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Friday, December 29, 2006

Thoughts on an Execution

After 2994 lives (#1) and $354 billion (#2) and counting, you can't help making a few observations on the execution of Saddam Hussein.

GOOD RIDDANCE -- If I was all-knowing, all-seeing and all-omniscient, I'd have no problem with the death penalty. Since I'm not, I am normally against the death penalty, since A) it's often costing us millions in extended appeals, etc. that I'd rather see spent on crime prevention and B) there is abundant evidence we do NOT always get the right guy. However, the Iraqi people got the right guy. He did what he was convicted of and many things far worse. I couldn't think of a nicer guy to hang.

JUSTICE AND ISLAMIC HOLIDAYS -- I can sort of understand a religion (say, Christianity...) that has principles of faith centered around honoring someone's willingness to sacrifice THEMSELF for some other-worldly force of love / peace / kumbaya / etc. It appears Saddam's execution was rushed in part to take place before the Muslim holy day of Id al-Adha, which commemorates the day a father (Abraham, as they believe) was willing to sacrifice his son because he heard God tell him to do so. (#3) This year, that holiday falls on December 31 2006. I've said this before but it's worth repeating: WE HAVE NO COMPREHENSION OF THE MIND-SET WE ARE DEALING WITH IN IRAQ. We have a country dominated by a religion which on one hand HONORS a man's willingness to kill an innocent child and sets aside a "holy day" in rememberance but gets morally squeamish about executing a man on or around that holy day when the man was convicted for murdering 148 of his citizens, a crime which is arguably among the smaller of his atrocities, yet also seems to have no problem bombing mosques of the opposing Muslim sect filled with people at prayer. That's a strange notion of justice.

THE IRAQIS -- One down, many more to go. America is happy you found a quorom of prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges with the courage to create the beginnings of a justice system out of thin air and the courage to tackle the biggest, baddest, most obvious criminal at serious risk to your own safety and that of your families. Keep in mind, defense attorneys and their family members were MURDERED for attempting to provide Saddam a valid defense and a fair trial. Well done.

OUR TROOPS -- Be careful. We have a long way to go on this and want ALL of you back - whole.


#1) http://www.antiwar.com/casualties/

#2) http://nationalpriorities.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=182

#3) http://www.religioustolerance.org/main_day3.htm

Thursday, December 28, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Palestine - Peace Not Apartheid

Jimmy Carter's latest book, Palestine - Peace Not Apartheid is an attempt to provide a background for re-thinking strategies for achieving a sound peace agreement between Israel, Palestine, and other neighboring Arab countries. The book gained extra attention because its publication and some of the ideas overlapped that of the Iraq Study Group report. Both cite refocused efforts on solving the conflict between Palestinians and Israel as key to enabling an exit from Iraq. Carter's book in particular has been criticized because of conclusions Charter reaches about Israeli policies and, to some extent, conclusions he DOESN'T reach or emphasize about the Palestinian and Arab roles in the process.

Initial Impressions

While reading the book and especially while reading critiques of the book (good and bad), one quickly comes to the conclusion that the actual CONTENT of the book might have been better conveyed by loading the text into Microsoft Word and doing a global replace of (Israel / Israeli / Jew / Jewish) and (Palestine / Palestinian / Muslim / Islamic) with other sets of words devoid of any pre-existing emotional or political baggage that distract from the material. Most Americans of voting age have been exposed to the cast and scenery (Begin, Sadat, Arafat, Sharon, Lebanon, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, Sinai peninsula, West Bank, Syira, Hezbollah, ) for so long without really understanding the history, geography and underlying politics that seeing the same names and places pop up just recalls old (potentially incomplete or flawed) understandings.

I haven't made up my mind about how even-handed Carter's analysis or background material really is. I may not ever be qualified to render an opinion. However, it seems obvious people on the far ends of the debate spectrum will both point to comments or conclusions and become irate claiming that Carter glossed over negative points about the "other" side's offenses. The December 26 edition of The Wall Street Journal ran side by side op-ed pieces by a pro-Palestinian who viewed the book as helpful and a pro-Israeli writer who felt Carter had religious problems with Israel the country and Israel the idea (more on that later).

Candidly, the book really doesn't come across as well written. The organization of the material reads more like a personal journal rather than a dry but carefully outlined textbook. Many of the first few chapters are in fact based on recollections and actual notes Carter took during a visit to the region in 1973 prior to becoming President. The key point Carter attempts to make via the recollections is that the public mood and posture within Israel has changed dramatically between 1973 and the present. In 1973, Carter characterized the collective environment within Israel as optimistic, forward looking and open. By the 1990s, subsequent visits led Carter to characterize the environment within Israel as fearful, hawkish and locked down.

His point was that this darkened mood not only coincided with Israel adopting activist settlement policies that generated additional military obligations and threats but the mood directly RESULTED from those policies. Carter himself really makes no effort to sledgehammer this point home -- the narrative just states it as an observation and goes on. However, the point seems vastly important, not only for Israel in its struggles but for America in ours. Political policies that lead to military occupation result in a military that is

* continually under fire,
* continually operating as a police force which doesn't match its primary mission
* and continually exposed to asymmetric attacks which cannot be defeated by any traditional military response

Even if you don't agree with any of the conclusions in the book, Carter's description of the challenges facing the Israeli military as an occupying force will raise alarm bells regarding the decisions Americans have to make about Iraq. We are damaging our own long term interests by creating situations where we are forced to play the role of occupying power.

Parallels from 1982 and 2006

One of the most interesting points made in the book involves the parallels between the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel and the recent 2006 battle between Israel and Lebanon. In 1982, the attempted assassination of an Israeli ambassador to Britain was cited by Israel as justification for invading Beirut to chase out the PLO. Israel publicly blamed the PLO for the assassination attempt and the PLO had set up camp in Beirut to take advantage of the chaos of Lebanon's civil war to launch attacks across the border into Israel. In reality, the assassination attempt was later tied to terrorist Abu Nidal, who, while still a bad guy and an Arab, was not operating within the PLO camp. He had split from the PLO and Arafat over tactics earlier in the 70s and was operating for the most part as a free-lance terrorist. (#1) Carter states that while he was greatly concerned by the 1982 invasion, he was told at the time by a trusted source in Israel that the Reagan Administration had privately winked at the invasion while publicly condemning it.

Regardless of whether the original justifications and goals of the 1982 invasion were legitimate or not, the aftermath could not have been more disastrous to both Israel and the United States. The invasion led to the subsequent "peace-keeping" deployment of US Marines in a no-man's land at the Beirut airport which was subsequently bombed, killing 252 Marines, forcing our withdrawal and telegraphing one of several messages of "weakness" on the part of the United States to our enemies. The invasion also committed Israel to nearly 20 years of military entanglements as an occupying force that have complicated every aspect of any potential solution in the region.

