Barack Obama has offered a plan for Congress to require all American troops to be out of Iraq in a year or so. I haven't heard the details, but it sounds like he's on the right track.

But they still have to constantly point out how low the Republicans have sunk in their accusations and sleaze-slinging. They won't stop until our side makes them stop.

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Democrats and press "scripts"

I think Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby should be regular daily reading for all Democratic Presidential candidates and all their strategists and PR people. And Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog required reading for every literate American citizen, but that's a story for another post.

A lot of us Dems have spent years, decades even, poo-pooing the rightwing conspiracy theory of the Liberal Press, a conspiracy theory that gets more widely spread the more conservatives get media bullhorns. I heard Sean Hannity ranting on FOX News the other day that the New York Times (of Judith Miller fame), the Washington Post (which supported the Iraq War), plus CBS and NBC (or was ABC in there too?) were all "very leftwing".

Bob Somerby has been making the case for years that liberals and Democrats have failed to face up to the fact that the mainstream media, or the Establishment press as I prefer to call it, has been the driving force behind the trivialization, trashing and ridicule of Democratic candidates during the last decade and more. The Republican rightwing definitely plays a role, as in the phony and dishonest story spun up by Rev. Moon's propaganda machine and popularized by FOX News that Barack Obama attended a radical, Saudi-funded "madrassa" as a child. Somerby gives a (for him) rare pat on the back to CNN for quickly debunking that one.

But it's not just a matter of the rightwingers making stuff up and having the "press corps" adopt it as their script, though that happens far too often. The mainstream press corps originates a lot of this, a process of which Somerby provides copious examples at The Daily Howler.

I liked this definition of the problem as defined by Al Gore, one of the primary victims of this press dysfunction, in a talk that Green Greenwald summarized as follows(
Various items Unclaimed Territory blog 01/09/07):

I listened to part of an interview with Al Gore earlier today in which Gore argued that the Internet and blogs are in the process of fundamentally changing the nature of political debate and dialogue in this country. Television has been overwhelmingly dominant in shaping public opinion, Gore argues, and because its attributes (corporate control, advertisement-dependence, reliance on an entertainment-format) preclude meaningful political discussions, our political debates have been vapid, substance-free and highly manipulative (and those who have exercised the most influence in that environment - presumably television "journalists" and pundits - have thrived because they excel at these empty tasks.

Gore contends that the Internet will make political debates far more substantive and will render the punditry world far more meritocratic, because online commentators are largely free of the constraints of television which ruin political debates, and because online political dialogue both permits and demands higher-quality arguments in order to persuade. ... (my emphasis)
I don't mean to make Bob Somerby sound like the William Faulkner of the Web, or something. Comparing people like Faulkner or Elvis or Britney Spears to mere mortals just isn't fair to the poor mortals. Somerby strangely failed to understand the significance of the Valerie Plame case, which turns out to still be one of the outlets from which we are learning a great deal of fatual detail about the road to war in Iraq and about the rank maliciousness and dishonesty of the Cheney-Bush administration.

But he's is very good when he focuses on the "scripts" that the press locks into about various individuals, in particular. And while the "scripts" may very occasionally favor a liberal, they usually don't. And, he is good about keeping in mind the reality that the problem is not simply personal bias toward Republicans, thought that certainly does happen. It's the very kinds of things that Gore mentioned: shallowness, sensationalism, an "entertainment" orientation.

post of 01/29/07 gives a good example of how rigid scripts, superficiality and just plain carelessness and dumbness so badly distort political reporting in the US today, to the particular detriment of Democrats.

And he argues passionately that Dems, including those of us in the "liberal Web", have to find a way to counter those scripts. That presents particular challenges in a primary seasons when the Democratic candidates are fighting to distinguish themselves from each other.

But Somerby's right. The frivolous, dishonest story that the Moonie Website "Insight" made up about Barack Obama having attended a radical Islamic "madrassa" as a child and that it was Hillary Clinton's campaign spreading the rumor is a good example. As Joe Conason points out, not only were both claims bogus. But they are a signature Nixon-style "dirty trick" from the Watergate days:
Ghosts of dirty tricks past Salon 01/26/07. And the real damage is not that an outlight for a far-right cult group makes up these stories, irresponsible as that is. The most serious damage is that allegedly responsible journalists, pundits and news outlets pick it up and publicize it. In this case, CNN did some actual journalistic work and debunked the story.

I have my own reservations about Obama as a Democratic candidate, which I've expressed here before. Not least because I'm still hoping that Al Gore will announce his candidacy. Obama has been the beneficiary of the press' celebrity obsession. But we've already seen with the Moonie madrassa story how quickly that can morph into the Establishment press spreading total hokum about him.

But Somerby's point is that even while the Dems battle it out for the Presidential nomination in 2008, we all have to guard against those deadly, phony "scripts", even for our less-favored candidates. Because by the time the primaries are over, they will be much harder to undo.

"Dirty trick" sounds almost benign these days, doesn't it? In the Cheney era, full-blown sleaze-slinging, shameless manufacture of stories, outing of CIA agents, accusations of treason (against war critics, not against Republicans who out CIA agents for cheap politics) and godlessness have become standard operating procedure for the Grand Old Party.

Here's a prime example of this kind of problematic reporting, from Matt Taibbi who writes on politics for Rolling Stone:
Hillary Is In It to Win It 01/22/07. Now, Taibbi can do good reporting. I've seen some of it in Rolling Stone. But this is essentially a smug, cynical polemic against Hillary Clinton, relying on some of airhead press scripts that are kicking around out there. The short version of Taibbi's piece: Hillary Clinton uses English words in her speeches that other people have also used and this proves she a Big Phony! It's ridiculous.

And, not to pick on Alternet which runs some good articles and which I normally check daily. But what's with Earl Ofari Hutchinson whose work they regularly feature? He is supposed to be, like, their token black Republican or something? Oh, I see at his Web site that he's a "FOX liberal", as in "I'm a liberal except on the subject which we're talking about at the moment where I totally agree with the Republicans".

On the same day as Taibbi's hit piece, they published Hutchison's
Hillary's Problem Is Hillary, Not Republicans 01/22/07. To use just one example, let's take the third paragraph:

In exit polls on election night last November following her smash Senate reelection victory, one out of five New York voters were adamant that Hillary would not make a good president. And these were the voters that backed her in her Senate victory.
Okay, he didn't cite which exist polls. But on the face of it, what does it say? If you read it quickly, it certainly sounds like a fifth of the New Yorkers who voted for her do not like her for President: "these were the voters that backed her in her Senate victory."

