Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bush on Syria

Robert Fisk writes about Bush's position on relations with Syria in The scar of Hariri's murder will never heal in Lebanon Independent 06/01/07 (posted 05/31/07), which mainly deals with the UN Security Council's decision to investigate the assassination of the former Lebanese Rafik Hariri:
Clearly, George Bush will be pleased because he has long ago lined up President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in his sights. Not long ago, receiving Lebanese visitors in the White House - and this a 100 per cent accurate quotation from the horse's mouth, so to speak - Bush announced that he was "going to hang Bashar by the balls". The problem, of course, is that Mr Bush is in no position to do that. Indeed, it is the army of Iraqi insurgents who appear to have Washington by the balls and it is Mr Bush who may need President Assad's help to relieve this terrible pressure. For at the end of the day, Syria and Iran are the two countries which the US needs so it can extract itself from Iraq. (my emphasis)
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Sleaze

This is the kind of thing that should make a person the target of a censure motion in the Senate (DeMint rips war ‘wimps’ by James Rosen The State/McClatchey 05/30/07):
Sen. Jim DeMint on Tuesday blamed Democratic "wimps" in Congress for American casualties in Iraq, and cited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for special censure.

During a luncheon speech to 100 constituents in Spartanburg, DeMint also took issue with the now widespread belief that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, saying the executed Iraqi dictator had "stockpiles of chemical weapons" that still exist.

DeMint devoted most of his comments to the current immigration debate in the Senate. But he spoke about the war when a woman in the audience stood and asked him how long U.S. troops will remain in Iraq.

"Al-Qaida knows that we’ve got a lot of wimps in Congress," DeMint said. "I believe a lot of the casualties can be laid at the feet of all the talk in Congress about how we’ve got to get out, we’ve got to cut and run."

Asked later who he had targeted in his comments, DeMint replied:

"To a large degree, the Democratic party and those who basically declared defeat like Harry Reid."
Rosen notes that DeMint has apparently achieved a dubious "first" in the Iraq War debate:

While Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials have accused war critics of giving comfort to the enemy, DeMint's comments are believed to be the first time a supporter of the president’s war policies has directly blamed critics for American casualties.

He said he thinks al-Qaida strategists in Iraq "feel that if they continue to do harm to American soldiers, they will eventually win in Congress and the funding will be cut off. That's the clearest signal the Democrats have sent."
These people see things through such an ideological fog that they think the whole world is running according to their culture-war dogmas. Worse than pathetic.

I saw this link via Steve Soto of The Left Coaster (
Grab A Rifle DeMint 05/31/07), who notes that DeMint "was draft age during the Vietnam War but went to college instead, and who has military age children".

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While I was away...

... Gareth Porter wrote on Sunni Resistance Receptive to Sadr Alliance Inter Press Service 05/23/07, concerning Muqtada al-Sadr's (aka, "Mookie") proposal for a Sunni-Shi'a alliance against the Americans. Porter writes:
The talks with Sunni resistance leaders have been coordinated with a series of other moves by Sadr since early February. Although many members of Sadr's Mahdi Army have been involved in sectarian killings and intimidation of Sunnis in Baghdad, Sadr has taken what appears to be a decisive step to break with those in his movement who have been linked to sectarian violence. Over the past three months, he has expelled at least 600 men from the Mahdi Army who were accused of murder and other violations of Sadr's policy, according to Raghavan.

The massive demonstration against the occupation mounted in Najaf by Sadr's organisation on Apr. 9, which Iraqi and foreign observers estimated at tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, was apparently timed to coincide with his initiative in opening talks with the Sunnis.

The demonstration not only showed that Sadr could mobilise crowds comparable to the largest ever seen in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, but also made clear Sadr's commitment to transcending sectarian interests. The demonstrators carried Iraqi flags instead of pictures of Sadr or other Shiite symbols. It also included a small contingent of members of the Sunni-based Islamic Party of Iraq.

Sadr's decision in mid-April to pull his representatives out of the al-Maliki government also appears to have been aimed in part at clearing the way for an agreement with the Sunni insurgents. Leaders of those organisations have said they would not accept the U.S.-sponsored government in any peace negotiations with the United States.
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Russia talk

The Russians' test of a new rocket that is designed to be a counter-measure to the Star Wars "missile defense system" that doesn't even work yet is attracting attentions:U.S. "imperialism" means new arms race: Putin By Oleg Shchedrov Reuters 05/31/07; Putin culpa a EE UU de iniciar una nueva carrera de armamentos El País/Reuters 31.05.2007; "Wir haben sie gewarnt" Süddeutsche Zeitung/Reuters 31.05.07; Putin Defends Tests as Response in 'Arms Race' by Anna Smolchenko The Moscow Times 06/01/07.

Smolchenko reports:
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said the country's recent tests of new missiles were aimed at maintaining "global peace," defending them as an appropriate response to an increasing U.S. military presence in Europe.

In the latest sign of cooling relations with the United States, Putin suggested that Washington's actions were provoking an arms race.

"Bear in mind, it wasn't us who initiated the new round," Putin said, adding quietly, "of the arms race." ...

"This is extremely important for maintaining global peace," he said in response to a Greek reporter's questions about the strained state of Russian-U.S. relations. In a clear reference to the United States, Putin also criticized behavior characterized by "imperialism and dictate" in a repeat of statements he made in recent months.
The state energy heavyweight Gazprom will continue to attract attention, too, particularly while energy prices remain high: EU, Russia must adhere to legal energy supply framework: Piebalgs EU Business 31.05.2007; How the Russians plan to invade Britain by Craig Murray Daily Mail 05/27/07; Russia, Energy Security and Alternative Energy by Craig Murray, blog post 05/27/07; Why Russians Love Gazprom by Jason Bush and Anthony Blanco Business Week 07/26/07

In his blog post, Murray writes:
... I have little sympathy for the view that George Bush is the only bad man in the World, and that any World leader whose interests differ from Bush's, eg Putin, is therefore a good leader. In fact, I would view it as a fruitless and difficult exercise to view which of the two is more sinister. I do not give a second's credence to the view that the attack on Iraq was wrong, but on Chechnya OK. Or that it was dreadfully wrong for Bush to support the despotism of President Karimov of Uzbekistan, but it's OK now that Putin is doing it.

In fact I rather despair of the many on the Left who seem to accept Bush and Blair's risible "With us or against us" logic, and conclude that any opponent of Bush is a good person. Anyone who believes that the Russian oligarchs are not just as evil and machinating as Dick Cheney, has switched off his critical faculties.

And finally the fact that the neo-cons have identified energy security as a problem, does not mean it is not a problem. What the neo-cons have got wrong is the solution, which is not endless wars of resource annexation, but profound measures of energy conservation and re-orientation, and a massive drive to develop carbon friendly alternative energy sources.
Now, there's nothing especially objectionable about what Murray says here. But if we're entering a new, long-term nuclear arms race with the Russians, and if Gazprom is being held up as the Russian bogeyman by Dick Cheney types looking for excuses for a new Cold War, it's worth getting in the habit now of looking closely at the claims being made.

In the case of this statement, just who exactly holds "the view that George Bush is the only bad man in the World, and that any World leader whose interests differ from Bush's, eg Putin, is therefore a good leader"? I would also oppose such a view, if there is anyone who actually thinks that.

At the same time, we don't have to assume that the Bush and Blair governments are being honest with us in their evaluation of threats. We've had a wealth of experience to show what such an assumption is a dubious process.

I'm also not aware of any contemporary parallel to the orthodox Communist Parties of the decades of the Soviet Union, who had an ideological orientation and international political ties that pushed them to defend whatever political line of the day came out of the Kremlin.

