November 30, 2006

Psychopathology on Parade

Boy, oh boy. I've written about the particularly virulent and homicidal dementia that consumes Ralph Peters before. If you want to know what pure, undiluted rage looks like in human form, with no other element whatsoever mitigating the murderous hatred that defines him, Ralph Peters is your go-to guy.

The total collapse of Our Excellent Imperial Adventure in Iraq has caused Peters to become completely unhinged. Let's stroll through the newest entry in Clinical Studies of War Lovers Who Are Batshit Crazy Insane. Here's Peters' intro:
YOU can call her a blond, but she's still a redhead. The endless spitting match over whether Iraq is in a state of civil war is a media-driven grudge fight that ignores the complex reality. It's name-calling, not analysis.

A lot of this is just "get Bush" stuff from journalists whose biased reporting helped shape the dismal reality in Iraq and who now crow that they were right all along - the media as a self-licking ice-cream cone.
"A self-licking ice-cream cone." Hmm.


I just can't do it. Fill in your own explanation. It'll probably be dirtier than mine anyway. But let's not lose sight of the first part of that sentence, about "journalists whose biased reporting helped shape the dismal reality in Iraq..." I'm so naive. I actually thought that the actions of our armed forces and the decisions of our political and military leaders had something to do with that "dismal reality." Live and learn. Thanks, Ralph! (Here's a serious discussion of a variant of the identical lie offered by Mark Steyn, and I wrote a follow-up essay on the same subject.)

Peters offers his usual ration of pure bloodlust:
Really taking on our enemies - not least Moqtada al-Sadr and his legion of thugs - would require us to defy the elected Baghdad government we sponsored. To kill those who need killing to pacify Iraq and re-establish our ascendancy would mean that we would again become an outright occupying power.

Not that it really matters, but doing what it would take to win would also tear up our permission slip from the United Nations.
Then Peters "colorful" again:
Let's hope that President Bush will make it hurt-so-bad-he-can't-sit-down clear to Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki at their meeting in Jordan today that Allah helps those who help themselves. Our soldiers and Marines can't continue to serve as human shields for a corrupt, feckless government. Maliki must get serious about Iraq's problems immediately.


You fill it in again. So to speak.

And finally, Peters returns to one of his primary themes:
And let's not lose sight of the incontestable fact that, while being liked in the Middle East would be nice, being feared by our enemies is essential.
I feel obliged to point out still one more time that, until our immoral and illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, we had no "enemies" in that country that mattered a damn in terms of our national security.

Not that this is any kind of news, but there is something very seriously wrong with these people. There are many things very seriously wrong with these people.

And I might overlook all the rest, but I won't be able to fully enjoy an ice-cream cone for a long time. That is unforgivable. Damn you, Ralph Peters!

November 29, 2006

How the Foreign Policy Consensus Protects Itself

Andrew Bacevich, author of the enormously valuable The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, writes about the Iraq Study Group and its purposes:
Even as Washington waits with bated breath for the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to release its findings, the rest of us should see this gambit for what it is: an attempt to deflect attention from the larger questions raised by America's failure in Iraq and to shore up the authority of the foreign policy establishment that steered the United States into this quagmire. This ostentatiously bipartisan panel of Wise Men (and one woman) can't really be searching for truth. It is engaged in damage control.

Their purpose is twofold: first, to minimize Iraq's impact on the prevailing foreign policy consensus with its vast ambitions and penchant for armed intervention abroad; and second, to quell any inclination of ordinary citizens to intrude into matters from which they have long been excluded. The ISG is antidemocratic. Its implicit message to Americans is this: We'll handle things - now go back to holiday shopping.

The group's composition gives the game away. Chaired by James Baker, the famed political operative and former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, former congressman and fixture on various blue-ribbon commissions, it contains no one who could be even remotely described as entertaining unorthodox opinions or maverick tendencies.

Instead, it consists of Beltway luminaries such as retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and lobbyist Vernon Jordan. No member is now an elected official. Neither do its ranks include any Iraq war veterans, family members of soldiers killed in Iraq, or anyone identified with the antiwar movement. None possesses specialized knowledge of Islam or the Middle East.

Charging this crowd with assessing the Iraq war is like convening a committee of Roman Catholic bishops to investigate the church's clergy sex-abuse scandal. Even without explicit instructions, the group's members know which questions not to ask and which remedies not to advance. Sadly, the average Catholic's traditional deference to the church hierarchy finds its counterpart in the average American's deference to "experts" when it comes to foreign policy. The ISG exemplifies the result: a befuddled, but essentially passive-electorate looks for guidance to a small group of unelected insiders reflecting a narrow range of views and operating largely behind closed doors.


The ISG will provide cover for the Bush administration to shift course in Iraq. It will pave the way for the Democratic Congress to endorse that shift in a great show of bipartisanship. But it will hold no one responsible.

Above all, it will leave intact the assumptions, arrangements, and institutions that gave rise to Iraq in the first place. In doing so, it will ensure that the formulation of foreign policy remains the preserve of political mahatmas like Baker and Hamilton, with the American people left to pick up the tab.

In this way, the ISG will make possible - even likely - a repetition of some disaster akin to Iraq at a future date.
All of this is absolutely correct in my view, but at least two critical issues deserve some amplification.

The first issue, one whose importance cannot be overestimated, is the American public's willingness -- indeed, I would argue its eagerness -- to defer to alleged "experts" in the foreign policy field. As I have done several times before, I must turn to Barbara Tuchman's masterful work, The March of Folly, for the explanation of what is wrong with this view:
Acquiescence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgment," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve the overall interests as a nation."


The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
I have argued this point many times over the last couple of years, and I remain utterly astonished at how resistant to this incontestable truth most people remain. The resistance can be seen even in the writings of many people who are deeply critical of our invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The source of that resistance is easy enough to understand, even though the failure to acknowledge this truth is gravely and dangerously wrong. We prefer to believe that our leaders act rationally, and that they know what they are doing. Tragically, as the overwhelming debacle of Iraq has again demonstrated, neither of these propositions corresponds to the facts. In the earlier essay, I explained this as follows:
It may indeed be comforting to think that decisions of war and peace are made on the basis of facts, cold, clear logic, and "secret information" (information that is accurate, I hasten to add) -- but history, including our most recent history, does not support that view. We might think that is the correct method that should be utilized in pondering the fates of many thousands of soldiers and innocent civilians -- and indeed, it is the right procedure, if leaders were amenable to being directed solely by facts and what is in their nations' best long-term interests. But if leaders were ultimately moved by such factors, World War I would not have witnessed years of endless slaughter, it would not have lasted as long as it did, and it might not have begun at all. And if our own political and military leaders focused on those factors that ought to serve as their lodestar to the exclusion of all else, we would not have had the nightmare of Vietnam then -- or the nightmare of Iraq now.
Yet the majority of people find the idea that our leaders are capable of acting in wildly irrational and destructive ways too terrifying to contemplate seriously, much less to accept. They prefer to seek relief for their anxiety in the factually indefensible notion that our leaders have understandable and largely plausible reasons for their decisions, even though history proves the contrary time and again, and even when those decisions lead to an incalculable number of deaths and immeasurable destruction. The full truth is just too frightening. While I understand and am sympathetic to that fear, we should not allow it to overcome our judgment, which should be informed by and based upon the historical record.

This brings me to the second issue, which represents the major specific means by which people attempt to allay their fears: their belief that "the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy." The way in which this view is most commonly expressed is to say that foreign policy decisions are based on intelligence unknown to the rest of us. If a decision to go to war turns out to have been wrong in retrospect, this view holds that it is because the intelligence was wrong or mispresented.

