Friday, December 29, 2006

What I said. . .

I know it is music to no one’s ears to hear me toot my own horn, but it is nice to see that I am not only one who found Gerald Ford’s post-parting confession cowardly and immoral. Marty Kaplan and RJ Eskow, each writing for the Huffington Post, take unflinching aim at the now dead president. First, Kaplan:

There was no national interest to be served by [Ford] keeping his thoughts to himself. Former presidents may constitute a kind of Skull & Bones, but speaking out to try to save us from our next "long national nightmare" would have been way more patriotic than preserving the towel-snapping bonhomie of the Ex-POTUS Society.

. . . .

Why do these people wait? What does it say about Washington's code of conduct that loyalty to patrons, power and Party outweighs loyalty to truth, to country, to national security, to tens of thousands of America's finest young people, now wounded or dead?

But, while Kaplan forgives Bob Woodward’s silence, giving him the “permission structure” to cut himself a sweet deal by embargoing the truth, Eskow does not:

Here's how to have it both ways in Washington while avoiding your civic duty: Turn your back on your professional responsibility when it might take some guts, but make sure a story comes out later that demonstrates how right you were all along. Am I referring to Bob Woodward, who suppressed an interview for two years that might have changed the course of history? Or do I mean Gerald Ford, who wants to be remembered well now that he's gone?

I mean both.

I think the world of Marty Kaplan, but I think he's wrong to reserve his criticism for Ford in the matter of this interview. Woodward bears responsibility, too, although Ford's moral transgression is greater. There are no words strong enough to describe the shame that should follow a former President who knew a war was wrong, yet remained silent out of partisan loyalty even as young Americans continued to die.

Gerald Ford's proper epitaph, had this interview not come to light, would have been: "He obstructed justice, but he was a nice guy." His Nixon pardon didn't "heal the nation," pundits notwithstanding. It outraged a nation that was hungry for justice after being lied to and manipulated. That's why he lost in 1976.

. . . .

Woodward and his journalistic ilk have created an environment where their fellow Washington insiders can encourage and promote a tragic mistake like Iraq, through their silence and their support for the Republicans in '04, then magically wipe their own records clean with a well-timed interview.

. . . .

In fact, Woodward's confessional booth serves the same purpose as Ford's pardon-in-advance technique: It allows the powerful to do wrong with the comforting knowledge that all can be smoothed over further down the road.

Both Kaplan and Eskow go into more detail well worth reading. For my part, I’d just like to thank them both for getting my back.

What I didn’t say

Foreign Policy has released its annual list of the Top Ten Stories You Missed, and, I admit, I missed most of them, too. Six or seven of those stories are pretty disturbing, but the top four really starch my socks.

4. Russia Fuels Latin American Arms Race
3. Bush’s Post-Katrina Power Grab
2. China Runs Up African Debt
1. India helps Iran Build the Bomb, While the White House Looks the Other Way

Numbers two and four are pretty much self-explanatory and concern governments that the US has woefully little influence over, but the other two, well, them is us.

Story three concerns a little bit of language quietly inserted into an October defense spending bill that, as Congressional Quarterly put it, “takes the cuffs off” federal restraint during emergencies. The new law makes it much, much easier for the federal government (or, this “unitary executive”) to send troops without a state governor’s invitation into a trouble spot somewhere in this country to impose order. . . or martial law.

Story one concerns the disturbing confluence of two already disturbing storylines: Iran’s nuclear program and the Bush Administration’s new nuclear deal with India. It seems that while the White House is so hot and bothered about Tehran’s rush to develop nuclear weapons, it keeps cool about what several Indian concerns have done to aid Iran. What’s a little hypocrisy when you can make your friends some (more) money and beat the drums of war (more loudly) at the same time?

All ten stories are interesting, and I feel a bit sheepish about not noticing some of them, myself. So, again, this time to FP, thanks for getting my back.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Speaking Ill of the Dead

I hate hagiography, so the last two days have not been kind to me. . . since they’ve been exceedingly and incredibly kind to the newly-late President Gerald R. Ford.

