Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, July 16th, 2006.


The Weenerization of America

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Bush Administration

Josh Marshall says something that cannot be repeated enough:

There is no shortage of things to shudder at and lament in this current spiral of death in the Levant. But what stands out to me right now is the seeming irrelevance and marginality of the United States. … Thinking back through the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s — with key crises in each decade — I don’t think there’s any example where an American administrtion has so thoroughly marginalized itself or shown such impotence and irrelevance.

The Bush Administration’s obsession with strength has weakened us.

Update: The Dominatrix speaks.

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U.S. Politics v. U.S. Foreign Policy

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Bush Administration, Middle East

Larry Johnson writes that “Israel Took a Stupid Pill.”

Apparently not content to let the U.S. do a self-immolation act in the Middle East by itself, Israel decided to set itself on fire by invading Lebanon. Burn baby burn? Like George Bush, Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, never served in a combat unit and launched military operations without thinking the matter through. In fact, Olmert reportedly never even served in the military. I raise this because there is one simple question Israel cannot answer about the current operations–what is their strategic military objective. Olmert has somehow persuaded the Israeli military to ignore strategy, think tactically, and in the process become really stupid. The events in the next several weeks will expose as myth the canard that you can secure a nation by killing terrorists. No you can’t.

Killing “terrorists” has a place in policy but it is not a strategic military objective. It is a tactical objective and may serve political purposes, but achieves little in terms of securing Israel. Israel is attacking targets in Lebanon like a drunken sailor in a bar fight. Flailing about, causing significant damage, hitting innocent bystanders, and generally making a mess of things. This is not the Israeli military that pulled off the brilliant and daring raid at Entebbe.

But maybe the primary objective isn’t killing terrorists. At the Washington Note, Steve Clemons writes that the objective may be to constrain U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

My view is that three broad threats were evolving for Israel from the American side of the equation. One one front, the U.S. will be attempting to settle some kind of new equilibrium in Iraq with fewer U.S. forces and some face-saving partial withdrawal. To accomplish this and maintain any legitimacy in the eyes of important nations in the region — particularly among close U.S. partners among the Gulf Cooperation Council states — America “might have” tried to do some things that constituted a broad new bargain with the Arab Middle East. The U.S. had even previously flirted, along with the Brits, in trying to get Syria on a Libya like track and out of the international dog house.

There was also pressure building to push Hamas — or at least the “governing wing” of it — towards a posture that would move dramatically closer to a recognition of Israel. Abbas was becoming increasingly entrepreneurial in creating opportunities for the constructive players in Hamas to squirm towards eventual negotiations with Israel that could possibly be packaged in terms of “final status negotiations” on the borders and terms of a new Palestinian state. George W. Bush is the first President to actually call the Palestine territories “Palestine” and may have eventually come around on trying to pump up Abbas’s legitimacy as the father of a new and different state. I am doubtful of this scenario — but some in Israel had serious concerns about this unfolding.

Lastly, despite lots of tit-for-tat tensions and enormous mistrust, Iran and the U.S. were tilting towards a deal to negotiate about Iran’s nuclear pretensions and other goals.

If Mr. Clemons is right, somebody should have told Israel they needn’t bother starting a war to constrain American foreign policy. The Bush foreign policy “team” is, um, self-constrained. As in can’t negotiate their way out of a wet paper bag.

Some in Israel viewed all three of these potential policy courses for the U.S. — a broad deal with the Arab Middle East, a new push on final status negotiations with the Palestinians, and a deal to actually negotiate directly with Iran — as negative for Israel.

The flamboyant, over the top reactions to attacks on Israel’s military check points and the abduction of soldiers — which I agree Israel must respond to — seems to be part establishing “bona fides” by Olmert, but far more important, REMOVING from the table important policy options that the U.S. might have pursued.

Israel is constraining American foreign policy in amazing and troubling ways by its actions. And a former senior CIA official and another senior Marine who are well-versed in both Israeli and broad Middle East affairs, agreed that serious strategists in Israel are more concerned about America tilting towards new bargains in the region than they are either about the challenge from Hamas or Hezbollah or showing that Olmert knows how to pull the trigger.

Another well respected and very serious national security public intellectual in the nation wrote this when I shared this thesis that Israeli actions were ultimately aimed at clipping American wings in the region. His response:

    the thesis of your paper is right-on.

    whether intentional or coincidental, that is what is being done right now.

I share these other views only to establish the fact that there is not a consensus either in support of or opposed to Israeli action — but some are beginning to scrutinize what Israel is seeking to achieve with such flamboyant displays of power that are antagonizing whole societies on their borders.

