August 11, 2006

OBL's Favorite American Politician

The Incomparable, Quotable Dick is at it again:

"The thing that’s partly disturbing about it is the fact that, the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the al Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."

Thus Cheney on the Lamont victory in the Connecticut primary. An ally of the Iraq war has been lost, says the VP, thus calling into question our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task. Cheney finds this development "partly disturbing," in the same manner he found the prospect, in 2004, of a Kerry victory, raising as it did the odds America would be hit again, and this time in a devastating way.

I've never quite understood why Cheney doesn't believe his own administration screwed up in allowing 9-11 to happen in the first place. Are they entitled to some sort of national security mulligan? America was "hit hard in a devastating way" when Bush & Cheney were in office. The planning stages for 9-11, according to government investigations, took the better part of 5 years. While the 4 pilots (Atta, Hanjour, al-Sheihi and Jurrah) had been in the United States off and on for several years prior to 2001, almost all the 15 muscle hijackers made their first entry after Cheney's inauguration. One could almost say, in other words, that the hijackers were waiting until true incompetents were in charge of American security. Clinton had smart people in charge who had foiled the Millenium Plot, and captured, prosecuted and imprisoned the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Bush & Cheney appointed a woman who didn't and doesn't know anything about national security to defend America against terrorist threats. No one in the West Wing had any real interest in terrorism before 9-11, despite clear warnings and nearly frantic messages from FBI field offices that something was dangerously imminent.

One should not forget that Osama bin Laden starred in a videotape in the fall of 2004 which had as its obvious purpose the consolidation of Bush's position as the front runner in the presidential election. Maybe that crafty and definitely deranged auteur Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote, produced and directed the film, but it was clear they were quite content with America's leadership, and perhaps, most of all, with Dick Cheney. For hadn't Cheney been in on the ground floor of the stupidest, costliest, and most distracting endeavor of all, the "fiasco" of the Iraq war? Hadn't he said:

"We would be greeted as liberators."

"There is now no doubt that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear capability."

"The insurgency is in its death throes."

"Al Qaeda is glad that Lamont won the Connecticut primary."

Does Cheney ever say anything that is not 100% wrong? He's a bumbler, a pretender, and grossly incompetent. How could bin Laden ever hope for anything better than what he's got? A Vice President who apparently pulls the policy strings of the American leadership, who participates in the disclosure of American undercover operatives, who urges a bankrupting and unnecessary war against an Arab nation unrelated to any terrorist threat while we are supposedly in the middle of a life-and-death struggle elsewhere, who stumbles along with an 18% approval rating at home -- if Cheney didn't exist, wouldn't Osama have to invent him? Doesn't Osama, wherever he is, in whatever grotto or Persian condominium the night finds him, conclude his day by praying to Allah for Cheney's fragile health? That no short circuit or power failure disturbs the delicate operation of Cheney's pacemaker/defib device? That he is allowed to serve out his term, spreading propaganda in the USA that this same incompetent regime which allowed 9-11 in the first place, and then let Osama himself vanish into the Afghan mists so Cheney's harebrained idea of invading Iraq could command center stage, should continue to have undiluted Republican support for these follies?

America's adversaries, "if you will," are not reassured by changes in the American political landscape. It disturbs them, it unnerves them. America, against all odds, might be wising up. Bush's 33% rating and Cheney's life-support 18% disturb them. They miss the good old days when the stupidity of the Bush Administration, and particularly of Cheney himself, went unchallenged.

August 10, 2006

Islamo-fascists? A plea for accuracy in apocalyptic nomenclature

George W. Bush just never gets tired of bugging me. I thought he'd settled on "Islamic extremists" or "Islamic fundamentalist extremists" (admittedly a mouthful) as the scourge of the Earth. Now, in the wake of the Heathrow Airport terrorist plot, he's out there with "Islamic fascists." I don't know what else to expect from a man whose only reported reading is of children's books, from which he could not tear himself away during America's own brush with disaster.

But this is intolerably bad taxonomy. I think he picked this term up from Tom Friedman, another superficial thinker who doesn't mind ruining perfectly good, specific terms for stigmatizing heinous regimes. Friedman used "Islamo-fascist," for some reason, maybe because he was thinking of Austro-Hungary, mezzo-soprano, gingko-biloba or something and concluded, incorrectly, that an "o" at the end of a hyphenated word converted the first word to adjectival form. In any event, Friedman is the originator of some of the clumsiest, clunkiest neologisms ever coined, and it's a pity when his infelicities get picked up in general usage.

