Although he writes well for a vegetable, it's still a wonder to me that David Brooks can dress himself and sit down in a chair
and compose English sentences at all. If P.T. Barnum were still alive, he'd put Brooks on display next to the
Of course, I'm only assuming that Brooks dresses himself and sits in a chair to write his
New York Times column. Maybe somebody brings a laptop to wherever he's planted. Still, we know now that
artificial intelligence is possible, because Brooks has it.
If you don't believe me, read today's column. Brooks manages to string together 763 words into grammatically correct sentences, but there is no evidence in them of human
Brooks is deeply imprinted with The Narrative -- the storyline that present
Senator Kerry as a weak, vacillating flip-flopper and Our Hero, the President, is a strong man of character who knows his
own mind. The fact that The Narrative is an artificial contrivance of Republican political strategists is, of course,
not something a vegetable could perceive. That's why Brooks's is an artificial intelligence -- he's only as smart as his programming.
Today, Brooks wrote,
Kerry can't make a decision; Bush makes them too quickly. Kerry changes his mind
by the month; Bush almost never changes his mind. Kerry thinks obsessively about process questions, but can't seem to come
up with a core conviction; Bush is great at coming up with clear goals, but is not so great about coming up with the process
to get there.
Now, people who actually look at Kerry's record on Iraq find it to be quite consistent. (To make it simple, Ben P. outlines Kerry's Iraq record in bullet form on Daily Kos.) And people who actually look at Bush's record during his entire political career, including Iraq, find one flipflop after another (Juan Cole prefers the word zigzag). In fact, the more you look at Bush, the more he appears to be just a weed blowing in the winds of political expediency.
But it takes human critical thought to see these truths, which puts them beyond Brooks.
Brooks argues that Bush sees the Big Picture and is guided by character and principle,
but is weak on process. Kerry, on the other hand, has a grasp of process but doesn't understand principle. Brooks writes,
That's why he's been fuzzy about the big things over the entire course of his career.
That's why he has changed his mind on big issues with such astonishing rapidity. That's why he gets twisted into pretzels,
like vowing to continue fighting the Iraq war, which he says was a mistake to begin.
You'll notice that Brooks gives no evidence that Kerry has been fuzzy about
the big things over the entire course of his career. The Narrative says this, so it must be true. Right?
There's at least one big thing Kerry has seen all along, as described in this Boston Globe article about Kerry's work to expose the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s:
On this and related issues, Kerry's relentless drive "came largely from Vietnam veteran
syndrome," said former aide and investigator Jack Blum, describing the disillusionment that returning soldiers often felt
as a result of that divisive war. "You come home and discover that people who are running the war are just interested in covering
their ass; meanwhile, real people are dying real deaths. ... This was a very searing business." ...
As the Iran-contra scandal unfolded, John Kerry would find an outlet for his prosecutorial skills, his thirst for media
attention, and his still-simmering outrage over "seeing the government lie, and realizing the consequences" in Vietnam, as
he recently put it.
(Regarding the "thirst for media attention": show me a politician
who doesn't court media attention, and I'll show you one who has returned to his job in the private sector.)
In 1992, Kerry took on the "politically risky" duty of chairing a select committee investigating allegations of missing U.S. soldiers being held captive in southeast Asia.
His work on this investigation brought him into close contact with Senator John McCain, who had been suspicious of Kerry.
The two men became friends, and they worked together to normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam.
Kerry earned the "unbounded respect and admiration" of McCain, who, like
others in the Senate, originally viewed Kerry with suspicion. "You get to know people and you make decisions about them,"
says McCain. "I found him to be the genuine article."
Certainly in the course of his Senate career, Kerry has made consessions to political
expediency, but compared to Bush, Kerry is steady as a rock.
But let's go back to Brooks's comment about Kerry
"vowing to continue fighting the Iraq war, which he says was a mistake to begin." This is the sort of comment that reveals
an utter lack of critical thinking skills. Yes, it was a mistake to begin the Iraq war. But the mistake was made. We
are there. Does Brooks think Kerry can turn back time and un-do the invasion? We are there. Since we
are there, what should we do about being there? That's the question in front of whoever is inaugurated in 2005, and that's
the question Kerry addresses when he discusses his plans for Iraq.
What big picture does Bush see? Or, put another way, how big a fool do you have
to be to think you can eradicate "evil" by military force?
I don't think Bush sees pictures at all. He's not a perceptual guy. Bush has simple
sentences -- Cut taxes. Invade Iraq. The why and the how and the potential impact of these things
elude him. As circumstances change, he shifts his talking points to fit. First, we cut taxes because there's a budget
surplus. But when the surplus disappears, we cut taxes to stimulate the economy. Whatever is going on in the economy, cutting
taxes will fix it. See how that works?