Keeping America from cutting new deals in the region — which many in the national security establishment thinks are vital — may actually be what is going on, and the smarter-than-average analysts are beginning to see that.

If true, this is a fascinating as well as perilous development. The Bushies continue to support Israel even as, allegedly, Israel deliberately is undermining the United States. And why would the Bushies do that? The obvious answer, IMO, is that to do otherwise would alienate what’s left of Bush’s base. The hard-core righties are solidly behind Israel.

So, foreign policy be damned. All that matters is appeasing the Bush base.

Steve Clemons also wrote,

To take one moment though and argue a counter-point to this, one serious analyst I spoke to this morning who stopped by to talk after attending synagogue raised a good point. He said that he thought that Olmert’s insecurity about military management was driving the over-reaction.

But he also said that the QUALITY of the attacks against Israel were freaking out the Israeli military and intelligence leaders. Complex incursions that included abductions along with a successful attack on an Israeli gunship show that the enemy is no longer an unimpressive, rag-tag lot. Training and armaments have been improved, and Israel is scrambling to figure out how this happened.

To which Billmon added,

In A Bright Shining Lie, Neil Sheehan talked about the difference between the U.S. generals he knew in Vietnam and the ones who fought and won World War II. That earlier generation, he said, had been keenly aware they could lose — after all, just a few years earlier they’d been conducting training exercises with soldiers armed with wooden guns and trucks pretending to be tanks, and here they were taking on the most famously competent military establishment in the world. And because they feared their enemy, and feared failure, they were tough on themselves. Losers — like the general who blundered into a German trap at the Kasserine Pass, were quickly cashiered. Winners were promoted, even if they were eccentric flakes, like George Patton. The Army that fought its way into Germany in 1945 was far from perfect, but the guys at the top never took victory for granted, and rarely underestimated their opponent. When they did, as in Operation Market Garden, their soldiers paid dearly for it.

By Vietnam, though, two decades of superpower status, and the budgets that went with it, had changed the mentality. The generals in charge were acutely aware they controlled the most powerful military machine in the history of the world. And they saw their enemy — particularly the Viet Cong irregulars — as hopelessly inferior ….

… It’s beginning to look as if the Israeli Defense Force (if not the entire Israeli political and military establishment) may be suffering from the same syndrome — the disease of hubris. This isn’t the army of ’67, or even ’73, which believed the country’s survival was at stake and constantly worried that Israel’s qualitative edge might be too narrow to outweigh the quantitative advantages enjoyed by its enemies. The years of U.S. largesse and bloated procurement budgets, the state-of-the-art tanks and fighters, the fascination with technology and push-button war, plus the pitiful state of the Syrian Army and Air Force — Israel’s remaining conventional front-line foes — all appear to have infected the IDF with the arrogance and complacency that plagued the United States in Vietnam.

Which is not to say that Israel won’t prevail in the current military action. But yesterday Hezbollah rockets struck Haifa again, killing at least nine Israelis, and residents of Tel Aviv have been put on alert. Did Israel understand the risks to her citizens when she initiated the current assault?

I’m going back to Larry Johnson now (emphasis added)

While most folks in the United States buy into the Hollywood storyline of poor little Israel fighting for it’s survival against big, bad Muslims, the reality unfolding on our TV screens shows something else. Exodus, starring Paul Newman, is ancient history. Hamas and Hezbollah attacked military targets–kidnapping soldiers on military patrols may be an act of war and a provocation, but it is not terrorism. (And yes, Hezbollah and Hamas have carried out terrorist attacks in the past against Israeli civilians. I’m not ignoring those acts, I condemn them, but we need to understand what the dynamics are right now.) Israel is not attacking the individuals who hit their soldiers. Israel is engaged in mass punishment.

How did Israel respond? They bombed civilian targets and civilian infrastructure and have killed many civilians. Let’s see if I have this right. The Arab “terrorists” attack military units, destroy at least one tank, and are therefore terrorists. Israel retaliates by launching aerial, naval, and artillery bombardments of civilian areas and they are engaging in self-defense. If we are unable to recognize the hypocrisy of this construct then we ourselves are so enveloped by propaganda and emotion that, like the Israelis, Hezbollah, and Hamas, we can’t think rationally. We can only think in terms of tribalism and revenge.

Certainly Israel has suffered mightily from terrorist attacks; no one is denying this. But in this case, the provocation for Israel’s action was not an act of terrorism.

“Iran, meanwhile, is sitting in the catbird’s seat,” Larry J. continues. Israel may not be thinking strategically, but Iran is.