Why didn't either one of these poor students of history, for example, consult Mussolini on the subject? Who would know more? In his 1932 paper (co-written with Giuseppe Gentile), Il Duce lays it out:

"The Fascist accepts life and loves it, knowing nothing of and despising suicide: he rather conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest, but above all for others -- those who are at hand and those who are far distant, contemporaries, and those who will come after... "

I ask you: does that sound like any jihadist you know? Fascism is a social and political system, and arose as a counterweight to Marxist Communism. But back to Benito, because, like another Italian, Antonin Scalia, I believe in Originalism, of deriving our definitions and meaning from seminal texts whenever possible:

"The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone...."

Get it? It's a top-down system. Authoritarian, of course, and it doesn't see any point in leaving its citizenry any "useless and possibly harmful freedoms," such as, for example, the right to privacy, or protection from unwarranted searches and seizures,, we won't go there today. The point is simple: Fascism is a state system, where corporate interests and the policies of the authoritarian government are fused so that Big Money dictates the legislation and ... gee, it's so hard to stay away from, isn't it?

Anyway the whole difficulty, I thought, behind this epic Clash of Civilizations was that the jihadists were non-state actors, a "new kind of enemy." We already defeated the old kind of enemy, the true Fascist regimes of Germany, Italy and Japan, during World War II. In what sense do "Islamo-fascists" despise suicide? What corporations control their daily lives and destinies? I thought we were trying to bring corporatism to Iraq as part of conducting the Central War on Terror; if Fascism is already in Baghdad, what's the point?

I prefer "Jihadista" as the nom de slur. Admittedly, it's a little too colorful and romantic, it brings to mind Pancho Villa and other folk heroes, but I don't want to be reminded all the time of Hitler and Mussolini. I've got enough reminders of them already.

August 09, 2006

The "Defining Moment" Fallacy

The Democratic Party, and those who remain optimistic about the party, are of course jubilant about the victory of Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman in the senatorial primary in Connecticut. It is seen as proof positive that the nation has turned the corner on the Iraq war, even calling it an "insurgency" which holds grave implications for Republican incumbents everywhere. Rather than seeing it as a special case, bloggers and the mainstream media view the Lamont victory as a key momentum builder. In so arguing, the pro-Lamont crowd sounds a little like the Bush Administration in its recitation of "corner-turning" events in Iraq itself, such as writing a constitution, capturing Saddam, holding elections, killing Zarqawi, forming a government, and so on. Each of these defining moments turned out, in retrospect, to be a rest stop on the Highway to Hell that is liberated Iraq.

I think Lieberman is a special case in a special state. He went way overboard in his accommodation of Bush, even on social issues like the Schiavo case, and his war hawkishness in many ways was far more aggressive than even moderate members of the Republican Party, such as Chuck Hagel. Politics in Connecticut, as in California, are complicated by its status both as a bastion of liberal, highly educated voters, and as the headquarters of a number of America's largest defense contractors. Lieberman was a man who tried to be all things to all people and corporate interests, and this squishiness in his views, coupled with his Mr. Mumbles presentation, fell victim to a younger, more dynamic, and less sullied challenger.

Whether this translates to a massive alteration in the Senate or Congress is another question altogether. One ironical point is that this great "victory" in Connecticut was of one Democrat over another. Lamont managed a narrow win, and if he succeeds in November (with his vote possibly diluted by Lieberman's egomaniacal independent run), the Democrats in the Senate will simply have held a seat they already own. One might well remember the election in the San Diego area to replace the House seat vacated by Randy Cunningham, where the Democrats were defeated running against a Republican, which is a truer horse race.

In July the Harris Poll found that 50% of American adults believe that the U.S. military discovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the March, 2003 invasion. Stated another way, half the American adults selected at random and with the the wherewithal to own and operate a telephone maintain an abiding belief in the original justification for the Iraq invasion. Depending on the week, a little over half of all Americans oppose the continuation of the war in Iraq. In 2004, a little over half of American voters decided to return The Decider to the high office he continues, against all logic and common sense, to occupy. Yet Bush remains, most of the time, between 12 and 15% below this 50/50 Golden Mean which seems to define most of American politics. I suspect, at base, his unpopularity derives mainly from the high cost of gasoline and from the increasing sense among America's lumpen proletariat that things are getting worse here as they get better in Asia. Dinner table issues, in other words, and not the war in Iraq. The war in Iraq is a catastrophe of the first water, and it is breaking down the spiritual, financial and military structure of an already beleagured United States, but in the vast reaches of Red State America, the war issue will not be a decisive whisk broom propelling all the Republican officeholders out of Congress. Some Democratic gains, yes. Maybe near parity in the Senate. Not enough, constitutionally, to get rid of the Impostor in the White House. Not enough to make a big difference either way.