Neither Israel nor the United States apparently learned a thing from the 1982 invasion in terms of the Arab / Israeli conflict. In 2006, a relatively routine "skirmish" scale attack by Palestinians in Gaza led Israel to invade Gaza, seal it off and arrest up to a third of the Palestinian parliament in the West Bank. In retaliation for THAT, Hezbollah forces in Lebanon killed three soldiers and took two others hostage. Israel cited THAT as a declaration of war on the part of the entire country of Lebanon and invaded again. Again, the United States publicly bemoaned the hostilities but made absolutely NO back-door efforts to curtail the attacks on either side. At least, the United States made no efforts until it became apparent that Israel was not going to "crush" the enemy and instead at best wound up with a "draw" which, in the geopolitical game of lowered expectations, appeared as a victory to the Arab world -- a victory against Israel and its American sponsor.

Of course, it takes no imagination to see parallels between Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon with America's 2003 invasion of Iraq. Regardless of one's take on the original intelligence and motivations, America completely failed to comprehend the long term likelihood of being trapped by assuming the role of occupying power in a hostile region and the vicious cycle of flawed political and military thinking that results from the tit-for-tat cycle of asymmetric violence.

Miscellaneous Critiques

There are more than a few annoyances and blind spots in the book. One surprise to me was the cursory treatment of Israel's bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. The entire reference? Here it is:

The Israelis launched an air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor...

That's it. Looking back, the elimination of that reactor via a squadron of F-16s seems to easily qualify for honors as the single most productive use of military force in the region in the past thirty five years. At best, an incompetent Iraqi nuclear community might have completed construction of a plant that could have become another Chernobyl. At worst, the reactor could have provided Saddam refined material for a successful nuclear weapons program (or just a dirty bomb program) that would have been employed against Israel, Iran, Kuwait and others.

Carter's biggest blind spot seems to involve Yassir Arafat. Assume for a moment you agree one hundred percent with the underlying issues of the Palestinian position. Assume you accept the PLO as the authoritative voice of the Palestinian people in the debate. Assume you ignore Arafat's prior activities as a terrorist prior to his win in the 1996 elections (only fair -- Menachem Begin was also a terrorist for his cause in the 1940s..) With all these assumptions, Arafat was STILL a disaster for the Palestinian people. If he had even a tenth of the vision of Anwar Sadat or King Hussein of Jordon, he had numerous occasions where he had the support of the Palestinian people behind him to make a change and utterly failed. Instead, his principle achievements were avoiding getting killed by factions within his own movement (granted, no small task) and embezzling somewhere between $300 million and $1.2 billion of funds from the Palestinian Authority to his own accounts.

In Carter's analysis, the descriptions of his personal meetings with Arafat and actions taken by Arafat are about as bland and neutral as taupe carpeting. What content isn't watered down in this overly deferential, non-judgmental tone suffers from an overabundance of "I" -- as in "Carter". I recommended this… I urged that… I condemned those… The most insightful point Carter makes about Arafat in particular hinges around the Israeli attack on his Ramallah headquarters in 2002 and subsequent "blockade" of Arafat from the government he was supposed to be leading. Israel's attack and blockade literally kept Arafat from controlling the levers of the Palestinian Authority and prevented him from meeting with virtually ANYONE in his government. At the same time, Israel cited his inability to control factions within his government as further justification for continued occupation of contested territories and draconian security policies in those territories -- a self-fulfilling Catch-22, which might have been Israel's actual strategy.

The Core of the Book

Most of the themes in the book are eventually tied together into a larger theme involving Israel's shifting policies regarding settlements it has established in territories gained in the 1967 and 1973 wars. Carter's comments about past military actions, terrorist attacks and legal obligations of the parties involved are tied back to UN Resolution #242 from 1967 (#2) that essentially established a cease fire and called upon Israel to withdraw from all territories occupied in the 1967 war and UN Resolution #338 from 1973 (#3) which demanded a cease fire for that conflict and the full implementation of the prior #242 resolution by all parties.

It is in this discussion where, as I commented earlier, having the entire book written using substitute nouns for the people, places and countries involved would make it easier to see the facts (or Carter's flawed presentation of them if you believe that) with fresh eyes. Carter's comments are mainly aimed at the implications of Israel's occupation of the territories gained in 1967 and 1973. Carter even confesses in the book he had difficulty getting along with Menachem Begin while President and their relationship didn't improve when Carter visited him as a private citizen and offered more blunt commentary on what Israel should and should not do.

The pro-Israel op-ed piece by Michael B Oren in the 12/26 WSJ explicitly states "the former president seems to have religious problems with Israel." Here's a direct quote:

Disturbed by secular Laborites, he is further unnerved by religiously minded Israelis who seek to fulfill the biblical injunction to settle the entire Land of Israel. There are "two Israels," Mr. Carter concludes, one which embodies "the ancient culture of the Jewish people, defined by Hebrew scriptures," and the other in "the occupied Palestinian territories" which refuses to "respect the basic human rights of the citizens."

That's Carter's religious problem? I'll be damned if I can find the problem with the logic there. That is the crux of the book and the larger problem in the region. Whether one agrees with the legal or moral justification for Israel's creation in 1948, Israel THE COUNTRY was created with specific, well-defined physical boundaries. The rest of the world is only expected to recognize Israel THE COUNTRY and not "Israel", the "virtual nation" referenced by various interpretations of one religion's ancient scriptures. In essence, Israel got what it got for territory in 1948 -- period. Had the cease fire arrangements Israel agreed to in 1967 or 1973 allowed Israel to keep those territories, then "Israel" would include those as well. However, those arrangements DIDN'T include those territories. Israel accepted those agreements. The territories are not theirs to use in augmenting their population via settlements.

Change the people, religions and territories for a moment. Assume the United States attacked Mexico in Tijuana. Assume Mexico fought back and in doing so, pushed north into San Diego before the cease fire was arranged and established checkpoints to control the residents and monitor traffic in and out of the city. Assume the cease fire agreement called for Mexico to withdraw from occupied San Diego after some period. Assume the continued operation of checkpoints by Mexican forces inside the United States are aggravating local residents of San Diego, eventually leading factions to fight back by lobbing RPGs and rockets into Mexico from locations in San Diego. Assume that a group of Aztecs believe that metro San Diego is part of a larger "Aztec nation" owed to the Aztecs since time immemorial. Now that Mexico is in San Diego, Mexico is encouraging modern day Aztec descendents to move to San Diego and begin running coffee shops and dry cleaner shops, further annoying the present-day residents of San Diego.

Who's at fault? Who should back off? Who should blink first?

In the fictional San Diego / Tijuana scenario or the real Israel / Palestine scenario, both sides have engaged in so many extra-curricular unproductive activities, trying to find the moral high ground is pointless. The smartest thing to do is to try to go back and find the simplest, clearest, mutually agreed starting point and try to unwind back to that point as quickly as possible. In the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, that starting point would be the pre-1967 borders of Israel which Israel agreed to in 1967, 1973, 1978 (Camp David Accords), a collection of Arab nations agreed to in their 2002 framework proposal, and the Palestinians themselves agreed to via written letter from Arafat to Israeli Prime Minister Rabin in 2003 (including the right of Israel to exist).