This is mistaken in two crucial but separate ways, and it is vital to understand both. The first error is the belief that decisions of war and peace are based on intelligence at all. To excerpt myself still one more time, because of the importance of this point:
Once again, I put the major point in bold letters all by itself:
Intelligence is completely irrelevant to major policy decisions. Such decisions are matters of judgment, and knowledgeable, ordinary citizens are just as capable of making these determinations as political leaders allegedly in possession of "secret information." Such "secret information" is almost always wrong -- and major decisions, including those pertaining to war and peace, are made entirely apart from such information in any case.
The second you start arguing about intelligence, you've given the game away once again. This is a game the government and the proponents of war will always win. By now, we all surely know that if they want the intelligence to show that Country X is a "grave" and "growing" threat, they will find it or manufacture it. So once you're debating what the intelligence shows or fails to show, the debate is over. The war will inevitably begin.


To repeat: the decision to go to war is one of policy, and the intelligence -- whatever it is alleged to show -- is irrelevant. Don't argue in terms of intelligence at all. If you do, you'll lose. The administration knows that; many of its opponents still haven't figured it out, even now.
Here is a brief excerpt from Gabriel Kolko's The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World, on the same issue -- and note how Kolko's argument parallels that offered by Bacevich:
But collective illusions have characterized the leaders of most nations since time immemorial. They have substituted their desires, ambitions, and interests for accurate estimates of what may occur from their actions. At best, intelligence organizations gather data of tactical rather than strategic utility. An infrastructure of ambitious people exists to reinforce the leaders' preconceptions, in part because they too are socialized to believe what often proves to be illusion. But bearers of bad tidings are, by and large, unwelcome and prevented from reaching the higher ranks of most political orders. It is extremely difficult for nations to behave rationally, which means accepting the limits of their power, and what is called intelligence has to confront the institutional biases and inhibitions of each social system. Thus deductive, symbolic reactions become much more likely, notwithstanding the immense risks of their being wrong. The US war in Iraq and the geopolitical folly of its larger strategy in the Persian Gulf is but one recent example of it.

It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
This is the second common error concerning intelligence, which is the failure to understand its actual uses. As Kolko discusses, intelligence in fact is utilized "to justify a nation's illusions" -- or, in Bacevich's terms, to protect and ensure the continuation of "the prevailing foreign policy consensus with its vast ambitions and penchant for armed intervention abroad."

Intelligence is misused is still another way. Although the Establishment tries to convince the public that its preparations for war came after the relevant intelligence assessments, this reverses the actual order of events. The decision to go to war comes first, and the intelligence that provides supposed justification for the imminent devastation and death comes second. This is, once again, a truth which is far too uncomfortable for most people to acknowledge. As I summarized this issue once before:
To put the point another way: of course the administration "cooked" the intelligence. The intelligence was the propaganda justification for the war, used to sell it to the American public and to the world, which is almost always how intelligence it used (I'm tempted to simply say "always," which is probably the truth) -- and the intelligence was used to justify a decision that had already been made, entirely apart from the intelligence.
I go through this exercise still one additional time because, as Bacevich points out, "the ISG will make possible - even likely - a repetition of some disaster akin to Iraq at a future date." The most likely candidate for a near-term, even more catastrophic identical error is, of course, Iran. The terms in which virtually everyone discusses the possible threat that Iran might represent reveal that none of this framework has been altered to any significant degree. I regret to note that this judgment applies to far too many liberal and progressive bloggers, as well as to the foreign policy establishment.

That basic framework is entirely false. It led to the disastrous U.S. involvement in World War I, to the debacle of Vietnam, and to the catastrophe of Iraq. It has already led to almost a century of worldwide devastation -- and it threatens to lead to still another century of death and chaos reaching around the globe. If the framework is not rejected at its foundation, the scale of devastation and death may finally overwhelm our ability to grasp and comprehend it at all.

See the true nature of the lies, name them for what they are, and refuse to accept any of them. In this manner and only in this manner, at tragically long last, peace might finally have a genuine chance.

Because of the critical nature of these interconnected errors, let me offer these links to some previous essays on this specific topic:

Trapped in the Wrong Paradigm: Three Handy Rules (See Rule 2, in particular.)

The Paradigm that Will Not Die

Undying Myths, and Sullivan's Lies on the Path of Penance

Walking into the Iran Trap: A Decision of Policy -- and the Intelligence Won't Matter

The Irrelevance of Intelligence Again, and Collective Illusions

And Still One More Time: Stop Helping the Warmongers

November 28, 2006

The Bill of Rights Is Just, Like, So Yesterday

The irony is excessively rich. On this occasion:
Last night's event, held at the Radisson Hotel-Center of New Hampshire, honored a Lakes Region newspaper and a former speaker of the House for work in favor of free expression.
At this very event, Newt Gingrich had a few things to say:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994.


[Gingrich] also said court rulings over separation of church and state have hurt citizens' ability to express themselves and their faith.
Well, look at the silver lining. Gingrich and all the other zombie warbots constantly tell us that "they hate us for our freedom." This is, of course, yet another variant of The Big Lie: that's not why "they" hate us at all.

But at the rate our national leaders are dismantling what little remains of our constitutional republic, at least they won't be able to use that utterly phony excuse much longer. Let us be grateful for small mercies...

Related: "Thus the World Was Lost"

The Evil Ledeen: Now All the Rest of Us Are "Antisemites"

There should be a more damning word than evil for Michael Ledeen. Always keep in mind that it was Ledeen who said (as reported by his Number One Fan, Jonah Goldberg): "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

And today at The Corner, Ledeen writes as follows:
Victor [Hanson] says we should first stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, but that's skipping a step. It is impossible so long as the mullahs rule in Tehran and Assad commands in Damascus. It is a regional war. If we continue to misunderstand it, if we remain locked in this fundamental error of strategic vision, we will endlessly respond to our enemies' initiatives, playing defense in one place after another. Today in Iraq and Afghanistan, tomorrow in Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopea and Eritrea (that is the mullahs' game plan), then in Israel and Europe, and finally here at home. We do not need intelligence agencies to know this, all we need to do is listen to our enemies, who announce it at the top of their lungs.

There is no escape from this war, and we haven't even begun to wage it.
But I'm sure Ledeen would want us to know that he doesn't actually want a war, much less a regional one, just as he never wanted an invasion of Iraq. Righty-oh.

But here's the kicker to Ledeen's post:
Of course, as Victor says, our leaders may be so demoralized that we could just surrender in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the realists and the antisemites desire. But that would only delay the reckoning, and ensure that the war will be far bloodier. Sigh.
Well, well, well. Everyone who opposes the plans of hawks like Ledeen for wider, endless war, and everyone who recognizes that there is in fact nothing we can do any longer to lessen the horrors of the immoral catastrophe that is Iraq, is an "antisemite."

In that case, count me among the damned, you lying bastard.

See also: The Impossibility of Discussing Anything At All

November 27, 2006

The Abominables of The New Republic: Getting Away with Murder

I find it almost impossible to write another post about our nauseatingly immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq. I've made my views clear, and offered numerous reasons for my conclusions. See, for example, "No Way Out -- But Out," "A Genuine Mission Impossible," and "Get Out Now: Just Do It." And "The Missing Moral Center: Murdering the Innocent" concerns the moral dimension that almost every pundit, and the vast majority of Americans, adamantly refuse to acknowledge to this day.

I offer the following comments about the Symposium of Wise People offered by The New Republic only as an exercise in what perhaps should be called the sociology of the banality of evil. These are the Wise People who make murderous catastrophes of this kind possible. Even at this late date, they are incapable of acknowledging and admitting what they have done. For some additional commentary on this TNR collection of abominables, see Spencer Ackerman here and here, and IOZ.

I want to make a few observations about Peter Beinart's piece, since Beinart is one of the so-called "opinion leaders" endlessly encouraging the Democrats to adopt a more "muscular" foreign policy. One might be pardoned for having thought that the Democrats hardly needed encouragement on this point: from World War I (from which sprang the endless train of horrors that still consumes us today), through Korea, Vietnam, and Clinton's beloved, "humanitarian" bombing campaigns and their attendant lies, the Democrats have never been shy about murdering people who don't threaten us. Today, we have a number of prominent Democrats who are more hawkish about Iran than even Bush can credibly be at the moment (including Hillary "Bomb 'Em Yesterday, aka Torture" Clinton). I still think it almost certain that Bush will find his warmongering groove in the next year, and Bombs Over Iran will shortly follow. No national Democrat will oppose him, not in any way that matters or deters him. Ah, but Beinart isn't concerned with the facts or the reality of the matter, you see. Oh, no: he is concerned, as are all such Establishment types, with how Democrats are perceived. Too many people think of the Democrats as "weak," and that needs fixing. For a discussion of some of Beinart's deeper analytic inadequacies and dishonesties, see this earlier piece.