Bush has used so many different excuses for invading Iraq he can't keep them straight. In the recent debate Bush was still saying that an invasion was necessary
to force Saddam Hussein to "disarm," never mind that he had no WMDs to "dis." And it was stunning to hear him tie the invasion
of Iraq to the September 11 attacks -- he disavowed that excuse several months ago, as I recall.
Brooks continues --
Bush, by contrast, is steadfast and resolute. But his weakness is statecraft. That
is the task of relating means to ends, of orchestrating the institutions of government to achieve your desired goals.
His weakness is statecraft. The keyboarding
vegetable almost stumbles onto something. What is it that presidents do? They do statecraft. They are executives
who "orchestrate the institutions of government" to carry out the will of Congress and the people and protect the Constitution.
A man who cannot do the "statecraft" thing cannot do the job a president is supposed to do.
Brooks concludes that even if Bush is not always competent (Brooks's words!),
many people sense in him a "shared cast of mind" and want to keep him in office.
In other words, Bush is still admired by idiots. And vegetables.
I'm still looking for reactions to Thursday night's debate. Remarkably, some
on the Right Blogosphere said they found it boring.
These are politics nerds, mind you. I can (sort of) understand someone not interested
in politics being bored, but we're talking about people who have spent the past three or four years or more promoting Bush
and his policies and arguing for a Bush victory in November.
History tells us that debates are often critical to the success of a campaign. These
bloggers must know that. I could understand if they said they were disappointed or even angry. I could even understand it
(sort of) if they believed Bush won the debate. If you're going to be delusional you might as well go all the way with it.
But bored? How very strange.
I googled for articles on the psychology of boredom. There are a lot of articles
about boredom in the workplace and in marriages, but I don't think that's exactly what we're dealing with here. Boredom is
also a symptom in adolescent depression -- sounds like we're getting warmer.
I found titles like "Boredom Proneness and Psychological Development" and "Cognitive
Failure and Boredom: Dimensions and Correlates," but you have to pay for a subscription to something to read these.
Someone once told me that boredom can be a kind of resistance to something.
When we don't want to be engaged by whatever's in front of us, we feel bored by it. That's me with professional
baseball. That's other people with professional opera. The fault often is not with the baseball game or the opera, but
with ourselves. For example, as a child I was a klutz at baseball and softball and really hated to be pushed
into playing it, whether by peer pressure or the gym teacher, and my resistance to it now probably took root then. It's
probable that if I started rooting for a particular team I'd get over being bored, because then I'd be engaged.
We are also bored with things that we think are over our heads. Maybe the thing isn't
really over our heads if we made an effort to "get it," but we don't want to. Sometimes if we fail at something (especially
in childhood) we build all kinds of psychological scar tissue around that thing and go through the rest of our lives not dealing
with it, which is why I don't do math. In this case, we feel boredom with something because deep down inside it makes
us anxious. That seems contradictory unless you understand boredom as a psychological barrier we put up between ourselves
and something we don't want to engage in. (My neurosis surrounding numbers is so extreme that having to do math
makes me feel bored and anxious at the same time, but I may be unusual.)
So what the bored righties were saying is that they did not want to engage
in what was going on in front of them, which was their boy getting clobbered, and they experienced this resistance to engagement
as boredom. Poor things.
Be sure to visit Talking Points Memo for the weird saga of the faux news story on the Faux News web.
Carl Cameron just plain fabricated a story full of made-up, stupid quotes attributed to John Kerry. To get the whole story,
start here and read up.
I've noticed some new Bush television ads (new to me, anyway, since I rarely see
Bush ads here in New York) on the cable news shows (which I haven't been watching much recently). They don't seem to be on
the Bush web site, possibly they are very new. They seem to be trying to answer some of the points Kerry made last night.
One claims that Kerry and "congressional liberals" voted against security funding recently and against "the
latest weapons and body armor" for the troops (I assume the latter is a reference to the $87 billion vote, but I'm not
sure). These are in serious need of fact checking, but I don't have a transcript or video. Maybe some of you know which ads
I'm talking about.
George W. Bush certainly doesn't want to be tried as a war criminal -- he
made that clear when he abandoned the World Court on the war crime issue (a decision he proudly flaunted onstage Thursday
night). Pundits around the world disapproved for this abstract reason and that, but what seems clear now is that, since Bush
already knew that he was going to invade Iraq, he wanted to cover his rear, and didn't fancy seeing himself hauled to The
Hague like Slobodan Milosevic. But he and Karl Rove seem to have taken a leaf out of Milosevic's defense manual -- don't admit
you did anything wrong (to do so would be sending "a mixed message"), blame your enemies, and be as aggressive as possible
in claiming the moral high ground. In fact, at this point, some illusionary moral high ground is the only defense Bush and
Blair have, as Blair showed when he delved into his "reasons" for invading Iraq on Tuesday. Bush, in the debate, sounded as
if he's been warned by his lawyer that to acknowledge mistakes is to lay himself open to a product liability lawsuit.