But even if there were, it still makes total sense to take a critical look at what the Russian government and Gazprom are actually doing and saying, so far as we can get that from the available news resources. And to not approach claims of threats from neo-Cold Warriors by giving them the benefit of the doubt from the start.

Murray's rather sensationally-titled Daily Mail piece lays out the significance of Russian energy sources for Europe:
Europe currently gets a quarter of its energy from natural gas, and this is predicted to increase to 30 per cent by 2016.

Already Europe is heavily dependent for this on Russia – which means on Gazprom. Some EU states such as Slovakia and Bulgaria get all their gas from Russia, while Germany gets 43 per cent and France takes 27 per cent.

Both those figures will increase dramatically as Gazprom’s new Baltic Sea pipeline comes on line and as Western Europe’s natural gas reserves dwindle fast, especially Britain’s.

Unlike oil, natural gas is transported in fixed pipelines, so there is little opportunity for short-term switching of suppliers.

Already highly dependent on Russia, the EU is now moving into a position where inside ten years any interruption of Gazprom supplies, particularly in winter, would be devastating.
The distinction he makes between oil and gas delivery is an important economic point. The world oil spot market has made the particular source of oil less important than it once was, though of course some countries have better quality oil than others.

So, as a hypothetical example, if Venezuela stopped selling oil to the United States, that wouldn't mean that the US oil supply would be reduced by the amount that Venezuela currently supplies.It means that someone else would get Venezuela's direct supply and the oil that someone else currently gets would wind up in the US. That's a gross oversimplication, but that's the concept behind his reference.

There's not the same kind of spot market for natural gas.

The more hopeful side of this is that trade interconnections can reduce the potential for conflict. In the rightwing narrative of the end of the Cold War, the role that increased business interactions played in the 1970s and 1980s is downplayed or ignored altogether. The Murray quote above emphasizes the Europeans consumers fixed dependence of Russian supplies. The flip side of it is that Gazprom can't replace its European customers from one day to the next.

Now, I know that it's only in the imaginations of economists that business and consumers make perfectly rational decisions based on full knowledge of the alternatives. But with Europe this dependent on Russian natural gas, European leaders are more will think a bit more carefully than would otherwise be the case before taking actions that the Russians might legitimately interpret as threatening. And with Russia making big money off their European customer, Russian leaders will also be more conscious that they have a lot to lose from provoking unnecessary tensions.

Given the prospects for most people of a new Cold War and nuclear arms race, that sounds like a good thing to me.

Murray's article explains the reasons for worry over Gazprom and its clout. He also reports on how Gazprom dominates Russian TV and print news:
The company is also key to Putin’s harsh internal control. Kuprianov often appears on the nation’s TV screens, which is easily explained. A year after taking power, Putin decided to stamp out independent media in Russia.

When the only independent national TV channel was closed down in 2001, it was Gazprom Media which took it over and turned it into a propaganda arm of the Kremlin.

Gazprom went on to buy up Russia’s two large independent national newspapers. The last significant remaining one, Kommersant, was bought personally last November by the sinister Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov, chairman of Gazprominvest Holdings.

The Editor-in-Chief was immediately sacked while the defence correspondent, Igor Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window three months later.

Gazprom now controls awhole raft of formerly independent media outlets encompassing TV, radio and newspapers, all faithfully echoing the Kremlin line.
This bit from the Bush/Blanco article is also interesting:
While Gazprom makes headlines for its exploits abroad—45% of the gas consumed in Germany now comes from the Russian giant—the great bulk of Siberian gas always has been burned at home at prices heavily regulated by the state. Long after the Soviet Union was dismantled and the old gas ministry evolved into Gazprom, the Kremlin continued to curry favor with the masses by setting gas prices well below market rates.

It wasn't until Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin in 2000 that Moscow began raising domestic gas rates in hopes of discouraging consumption in those places where gas was available and freeing more of it for export. Prices are still only one-fifth of rates in Western Europe and certainly no spur to conservation.

Gazprom says it loses money on domestic sales, although most outside analysts doubt this claim. What's not in dispute is that the company makes healthy profits selling abroad. Last August the connection between the two markets became evident in an unlikely fashion in out-of-the-way Kalyazin.

In attendance at a large town meeting were not only Gazprom representatives but also Ulrich Hartmann, chairman of the parent of Germany's largest gas supplier, E.ON Ruhrgas, a major Gazprom customer and joint-venture partner. Hartmann's presence in the provincial Russian town signaled Kalyazin's role as a showcase for new energy-saving technologies, which Ruhrgas hopes Gazprom will adopt more generally.

"The more Gazprom can economize on gas," Kalyazin Mayor Ilyin explains, "the more gas it will be able to export, including to Ruhrgas and to Germany." (my emphpasis)
The fact that Gazprom sells natural gas for lower prices domestically is one of the big complaints of Western critics. That's why it's noteworthy to see Business Week reporting that "most outside analysts" believe that Gazprom also makes a profit on domestic sales.

The complaint is almost the opposite of a complaint about "dumping", in which a country sells exports at a price below it's production costs to undercut competitors. In this case, Gazprom is criticized for making too much profit in its sales abroad. That's not  to say there's nothing to the complaint. But we need to see such claims in the clear light of day, not through some 20-year-old Cold War lens.

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Class politics


I've been reading Al Gore's new book The Assault on Reason (2007). I'll do a fuller review of it later after I've actually read the whole thing.

But, as impressed as I am with Gore in general, even I was actually stunned to see how drastic his diagnosis is of the current dilemma of American democracy. And this is certainly not the usual politician's book. Even though Gore knows that every single word is likely to be picked over by both the Republican noise machine and the exotic group we call our "press corps", he's taking a philosophical approach that is by no means a simple stringing together of familiar phrases.

The book's third chapter is on "The Politics of Wealth", in which he addresses class issues in a way American politicians rarely do these days.And he also discusses how the tension between democracy and capitalism - yes, he talks about it that explicitly - was handled during the early decades of the Republic. And he refers to his predessor as Tennessee Senator and Presidential candidate who won the elections but had the elections stolent from him by the economic royalists (yes, he uses that FDR term, too):

Lincoln's transcendent victory for the freedom of the human spirit [winning the Civil War] saved the Republic. But in order to win the war, Lincoln was forced to rely on corporations that produced munitions, transported troops by rail, and focused the industrial strength of the North against the largely agrarian economy of the South. In the process, Lincoln removed many constraints that had kept the power of corporations in check during the first seven decades of the Republic.

Thomas Jefferson had expressed concern about what he saw as the encroaching danger in 1821 — more than a decade after he left the presidency: "Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence. The engine of consolidation will be the Federal judiciary; the twoother branches the corrupting and corrupted instruments."

Echoing Jefferson, President Andrew Jackson warned against the dangers of too much corporate power, saying that it raised the question of "whether the people of the United States are to govern through representatives chosen by their unbiased suffrages, or whether the money and power of a great corporation are to be secretly exerted to influence their judgment and control their decisions." (my emphasis)
I also like the fact that he doesn't try to idolize Lincoln. What he states about Lincoln's facilitating the closer connection of state and business power is true. And it's something Lincoln himself recognized.

Gore quotes this passage from a letter of Lincoln's in late 1864. One that I predict you will not hear quoted by any of the 2008 GOP Presidential candidates:

We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. ... But I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the future of our country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and a era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggragated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions will prove groundless.
Gore doesn't quote the following passage from Lincoln, at least not in the part I've read so far. But here's a passage from Lincoln's first State of the Union address on 12/3/1861 that's even less likely to appear in a Republican candidate's speech today:

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. (my emphasis)
Yikes! That would still be enough to make the hair of any good Republican plutocrat stand on end.