Beinart was, of course, a major booster of the invasion of Iraq. Let us be precise: Beinart strongly urged the invasion of a country that had not attacked us, and that did not threaten us. This is the advocacy of illegitimate, immoral, and illegal aggressive war. Let us always remember the exact nature of the crime involved.

But now Beinart's heart breaks:
I can't even imagine Iraq anymore. It exceeds my capacity to visualize horror. In a recent interview with The Washington Post's Anthony Shadid, a woman named Fatima put it this way: "One-third of us are dying, one-third of us are fleeing, and one-third of us will be widows." At the Baghdad morgue, they distinguish Shia from Sunnis because the former are beheaded and the latter are killed with power drills. Moqtada Al Sadr has actually grown afraid of his own men. I came of age believing the United States had a mission to stop such evil. And now, not only isn't the United States stopping it--in some important sense, we are its cause.
No, Beinart: not "in some important sense." The United States government and its military are the cause -- in every "important sense." And the U.S. government was aided and abetted by Beinart and his fellow warmongers. But the collective "we" is critical to Beinart's purposes, since he is determined to avoid accountability at every turn. That "we" carries profound meaning. As Hannah Arendt observes: "[W]here all are guilty, no one is." The "we" washes Beinart clean of sin, or so he hopes.

See if you can follow the ludicrous desperation of Beinart's argument. He moves from this statement: "In a particularly cruel twist, the events of recent months have demolished the best arguments both for staying and for leaving" -- to this one: "Today, the honest arguments for staying or leaving are simply that we can't do the opposite." This irrefutable chain of logic leads to his recommendation:
At this late date, the United States has only one card left to play in Iraq: the threat to leave immediately. Except for Sadr, virtually no one in Iraq's political class wants that to happen. We must wield that threat as dramatically as possible, and, if Iraq's leaders don't respond, leave as fast as we humanly can.
This is surpassingly, stupendously stupid. I discussed the ridiculousness of this idea just last week: if we threaten to leave -- and if we convince the Iraqis that we really, really, really mean it -- a miracle will occur. No, it won't -- and neither Beinart nor anyone else can provide even the smallest piece of evidence to make the possibility of the required miracle believable to any degree at all.

Beinart appears to have become confused about where and when his hero FDR employed the various tactics that Beinart so admires. Beinart is still wedded to his "carrot" that will enable the miracle: "a temporary troop increase and a dramatically larger, World Bank-overseen development effort." If you should think he doesn't mean this, Beinart spells out these details should the Iraqis bow to our demands:
If the Iraqis really strike a constitutional deal that the prominent leaders in all three major communities publicly support, the United States must try to make it stick. That would mean temporarily sending more troops to secure key Baghdad neighborhoods and then flooding those neighborhoods with public-works programs that put young Sunni and Shia men to work.
Now, I could be wrong about this, and I'm sure someone will tell me if I am. But I don't think FDR used TVA-like projects in Germany and Japan while World War II was still raging across the world. No, I'm certain he didn't. If Beinart's views weren't so repugnant and literally insane, I might give him a point or two for creativity. A New Deal for Iraq! Well, I suppose "creative" is one word for it.

Beinart and all hawks of similar inclination refuse to give up the idea that "we meant well," just as he refuses to surrender the myth that American willpower can still make this work, even at this late date. As I've discussed in detail, one of Beinart's fundamental problems is not that "[he] can't even imagine Iraq anymore." His problem is that the reality of Iraq never was clear to him. Iraq, its own history, peoples, cultures and aspirations never assumed solid shape before his eyes, so Beinart, just like those driving the Bush administration's foreign policy, deluded himself that we could shape Iraq in our own image. The presumptuousness, arrogance and colonialist condescension of this view cannot be allowed into Beinart's consciousness.

Given his still unshakable basic beliefs, to say that Beinart's concluding paragraph is inadequate and unsatisfactory hardly captures the nature of the errors involved:
"Were not those right who held that it was self-contradictory to try to further the permanent ideals of peace by recourse to war?" wrote John Dewey in The New Republic in 1919, confessing his despondency at the outcome of World War I. Yes, they were right then, and they are right now. War can be necessary, but, in the decade between the liberation of Kuwait and the liberation of Kabul, it became the repository for too many of our hopes for a better world. Now that we have seen the liberation and destruction of Baghdad, it won't be again for a long, long time.
Beinart still insists that his advocacy of non-defensive war was a "repository" for "our hopes for a better world." He still refuses to admit that he "hoped" to bring about "a better world" by "travel[ing] long distances in order to kill foreigners," in Jim Henley's entirely accurate phrase. [I should add that Beinart's mention of Dewey's "despondency at the outcome of World War I" carries especially heavy irony -- since The New Republic was a particularly influential force in dragging the United States into World War I, especially through the writings of Herbert Croly. I discussed that history in the second half of this essay.]

People with views like Beinart's will never acknowledge the true nature of their mistake. Given even less than half a chance, they will do it all again. So take this warning: whenever any of these unreconstructed hawks again announce their abiding love of war, and be assured they will, condemn them, ridicule them and, most of all, ignore them. They will lie, as they always do, and tell you, for example, that a nuclear Iran is "unacceptable" and "intolerable" -- even though any threat an Iran with nuclear weapons might represent still lies years in the future, and even then, it would be capable of being contained and deterred.

Beinart and his fellow warlovers are filled with regret now, only because the devastation and horror are so immense they cannot be denied. But most Americans have an attention span measured in months and, in the very best case, perhaps a year. Moreover, the horrors of Iraq still have no reality for most Americans, least of all with regard to how those horrors affect Iraqis. To the extent they are aware of them at all, that awareness will fade quickly enough.

And then the stage will be set for the next war, and Beinart and his crowd will propagandize for it once more. For pity's sake, don't let them get away with it again. Remember, and I mean this literally: they will be getting away with murder.

Just as they did this time, and as they do every time.

November 20, 2006

The Painful Object of the Verb

Last week, I excerpted an article by Simon Jenkins, who wrote:
All sentences beginning, "What we should now do in Iraq ... " are devoid of meaning. We are in no position to do anything. We have no potency; that is the definition of anarchy.


[Bush and Blair] will have to stop the holier-than-thou name-calling and the pretence that they hold any cards. They will have to realise that this war has lost them all leverage in the region. They can insult and sanction and threaten. But there is nothing left for them to "do" but leave. They are no longer the subject of that mighty verb, only its painful object.
I have pointed out numerous times that we are no longer in control of events in Iraq. There is literally nothing we can do to direct a particular outcome. I note that one of the newer delusions that has taken hold among our ruling class, especially among Democrats, is that if we announce a date certain for our departure (or more accurately, a date very reluctantly approximate), such an announcement will suddenly cause Iraqis to "take responsibility" for creating a political miracle to save Iraq from the catastrophe we have created. Aside from the deeply sickening paternalism and condescension underlying this notion, given that we have been unable to dictate events for the last few years and since we are unable to do so now, why will that announcement suddenly cause the required miracle to occur? Our ruling wise men have no answer to this question, of course, nor will they acknowledge the obvious point that an announced departure will only decrease our virtually non-existent influence, contrary to their increasingly delusional hopes. So only one course remains: Get Out Now.

As a point of confirmation as to how impotent we are, consider this:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iran has invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to Tehran for a weekend summit with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to hash out ways to cooperate in curbing the runaway violence that has taken Iraq to the verge of civil war and threatens to spread through the region, four key lawmakers told The Associated Press on Monday.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has accepted the invitation and will fly to the Iranian capital Saturday, a close parliamentary associate said.