When looking back at the brief presidency of Gerald Ford, there are far more reasons to spare the encomiums than to spare the rod. The names Rumsfeld and Cheney are among the topmost, but let me turn briefly to another negative that so very many seem to be pointing to as a positive—that would be the pardoning of Richard Nixon but a month after his resignation and Ford’s “promotion.”

So many in the last two days are pushing the notion that President Ford’s pardoning of Nixon was some great and selfless act of leadership. I see it (as I saw it then) as a cynical and selfish act of cowardice. Whether or not there was a “deal” to have Ford quickly pardon Nixon if Nixon resigned, if it is to be argued that Ford’s pardon made it easier for Nixon to resign—got him out of office before he had a total meltdown—then, no matter what you might call it, a deal was what it was. You can’t praise that end while denying that it came as result of a deal.

Yet, many do just that. And they praise the “healing” that Ford began with his pardon, pursuing this “noble” course even though it eventually (maybe) cost him reelection. First, let it be understood that there was nothing healing about that pardon—to call it so would be to say that you could heal a cut by forgiving the knife. What Ford did do was short-circuit the rule of law by pardoning a man before he had been tried or convicted of a crime, and short-change the American people by preventing a full public hearing of the shamed former President’s misdeeds.

Gerry Ford did not pardon Tricky Dick to heal a country in spite of the political fallout, he moved as quickly as he did because he thought that a protracted court battle would be deleterious to his personal political fortunes and to the future electoral success of the Republican Party. Ford pardoned Nixon in an attempt to put the matter to bed—to sweep it under the rug before the coming election cycle. Our “long national nightmare” was not over, but Ford was hoping that by pardoning Nixon, the scandal that was to persist as his and his party’s political nightmare was.

That was the kind of “level-headed” leadership that we now find our press and punditocracy praising.

And, if you want another example of the particular profile in courage that Gerald Ford happened to cut throughout his life, than look no further than today’s Washington Post. There, you will see a story, based on an “embargoed” interview with none other than Bob “I’m saving it for my book” Woodward, about Ford’s strong criticism of George W. Bush and the Invasion of Iraq. “I don’t think I would have gone to war,” said Ford, and, “I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

Ford also had a few choice words for his former Chief of Staff:

“I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."

All of this was said in July of 2004—yes, three months before the crucial and closely contested presidential election—but was kept under raps until now because of an agreement between Ford and Woodward,

Would a rebuke from this supposedly levelheaded and courageous elder statesman have prevented Bush from going to war? Not likely, I must admit. Could such a non-endorsement from a fellow Republican and ex-president flipped enough votes in Ohio or New Mexico or Florida to propel John Kerry to the presidency? Hard to say. Would it be the courageous thing to express your thoughts when they might have some impact? Even for a guy who played a few too many football games without a helmet, that should have been a no-brainer.

Gerald Ford might have been a nice guy, and, when compared with some of the cynical Republican Presidents that followed him, maybe he seems honest or, at least, bipartisan. But, if we let history be the judge—instead of the appointed and self-appointed healers of an ill legacy—then it is clear that the Ford we now honor was neither the right man for the time nor a president for the ages.

(cross-posted from guy2k; cross-posted to Daily Kos)

Friday, December 22, 2006

I kill children

I have been wanting to write about this so-called strategy that is now being espoused by the three great military minds of our time—I am of course referring to the Deliberator, the asshole, and the traitor—but I get so angry that I find it hard to be eloquent. So, instead, I just want to blurt out a few things:

It’s not a “surge.” I am so sick of hearing this word—or rather, I am so sick of reading this word, regurgitated as is by journalists who should know better. What Bush, McCain, and Lieberman are all pushing for is, plain and simple, escalation. Anyone old enough to remember or half smart enough to read a book about Vietnam knows what escalation looks like—more troops in theater—and what escalation results in—more dead soldiers.