August 08, 2006

U.S. Foreign Policy as a Marx Brothers Movie

Maybe even George W. Bush has begun to appreciate the "emerging" paradoxes in Iraq. ("Paradox?" says Groucho, cigar held to one side. "No, but I've got three surgeons waiting in the foyer.") At his last public appearance with al-Maliki, Bush petulantly conceded that the security situation (a paradoxical term in itself) in Baghdad was "terrible." This, of course, was not a sign of growth or recognition in Bush, but simply symptomatic of Bush's style of personalizing his foreign policy. Either you're his friend or you're not his friend, and al-Maliki had committed the unpardonable and utterly predictable offense of decrying Israeli "aggression" against Lebanon. As a Shiite Muslim, it would have been surprising if Maliki felt otherwise, but Bush does not judge positions on the basis of "merits" or "facts" or anything remotely empirical. He bases his judgments of your positions on whether you agree with him or not. Maliki had gone off the reservation, and so Bush took that public opportunity to embarrass Maliki in front of the world press. Bush was saying, in effect, that while 6 weeks ago (while the security in Baghdad was terrible), he had worked out with Maliki a new strategy for stabilizing the Baghdad street, in the interim Hezbollah and Israel had gone to war, Maliki had sided with Muslims instead of Jews, and now Bush was going to say out loud that Maliki's plan sucked because Bush didn't like Maliki anymore.

At least an interpretation such as this makes sense, which you cannot say about the rest of America's Iraq policy. Maliki has also been wandering outside the fold in his support for the Mahdi Army run by the Muslim cleric (inevitably referred to as a "firebrand") Sadr, for whom an unexecuted arrest warrant has been floating around Iraq for about 2 years, ever since Sadr led an uprising against American troops in 2004. Maliki has expressed his profound disapproval of recent American attacks against the Mahdi stronghold in east Baghdad. It is the official position of the U.S., of course, since Iraq is now a sovereign nation, that its criminal system is run by Iraqis, and so it is up to the Iraqi government to decide whether to rein in Sadr, or to arrest him, or to do anything about him other than defend him from American military aggression.

Thus the leader of a kind of alt-Army, the Sadr Brigade, which has killed members of the liberating American army in an "uprising" and poses a continuing threat to any hope to stabilize Iraq, is the darling of the freely elected Shiite government made possible by America's toppling of the Sunni strongman Saddam Hussein. I'm not sure Groucho would touch this scenario; it's simply too outlandish. The freely elected government of Iraq is now on the wrong side of most issues, from the U.S. perspective. The American vision for Iraq is one in which the Sunni and Shia stop killing each other and the Kurds cease their centrifugal aspirations, to borrow a term from old political science at Cal days. Maliki, a Shiite, does not really believe that accommodation with the Sunni is possible, and probably resents the hell out of all those years he spent under the iron heel of Saddam's Sunni police state, and so does not want to hobble or enfeeble in any way the unofficial army of a key supporter, the one, the only, Mukhtada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric, who offers a potent counterweight to the utterly corrupt and anarchic official Iraqi army being "trained" by the Americans for a kind of nonpartisan maintenance of order. Both sides, Sunni and Shia, are waiting out the American departure and want to have their powder dry and their forces massed for that day when the real civil war can break out in earnest, after these troublemaking Americans, having made a fair fight possible by wrecking Saddam's army of oppression, give up and leave.

That would appear to sum up the "noble cause" of American involvement in Iraq. All of these developments were completely predictable, were in fact predicted, and all such predictions were completely ignored. Bush will not fundamentally change his Iraq policy, however, because he is incapable of understanding how messed up it is. He has only a passing familiarity with basic ethnic and sectarian forces at play in Iraq, and has approached the problem with the sophistication of a third grader writing an essay on democracy for his social studies class. The U.S.A. will keep spending billions, American soldiers will keep dying and killing Iraqis, and Iraq will, in time, unravel completely.

August 06, 2006

Plan C in Iraq

Scene: Oval Office, just prior to Bush's vacation departure.

Present with George W. Bush are the President's awesome Brain Trust, including V.P. Dick Cheney; Chief of Staff Josh "Hands" Bolten; Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice; Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Richard Perle, French wine connoisseur and Emissary from the Undead; and, from the press, William Kristol, and David Brooks of The New York Times, for some reason.

Bush: Before I taken off, I was thinking we should go through thinking through the extent of the Iraqi situation and sort of revisit some of our opportunities.

Cheney: (growling amicably) Options, sir?

Bush: Right. To refigure what roads may be open now, or closed, depending on events on the ground.

Kristol: Friedman in the Times has some ideas, one is to convene a kind of Kosovo summit and invite everyone and talk about it some more, and then his second idea is to partition Iraq into three parts, Sunni, Shia and the Kurds.

Bush: Who are the Kurds?

Kristol: Up north.

Brooks: What's so special about Friedman? I've done more to support your ideas, Mr. President.(pleadingly) Dick - anything to say?

Cheney: (growling reassuringly) David has been there for you, Mr. President.

Rumsfeld: Do we have problems in Iraq? Sure. Is it a civil war? Not in a classical sense. Are the streets of Baghdad littered every morning with people whose brains have been drilled out with Black&Decker tools? Of course. Is this normal? Probably not.