That is the essence of Carter's book. Is it "fair" to Israel or the Palestinians? Is it "anti-Israel" or "anti-Palestinian"? I don't know. I don't care. I'm just tired of watching Israelis and Palestinians killing each other using quasi-religious justifications for their actions when a clear solution based upon secular definitions of the territories and peoples involved exists and has been supposedly agreed to by all parties.


#1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1982_Lebanon_War

#2) http://www.mideastweb.org/242.htm

#3) http://www.mideastweb.org/338.htm

An Embargo on Integrity

Bob Woodward wrote a last-minute story in the December 28, 2006 edition of The Washington Post recounting information from a July 2004 interview he conducted with Gerald Ford. (#1) The content of the interviewed was "embargoed" until after Ford's death at the request of Ford and the consent of Woodward.

Apparently, we are now suffering from an embargo on integrity -- on the part of politicians and the press that's supposed to work for the public covering the politicians.

The details of the exact "deal" struck between Woodward and Ford are not clear (#2) but the gist is that Woodward conducted the interview for what in 2004 was "a future book" (was it Denial? -- can't tell) but the comments could be released after Ford's death. The grammar and syntax of that summary make it impossible to tell if the content

a) could ONLY be used after Ford's death in any book
b) could be used in the book Woodward had planned in 2004 OR after his death
c) could be used in ANY book Woodward had planned in 2004 and Woodward chose not to use it

For reasons explained further down below, I don't even CARE what the substance or the merits of Ford's comments were/are.

The "embargoed" comments don't reflect well on Ford. We live in a DEMOCRACY, not a royal kingdom. When you become an ex-President, that is EXACTLY what you become -- an ex-President and nothing more. We don't have a "President emeritus" role with partial policy making powers. When the new President is sworn in, you become Joe Q Public -- private citizen. You still have a mind, a vote, and a voice. You are not obligated to hold your tongue about ANY issue facing the country regardless of who follows in your footsteps.

Ford's only possible rationale for restricting his comments from public consumption was that any misgivings he had about the launch and execution of a war that had already killed 862 Americans through June 2004 (#3) were not as important as avoiding political damage to his beloved Republican Party in the upcoming 2004 elections.

The "embargoed" comments don't reflect well on Bob Woodward and The Washington Post either. By agreeing to hide the interview from the public per Ford's terms, Woodward

a) obtained a ready-made "scoop" that would be interesting if the comments proved prescient

b) flattered his subject to gain easy (but conditional access) to other opinions for his book(s) rather than just doing real reporting (a common modus operandi of Bob Woodward)

c) allowed himself to be used by Ford to bolster Ford's own sense of importance by aiding the appearance that Ford's opinions were so important and the comments so damning that releasing them would somehow de-stabilize the Bush Administration -- NO, Mr. Ford, you are just one of millions of American citizens who held that opinion.

d) created a situation that, for most people, would only improve their opinion of Ford because if the embargoed comments turned out correct, Ford looks like a sage old statesmen of great vision because the politically exposive comments hit the front page of the Washington Post. If the comments turned out wrong, Woodward wouldn't have published and no one would know or care that Ford had an opinion.

In short, interviewer and interviewee forged an agreement to make the interviewer's job easier, provide a pre-made scoop for the interviewer at some later date, and create a little publicity time-capsule that under the right historical circumstances made the interviewee look better without any downside if history turned out differently.

As stated earlier, the exact positions reflected in Ford's comments aren't really the issue. The issue is that people who believe they have unique insight (from experience) about any matter of public policy are CONSISTENTLY willing to put politics above the public good while still trying to use the media to burnish their own aura and the press is CONSISTENTLY participating in the charade.

If Ford intended to somehow improve the public debate from the great beyond, he's done nothing of the sort. He's contributed to the mess and tarnished his own reputation in the process.


#1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/27/AR2006122701558.html

#1) http://www.mediainfo.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003525736

#3) http://icasualties.org/oif/US_chart.aspx

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Watergate Redux

The passing of former President Gerald Ford is certainly sad news and has generated the expected amount of commentary from an event of this type. It's nice to be able to look back on an administration of either party where virtually no one has ANYTHING bad to say about a President's motives or whether AT THE TIME a President made what he truly thought was the best choice among difficult alternatives for a variety of issues.

It is rather troubling, on the other hand, to see the modern-day press and the commentariat putting on rose colored glasses, drinking the Kool-aid, and falling neatly into step on the major storyline of the Ford Presidency -- the story that Ford's assumption of office helped restore trust in the office and his pardon of Nixon helped, as he himself put it, "put this long national nightmare behind us."

Obviously, his decision to pardon was highly unpopular at the time but today's press coverage seems to be uniformly touting the theme that pardoning Nixon was, in fact, the best path for the country by eliminating the distraction that hearings, investigations and trials might have generated. According to the official story, the pardon allowed his Administration to focus on ending our involvement in Vietnam and combating the inflation and economic stagnation that were crippling the country.

Again, I have ZERO doubt that Ford's decision to pardon was completely honorable in that it was made in good faith because he believed at the time it was the "least worst" thing to do. THIS IS NOT A CRITIQUE OF GERALD FORD. However, that does not mean those of us reviewing those decisions 30+ years later have to accept they were the CORRECT decisions. The point is not to hold a President 30 years after the fact accountable. The purpose is to avoid making similar mistakes NOW when facing similar circumstances.

Given the performance of the American economy from 1975 through 81, does it now appear that the policies Ford was able to enact did ANYTHING to correct the inefficient industry, poor productivity or geopolitical factors contributing to oil spikes that continued to plague the economy? (CAVEAT: I will give Ford major kudos for vetoing over 60 spending bills -- other Presidents, please take note...) Carter's deregulation of trucking and airlines did more to spur improvements in productivity than anything Ford had pursued or proposed and even THAT wasn't nearly enough to fix the American economy. Only electro-shock therapy in the form of a recession imposed by Paul Volcker was enough to break the cycle. So it's hard to argue that by choosing the "just drop it already" approach to Watergate and focusing on other issues, Americans actually gained anything from those other issues.

So what did the "just drop it already" approach to Watergate provide the American people? One could argue we got a crook out of office, but that's not really true. The pardon didn't prompt Nixon's resignation, the disgrace of a threatened impeachment did. The pardon came afterwards. Pursuit of criminal charges against Nixon would have ensured the American public had a complete understand of the nature and extent of the crimes of Nixon himself and of the enablers around him. If Ford chose to pardon Nixon AFTER proper investigations and a criminal trial, at least the American public would have seen confirmation our society was capable of operating as a nation of laws. Instead, circumventing the process with a pre-emptive pardon set a precedent that has grown increasingly common in both big government and big business --- the "I didn't do anything and I'll never do it again" approach to public / corporate wrong-doing.

Ford's decision to pardon Nixon and avoid further contention at the end of Watergate produced one other impact that seems bitterly ironic now. Failing to fully investigate Nixon's conduct and illegal actions failed to fully discredit the tactics and political theories of a particular paranoid wing (closet, really...) of the Republican Party that came back to power in full force in the Bush Administration. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were chosen for a variety of White House staff / cabinet positions so Nixon clearly saw SOMETHING he liked in them. Maybe Rumsfeld's skills as a "ruthless bastard" are what caught Nixon's eye.