But what he reports about the poll in the preceding sentence is that "one out of five New York voters were adamant" in insisting that Clinton would not make a good President. Now, I don't have the final results of that race in front of me. But as I recall, the Republican candidate got more than 20% of the statewide vote. I would have thought that all New York Republicans and maybe some small percentage of Democrats would be against her Presidential candidacy. The 20% figure, though, presumably wouldn't even include all the Republicans.

Yet he presents this as showing that 20% of the New Yorkers who voted for Hillary are "adamant" against her Presidential campaign. This sloppy at best, clownish and dishonest at worst.

Bob Somerby on 01/23/07 reacting to the press coverage of Hillary's announcement that she intends to run for President.

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Iraq War: Another possibility on the "cult" fight

The London Independent's Patrick Cockburn is hearing an unconfirmed but possible version of the recent clash between a "cult" and the Iraqi and US forces in the area of Najaf: US 'victory' against cult leader was 'massacre' 01/30/07.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Antiwar "culture warrior" spooked by marching hippies

Pat Lang has been one of the most astute critics of the Iraq War all along.

But he can't quite stand being on the same side of the issue with those he apparently still thinks of as the dirty hippies.

An old war "comes home." Sic Semper Tyrannis blog 01/28/07, he gripes about the fact that he saw Jane Fonda demonstrating against the Iraq War and is sure that it's going to hurt the antiwar cause.

You know, if he wants to hang on to his "culture war" prejudices and still oppose the Iraq War, that's better than cheering for the damned thing. And he's certainly not going to listen to me about it. I ticked him off last year by posting a criticism of a guest post at his blog that tried to say that Southern secession wasn't about slavery. Apparently a lot of guys who went throught the officer corps just have a hard-on for Robert E. Lee that won't let go.

But here's where "culture war" spaciness can get you:

Hagel, Webb, John Warner, and ultimately John McCain, are examples of the men who are stricken to their core by the memory of that time and the vision of war without end that is the looming legacy of this administration. These are the men who will lead America out of the wasteland. (my emphasis)
Look, it's nice that Chuck Hagel finally decided to start complaining about the war. Or got in touch with his inner hippie or came out of the peace closet or whatever the heck happened to him.

But if he were going to be the one to "lead America out of the wasteland", he would have been making a stink about this war years before now when his own Party controlled all three branches of government.

And, yeah, Warner is hemming and hawing about how maybe this whole escalation thing isn't such a brilliant idea. But, uh, wasn't he Chairman of the Armed Services Committee for the last four years? Why didn't his inner anguish lead him to hold the kind of hearings we've seen just this month since the Dems took over the Senate?

And that bold Maverick John McCain? The guy who has been a loud-mouthed hawk on the Iraq War all along? The guy who proposed the current escalation? The guy who's pandering like crazy to the hardcore Republican war lovers and Christian dominionists? That John McCain?

If St. McCain is going to be leading us "out of the wasteland" then by Hephaestus I'm staying in the wasteland.

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Updated Cordesman reports on Iraq War available

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has consistently been one of the most reliable sources of description and analysis on the Iraq War. This is unusual, because Cordesman is a war supporter, yet he hasn't given in to the excessive optimism or tendency to dismiss unfavorable indicators that so many others have fallen prey to. I do wonder at this point how he can continue to see any hope at all, given the situations he describes in his reports.

He continually updates various papers on the war at the CSIS Web site. The two latest available are as follows, with brief excerpts from each:

Iraq’s Sectarian and Ethnic Violence and the Evolving Insurgency 01/29/07:

Killing and casualties are only part of this story. The map of sectarian and ethnic violence is far broader than the major incidents of violence reported by the MNF-I and Iraqi government. There are no accurate or reliable counts of such dead and wounded because they cannot be counted with any reliability even in the Baghdad area. However, a count kept by the Associated Press estimated that 13,738 Iraqis – civilians and security forces - died violently in 2006. The UN reported that 34,452 Iraqi civilians died in 2006. Groups like Iraq Body Count reported that a total of roughly 56,000 Iraqis civilians died since 2003. At the extremes, a Lancet study based on a highly uncertain methodology and sampling method estimated that 650,000 Iraqis have died since 2003.
The Lancet survey may be "extreme" in the reported counts. But its methodology seems to be solid.

Tragic as such estimates are, other forms of “cleansing” have become at least as important as major overt acts of violence. Shi’ites and Sunnis, and Arabs and Kurds, seek to dominate the other side or push the weaker side out of areas where they have the majority or have superior power. These forms of “soft” ethnic cleansing include threats, physical intimidation, blackmail, seizure of property, raids on homes and businesses, use of checkpoints to push other factions out, kidnappings and extortion, misuse of government offices and police, and disappearances.

Maps of Baghdad and other major cities with mixed populations show a steady separation of the population on sectarian and ethnic lines, and reflect the efforts of the dominant side to push the other out or exclude it. Another measure of the level of conflict which goes beyond the data on killings is the number of refugees. At the end of 2006, the UN reported that there were 1.7 million internally displaced Iraqis since 2003, with an average of 45,000 Iraqis leaving their homes every month.
Iraq's Evolving Insurgency and the Risk of Civil War 01/26/07:

The end result is the blurring of lines between insurgency and civil war, and all sides are to some extent guilty of terrorism. The fighting in Iraq has evolved over time in ways that increase the risk of intense or full-scale civil war. It is now driven by sectarian and ethnic struggles, rather than national movements and causes, and in some cases by internal struggles for power within the same sect, which is the case of the Shi'ites in Basra. In other cases, like Kirkuk, the struggle is between Kurds, and other minorities, with little role by the Sunni insurgents.
Reconstruction in Iraq: The Uncertain Way Ahead 01/19/07:

The de facto deterioration of Iraq’s petroleum sector has reached the point where action is becoming increasingly urgent simply to maintain current production, along with efforts to limit the growth of domestic demand and reduce product imports. A coherent plan for energy sector rehabilitation and development is critical to any Iraqi ability to become self-financing, as well as to provide government funds as incentives for conciliation and coexistence. The same is true to both creating suitable refinery capacity and removing subsidies from petroleum products that create massive demand growth and act as incentive for theft and black market activities.

The deterioration of the critical health and education sectors because of fighting, poor aid programs and sustained underinvestment, needs to be readdressed from the ground up.
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Demonstration phobia: I don't get it

Steve Gilliard is one of my favorite bloggers on political and military topics.

But he is completely down on the idea of antiwar demonstrations.  In Myth and reality 01/28/07, he even argues, absurdly, that:

... the anti-[Vietnam]war movement failed. Badly.