I realize this is no time to be over-confident. But I say it's no time
to be under-confident, either. Our guy did good; their guy sucked. Don't let anybody say otherwise, because "otherwise" just
Sour grapes in the Right Blogosphere: Kerry lied (about name of the KGB Headquarters in Moscow). Jim Lehrer is biased. Debates don't matter. Kerry is annoyiing. I never liked debates, anyway, and couldn't stand watching this one. Debates are boring. (Ever notice how easily righties get bored?)
Well, so much for the losers. On to real commentary:
He showed for all to see what a minor mind he goes around with. I looked
at this guy Bush last night and thought about young people dying in Iraq because of him. And there will be more and more because
he is a man sitting with a car full of people on the train tracks and he doesn't know enough to get off with the train coming.
Watch the ages of the dead night after night, day after day - 21 ... 23 ... 19 ... 25 ... Anybody responsible for getting
people this young killed is a national menace.
tonight, and especially at their convention, the Bush-Cheney campaign did a masterful job in turning John Kerry into a cartoon
character, a "French" long-winded dilettante who wouldn't be able to keep to the time limits and would change his position
every time he opened his mouth.
They may have done the guy a favor - because the John Kerry who showed up tonight
was none of those things. He spoke directly, simply, and really pointed toward the future, with a plan for Iraq. He looked
like a president. This might make the folks who only knew the caricature start to wonder whether they can believe other things
the Bush-Cheney campaign is telling them.
LADIES AND gentlemen, you wake today to a whole new presidential race. Last night, John Kerry won as clear a debate victory
as we've seen since Ronald Reagan outdueled Jimmy Carter in 1980.
The senator that Americans saw on stage was hardly the shilly-shallying caricature that George W. Bush had been lampooning
on the campaign trail. Nor was he the flatfooted candidate who fumbled his way through a disastrous August. Instead, the Democratic
challenger seemed more serious and substantive, more knowledgeable and confident, than the man who holds the job. ...
Although Bush had some moments, at too many points the president seemed reduced to repeating simple assertions that sometimes
bordered on the petulant: that a commander in chief couldn't send mixed messages, that Kerry, too, had seen Saddam as a threat
in the months before the invasion, that people had to understand that nation-building is hard work.
Contrary to all the press predictions, John Kerry easily overcame George Bush in
Thursday night's debate, taking the attack from the very beginning and never once losing control. It was a knockout—with
Bush going down almost immediately and never getting back on his feet. The president appeared confused, left to
mumble aloud on the subject of Iraq, "It's incredibly hard work."
In debating terms, Kerry controlled the floor from start
to finish with one rapid fire attack after another. Bush never was able to break through. His famous frat-boy disdain was
reduced to goofiness. Kerry made him look by turns ignorant, deceitful, churlish, and just plain out of it.
Bush tried to use his campaign's flip-flop line against
Kerry, but it went nowhere. Kerry had such a clear control of facts and argument that the charge fell almost immediately,
a spent and useless weapon.
More comments -- I'll add to this throughout the day. This is just a preliminary
This is proof that I'm a politics nerd -- I've been up for about an hour
as I keyboard, thinking about the debate last night, and I just now realized that today is my birthday. I had forgotten. (Well,
it's not like I haven't had a few birthdays before. I've gotten to the point that I need a calculator to figure out how old
I am. I was never good with big numbers.)
It'll be a couple of days before we see any real impact in the polls
(although some instant polls done last night gave Kerry a big boost). But when even the Right Blogosphere says that maybe Kerry did better than Bush, you know it wasn't even close.
The split screen really killed Bush last night. I was surprised at the split screen,
because I understand Fox News controlled the cameras. Whoever it was at Fox who ordered the split screen is probably getting
his ass handed to him this morning. [Note: I was watching on CSPAN.] None of the Media Whores could say anything about
it, of course, but it seemed to me that Bush's face far outdid his daddy's glance at his watch in the annals of presidential
Today, per Digby, the real work begins. You know that the Right Wing Noise Machine will be spinning like tops to erode Kerry's debate win.
From Liberal Oasis:
The Bushies won't take this loss lying down.
They will selectively quote Kerry and twist his words around to try to steal
(Though they didn't seem to have figured out a consistent line of attack immediately
afterwards last night.)
