Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Time to Think

It is often said with due irony that armies are always prepared to win the previous war. That is supposed to be a sad commentary on the learning curve in military circles, but, alas, this time around, such an assessment would be cause for celebration.

After three years of “missteps,” military commanders in Iraq are now proud to remark that they are finally getting it right. They’ve embraced the “idea” that there is an insurgency, they’ve realized that the Army’s official counterinsurgency manual is 20 years old, they now call cultural awareness a “force multiplier,” and they even see that the lessons of the Vietnam War might be worth learning (from the WSJ via Think Progress):

The last time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Baghdad, back in December, the top U.S. military commander there gave him an unusual gift.

Gen. George Casey passed him a copy of “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam,” written by Lt. Col. John Nagl. Initially published in 2002, the book is brutal in its criticism of the Vietnam-era Army as an organization that failed to learn from its mistakes and tried vainly to fight guerrilla insurgents the same way it fought World War II. […]

Col. Nagl’s book is one of a half dozen Vietnam histories — most of them highly critical of the U.S. military in Vietnam — that are changing the military’s views on how to fight guerrilla wars. […]

The embrace of these Vietnam histories reflects an emerging consensus in the Army that in order to move forward in Iraq, it must better understand the mistakes of Vietnam.
[emphasis mine]

First, it’s pretty clear that Don of the Dead didn’t read Nagl’s book, since (as I recently noted) he is still casually making comparisons to Germany and Nazis, but second: EMERGING consensus???

The Vietnam War was lost thirty years ago, and General Casey and his band of brothers are just thinking that they should study what happened in Vietnam? Am I supposed to feel good about that?

I know that with ‘Nam deniers like Rumsfeld and Cheney once again running the show, I shouldn’t expect anything but more blind and futile “strategy” from the executive branch, but that the military is just getting the memo on Vietnam—that is wholly and thoroughly inexcusable! Honestly, how is going to war without studying every war that lead up to this one not grounds for courts-martial?

And, if this is the state of military “intelligence” (as opposed to military intelligence) today—broadcasting self-satisfaction over thirty-year-old lessons learned three years and 2,300 dead soldiers into a war—am I supposed to trust that these guys can learn quickly enough to effectively evolve going forward? If US soldiers and those who command them are, as Lt. Gen. David Patraeus now likes to say, up against a highly adaptive, “thinking” enemy, am I to believe that a group of guys who take three decades to figure out what happened during the last military debacle will not always be several steps behind that enemy?

Give me a generation or so, and I’ll get back to you.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Why are Democrats So Bad at Math?

Because they think 45 out of 100 is a majority.

David Sirota has an excellent post on the flaws inherent in the Democratic leadership’s “strategy” of refusing to engage Republicans head on. He fears that Democrats in Congress have become “so afraid of their own shadow, so self-absorbed and comfortable in the minority, that they are afraid even to bait the GOP into doing what they should want them to do.” The Republican’s may be the party with a culture of corruption, intones Sirota, but the Democrats, by refusing to counter Republicans on Iraq, National Security, or illegal domestic spying, are quickly cementing themselves in our minds as the party with “a culture of weakness.”

As EJ Dionne of the Washington Post put it, “Democrats are so obsessed with not looking 'weak' on defense that they end up making themselves look weak, period, by the way they respond to Republican attacks on their alleged weakness."

Both Sirota and Dionne believe that the Democrats in Congress are now out of touch with their party’s voters, and not because leaders are too far to the left, but because they are too far to the right. “The party’s rank and file is, on the whole, more dovish than its congressional wing,” say Dionne.

William Greider, writing in the Nation, is also astonished by the Democrats’ ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Greider writes of Russ Feingold, sarcastically calling him “an embarrassment to the US Senate” because he “gets up and says out loud what half the country is thinking.”

Greider is talking about Feingold’s contextually bold move to introduce legislation to censure the president. (I say “contextually,” because saying that the president needs to be held accountable for admittedly breaking laws—specifically ones that require congressional and court oversight of domestic spying—should be a no-brainer, but, based on the reaction of his fellow Senators—Tom Harkin excluded—it seems Feingold is really sticking his neck out.) Greider is astonished by the lack of support for Feingold in a time when Bush’s poll numbers are so low, and he is as disgusted as I am by the sending forth of the “Anonymous Democratic Strategist” (as quoted in the Washington Post) to question the wisdom of Feingold’s move.