It alienated the middle class, it failed to gain any congressional victories and anti-war legislators were defeated (Al Gore,Sr, Ralph Yarborough) while US troops were in Vietnam. It also led to two Nixon elections.

This is all but incomprehensible to me.  The "antiwar movement" against the Vietnam War was always a lot more than demonstrations, though demos loom large in television retrospectives because they were dramatic.

But the antiwar movement, with not just demonstrations but "teach-ins" and alternative newspapers and political actions and various educational campaigns did raise public awareness about the problems of the Vietnam War and the unjustness and unnecessariness (if that's a word!) of it.

Since "antiwar movement" is a vague term convering people of diverse political interests, then and now, it's painfully simple to find this or that to object to about "the movement."

Also, its true that Nixon's use of what we now call "culture war" themes was partly directly at antiwar demonstrators.  But you don't have to look any farther than our esteemed President today to find good white, conservative Republican and even prowar families who were not thrilled about the prospect of their own darling boys going off to fight the Great Communist Menance in Vietnamese jungles.

But saying the antiwar movement "led to two Nixon elections" is as ahistorical as what we expect to hear from our Big Pundits.  To quickly mention some of the factors, you would have to include: the fact that the Vietnam War was rightly perceived as an enterprise of the Democratic Party; Nixon's "secret plan" to end the war; the shock of the Tet Offensive in early 1968; worries over drugs and teenage promiscuity and the birth control pill and guys wearing their hair long

Then there was not only the peaceful civil rights movement and its successes, which a lot of white folks chose to interpret as something like the collapse of civilization.  There had also been several major urban riots that were freaking out the public.  In 1968, the assassination of Martin Luther King sat off an unprecedented series of urban riots.  White voters no doubt reacted absurdly to some of those events.  But were Nixon voters in 1968 or 1972 more worried about guys with long hair and women in tie-dyed clothing and jeans demonstrating against an unpopular war than about their overheated images of rioting urban dwellers and "uppity" black people?  I don't think so.

I don't know about Gilliard in particular.  But I've always thought that the sqeamishness a lot of liberal bloggers seem to have about the whole idea of street demonstrations must be partially a reflection of the decline in union membership in the US.  If you've ever been out to picket your employer, or even a part of a union that was prepared to do so, demonstrating in public doesn't seem like a terribly shocking thing to do.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More on the "Commander-in-Chief" power

Alexander Hamilton (Photo courtesy

I've been thinking more about the Commander-in-Chief role of the President in the American Constitutional system. Because whether the Democrats like it or not, they have been placed in the position where in order to prevail politically, they have to fight for the Consititution against the Cheney theory of the Unilateral Executive. And the war power is the most important element in that fight, though by no means the only one.

Alexander Hamilton addressed the "commander-in-chief" role of the President in
Federalist #69 (1788) in which he argued for the adopted of the proposed Constitution where he wrote:

The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature [Congress]. (my emphasis)
Hamilton compared the virtues of the Constitutional office of the President to that of the British monarchy. Hamilton in this piece takes a very different view of the status of the Presidency than the worshipful attitude today's Republicans show to George W. Bush:

The President of the United States would be an officer elected by the people for FOUR years; the king of Great Britain is a perpetual and HEREDITARY prince. The one would be amenable to personal punishment and disgrace; the person of the other is sacred and inviolable. The one would have a QUALIFIED negative upon the acts of the legislative body; the other has an ABSOLUTE negative. The one would have a right to command the military and naval forces of the nation; the other, in addition to this right, possesses that of DECLARING war, and of RAISING and REGULATING fleets and armies by his own authority.
Commenting on that essay by Hamilton, the great Constitutional scholar Edward Corwin wrote in Total War and the Constitution (1947):

Rendered freely, this appears to mean that in any war in which the United States becomes involved — one presumably declared by Congress — the President will be top general and top admiral of the forces provided by Congress, so that no one can be put over him or be authorized to give him orders in the direction of the said forces. But otherwise he will have no powers that any high military or naval commander who was not also President might not have. Additional testimony as to the purely military significance originally attached to the clause is afforded by Story's statement in his Commentaries, written nearly half a century later, that the only objection leveled against it in the States' ratifying conventions was that "it would be dangerous to let him [the President] command in person." "The propriety," Story adds, "of admitting the President to be Commander-in-Chief, so far as to give orders and have a general superintendency, was admitted." (my emphasis)
Corwin also cites Hamilton during the Washington administration as follows on Congressional war powers. This is made more notable by the fact that Hamilton, leader of the emerging Federalist Party, tended to advocate a more expansive view of Presidential power than the Jeffersonians:

Nevertheless, the executive cannot thereby control the exercise of that [Congressional] power. The legislature is still free to perform its duties, according to its own sense of them; though the executive, in the exercise of its constitutional powers, may establish an antecedent state of things, which ought to weigh in the legislative decision. The division of the executive power in the Constitution creates a concurrent authority in the cases to which it relates.
And Corwin quotes the following from the Supreme Court decision in Fleming v. Page (1850) - which does not seem to be available online, *%^$#@! - on the Commander-in-Chief power. The particular issue was whether the President on his own authority could annex the Mexican port of Tampico, which had been seized in the Mexican War:

His [the President's] duty and his power are purely military. As commander-in-chief, he is authorized to direct the movements of the naval and military forces placed by law at his command, and to employ them in the manner he may deem most effectual to harass and conquer and subdue the enemy. He may invade the hostile country, and subject it to the sovereignty and authority of the United States. But his conquests do not enlarge the boundaries of this Union, nor extend the operation of our institutions and laws beyond the limits before assigned to them by the legislative power. ...

In the distribution of political power between the great departments of government, there is such a wide difference between the power conferred on the President of the United States, and the authority and sovereignty which belong to the English crown, that it would be altogether unsafe to reason from any supposed resemblance between them, either as regards conquest in war, or any other subject where the rights and powers of the executive arm of the government are brought into question. (my emphasis)
(Hello, Supreme Court? Library of Congress? Shouldn't the full text of all Supreme Court decisions be available on-line by now? Has Cheney classified all the ones prior to 1890 or something?)

We should remember that at the time of the approval of the Constitution there were essentially no regular national Army and only a small Navy. To raise an Army, the national government had to call up state militias into national service, the same power being exercised today when National Guard (state militia) troops are called to regular service in the national armed forces. So these early discussions often talk about the national forces and the state militias when called into national service interchangeably.