The Iranian diplomatic gambit appeared designed to upstage expected moves from Washington to include Syria and Iran in a wider regional effort to clamp off violence in Iraq, where more civilians have been killed in the first 20 days of November than in any other month since the AP began tallying the figures in April 2005.


"All three countries intend to hold a three-way summit among Iraq, Iran and Syria to discuss the security situation and the repercussions for stability of the region," said Ali al-Adeeb, a lawmaker of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party and a close aide to the prime minister.
The United States and its military are now the object of widespread and constantly growing hatred throughout the Middle East, and throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. We are also the object of derision and contempt -- and we are the object of the verb. Our complete ineffectuality would be the target of ridicule -- if only we didn't manage to murder so many people. The one thing we can do is destroy -- entire countries, and incomprehensibly huge numbers of completely innocent people. We have unforgivably confirmed that point to an absolute certainty, to the shocked astonishment of a horrified world.

Leave. For God's sake, just leave.

November 19, 2006

Failing Forward: Time to Throw Another "Crappy Country" Against the Wall

As always, you should read Seymour Hersh's latest article about the administration's Iran plans in its entirety: "The Next Act."

Hersh's first major point is one that has been obvious for some time: even if the new Democratic Congress attempts to constrain the administration's options on Iran, any and all such efforts will be ignored. Several members of the administration have stated explicitly that they believe Congress has already provided full authorization to the executive to wage its inherently indefinable "war on terror" in any way it deems "necessary." That certainly would include an attack on Iran.

I want to highlight two passages in Hersh's article. They reveal in an especially stark manner how this game is played -- and how nothing at all has changed, even after the immoral catastrophe of Iraq. The first concerns Rumsfeld's resignation, and the nomination of Gates -- a nomination that Reid and other Democratic leaders have already announced they expect to be "confirmed easily." Some have concluded this change may mean that diplomacy will now be favored over military force with regard to Iran -- but in fact, the calculus may work in exactly the opposite way:
"Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid," Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said. "Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there"—in the White House—"and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell—the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it."

Other sources close to the Bush family said that the machinations behind Rumsfeld’s resignation and the Gates nomination were complex, and the seeming triumph of the Old Guard may be illusory. The former senior intelligence official, who once worked closely with Gates and with the President’s father, said that Bush and his immediate advisers in the White House understood by mid-October that Rumsfeld would have to resign if the result of the midterm election was a resounding defeat. Rumsfeld was involved in conversations about the timing of his departure with Cheney, Gates, and the President before the election, the former senior intelligence official said. Critics who asked why Rumsfeld wasn’t fired earlier, a move that might have given the Republicans a boost, were missing the point. "A week before the election, the Republicans were saying that a Democratic victory was the seed of American retreat, and now Bush and Cheney are going to change their national-security policies?" the former senior intelligence official said. "Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move—‘You’re right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we’re looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.’" But the conciliatory gesture would not be accompanied by a significant change in policy; instead, the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran’s weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. The former official said, "He’s not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he’ll be taken seriously by Congress."
I and others have often observed the fundamentalist approach that informs the administration's foreign policy: they have decided upon a certain set of beliefs, and no amount of contrary evidence will cause them to question or alter them. Tragically for all of us, this insistence that there "must" be some "solution" to the Iraq catastrophe infects all our major media -- and it also infects many Democrats. They refuse to acknowledge that no one and no nation can direct Iraq's course at this point -- and that not even the unparalleled military strength of the United States can engineer the necessary miracle, for that is what it would have to be.

As a result, for those who still cling to this myth of Western exceptionalism and the underlying conviction that our "will" can always be made to succeed if only we really "mean" it (which translates only into the willingness to spread destruction widely enough and kill sufficient numbers of people), foreign policy becomes the means by which we tell the world that we will have our way:
[M]any in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. "It’s a classic case of ‘failure forward,’" a Pentagon consultant said. "They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state."

The view that there is a nexus between Iran and Iraq has been endorsed by Condoleezza Rice, who said last month that Iran "does need to understand that it is not going to improve its own situation by stirring instability in Iraq," and by the President, who said, in August, that "Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold" in Iraq. The government consultant told me, "More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq."

The consultant added that, for some advocates of military action, "the goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran’s nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb—and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq."
Banished from this approach is any concern with the regional (or wider) war that might be unleashed by any such bombing -- and any concern with the loss of innocent life, including the lives of all the American soldiers in Iraq. All that matters is that we demonstrate that we mean it. The fundamentalist belief is unshakeable: if we are only "strong" and ruthless enough, all facts will then magically align themselves with our wishes.

So in the end, it all reduces to the Ledeen Doctrine:
[H]ere is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."
It is tragic, horrifying and more than a little sickening to see unresolved personal neuroses, limitless rage, and incoherent hostility become the entirety of foreign policy -- yet, at this moment in history, that is what America's foreign policy has been, and what it may well continue to be.

I again recommend the Hersh article in its entirety. And here are some earlier related essays of my own:

Our Date with Armageddon

Morality, Humanity and Civilization: "Nothing remains...but memories"

Battling the Ghosts of Vietnam

November 18, 2006

Not to be Technical About It, but These People Are Crazy

Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in Foreign Policy about what the neoconservatives should do now, and how they must "sharpen [their] game." Ahem.

If research into advanced dementia isn't your thing (I refer to the kind of dementia where reality is the thing with feathers and poopoohiajagapees, and the best diet is chocolate industrial-sized wrenches FOR EVERY MEAL), here are the highlights, as offered by a Muravchik who is somewhat more, er, candid.

1. They hate us because we're beautiful. Our ideas helped beat the commies, and they'll help beat the jihadis! When you're as successful as we've been, people say mean things about you. And despite all the petty, ankle-biting nasties, our ranks are growing! I have to admit, though: there are days when I wish we weren't so close to perfect.

2. Our ideas are true, true, true! "The essential tenets of neoconservatism—belief that world peace is indivisible, that ideas are powerful, that freedom and democracy are universally valid, and that evil exists and must be confronted—are as valid today as when we first began."

[Editorial note: "World peace is indivisible," huh? After extensive and exhausting research, I think there were those three days in June 1235 (okay, maybe four; the record isn't entirely clear), when everything was hunky-dory all around the planet. Otherwise, "world peace" gets divided a lot, you know what I'm saying?]

3. Hey, so we made a few mistakes, just like our guy in the White House. No biggie. Maybe we didn't "appreciate sufficiently the depth of Arab bitterness over colonial memories" -- like all those hundreds of years when Western powers tromped around the Middle East acting like it was their own personal playground, and trying to "improve" and Christianize everyone. Of course, what we're doing today in destroying entire countries that never threatened us isn't anything like that. This is completely different. Cuz we say so.

And one lesson is entirely, indisputably clear: we need much bigger defense budgets! Yayy, military!

4. I know I said up there in Point 2 that "freedom and democracy are universally valid." But you wanna know something? We've learned that maybe -- I mean, this probably isn't actually true, but you never really know for sure -- "democratizing the Middle East may be more difficult than we imagined." I'm just saying.

5. This is a WAR OF IDEAS! No one fights anti-American SOBs here in America better than we do. So no one can do it better abroad. We are tough mofos! And we neocons need to teach lots and lots of diplomats how to fight the WAR OF IDEAS. That's our specialty, and our gig. Give it to us, you commie bastards. The record shows we're the best.

It does too!


6. Draft Joe Lieberman for Vice President in the 2008 campaign. He can run with McCain or Giuliani on the Republican ticket. Oh, I know Joe says he's still a Democrat, but he's "a refugee" like us. The Democrats don't hate commies and jihadis like we do. And McCain, Giuliani and Joe are all tough, manly men! They like bombing and killing, so we like them. Which brings me to one final point:


Yayyyyyyy!!!!!! Oh. My. God. This is better than drugs, I swear.

UPDATE: Just in case I wasn't completely clear, here's Point 8:

BOMB IRAN! Woohoo! It's better than drugs and sex together!