Kerry's got a bit of a break, because any Bush attempt to counterspin the
debate will fall into the little-read Saturday news.
Kerry wiped the floor with Bush tonight. He was firm and direct. Bush
was defensive and petulant. Bush often sounded as if he were faking answers. Well, he probably was faking answers.
I'm watching the Daily Show now for the best political commentary. And my man, General
Wesley Clark, is saying that Bush seemed annoyed and arrogant. The right-wing blogs are trying to find something to criticize
in Kerry, he says. I don't want to know what the right-wing blogs are saying. I'm saying Kerry must be very pleased right
I did a quick tour around the news shows right after the debates, and the usual whores
were stumbling around trying to say that, well, maybe Bush won on style. Oh, please ...
Update: I may attempt some real-time debate blogging at
Open Source Politics. Posts go up more quickly there than here, so if I've got something to say during the debate I'll put it up there. But I'll
be back here for post-debate blogging. (Is this two-fisted blogging, or what?)
Several readers emailed this to me, which is a detailed analysis of the Killian memos backing up my contention that the memos could have been typed on
a typewriter available in 1972. The type face does not appear to be true Times Roman, for example.
Juan Cole writes that Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawir has strongly protested US air strikes against Iraqi cities. Al-Yawir compares the U.S. bombing of Iraqi cities to the Nazi tactic of "collective punishment." The Nazis would hold entire
villages and towns responsible for any resistance activities there, and would carry out gruesome mass reprisals.
Art. 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has
not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals
against protected persons and their property are prohibited.
The use of air strikes against what the Bushies still insist is an unpopular
insurgency does seem a bit, well, indiscriminate. But knowing the Bushies, the air strikes may have been ordered to pacify
the insurgency pronto, by any means, before the November elections, if not before tonight's debate.
Others speculate that the bombings are designed to prepare the way for a U.S. ground offensive into insurgent-held areas. If this is the case, the timing suggests to me that the Bushies are planning to launch the
offensive before November, not after. Could this be the October surprise we've been waiting for? I'm sure Flight
Suit Boy would love to be able to celebrate a big military victory pretty soon.
Honorable mention:Liberal Oasis points to what might be the soft underbelly of the Bush campaign -- cockiness. They're a lot cockier than they were four
years ago. Also, be sure to read Jeanne d'Arc's post on legalized torture at Body and Soul.
Awhile back I wrote about this article in the July/August Atlantic Monthly, by James Fallows (who has done some great work this year), on Bush's and Kerry's
debate style. Kevin Drum writes about it today. Time for a review.
Bush has been a remarkably successful debater in the past. He finessed Ann Richards
articulately. His success against Gore is harder to analyze -- part Gore being overbearing, part post-debate spin. Bush
was just impressive enough to persuade nearly half the electorate to vote for him..
Can he pull it off again?
Of course he might, but I think it's going to be a lot harder for him now.
This is true in spite of the fact that if Bush manages to stand up straight and appear self-assured, no matter
what he or John Kerry say, he'll be declared the "winner."
As Fallows indicates, Bush seems to be experiencing some kind of mental
deterioration. He's gotten worse since 2000. And his fuse seems to have gotten shorter. If he loses his temper, or his focus, tomorrow night, especially while standing next to a cool, articulate Kerry, Bush's
campaign would take a serious blow.
And what's he going to talk about? His stump speech, I'm told, consists of a stand-up
act making fun of Kerry combined with happy talk about Iraq. If he tries the Kerry jokes tomorrow he'll look like an asshole
(which he is), and I'm sure Kerry is ready to pounce with the facts about the increase in violence in Iraq, plus Colin Powell's
recent glum assessment.
Still, we know that Kerry's performance will be picked apart and Bush's will be inflated
into a victory, no matter what they do. Bush will be declared the "winner" if he stays on his feet and doesn't pick his
nose on camera. When it's over, you'll be able to flip around the dial and watch Pat Buchanan declare that Kerry "didn't
lay a glove on him," while the symbiot George Will/Peggy Noonan says, "Doesn't [Bush] look presidential?"
In yesterday's column, the great Jimmy Breslin interviews students returned from a distant, alien, inscrutable place -- Ohio.
Twelve high school students from the Urban Academy in Manhattan spent a week in Guysville,
Ohio, doing election polling and living in the homes of other high school students.
It's a cute column, but also frightening. If offers a glimpse into why Bush is doing
so well among the "heartlanders."
...one of them said, and the others seemed to agree, that many like Bush better
than Kerry because he identified better with people in a working-class neighborhood.