James Madison (Photo courtesy

In a debate in the Virginia Constitutional Covention of June 1788, James Madison addressed control over the state militias under the proposed Constitituion. He said:

The State Governments are to govern the militia, when not called forth for general national purposes; and Congress is to govern such part only as may be in the actual services of the United States. Nothing can be more certain and positive than this. It expressly empowers Congress to govern them when in the service of the United States. (my emphasis)
In other words, even though the President is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, it is Congress who governs them. "Nothing can be more certain and positive than this," said Madison.

Cheney's and Bush's supporters today are trying to make it sound altogether inappropriate for Congress to use its appropriation powers to set limits to the Executive's military discretion. The Founders saw the war powers of Congress very differently.

Federalist #41 1788) is particularly interesting in this regard. It was a general assumption among Americans at that time that a standing army, i.e., permanent professional national armed forces, were inherently a danger to freedom. A big reason for the Founders wanting to abandon the Articles of Confederation in favor of the Constitution was to provide more effective means for raising a national army and otherwise providing for the common defense than had been possible under the Articles.

Madison here is arguing for the Constitution and federal government's enhanced powers in that regard. But he did not at all discount the danger to free institutions of a standing army. Rather, he argued that a single nation could not determine solely on its own whether to have a standing army in given historical circumstances:

The fifteenth century was the unhappy epoch of military establishments in the time of peace. They were introduced by Charles VII. of France. All Europe has followed, or been forced into, the example. Had the example not been followed by other nations, all Europe must long ago have worn the chains of a universal monarch. Were every nation except France now to disband its peace establishments, the same event might follow. The veteran legions of Rome were an overmatch for the undisciplined valor of all other nations and rendered her the mistress of the world.

Not the less true is it, that the liberties of Rome proved the final victim to her military triumphs; and that the liberties of Europe, as far as they ever existed, have, with few exceptions, been the price of her military establishments. A standing force, therefore, is a dangerous, at the same time that it may be a necessary, provision. On the smallest scale it has its inconveniences. On an extensive scale its consequences may be fatal. On any scale it is an object of laudable circumspection and precaution. A wise nation will combine all these considerations; and, whilst it does not rashly preclude itself from any resource which may become essential to its safety, will exert all its prudence in diminishing both the necessity and the danger of resorting to one which may be inauspicious to its liberties.
Madison argued that a virtue of the proposed Constitution was that it allowed raising a sufficient national army when required but placed definite restrictions on it so that three people's elected representatives could control them. James Madison certainly did not suffer from the idolatry for the military that we see in today's authoritarian Republican Party, especially the Christian Right, and, sadly, in all to many Democrats. Madison wrote:

The clearest marks of this prudence are stamped on the proposed Constitution. The Union itself, which it cements and secures, destroys every pretext for a military establishment which could be dangerous.
And that vital safeguard was Congress' power of appropriation. The Constitution specifically limits the ability of Congress to appropriate funds for the military for longer than two years at a time, so that the elected representatives will be required to consider it again at least every two years:

Next to the effectual establishment of the Union, the best possible precaution against danger from standing armies is a limitation of the term for which revenue may be appropriated to their support. This precaution the Constitution has prudently added. I will not repeat here the observations which I flatter myself have placed this subject in a just and satisfactory light. But it may not be improper to take notice of an argument against this part of the Constitution, which has been drawn from the policy and practice of Great Britain. It is said that the continuance of an army in that kingdom requires an annual vote of the legislature; whereas the American Constitution has lengthened this critical period to two years. This is the form in which the comparison is usually stated to the public: but is it a just form? Is it a fair comparison? Does the British Constitution restrain the parliamentary discretion to one year? Does the American impose on the Congress appropriations for two years? On the contrary, it cannot be unknown to the authors of the fallacy themselves, that the British Constitution fixes no limit whatever to the discretion of the legislature, and that the American ties down the legislature to two years, as the longest admissible term.
See also Gleen Greenwald's post on this issue: Public servant v. Military Commander Unclaimed Territory blog 01/27/07.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

A very good point!

In At Ease, Mr. President New York Times 01/27/07, Garry Wills reminds us that the Constitution defines the American President's role as commander-in-chief as follows:

The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.
Our authoritarian Republicans like to refer to Our Dear Leader Bush generically as the "Commander-in-Chief". And it's been painfully clear that most of the Republican members of Congress actually see him that way.

But he's not officially anyone's "Commander-in-Chief" outside the active-duty armed forces. The fact that he's so commonly referred to that way is one more sad sign of the militarization of American politics and the political vocabulary. Wills expands on that point:

The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. In wartime, it is true, people submit to the national leadership more than in peacetime. The executive branch takes actions in secret, unaccountable to the electorate, to hide its moves from the enemy and protect national secrets. Constitutional shortcuts are taken "for the duration." But those impositions are removed when normal life returns.

But we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and "the duration" has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever — more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism.
The thing that bothers me most to this day about Dear Leader's May 2003 Mission Accomplished speech was that he appeared for a major speech in military garb. I don't know if George Washington wore a military uniform when he during his Presidency led the mobilized state militias to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. But, to put it mildly, it's very unusual for the President to appeal in military get-up in public. And unless he's in the field himself commanding an army the way Washington did on that occasion, in my mind it's inappropriate in the worst way.


Friday, January 26, 2007

A Big Pundit does okay on the Iraq War

I'm pretty frustrated with the whole punditocracy right now because they failed the country so badly on the Iraq War. But I'll give Mark Shields credit for doing a decent job on the PBS Newshour Friday night (Congress Debates Iraq Resolution, Vice President Cheney Defends Policies 01/26/07). He did a decent job of providing liberal commentary against David Brooks cheerfully reciting the Republican Party line of the day as usual.

Here's commissar Brooks brushing off Congressional criticism of the Iraq War:


But I - but where I would differ, I would say, with Mark, they are having a debate. They are not having a debate about Iraq. They are having a debate about politics.

I went to this David Petraeus confirmation hearing on the Armed Services Committee on the Senate side. They didn't - here is the guy who has written the book on counterinsurgency, who is going over to run the counterinsurgency.

Did they ask a lot of questions about the counterinsurgency? No. They asked a lot of questions about their own resolutions. What do you think of me? What do you think of my resolution? What do you think their resolution?

DAVID BROOKS: So, it was narcissism on parade.

And [Senate Democratic leader] Harry Reid, at the top of the show, was asking - he said, this is going to be a tough vote for those Republicans up for reelection. It has - nothing with Iraq, the conditions to go on Iraq.