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Boo endorses goddess worship


In his new book, Al Gore talks about how superficial television news in the US has become. He mentions, for instance, the missing-white-girls cable obsession, stories which are sensational but whose outcomes are likely to have "any appreciable impact on the fate of the Republic."

He gives other examples, like the "runaway bride" story in Georgia, or the Michael Jackson and Robert Blake trials.

But he notes an important exception: ""And of course we can't forget Britney and KFed...". Certainly not! (And he must have meant it as an exception to the frivolity plague.)

Illustrating Gore's observation, the world media has understandably paid great attention to Boo's new message on her Web site: "Había tocada fondo" El Mundo (Spain) 30.05.07;
Britney Spears says she "hit rock bottom" in rehab Reuters 05/29/07.

Naturally, the Establishment, being as it is still far away from understanding the deeper significance of Britney's radical postmodern vision, missed the most critical point in her message, which deals mostly with his recent personal trials, throughout which the press and her Yankee critics conitinued to ruthlessly persecute her.

But the last paragraph contains the critical portion:


It is so weird how stories are told. There is your side, my side, and the truth. Somebody has to figure it out. I guess we will never really understand or figure out life completely. That's God's job. I can't wait to meet him ... or her. (my emphasis)
This will probably set off a new round of attacks on her from the Christian fundis. They've never forgiven her for the fact that back when she auditioned at Jive records, she used "Jesus Loves Me" as an audition song.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Star Wars, starry dreams


RS-24 missile (Photo: GlobalSecurity.org)

 

While we're all waiting breathlessly to hear the fate of Paris Hilton and her looming jail sentence ... the Russians claim they've successfully tested a rocket that is designed to avoid the Star Wars anti-missile shield: Russland testet neue Super-Rakete Der Spiegel Online 29.05.07; RS-24 / SS-X-29? GlobalSecurity.org 05/29/07; New Missile Successfully Test-Fired by Simon Saradzhyan Moscow Times 05/30/07 [The Moscow Times is owned by the state energy firm Gasprom].

That means that even though the Star Wars system still doesn't work, the Russians claim they have come up with an effective counter-measure in the case that after we sink more tens of billions of dollars into the thing, it actually gets to the point it might intercept an ICBM or two. According to the Russian government claim quoted by the Moscow Times, "The multiwarhead missile will be able to overcome any missile defense shield and will serve as the main land component of the country's strategic nuclear triad until the middle of this century, the statement said."

Which has always been the basic problem with the Star Wars concept. The shield, to the extent it's even technically feasible - something yet to be demonstrated in the real world - would be incredibly expensive, while counter-measures are not only technologically less challenging, but also cheaper. Cheaper by several orders of magnitude, in all liklihood.

And, of course, the whole thing means a spiraling nuclear arms race and more uncertainty, not less.

Somebody remind me again, just why is this supposed to be a good idea?

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Maximilian I, Kaiser von Mexiko



The March/April issue of Austrian Information, published by the Austrian Embassy Press and Information Service in the US, has a sketch of the unlucky career of Maximilian I von Mexiko, shown in the protrait above on the way to his execution in 1867: Maximilian I of Mexico: The Vestiges of the Habsburgs in Mexico and the Southwest by Peter Pabisch. 

Napoleon III of France took advantage of the US Civil War, in which the Confederate revolt seriously weakened the United States against potential European enemies, to install the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian as Emperor (Kaiser in German) of Mexico.

Things didn't work out very well.

The Peter Pabisch article recounts an intriguing but apparently entirely frivolous "mystery" about the late Kaiser:

The historical record shows that Ferdinand Maximilian was executed by Benito Juárez and the rightful Mexican government. To further add to the mystery surrounding his final days, a recent account by Johann Georg Lughofer claims that Maximilian was not killed, but because the bullets were blank, he survived, fled to San Salvador under a pseudonym and enjoyed a long life. His freemason “brother,” Benito Juárez, was supposed to have made his escape possible. There is, however, no serious proof to verify this amazing story. [Johann Georg Lughofer, “Des Kaisers neues Leben. Der Fall Maximilian von Mexiko.” Vienna: Carl Ueberreuter, 2002.]
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Russia, Germany, the EU and the US


Bush and his soulmate "Pooty-Poot", Dear Leader's reported fond nickname for the Russian leader Vladimir Putin

 

The Iraq War is understandably consuming a great deal of political, Congressional and media interest and is the central national political issue in the United States right now.

But bad things are also happening in terms of Russia's relations to the West. Putin's regime, which always had an authoritarian streak, had cooperated to a surprising extent with the Bush administration's "global war on terrorism". The Russian government muted its objections to the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) entering the NATO military alliance. It also accepted the establishment of extensive US military bases in countries formerly parts of the Soviet Union.

Part of the motivation was its own "terrorism" problem, especially with Chechnya. And the Western democracies did cooperate by muting criticism of the Putin government's brutal military policies toward the rebel Muslim Republic, which is still part of the Russian Federation.

But more recently, Putin has taken a harder line against internal dissent and press freedom. The German-language press has been using the word "Gleichschaltung" to describe Putin's establishment of authoritarian control of the press, in large part by having the Russian state oil company Gasprom buy various media outlets. Although Gleichschaltung isn't a specific "Nazi" word, it is the name that the Hitler government used in the early months to suppress the independent press, labor unions and other institutions of the kind we now call "civil society" organizations.

And the Putin government is putting down its foot on a number of issues. Through Gasprom, it has played hardball with energy sales, resulting in a confrontation with Ukraine earlier this year. Ukraine is now potentially on the edge of an actual civil war, with the pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko pitted against the pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych . The secret police are reportedly supporting the prime minister, while the armed forces and regular police are lining up with the president. On Saturday, Zushchenko
sent troops to threaten the capital city of Kiev, a crisis defused for the moment when he and the prime minister agreed to a September 30 date for elections. This event merited a whole paragraph at the Los Angeles Times Web site. Yushchenko's "pro-Western" position means more specifically he wants to bring Ukraine into the European Union and even NATO. Putin's government opposes such developments.

Relations with the United States are so poor at the moment that Putin didn't even bother to hang around for the customary farewell photo when Condi-Condi paid him a visit recently. See
US takes a harder line with Russia by Howard LaFranchi The Christian Science Monitor 05/10/07. The official US position, as summarized bz La Franchi, goes: "The White House is getting tough with Russia, concerned with what it perceives as Vladimir Putin's retreat from democracy and a willingness to use petropolitics to reassert regional dominance."

Since the Bush administrationrepresents the energy industry invested with state power, as James Galbraith memorably described it, Russia's willingness to take a harder line in "petropolitics" is undoubtedly upsetting to them. But the Cheney-Bush outlook is essentially nationalistic and even xenophobic, an outlook that inevitably sees threats and enemies everywhere and never lacks urgent reasons for expanding the military establishment and its lucrative spinoffs for Halliburton and other big players in the military contracting business.

Appropriately for the Dark Lord, it is Cheney who explicitly articulated the "darker vision" of Russia not long ago, as La Franchi explains:

The tone of Bush administration policy since 2001 was set by Bush's famous comment that he had looked into Putin's soul and was pleased with what he saw. But it appears that the administration has taken a second look, and likes less well what it's seeing now.

The darker vision was outlined by Vice President Dick Cheney in a speech last week in Vilnius, Lithuania, in which he said that a regressing Russia has "a choice to make" between "a return to democratic reform" and "greater respect among fellow nations" or more "unfair and improper" restrictions on Russians' rights.

Deliberately making his point at a democracy conference in a former Soviet satellite attended by the presidents of several other former Soviet dependents, Mr. Cheney also said Russia is using its vast energy holdings "as tools of intimidation or blackmail" on its neighbors.

