Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, July 29th, 2006.


The Amazing Disappearing War

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Bush Administration, Iraq War, Middle East, News Media

Today Glenn Greenwald blogged about “the very sudden, and virtually complete, disappearance of the war in Iraq from the media radar.”

That country is literally falling apart, engulfed by what even war proponents are acknowledging increasingly appears to be an inevitable civil war and growing anarchy. And yet for the last week, Iraq was barely discussed, save for a completely inconsequential gossipy sideshow about whether the Democrats did something which the Republicans would never, ever do — namely, exploit a national security matter (Prime Minister Maliki’s condemnation of Israel) for political gain.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich also writes about the “disappearance” of Iraq. But Rich documents that Iraq has been fading for a while.

On the Big Three networks’ evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report. …

… The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isn’t happenstance. It’s a barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. “It is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror,” said Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly on July 18. “I mean, it’s summertime.” Americans don’t like to lose, whatever the season. They know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new plans for victory are trotted out to obscure that reality.

The specter of defeat is not the only reason Americans have switched off Iraq. The larger issue is that we don’t know what we — or, more specifically, 135,000 brave and vulnerable American troops — are fighting for. In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere else. It’s a big, nightmarish story, all right, but one that lacks the thread of a coherent plot.

If you are locked outside the NY Times subscription wall, Frank Rich’s column will probably turn up on True Blue Liberal in the next few hours. [Update: Yep. Here it is, in its entirety.]

Earlier this week I linked to this Michael Hirsh column in which Hirsh discusses the new book Fiasco by Thomas Rick —

Reading “Fiasco,” Thomas Ricks’s devastating new book about the Iraq war, brought back memories for me. Memories of going on night raids in Samarra in January 2004, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, with the Fourth Infantry Division units that Ricks describes. During these raids, confused young Americans would burst into Iraqi homes, overturn beds, dump out drawers, and summarily arrest all military-age men—actions that made them unwitting recruits for the insurgency. For American soldiers battling the resistance throughout Iraq, the unspoken rule was that all Iraqis were guilty until proven innocent. Arrests, beatings and sometimes killings were arbitrary, often based on the flimsiest intelligence, and Iraqis had no recourse whatever to justice. Imagine the sense of helpless rage that emerges from this sort of treatment. Apply three years of it and you have one furious, traumatized population. And a country out of control.

As most U.S. military experts now acknowledge, these tactics violated the most basic principles of counterinsurgency, which require winning over the local population, thus depriving the bad guys of a base of support within which to hide. Such rules were apparently unknown to the 4th ID commander, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno. The general is a particular and deserving target of Ricks’s book, which is perhaps the most exhaustive account to date of all that went wrong with Iraq. Nonetheless—according to that iron law of the Bush administration under which incompetence is rewarded with promotion, as long as it is accompanied by loyalty—Odierno will soon be returning to Iraq as America’s No. 2 commander there, the man who will oversee day-to-day military operations. (Odierno, asked by Ricks to respond to criticism, replied that he had studied the insurgency and “adapted quickly.”)

Frank Rich brings up Fiasco also —

The contempt our government showed for Iraqis was not just to be found in our cavalier stance toward their casualties, or in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. There was a cultural condescension toward the Iraqi people from the get-go as well, as if they were schoolchildren in a compassionate-conservatism campaign ad. This attitude was epitomized by Mr. Rumsfeld’s “stuff happens” response to the looting of Baghdad at the dawn of the American occupation. In “Fiasco,” his stunning new book about the American failure in Iraq, Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post’s senior Pentagon correspondent, captures the meaning of that pivotal moment perfectly: “The message sent to Iraqis was far more troubling than Americans understood. It was that the U.S. government didn’t care — or, even more troubling for the future security of Iraq, that it did care but was incapable of acting effectively.”

As it turned out, it was the worst of both worlds: we didn’t care, and we were incapable of acting effectively. Nowhere is this seen more explicitly than in the subsequent American failure to follow through on our promise to reconstruct the Iraqi infrastructure we helped to smash. “There’s some little part of my brain that simply doesn’t understand how the most powerful country on earth just can’t get electricity back in Baghdad,” said Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile and prominent proponent of the war, in a recent Washington Post interview.

