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saturday, september 3, 2005

Accountability
 
While there are people still waiting to be rescued it may be inappropriate to look for silver linings (like Trent Lott's new, improved house). But there are some possible outcomes to the Hurricane Katrina disaster that I do hope come to pass.
 
First, I hope this puts to rest the canard that being against the Iraq war makes one "soft" on national security. The misallocation of manpower, money, and other rescources to Iraq--a country that was no threat to the United States--leaves us more vulnerable in countless ways.
 
Some television pundits argue that, inspite of Iraq, we had enough National Guard stateside to respond to the crisis. That may be. But we've seen, for example, that the Iraq war effort has siphoned away money needed for upkeep of vulnerable infrastructure.
 
Most of all, we've seen that our tough talkin', bring-'em-on President failed to direct his administration to implement serious disaster planning. Larry Johnson wrote at TPM Cafe:

The crisis response to a hurricane is the same as a response to a terrorist attack. Restoration or services, remediation, and humanitarian help are the same regardless of whether it is man made or nature made. The biggest problems in any response are always the same--chain of command (i.e., figuring out who is in charge) and communication. It is inexcusable for the Bush Administration officials to claim they had no way of anticipating this disaster or planning for it. At least they've been consistent. We now know that the failure to plan for the aftermath in Iraq was but a precursor of things to come at home.

Hopefully this debacle will inspire the Republican controlled House and Senate to get off their ass and demand the Bush Administration explain how it will respond if terrorists detonate a nuclear device in the harbor of New York City or Los Angeles.

"At a fundamental level," writes Paul Krugman, "I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures."
 
"Security" isn't about charging around the world starting wars. Sometimes national security requires war, but most of the time it requires things that are more mundane, from international diplomacy and intelligence gathering to protecting bridges and levees. Dear Leader enjoys strutting about pretending to be a "war president" and comparing himself to Franklin Roosevelt--in between vacations and exercise breaks. It's way past time Congress held him accountable for doing his job.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
"The president said an hour ago that the Gulf Coast looks like it has been obliterated by a weapon," noted Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio). "It has. Indifference is a weapon of mass destruction."
 
"Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) said in an interview he waited 90 minutes to meet with Bush in New Orleans, and was never let through. 'All the president's visit did was tie up New Orleans for a couple of hours,' he said." [link]
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
I understand that the Cindy Sheehan bus tour has taken the slogan "Bring Them Home Now." In light of Hurricane Katrina, I think a better slogan would be "Hold Bush Accountable."
 
Bush was allowed to slide for failing to respond to pre-9/11 warnings. He's been allowed to slide for getting America into a pointless war on false pretenses. Is there, finally, enough outrage in the nation that he will be held accountable for the dead in New Orleans? Politicians of both parties are outraged. Even the blow-dried brigades of television news are outraged.
 
A massive anti-war demonstration is planned for Washington DC on September 24. By then we should know how many hundreds, maybe thousands, died in New Orleans and around the Gulf. Their deaths should be protested also. I'd like to see a lot of big banners saying "Hold Bush Accountable."
 
In another post I want to talk about another desired outcome--it should be apparent that Bush is making irresponsible choices for appointment to office (e.g., Michael Brown). Republicans should stop whining that mean ol' Democrats are blocking Bush appointees. Bush can no longer be given the benefit of the doubt that his nominees are qualified for their jobs.

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2:13 pm | link

friday, september 2, 2005

Tipping?
 
President Bush just spoke from an airplane hangar in Mobile. He grinned. Everything will be fine. Michael Brown of FEMA is doing a heck of a job. Workin' hard. Day and night. And people are compassionate; yessireebob.
 
It's Friday, and people are still waiting to be rescued.
 
Jeebus.
 
The President went to Mobile to be briefed. The CNN anchor, Daryn Kagan, wondered why he couldn't have been briefed in Washington. Coming to Mobile seemed like just a political move, she said. 
 
Michael Brown is still blaming the victims because they didn't evacuate. By now it's well known many people didn't have the means to evacuate.
 
Via the Daou Report-- "China evacuated more than 790,000 people as powerful Typhoon Talim slammed into its east coast after barreling across Taiwan, where it left three dead and dozens injured."
 