Somehow, LaFranchi doesn't get around to mentioning that the US plans to deploy Star Wars anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, moves clearly aimed at escalating military pressure against Russia. The Russians are obviously aware of the shortcoming of the Star Wars system, i.e., that the [Cheney]ing thing doesn't work. The latest test was also a flub (Officials abort anti-missile test Ontario [CA]Daily Bulletin/AP 05/26/07).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a more successful visit to Russia this month in her capacity in the EU's rotating presidency. Her Grand Coalition government is trying to strike a position somewhere between the hostile stance of the Cheney-Bush government and the previously warm relations between Germany and Russia under Gerhard Schröder's red-green government. Her visit was more successful than Condi-Condi's, although that's obviously not saying much.

Angie did scold Putin publicly about his restricting demonstrations around her visit. Not a very clever idea. Putin replied by referring to Germany's recent zeal in restricting protest during the G-8 summit.

The EU is currently blocked from negotiating a comprehensive trade treaty with Russia because Poland as an EU member has the authority to veto any such formal negotiation. Poland's beef is literally beef: the Putin government is limiting Polish meat exports to Russia.

Putin got a friendlier reception in Austria. The Austrian government was happy to proceed with various business deals

The big question for Americans and the West: do we want to have a new Cold War with Russia over Polish beef exports? Over stationing useless Star Wars weapons in Poland and the Czech Republic as further corporate welfare to the companies that profit from the worthless things? Over Russian energy prices disputes with Ukraine?

Failing impeachment, we have to assume that Cheney and Bush will be in power for the next year and a half. They can still do a lot of damage during that time. Congress and the public need to think about how much of their messes we are willing to assume the burden of cleaning up. Better to limit the damage beforehand.

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Hot times in la Ciudad de México


The Miss Universo pageant was held in Mexico City last night. Miss Japan won.

But forget that. The real story is that Shakira played there last night before 200,000 fans:
Shakira tritt vor 200 000 Mexikanern auf Yahoo! Nachrichten/dpa 29.05.07.

Easy choice for me which one I would have picked to attend.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

This gets it about right...

As Gene Lyons usually does, this time in Some reject reality Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 05/09/07:
Everybody who thinks he knows God’s exact opinion about the 2008 presidential election may as well quit reading, particularly those with anger issues or elevated blood pressure, because you haven’t got a clue, OK ? Last time, everybody who believes GOP stands for God’s Own Party thought the deity had chosen George W. Bush. You’d think that would teach them humility. Alas, the opposite has happened. As the Republican core shrinks, its ideology grows more anti-intellectual and authoritarian. Australian economist John Quiggin points out at crookedtimber. org that this is only partly due to reality-based voters turning away from Bush’s failures. It’s also due to “the party’s success in constructing a parallel universe of news sources, think tanks, blogs, pseudo-scientists and so on, which has led to the core becoming more tightly committed to an extremist ideology.” On many issues, the Republican right increasingly resembles a quasi-religious cult. GOP true believers appear increasingly committed to an obscurantist world view exalting “Christianist” theology over facts, superficially mimicking real science while rejecting its methods. (my emphasis)
This is a great line, too: "Of course, biological science no more mandates atheism than do the rules of baseball, which also exclude the supernatural."

That should rank right up there with "Gravity is just a theory." I don't know if it was Pete Seeger who originated that one, but I first saw it in an article about him.

This one is pretty notable, too: "Ignoring reality is always dangerous. Here [in the United States], it’s become a national security threat."

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Andrew Bacevich on the loss of his son

Via Digby (The Ballad Of Joe And Jane Hullabaloo blog 05/26/07), I see that Andrew Bacevich has made a public statement relating to the death of his son in the Army in Iraq: I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty. Washington Post 05/27/07.

Like most of Bacevich's published writing, this one in worth reading in its entirety. This passage at the start is a sobering commentary on the state of American politics:
Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son's death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.

This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging "the terrorists," opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops - today's civic equivalent of dereliction of duty. (my emphasis)
I would note that Bacevich does not rest his larger point on these two letters with their genuinely vile accusation. The Republicans, led by Dear Leader Bush himself, have made this kind of sleazy nonsense absolutely normal political talk among Republicans.

Bacevich proceeds to make a strong statement about the corruption of Americans politics (not sparing the Democrats) through the influence of big money:
Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.

Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.
Some prowar bigots will undoubtedly accuse Bacevich of trivializing his son's death for political purposes. They can go to Hell.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

How our infallible generals planned not to have enough troops to fight a war like the one in Iraq

Patrick Lang writes about Abram's Army (page 11) in The Policy Monitor (Medley Global Advisors)05/25/07:
By the end of the Vietnam War, the United States Army was nearly destroyed as a fighting force. It had to be rebuilt from the "ground up" over the next few decades, and the man who designed that reconstruction was General Creighton
Abrams.

Abrams, for whom the Abrams tank is named, deliberately re-designed the structure of the three components of the Army to prevent the civilian leadership from ever sending the Regular Army to fight alone as they had in Vietnam. And his success in doing so is exactly what limited the military options when President Bush chose to go to war in 2003 without the recommended number of troops or the political support for a sustained war, and likewise, is what still limits Bush's options as he gropes for a way out of Iraq. (my emphasis)
He also writes about the ways decisions by the uniformed military critically affected the morale and fighting capabilities of "troops in the field", as the currently popular phrase has it:
At the same time, the Army made similarly misguided decisions.

First, the Army decided that officers lucky enough to obtain command in Vietnam were limited to six months in that position before they were sent to staff jobs. This decision was intended to give as many officers as possible a chance to command, but the concept deprived troops engaged in combat of seasoned leaders. Second, the Army decided that a fear of having units who had arrived as one group in Vietnam leave all at the same time required that units be broken up as they arrived in Vietnam and repopulated with people from other units.

This destroyed unit cohesion and the loyalty of man to man so necessary in combat. As a result, units in Vietnam remained there as organizations for the duration of the fighting while a continuous stream of individual replacements arrived in units where they knew nobody and where they served under leaders who would be gone in a few months. The net result of these mistakes was an Army that by the end of Vietnam was broken in spirit and internal cohesion. This effect "spilled over" into Europe and America itself where troops were undisciplined and on the edge of mutiny for several years. (my emphasis)
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Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a warmonger

Click here to see a picture of one at Steve Clemon's Washington Notes blog post on Cheney Attempting to Constrain Bush's Choices on Iran Conflict: Staff Engaged in Insubordination Against President Bush 05/24/07.

This is always something to keep in mind when debates about weapons systems and sizing of military forces come up. Anything that can be used for legitimate purposes - national defense, so-called "humanitarian" interventions, disaster-relief missions - can also fall under the control of people like Dick Cheney and be used for other purposes.

It's far, far easier to create a catastrophe like the Iraq War - or a war with Iran - than to clean up the consequences. Far, far easier.

If you are having the problem of sleeping too much, this is the kind of thing that can really keep sane people awake at night:
Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney's national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush's tack towards Condoleezza Rice's diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously.

This White House official has stated to several Washington insiders that Cheney is planning to deploy an "end run strategy" around the President if he and his team lose the policy argument.

The thinking on Cheney's team is to collude with Israel, nudging Israel at some key moment in the ongoing standoff between Iran's nuclear activities and international frustration over this to mount a small-scale conventional strike against Natanz using cruise missiles (i.e., not ballistic missiles).
This is the nexus between Cheneyist militarism and Christian fundamentalist fanaticism: a suicidal impulse to push for escalating war in the Middle East.

Dark Lord Cheney would really like to try to do this. But it would be an expansion of the already disastrously lost Iraq War. It couldn't possibly lead to either the neocon utopia of peace and democracy all across the Middle East or to the Second Coming of Christ. It could lead to a rapid distintegration of the American military position in Iraq. It might provide some extra cash for oil barons somehow. And Halliburton is certain to get more overpriced contracts out of it, if it happens.
 