Hey, we’re having trouble keeping electricity turned on in the U.S.

Rich goes on to say that the simple answer to the question of why “the mission” in Iraq was such a failure is that the Bush Administration didn’t care enough about Iraq or Iraqis to get the job right. And although I’m sure that’s true, it begs the question — why didn’t they care? We’ve heard time and time again that Bush “rolled the dice” and “gambled his presidency” on Iraq. You’d think he would have been at least mildly interested.

I think the more essential reason for the Bush Administration’s failure is that the Bushies were never clear in their own minds what the mission — and the motivation for invading Iraq — really was. We know that eliminating Saddam Hussein’s fictitious WMDs was not the real reason for the invasion. Converting Iraq to a pro-western democracy was the neocons’ reason, but if the Bushies had been serious about nation building in Iraq you’d think they would have planned some nation-building activities for the “postwar” period. Instead, they seem to have believed that deposing Saddam Hussein would all by itself cause democracy to root and bloom like dandelions in June.

In 2003 and a large part of 2004 the Bushies dragged their feet on even planning for a sovereign and democratic Iraq, as if they had all the time in the world. They dragged their feet even as what little opportunity they might have had to accomplish something was slipping away. You’d think that if establishing a new Iraq was a priority for the Bush Administration, then the White House would have been energized and focused on the project. But, clearly, it never was. What’s left? Oil, of course, and contracts for Halliburton. But I suspect there are other, more primal, motivations in the murky depths of the Bushie collective psyche. Bottom line, the Bushies invaded Iraq because they wanted to invade Iraq. But I don’t think they are self-reflective enough to understand themselves where that desire was coming from. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.

So now we’re over there with no objectives, no plans, no hope, and it’s not on television because it’s such a bummer.

Glenn Greenwald points out that even Joe Lieberman wants to “move on.”

Via Atrios, it seems that Lieberman himself yesterday “suggested that he wanted to move the debate away from the war. ‘We’re going to try hard to focus this back on the issues that I think really are ultimately more important to the future of families in Connecticut: jobs, health care, education,'” he said.

Somehow, the war went from having “enormous consequences for the people of Iraq, America and the world” to being something that isn’t really all that important to talk about.

Frank Rich concludes, “That the latest American plan for victory is to reposition our forces by putting more of them in the crossfire of Baghdad’s civil war is tantamount to treating our troops as if they were deck chairs on the Titanic.” It’s a horrible mess that makes no sense and has no possibility for a good ending. Who wants to watch that?

Once upon a time news stories from Vietnam were broadcast on television every night, whether we wanted to watch them or not. But in those days, news was news. Now, news is entertainment. The Iraq War just isn’t entertaining. Maybe it could be re-packaged as a reality show.

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A Tale of Two Wankers

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Bush Administration, conservatism

[Update: Anyone coming here from GIYUS — please read two earlier posts here and here before you waste my time and yours commenting on this post. If you don’t (I can tell) your comments will be deleted.]

[Update update: Too many trolls; comments on this post are closed.]

On the way to the computer to blog about one wanker I found another one.

This is from Victor Davis Hanson’s latest opus

“Civilians” in Lebanon have munitions in their basements and deliberately wish to draw fire; in Israel they are in bunkers to avoid it. Israel uses precision weapons to avoid hitting them; Hezbollah sends random missiles into Israel to ensure they are struck.

I had to read that paragraph several times. Just what is Hanson saying here? He seems to be claiming that Lebanese civilians commonly volunteer to be suicide victims of Israeli attacks. I see that Hanson puts the word civilians in quotation marks, connoting irony — those so-called civilians are not really (wink, nudge) civilians. Is he claiming that the claims of civilian deaths are exaggerated? Is he saying that it’s OK to kill Lebanese civilians because they are asking for it?