November 16, 2006

"The Greatest Threat to the Peace of the World" -- Trapped in Denial

Simon Jenkins:
I remember asking a western intelligence officer in Baghdad, six months after the American invasion, what he would advise the Iranians to do. "Wait," he said with a smile. Iran has done just that. If I were Tehran I would still wait. I would sit back, fold my arms and watch my tormentors sweat. I would watch the panic in Washington and London as body bags pile up, generals mutter mutiny, alliances fall apart and electors cut and run.


As we approach the beginning of the end in Iraq there will be much throat-clearing and breast-beating before reality replaces denial. For the moment, denial still rules. In America last week I was shocked at how unaware even anti-war Americans are (like many Britons) of the depth of the predicament in Iraq. They compare it with Vietnam or the Balkans - but it is not the same. It is total anarchy. All sentences beginning, "What we should now do in Iraq ... " are devoid of meaning. We are in no position to do anything. We have no potency; that is the definition of anarchy.


To talk of a collapse into civil war if "we leave" Iraq is to completely misread the chaos into which that country has descended under our rule. It implies a model of order wholly absent on the ground. Foreign soldiers can stay in their bases, but they will no more "prevent civil war" than they can "import democracy". They are relevant only as target practice for insurgents and recruiting sergeants for al-Qaida. The occupation of Iraq has passed from brutality to mere idiocy.


Bush and Blair are men in a hurry, and such men lose wars. If there is a game plan in Tehran it will be to play Iraq long. Why stop the Great Satan when he is driving himself to hell in a handcart? If London and Washington really want help in this part of the world they must start from diplomatic ground zero. They will have to stop the holier-than-thou name-calling and the pretence that they hold any cards. They will have to realise that this war has lost them all leverage in the region. They can insult and sanction and threaten. But there is nothing left for them to "do" but leave. They are no longer the subject of that mighty verb, only its painful object.
Norman Solomon:
In the latest media assault, right-wing outfits like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page are secondary. The heaviest firepower is now coming from the most valuable square inches of media real estate in the USA -- the front page of the New York Times.

The present situation is grimly instructive for anyone who might wonder how the Vietnam War could continue for years while opinion polls showed that most Americans were against it. Now, in the wake of midterm elections widely seen as a rebuke to the Iraq war, powerful media institutions are feverishly spinning against a pullout of U.S. troops.


If a New York Times military-affairs reporter went on television to advocate for withdrawal of U.S. troops as unequivocally as Gordon advocated against any such withdrawal during his Nov. 15 appearance on CNN, he or she would be quickly reprimanded -- and probably would be taken off the beat -- by the Times hierarchy. But the paper's news department eagerly fosters reporting that internalizes and promotes the basic worldviews of the country's national security state.

That's how and why the Times front page was so hospitable to the work of Judith Miller during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. That's how and why the Times is now so hospitable to the work of Michael Gordon.


These days, media coverage of U.S. policy in Iraq often seems to be little more than a remake of how mainstream news outlets portrayed Washington's options during the war in Vietnam. Routine deference to inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom has turned many prominent journalists into co-producers of a "Groundhog Day" sequel that insists the U.S. war effort must go on.


The standard media evasions amount to kicking the bloody can down the road. Careful statements about benchmarks and getting tough with the Baghdad government (as with the Saigon government) are markers for a national media discourse that dodges instead of enlivens debate.

Many journalists are retreading the notion that the pullout option is not a real option at all. And the Democrats who'll soon be running Congress, we're told, wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- dare to go that far if they know what's good for them.
And the Democrats have learned the lesson:
In the Senate, under Democratic control starting in January, incoming Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D- Mich. said he hoped to form a bipartisan group of senators to pass a resolution urging Bush to begin withdrawing American troops.

"We should pressure the White House to commence the phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq in four to six months… and thereby to make it clear to the Iraqis that our presence is not open-ended and that they must make the necessary political compromises to preserve Iraq as a nation," Levin said.

"I’m not prepared to go beyond that," the Michigan Democrat added, fending off talk of resolutions demanding troop withdrawal or cutting off funds for U.S. operations in Iraq.


Levin’s colleague on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Bill Nelson, D- Fla., who voted against Levin’s resolution last June and who won reelection by a landslide last week, took a different tack than Levin.

Success in Iraq is still necessary, Nelson emphasized, because "the alternative is not very palatable. The alternative is to turn it over to the terrorists, and if the terrorists take over Iraq and are sitting on top of that oil, where do they go next? They look south, they head for the Saudi royal family; if they take over (Saudi Arabia), they are sitting on the world’s oil reserves. That’s not a situation the free world wants to face."

The message from Florida voters last week, Nelson said, was that they "want the United States to have a chance of success in protecting its interests which is by stabilizing Iraq."

Newly elected House Democrats acknowledged that voters wanted a new Iraq policy, but were reluctant to speak of forcing Bush to withdraw troops.
And here is one of Harry Reid's highest priorities:
But it was on the issue of Iraq that [Reid] was most passionate. Voter anger over the war swept his party to power with the unlikely defeat of six Republican senators, he said. Democrats must respond to that anger, he added, with hearings to keep the heat on the Bush administration, and with calls for a regional Middle Eastern conference and a revitalized Iraqi reconstruction effort.

To that end, he said, one of the first acts of the new Democratic Congress will be a $75 billion boost to the military budget to try to get the Army's diminished units back into combat shape.

Democrats will not try, Reid pledged, to play the strongest hand they have -- using Congress's power of the purse to starve the war effort of money and force the president to move. Such an effort would only elicit a veto from Bush. But he said Democrats will marshal their newly acquired power -- in hearing rooms and on the Senate floor -- to stoke public opinion and drive the debate.
The Democrats won decisively on November 7 -- and, just as in the case of Vietnam, they will do nothing to hasten the end of this murderous nightmare. They will be dragged out of Iraq screaming and protesting every inch of the way, just like the Republicans.

As most Democrats and their supporters recognize, the catastrophe of Iraq was the single most critical issue in the election. And yet, the new Democratic Congress will do nothing to significantly alter our course.

So remind me again: just why do we even have elections?

At the conclusion of his column, Norman Solomon excerpts an interview with Senator Wayne Morse on CBS's "Face the Nation" -- from 1964. Morse eloquently demonstrated the falsity of the lie that "the Constitution gives to the president of the United States the sole responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy." Morse said that this power ultimately lies with "the American people," but that they needed to be given "the facts." He might also have added that the Constitution explicitly vests the power to declare war with Congress alone -- but Democrats and Republicans alike have been content, even eager, to unconstitutionally cede that power entirely to the President, where it has remained ever since World War II.

Solomon ends with this:
And, prophetically, Morse added: "We're going to become guilty, in my judgment, of being the greatest threat to the peace of the world. It's an ugly reality, and we Americans don't like to face up to it."
So it has come to pass.

Related: Battling the Ghosts of Vietnam

No Way Out -- But Out

A Genuine Mission Impossible

Get Out Now -- Just Do It

November 13, 2006

No Way Out -- But Out

The Perpetually Warmongering True Believers are amazed, outraged and full of damnation directed at Bush, the Iraq Study Group (such as it is), and anyone else at all who would even consider that perhaps the only conceivable way of "stabilizing" Iraq is, among other things, to engage Iran and Syria in regional talks. The True Believers are absolutely certain that if the brutal and brutalizing force we have employed thus far is insufficient, the best solution is a still more brutal campaign of lethal, murderous bombs and bullets. They are as certain of this as they have been certain of everything else over the last five years.

Barbara Tuchman, in The March of Folly:
Like Kennedy, Johnson believed that to lose South Vietnam would be to lose the White House. It would mean a destructive debate, he was later to say, that would "shatter my Presidency, kill my Administration, and damage our democracy." The loss of China, he said, which had led to the rise of Joe McCarthy, was "chickenshit compared with what might happen if we lost Vietnam." Robert Kennedy would be out in front telling everyone that "I was a coward, an unmanly man, a man without a spine." Worse, as soon as United States weakness was perceived by Moscow and Peking, they would move to "expand their control over the vacuum of power we would leave behind us ... and so would begin World War III." He was as sure of this "as nearly as anyone can be certain of anything." No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.
I do not condemn those who suggest talks with Iran and Syria. Far from it: I have been encouraging that precise course for some time -- but for very different reasons. However, with regard to seeking a solution for the Iraq disaster, proceeding in this manner is not very likely to have any substantial success at all -- not now. It might have worked a couple of years ago, but it is probably far too late for that. From the UK Independent:
[I]f Washington's senators, congressmen and policymakers have any sense of responsibility they will divert their attention from matters of domestic advantage, and concentrate on the interests of the Iraqi people.