The events unfolding in Iraq and Lebanon are going Tehran’s way. The United States is being portrayed in the world media as someone who tolerates and excuses attacks on civilian populations. The perception becomes the reality and the ability of the United States to rally support among the Russians, the Chinese, and even the French becomes more impaired. We need the international community to deal effectively with nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. Now, we will be bogged down trying to defend Israel from an angry international community.

What Israel is doing hurts the United States. Try to get a rightie to see that. Even better, try to teach algebra to a duck.

Meanwhile, the Freep are celebrating the deaths of Lebanese children. (Sample comments: “Hold up those babies up…..and cry to the sky!”; “boo friggin hoo. just eliminating future terrorists IMO”)

This is evil, people. Ain’t nothin’ else but evil. Whatever the cause, the provocation, the goal, the excuse — the deaths of children are always regrettable. Anyone who celebrates in the deaths of children, any children, is evil. People who rejoice in the deaths of children are no better than terrorists. And as long as our foreign policy caters to these creatures, the whole world suffers.

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So Much for Sovereignty

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economy

This doesn’t sound good

Roads and bridges built by U.S. taxpayers are starting to be sold off, and so far foreign-owned companies are doing the buying.

On a single day in June, an Australian-Spanish partnership paid $3.8 billion to lease the Indiana Toll Road. An Australian company bought a 99-year lease on Virginia’s Pocahontas Parkway, and Texas officials decided to let a Spanish-American partnership build and run a toll road from Austin to Seguin for 50 years.

Few people know that the tolls from the U.S. side of the tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, go to a subsidiary of an Australian company — which also owns a bridge in Alabama.

Some states and large cities are selling or leasing roads and bridges to private firms also. The “proceeds will pay for urgent projects such as road and bridge improvements.”

Washington is not likely to produce more money to build roads. The federal highway fund — which will have a balance of about $16 billion by the end of 2006 — will run out in 2009 or 2010, according to White House and congressional estimates.

About half the states now let companies build and operate roads. Many changed their laws recently to do so.

Maybe this is a good idea, but it feels like more evidence that our country is coming apart at the seams.

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Just Wait

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Bush Administration, War on Terror

My only quibble with this New York Times editorial is in the first paragraph:

It is only now, nearly five years after Sept. 11, that the full picture of the Bush administration’s response to the terror attacks is becoming clear. Much of it, we can see now, had far less to do with fighting Osama bin Laden than with expanding presidential power.

Some of us realized what was going on a lot sooner. Like when Attorney General John Ashcroft suggested habeas corpus be suspended indefinitely. He wanted this written into the original version of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was introduced to Congress on September 19, 2001.

At the time, I thought Ashcroft was just being hysterical. The alarm bells went off for me, however, when President Bush issued an executive order allowing former presidents to keep their presidential records sealed indefinitely. In this case “indefinitely” means that former president’s life plus the life of anyone designated by that former president to act in his behalf postpartum. Bush signed this on November 1, 2001.

I figured at the time he was up to something. I don’t see any reason why a future president couldn’t countermand that executive order, but still … Anyway, back to the New York Times.

Over and over again, the same pattern emerges: Given a choice between following the rules or carving out some unprecedented executive power, the White House always shrugged off the legal constraints. Even when the only challenge was to get required approval from an ever-cooperative Congress, the president and his staff preferred to go it alone. While no one questions the determination of the White House to fight terrorism, the methods this administration has used to do it have been shaped by another, perverse determination: never to consult, never to ask and always to fight against any constraint on the executive branch.

One result has been a frayed democratic fabric in a country founded on a constitutional system of checks and balances. Another has been a less effective war on terror.

The editorial then goes into more detail on the way Bush handled the Guantánamo Bay Prison —

This whole sorry story has been on vivid display since the Supreme Court ruled that the Geneva Conventions and United States law both applied to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. For one brief, shining moment, it appeared that the administration realized it had met a check that it could not simply ignore. The White House sent out signals that the president was ready to work with Congress in creating a proper procedure for trying the hundreds of men who have spent years now locked up as suspected terrorists without any hope of due process.

But by week’s end it was clear that the president’s idea of cooperation was purely cosmetic. At hearings last week, the administration made it clear that it merely wanted Congress to legalize President Bush’s illegal actions — to amend the law to negate the court’s ruling instead of creating a system of justice within the law. As for the Geneva Conventions, administration witnesses and some of their more ideologically blinkered supporters in Congress want to scrap the international consensus that no prisoner may be robbed of basic human dignity. …

… The divide made it clear how little this all has to do with fighting terrorism. Undoing the Geneva Conventions would further endanger the life of every member of the American military who might ever be taken captive in the future. And if the prisoners scooped up in Afghanistan and sent to Guantánamo had been properly processed first — as military lawyers wanted to do — many would never have been kept in custody, a continuing reproach to the country that is holding them. Others would actually have been able to be tried under a fair system that would give the world a less perverse vision of American justice. The recent disbanding of the C.I.A. unit charged with finding Osama bin Laden is a reminder that the American people may never see anyone brought to trial for the terrible crimes of 9/11.