The usual Kool-Aiders are frantically making excuses. And, it's a fact that there were big hurricanes before anyone ever heard of global warming. And maybe the levees would've been breached even if Bush hadn't cut funding.
 
But there are no excuses for the failure of government to respond. Kevin Drum documents how the Bush Regime screwed FEMA. Today Paul Krugman writes,
The administration has, by all accounts, treated the emergency management agency like an unwanted stepchild, leading to a mass exodus of experienced professionals.

Last year James Lee Witt, who won bipartisan praise for his leadership of the agency during the Clinton years, said at a Congressional hearing: "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared."

I'm going to repeat what I wrote yesterday: 
... what if Katrina had been a terrorist attack? As Paul Light writes in WaPo,  "If this is what happens when the nation has two days of advance warning, imagine the aftermath of a surprise attack using a chemical, biological or nuclear device."
 
We've been talking about first response preparation and organization of "Homeland Security" bureaucracy for four years. In four years, what have we accomplished other than a lot of pork-barrel spending?
Exactly what has the Department of Homeland Security been doing all this time? Sitting around with their heads up their butts, looks like.
"Why is no one in charge?" asked one frustrated evacuee at the Ernest Morial Convention Center, where thousands have waited days for help. "I find it hard to believe."

Yet, 80 miles away at the Federal Emergency Management Agency command post in Baton Rouge, FEMA Director Michael Brown told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Thursday evening that "considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well." [CNN]

Compared to what? Hiroshima?

I'm sure the full horror of this week has yet to sink in. We haven't heard the worst of it. If Congress doesn't demand accountability ...

E.J. Dionne: "When Government Is 'Good'"
 
 
 

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11:47 am | link

thursday, september 1, 2005

Whoa
 
CNN's Jack Cafferty has been tearing Bush a new one every chance he gets this afternoon. In a nutshell, Cafferty said that Bush has failed to show leadership and that the ineptness of the government's "response" to Katrina has been a disgrace.
 

He read this editorial from the Manchester Union Leader:

AS THE EXTENT of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation became clearer on Tuesday — millions without power, tens of thousands homeless, a death toll unknowable because rescue crews can’t reach some regions — President Bush carried on with his plans to speak in San Diego, as if nothing important had happened the day before.

Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.

A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.

The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, has vanished. In its place is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.

Wherever the old George W. Bush went, we sure wish we had him back.

Some of us weren't fooled by the "old" Bush, were we?

Cafferty asked viewers how they would rate the response of the federal government to Hurricane Katrina. The emails were smokin'. People are beyond pissed. One responder said she was ashamed for her country. 

House Speaker Dennis Hastert is getting flack for something he said this morning: 

Despite the haste involved in congressional action, one senior GOP leader seemed to express some ambivalence about the extent of longer-term recovery efforts.

Asked in an interview with the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago paper, whether it makes sense to spend billions rebuilding a city that lies below sea level, a reference to New Orleans, Hastert replied, ``I don't know. That doesn't make sense to me.''

He added it was a question ``that certainly we should ask. And, you know, it looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.''

Way to go, Speaker.

Updates:

FEMA directs donations to ... Pat Robertson??!!

Steve Soto: "Folks, you are going to see the collapse of the GOP in the coming weeks."

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4:25 pm | link

Do Some Good
 
Please take a moment to look at the ad over on the right-hand column and donate to Liberal Blogs for Hurricane Relief.
 
This campaign is being coordinated by Kari Chisholm. All of the proceeds will be sent to the Red Cross. Donations are being tracked by Drop Cash. Transactions are secured through Paypal. You can be certain that your contribution will be secure, for a good cause, and it people will know it came from the liberal blogosphere. Click here to donate!
 
Now, on to regular snarking.
 
The federal government so far has bungled the job of quickly helping the multitudes of hungry, thirsty and desperate victims of Hurricane Katrina, former top federal, state and local disaster chiefs said Wednesday.

The experts, including a former Bush administration disaster response manager, told Knight Ridder that the government wasn't prepared, scrimped on storm spending and shifted its attention from dealing with natural disasters to fighting the global war on terrorism.