When Democratic strategists carp about strategy, when Democratic representatives try to shoot the middle in these polarizing times, they make the debate about the debate and play right into the hands of the Republicans. Feingold’s attempt at censure, whether bound for success or failure, was at the very least a way to keep the administration’s abuse of domestic spying and disregard for the rule of law above the fold after Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee thought they had put the issue to bed with their refusal to allow hearings. We all should be talking about what the president did to cause a senator call for censure, not the political wisdom of Russ Feingold, but with most Democrats failing to show support (or, as in the case of Joe Lieberman, offering an open smack down), the Republican frames of “cheap political trick” and “unpatriotic in a time of war” are allowed to control the narrative.

What can it be that the Democratic “strategists” and electeds are thinking? At a time when Bush’s approval rating is in the low 30’s and even his handling of the war on terror is now considered by most to be unfavorable, how risky would it be to call his crimes illegal? With American’s now saying that the trait they most associate with Bush is “incompetence,” how hard would it be to call his leadership unsound? With Democratic congressional candidates now leading Republicans by 16% in a generic ballot, how hard would it be to be, um, Democrats?

You do the math.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Will you still love me tomorrow?

Tonight you're mine completely
You give you love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment's pleasure?
Can I believe the magic of your sighs?
Will you still love me tomorrow?

That’s the song that ran through my head as I read a few posts about the role of the blogosphere in aiding and shaping the Democratic Party and its message. (Much of this talk seems to have been precipitated by the release of Crashing the Gates, a book by dailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and MyDD founder Jerome Armstrong.)

First, I read TPain’s chat with John Lapp, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and organization that is one part central bank and one part hall monitor for Democrats eyeing the House of Representatives. Lapp speaks of his love for the likes of dKos and MyDD, and “the larger blogosphere,” but does so in a way that really keeps coming back to money—even though he claims the opposite.

We would love to fully-fund every prospect, every candidate, and fully contest every race in a meaningful way, but we do offer all candidates advice, training, and general consulting on message, fundraising, research, and organization. Unfortunately, just as with any organization or enterprise, resources are not infinite. That is why MyDD, the DailyKos, and the larger blogosphere are so important. You are critical in the effort to expand the playing field well above and beyond the 30 or 40 districts typically in play. I would be lying if I said we had the resources to compete in all 200+ Republican districts. It simply isn't possible.

Netrooters, blogs, and the progressive movement have the flexibility to pick and choose where they support, defend, and fight back. And they can activate progressive Democrats at a moment's notice in a unique way - above and beyond what we can do. To view the DailyKos, MyDD.com, and other progressive, activist movements as simply Internet-based ATM machines is to insult them and underestimates their power to inform, activate, persuade, and mobilize. They are fully-loaded message machines. Let me be clear - I value not only your financial support to our candidates, but also the larger role you provide in the Democratic activist community.

Sure, at the end there, he says “I love you for your mind, not just the size of your. . . um. . . wallet,” but it is always in that juxtaposed construct. He’s talking to your ear, but he’s staring at your bulge. Of course I care about what you think, baby, now can we go to bed?

And if I didn’t already feel like John didn’t love me for me. . . I’ve got Rahm and some anonymous Senate staffers to let me know how those EstDem guys really talk when I’m not in the room.

Jane at fdl sees the muscle-flexing of Rahm Emanuel, grand pooh-bah of the D-triple-C as particularly disrespectful of bloggers’ efforts, “For everything we do trying to back progressive candidates, Emanuel and the DCCC seem to be doing everything they can to undo it.”

As case in point, she cites Rahm’s open assertion that the Democrats will not use the South Dakota abortion ban as a campaign issue moving towards November. Jane also directs us to Down With Tyranny, who has some very unkind things to say about Emanuel’s choice of candidate in Florida’s 13th (about to be vacated by Katherine Harris).