Rice: My own preference is for the status quo ante.

Rumsfeld: Have we heard that before? Sure. Do we watch the talk shows? Always. Are you the teacher's pet? What do you think.

Bolten: I've been thinking along the lines of Condi's comment. We do have some developing problems in the region.

Bush: No shit, Sherlock.

Cheney: (growling dyspeptically) One place where we're taking heat is that midwifing a Shiite government in Iraq has strengthened Iran's hand in the region.

Bolten: Hand?

Rumsfeld: (ignoring Bolten) Tell me about it, Tubby. Does Iran like having a Shia theocracy next door? You bet. Are they sending troops and money into the south of Iraq? All the time. Are those Shia militias and phony police killing our soldiers? Smell the coffee. Is this situation fucked up beyond all recognition? Bingo, first try.

Rice: Iraq did act as a cordon sanitaire against Iranian aggression and expansionism in the region, a firewall to deter the Persian ambitions...

Bush: (sniggering, his mouth full of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) A sanitary what? Please, Condi, there are ladies present.

Kristol: Regrettably, this revitalization of Iran has redounded to the disadvantage of Israel, since Iran feels unimpeded in its supply of Hezbollah with missiles and funding, leading to...

Bush: (pulling a bolus of half-chewed sandwich from his mouth and placing it on the desk) Rebounds? Who ya talking about now, Chandelier, the basketball player Yo-Yo Ma?

Perle: (in sepulchral tones, the shadows beneath his eyes darkening to a deep ebony, as the light in the room fades slightly as he murmurs hypnotically) It is of the essence to remonstrate consistently with existing monarchies in the region against such revanchist aspirations, lest a Persian suzerainty arise anew in a hegemonic...

Rumsfeld: Do you talk like an Oxford don on Quaaludes? I'll say.

Cheney: (growling nostalgically) You know, there was a time when Iraq was sort of that bulwark I think you're talking about, in the middle of all those hundred dollar words.

Bush: Bull works?

Cheney: (growling obliviously ) There are ways to implement...

Rice: A kind of status quo ante...

Bolten: Because while we talked about "dead or alive" as usual, fortunately he's still alive. And Aziz is still on the scene.

Rice: We're just missing Qusay and Uday, or Quday and Usay. Whatever.

Rumsfeld: Are they a big loss? No. Glad they're not among the living? You bet.

Cheney: (growling more intensely) So we've still got Saddam as a fallback.

Kristol: He was the one Iraqi who knew how to hold that mess together. Now he could run an army!

Rumsfeld: Are you a horse's ass, Bill? Sure thing. Another civilian who thinks it's all so easy from an armchair? I'd lay a bet. Am I the guy in that picture with Saddam 20 years ago and not you? Seems to me.

Bush: (choking up milk and hocking a loogie on the carpet): This guy Maliki's a floater.

Cheney: (growling ecstatically) This has great promise, a new opening.

Rice: Historically, this kind of reversion...

Perle: (lights in Oval Office are temporarily extinguished until auxiliary power kicks in) Reversion is not technically le mot juste. You are referring actually to the concept of restoration, as occurred after the French Revolution and Napoleonic accession, followed by...

Rumsfeld: Are you a pompous ass sucking off the public tit? Slam dunk. Do we get tired of your kind of nosing in? That just might be.

Cheney: (growling ruminatively) Have we talked to Rove about this? Putting Saddam back in power will require a hell of a lot of public relations finesse. You remember, regime change, torture rooms...

Bolten: (raising own hand, photographing it, then speaking) If I could suggest something. Abu Ghraib offers another opening on that. Suppose we tell the American people that U.S. oversight will ensure that Saddam's torture of his "own people" will not exceed the kind and extent already practiced by the CIA and military in Iraq.

Kristol: We've set a new standard, in other words!

Perle: (moaning shriek is heard in the far catacombs of the White House) Death squads will operate according to American protocols.

Cheney: (growling collegially) Good addendum, Dick.

Perle: Thanks, Dick.

Bush: (snorting amber foam from his Diet Coke) If you Dicks are done congratulating each other, when do we hit the decks with this street news?

Bolten: A phased implementation would be best, immediately after breaking Saddam out of jail.

Rice: Mussolini, as you'll recall, was spirited away from a Roman prison in 1943 and installed near Lake Maggiore in the Salo Government, where he...

Rumsfeld: Was part of the Fascist Restoration? We've heard it. Another status quo ante? How many more, I wonder. Are we about done here? I think so.

Brooks: Can I assume that you won't tell Friedman or (gulping) Dowd about this till I have a chance to run it as Plan C? Can you see the look on their faces when I scoop this?

Bush: Somebody throw Brooks another Milk-Bone. I've got a copter to catch and brush to clear.