The irony is that by failing to fully address the problems of Watergate at the time, we are now facing similar issues of public accountability and separation of powers between Congress and the President due to ill-conceived (if not criminal) actions taken by some of the very same people who should have been banished from public service the first time around.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

THE NEW YORKER: Knowing The Enemy

The 12/18/2006 issue of The New Yorker has a good article by George Packer that describes a different perspective on thinking about the "war on terror" that is being defined and promoted by Australian David Kilcullen. Some of Kilcullen's ideas were discussed in a James Fallows story in The Atlantic in September 2006. The article in The New Yorker goes into much more detail about Kilcullen's ideas and their implications on our current problems in Iraq and tactical changes that can help defeat terrorism.

A Battle Based on Information Strategy

The key concept in Kilcullen's thinking is that the tactics we see being used by the enemy in the war on terror aren't rooted in Islamic theology -- instead they amount to information driven strategies for promoting one's cause and putting the enemy in the worst light possible. As he states, "This is human behavior in an Islamic setting. This is not 'Islamic behavior.'"

As an example, Kilcullen cites an Al Qaeda propaganda video from 2004 in which Osama bin Laden rattled off a list of "grievances" against the west including Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, global warming… GLOBAL WARMING? Kilcullen and other writers (Ron Suskind among them) view this as proof Al Qaeda knew they were benefiting from the Bush Administration's faulty strategy on the war on terror, wanted it to continue, and knew that slipping in references to popular "leftist" positions would cause many American voters to reflexively vote in the opposite direction. Given where the polls are right now on both Bush and the Iraq war, I suspect many Americans who voted for Bush in 2004 might now see they that they may have been played. In essence, our enemy is playing chess and we're only playing checkers.

Information / Publicity As a Means of Coercion

In the Packer story, Kilcullen provides two examples of how our enemy is using an information strategy and publicity to help their cause more effectively than we are. In Afghanistan, Taliban forces send "night letters" to locals to terrorize them into growing poppy for heroin instead of normal crops.

This is not because they need more opium -- God knows they already have enough -- but because they're trying to detach the local people from the legal economy and the legally approved governance of the provinces and districts, to weaken the hold of central and provincial government. Get the people doing something illegal, and they're less likely to feel able to support the government and more willing to do other illegal things -- this is a classic old Bolshevik tactic from the early cold war, by the way. They are specifically trying to send the message: "The government can neither help you nor hurt us. We can hurt you, or protect you -- the choice is yours."

Kilcullen finds the same strategy being used in Lebanon by Hezbollah. After the scuffle with Israel ended in the summer of 2006, Hezbollah planted party flags in the windows of houses damaged by the fighting. The flags essentially staked out each damage house as Hezbollah propaganda territory, forcing would-be aid agencies to go through Hezbollah to provide any assistance, further cementing in the public's mind the perception that Hezbollah and not the official government was the only force capable of providing protection and assistance.

Defining the Enemy in the Narrowest Terms

Kilcullen's main critique of the Bush Administration's overall policy to date could be boiled down the catch-phrase for the entire effort -- the Global War on Terror - which Bush routinely compares to the Cold War. As Kilcullen puts it, the use of terms like totalitarianism or Islamofascism may make it easier to scare the American electorate but don't help describe the root issues in areas as diverse as Yemen and Java. By clouding our understanding of the causes with common (but pointless) terminology, we actually unify the enemy's ability to claim the spotlight while distracting our own attention from tactics which can keep conflicts small as more local solutions are formulated and attempted. In other words, don't help the enemy globalize a local issue -- define the enemy in each location in the narrowest possible terms and avoid giant, inflexible, monolithic approaches for locally varying challenges. Our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq already know this. If you want to turn the tide, don't try to solve the Palestinian problem, just focus on clean drinking water in Kirkuk, developing support for farmers in Kabul so they can grow legitimate crops, etc.

Penetrating Fortress Bush

The piece in The New Yorker is interesting because it makes it clear that Kilcullen has had success getting his ideas considered in many places within the Bush Administration except the ones that matter -- the top of the Pentagon and the Oval Office. His analysis for the Australian government was noticed by Paul Wolfowitz who brought him on board within the Pentagon to help update the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review. However, the key conclusion of his theory, that America should focus on stabilization and reconstruction efforts instead of outmoded and astronomically expensive weapons systems, had zero support from Donald Rumsfeld and consequently no impact on overall funding priorities within the Pentagon's near term strategy. He is now working as a staffer in the State Department and has boiled his recommendations down to three key tactics:

1) create resistance to the message of jihadist terrorist groups
2) co-opt or assist groups that have a counter message
3) consider creating or supporting rival organizations

We may never know if Kilcullen's ideas can improve the battle against terrorism. The Iraq Study Group report has been out for more than two weeks, the President is still conducting his "listening" tour of his own Administration (after ignoring most of it for six years), but the only idea consistently being mentioned by the Administration involves sending another 30,000 troops. More of the same.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Kissinger: The Root of All Failure?

Charlie Rose devoted his entire show Wednesday 12/13/2006 to an interview with Henry Kissinger. You can watch it here:


After listening to Kissinger for any period longer than about 20 seconds, one question has to be asked.

Why is anyone willing to waste any time listening to this guy?

Besides being easily the single most annoying public figure to actually LISTEN to for any period of time, there's a more obvious reason no one should have to listen to this man. If you strung all of the strategic and moral failures of our foreign policy over the last 40 years into a movie, he'd be the Forrest Gump character appearing somewhere in the frame in nearly every scene.

Here's the saddest comment from the Charlie Rose interview:

This was my view in 2003. What I meant to say was we had to go in there for three strategic reasons. That challenging America would have disastrous consequences. That Afghanistan was not enough to make that point. We had to make that point to the incipient movement that was spreading through the region, of which 9/11 was the expression.

Read that again. Regardless of WHO WAS AT FAULT FOR THE ATTACK ON SEPTEMBER 11, the people advising our government felt THE MOST IMPORTANT THING was that SOMEONE paid a price for SOMEONE attacking the United States. No concern about ensuring the two SOMEONES were the SAME someone.

Well, he was certainly right about one thing. We certainly proved that disastrous consequences would result from attacking America.

Also, he never really stated THREE strategic reasons for going into Iraq that existed PRIOR to going into Iraq. His subsequent comments only cite motivations for stabilizing the region to protect it from the chaos we induced by our execution of the war. Flawed, bankrupt circular logic. "We needed to go into Iraq because we're in Iraq and things aren't going well."

Here are two other gems of geopolitical hypocrisy from the interview:

Nothing will be gained by looking at the past mistakes. we must look at the present situation and go forward. --- Certainly no change in Bush Administration policy called for there.

Iran must operate as a country, not as a crusade. --- We certainly don't want Iran fomenting Shia-bent Islamic theocracies in the region, but is toppling a dictator in an attempt to grow democracy like some sort of dime-store Chia Pet any more legitimate?