So, this is pure politics. And the idea that somebody is sitting out there in Baghdad waiting to plant an IED, and they think, oh, there is a resolution, that the Warner resolution is actually different from the Biden resolution, believe me, that's not...
It's probably just as well for him that Shields cut him off at this point, because it seems like he was about to say something bizarre.

Shields retorted:

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree.

I think that - is there politics? Sure, there's politics. Are there politics in the Republicans? Are they looking for a fig leaf? I mean, these guys are terrified. I mean, let's be very blunt about it.

But we are finally at least debating the issue. It has gone undebated for five years, Jim.

Look - be very blunt - the Democrats were cowed in 2002. They were terrified of being accused of being soft on terrorism, as they had been earlier cast on - soft on communism or soft on crime.

JIM LEHRER: And they voted for the war resolution.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the majority of House Democrats did not.


MARK SHIELDS: The majority of the House Democrats voted against it.

But the...

JIM LEHRER: The majority...

MARK SHIELDS: But the majority of Senate Democrats did vote for it.

JIM LEHRER: Did vote for it.


MARK SHIELDS: A slim majority.

DAVID BROOKS: But, as we heard from the reporters earlier, the Pentagon reporters, the military wants the surge, most of them. I mean, they are split, of course, like any group of human beings.

Petraeus wants the surge. Have we had a debate about the merits of the thing on the ground? That, I could understand. We haven't had that debate. (my emphasis)
Shields also had a good comment about American public opinion on the war, though he couldn't resist beginning it with a silly nationalistic touch, saying "American voters are the most pragmatic people on the face of the earth". It's hard to square that with Cheney's and Bush's re-election in 2004. But the rest of his comment was okay:

The American people have concluded that this war didn't work out. I mean, they really have.

JIM LEHRER: And that's over, you mean, in terms of the conclusion?

MARK SHIELDS: That decision has been reached. And that's what we are talking about.

MARK SHIELDS: We are talking about how we are going to get - wind it down, and get out. And that's where it is.

Nobody - there is not anywhere near a plurality of any significance in this country that thinks that General Petraeus, with all his genius and all his ingenuity and all his leadership, can make a difference.
Shields was also good on Jim Webb's State of the Union address this past week:

MARK SHIELDS: The administration's argument has become, you are going to let the troops down.

He says: This is not something we are doing for the troops. We sent the troops there. This is not about - about their war. It is a war that we chose and that we choose to continue. And he put the responsibility, just as Chuck Hagel did, right back on the Congress. I mean, they're - and I think that's a fundamental premise that Democrats have not advanced, and really goes...

JIM LEHRER: And Webb is.

MARK SHIELDS: And really just rebuts the White House argument.
It was interesting that Brooks tried to downplay Dark Lord Cheney's current level of influence. That may be good politics. But for Bush to adopt the McCain escalation policy is a pretty good indication that Cheney's still calling the shots on foreign policy.

Also on the Newshour, in an otherwise forgettable interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Greg Jaffe slipped up and said the obvious that our "press corps" is not supposed to say. Ray Suarez asked if there was any sign that Robert Gates was giving his staff more leeway in talking to the press. In his response, Jaffe used the phrase "party line":


Yes. You know, I do think that there is a - more of a culture of openness. I traveled with Secretary Gates last week. And you did get the sense that his staff, in particular, which was Rumsfeld's staff that he had largely inherited, I think felt more comfortable around us.

People are less worried that, if they say something that doesn't conform to the sort of party line, that they will get thwacked on the wrist. (my emphasis)
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Josh Marshall makes an important point today at his TPM blog. SecDef Robert Gates is the latest administration official to make the sleazy and really hostile charge that for members of Congress to even support even a non-binding resolution against the McCain escalation Bush is busily implementing is tantamont to treason. Marshall writes:

It's the old routine from three and four years ago - talk tough, aggressive and confrontational, when your position is actually quite weak. Break it down and it's really no more than a confidence game.

What the White House is saying is that the United States senate can't do anything [which] does not express full support for President Bush - even something that only expresses sentiment - without aiding the enemy. The very exercise of the senate's constitutional authority aides the terrorists.

Having this resolution passed really does worry the White House - even if it is merely a non-binding, sense-of-the-senate resolution - because their whole model of political control is based [on] cowing the political opposition. That is the key. Once that spell's broken, for them it's the abyss. (my emphasis)
See also Glenn Greenwald's perceptive comments on the latest form of Bush-worship in Our Supreme General has spoken Unclaimed Territory blog 01/25/07.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Iraq War: It goes on

Patrick Cockburn, one of the best Western reporters on the Iraq War, writes about Inside Baghdad: A city paralysed by fear The Independent 01/25/07:

Black smoke was rising over the city centre yesterday as American and Iraqi army troops tried to fight their way into the insurgent district of Haifa Street only a mile north of the Green Zone, home to the government and the US and British embassies. Helicopters flew fast and low past tower blocks, hunting snipers, and armoured vehicles manoeuvred in the streets below. ...

It is extraordinary that, almost four years after US forces captured Baghdad, they control so little of it. The outlook for Mr Bush's strategy of driving out insurgents from strongholds and preventing them coming back does not look good.
He also points to one of the bizarre things about Bush's approach:

Mr Bush's [State of the Union] speech is likely to deepen sectarianism in Iraq by identifying the Shia militias with Iran. In fact, the most powerful Shia militia, the Mehdi Army, is traditionally anti-Iranian. It is the Badr Organisation, now co-operating with US forces, which was formed and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. In the Arab world as a whole, Mr Bush seems to be trying to rally the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to support him in Iraq by exaggerating the Iranian threat.
And he talks about the situation outside Baghdad, which is to be the main focus of the McCain escalation now in progress:

The degree of violence in the countryside is often underestimated because it is less reported than in the capital. In Baquba, the capital of Diyala province north-east of Baghdad, US and Iraqi army commanders were lauding their achievements at a press conference last weekend, claiming: "The situation in Baquba is reassuring and under control but there are some rumours circulated by bad people." Within hours, Sunni insurgents kidnapped the mayor and blew up his office.

The situation in the south of Iraq is no more reassuring. Five American soldiers were killed in the Shia holy city of Karbala last Saturday by gunmen wearing American and Iraqi uniforms, carrying American weapons and driving vehicles used by US or Iraqi government forces. A licence plate belonging to a car registered to Iraq's Minister of Trade was found on one of the vehicles used in the attack. It is a measure of the chaos in Iraq today that US officials do not know if their men were killed by Sunni or Shia guerrillas.
The McClatchy news service gives more details on that latest operating around Haifa Street in U.S. and Iraqi troops storm Baghdad neighborhood again by Richard Mauer 01/24/07.