Those anonymous staffers (as referenced by Glenn Greenwald, posting on C&L) are even ruder to their hot, new internet dates. Greenwald had some back and forth with the office of Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), ranking member on Intelligence, and was a little disheartened by the response, so he reached out to some offices of Democrats on the committee with a very diplomatic “help us help you” message. This was the response he got:

I think there is an opportunity for us to figure out a better way to work together. But, you have to understand, my ultimate goal is to help [the] Senator [] achieve his objective of real oversight on national security matters by the Intelligence Committee.

Even with the best of intentions, I’m not convinced that bloggers can help us meet that goal. In fact, I worry about it hurting our efforts given the increasingly partisan environment.

What, are they worried we’ll get too clingy? Time and again, you get the feeling the establishment Democrats are afraid of the passion of movement liberals (yeah, I just said “movement liberals”), as if the only way to win the hearts of “average” Americans is by being careful.

Tell me, how good would your relationship be if you spent twenty years being careful instead of being you?

The other possible explanation for this behavior is battered spouse syndrome. The Democrats are so afraid of incurring the powerful (and, admittedly, effective) wrath of their Republican masters that they try to either stay quiet and blend in to avoid being singled out, or they go out of their way to praise—or even go so far as to mimic—Republicans in an attempt to gain some token of appreciation from the tools in the punditocracy.

But, as any sane person outside of an abusive relationship could tell the abused party, nothing you do is going to make this relationship any better. The abuse is the fault of the abuser—abusers attack because it’s in their nature. They will always find something to go after—they need to.

Voters aren’t mean or stupid, but they sense a vibrancy that comes from a strident, aggressive Republican Party that is too often missing form the Democrats. (That imbalance is magnified by the now supplicant corporate media, who need the approval of the Republican regulators to continue the profit-driven consolidation of their industry.) I’ve said it before: reactive brands are not compelling brands. Worse, in a battle between an original and a copy, the original has a decided advantage. “First to market” just inherently says “leader,” doesn’t it?

Or even worse, still, in a battle between a Republican and an ersatz Republican, the Republicans win. . . either way, if you get my drift.

Of course, it might be in the nature of any establishment to mistrust those outside the “gates”—after all, they are, by definition, not established—and, perhaps, there is a bit too much of that “so bad it’s good” love of the rebel thing coming from the blog movement (what’s the fun of crashing if you’ve already been invited inside?), but the Democratic Party organ would be foolish (if not sociopathic) to attempt to chasten all that passion (rather than to get down with it). In fact, Adam Cohen, in Sunday’s New York Times, questions if the Party even can, “The Democratic establishment could not hold the netroots back even if it wanted to.”

I think Cohen is right, you can’t fight the feeling. If the establishment Democrats want to once again become the democratically elected establishment, then it is best they get to know their new partners. And I mean really get to know them. Learn their names, learn what makes them feel good, learn what they want, not just for dinner, but for breakfast, too. Not to sound too much like Dr. Phil (or The Shirelles), but that’s how you turn a night of pleasure into a lasting treasure.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Save the Tunnel Garage!

As some of you may know, I have spent much of the last six months fighting to save the Tunnel Garage, an historic 1922 structure at the corner of Broome and Thompson Streets here in Manhattan. Up until now, I have avoided burdening this blog with my cause, but the garage now faces certain demolition by developers who want to erect a ten-story luxury high-rise in its place.

The Tunnel Garage currently stands in need of graffiti removal, but beneath the years of neglect lies a building worthy of preservation. Anyone who has ever taken a minute to look it over quickly recognizes its importance and the unique aesthetics represented by the garage’s late arts-and-crafts design, tapestry brickwork, wraparound casement windows, and beautiful terra cotta detailing—including a now hidden relief of a Model T.

The garage was designed by architect Hector O. Hamilton, winner of the fabled international competition to design the Palace of the Soviets. It is historically linked to the Holland Tunnel, built as a speculative project in advance of the tunnel’s opening. And, the Tunnel Garage is an early example of a dedicated automobile garage—it was not converted from a carriage garage or stable—and is one of only a handful of these early car parks left in the city. To my mind, there are few buildings that do more to sing out their ties to the birth of the automobile age than does the Tunnel Garage.