This caused me to speak. "They
must be demented to say that. Do you know what schools he went to? Working-class neighborhood. That's Phillips Academy. Then
Yale and Harvard."
"On a legend scholarship," a girl said.
"Legacy. That means if your father went to school,
you could get in on your last name. He had more than his father. He had his grandfather. The grandfather had millions when
that counted as real money."
They said a lot of the students and their families did not watch any news on television,
and what they did watch was Fox, which gives the news with a foaming mouth, and maybe Good Morning America in the morning.
The paper seemed to be the Athens News that comes out twice a week. Because of this, the worst rumors have spectacular chances
of success in the area. "I told them that it was ridiculous to connect Saddam Hussein with the World Trade Center," one of
the students said.
Maybe the Democrats should hire Ross Perot to explain to the "heartlanders"
that Osama and Saddam are two different guys who never got along with each other, much less worked together. "See, people,
it's just this simple ..."
The Manhattan students brought up gun love early in the interview. They must have
found Midwestern gun culture astonishing. Manhattanites as a rule don't rely on guns for protection, unless they own liquor
stores in bad neighborhoods.
But years ago I lived in a suburb of Cincinnati, and I remember that usually whenever
a squirrel set off somebody's home security alarm the menfolk of the neighborhood would come running out of their homes waving
handguns, ready to shoot some fleeing perpetrator.
I remember this vividly because my infant daughter's room was in a corner of the house
nearest the street and also nearest the home of one of the more rabid gun-waving neighbors. A few times I scooped her out
of her crib and brought her into the middle of the house to keep her safer from stray bullets. Fortunately the posse never
actually shot at anybody.
In NYC neighborhoods with high drug traffic it sometimes happens that a gunfight breaks
out, and stray bullets kill an innocent child. This does not inspire New Yorkers to go out and buy their own guns to protect
themselves. On the contrary, New Yorkers generally don't approve of people carrying guns for protection.
After living here awhile, I came to understand why. New Yorkers habitually seek safety
in numbers. If you keep to areas where there are lots of other people, you are generally safer than if you are somewhere isolated.
New Yorkers prefer subway cars and elevators with at least a couple of other people inside, even if the other people are strangers.
They stay in well-lit, high-traffic areas.
In short, they insulate themselveds from harm with lots of nearby human flesh. Thick
crowds of strangers that an Ohioan would find suffocating are comforting to a New Yorker. The thought that somebody in
the flesh shield might whip out a gun and start shooting that flesh is more frightening to New Yorkers than the burglaries
that worried my neighbors in Ohio.
I'm not personally opposed to gun ownership. If I lived in an isolated cabin in
Montana I'd probably keep a loaded shutgun on the wall, too. But in densely populated areas, guns may not be the self-defense
tool of choice. This is a point many "heartlanders" cannot grasp.
A U.S. Congressman from Indiana, Mark Souder, is pushing a bill to end gun controls
in Washington, D.C. Harold Meyerson writes in today's Washington Post:
Souder's bill legalizes ownership of semiautomatic weapons and armor-piercing
ammunition. How this would increase security around the White House and the Capitol is something that Souder and Co. have
neglected to explain, but no matter. The House Republican leadership knows the bill won't pass the Senate. The only reason
it was even introduced was to force House Democrats -- a number of whom represent gun-loving districts -- to vote on this
Gun control may be one of the purest Metro-Retro issues. Gun
control is favored by Metros, who live in dense population areas, but not by Retros, who like to keep strangers at a distance.
Retros live in terror that crazy elitist lefties will take their guns away and leave them vulnerable and unprotected from
grizzlies or strangers or whatever.
But Retros might want to stop attacking gun control laws in places where people actually want gun control laws, which is what they're
doing when they use gun control as a national wedge issue. Gun control only works as a Retro wedge issue because it's a "litmus
test" issue for them, but not for Metros. Manhattanites don't stay awake at night worrying about Ohioans with semiautomatic
weapons, so long as the weapons stay in Ohio.
But if the Metros ever get fired up on the gun control
issue ... bye bye, Uzis.
Note: New York City has a much lower violent crime rate than most other large cities in the U.S.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to repeal virtually all of the
District's gun laws, urged by gun rights groups to deliver a victory before the November election over the vehement objections
of Washington leaders who denounced what they called a historic violation of home rule.
Voting 250-171, the House approved the D.C Personal Protection Act, which
would end the District's ban on handguns and semi-automatic weapons, roll back registration requirements for ammunition and
other firearms and decriminalize possession of unregistered weapons and carrying a gun in one's home or workplace. The bill
also would prohibit the District's elected mayor and council from passing gun limits that exceed federal law or "discourage
. . . the private ownership or use of firearms."