Do we really want to live in Dick Cheney's world where diplomacy becomes purely a matter of military threats and our only foreign allies are Israeli hardliners? It sounds like a horror to me.

To return to my original point, we always, always have to remember than any military capabilities we have can fall under the control of a man like Dick Cheney. And nothing good has so far come out of Dick Cheney's foreign policy - at least nothing good for ordinary Americans.

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Iraq and Democratic confusion

It's kind of a confusing time to be a Democrat. (Yeah, like it's ever any other way!) But for all the legitimate worry about whether the Dems caved too soon on the war funding bill and a withdrawal timeline - of course, they did cave too soon - when it comes to the Iraq War we also have to keep our eyes on the ball. And, when it comes to the Iraq War, the ball hasn't been in the American court for a long time. Whatever rhetoric the Dems or our "press corps" or whoever else want to wrap around it, what we're dealing with is managing defeat.

Joe Conason in
Dithering Democrats Salon 05/25/07 worries that the Republicans are going to adopt something like the famous "Hamilton-Baker" plan. William Arkin argues that's just what Dear Leader Bush is setting up to do (A Bloody August Could Precede the Fall Early Warning blog Washington Post 05/25/07). Tom Hayden looks more closely at how this could play out in Escalation or Not? Bush Accepts Baker Huffington Post 05/25/07.

I've said it before and I'll probably have reason to repeat it more than once. This Iraq War is a disaster for the United States. I'm far more interested in seeing the US get out of this war than I am in seeing the Democrats benefit from it politically. The authoritarian Republicans have come to see everything everything as partisan politics. But policy politics counts for a lot in the real world. And staying in this war is bad policy for the United States.

So let's remember that adopting the Hamilton-Baker recommenations may play well in the Establishment press. The priests of High Broderism will undoubtedly hail such a move as statemanship of the higest order. But check out what Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has to say about the Iraq Study Group's recommendations in hindsight at the CSIS Web site about how little the Baker-Hamilton recommendations are worth in the subtlely titled
The Iraq Study Group Absurdity and Iran 05/22/07.

The recommendations didn't look so good at the time, as Cordesman himself wrote. And, he says, they look even worse in retrospect:
Not everything dies when it should, and the Iraq Study Group is a grim example. Even at the time it was issued, it was a remarkably vacuous and unrealistic report. Its key recommendations were hopelessly impractical, and the detailed report – while good on some aspects of historical diagnostics – ended in a long list of sometimes contradictory conceptual recommendations lacking any justifications, details, and operational plans. It was at best a warning of what overblown committees seeking a lowest common denominator could not accomplish.

Looking back, The Iraq Study Group Report emerges as even worse. Its key recommendations never made sense. For example, there was never any chance that the development of the Iraqi Army could be rushed forward in ways that would permit rapid US force reductions, and recent months have made it all too clear that the Iraqi Army needs more time, more aid, and more US embeds and support. The existing schedule for creating an Iraqi Army already was far too fast. The months that have followed have shown it takes time, patience, and resources to build an effective military force. It takes political conciliation to allow it to operate in ways that serve the nation. Without internal Iraqi political conciliation, the Army can end up either fracturing along sectarian and ethnic lines or become a Shi’ite dominated force with a separate Kurdish force in the Kurdish area.

The ISG’s recommendations to speed development of the Iraq police force to serve the same purpose of enabling faster US withdrawals were truly absurd. ...

The ISG never addressed the issue of Iraqi conciliation in any meaningful way, or the level of internal civil conflict. It did not explain how its implied time schedule could avoid pushing the country towards civil war or suggest any practical ways to heal the fractures inside Iraqi society. It offered no useful plans for new incentives, and implied that a weak national government without strong Sunni participation, with a steadily more divided Shi’ite majority, and a Kurdish faction interested in autonomy, could somehow be pressured into effective action by some form of US benchmarks and deadlines.(my emphasis)
Conason argues in his article that the Democrats should have embraced the ISG plan as soon as it came out, by which time Cheney and Bush had already rejected it. But I just don't see much advantage, even in a political-posturing sense, to embracing a plan that was largely useless to begin with.

Events in Iraq are driving the course of the war and will continue to do so. Familiar saying like "riding the tiger" obviously apply. But the task facing the US is to extricate ourselves from a lost war while minimizing the damage. And conceiving it as other than "minimizing the damage" is unrealistic. This is Bush's War and the Republican Party's baby. The Democrats with a razor-thin majority in the Senate, and a majority that depends on hardline war supporter Joe Lieberman, are in a weak position to force through a withdrawal plan in the face of authoritarian discipline among the Republicans. The history of the anti-Vietnam War movement can be very misleading here. In those days, there really were moderate and even more-or-less liberal Republicans. That's just not the case today. The Republicans who pose as being critical of the war line up to vote for the administration position almost to a person.

The fact that 70% or so of the public want withdrawal to begin can't overcome the Republican prowar sentiment in the Senate. It's entirely possible that Congressional Republican support for the war could start seriously collapsing. But don't count on it. The "moderate" Republicans have racked up a very bad record during the Cheney-Bush administration.

The Democrats' most important tool to keep up the pressure and increase the chances of Republican defections on the war is through aggressive Congressional oversight, i.e., investigations. It's hard to see how support for the war can go much lower, since it's already down to pretty much white Protestant fundamentalists. But the intensity of opposition to the war can certainly increase.

Amazingly, Cordesman still says that The Surge is still the best plan. But Cordesman has been consistent and realistic-minded in seeing that the Cheney-Bush course would require ten more years or even longer of active US military involvement in Iraq. And he has been very explicit that he does not see The Surge as a good option, because such a thing does not exist:
The US has no good options in Iraq, either to stay or leave. At best, it can now only try find the least bad path of uncertainty and work out the best compromises over time. To do this, it must focus on its overall longer term strategic interests in the region, working with its friends and allies, and looking both at what can be done in Iraq and in the region as a whole. (my emphasis)
Tom Hayden has been around long enough for nearly everyone to have something against him. But he knows a lot about antiwar politics. And he reminds us that a Cheney-Bush withdrawal strategy could be tricky for the Democrats precisely because some of the most prominent Dems embraced teh ISG report:
This de-escalation scenario can be more problematic for the Democrats and the peace movement than an open escalation scenario. With an [Iraqi] oil law in hand, there will be powerful forces arguing that American casualties must come down as the presidential year of 2008 begins. What will the Democrats do and the media declare if some troops start coming home? After all, five of their powerful Beltway insiders have signed and promoted Baker-Hamilton.

Of course, all the players are talking about combat troops only, a future offensive against al-Qaeda in Iraq, and in these circumstances the war could re-escalate after de-escalating, or a fall 2007 "incident" could inflame the crisis again. It's happened before. It's about dampening and dividing the voters during an election year.
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Friday, May 25, 2007

NATO in Afghanistan


German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung (CDU), here with the Catholic Military Bishop Franz Josef Jung (Photo: Bundeswehr/Grauwinkel )

On Sunday, the German news-discussion program of
Sabine Christiansen featured a panel discussion of the German participation in the NATO intervention in Afghanistan („Tod am Hindukusch - Bundeswehr raus aus Afghanistan?"). The immediate occasion for the panel was the deaths of three German soldiers in a suicide attack in Gardez, Afghanistan, the biggest German loss there in several years: Afghan suicide bombing kills 14 Los Angeles Times/AP 05/21/07.


A suicide bomber blew himself up Sunday in a crowded market in eastern Afghanistan, killing 14 people and wounding 31, officials and witnesses said.