And I’m not just thinking a few more dead soldiers—I’m sadly expecting a lot more. If we are to read between the mangled lines, the goal of the George-John-Joe escalation is to take on Muqtada al-Sadr and his Shi’a militia. Ignoring for just a moment the reaction of American troops when they discover that rather than using the additional forces to take on the Sunni insurgency (responsible for an estimated 80% of coalition casualties), they are instead to turn their guns on a well armed and rowdy bunch of Shi’a that until now has mostly been busy torturing and killing Sunnis, just imagine the reaction of the Shi’a. . . all of them.

Roiling the oil-rich south of the country and undermining our man in Baghdad (by Bush’s estimation, anyway), Nuri al-Maliki, will be just the beginning of what Vali Nasr calls potentially “the mother of all mistakes.”

Now, back to those soon to be so much worse off US soldiers: Newly minted Defense Secretary Bob Gates has been in Iraq this week listening to some carefully selected “advice” from the owners of some of those “boots on the ground”—and the press corps has been dutifully transcribing this prescreened pabulum. Apparently, the troops want help. Well, duh! If I were getting blown up for nothing and being fed into the meat grinder day after day and having my first, second, or third tour of duty extended without a whole lot of notice, I’d be hot for some reinforcements, too.

Of course, what the press and Bob Gates seem less eager to understand is that they would like better equipment, proper armor, and a real purpose. . . .

And when the escalation does nothing more than get more Iraqis shooting at more Americans, then what? More escalations? More time? One more last chance at victory? Or do we then “cut and run” and wash our hands of the whole unholy mess, blaming the Iraqis (without any understanding of which Iraqis) for not wanting democracy bad enough?

And when do the rest of the American people, the ones not losing limbs or lives in Iraq, rise up and yell, “Remember the election? We said, ‘No more!’” When, for that matter, will the establishment media point that out? Or all those newly empowered Democrats in the newly empowered majority?

A Republican Congress was willing to stop everything to impeach a president guilty of receiving fellatio—what is a Democratic Congress willing to do about a president who insists on giving escalatio?

What do we all do about a president hell bent on killing more children? We have passed the winter solstice; the days should not be getting darker.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Good Kwanza, and Hooray for the Solstice.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Turki Trot

Coming, as it does, against the backdrop of the Sunni-Shi’a war now raging in Iraq, and within weeks of such noteworthy events as the “summoning” of Dick Cheney by Saudi King Abdullah, and the James Baker plan for privatizing the Iraqi oil infrastructure, Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal’s abrupt Monday resignation raised many an eyebrow around Foggy Bottom, and above the eyes of others who might call themselves, shall we say, Mideast curious.

It has been noted, with ominous portent, that the same Prince Turki abruptly resigned his post as head of the Saudi intelligence service on September 4, 2001. The London Times, so I’ve read, reported that Turki was the long-time intelligence contact for Osama bin Laden.

It was also reported that Prince Turki leaves his post after only 15 months, while the previous ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, held on to the job for 22 years. It is said that Ambassador to the US is a gig Saudis like to keep.

And then there is a story in today’s New York Times: there, Helene Cooper paints a “grim” picture, or, rather, reports on a “grim what if” posed by the Saudis should the US choose to back out of Iraq and/or initiate some sort of dialogue with Iran. The Sunni Saudis, so it seems, say they will be compelled to financially back Iraqi Sunnis as a counterweight to perceived Iranian influence with Iraq’s majority Shi’a.

It was the conveyance of this “information” (let’s not call it an “ultimatum,” such a nasty word) that was the purpose of that face-to-face between our Veep and the Saudi King, by the way.

(Remember when it was the US that used to let Arabs and Africans do the dying in our proxy wars with the Soviets? Ah, good times. Now it is US troops caught in the middle of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.)

And, all of this—all of this—makes for especially interesting background when all of us contemplate this “New Way Forward” that our purported leader, President Bush, is supposed to roll out next week in late January. Consider, if you will, the White House’s rapid tap dance back from the Iraq Study Group report. That page-turner suggested a drawdown of US forces in Iraq and the possibility of talking with Iran about regional security (though, it should be noted, other ISG recommendations seem very Saudi-friendly).