The mighty federal government strong-arming local authority
... it's what made America great, huh?
If people want you to blog about other things than Dan Rather, what about
Sandy Berger removing files from the National Archives? Is he still connected with the Kerry Campaign? Why doesn't Kerry have
Berger take "administrative leave" while those accusations are sorted out? Why doesn't MSM care about this? Is the MSM explanation
another example of "fraudulent but true"?
They do seem to have let that one drop.
Berger was cleared by the 9/11 Commission in August, a fact somewhat underreported by the evil "liberal" media. Apparently there are no
more "accusations" to "sort out." (No Democrat is ever exonerated, of course. Most righties remain certain Bill Clinton
was guilty of something in the Whitewater scam.)
David Neiwert at Orcinus has embarked on a six-part series called "The
Rise of Pseudo Fascism" that is well worth reading. Here are links to the first two parts (note that David's permalinks are
a little iffy; you might have to scroll around the page a bit).
The terminally cluelessDavid Brooks argues with some straw man in his own head that democracy is good.
I mention this case study because we are approaching election day in Afghanistan on Oct. 9. Six days later, voter registration
begins in Iraq. Conditions in both places will be tense and chaotic. And in Washington, a mood of bogus tough-mindedness has
swept the political class. As William Raspberry wrote yesterday in The Washington Post, "the new consensus seems to be that
bringing American-style democracy to Iraq is no longer an achievable goal." We should just settle for what John Kerry calls "stability." We should be satisfied if some strongman comes in who can restore order.
The people who make this argument pat themselves on the back for being hard-headed,
but the fact is they are naïve. They've got things exactly backward. The reason we should work for full democracy in Iraq
and Afghanistan is not just because it's noble, but because it's practical. It is easier to defeat an insurgency and restore
order with elections than without.
Brooks argues that a democratically elected, popularly supported
government would bring more stability to Iraq in the long run than an unpopular dictator.
Next week, Brooks will discover that snow mostly falls in winter and that soup
won't burn your tongue if you let it cool off first.
But instead of sniping at Kerry, Brooks should explain democracy to his
buddies the Bushies, because they're the ones undermining real democracy in Iraq. For example, Time magazine reports
that the Bushies had planned to use the CIA to support favored candidates in the allegedly upcoming Iraqi elections.
... this sort of behavior by the Bush administration fatally undermines
the ideal of democracy in the Middle East. If Muslims think that "democracy" is a stalking horse for CIA control of their
country, then they will flee the system and prefer independent-minded strongmen that denounce the US. The constitutional monarchies
established in the Middle East by the British were similarly undermined in the popular imagination by the impression they
gave of being mere British puppets. This was true of the Wafd Party in Egypt in the 1940s and early 1950s, which the Free
Officers overthrew in 1952 in the name of national indepencence. It was also true in Iraq, where in 1958 popular mobs dragged
the corpse of the pro-British Prime Minister Nuri al-Said through the streets and finished off the British-installed monarchy.
Brooks quotes William Raspberry talking about "American-style democracy."
Whatever the arguments of Iraq war hawks and warbloggers, the subtext is nearly always "Iraqis should be more like us."
Surely, the neocons from the Project for a New American Century assumed that once Saddam Hussein was removed, the
ideals of Locke and Jefferson would bloom in Iraq overnight.
But the neocons forget the Jeffersonian principle that governments derive their
powers from the consent of the governed. All along the Bushies have treated Iraqis as either children or savages
who can't be expected to want what's good for them. Rummy and his Pentagon team tried to hand Iraq over
to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, for example. And much of the violence in Iraq today resulted from the bungling of interim
governor Paul Bremer.
Among other things, the neocons don't seem to have considered that, if given
a choice, a majority of Iraqis might choose an Islamic government. If that's the case, seems to me no secular government will
ever be legitimate to Iraqis.
Juan Cole explains much better than I can how U.S. meddling has already poisoned whatever chance the January elections might have had to produce
a popular government. "Bush just wanted to buy himself an election, in the Bush tradition," he writes.
But David Brooks thinks that Bush policies favor democracy. Hoo boy, that's
a good 'un. The Bushies don't like democracy in America; why would they want it for Iraq?
President John F. Kennedy toured Europe in June, 1963. I remember watching black-and-white
television broadcasts of the touring President surrounded by ecstatic, cheering crowds. I was 12 years old, and awestruck,
and I was certain that everyone in the world loved Americans. Well, maybe not the dour, fat men in charge of the bleak lands
behind the Iron Curtain, but surely everyone else did.
Before Iraq, America's formidable appeal
continued largely unabated. I never saw it embraced more ardently, poignantly, than on Sept. 12, 2001. I happened to be in
Vienna, where from my hotel window I watched the entire city cry a collective tear for the America it was still crazy about.