I’m not sure where he gets the “munitions in the basement” story. There have been a number of reports that Hezbollah fighters uses civilian shields, mixing in with civilians to discourage attacks. There have been a number of reports that Hezbollah stores munitions in mosques, homes, and other “civilian” buildings to hide them. In one case Hezbollah took over an apartment building against the wishes of the landlord. But Hanson seems to have patched these reports together and concluded that most Lebanese civilians are sitting on stockpiles of Katyusha rockets in their living rooms. And they have painted “Hey Israeli — Bomb This!” on their roofs. I did some googling, and it appears Hanson came up with this notion by himself. And as for Israel trying to avoid civilian targets — every news story coming out of Lebanon says otherwise.

Hanson appears to be wallowing in elective ignorance; he doesn’t want to believe Israel could be doing something bad, so he filters and rearranges facts accordingly.

BTW — Mitch Prothero writes in Salon — that the claim Hezbollah hides among civilians is a myth —

Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around their targets, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths — the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far — on “terrorists” who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.

But this claim is almost always false. My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact Hezbollah fighters — as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers — avoid civilians. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators — as so many Palestinian militants have been.

For their part, the Israelis seem to think that if they keep pounding civilians, they’ll get some fighters, too. The almost nightly airstrikes on the southern suburbs of Beirut could be seen as making some sense, as the Israelis appear convinced there are command and control bunkers underneath the continually smoldering rubble. There were some civilian casualties the first few nights in places like Haret Hreik, but people quickly left the area to the Hezbollah fighters with their radios and motorbikes.

But other attacks seem gratuitous, fishing expeditions, or simply intended to punish anything and anyone even vaguely connected to Hezbollah. Lighthouses, grain elevators, milk factories, bridges in the north used by refugees, apartment buildings partially occupied by members of Hezbollah’s political wing — all have been reduced to rubble. …

… Although Israel targets apartments and offices because they are considered “Hezbollah” installations, the group has a clear policy of keeping its fighters away from civilians as much as possible. This is not for humanitarian reasons — they did, after all, take over an apartment building against the protests of the landlord, knowing full well it would be bombed — but for military ones.

“You can be a member of Hezbollah your entire life and never see a military wing fighter with a weapon,” a Lebanese military intelligence official, now retired, once told me. “They do not come out with their masks off and never operate around people if they can avoid it. They’re completely afraid of collaborators. They know this is what breaks the Palestinians — no discipline and too much showing off.”

Prothero writes that among Lebanese Shiites — about 40 percent of the population of Lebanon — many people are Hezbollah Party members and employees of Hezbollah, but most of these people are noncombatants.

Israel, however, has chosen to treat the political members of Hezbollah as if they were fighters. And by targeting the civilian wing of the group, which supplies much of the humanitarian aid and social protection for the poorest people in the south, they are targeting civilians.

And, of course, Israel is not limiting its military aggression to those parts of Lebanon where Hezbollah is concentrated, meaning it is punishing Hezbollah supporters and non-supporters alike. Not to mention children, who make up a third of the civilians killed so far. Victor Davis Hanson probably believes the children were wearing targets on their backs. Or their diapers.

But … shifting gears here … Hanson is not the wanker I was going to write about originally. If you want to meet someone with no clue whatsoever — I give you Nick Gillespie, who reviews John Dean’s new book Conservatives Without Conscience in this weekend’s New York Times.

With Ahab-like monomania, Dean discovers that every objectionable conservative Republican action — from “taking America to war in Iraq on false pretenses” to Dick Cheney’s obscene outburst at Senator Patrick Leahy to harsh right-wing criticism of the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court — reflects triumphant authoritarianism. For those of us with little or nothing good to say about the Bush administration, the Republican Party or conservatives in general, Dean’s book is ideological comfort food, providing not only tasty anecdotes about abuse of power but a rationale for dismissing political opponents out of hand. …

Here’s the punch line:

What Dean sees as dark new developments read far more like politics — and politicians — as usual.

Anyone who thinks we’re living with “politics as usual” these days is either brain dead or suffering from five-alarm elective ignorance. Maybe both.

I haven’t read Dean’s book, but Gillespie’s review suggests that Dean is basing his ideas on authoritarianism on the writings of just one guy, when in fact (according to what Dean has said on television) it is based on 50 years of research by a number of social psychologists. But Gillespie wrote this review in self-defense mode, and what’s a little intellectual dishonesty when one’s precious little worldview is threatened?

Politics as usual? Puh-LEEEZE …

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