To grapple with this question it is necessary to recognise the scale of the horror facing Iraq.


Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, warned us that leaving would create "a very real risk of even greater instability and bloodshed than we've already seen". Quite so. But Ms Beckett and all those politicians on both sides of the Atlantic who supported this invasion should acknowledge their responsibility for the terrible choice now facing us.

Some are recommending a third option. Mr Baker, a former secretary of state, has hinted that his report may recommend an appeal to neighbouring Iran to help stabilise the Shia south of the country. He has also suggested that Syria be requested to influence Iraq's Sunni population. This seems the most pragmatic course on offer.

But even this is by no means guaranteed to succeed. The Shia are fighting among themselves, with the Iranian-sponsored Badr Brigade vying for dominance with the followers of the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Iran may find that its influence in the south is limited. On the other hand, Syria and Iran may decide they would like a share of Iraq's oil wealth for themselves, leading to a bloody regional struggle. There would be little the US, or Britain, could do in such a scenario.

The dreadful truth is that, no matter what strategy our leaders now settle upon, the fate of Iraq is slipping inexorably out of their hands.
And that is the "dreadful truth": we have unleashed forces that no one can now control, probably not for years to come. Moreover, we are now, as we have been for several years, an inextricable and significant part of the problem as long as we remain. There is no point whatsoever in our staying, not in the sense that it will improve the situation. But more Americans and Britons will be slaughtered -- just as countless Iraqis are slaughtered every hour of every day.

I actually think it was true almost immediately after the toppling of Saddam that there was no good solution to what we have done by invading Iraq immorally and illegally. I said just that in October of 2003 (see the second half of that entry in particular, where I republished an entry from over three years ago [It's Your Goddamned Mess. You Be "Constructive."]). Yet despite this blindingly obvious fact -- a fact which was clear to some of us before the invasion began, which is why we so strongly opposed it -- our governing class still searches for a miracle to save them. There will be no such miracle, and the chaos and death will continue into the foreseeable future. But they refuse to admit this -- for one unforgivably shabby, despicable reason: they will not admit they were wrong.

Barbara Tuchman again:
Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. It is epitomized in a historian's statement about Philip II of Spain, the surpassing wooden-head of all sovereigns: "No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence."


For a chief of state, admitting error is almost out of the question. The American misfortune in the Vietnam period was to have had Presidents who lacked the self-confidence for the grand withdrawal. We come back again to Burke: "Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom, and a great Empire and little minds go ill together." The test comes in recognizing when persistence in error has become self-damaging. A prince, says Machiavelli, ought always to be a great asker and a patient hearer of truth about those things of which he has inquired, and he should be angry if he finds that anyone has scruples about telling him the truth. What government needs is great askers.
One searches the political landscape in vain: there is not even one "great asker" to be found, not in the sense of an individual willing to challenge our most basic assumptions.

And so, many more people will be killed and grievously wounded. Many thousands of additional lives will be altered forever. The Middle East, our own nation, and the world are less safe than before this invasion and occupation began. The United States government never had any right to set foot in Iraq. The only practical and moral course is to Get Out Now. As I outlined toward the end of that post, we must make all those reparations we can. For the next several years at least, it is highly questionable whether even a minimally functioning Iraqi government will exist to receive and utilize such reparations. Nonetheless, we must do what we can.

Our policy has been unforgivably, infernally wrong from the moment we chose it. When you unleash a nightmare and a hell on earth, there are no "good" choices. The only honorable, civilized and decent choice is to stop it. As things stand now, we can only stop our part in it, so we must leave.

Leave, within several months at a maximum. Just leave. Anything else is not only insanity, but murderous insanity. Yet, "admitting error is almost out of the question," not only for a chief of state, but for almost the entire governing class. So we won't.

And the murder and the devastation will go on. May God forgive us.

Also related: Give Up the Fatal Contradiction -- and Get Out Now

November 12, 2006

About that Iraq Study Group that Will Save Us All...

On some lefty, America-hating, terrorist-loving radio show (obviously not on NPR), I just heard a very intelligent man make a point that should be emphasized over and over, and over again. (Sorry, but I can't remember who it was; I only heard part of it.) He was talking about the members of the Iraq Study Group -- you know, the Group that will SAVE US ALL and deliver the entire universe unto ETERNAL, OVERWHELMING BLISS.

Take a look at who's in it:
Lawrence Eagleburger, who briefly served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush's father, will replace Defense secretary-designate Bob Gates on the blue-ribbon study group that is expected to recommend a new U.S. approach to Iraq.

The announcement was made by the United States Institute of Peace, which is coordinating the study chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat.

Bush and Democrats -- who won control of the U.S. Congress in Tuesday's elections -- are looking to the study group to chart a new bipartisan course on Iraq, where more than 2,800 U.S. troops have died since the 2003 invasion.


The study group, comprised of five Democrats and five Republicans, was created in March 2006 to conduct a forward-looking, bi-partisan assessment of the situation in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and consequences for U.S. interests.


Other members include Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., former attorney general Edwin Meese III, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, former defense secretary William Perry, and former U.S. senators Charles Robb and Alan Simpson.
Notice anything missing here? Now, some of these folks might have some valuable ideas to offer, and I'm sure they're all really swell people. Well, probably not Ed Meese. But not one of them is known as...take a expert on the Middle East.

Not one.

Oh, but we have five Democrats and five Republicans. Evensy-stevensy. How perfectly nifty. And they will "chart a new bipartisan course on Iraq." Even niftier.

This is nothing but the continuation of empty consensus and meaningless conventional wisdom in place of deliberative, carefully considered and genuinely well-informed policy. And we should remember that conventional wisdom is very frequently wrong. As the commentator said, "This is politics, not policy." And if none of these individuals is an expert about the topic that so desperately needs some serious attention, who the hell cares if they're evenly divided along party lines? As the perceptive commentator also noted, and I paraphrase: "What the *^%#&^%#&^%%$^% is Ed Meese doing in this group?" I hardly think that ordering a crackdown on student protestors prepares one to deal with a civil war in a whole 'nother friggin' country, nor do I think getting chain stores to remove Playboy and Penthouse from their shelves is especially good training for dealing with inordinately complex matters of foreign policy.

Here's a suggestion. Let's trade up a lot. I'll give you one Juan Cole for Ed Meese. And I'll give you Patrick Cockburn for Charles Robb. Cockburn has actually spent a lot of time in Iraq and the Middle East just recently. Amazing, ain't it? And see? I got rid of one Republican and one Democrat. Who says lefty-anarchists can't be bipartisan?

I have more suggestions, but that'll do for now. How about just one person who actually has some genuine, in-depth knowledge about the subject at issue, huh? Just one?

Oh, hell. Never mind.

AND: No Way Out -- But Out

To a Prominent Thug: Screw You, Mark Steyn

I have been over this ground before, in a lengthy essay describing the reaction of many hawks to the 2004 elections in Spain: "The Voice of the Thug, and the Harbinger of Horrors Still to Come."

In analyzing the nature and sources of the hawks' reaction, I wrote:
Please note a few significant aspects of this kind of commentary. The first point is so obvious that it should not need to be stated, but these writers unfortunately make it unavoidable. We are constantly told that we are intent on bringing "democracy" to Iraq, and to the rest of the world once we get around to it .... Yet when the Spanish people freely elect the leader they choose, these hawks offer only insults, derision, and contempt -- because the Spaniards committed the worst and most unforgivable sin of all: they dared to make political judgments that did not follow every detail of the line being peddled by the hawks. So much for "democracy." If you don't vote the way we think you ought to, you're worthless scum, and not worthy of the privilege. And never mind all the factors identified by the Spaniards quoted above, or those issues identified by [Julian] Sanchez.