At the stroke of noon, all traffic froze. Nothing moved except long, black mourning banners unfurling from every government
building as well as from many private houses. And the "Pummerin," the great bell of St. Stephen's Cathedral — a bell of ancient
tradition that is so huge its swinging stresses the 15th century tower and is therefore rung just once a year, during midnight
Mass on Christmas Eve — tolled a special requiem. Unforgettable, those plangent, plaintive peals echoed across a thousand
That day Vienna — along with much of Europe — trembled for the hope breathed by the word "America." An elastic,
robust hope, lasting through war and peace, through irritations and disappointments.
But that was before Iraq. Now, Morton writes, America is viewed as a global bully.
To Europeans of nearly every stripe, the statue in New York harbor brandishes not
a torch but a tommy gun. Lady Liberty has transmogrified into an ominous colossus. Here is the ultimate Godfather, enforcing
with missile and aircraft carrier a protection racket on all seven seas. Here is an America shrugging armored shoulders at
the ozone hole, at collateral damage, at its own poor, an America practicing domination in the name of freedom. Here is the
land of milk and honey turned into the fortress of bottom line and bomb.
Bush supporters dismiss world opinion. saying Europeans don't like us, anyway. But
Bush is the first American President in my memory who has to hide from the public when he goes abroad.
On The Blogging of the President, Jessie writes that Europeans are struggling to understand what's happening in American politics. Like marine biologists studying dolphins, Europeans stuedy us for clues that might
explain our behavior.
The European press is grasping at what would normally be considered minutae. Why?
Because they are at a loss to understand how America as a nation could even possibly be able to contemplate giving Mr. Bush
a small minority of the vote, let alone a winning ticket. And, at a loss, they look to the process to explain things. “What,”
they seem to really be asking, “is deluding Americans into this insanity?” It is an understandable question for people to
whom WWII exists in living memory.
Jessie has some good points on the different ways Europeans and Americans view power
and authority. "Bush taps into a language of sheer power," Jessie writes, "that 'going it alone'-if-we-have-to sense
that plays to Americans’ sense of independence, freedom, and self-reliance—or, to put it bluntly, our sense of our selves,
especially as opposed to the European culture we left behind."
I'm afraid he's right, and I'm afraid that's going to be the end of us as the mother
of all superpowers. What goes up must come down. We are cruisin' for a bruisin'.
I've got a history book here that says more than 1 million people gathered
in Berlin to hear, and cheer, Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. If a million Germans gathered to see Bush, it
wouldn't be to cheer.
This claim is based on the testimony of Colonel Ed Morrisey, who remembers
that Bush "enquired" about serving in Vietnam, but was told he wasn't eligible because, at the time, he lacked enough flying
Maybe that happened. Maybe it didn't. All we know for sure is that on
his application for extended active duty with the U.S. Air Force, Bush checked a box next to an "Do Not Volunteer For Overseas."
Jonathan Alter writes in Newsweek that the Bush Administration
has no plans for a draft. "He
knows that a draft would vaporize any remaining support for his Iraq policy," Alter writes. "This would be of concern
to him even as a second-term, lame-duck president. One thing we've learned about Bush is that he has never taken a position
that he knew beforehand would be politically unpopular, including invading Iraq."
One thing we know about Bush is that he's all
about winning elections. The governing thing is just a prop. And if he wins in November, why would he care what
And another thing we know about Bush is that he's not being honest
about Iraq. His statements on Iraq are hallucinatory.
But I suspect Alter is right. Bush has no plans for a draft. Of
course, he didn't plan for escalating violence in Iraq, either. He didn't plan for the car bombs that injured soldiers near Fallujah today, for example.
We can't be sure what Bush is planning, or even if Bush
is planning. There is speculation that he plans a major offensive at the end of the year to pacify the insurgents. Bob Novak
says there are plans to cut and run after the January elections. Whatever. Clearly, Iraq is spinning out of his control.
So there's no point asking if Bush has plans for a draft. The question
is, what if he realizes he needs soldiers to actually defend America, and there aren't enough to go around?
...administration hawks are pinning their hopes on regime change
in Tehran—by covert means, preferably, but by force of arms if necessary. Papers on the idea have circulated inside the administration,
mostly labeled "draft" or "working draft" to evade congressional subpoena powers and the Freedom of Information Act. Informed
sources say the memos echo the administration's abortive Iraq strategy: oust the existing regime, swiftly install a pro-U.S.
government in its place (extracting the new regime's promise to renounce any nuclear ambitions) and get out.