Juan Cole also addresses the mismatch between Bush's anti-Iran rhetoric and the actual Shi'a groups he's made in Iraq in
Arguing with Bush Informed Comment blog 01/24/07:

The major Shiite religious parties with long histories of anti-American rhetoric and activity are the Islamic Call or Da'wa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Both of these Shiite religious parties are now allies of Bush. The Iraqi Da'wa actually helped to form the Lebanese Hizbullah in the early 1980s. A major figure in its Damascus bureau at that time was Nuri al-Maliki, now the Prime Minister of Iraq and a Bush ally. Al-Maliki supported Hizbullah versus Israel in the war last summer. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is close to the Iranian regime but whom Bush hosted in the White House on Dec. 4.

So if these Iraqi Shiite parties and militias can be brought in from the cold, why is it that Bush demonizes and essentializes other Shiite groups that are equally capable of changing their policies given the right incentives?
Good question.

In their report for Jan. 23, the US Air Force reported near four dozen air strikes in Iraq:

In total, coalition aircraft flew 44 close air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities.
The report gives a few more details about strikes "near"Baghdad and "near" Basra.

Last fall, Robert Parry took a look at one indication of what the real, existing Al Qaida may think of Bush's Iraq War policies:
Al-Qaeda's Fragile Foothold by Robert Parry 10/04/06


A few more post-SOTU thoughts

Dark Lord Cheney got awfully testy with Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday: Transcript: CNN Interview with Cheney TPM Muckraker 01/24/07. If he's gets this grumpy when Wolfie starts asking a few questions like a real journalist might ask, how is going to do under cross-examination by Patrick Fitzgerald?

Also at TPM Muckraker, Republican Chuck Hagel puts on a good show of being a real Senator:
Hagel: "There Is No Plan" 01/24/07. He was harshing on war supporters who whine about the fact that elected officials dare to question the war plans of Dear Leader Bush just because three-quarters or so of the American people are doing so. I think he was immediately replying to a weenie statement from Richard Lugar, another alleged Republican "moderate", suggesting that actually dissenting from Dear Leader's wisdom was just so inappropriate. But it could also apply to Joe Lieberman, who seems to grow more pathetic by the day, who was on the PBS Newshour with Hagel to carry Dear Leader's water for him. (Longtime war supporter Lieberman and longtime war supporter turned timid war critic Lugar are paired up to debate the war - and this is "quality journalism" on public TV!)

It's nice that Hagel (who also voted for the Military Commissions Act of 2006, aka, the Torture Legalization Act) has finally started criticizing this disaster of a war that he loyally supported for nearly four years. Robert Scheer, an early critic of the Vietnam War and still one of our best pundits - though certainly not admitted to the Society of Big Pundits - praised Hagel to the high heavens in a column last week:
Chuck Hagel for President! 01/16/07. I just don't get that. Why wasn't Hagel raising Cain about this disaster of a war when his Party controlled Congress? And it's fine that he's coming around and I don't much care whether his reasons are "sincere" or opportunistic. But let's face it: he's courageously battling for ... a non-binding resolution saying what everybody in the world outside Joe Lieberman and the Republican base understands, that the McCain escalation Bush is implementing is yet another bad idea.

And one more thing: why in the name of Ares are we bombing Somalia? (
U.S. confirms second air strike in Somalia by Sahal Abdulle Reuters 01/24/07) Yeah, I know, it's to git "Al Qaida". Cheney's all-purpose bogeyman "Al Qaida", anyway. I sure hope the Foreign Relations Committees investigate that. Bombing another country is serious business. I like to use a quote from George McGovern and Jim McGovern (no relation) from 06/06/05: "Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." That's very true. Before we slide into yet another war in Somalia, I'd like to see Congress thoroughly examine what's happening. Since they have the war power in our Constitutional system. And since Cheney and Bush are incredibly destructive and reckless when trying to do wars.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Larry Johnson didn't like Bush's SOTU very much

At least that's what I'm assuming from his post at TPMCafe of 01/23/07, Still Clueless After Six Years, in which he says:

Now, if you paid attention to the Bin Laden check list it probably reminded you a bit of the agenda of our own American religious extremists. What rich irony. A President waiting for the rapture complaining about Islamic extremists who want to destroy us because we are sinners.

That's where the real battle needs to be waged. We need to confront religious extremism and intolerance. The President who presides over a Republican party committed to harassing homosexuals, denying global warming, preaching creationism, and sneering at science is frankly just a couple of steps removed from Islamic crazies hunkered over their prayer mats and praying to Allah.

At least most people of faith in the world - Christians, Moslems, and Jews - are not fanatics. Unfortunately the helm of two countries - the United States and Iran - are in the hands of such fanatics. It is an uncomfortable truth but it is still true. When a President consults his Father in heaven about the decision to invade Iraq, pray tell how that mindset differs from an Osama Bin Laden who is convinced that his God told him to strike the evil in America. Religious nuttery is nuts regardless of the particulars of the theology.
Ouch! Good questions, though. And this guy was a CIA officer. Trained with Valerie Plame.

Reaction to Webb's SOTU

Jim Webb freaked out The General. Jesus' General, of course.

The "Lio" comic strip: what up with that?

For the last couple of weeks, the San Francisco Chronicle has been running the comic strip Lio by Mark Tatulli.

It's about a weird and excitable little kid with what seems to be a major cowlick right in the center of his front hairline who apparently has no lips until he opens his mouth. I thought the first few days it must be going for charmingly weird. Kind of a "Calvin & Hobbes" wannabe.

But the strip for 01/23/07 had an almost incomprehensible joke, with a final panel in which the guy on the right could almost have been lifted from one of the most racist caricatures of "Japs" that appeared during the Second World War in the US:

The 1940s versions usually included two big front teeth. But the glasses and beady eyes and exaggerated buck teeth were stock features. I think this is beyond bad taste. It looks like a classic racist caricature to me.

Maybe it's an unfortunate coincidence. But I'm beginning to wonder if this strip isn't some rude cousin to "Mallard Fillmore".

More on the Jim Webb SOTU

Yes, that's Old Hickory again

Jim Webb's SOTU deserves to be widely quoted. The Washington Post has
the prepared text:

"In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy - that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today." (my emphasis)
He's talking my language there. I've been saying we need to recapture the Jacksonian spirit for quite a while.

What he said about the Iraq War was brief, direct and on the mark:

The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed.

The war's costs to our nation have been staggering.


The damage to our reputation around the world.

The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism.

And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq. (my emphasis)
Oh, if you want to read Bush's dreary rant about how he's the only thing standing between us and chaos from The Terrorists, it's at the White House Web site; they'll probably have a video up there soon.