The attack, which destroyed or damaged about 30 shops, came a day after a suicide bomber in northern Afghanistan killed three German soldiers and seven bystanders.
The German soldiers were shopping in a public market, which is part of the kind of interaction with the population that is required for classic counterinsurgency operations for ultimately be affected. But it also runs counter to "force protection" needs, and so requires some basic levels of security, i.e., reasonable safety from suicide bombings, to work.

The participants included the German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, from Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party; Oskar Lafontaine, the Bundestag caucus head (Fraktionschef) for the Left Party, which I suppose is still reasonable to describe as the "postcommunist" party, though Lafontaine himself was for years a major leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD); Peter Scholl-Latour, writer, journalist and former editor of Stern magazine; Jürgen Trittin, Bundestag deputy caucus head for the Greens and a guy with a reputation of being something of a firebrand (Bürgerschreck); Niels Annen, an SPD Bundestag representative and a member of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee; and, Wilfried von Bredow, political science professor at Philipps-Universität Marburg, billed as a "military expert".

Germany's current national government is a "Grand Coalition" government, which means it's a partnership of the SPD and CDU, with the CDU being the senior partner and therefore the party of the Chancellor.

This was a fascinating exchange to watch. My own view is that in 2001, a massive intervention in Afghanistan was possible and necessary. Most all of us who favored such an intervention at the time probably underestimated how difficult it would be even in the best case. But the world situation was uniquely favorable at that time, with virtually all Muslim governments willing to help or at least be restrained in trying to hinder such an effort. Pakistan and Iran were willing to cooperate with the US and NATO there, which is no longer the case, for the most part (though Pakistan is still officially on our side).

But you only need to list the "if's" that would have had to fall in place for it to work reasonably well to realize that it was a hopeless project under the direction of the Cheney-Bush government. If we had concentrated effectively on wiping out the the Al Qaida cadres in the Battle of Tora Bora, and if we had pushed hard for progress on settling the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir, and if we had made a major new effort for an Israeli-Palestinian peace including a tough stand against settlements in the West Bank, and if Dick Cheney hadn't decided to invade Iraq..., etc., etc.

You get the picture. It was never going to work with Dick Cheney in charge. So, we're in our sixth year of war in Afghanistan. The alleged national government of Afghanistan has still to use American forces to protect their own President, he not having sufficiently loyal troops yet to handle the job. Karzai's government has little effective power beyond the borders of Kabul, and how much he has there is questionable. And one of the major topics of discussion in Sunday's program was how the American military approach in "Operation Enduring Freedom" (OEF) was not just failing but destroying any remaining possibility of a good outcome.

The positions of the parties in Germany toward the Afghanistan War are caught in the tension between the need to preserve European Union unity on Afghanistan policy, which includes some level of support to the US effort there, and the realization that this can't go on forever. Defense Minister Jung's stock justifications of the war would sound pretty familiar to American audiences: we have a strategy, our plan is working, we need to give it time, little girls are going to school there, some soldiers have died so to honor their sacrifice we have to have more soldiers die, yadda, yadda. After the debates we've had in the United States for the last 4-plus years over the Iraq War, this stuff has become stale and cynical for my ears.

Jung would fit right in chatting with Republican members of Congress on FOX News, though. He said at one point, „Wir müssen das Vertrauen der Menschen gewinnen. Wir sind hier nicht Besatzer, sondern Befreier." (We have to win people's trust. We are not occupiers here [in Afghanistan], but rather liberators.") God, the Republicans have made that such a cynical slogan in the Iraq War, I almost automatically disregard what people chanting this kind of slogan have to say. See what I mean about how we would fit right in with the Republicans?

He did make the concession at one point that maybe the US tactics in OAF - bombing villages and blowing up civilian noncombatants to get at a few guerrillas - don't help very much. He reminded my of some of our "moderate" Republicans Senators generously conceding that, well, gee whiz, they can understand why people might be concerned about some of the problems in the Iraq War.

Herr Professor Doktor Doktor Wilfried von Bredow was the only other participant who basically took a "stay the course" perspective. He came off as the classic old guy who was happy to sound "tough" by delivering pronouncements about how necessary it is for someone else to risk their lives. This tired and phony analogy could have come straight from any airhead on FOX News: „1945 hätte man gesagt, dass es völlig sinnlos ist den Deutschen Demokratie beizubringen.“ ("In 1945, people said that it was completely senseless to produce a German democracy.") Uh, just who was it who said that, Herr Professor Doktor Doktor Wilfried von Bredow? Not that it matters; he was just throwing out a hack talking point.

Oskar Lafontaine and Peter Scholl-Latour both were opposed to continuing the intervention in Afghanistan. They took different approaches, and both their approaches are different than mine. But I think their position is the only practical one at this point. Lafontaine emphasized that the conventional-war methods of the OEF forces, i.e., US forces, that involve air attacks on "terrorists" that in practice produce significant numbers of noncombatant casualties, are making any long-term progress impossible. Lafontaine was seeking to distinguish the Left Party position by being provocative, so he described the US approach as also a form of "terrorism".

Scholl-Latour, along with the other participants, rejected Lafontaine's "terrorism" label for the OEF operations. But he also described a recent visit to the Afghanistan, where he observed that the ISAF (European) forces were, well, not very observable because they didn't have a very obvious presence. He talked about how little actual control the Afghan government actually exercised and how limited the actual development projects had been. He said, „Die jetzige afghanische Regierung steht vor dem Fall.“ ("The current Afghan government is one the verge of collapse.")

Both Lafontaine and Scholl-Latour criticized the entire concept of the "war on terrorism". Lafontaine said, „Wenn man den Terror bekämpfen will muss man sich erst einmal Klarheit verschaffen was Terror ist. [...] Die Bundesregierung hat diese Frage ein Jahr lang nicht beantwortet.“ (If you want to fight terror, you have to really determine very clearly what terror is. The [German] Federal Government has not answered this question for a year now.") In saying "for a year", he's presumably referring specifically to Angela Merkel's Grand Coalition government.

The most interesting positions were those of the SPD's Niels Annen and especially the Greens' Jürgen Trittin. Both parties had committed to the Afghanistan intervention during the period of the previous "red-green" government and therefore they would find it difficult even in the best of circumstance to just say, it's time to throw in the cards.

Though the SPD's Annen was clearly positioning to take such a stand. Both he and Trittin were in strong agreement that the OEF approach was flatly counterproductive. Although both the American and European forces are under a combined NATO command now, Annen and Trittin especially emphasized the distinction between the ISAF/European foces and the (mainly) American OEF forces. They plainly have lost all confidence in the American counterinsurgency effort there.

Although the Greens are partially-correctly seen as a pacifist party. But Trittin was the most emphatic about the need to continue the Afghanistan War. At the same time, he was the one who made the current dilemma most explicit. He stressed the need to show continued European goodwill for Afghan political and economic development and the problems that could come from Afghanistan reverting back to its pre-2001 as a haven for transnational terrorists like Al Qaida. Trittin said:


Wenn wir aus Afghanistan rausgehen, beendet das den Krieg dort nicht. Das ist ein völliger Irrtum. Dann gibt es dort Kämpfe zwischen den Warlords im Norden und den Taliban im Süden und mittendrin die von Herrn Scholl-Latour so geschätzten Opiumhändler. Die Vorstellung, dass man sich dort zurückziehen würde und der Krieg und die leiden der Bevölkerung wäre dann vorüber, ist eine Verharmlosung und ein Zynismus sondergleichen.