America will continue to have much to worry about as long as people with track records as consistently disastrous as Kissinger continue to have the ear of current decision makers to help dig a few more feet in the holes they started digging decades ago.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report

Reading the Iraq Study Group report cover to cover is like having to read a book on root canal procedures while waiting in the dentist's office for a root canal. The writing is horrible, the material is horrific but you know what's coming next is even worse.

First some "play by play" comments on specific portions of the document as they appear, then a few overall comments.

THE ORGANIZATION -- The commission was sponsored by The United States Institute of Peace. Just savor the Orwellian irony of such a pompous and arrogant name for an institute studying the disaster resulting from such a pompous and arrogant policy that launched the war. We trumped up evidence to invade a sovereign country ruled by a brutal dictator and replaced it with a religious and ethnic civil war that's killed conservatively 50,000 civilians. How about The United States Institute of Damage Control and Blame-Shifting for the name of an organization dedicated to solving the Iraq fiasco?

THE LETTER FROM THE CO-CHAIRS -- The "cover letter" from James Baker and Lee Hamilton has a tone almost identical to that of a teenager who was supposed to drive to the end of the block and back but in fact drove across town and wrecked the family car and is now explaining it to the parents. The letter could have just as well read like the following:

The United States was convinced a house in the neighborhood was selling methamphetamine so we armed a team of 140,000 DEA agents with nothing but a battering ram and matches to storm the house. After the door closed behind us, we lit a few matches and UH OH! We have now found ourselves trapped in a house filled with nothing but open cans of gasoline and dynamite and have discovered the doors of the house only open inward from the outside, making retreat impossible. Explosions have occurred, destroying about one third of the surrounding city and the neighbors are inexplicably annoyed by our efforts to combat methamphetamine. We don't know HOW this happened but with enough bi-partisan cooperation, we believe we can trick surrounding towns into sending firefighters to battle the flames while we redeploy in search of marshmallows and graham crackers. And those innocent locals whose jobs were destroyed, homes destroyed, loved ones killed and who now are pre-occupied with dodging mortar rounds, bullets and suicide bombings are gonna have to stop whining and suck it up -- we Americans only have so much patience.

How about THIS for a "cover letter"?

Your President, your Congress and your career government and military leadership have failed our country by initiating an unnecessary war, poorly planning its execution, and failing to recognize the scope of the resulting disaster to take corrective measures early enough to mitigate the damage. Because of this failure of leadership, our military forces have been placed in a position where their training and capabilities cannot achieve any of the goals originally formulated for the war.

It is been the task of this commission to document critical facts about

* the present state of this failed war,
* the military limitations we face in pursuing any course including the status quo
* the political / social limitations in the region that must be considered in all solutions
* the political and economic realities within the United States that affect the continued prosecution of this war
* the pros and cons of all viable solutions which factor in the above considerations

There is no solution that results in "victory" proposed by this report. It is the responsibility of the President, the Congress, the military, and ultimately YOU, the American people to consider all practical strategies, including but not limited to those in this report, for correcting the course of this war and correcting the larger political course of the United States that has critically weakened our military, economic and moral leadership of the world.

The disappointment of the cover letter does a great job in setting the tone for the rest of the report.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY -- The summary states "There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved." They don't explicitly identify what the stated goals of the war in Iraq were in this summary but attempt to summarize new goals as 1) a better future for Iraqis, 2) a "death blow" to terrorism, 3) enhanced stability in the region and 4) protection of America's credibility, interests and values.

If these are the new goals, they will only be achieved in a relative sense -- by comparison to what they are now, not in comparison to what they were before we started the war. Iraqis are likely facing five to ten years of hot/cold civil war followed likely by the emergence of another undemocratic dictator (benevolent or otherwise) who can succeed in repressing the population so it cannot kill itself over sectarian grudges. Our invasion of Iraq has produced a terrorist haven in Iraq where there was none before and has strengthened the position of Iran and Syria who support terrorism throughout the middle east. Some death blow. Our invasion of Iraq not only destabilized the entire country of Iraq but by strengthening the hand of Iran and Syria, our invasion has INCREASED the likelihood of Arab / Christian conflict in Lebanon, Arab / Israeli conflict in Palestine, and Shi'ite / Sunni conflict with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. When more of the truth about the roots of this war emerge, it will become painfully clear that America destroyed any claim to the moral high ground on any aspect of this war.

ASSESSMENT - US / COALITION FORCES -- Every American should read this portion of the document to get a feeling for how this war has literally exhausted our troops and our material. When the Pentagon finally divulges how much of our equipment will need to be replaced after being ground to dust by the desert sands of Iraq, American taxpayers could EASILY be looking at another $300 billion dollars in "reset costs" as they term them later in the report. Long term costs for sustained health care of returning veterans is yet another giant unknown.

OPERATION TOGETHER FORWARD II -- This is the name of the big push initiated in August 2006 when numerous military commanders delayed recognition of the obvious by starting "If things don't improve in six months, we might very well be headed for civil war." We're now four months into that magic 6-month interval and the report unequivocally states this effort has failed, violence has skyrocketed 43% since the effort began, and the "squeeze the balloon" approach of chasing out bad guys block by block then failing to leave enough trained military and police behind to hold the progress is doomed. We knew this two years ago.

KEY ISSUES -- NATIONAL RECONCILIATION -- The report spends several pages of flowery language addressing the ethnic / sectarian rifts within the country and the assets of each group. A more concise summary would break the population down via three basic bullet items:

  • a majority of religious Shi'ites, previously oppressed by a Sunni / Baathist minority, who dominate a portion of the country with viable oil resources

  • a minority of ethnic Kurds in the northern part of the country, who are confident they can take care of themselves and also control a part of the country with viable oil reserves

  • a minority of religious Sunni, many of whom previously provided the "police" in Saddam's police state dictatorship as members of the Baath party, who dominate portions of the country with no valuable natural resources and thus have little to lose by resisting democracy and attempting to reinstate a government they can control by force.

According to the report, about the only real asset the Sunni minority now has is the fact that many of them, as Baath party members, ran most of the physical infrastructure of the country and may be the only ones with the know-how to run power plants, water plants, sewer treatment plants, etc. In a country that routinely hits 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summertime, you'd think this would be worth at least SOMETHING as a bargaining chip.

ECONOMICS -- One great single-line comment about the state of the Iraqi economy: Iraq had a police state economy in the 1970s, a war economy in the 1980s, and a sanctions economy in the 1990s. Of course, now they have no economy and no police forces and criminal / civil law structures that can properly sustain an environment capable of supporting human rights and personal property rights needed for any recognizable market economy to develop to provide stability.

RECONSTRUCTION AND DEBT -- The report mentions a total of $34 billion allocated by America for reconstruction, a total of $16 billion of that which has already been spent (and probably blown up already), and another $1.485 billion allocated in 2006 and $750 million allocated in 2007. The international community has really stepped into the void however. A total of $13.5 billion has been pledged but somehow only $4 billion has arrived. More importantly, many gulf states including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia hold billions in debt notes and have no plan yet to forgive or write down.