The garage has caught the attention of the Historic Districts Council, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Art Deco Society, and the Friends of Terra Cotta. It has garnered the support of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, State Senator Martin Connor, State Senator Tom Duane, and Assembly Member Deborah Glick. It has been recommended for landmark status by Community Board #2, and has been declared eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places. In addition, I and others have collected over a hundred letters from community members advocating preservation—and hundreds more signatures on petitions to save the Tunnel Garage.

Yet, with all of this support, if this building is to survive, it will require landmarks protection from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Alas, the LPC is a less than transparent body made up of serious but overwhelmed preservationists and political appointees with ties to the current mayor and his supporters. All of the garage’s unique and historic qualities and all of the community, governmental, and organizational support have yet to break through the institutional gridlock. As of this writing, Landmarks has failed to act to save the Tunnel Garage.

Now, the developers have emptied the garage and locked its doors. A demolition permit was posted this week. Without appropriate pressure on the LPC, the life of the Tunnel Garage could now be measured in terms of weeks, maybe days.

What can you do? Well if you have a connection to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, or LPC Chair Robert Tierney, please contact me immediately at TunnelGarage (at) aol-dot-com. Otherwise, please consider taking these actions today:

Write a letter
Write a letter to New York Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Robert Tierney telling him you support Landmarks protection for the Tunnel Garage. Point out that the garage is architecturally significant, as well as a functioning and necessary business. Send a copy of this letter to the office of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. (A sample letter can be found here.)

Call Landmarks
Call the Landmarks Preservation Commission to register your support. Tell them you are a concerned City resident who supports the preservation and protection that comes with granting Landmarks status to the Tunnel Garage. Tell them action is required immediately if the garage is to be saved. (Likely they will tell you the Commission has decided against the garage at this time. Tell them you know this is not true, that there has been no hearing or vote, and until there is a vote, this is an open matter worthy of consideration.)
Even if you have already called, call again!

Call Council Speaker Quinn
Phone New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to express your support for the Tunnel Garage. BE POLITE. Speaker Quinn is on our side, but she needs to hear that the whole community will back her on this. Ask that Speaker Quinn personally call LPC Chair Robert Tierney to request that the garage be “calendared” so that it can get a fair hearing without the threat of imminent demolition.
Even if you have already called, call again!

The garage is a precious piece of our cultural and architectural heritage, but it needs everyone’s help if it is to be spared the wrecking ball. Your assistance would be deeply appreciated. Thank you.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My Kingdom for a Crowbar

Wednesday marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of a break-in to the small Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Media, PA, by a group of activists calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. As recounted by Allan Jalon in the LA Times, the group used a crowbar to get inside and virtually empty the filing cabinets of over 1,000 documents “that revealed years of systematic wiretapping, infiltration and media manipulation designed to suppress dissent.”

Within a few weeks, the documents began to show up — mailed anonymously in manila envelopes with no return address — in the newsrooms of major American newspapers. When the Washington Post received copies, Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell asked Executive Editor Ben Bradlee not to publish them because disclosure, he said, could "endanger the lives" of people involved in investigations on behalf of the United States.

Nevertheless, the Post broke the first story on March 24, 1971, after receiving an envelope with 14 FBI documents detailing how the bureau had enlisted a local police chief, letter carriers and a switchboard operator at Swarthmore College to spy on campus and black activist groups in the Philadelphia area.

. . . .

To this day, no individual has claimed responsibility for the break-in. The FBI, after building up a six-year, 33,000-page file on the case, couldn't solve it. But it remains one of the most lastingly consequential (although underemphasized) watersheds of political awareness in recent American history, one that poses tough questions even today for our national leaders who argue that fighting foreign enemies requires the government to spy on its citizens. The break-in is far less well known than Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers three months later, but in my opinion it deserves equal stature.

Found among the Media documents was a new word, "COINTELPRO," short for the FBI's "secret counterintelligence program," created to investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the U.S. Under these programs, beginning in 1956, the bureau worked to "enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles," as one COINTELPRO memo put it, "to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox."