I suggest you reread the first email message excerpted above, recounting the tremendous heroism displayed by the ordinary people of Madrid in the wake of the tragedy there -- and then consider what kind of human being den Beste thus shows himself to be.

I submit that this kind of commentary, offered by so many writers and in any number of newspapers, ought to be deeply and profoundly unsettling to anyone who is genuinely concerned about the direction in which the world is headed. One would hope that it would be rare to see such undiluted hatred, contempt and vilification heaped upon an entire country -- especially when that country has just undergone a terrible trauma, and a truly awful tragedy. And particularly when the factors that led to a particular election result are complex, and hardly one-dimensional.

But we find barely a word of sympathy for Spain -- and in its place, an absolute demand that all Spaniards completely adopt the hawks' views. And if they don't...well, any destruction which befalls them is their own damned fault, and they shouldn't expect the smallest glimmer of understanding or compassion from these people.

And these are the same people who maintain they, and they alone, are the true guardians and saviors of civilization. In fact, whatever it is they believe they are saving, civilization is not its name.


This is the source of the rage and condemnation you see directed at the people of Spain. The hawks are saying, in effect: "How dare you disobey and disagree with us? How dare you question the wisdom of our course? How dare you suggest that you might have another plan of action which would achieve the end we say we care so much about, and would achieve it more effectively, and create less new dangers in doing so? Don't you understand that we know best, and that we are not to be questioned? How dare you?"

This is the voice of the enraged parent -- who inflicts untold cruelties on his child, all the while proclaiming that he is committing monstrous acts for the child's own good. And, in fact, this is precisely what the hawks tell anyone who disagrees with them, and what they tell the entire rest of the world: we know what is best for you, not your own citizens, and not your own leaders. We do -- and you had better do what we say...or else.
Mark Steyn was one of the hawks I discussed in that piece. I quoted him in part as follows:
The rain in Spain falls mainly on the slain. In the three days between the slaughter and the vote, it was widely reported that the atrocity had been designed to influence the election. In allowing it to do so, the Spanish knowingly made Sunday a victory for appeasement and dishonoured their own dead.
Now, after our midterm election, Steyn discusses what he thinks is the view of Americans held by the "jihad crowd." Steyn writes:
[The "jihad crowd"] employed a craftier strategy. Their view of America is roughly that of the British historian Niall Ferguson -- that the Great Satan is the first superpower with ADHD. They reasoned that if you could subject Americans to the drip-drip-drip of remorseless water torture in the deserts of Mesopotamia -- a couple of deaths here, a market bombing there, cars burning, smoke over the city on the evening news, day after day after day, and ratcheted up a notch or two for the weeks before the election -- you could grind down enough of the electorate and persuade them to vote like Spaniards, without even realizing it. And it worked.


Still, we are all Spaniards now. The incoming speaker says Iraq is not a war to be won but a problem to be solved. The incoming defense secretary belongs to a commission charged with doing just that. A nostalgic boomer columnist in the Boston Globe argues that honor requires the United States to "accept defeat," as it did in Vietnam. Didn't work out so swell for the natives, but to hell with them.
Later in the column, Steyn offers this observation: "For the rest of the world, the Iraq war isn't about Iraq; it's about America, and American will." I dealt with this dangerous and noxious nonsense in two essays: "Bush and the Legions of the Damned," and "They Are the Damned."

The earlier essay about the hawks' reaction to the elections in Spain is admittedly long and complex. Because these issues are so crucial, and because they so obviously continue to be central to this ongoing debate, I urge you to read it when you have the time.

For all the reasons provided in that article, and because of the risible dishonesties, the ignominious lies, the unforgivable contempt for most of humanity that Steyn's perspective represents, and because of the endless death and destruction to which that perspective inevitably leads, I say the following to Mr. Steyn. I say it in this particular form, because no other form captures my reaction accurately:

Fuck you, Mark Steyn.

Exploiting the Dead

Baudrillard, via Leninology:
Celebration and commemoration are themselves merely a form of necrophagous cannibalism, the homeopathic form of murder by easy stages. This is the work of heirs, whose ressentiment toward the deceased is boundless. Museums, jubilees, festivals, complete works, the publication of the tiniest of unpublished fragments - all this shows that we are entering an active age of ressentiment and repentance.
From Paddy Chayefsky's The Americanization of Emily, excerpted in my essay, "Against Sentimentality, and In Praise of Cowardice":
[I]t’s not war that’s insane, you see. It’s the morality of it. It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we’ve managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we’ll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity. It’s not war that’s unnatural to us – it’s virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved.


I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war. ... It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it’s always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades … we shall never end wars ... by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows’ weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud.
If you genuinely wish to honor the dead, I commend you for it. Do so privately. If you let the state do it and engage in another of our endless public displays, the state will use the dead for its own destructive ends -- as it uses everything else, and as it has from the beginning of time.

And if you want to honor the dead, work to bring an end to the destructive myths and the deadly illusions that give rise to war. That is addressed not only to warmongering Republicans, but to warmongering Democrats too; indeed, it is addressed to warmongers everywhere. (And it is most definitely addressed to you, Hillary "Torture" Clinton.)

By Wilfred Owen:
Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Wilfred Owen was one of the best poet-soldiers of The Great War. In the Wikipedia biography, there is this passage, which should make you weep:
He is perhaps just as well-known for having been killed in action at the Sambre-Oise Canal just a week before the war ended, causing news of his death to reach home as the town's church bells declared peace.
That was in 1918. Since then, we have made war countless times. Most of those wars were entirely unnecessary and unjustified, and only worsened the alleged problems they were supposed to "solve." The always and inherently unforeseeable and uncontrollable consequences then provided the justification for still more war. This is The Folly of Intervention, which we still do not understand, even after the latest nightmare chapter in Iraq. Since we refuse to grasp the nature of our error, it is repeated endlessly. As long as we mire ourselves in self-selected ignorance, the folly will continue, as will the carnage and the horror.

So what right does the state or do we have to use the dead for our narrow, usually dishonest purposes? We have none at all. We denied them peace while they lived, when it would have been a beneficence beyond description and when it would have meant something.

At the very least, we can grant them peace now.

November 11, 2006

Naming the Crime: No Time for "Politics as Usual"

In a number of essays, I have discussed the tragic fact that almost no one in our governing or pundit class, with only a couple of exceptions, is willing to acknowledge that the invasion and occupation of Iraq were and are completely immoral and utterly unjustified at their foundation. It is not that this war of blatant aggression was executed "incompetently" or that it was "bungled." It was, is and always will be wrong, in the most damning sense of that word. One of the primary reasons our governing elites are unable and unwilling to acknowledge this truth is because they refuse to give up the myth of "American exceptionalism": the belief that we and only we represent and embody the "ultimate" successful answer to human life and civilization.

The failure and refusal to name the truth for what it is, even and especially when it is a deeply unpleasant, repugnant one, exacts still further costs. If we are unable to identify with precision the nature of what we have done and why it is so terribly wrong, we cannot proceed to make amends for our errors (to the extent we are able to do so) -- nor we will be able to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. To the contrary, by refusing to acknowledge the truth fully and shorn of the comforting equivocations most of us prefer, we ensure that future disasters will occur. I've written about the constellation of errors and myths that led us into the humiliation of Vietnam, and about how our inability to learn the lessons so painfully demonstrated there led to the destruction of Iraq only a few decades later. In all the most important ways, the dynamics were the same in both cases.

And now, all the indications are that we still refuse to learn these lessons. Some of us may prefer to think that many Democrats won this past week because they represented an "antiwar" position. Tragically, this is very, very far from the truth, although it may have been "antiwar" sentiment in a general sense that moved many voters. But that is not what most of the individuals they voted for represent. It is not the case that these politicians are "antiwar": they are simply opposed to losing. Noting Bush's still-plummeting approval rating, Billmon recalls this quote from the film, Patton:
"Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war, because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans." -- Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund North, Patton, 1970
We saw this dynamic played out in an especially pathetic and transparent manner in this past week's Meet the Press, in the following exchange involving Elizabeth Dole and Rahm Emanuel:
SEN. DOLE: The Democrats appear to be content with losing because they’re to...