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Old Hickory: His soul goes marching on

Jim Webb was great! He quoted Andrew Jackson (usually a very good sign) on how we can't let the greedy rich stomp on the working class - or something to that effect.

Then he ripped into Bush on the Iraq War saying that it was begun recklessly and was not making America safer. And he called for a speedy withdrawal.

Dadgum! Maybe the Democratic Party still is the Party of Jefferson and Jackson!

And we may be seeing an historic moment. The moment where the Democrats learn to fight again. And fight for working people and for peace and national security and against mindless, self-destructive wars.

Oh, Bush gave a speech, too. He said The Terrorists would git us unless we cheer for his war policies.

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State of the Iraq War, pre-SOTU

I just want to call attention to a few things about the Iraq War as we wait for the next message of truth from Our Dear Leader in the State of the Union (SOTU) address tonight.

At least 130 Iraqis were killed on Monday, most of them apparently in the civil war encounteres. Juan Cole, an academic expert in Shi'a Islam, reminds us in
this 01/23/07 post of an important factors that sails right by our punditocracy:

It isn't ordinary time in Iraq for the Shiites, it is ritual time, sacred time. It is a time of deep mourning, of grief and the beating of chests and even flagellation with chains. It is the season for commemorating the martyrdom, the cosmically wrongful killing of al-Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who led the people of Kufa in what is now Iraq against the tyrannical empire of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid. His generals cut the plucky scion of the House of the Prophet down without mercy, along with his relatives and followers. They are said to have carried Husayn's head aloft on a stave and to have deposited it before the caliph in his palace in Damascus. The death of Husayn is the "passion" of Shiite Islam, their Good Friday. His shrine is in the Iraqi city of Karbala, where guerrillas dressed as American troops killed 5 American soldiers on Sunday. Emotions run high already. ...

The Sunni guerrillas' killing of over 100 Shiites in Baghdad and Khalis on Monday was therefore no ordinary carnage, even in an Iraq where to have 70 persons blown up by a single bomb is no longer a novelty to say the least. But for it to be done during these days is to drive Shiites wild with grief, to push them to take revenge. It is to universalize the martyrdom of Husayn, making all Shiites martyrs. The guerrilla movement depends on people taking revenge, from every side.
Since Cheney and Bush still try to make "Al Qaida" a main excuse for keeping US troops in Baghdad, it's worth remembering that the main area of activity for "Al Qaida in Iraq" (AQI), which terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman characterizes as an Al Qaida "affiliate" rather than part of Bin Laden's central group, is in predominently-Sunni Al-Anbar province. But the bulk of the new troops being sent in for the McCain escalation are supposedly going to Baghdad, where little if any Al Qaida activity has been noted.

Speaking of troops going in, William Arkin notes that our "press corps" is being a bit lax on reporting troops deployments. In The Surge Begins!! Shhh! Early Warning 01/22/07:

I hardly ever comment on what the media writes, being a member of the mainstream media myself and too intent on actually figuring out what the government is up to than in taking the easy and narcissistic path of media "analysis" or bashing.

But when a friend sent me the military statement that the first troops had begun arriving, I found it curious that the only weekend mention I could find - and even here it was buried - was in the Los Angeles Times.

Of course the statement was issued on Friday and there was no parade to commemorate the fabulous "surge." But it was news, and its absence from the two top U.S. papers seemed strange.

Perhaps the lack of fanfare is part of the administration's strategy, I now think: the President can "announce" the arrival of new troops in his State of the Union (applause) or even better, as the administration fights with Congress over the future in Iraq, it can keep the surge low profile and talk of the long haul and the patience required - and the Iraqi responsibility -- in order to buy time.
Also from the same Juan Cole post linked above, some dark humor about the effects of sectarian violence and the refugee problem in Iraq: What do you call Iraqi Christians now? Syrian Christians. Cole mentioned in one of his previous posts a couple of years or so back that even in its budding stages, the civil war in Iraq was creating pressure for Aramaic-speaking Christians to flee Iraq. Aramaic was the language that Jesus spoke. Cole's point was that one of the consequences of Cheney's and Bush's grand Christian crusade in Iraq might be to finally kill off the language of Jesus as a living language.

One aspect of the Iraq War that is severely under-reported is the air war. Keep in mind that the Iraq War largely involves urban combat. I don't want to change the subject here to Somalia. But in an article on US intervention there, John Judis gives us a picture of what it means to use air war to fight urban guerrillas/terrorists/militias. The title is a bit of a surprise, both for Judis and the magazine that first published it:
Rogue State America by John Judis The New Republic 01/17/07. (The link here is to the archived article at Information Clearing House.)

That's what happened on January 7 and 8 in Somali border towns; the United States claimed its bombs were intended to kill an Al Qaeda operative supposedly connected to the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. But he was not among the victims; nor were other Al Qaeda members. Then reports began trickling in of civilian deaths from the AC-130 gunships that the United States supposedly sent to hunt down the single terrorist. According to Oxfam, the dead included 70 nomads who were searching for water sources. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, estimated that 100 were wounded in an attack on Ras Kamboni, a fishing village near the Kenyan border. The Economist, which is not an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, wrote, "The Americans used the AC-130, a behemoth designed to shred large areas instantly, in the knowledge that the killing fields would be cleared before journalists and aid workers could reach them." It's a war crime to kill civilians indiscriminately.
On the war crime issue, I should add that the laws and customs of war when it comes to air power have developed altogether too slowly. But it is at least clear today that careless bombardment of even legitimate military targets done in disregard of civilian casualties is not legitimate in international law, although in the case of air power it is far murkier than for infantry and artillery.

The only daily accounts I know of describing the overall air war in Iraq come from the Air Force itself, which of course is scarcely an independent source. The dating is a bit confusing. For example, the report titled
CENTAF releases airpower summary for Jan. 22 actually reports on activities of Jan. 21. On that day, according to this official report:

In Iraq , Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Baghdad .

Air Force A-10s provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Balad.

In total, coalition aircraft flew 27 close-air-support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities.
One of the conventions of these Air Force reports is that the locations are always described as "near" a city. I've yet to see one described as being "inside" a city.

That report includes this spiffy picture of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, which it desribes as "specially designed for close air support of ground forces and can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Justin T. Watson)." I wonder how many of Sunday's 27 "close air-support" missions involved insurgents using tanks or armored vehicles. I also wonder how air strikes reinforce "infrastructure protection". If a sabateur is spotted planting a bomb under an oil pipeline, do they have an A-10 blast them on the spot? Presumably the A-10's don't yet have the capacity to defuse the bombs in "close air-support".