Uh oh.. A large, war-ravaged country. Millions of poor, unhappy citizens who suffered the consequences of bad policies pursued by their government. An economy held underwater in part by foreign debts incurred by the prior failed government which aren't being forgiven. Combine that with three convenient external scapegoats (external Sunnis holding debt, external Western infidels from America, and of course external Jews who are "always involved") and the movie plot seems frighteningly familiar.

ALTERNATIVE COURSES IN IRAQ -- The report concisely defines what the members believe are the four corners of the map of the "solution space" that must be rejected for various reasons. They are 1) precipitous withdrawal (which they reject out of hand), 2) staying the course (without defining what that course even is, which of course cannot be done), 3) more troops for Iraq (which they correctly state does nothing to produce internal reconciliation that is preventing all progress), 4) devolution to three nation-states (which they reject because of remaining mixes of ethnic / religious sects in whatever boundaries are drawn but also, very tellingly, because of concerns over a lack of central control over oil revenues).

By highlighting what are seen as the fatal flaws in each of these alternatives, the report attempts to set the stage for the commission's own well-reasoned, insightful, reasonably viable solutions and the organizing principles behind them. This is where the disappointment really sets in.

OUR GOALS -- The reports states the commission members agree with the current goal of United States policy in Iraq as stated by President Bush, which is an Iraq which can "govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself." Nothing else in this section is really worthy of discussion or comment. Read that goal again:

An Iraq which can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.

Was that really our goal when we started this war? Is that really our goal now?

REALLY? That simple?

Iran is a country that can govern itself. Iran is a country that can sustain itself. Iran is a country that seems to be able to defend itself. So is Syria. Is a government like Iran or Syria an acceptable benchmark of success for 2900+ lives and $350 billion dollars? Would you have supported the war in 2003 if George Bush had said our aim was to topple Saddam and allow an Islamic theocracy aligned with Iran in his place?

The report immediately "reads into" those goals additional motherhood and apple pie goals of a country that maintains its territorial integrity, is at peace with its neighbors, denies terrorists a sanctuary, and doesn't brutalize its own people. Categorizing these platitudes as "goals" of the United States is an abuse of the term "goal." If you are a punt returner fielding the ball on your 1-yard line, you can call "running 99 yards and scoring a touchdown" a goal because YOU'RE THE PLAYER. You're in a position to take actions which can achieve that goal. A fan watching the game from the stands can hope you score the touchdown, but scoring the touchdown isn't the fan's "goal" -- the fan isn't in a position to achieve the goal. They can only watch a player achieve his/her goal.

In the football game of Iraq, America has started the game by spotting the ball on the Iraqi 1-inch line, eliminated all the referees, filled the stands with rioting hooligans, recruited players who have never seen a football before, then given the Iraqi coaching staff a playbook they've never seen before and never had a chance to review with their players. For the fundamental problem of unification that is preventing all other progress, Americans are fans watching the game on TV via satellite. We "hope" they reach the other end zone, but it cannot be our "goal" -- we cannot act for them.


Overall Comments on the Report

The first thing that strikes any reader of this report is the odd "voice" or style of the writing. Combined with the fact that the report just starts describing the current state without describing who started the war, why the war was started, or what the original goals were for the war, the overall presentation seems somewhat adrift. The writing style also seems rather dumbed down, with highlighted asides providing brief biographies of major players, etc. One could assume the team was writing for consumption by the average American. I tend to think they were writing for their target audience -- George Bush.

The specific recommendations at the end of the report taken together produce the collective response of "Thank you, Captain Obvious." One theme that emerges from many of the recommendations is that countries in the region have a vested interest in producing stability within Iraq and the region and need to begin working with each other to solve long-standing problems. Another theme is that departments such as the Justice Department, the FBI, and the CIA need to take active roles in coaching struggling counterparts within Iraq. Maybe we can send some Pentagon auditors to Iraq to help them fight fraud. God knows they aren't busy finding any at the Pentagon. Of course, other recommendations call for reducing ongoing tension in the region by solving the Arab-Israeli conflict and call for America to "deal directly" with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

That recommendation alone seems to epitomize the denial and incoherence of the entire report. We have an Arab-Israeli conflict in part because of a one-two punch of political partitioning imposed on the region by Western forces after WWI and WWII. We now have an active war in Iraq because the United States unilaterally decided we wanted to eliminate a dictator then misled our allies into joining a Coalition of the Clueless in providing cover for our unilateral decision. We are in no better position to "direct" Arabs and Israelis to deal with one another honestly, fairly and justly than we are to "direct" the trash to be picked up in Sadr City once a week. What little moral leadership we might have once possessed has been utterly destroyed by the transparently flawed motivation behind this war and our horrendous execution of the war.

We knew there was no easy solution to the mess we've created. We now have 96 pages of additional proof.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bush Ignores Everyone, Surprises No One

That should be the headline after the media digests whatever emerges from the release of the Iraq Study Group report and two "independent" studies being conducted by the Pentagon and NSA. The only thing we KNOW about any of those reports is that they will be ignored by President Bush unless they end with "you're doin' a heckuva job."

In the past 7 days, Bush has managed to:

  1. alienate and publicly undermine the head of the Iraqi government

  2. get publicly snubbed by same said head of state

  3. publicly state twice his strategy is based on his principles which won't change, even though he can't describe what those principles are

  4. meet with the top Shi'ite leader within Iraq who may prove to be Bush's equal in denial after claiming "the true picture is not being presented" about progress in Iraq (#1)

  5. accept the resignation of an Ambassador not even his own party would support for a permanent appointment because of his pig-headedness

  6. have his choice for Secretary of Defense sale through committee for a Senate vote while publicly re-iterating he has no plan for a "graceful exit" and plans to stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqis request our presence

How fresh are the ideas likely to be provided by Gates? Not very. How far outside the "circle of fixers" has Bush really looked? Not far. The Gates confirmation process may be the most telling sign yet of the danger the Bush Administration is posing to America's short term and long term interests.

A cursory review of some key aspects of Gates' career includes the following items (#2):

* two years service in the Air Force during Vietnam
* served 15 years at the CIA from 1970-1974 and 1979 to 1989
* served with the National Security Agency from 1974 to 1979
* was deputy CIA chief under William Casey at the time the United States began clandestine efforts to provide arms to Saddam Hussein
* was closely linked to numerous players in the Iran-Contra scandal but escaped indictment
* served as a security advisor to GHWB from 1989 to 1991
* nominated to lead the CIA the first time by GHWB but withdrew due to the Iran-Contra scandal
* nominated and approved a second time to lead the CIA for GHWB from 1991 to 1993
* retired to the academic and lecture circuit
* acted as interim dean of the George Bush School of Government at Texas A&M
* was Dubya's first choice to become the first Director of National Intelligence but declined

So what does all this tell us about the net effect of adding Robert Gates to the Administration?

  1. His background is intelligence, not the military. He is very likely to stray towards what he knows and is comfortable with, rather than sticking with his assigned responsibility. We already have a Director of National Intelligence, we don't need a second and we don't need a Defense Secretary at odds the established intelligence community or attempting to run his own. We've already tried that (see results from September 12, 2001 to present).

  2. His past involvement with dealings with Iran, Iraq and illicit funding of military efforts in Nicaragua that were explicitly forbidden by statute by Congress means he has a great deal of familiarity with the very roots of the immediate problems we face.