The Media documents — along with further revelations about COINTELPRO in the months and years that followed — made it clear that the bureau had gone beyond mere intelligence-gathering to discredit, destabilize and demoralize groups — many of them peaceful, legal civil rights organizations and antiwar groups — that the FBI and Director J. Edgar Hoover found offensive or threatening.

Forgive the extended quote, but Jalon does a great job of telling the story. He writes of how the broad, politicized reach of COINTELPRO “was one of the most frightening revelations of the Media documents,” and points out that these revelations led to investigations by both the House and Senate. It was investigations on intelligence abuses that eventually led to a battery of laws designed to constrain the intelligence community and safeguard the Constitution.

One of those laws (a few years later) was what we have come to know as FISA.

Which brings us to March 8, 2006, another momentous day in the annals of intelligence abuse, for it was on this Wednesday that this Senate’s Intelligence Committee abdicated its responsibilities of oversight. On a strict party-line vote, as the Washington Post reports, the committee rejected a “Democratic proposal to investigate the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program and instead approved establishing, with White House approval, a seven-member panel to oversee the effort.”

“Led” by Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), the Republicans chose to cave to a heavy dose of pressure from Vice President Cheney, and allow the White House to decide what was meant by Congressional oversight when it came to currently illegal domestic surveillance such that exposed by the NY Times in December. As noted by Dan Froomkin and others, the supposed compromise gives the administration 45 days of do-whatever-the-fuck-you-want time before it has to come before a new mini-committee of four Republicans and three Democrats. At that point, the Attorney General can say that, due to national security concerns, he can’t explain why, but the Administration is going to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Then the four Republicans will vote to “approve” the warrantless spying.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but that’s what the likes of Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) call a compromise.

The ranking Democrat, John D. Rockefeller IV (WV), begged to differ:

The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House through its chairman. At the direction of the White House, the Republican majority has voted down my motion to have a careful and fact-based review of the National Security Agency's surveillance eavesdropping activities inside the United States.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? The deliberative body, designed by the framers as a check to executive power, has instead become nothing more than a Republican political organ existing to provide cover for its party’s leader.

As Glenn Greenwald observes, it is impossible to compromise on any new “fix” if you haven’t yet investigated how the existing laws have been broken. It was the investigative hearings—prompted by the COINTELPRO revelations—held by Rep. Don Edwards and Sen. Frank Church some thirty-odd years ago that led to the laws we now use to guard against intelligence abuses.

Or, at least, used to use to guard against abuses. The Administration has run roughshod over those laws, and, without an independent legislature, will continue to do so. In fact, as Greenwald astutely remarks:

Congress already enacted legislation regulating the Government's eavesdropping activities. They called that law FISA. The Administration has been violating that law because they believe they have the power to do so, because they think that Congress has no power to regulate or limit the President's eavesdropping activities. Since the White House still believes it has this power, isn't passing another law facially moronic, given that the Administration has already said that they are free to violate whatever Congressional laws they want which purport to regulate eavesdropping?

Which means that any machinations by a Republican Congress are really just window dressing—rearranging the deck chairs on a ship of state exhibiting all the hubris embodied by the Titanic.

Who then, is left to steer us away from more icebergs, or, to run this metaphor into the ground, at least man the lifeboats? Traditionally, we would have the so-called fourth estate, the press, to give guidance, keep the electorate informed and inflamed, and do some of the solid investigative work that Congress has abandoned.

Alas, the New York Times, unlike the Washington Post 35 years earlier, did sit on their story at the request of the DoJ, publishing only when James Risen’s book was about to scoop his paper. And, that initial, delayed bombshell aside, I have not seen the corporate media asking the hard questions of the Administration—nor have I seen them reinforcing the point that no matter what law is “crafted” going forward, the existing laws have already been broken.

Instead, I see something closer to the White House’s dictated frame: “How necessary are these programs to protect the security of the American people? How much of our civil rights should we give up in order to be safe?” It’s a false debate, but it seems to be the debate we’re having.