REP. EMANUEL: I really...

SEN. DOLE: No, no, I, I want to finish what I’m saying here because...

REP. EMANUEL: I, I, I, no, no, you made yourself—Senator, wait a little sec, Senator...

SEN. DOLE: No, I, I’m going to finish this.

MR. RUSSERT: That’s a very strong statement.

SEN. DOLE: It is a strong statement.

REP. EMANUEL: Yeah, senator, senator, you, you...

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, that’s a very strong statement. I think he, he deserves a right to respond, no, no, no.

REP. EMANUEL: Senator, that is not fair.

SEN. DOLE: Yeah, it is, but I would like to finish why...

MR. RUSSERT: You—I’ll let you back, but I’ll tell you, when you make a statement like that...

REP. EMANUEL: Senator, senator, senator.

SEN. DOLE: ...why, why they appear to be content to lose.

MR. RUSSERT: Excuse me. When you make a comment like that, I got to give the other side a chance to respond.

SEN. DOLE: But I do need to explain what I mean by that.

REP. EMANUEL: Senator. Senator, you, you, you said something that’s wrong.

SEN. DOLE: Osama bin Laden and, and, and they...

REP. EMANUEL: Democrats, Democrats have provided—wait a second, Senator. I’ve—I understand some. I will not sit si...

SEN. DOLE: No. Rahm, I want to finish what I said.

REP. EMANUEL: ...I will not sit idly by with an accusation that Democrats are content with losing.

SEN. DOLE: They appear to be content to lose...

REP. EMANUEL: We want to win and we want a new direction to Iraq because after three, three years—I’m—Tim...

SEN. DOLE: ...because when you pull out, this is losing. That we know that it becomes a breeding ground...

MR. RUSSERT: All right, hold on. Hold on. Time out, time out, time out.

REP. EMANUEL: Forget about it.

MR. RUSSERT: Time out. Time—time out. Time out, please.

SEN. DOLE: ...a breeding ground for terrorists. We’ve got Iran and Syria sitting there on each side of Iraq...

REP. EMANUEL: That, that’s wrong. You should take that back, Senator. We’ll have differences, but we do not disparage you like that, Senator.
We "will not tolerate a loser." To call someone a "loser" is the worst insult in American politics, and in American culture. "You should take that back," whines Emanuel, like a spoiled schoolyard brat. And we are incapable of admitting that we as a nation have "lost." The blatantly obvious truth that all these political propagandists ignore is that, because of our determined, unshakable ignorance about Iraq, its peoples, its culture and its history, we lost before the first American soldier set foot in that country.

As I pointed out in "Battling the Ghosts of Vietnam," this connects in another way to the view of our own "exceptionalism" -- and leads to the following result, among others:
Put it another way: no other country and no one else at all can ever defeat the United States. Only we can defeat ourselves -- which is precisely what Steyn himself says. It should be obvious how this leads into a messianic conception of the United States' role in human affairs: we are gods on earth -- or at least God's representatives on earth -- here to bring enlightenment to the inferior cultures and peoples who surround us. This conception of ourselves is not only dangerously wrong, but dangerously destructive and brutal: if we and only we have the key to humanity's future, then what are the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of inferior people -- or even the deaths of millions? If the world is to be saved, no price is too great and no pile of corpses, no matter how high, should deter us from our mission.
In a column that I recommend you read in its entirety, Robert Shetterly speaks to these issues very powerfully:
Before the votes were even counted, a strange chorus arose, like toads from the swamp, from every point on the Democratic compass --- so persistent, one might even think it choreographed --- croaking in a dire basso, "Now’s the time to work on fulfilling the Democrats agenda, not the time to hold anyone accountable for the massive corruption or the extraordinary lies that got us into this mess." Let’s be moderate, let’s be wise, the toads all intoned, let’s don’t disintegrate into partisan bickering about who’s responsible. And, pullleeeease, don’t even utter the word impeachment. No, no, no, let’s repeal the tax cuts for the rich, raise the minimum wage, enact universal health care, raise the mileage on our cars, sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, reduce the debt, fund our schools, fix social security, and work in a bi-partisan way toward an exit strategy from Iraq. All very sensible. Every single one of those things needs to be fought for if we want to have economic and social justice.

But, that’s not enough. I thought one of the corner stones of our democratic republic was the rule of law. Transparency. Accountability. ...

Massive crimes have been committed. Our administration has ridden roughshod on our Constitution as though it were a hobbled and blind cow. What-might-have-been looks like a bomb crater. So irresponsible and massive are the crimes that the perpetrators have changed the laws to avoid being held accountable for crimes against humanity. ... Hundreds of thousands of people are unnecessarily dead, many more hundreds of thousands maimed and wounded. The incredible debt undermines our economy and will plague our children. When is a crime so great that it shouldn’t be acknowledged? Or prosecuted? Do we pat Rummy & Dickie & Georgie & Connie on the butt and send them to the bench with a, “Nice game, kids. Let’s all be good sports and let someone else have a go at it”? Live and let live.


Arrogance, deceit and blatant crime are responsible for these crises. Not poor execution. Accountability is the way out. There is no reason why we can’t pass fair, life-saving legislation at the same time. We can walk and chew gum. We have grown so accustomed to living in a world of euphemism and double speak, so accustomed to not calling reality by its name, that we think there is no reality except what we can get away with, the reality that sells the product or “develops the resource.” Not true. Nature won’t be fooled. And we only imperil ourselves and our cherished institutions if we don’t hold ourselves accountable. It’s not about partisan revenge, it’s about naming the crime. Some very bad people have broken our laws, dashed our hopes, mortgaged our futures, broken our hearts, and betrayed our country. They need to pay the piper. If we don’t hold them accountable, who will we allow to hold us accountable for making things right?


[R]esponsibility demands an accounting, demands an earning back of national integrity by investigating the depth of the crimes. That’s called maturity. Our leaders have inflicted an enormous trauma on Iraq and on us. We will all be much healthier if we heal by inquiry and justice rather than repression.
I will have more to say in the next several days about what I think the highest priorities should be for the new Congress, but Shetterly captures a very large part of my perspective here.

If you want to prevent future crimes, you must name the crimes that have been committed. You must identify them comprehensively, accurately, and leaving nothing out. And you must apportion guilt and responsibility as the facts require.

What we have done in Iraq represents an unforgivable war crime (in fact, an endless series of war crimes), and a crime against humanity. If we wish to reclaim any vestige of our national honor and begin to restore our country's integrity, we must not simply point out a few of the errors, hold only the least powerful accountable, and "move on." We have seen that pattern with those abuses that we know about, as in the case of Abu Ghraib. We have seen how such falsehoods fail to stop atrocities, and permit the horrors to continue.

To stop them finally and at long last, we must tell the truth -- all of it, sparing no details and leaving out none of the particulars. Then we will be able to proceed into the future. We will still not have redeemed ourselves or earned forgiveness; that is not possible now or for many years to come, not after what we have done. But we will have honored the truth, and the dead and injured -- and we will have begun to make real a commitment to never again permitting ourselves the commission of such acts.

Some may object that such a course is not politically "smart," or that it will endanger the Democrats' chances in 2008. To such objections, I simply ask: Where in God's name are your priorities? Hundreds of thousands of innocent people are dead, tens of thousands are horribly injured, countless numbers have been and are being tortured, and the horrors still continue, day after blood-drenched day.

The United States government has committed acts of great evil. There is no other word for it. If we genuinely wish to get past this terrible moment in our history, we must tell the truth. All of it.

If we won't, we are playing at the edges, and deliberately ignoring the most vital and profound considerations of all. And we thereby guarantee that we will do it all again, just as we have demonstrated yet another, awful time. Can't we stop these horrors at last? I hope to God we can.