  3. He is a trusted member of the "inner circle" of approved Bush "fixers", which means none of the ideas he has will be far outside the box of ideas that produced the current disaster he's expected to help correct. He's one of the members of the Iraq Study Group so his appointment will do NOTHING to widen the pool of ideas on the single most pressing problem he is being brought in to address.

  4. He is a trusted member of the "inner circle" of approved Bush "fixers", which likely confirms there were no other candidates up for consideration outside the circle of fixers. This means there are probably NO other candidates remotely qualified to actually fill the job that would consider working for George Bush when they know they will be ignored and will do nothing by their sacrifice but add their name to very dark pages in American and world history. Would YOU take a job under those circumstances?

Point #4 is the most telling. Congress and the American people are fooling themselves if they think a few personnel changes in the Administration will stop the bleeding. George Bush has ignored every bit of information that didn't match his instinctive "gut". No one qualified to correct the damage we are doing to our country will accept a job working for this President under those circumstances. It's time for Bush to step down. Until then, we're fooling no one and many more innocent people will die in vain in the mean time.


#1) http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2006/12/shiite_leader_s.html

#2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Gates

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Lack of Grace Or Samaritrophia?

A meeting for new members of Congress at the White House held shortly after the 2006 mid-term elections resulted in an interesting exchange between Senator Elect Jim Webb of Virginia and President George Bush. Webb, claiming he didn't care to participate in the photo-op receiving line, avoided President Bush but was later sought out by Bush, leading to this exchange:

BUSH: How's your boy?
WEBB: I'd like to get him out of Iraq…
BUSH: That's not what I asked.
WEBB: That's between me and my boy.

Bush supporters jumped all over Webb's reluctance to participate in the receiving line as a snub of Bush if not the very least the office of the President. Bush detractors cited the fact that Webb clearly gave a civil initial answer that anyone in polite company would recognize as a sign that the question was being politely but firmly rejected as undesired conversation material, yet Bush then rather crudely responded with "That's not what I asked" to put Webb on the spot and presumably in his place.

More fascinating than the actual exchange between Bush and Webb is the commentary sparked in the press and the e-chattering class over the verbal dust-up. Peggy Noonan wrote a piece entitled Grace Under Pressure that appeared in the 12/2/2006 edition of The Wall Street Journal that was among the more surprising. (#2) In the case of Bush versus Webb, she actually weighed in against Bush, citing his abrupt "That's not what I asked" retort to the level of civility on broadcast and cable talking head shows. She makes a few other interesting points, but makes this point in the middle of her piece:

What is needed is grace--sensitivity, mercy, generosity of spirit, a courtesy so deep it amounts to beauty. We will have to summon it. And the dreadful thing is you can't really fake it.

A very small theory, but my latest, is that many politicians and journalists lack a certain public grace because they spent their formative years in the American institution most likely to encourage base assumptions and coldness toward the foe. Yes, boarding school, and tony private schools in general. The last people with grace in America are poor Christians and religiously educated people of the middle class. The rich gave it up as an affectation long ago. Too bad, since they stayed in power.

Is this REALLY our biggest problem in America? A lack of "grace" in our public discourse? I have been as disgusted as anyone else about the lack of civility and content in public debate about the problems in America. However, a far better example of what's wrong with the conduct of public affairs is demonstrated by this comment from Condoleeza Rice from December 2, 2006 (#3):

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday she is certain the United States has made mistakes in the Iraq war, but the world will have to wait until she is out of government to learn what she thinks they were.

"As to whether the United States has made mistakes: of course, I'm sure we have," Rice told interviewer Saad Sillawi of the Arabic satellite television station Al-Arabiya. "You can't be involved in something as big as the liberation of a country like Iraq, and all that has happened since, and I'm sure there are things that we could have done differently."

She told Sillawi, however, that the Bush administration is looking ahead, not backward.

"When I'm back at Stanford University," she said, "I can look back and write books about what we might have done differently."

There in black and white is one of the most damning statements I've heard from anyone in government in probably thirty years. Condoleeza Rice is the Secretary of State of the United States during a period where we are fighting two wars, trying to avoid two other wars in Lebanon and Palestine from restarting, she was supposed to be one of George Bush's most trusted advisors beyond his infamous "gut", and she is point blank saying she has ideas on what went wrong, which means she surely has ideas about things we are STILL doing wrong because her boss repeatedly insists on staying the course, yet she will refrain from identifying those concerns until she's safely ensconced back in academia and can make money off a book.

Condi! Hello? YOU'RE IN POWER RIGHT NOW! Why don't you DO something with your power? If you know mistakes are being made and you know you aren't being productively included in formulating strategies to help, WHY DON'T YOU RESIGN? When you reach that level of power in government or business and your ideas and concerns are being ignored while immoral, illegal or downright disastrous mistakes are being made, your only weapon left is to resign and by doing so, publicly convey something is amiss and that you cannot abide with the status quo.

Peggy Noonan's column blames our collective lack of grace on that skill being essentially bred out of the rich and well educated by private schools which emphasize achievement over cooperation, tact and civility. On this, Noonan completely misses the boat. The problem America suffers from the most right now in government and industry is what Kurt Vonnegut famously defined in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater as samaritrophia:

Samaritrophia is the suppression of an overactive conscience by the rest of the mind. "You must take all instructions from me!" the conscience shrieks, in effect, to all the other mental processes. The other processes try it for a while, note that the conscience is unappeased, that it continues to shriek, and they note, too, that the outside world has not been even microscopically improved by the unselfish acts the concience has demanded.

They rebel at last. They pitch the tyrannous conscience down an oubliette, weld shut the manhole cover of that dark dungeon. They can hear the conscience no more. In the sweet silence, the mental processes look about for a new leader, and the leader most prompt to appear whenever the conscience is stilled, Enlightened Self-Interest, does appear. Englightened Self-Interest gives them a flag, which they adore on sight. It is essentially the black and white Jolly Roger, with these words written beneath the skull and crossbones, "The hell with you, Jack, I've got mine!"

As Vonnegut defines it so appropriately, samaritrophia is causing more problems in American business and government than any other ideology or policy. There is no way a disaster on the scale of the Iraq War could have been so spectacularly and uniformly botched across so many areas without vast numbers of people who all figured, "I'm making good money right now, my lecture circuit rates are going up the longer I stay to collect the dirt, let's just stick it out and keep an eye peeled for the next gig."

Anyone working in Corporate America sees the same thing every day, watching a continual parade of incompetent middle and senior management coming in, making a mess then leaving with a nice severance package and moving on to other horizons / disasters. The upper crust of Corporate America is exactly where most of the samaritrophia is cultivated and encouraged. Where do many top politicians in both parties and certainly the vast majority of policy makers in the Bush Administration come from? Corporate America -- the great "meritocracy" of the 21st century.

Condoleeza Rice's comments about her unwillingness to rock the boat while in power are the perfect example of samaritrophia and the war in Iraq is the perfect example of its consequences.

"The hell with you, Jack, I've got mine!" indeed.