Consider, also, a piece in today’s Los Angeles Times detailing the Pentagon’s very serious consideration of what they are calling the “double down” strategy. And, really, what could be a better name for a strategy that has us raising the stakes on an already losing bet? The Pentagon, and maybe the Joint Chiefs, too, seem to like the idea of gambling the lives of an additional 40,000 US soldiers and untold billions more dollars on a last roll of the dice to give Bush a “victory” rather than an exit strategy. And, most notably here, the bolstered force would be used to “take out” Shi’a strongman Moqtada al-Sadr.

This increase will require either an increase in the size of both the Army and the Marines—all-volunteer forces already having trouble meeting recruitment goals—or the mobilization and remobilization of even more of the National Guard. It will be up to incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates to sort out those “details,” I guess.

So, with all that in mind, let’s talk Turki. The now former Ambassador is considered one of the biggest proponents of continued and increased US involvement in Iraq. Does his return home signal a win or a loss on that front?

Prince Turki is also the brother of current Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Prince Saud is apparently quite ill, as is his wife, and is looking to resign. Previous US Ambassador Prince Bandar apparently covets the post. But so might Turki, a rival of Bandar (or so I am lead to believe). Will the choice of Bandar or Turki to replace Saud signal a direction for US or Saudi Iraqi policy?

I have to say that the pragmatic, reality-based guy in me chooses to see this as palace intrigue, first and foremost, but the reality-based guy in me keeps getting tripped up by the Tinkerbelle-istas (clap louder!) in control of the US ship of state.

It is also possible that we are witnessing the beginning of a much bigger Middle East shake up. . . OK, that is probable, not just possible. Many oil experts believe that Saudi Arabia reached peak production in 2005. In other words, it is all down hill from here. As Saudi oil reserves dwindle, so does their influence, globally, regionally, and over their own bumptious populace. If the Saudi Royal Family thinks the same as the “experts,” then panic is setting in all over Riyadh.

It is not unimaginable that when the Princes are done jockeying for power at home, they might start jockeying for power in Anbar Province, and then over greater Iraq. . . especially the oily parts.

And, given our Decider’s inability to decide on any kind of way forward in Iraq, new or otherwise, these kinds of complications are needed about as much as a turkey needs an ax.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Jimmy and the Recommendations

It really would make one heck of a show, dontcha think?

But in all seriousness (OK, slightly more seriousness), for all the talk of how this Baker Commission report (PDF) is not about assigning blame or looking backward, but, instead, is about moving forward, what this report does best is sum up the three and two-thirds years of total incompetence, abject failure, intentional obfuscation, and rampant corruption that has been spearheaded by an arrogant and incurious President Bush.

(To underline the “incurious” part, let me just point out that after the ISG made its Wednesday morning presentation to Bush, he, the Commander in Chief of this fiasco, had no questions. None.)

Now, if you have been reading the papers and blogs during the course of this war, you, too, could have written this part—the recap—the first 44 pages. Really. I’m completely serious. I did not read a single thing I didn’t already know.

That said, it is nice to have it all there in one handy dandy Vintage Paperback, complete with the official old white dudes’ stamp of approval. In fact, what the enlarged prostate set (plus Sandra Day O’Connor—no idea about the size of her prostate) has done is provide a great degree of political cover for anyone who wants to say, “This Iraq adventure? Complete fucking disaster!”

I don’t want to debate about it—it’s in the report, dear!

But as for the looking forward part, those 79 recommendations, well, that’s like a whole other show. (I’m guessing it will be similar to the new musical stage version of High Fidelity: Top five Iraqi strongmen—Moqtada al-Sadr, Ali al-Sistani, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Tariq al-Hashimi, Jalal Talabani, etc.)

First, this is no way really 79 recommendations! These guys totally padded! It often will go like this:

Recommendation X: Establish the Blah Blah Commission
Recommendation X+1: The Blah Blah Commission should do blah blah
Recommendation X+2: The Blah Blah Commission should also do blah blah blah.

See? That’s really ONE recommendation, but the fabulous Baker boys
s t r e t c h
it out to three. . . and this sort of thing happens again and again.