I have yet to see one of these Air Force reports including a photograph of the aftermath of one of these "close air-support" missions "near" an urban area. Planes with teeth painted on the front are much more inspiring.

Sunday was one of the lighter days, with only 27 air strikes reported. Think about what our attitude would be if even our own Army was conducting two dozen air strikes a day on urban targets in the United States. Much less a foreign army.

report for Jan. 20 activity counts five dozen strikes:

In total, coalition aircraft flew 60 close-air-support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities.
The report for Jan. 19 activity counts just under three dozen:

In total, coalition aircraft flew 34 close-air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities.
Some of those Jan. 19 strikes are reported to have been "near" the cities of Baghdad, Baqubah, Mosul and At Timm. The Jan. 20 action was said to include strikes "near" Karbala and "near" Baghdad.

Finally, check out Glenn Greenwald's look at current propanda for war against Iran, which is likely to come up in the SOTU, at his
Unclaimed Territory blog 01/23/07. Greenwald references the following relevant articles:

British Find No Evidence Of Arms Traffic From Iran: Troops in Southeast Iraq Test U.S. Claim of Aid for Militias by Ellen Knickmeyer Washington Post 10/04/06

Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link: U.S. warnings of advanced weaponry crossing the border are overstated, critics say by Alexandra Zavis and Greg Miller Los Angeles Times 01/23/07

Israeli, Americans and Iran by Gideon Rachman Financial Times 01/22/07

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Monday, January 22, 2007

SOTU Tuesday night

Sid Blumenthal gives us some background for viewing Bush's State of the Union (SOTU) address Tuesday evening in State of indifference Salon 01/23/07, concluding:

Bush views his State of the Union speech as another occasion for declaring what he will do regardless of what anyone thinks (with Cheney's approval). His intention is not to report on the state of the Union. It is to express his state of indifference to the Union.
Blumenthal's article also gives a good snapshot of the current position of the two parties and about Bush's reliance on Dark Lord Cheney for guidance. And he reminds us of an important factor in Lyndon Johnson's thinking on the Vietnam War, the fear that "losing Vietnam" would promote a hard-right political backlash in the United States:

"Have you read about Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam? Do you draw any lessons from that?" a reporter from USA Today asked the president in an interview published Monday. In response Bush telescoped the entire tragic history of the Vietnam War and Johnson's agonies into slogans, slurring Johnson's patriotism in order to create a contrast with his own. "Yes, win," he replied. "Win, when you're in a battle for the security ... if it has to do with the security of your country, you win."

Johnson, indeed, worried that if he failed to commit militarily in Vietnam or that if that commitment faltered, he and the Democratic Party would be smeared as soft on communism. He operated in the shadow of fear of the recrudescence of McCarthyism. Bush's casual distortion of history and defaming of Johnson's motives only prove Johnson's political perspicacity about the incorrigible mentality of the right wing, if not his actions. (my emphasis)
Blumenthal also recalls the dramatic difference between Johnson's understanding of the seriousness of war and Bush's detached callousness toward it:

Iraq may bear similarities to Vietnam as a march of folly. But George W. Bush is no Lyndon Johnson, who was fully conscious and anguished at the disaster unfolding. Unlike Johnson, who listened to the counsel of his secretary of defense, ClarkClifford, who urged him to sue for peace, Bush has disdained Clifford's latter-day counterpart, former Secretary of State James A. Baker.

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Al Qaida says send more US troops to Iraq; does this mean Bush is helping Al Qaida?

If we were to apply the "reasoning" that warmongering fools like Dinesh D'Souza and William Kristol use, we would have to conclude that. Because Al Qaida's #2 man Ayman al-Zawahri says he thinks the McCain escalation is a great idea (Al-Qaeda deputy mocks US Iraq plan Aljazeera 01/22/07):

Al-Zawahri said in the message: "I ask [Bush], why send 20,000 [troops] only - why not send 50 or 100,000? Aren't you aware that the dogs of Iraq are pining for your troops' dead bodies?

"So send your entire army to be annihilated at the hands of the mujahideen [holy warriors] to free the world from your evil... because Iraq, land of the caliphate and jihad [struggle], is able to bury ten armies like yours, with Allah's help and power." (brackets in article)
As I've said before, Al Qaida celebrates America's presence in Iraq in their public statements. And when we eventually leave, under whatever circumstances that happens, if their murderous little cult group is still around, they will claim that as a great victory, too.

But what testosterone postures these fanatics take toward America's presence in Iraq tells us little or nothing about whether it's in our interest to keep fighting in the civil war there, or whether it's really beneficial to Al Qaida to have US troops stuck there. Al Qaida's public statements are important because they give a clue about the group's priorities and the type of appeals they are making to other Muslims.

But the Aljazeera headline gets it right; this message is mocking Bush. Gee, Al Qaida hates Bush and hates America. I think we all got that message long ago now.

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Foreign policy, Iran-Contra style

I knew that the Iran-Contra affair was a major template for the Cheney-Bush administration's entire conduct of foreign policy.

But I didn't realize it was this close:
Military Surplus Parts Illegally Find Their Way to Iran, US Officials Say by Sharon Theimer AP/ 01/22/07


A few ideas pre-SOTU

As we eagerly await Our Dear Leader's State of the Union (SOTU) address Tuesday evening, here are a few relevant quotes:

As we leap off the cliff into the yawning maw of violence that awaits us in Iraq we might want to figure out which side we are on. - Larry Johnson Choosing Sides 01/19/07
[Defense Secretary Robert Gates'] favorite quotation from history, he told reporters traveling with him this week for meetings with allies and commanders in Europe and the Middle East, is from Frederick the Great, the 18th century Prussian monarch and gifted musician: "Negotiations without arms are like music books without instruments." - Hawkish Gates Sees More Force as Leverage by David Cloud New York Times 01/22/07
Frederick the Great is a fascinating character on a lot of levels. But he was also the living embodiment of Prussian (German) militarism and its greatest historical symbol. Frederick's nickname was Old Fritz (der alte Fritz), also a nickname for the Devil (and, yes, it's the same in German). And that's Gates' favorite quotation from history? Good grief!

Like the Big Push of the Somme [in the First World War], the Big Push in Iraq is a reapplication of tactics that have already proven a calamitous failure. As the outspoken retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, puts it, it's like finding yourself in a hole and then digging deeper. - Adam Hochschild, "The Big Push": Mired in the Trenches of the Iraq Fiasco 01/21/07