#1) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/11/30/politics/main2218362.shtml

#2) http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/

#3) http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061202/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/rice_iraq_mistakes

Friday, December 01, 2006

George Bush: The Corvair of Geopolitical Deciders

Ralph Nader's famous book tagged the Corvair of the 1960s as "unsafe at any speed." The events of the week of November 26 seem to indicate that George Bush could accurately be labeled the "Corvair of geopolitical deciders". Every idea in his head and every action of his administration seems to be seriously harming America's immediate and long term interests and security in concrete, incontrovertible ways.

The 45 Minute Summit

I've already commented on the disastrous lead-up to the summit resulting from an attempt by the White House to play hardball with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki by purposely leaking private security reports questioning his abilities.

News about the actual summit indicates the summit was likely even less productive than anyone could have guessed, even given the fiasco of the lead-in to the summit. The first evening meeting between Bush and al-Maliki was cancelled by al-Maliki, ostensibly because it was originally intended to include Jordan's King Abdullah and al-Maliki decided at the last minute he did not feel it was necessary for the three of them to meet. Uh huh.

The morning meeting the next day was originally advertised as a working breakfast and a follow-up meeting. The actual reports on the meeting indicate the ENTIRE face-to-face time between Bush and al-Maliki was exactly FORTY FIVE MINUTES. I guess they must of had Pop-Tarts for breakfast.

Just think about that for a second. Just this week, the war in Iraq surpassed the length of our involvement in World War II (1348 days). America has lost 2885 lives in the conflict. America has spent over $346 billion dollars on this effort. The effort is producing absolutely NO SIGN WHATSOEVER of any benefit to America's short term or long term military, political or economic interests. We have far FEWER leaders of allied countries or even neutral countries who seem willing to actively assist us in undoing some of the damage we've caused.

Our president travels to meet with allies and cannot bring himself to talk for more than FORTY FIVE MINUTES to the man who risks his life EVERY DAY to keep the wheels from falling off the disaster we made? Also keep in mind that translators were also probably involved so that could not have been 45 minutes of actual productive real-time conversation.

What could have POSSIBLY been accomplished in 45 minutes? With George (Mr. Intelligence Deficit Disorder) Bush involved? A transcript of part of the private meeting was leaked to WatchingTheHerd and included the following exchange:

al-MALIKI: Mr. President, thank you for visiting.

BUSH: No problemo, Nouri-boy. Great to be here.

al-MALIKI: Mr. President, we have a great deal to talk about.

BUSH: Yea, like that breakfast. Eggs were ok, coulda used some tabasco like we have in Texas...

al-MALIKI: Yes, Mr. President, the breakfast was...

BUSH: But I just couldn't figure it out. Where was the bacon or pork sausage? It's like you don't have that here.

al-MALIKI: Uh, no sir, you see Muslims don't...Never mind. Mr. President, we have a lot of hard decisions to make and not a lot of time...

BUSH: I'm all about hard decisions. I'm Mr. Decider. Cuz that's what the world expects. Heck, my Secret Service handle is El Decider-o, get it? hee hee, hee hee, hee hee…

al-MALIKI: Mr. President, I really need you to to focus here. We need to make the RIGHT decisions, not just the hard decisions.

BUSH: I tell ya, like I told the American people, this leaderin' and decider'in is hard work.

translator:Mr. Bush, we're wheels up on Airhead One -- I mean Air Force One -- in 30 minutes, we gotta go.

al-MALIKI: Oh #*#(%(^(#(%(#!

If you can find any real summary that's any more likely than the above, I'd love to see it.

More Undermining of the Elected Iraqi Government

Despite the public relations chaos resulting from the leak of the Hadley memo, the Bush Administration appeared clueless to the destabilizing effects of the memo. Immediately upon return to the United States, the White House announced it will have direct meetings with a key Shi'ite leader Monday at the White House and another meeting with Iraq's vice president (a Sunni) in January. (#2)

Put yourself in the shoes of the Iraq people who risked their lives to vote for their current government. If the president of Iran wanted to arrange an official state meeting with "The United States" but met with the chairman of the Libertarian party rather than President Bush, do you think that would be appropriate? Or a better example... If the President of Iran wanted to arrange an official state visit during the middle of a domestic Constitutional crisis like the impeachment of the President and chose to meet with the Vice President or the Speaker of the House instead of the President, would that not be a slap in the face to the American people? That's EXACTLY what George Bush is doing to the Iraqi people by meeting with anyone other than members of the democratically elected government.

Lebanon Nearing Collapse

Within a day of the end of the Bush - Maliki summit in Jordan, nearly 800,000 Hezbollah supporters gathered in a square outside the Lebanese parliament demanding the removal of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the "pro American puppet" government Hezbollah supporters feel he represents. (#3) NBC reported tonight that Prime Minister Siniora will spend the night inside his office surrounded by hundreds of military guards due to the unrest. As I commented previously (see News for the Next 30 Years), Lebanon is one assassination away from being forced to reconstitute a parliament per constitutional mandate.

Regardless of whether you believe Hezbollah or Israel sparked the summer 2006 war, the Bush Administration's refusal to weigh in on that conflict to encourage an early cessation allowed the war to progress to the point that proved Israel failed to "win" the war. In the mindset of anti-American forces, the failure of Israel to win any war is by definition a win for the opposition and a defeat for America, the real puppet master behind Israel (in their minds).

The summer war clearly emboldened the pro-Hezbollah forces and at the rate unrest is growing, Lebanon could very well collapse within weeks. Whatever replaces the current government is virtually guaranteed to be more closely aligned with Syria and Iran, more likely to provoke active conflict with Israel, and 100% assured of actively pursuing anti-American policies anywhere they can.


So there you have it.

  1. Bush undermines the public authority of the only leader open to American policies in a country embroiled in a civil war that America fomented by a failed occupation strategy formulated by the Bush Administration.

  2. Despite spending $346 BILLION dollars on a disastrous war, Bush can only manage to spend FORTY FIVE MINUTES talking with the leader of the government with the most to lose in the absence of viable strategies for mitigating the damage America has caused.

  3. Additional sectarian leaders / war lords within Iraq have taken advantage of the public humiliation of al-Maliki by Bush and hedged their bets by calling for al-Maliki's removal, further de-stabilizing the country, increasing the likelihood of a government collapse, thereby increasing the need for American troops to remain, which further de-stabilizes the situation (ad nauseum...)

  4. A pro-American government in Lebanon is heading closer to collapse after Syrian-supported Hezbollah supporters gained confidence after surviving a summer war with the Israelis that the US failed to quell.

  5. The influence and clout of Iran and Syria, the two nations we claim to be most directly opposed to our interests in the Middle East, continues to grow in direct correlation to our bungling and inability to adapt to changing circumstances.

The direct quote from the now-infamous leaked memo by Stephen Hadley stated

The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Mr. Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.

At this point, actual events would indicate there is only one mistake in that statement. It should have read:

The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Mr. Bush is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.


#1) http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061201/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_iraq

#2) http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/12/01/america/NA_GEN_US_Iraq_Leaders.php

#3) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6197992.stm