[If we leave Afghanistan, that will not end the war. That is a complete error. Then there would be fights between the warlords in the north and the Taliban in the south and in the middle would be the opium dealers that Herr Scholl-Latour appreciates so much. The idea that we could pull out of there and the war and the sufferings of the population would be over then is equally over-opitmistic and cynical.]
He also was the one who mentioned that the American commitment to Afghanistan remained strong, noting even that the Congressional Democrats who argued for withdrawal from Iraq also favor increasing the war effort in Afghanistan. At the same time, he articulated more emphatically than anyone else who very counterproductive the OEF/American effort there is.

For those of us who have followed the US debate over the Iraq War closely, Trittin's position will sound sadly familiar. Trittin says that it's impossible for NATO to have a successful effort in Afghanistan so long as the curent OEF counterinsurgency effort continues. And yet he also says that there is no immediate prospect of the Americans ending the OEF effort. Yet he favors continuing the European participation at the same time he says the American approach is making success impossible.

Does that make any sense? No, it doesn't. Not in itself.

For the SPD and Greens, from their policy perspective making Afghanistan a reasonably successful state that doesn't harbor terrorists is an important goal. They also don't want to be seen as recklessly "anti-American" in insisting on pulling out their NATO commitment, which grew directly out of their declared solidarity with the United States after the 9/11 attacks - a soliodarity that the Cheney-Bush administration has surely never seen itself obliged to reciprocate. Annen said, „Es geht in Afghanistan darum einen politischen Prozess zu unterstützen. Das ist nicht nur unsere Entscheidung gewesen, sondern eine der Vereinten Nationen." ("In Afghanistan we're supporting a political process. That was not only our decision, but one of the United Nations.")

Another factor is that the Greens back in the 1980s were more outspoken than the SPD in their own solidarity with democratic dissidents in East Germany and other Warsaw Pact countries. They don't want to show less commitment to defending human rights in the Muslim world than the SPD. Conversely, the SPD doesn't want to be stuck looking like they are again perhaps insufficiently concerned with human rights in comparison to other more pragmatic considerations.

But since both the SPD and especially Green positions - at least as expressed by Annen and Trittin - more-or-less explicitly recognize the hopelesss of the current situation, how can they in good conscience continue to put their own country's soldiers in harm's way in pursuit of that goal? It's hard to see how they will be able to continue their current stances for long.

Sabine Christiansen's Web site at this writing doesn't have a full transcript available. But it does include quotes from the various participants that give an idea of their positions. For example:

Jung: „Deutsche Soldaten müssten bei ihrem Einsatz auch künftig Risiken eingehen.“ (German soldiers must also run risk in the future in their mission.")

Scholl-Latour: „Am besten wären die Truppen schon längst abgezogen." (The best thing would have been to pull out the troops long ago.)

Trittin: „Soldaten sollten Fußpatrouillen unterlassen und nur noch in gepanzerten Fahrzeugen unterwegs sein.“ ("Soldiers should stop making foot patrols and only go out in armored vehicles.") I would also count this as effectively a recognition that success for the mission has become impossible.

See also
Zweifel am Afghanistan-Einsatz wachsen Tageschau.de 21.05.07.

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Cheneyist Trotskyism

Sidney Blumenthal did a book way back in the 1980s about the neoconservatives. Among other things, he looked at their intellectual reference points, of which the Marxism of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotski was a major one. His article in Salon about Paul Wolfowitz's downfall makes the irony of their perspective explicit (Wolfowitz's tomb 05/27/07) :
Paul Wolfowitz's doctrines are a summa of numerous failed political dogmas of the 20th century. His notion of politics was essentially Bolshevik, but less democratic in practice than Lenin's. Wolfowitz had no concept of mass politics. Nor did he have an idea of democratic centralism, the core of Leninism, by which the vanguard led the cells of the party. Wolfowitz believed only in the vanguard. The dutiful student of obscurantist authoritarian philosopher Leo Strauss operated as a solitary intellectual at the head of a single cell, the lone Wolfowitz. His view of international political dynamics was a strange concoction of the most heated, impassioned idea of Leon Trotsky - the permanent revolution - admixed with the most rigid, Manichaean metaphor of John Foster Dulles - the domino theory of the Cold War. Dulles' idea, applied to Southeast Asia, was a reaction to his mistaken understanding of Communist expansion as Trotskyist in conception. From this thesis and antithesis came the synthesis of Paul Wolfowitz. Welcome to the dustbin of history.
Readers familiar with Marxist theory will hopefully enjoy the symbolism of that one-paragraph polemic as much as I did.

That paragraph was polemical, but also accurate. The neocons were working from a genuinely radical outlook, one which the cold-blooded cynicism of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld put to less idealistic uses. Ideologues like Wolfowitz need grand goals, though obviously he wasn't averse to the more worldly goal of snagging some extra $$$ for his girlfriend.

For the Cheneys and Rummys of the world, killing foreigners in wars and playing the "Great Game" of seizing oil-rich countries were enough. All this grand talk about wars of liberation for democracy they were happy to leave to the intellectual apparatchiks.

Blumenthal's article is also a reminder of what a key role that "first-strike" nuclear strategyplayed in the preventive-war doctrine adopted by the Cheney-Bush administration, a connection too little appreciated. Andrew Bacevich in The New American Militarism (2005) explains that connection at some length.

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Viva Zorro!

(Photo: Telemundo)

It's going to be a few days before I can get back to my usual posting schedule.

But I've been keeping up with the Zorro saga through the
Caray Caray blog, which provides detailed daily (English) summaries of Zorro and various other telenovelas.

Cathy, Marycelis and Jean are providing the Zorro summaries. They#ve come up with some nifty nicknames for the characters. My favorite is Mariángel's: "Mangle".

The Web site also provides some video snippets and (Spanish) summaries, but none nearly so detailed and entertaining as those at Caray Caray. Here's a sample of Cathy's commentary, from her summary of the episode of May 21:


Meanwhile, at the de la Vega hacienda, Mariangel is trying to convince Diego that she can make him forget Esme. He has some painful flashes of Esme [Esmeralda] being beaten by Monty [el Comandante Montero], it’s as if he has a psychic connection with her.....remember those Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown book ads---somewhere on the East coast a twin burns her hand and halfway across the country her sister feels it (cue creepy music, etc.)... OK well anyway, that’s what I’m reminded of from this story line. So Diego feels Esme’s pain and Mangle wants to know what’s going on with him. He tells her he’s going to his room. She’s at a loss and follows him to find out what’s up. He has some more flashes, this time of Pizarro whipping him while Monty forced Esme to watch. Diego is physically pained by this and Mangle sees this and demands to know what’s going on with him. He yells at her to leave him alone. So Mangle goes to find Dolores and tells her that Diego is acting strange and she’s worried about him (ulcer 1). Dolores says no way José is she going to allow another person to get sick in this house, dealing with Almudena is enough! Mangle tells Dolo that Diego wants to be alone, but Dolo doesn’t care what Diego wants, she’s going to see him whether he likes it or not. Dolofinds Diego and realizes that it is Esme he’s upset about. She tells him that she knows he’s suffering and will never forget a love like he shared with Esme. He tells Dolo that he feels as if Esme were still alive. Dolo tells him that is a natural feeling that happens to everyone when someone they love dies.
Cathy gives an "ulcer count" of the plot twists that give the characters something to worry about. That episode rated five ulcers.

A lot has happened since my last Old Hickory's Weblog Zorro summary. But Zorro has his momory back and is giving el Comondante Montero hell. And the Marquesa Carmen Santillana de Roquette is back on the scene, not only helping her friends the De la Vegas but also helping Kalí to take her rightful throne as Queen of Spain. Renzo and Sor Suplicios are on the run from slave traders who captured them but they escaped. Sor Suplicios' old demon is now in Samba the escaped African slave but somehow he's helping Renzo and Suplicios.

More complications to come, I'm certain.