Of course, we could at least hope the loyal opposition would make some noise. Howard Dean did threaten that if the Democrats regained control of Congress, the subpoenas would fly. But for every Howard Dean, there is a mush-mouth like Bob Shrum, Kerry’s senior political advisor in 2004:

True, we don't have a clear message on the war. We have differences internally. It won't matter. This election will be a referendum on Bush, not what the Democrats will do.

Thanks Bob, that’s the kind of clear thinking that really gives the party something to stand for—the kind of genius behind the genius behind “I voted for the bill before I voted against it.”

No, sadly, I am not putting a lot of faith in the “liberal” media or the Democratic Party—at least not yet. And that is why I look again to Jalon’s piece:

It is tragic when people lose faith in their government to the extent that they feel they must break laws to expose corruption.

But a war that had been started and sustained by lies had gone on for years. And a government had betrayed its citizens, manipulating their fear to strengthen its grip on power.

He is, of course, referring to the Media break-in of 1971, but the message is not lost on 2006. Maybe it is time for another crowbar.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The man lied about cheese!

I fear I have been exhibiting a bit of a philosophical, well, not a contradiction, exactly, but an internal debate (here, here, and here), as I try to decide if, when it comes to the Bush Administration, it’s about the lying or the incompetence. I know, I know, they are not mutually exclusive, but you’ve got to refine your message, right?

ReddHedd, over at fdl, finds an outrageous example that shows Bush/Rove will lie about anything:

Remember the flap over Kerry ordering his cheesesteak in Philly with Swiss cheese and Rove and his malignant cronies having a field day over it? They set up a photo-op shortly afterward in Philly, with George Bush standing in front of a crowd at a Boeing plant, so he could go on camera and say:

"This is the 32nd time I’ve been to your state of Pennsylvania," he told the Boeing crowd, "and, you all know the reason why, don’t you? It’s because I like my cheesesteaks Whiz Wit’."

Except for one thing: Bushie likes his cheesesteak with American cheese, and not the Philly-preferred Cheez Whiz and provolone, too.

Redd has all the evidence, and expands upon this one instance to show a pattern of lies, large and small, over the last five years. (She even throws in a biblical reference!)

As I read through her stuff, and think about mine, I realize that the lies, at least in part, are there to cover up for the innate incompetence of this administration’s figurehead. And the reason they need to do that—the reason this White House has no Rovian equivalent in the policy division—is because it’s all about accumulating and keeping power, not marshalling it. It’s about political capital, but, funny enough, not about spending it.

Power is used to satisfy greed and ego, it seems, more than ideology. . . at least at the top of this regime. Power can help you promote and reward friends and boosters. Power can be used as the world’s largest back-scratcher—as in, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Power can be exercised to marginalize, harass, and silence your opposition—just because, only because, they are a threat to your power.

They say that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Is it any wonder, then, that a President so bent on amassing absolute power has shown himself to be so absolutely dishonest. . . so absolutely corrupt?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Clueless, and Planless

President Bush, in an extended interview with ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas that aired Tuesday, flat out contradicted himself about the role of US troops in trying to quell sectarian violence in Iraq—and it took him about one minute.

VARGAS: But what is the plan if the sectarian violence continues? I mean, do the U.S. troops take a larger role? Do they step in more actively to stop the violence?

BUSH: No. The troops are chasing down terrorists. They're protecting themselves and protecting the people, and — but a major function is to train the Iraqis so they can do the work. . . .

And then, three questions later:

VARGAS: And if in fact the violence continues, will the Americans be forced to take a more active role in suppressing it?

BUSH: Well, the Americans are very active right now taking a role in suppressing it.

Is this surprising? Is it surprising that when GW is allowed to talk without a tiny adviser shoved in his ear that he would dump a bunch of nonsense on us? No, I guess it shouldn’t be. But here’s what still surprises me. . . Vargas tries to ask the same question about five times, and that question boils down to, “What’s the plan, Stan? Does the US have a policy in place to deal with an expanded sectarian civil war?”

The answer is so clearly “No.” Bush never gives a clear answer, and when pressed, he clearly starts freelancing. I’m sorry, but I still find this amazing. After all the failures of poor planning experienced by this administration, you’d think they would start to plan—if for no other reason than it doesn’t look good back in the US when you don’t.