And, if not Iran, there's always Syria. And Africa. And we might have to
re-take Afghanistan. Meanwhile, North Korea is arming up, and the nutcase in charge there could lob a missile or worse into Japan or Alaska or Oregon any time now.
It may be that the Bush Regime has no plans to re-instate the draft. But
they don't seem to plan well, do they? Our military resources are being chewed up in Iraq. Meanwhile, our entire policy toward
North Korea seems to be getting Condi Rice to fake being in control.
Every military expert agrees that the Army is already
badly overstretched (the Air Force and Navy are fine). The National Guard and Reserves are in trouble. Guard recruitment is
down 12 percent, and Reservists as old as their late 40s are being mobilized. Some heavy-duty arm-twisting is underway. According
to the Rocky Mountain News, soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., for instance, have been told that if they don't re-up to 2007
they will be shipped out pronto for Iraq.
James Fallows says pretty much the same thing
in "Bush's Lost Year" in the current Atlantic Monthly:
We really have four armies," an Army officer involved
in Pentagon planning for the Iraq War told me. "There's the one that's deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's the one that's
left back home in Fort Hood and other places. There's the 'modular Army,' of new brigade-sized units that are supposed to
be rotated in and out of locations easily. There's the Guard and Reserve. And every one of them is being chewed up by the
ops tempo." "Ops tempo" means the pace of operations, and when it is too high, equipment and supplies are being used faster
than they can be replaced, troops are being deployed far longer than they expected, and training is being pared back further
than it should. "We're really in dire straits with resourcing," he said. "There's not enough armor for Humvees. There's not
enough fifty-caliber machine guns for the Hundred and First Airborne or the Tenth Mountain Division. A country that can't
field heavy machine guns for its army—there's something wrong with the way we're doing business."
"The stress of war has hit all the services, but none harder than the Army,"
Sydney Freedberg wrote recently in National Journal. "The crucial shortfall is not in money or machines, but in manpower."
More than a third of the Army's 500,000 active-duty soldiers are in Iraq or Kuwait. Freedberg referred to a study showing
that fifteen of the Army's thirty-four active-duty combat units were currently deployed overseas, and wrote, "That means that
nearly as many units are abroad as at home, when historical experience shows that a long-term commitment, as with the British
in Northern Ireland, requires three or four units recuperating and training for each one deployed." In the long run the U.S.
military needs either more people or fewer responsibilities. At the moment, because of Iraq, it has very little slack for
dealing with other emergencies that might arise.
Thanks to Iraq, if a war flares up anywhere else in the world
in the near future that requires our attendance -- hello, selective service.
There are emails going around warning of pending bills meant to re-instate
the draft. My understanding is that these bills have no chance of passage now. But given that our military is being
run by people who can't walk and eat pretzels at the same time, who knows about tomorrow?
The threshold question before the election is this: which candidate
is more likely to have so few international friends amid a crisis that he would have to move beyond the all-volunteer force?
This question takes the seemingly arcane issue of burden-sharing and brings it home to the American heartland. If we need,
God forbid, to occupy another country that truly threatens the United States, we will either do it with the help of our allies
or with the conscription of our kids.
Young people and their parents need to think about this question
The article contains some info and anecdotes that were new to me, and it's nice to
see some attention paid to the liberal side of the blogosphere. Still, there is a lot about it that I find annoying.
Well, OK, there is one big thing about it that I find annoying. And that is Wonkette.
I have nothing against Wonkette, aka Ana Marie Cox. I read her every now and then.
I understand that she can be amusing. But she is not representative of women political bloggers, or political bloggers
in general, and in the Times article she emerges as the Official Token Woman of the blogosphere.
How is it that blogging is so pre-Betty Friedan? Klam wrote about Josh Marshall's
Ph.D.; he wrote about Cox's "peachy cream skin." The article makes it clear that the serious blogging is
all done by The Guys.
You can read Kos's reaction to the article here. Steve Gilliard raises some issues here. I heartily second Barry Ritholtz's comments on BOP News. Stirling Newberry, who is mentioned in the article, adds some background here.
Update: Via Elayne of Pen-Elayne on the Web, who makes some good points, Jesse at Pendagon provides a mega-view of blogs and journalism -- both highly recommended.
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the
president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is
morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918
The War Prayer
I come from the Throne -- bearing
a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be
your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like
unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.
"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has
he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of
Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....
"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered
part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you
in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these
words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into
those pregnant words.
"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also
the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our
hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved
firesides to smite the foe.
"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody
shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown
the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their
little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the
sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of
the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter
pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded
feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset,
& seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor
& glory now & ever, Amen."
(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire
it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."
· · · · · ·
It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic,
because there was no sense in what he said.