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Pork barrel (Katrina) politics in Mississippi

Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis take A harder look at Haley Barbour's post-Katrina miracle in Salon 05/25/07. Rightwing Republican Governor Haley Barbour has raked in the cash for Katrina relief. But it's taking quite a while for that famous Republican "trickle-down" to get there for ordinary citizens.

They quote Roderick "Rocky" Pullman, president of the Board of Supervisors in hard-hit Hancock County on the Mississippi Gulf Coast:

The recovery is proceeding so slowly that, almost two years after the storm, most of his neighbors still can't get mail. Before Katrina, the majority of Pearlington residents used post-office boxes; but since no post offices -- or any other major city, county or school buildings in Hancock County -- have been rebuilt, they have to drive an hour round-trip to Bay St. Louis to pick up a letter.

"We've been asking for three post offices to be erected in Hancock County for well over a year now and have got no response whatsoever," Pullman says. "Those are the kind of things that really bother you. It's hard to get people to feel good when they have to spend the amount of money they do with the price of gasoline just to get their mail."

Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee with close ties to the Bush administration, has definitely proved more successful than his maligned Louisiana counterpart, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco, in one respect: lobbying Washington for cash. In fact, Barbour's ability to steer a lopsided share of Katrina money to Mississippi has touched off a firestorm of outrage in Louisiana, which suffered considerably more destruction from the storm.
In the everything-is-partisan-politics administration of Dick Cheney and George Bush, Mississippi's two Republican Senators (Trent Lott and Thad Cochran) have no trouble getting federal money appropriated. But getting results for ordinary voters is another thing.

Interestingly enough, Mississippians have consciously hoped for pork-barrel appropriations for the state, leading them to return creeps like Thad Cochran (among other things, one of the most hardline torture supporters in the Senate) and Trent Lott to office time after time, seniority normally leading to increased clout.

For the residents of Hancock County, Barbour and Mississippi's ability to capture the lion's share of Katrina relief dollars makes the slow progress in their area all the more demoralizing. The county's 911 system still operates out of a trailer. Damaged wastewater and drainage systems frustrate hopes of a return to normalcy; earlier this month in Waveland, 16 miles east of Pearlington, a 9-and-a-half-foot alligator was found swimming in a drainage ditch next to a bus stop at 8 o'clock in the morning. Mayor Tommy Longo says the creatures freely roam throughout devastated residential areas.

Indeed, Hancock County was one of three Gulf Coast areas recently singled out as having "severe problems" by the Rockefeller Institute on Government and the Louisiana Public Affairs Council, with the towns of Waveland and Bay St. Louis flat-out "struggling to survive."

Most important, Hancock leaders say, Mississippi leaders and their federal allies have failed to use their clout to tackle some of the most obvious barriers to rebuilding.
I wouldn't pretend that enough white voters are likely to shift their support to the Democrats in Mississippi or other Deep South states that they are likely to make a major dent in the Republicans' current Solid South block.

But two of Mississippi's four Congressional Representatives are Democrats, though one of them often votes with the Republicans. And the Republicans sure aren't develivering very well for working people in the South, especially not in the hurricane-damaged areas of Mississippi.

But the Republicans are the White People's Party, i.e., they oppose laws and programs that might particilarly benefit blacks. And as long as that remains a major criterion for significant numbers of white voters in those states, the Republicans can continue to hold the most important statewide offices.

But Kromm and Sturgis give us a good snapshot of what Republican rule in the Deep South looks like in practice. And what it will continue to look like as long as the Republicans remain in their current authoritarian, neosegregationist mode.
 

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Various comments on the rolling disaster called the Cheney-Bush foreign policy

It's really phenomenal to think about how Cheney and Bush took the enormous sympathy for the United States all over the world after the 9/11 attack- though notably cooler in Latin America than in the rest of the world - and turned it into widespread hostility.

Relations between Russia and the West, both the US and the EU, are going into the tank. Look! Over there! John Edwards is getting a new haircut! So we can hardly expect our "press corps" to pay excessive attention to trivia like all the progress made in Western relations with Russis since the end of the Cold War being wiped out. How boring for the priests and ministers of High Broderism. Much more pleasant to worry about whethre Barack Obama is sufficiently or excessively black.

Still, the real world moves on, even when David Broder fails to notice it:

Merkel vor schwierigem EU-Russland-Gipfel dpa/Yahoo! Nachrichten 17.05.2007

Hoffen auf das Wunder an der Wolga von Matthias Schepp Spiegel Online 17.05.07

Partnerschaft von Russland und EU wichtig AFP/Yahoo! Nachrichten 17.05.2007

Transatlantische Wirtschaftspartnerschaft Der Stnndard 30.04.07

Polen betont Krise mit Russland AFP/Yahoo! Nachrichten 17.05.2007

Tensions high, expectations low for Russia-EU talks by Louis Charbonneau Reuters/Washington Post 05/16/07.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to position Germany as the new leading intermediary between the US and Europe:
Staunen - dreimal Spiegel Online 01.05.07 von Gabor Steingart. I'm guessing that the German government is really hoping to position itself to work with a more sensible US government beginning in January 2009. Because after all that's happened, it's difficult to believe that Merkel's Grand Coalition government can seriously imagine that "cooperation" means anything to the Cheney-Bush administration other than Dear Leader Bush gives the orders, the "allied" government does what it's total. In any case, obeying orders from the Cheney-Bush government involves a lot of problems: Germany rethinks its Afghan presence by Mariah Blake Christian Science Monitor 03/22/07.

The pathetic Tony Blair apparently intends to leave office in full snivel mode, reaffirming once again his subservience to the Cheney-Bush regime:
Blair y Bush reafirman la alianza entre Londres y Washington El País 17.05.2007.

Surely it hasn't escaped the notice of the Merkel government that part of the deal between Blair and Dear Leader Bush was that Blair would support Cheney's war of aggression against Iraq, then Cheney and Bush would push hard for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Blair followed orders, and Bush spit in his face on his side of the deal. And we see the results anew just this week:
Israel bombardea objetivos de Hamás en Gaza en represalia por los últimos ataques de milicianos palestinos El País 17.05.2007; Kämpfe im Gazastreifen eskalieren Frankfurter Rundschau 17.05.07..

And how is that glorious war of liberation in Iraq going? According to the British Chatham House research institute, the place is on the verge of collapse:
Irak vor dem Kollaps Süddeutsche Zeitung 17.05.07; 'Collapse and Fragmentation' for Iraq Spiegel International 17.05.07.

Blair tied himself and his country to Bush's Iraq War, apparently because British leaders decided after the Suez crisis back during the Eisenhower administration that they would not allow themselves to be on a different side than the United States in any major foreign policy issue again and Blair was committed to carrying on that tradition, even to the point of leading one of the most cynical foreign policy moves in the long history of British diplomatic cynicism. But cynicism wasn't enough to conquer Iraq.

Cheney, Bush: Ya'll are doin' a heckuva job!

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Democracy and the rule of law really are in trouble in the US

I mean, we knew that already.  But every week now seems to bring new evidences of what we all guessed, that the Cheney-Bush administration has been up to even worse things that what we  know.  This administration will be a cornucopia for conspiracy theorists for decades to come.
 
For analysis of some of the latest revelations see Can You Even Imagine How Bad it Must Have Been? by Marty Lederman Balkinization blog 05/16/07. Lederman is writing about the illegal warrantless spying program that became so drastic in it's criminality that even former Attorney General and committed foe of democratic liberties John Ashcroft didn't want to sign off on it.

That's kind of like trying to imagine something was to cruel for Dick Cheney to approve.

Lederman emphasizes just how outrageous whatever the spying program was doing must have been for Ashcroft to oppose it in such an apparently emphatic matter.