— and eavesdropping on Americans —

Once again, the early perception that the president was going to bend to the rules turned out to be premature.

The bill the president has agreed to accept would allow him to go on ignoring the eavesdropping law. It does not require the president to obtain warrants for the one domestic spying program we know about — or for any other program — from the special intelligence surveillance court. It makes that an option and sets the precedent of giving blanket approval to programs, rather than insisting on the individual warrants required by the Constitution. Once again, the president has refused to acknowledge that there are rules he is required to follow.

And while the bill would establish new rules that Mr. Bush could voluntarily follow, it strips the federal courts of the right to hear legal challenges to the president’s wiretapping authority. The Supreme Court made it clear in the Guantánamo Bay case that this sort of meddling is unconstitutional.

The editorial concludes with an assessment of the cost of executive arrogance.

The president’s constant efforts to assert his power to act without consent or consultation has warped the war on terror. The unity and sense of national purpose that followed 9/11 is gone, replaced by suspicion and divisiveness that never needed to emerge. The president had no need to go it alone — everyone wanted to go with him. Both parties in Congress were eager to show they were tough on terrorism. But the obsession with presidential prerogatives created fights where no fights needed to occur and made huge messes out of programs that could have functioned more efficiently within the rules. …

… To a disturbing degree, the horror of 9/11 became an excuse to take up this cause behind the shield of Americans’ deep insecurity. The results have been devastating. Americans’ civil liberties have been trampled. The nation’s image as a champion of human rights has been gravely harmed. Prisoners have been abused, tortured and even killed at the prisons we know about, while other prisons operate in secret. American agents “disappear” people, some entirely innocent, and send them off to torture chambers in distant lands. Hundreds of innocent men have been jailed at Guantánamo Bay without charges or rudimentary rights. And Congress has shirked its duty to correct this out of fear of being painted as pro-terrorist at election time.

The editorial also cites this article by Jane Mayer from the July 3 issue of The New Yorker on the “effort to undermine the constitutional separation of powers.”

If you google “New York Times treason” you get no end of anti-NY Times calumniation, and not all from the Right. Today the righties are linking to a Little Green Footballs post titled “The Media Are the Enemy.” (I don’t link to lgf, but it shouldn’t be hard to find if you really want to read it.) I gather from other rightie posts that a New York Times photographer took a photo of a Shiite militia sniper aiming at Americans, and the righties are outraged. Expect more calls for Times managers and staffers to be hunted down. And you know the bleepheads are taking their cues from the GOP and White House insiders.

I guess the Times editorial page just returned fire.

It’s a shame the reporting side isn’t so, um, uncompromised. Glenn Greenwald explains that the Times (and the Washington Post, and Time) mis-reported the Specter bill, making it sound as if the President were giving ground to Congress.

It wasn’t just the Post which fundamentally misled its readers about this bill. So, too, did Eric Lichtblau in his article in The New York Times (“The proposed legislation represents a middle-ground approach among the myriad proposals in Congress for dealing with the wiretapping controversy”).

Today’s editorial described the Senate hearings differently —

The hearings were supposed to produce a hopeful vision of a newly humbled and cooperative administration working with Congress to undo the mess it had created in stashing away hundreds of people, many with limited connections to terrorism at the most, without any plan for what to do with them over the long run. Instead, we saw an administration whose political core was still intent on hunkering down. The most embarrassing moment came when Bush loyalists argued that the United States could not follow the Geneva Conventions because Common Article Three, which has governed the treatment of wartime prisoners for more than half a century, was too vague. Which part of “civilized peoples,” “judicial guarantees” or “humiliating and degrading treatment” do they find confusing?

Today’s Washington Post carries amuch more docile article written by David Broder and Dan Balz titled “How Common Ground of 9/11 Gave Way to Partisan Split.” Instead of actually explaining how the common ground of 9/11 gave way to a partisan split, Broder and Balz delicately tiptoe around the elephant in the living room and blame, um, partisanship.

I say the effort is a waste of ink and paper, not to mention bandwidth. Joe Gandelman calls it a must-read, but I am not persuaded.

See also the Los Angeles Times, “License to Wiretap.”

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