Second, what do you think you will get for recommendations when not one single member of this Iraq Study Group openly opposed the war prior to invasion, and many, if not most, openly advocated and lobbied for it? Well, I’ll you what you don’t get—you don’t get anything that’s going to end this thing quickly.

Oddly, many on the right are upset that these recommendations seem to call for some sort of accelerated cut-and-run that is, to their minds, completely impossible. But, if you listen to commission members, like Leon Panetta, who appeared on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show Thursday morning, you will hear comparisons made to Korea.


Over fifty years after the “end” of that war police action, how many tens of thousands of US troops are still in Korea? (I believe the answer is something close to 2.5 tens of thousands, or 25,000 troops.)

I’m not saying I’ve got a better scenario off the top of my head, but just think about this: what do you all say we go to war where the best outcome we could hope for is something akin to Korea—but with more terrorists and ethnic tension—sound good?

Third, there’s the oil. . . there’s always the oil. I was reading for quite some time (obviously) before I got to recommendations 62 and 63, but when I did, I said, there he is, there’s my Jimmy!

If you want to see why this is indeed the James Baker commission after all, then look no further than the recommendations having to do with Iraqi oil. It’s several pages, so I just can’t block quote the whole thing, but let me snip some highlights:

[From Recommendation 62]

• The U.S. government should encourage the Iraqi government to accelerate contracting for the comprehensive well work-overs in the southern fields needed to increase production, but the United States should no longer fund such infrastructure projects.

• The U.S. military should work with the Iraqi military and with private security forces to protect oil infrastructure and contractors. Protective measures could include a program to improve pipeline security by paying local tribes solely on the basis of throughput (rather than fixed amounts).

. . . .

• In conjunction with the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. government should press Iraq to continue reducing subsidies in the energy sector, instead of providing grant assistance. Until Iraqis pay market prices for oil products, drastic fuel shortages will remain.

[From Recommendation 63]

• The United States should encourage investment in Iraq’s oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies.

• The United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise, in order to enhance efficiency, transparency, and accountability.

So, according to Jim, let’s see, what we need for Iraqi peace, in part, is for the Iraqi government to open up their oil production to the private sector, for the US military to provide security for these private oil enterprises, for the government to pay protection money to “tribes,” but on an incentive basis, and for the Iraqi people to earn their freedom by feeling pain at the pump.

Making the world safe for another market economy—one queered by multinational energy conglomerates—that’s what we’ve killed and died for!

Of course, I really wouldn’t expect any less from Bush family fixer James A. Baker III. Remember, for all the talk in the early pages of this report about diplomatic offensives, Baker himself, Bush 41 resume aside, is not a diplomat—he’s an operative. Baker’s efforts, be they in the middle east fifteen years ago, or on the Dubai Ports World deal earlier this year, or here with the ISG, are really not about the rights and well-being of masses of people yearning to breathe free. Baker cares about stability because stability is good for his big money friends and clients.

Where does this leave the rest of us? Where does this leave the people of the region or the men and women in our armed forces who continue to die there? Given the writers, the producers, and the guy who now owns the rights to this book, probably nowhere. But, chin up, there’s always the sequel.

(I'm doing a similar song and dance over at dKos.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pretty Guys Make Graves

I feel a little sorry for the ladies and gentlemen of the press who are paid to suffer through daily bull sessions with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. I’m not supposed to feel sorry for them, I suppose, because Snow is theoretically so affable and charming, and has such “a way” about him, and speaks everyone’s language having once been, nominally anyway, a member of the fourth estate himself. But, feel sorry I must.


Because I can’t help but put myself in that room and imagine having to listen to the smug doublespeak that spills from Tony’s festering hole, while all the time trying to carry on a civil discourse from my side of the lectern—asking questions as if they were actually to be answered—resisting the overwhelming impulse to deck the guy. Realizing that I abhor violence does little to calm my nerves, and understanding that such a display would cost me my career only serves to make me hate the choices that have lead me here. Resisting the fist, I instead bottle it up inside, and leave the briefing room each day with my blood boiling and my stomach ulcerating.

Imagine, for example, having to listen to Wednesday’s gaggle as Snow tried to spin the findings of the Iraq Study Group.