Instead, Bush and his team are like (forgive me) holocaust deniers. I know this is a terrible analogy to make, but with 1,300 Iraqis killed in just the last few days of sectarian strife (and tens of thousands over the last few years), there is a “small” holocaust of sorts going on—and, when he is asked about it, Bush refuses to acknowledge it.

VARGAS: What is the policy if, in fact, a civil war should break out or the sectarian violence continues? Are you willing to sacrifice American lives to get the Sunnis and the Shiites to stop killing each other?

BUSH: I don't buy your premise that there's going to be a civil war. . . .

Ignoring that the term “going to be” is absurd at this point—it’s not going to be, it is—Vargas asked a hypothetical, “What is your policy if,” and Bush refuses to even entertain the thought.

Perhaps he lacks “situational awareness,” a term the President has become overly fond of since his Katrina whitewash, er, report came out last week. He uses the lack of “situational awareness” as the reason things didn’t go better after the levees broke (he won’t say they went badly—just that they could have gone “better”). Bush actually says he didn’t have this necessary awareness till he watched some television

VARGAS: When you look back on those days immediately following when Katrina struck, what moment do you think was the moment that you realized that the government was failing, especially the people of New Orleans?

BUSH: When I saw TV reporters interviewing people who were screaming for help. It looked — the scenes looked chaotic and desperate. And I realized that our government was — could have done a better job of comforting people.

(What is the Clockwork Orange quote? “Nothing is really real till you see it on TV.”)

There is so much to say about this paragraph. One, if we are to believe the stories from last fall, Bush didn’t even see the suffering on TV until aids sat him down and showed him a compilation DVD—so his revelation wasn’t even in real time. Bush wasn’t concerned enough to hop on down to the situation room and get a briefing, wasn’t concerned enough to ask questions, and wasn’t even interested enough to turn on the TV that first weekend.

Second, a better job comforting people? Is that what the problem was? The government didn’t comfort people enough? This language shows that Bush still does not—or will not—grasp what happened to New Orleans.

Third, situational awareness has nothing to do with preparation. Hurricane Katrina telegraphed its punch by several days, and there was advance knowledge that a Katrina-sized event would likely hit the gulf floating around (sorry) for several years, and yet, the Bush administration had no plan.

Instead, it strikes me that when it came to Katrina, when it came to invading Iraq, and when it now comes to the spreading Iraqi civil war (which some, including National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, are already predicting might become a regional war), Bush and his team just ignore the “nattering nabobs of negativism” (or “realists”) and hope for the best.

So, lets put it down in plain black and white, real simple like, so George, Dick, and Donald can understand: Hoping for the best is not a plan.

Like the song says, you can look for the best, but you have to expect the worst. Anybody with a shred of experience in policy planning would know that. Of course, Cheney and Rumsfeld not withstanding, Bush has surrounded himself with people who don’t really have a shred of experience. Every critical staffing problem—be it in FEMA or the Coalition Provisional Authority—has been answered with a call for cronies, campaign contributors, and partisan hacks. And most major undertakings—the execution of policies—have been offloaded on to the private sector—outsourcing responsibility, abolishing accountability, and, crucially, eliminating any intelligence or learnings that might have filtered back had these been government programs.

So, let’s add this corollary to the above the statement: Hoping for the best is not a plan; outsourcing is not a policy.

And yet, the Bush Administration thinks otherwise. . . or just doesn’t care. . . or lacks situational awareness. Just look at Bush’s refusal to deal with the facts throughout the ABC interview, look at what stands in for policy with regards to port security and the DPW deal, or look at the 2007 Homeland Security budget. Republican Senator Judd Gregg (NH) said, “It’s a hollow budget and I can’t understand it.”

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) agreed:

The president in his State of the Union address said to America, ”The enemy has not lost the desire or the capability to attack us.” And yet a look at the administration's budget reveals an odd, odd, odd complacency. . . . The president's speechwriters and the administration's policy writers seem to be living in alternative realities.

Of course, Byrd is being too, too, too generous. He assumes that the administration has policy writers.

(t.o.t.h. to the Progress Report for link to the DHS budget hearings.)