First, Snow insists that the fabulous Baker boys and the President are in lock step: “They [the ISG] have adopted the goals that the administration has laid out.”

Now, that just seems absurd on its face, doesn’t it? I mean, even if you just go by the headlines from the report, you know that, while hardly a work of staggering genius, it is certainly not a reiteration of White House goals. And yet, Snow goes on, and on, and on insisting this to an incredulous (but very polite) David Gregory.

And Gregory doesn’t even raise a hand as if to slap, nor does he collect saliva as if to spit, nor does he simply throw his pen and pad at Snow and storm out. Instead, Gregory keeps at it.

Gregory’s reward for his well-mannered persistence is to be called “partisan” by Thin Tony.

But that doesn’t end it, because David, though taken aback, again goes to his professional happy place and asks more specific questions about the ISG report:

Q The report clearly advocates policies that are in opposition to administration policies. For instance, last week in Estonia the President said the only way to engage Iran is for Iran to verifiably suspend its enrichment program. And the report says you need to directly engage Iran. How do you square that?

MR. SNOW: Yes, I saw you ask that question before, and there are a couple of things. First, it's not clear, and it will be interesting to look at whether the report advocates one-on-one talks with Iran; there is talk about developing a support group. But let me tell you what it does say about Iran. Jim Baker, when he was answering your question --

Q Tony, it says "directly engage."

MR. SNOW: Yes, but "directly engage" -- but then it also talks about in the context of the support group.

Q But how are we going to redefine under the -- I think it says --

MR. SNOW: "Under the aegis of the support group."
Q That's right.

MR. SNOW: That's different, I think, than one-on-one conversations, which is something that --

Q Sounds to me like the support group oversees it, and the U.S. directly engages.

MR. SNOW: Well, we'll see. But I'm telling you that there may be a difference between one-on-one talks with Iran, which is something that we have ruled out.

Q And that remains ruled out?

MR. SNOW: Yes, unless Iran verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities. But it was interesting because -- as I said, I don't want to rule out entirely because it's worth taking a good look at what all this means.

You see, this is the point where if I’m not physically restrained, I strangle Tony Snow with his own tedious necktie.

“Why so angry?” you ask.

Well, I think that it has something to do with the fact that while Snow and his White House play semantics in an attempt to say Yes and No at the same time without admitting to be being indecisive (“Splunge!”), things like this are happening:

And things like this:

In other words, while it all seems like a game to Tony Snow—well played, jolly good, I’ll get you back, you partisan nut, you—people, lots of people, are dying.

And while the administration that Snow shills for tries to figure out the best way to appear to be giving serious consideration to the Baker-Hamilton report, all the time knowing they neither accept its premise nor intend to implement its recommendations, more, many more, will die.

It is the cavalier, just for yucks tone of guys like Snow coupled with the transparent bullshitting that makes me angry. It is that all of this craptastic spinning goes on in lieu of policy changes that might halt or slow the killing, it is that that makes me wonder why no one has rearranged Snow’s pretty face.

* * *

Now, just for yucks, of course, let’s look at a serious critique of the Iraq Study Group report:

The fact is this commission was composed apparently entirely of people who did not have the judgment to oppose this Iraq war in the first place, and did not have the judgment to realize it was not a wise move in the fight against terrorism. So that's who is doing this report. Then I looked at the list of who testified before them. There is virtually no one who opposed the war in the first place. Virtually no one who has been really calling for a different strategy that goes for a global approach to the war on terrorism. So this is really a Washington inside job and it shows not in the description of what's happened - that's fairly accurate - but it shows in the recommendations. It's been called a classic Washington compromise that does not do the job of extricating us from Iraq in a way that we can deal with the issues in Southeast Asia, in Afghanistan, and in Somalia which are every bit as important as what is happening in Iraq. This report does not do the job and it's because it was not composed of a real representative group of Americans who believe what the American people showed in the election, which is that it's time for us to have a timetable to bring the troops out of Iraq.

That would be Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a man who is not running for President, or looking to position himself for anything else, except maybe as a representative of what the great majority of Americans already know.