The disaster preparedness agency at the center of the relief effort is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was enveloped by the new Department of Homeland Security with a new mission aimed at responding to the attacks of al-Qaida.

"What you're seeing is revealing weaknesses in the state, local and federal levels," said Eric Tolbert, who until February was FEMA's disaster response chief. "All three levels have been weakened. They've been weakened by diversion into terrorism."

You've got to wonder how big an idiot someone has to be to have thought that since we've got a terrorist threat we don't have to worry about hurricanes. And was this idiot among the other idiots who planned the postwar occupation of Iraq in 2003?
 
I've written before that the Bushies can't manage their way out of a paper bag. Bushies are all marketing, not management; imagery, not substance. In fact, these guys are so out of touch with the realities of management I wonder if they understand that catchy slogans and photo ops are not the same thing as actually managing.
 
And what if Katrina had been a terrorist attack? As Paul Light writes in WaPo,  "If this is what happens when the nation has two days of advance warning, imagine the aftermath of a surprise attack using a chemical, biological or nuclear device."
 
We've been talking about first response preparation and organization of "Homeland Security" bureaucracy for four years. In four years, what have we accomplished other than a lot of pork-barrel spending?
 

A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, in which the Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated levees and pumping stations. In early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S., including a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze. The Senate had debated adding funds for fixing New Orleans' levees, but it was too late.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which before the hurricane published a series on the federal funding problem, and whose presses are now underwater, reported online: "No one can say they didn't see it coming ... Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."

Note what Blumenthal says about wetlands:

The Bush administration's policy of turning over wetlands to developers almost certainly also contributed to the heightened level of the storm surge. In 1990, a federal task force began restoring lost wetlands surrounding New Orleans. Every two miles of wetland between the Crescent City and the Gulf reduces a surge by half a foot. Bush had promised "no net loss" of wetlands, a policy launched by his father's administration and bolstered by President Clinton. But he reversed his approach in 2003, unleashing the developers. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency then announced they could no longer protect wetlands unless they were somehow related to interstate commerce.

In response to this potential crisis, four leading environmental groups conducted a joint expert study, concluding in 2004 that without wetlands protection New Orleans could be devastated by an ordinary, much less a Category 4 or 5, hurricane. "There's no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection," said one of the report's authors. The chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality dismissed the study as "highly questionable," and boasted, "Everybody loves what we're doing."

For years righties considered wetlands policies to be prime examples of egregious libruhl gubmint interference with property rightes. If you know any righties, flip on CNN, grap the rightie by the scruff of the neck, then shove his face against the TV screen. Then explain that this is what happens when there's no libruhl gubmint to protect wetlands.
 
Of course, righties are outraged that Blumenthal and others are slamming Bush. This rightie blogger says of Blumenthal,
Now, the points in the article are mostly valid, but the timing is so hideous it makes me want to throw things. Sidney, you’re really going to blame our leaders for cutting funds when they never could imagine that a tragedy like this could happen? Sure, anybody can play 20/20, but hindsight doesn’t fix anything. It merely points fingers in a way that can only be seen as politically motivated.
Let's see--in 2001 the Bushies didn't respond to warnings that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike the United States because they couldn't imagine Osama bin Laden would strike in the United States, and since then they've ignored copious warnings that New Orleans was vulnerable to hurricanes because they couldn't imagine there might be hurricanes? I think we need to elect leaders with better imaginations.
 
And as far as using the tragedy to bash Bush--people need to know what's going on. If people aren't told how badly their government screwed up, how will they make informed decisions come election time? Not speaking out is enabling incompetence. It's like making excuses for your alcoholic uncle. When will there be a convenient time to face reality, pray tell?
 
But when a German minister drew a connection between Katrina and global warming, apparently the righties went on the warpath. Jeebus, people, grow up ...
 
I'm not just blaming the feds here. One wonders if the state of Mississippi had put half the energy and resources into disaster preparation that they've put into banning abortions, perhaps some lives would have been saved.
 
But the fact that the New Pravda editorialized about Bush's lack of leadership today actually gives me hope that the media will no longer be Bush's co-dependents.

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

We will, of course, endure, and the city of New Orleans must come back. But looking at the pictures on television yesterday of a place abandoned to the forces of flood, fire and looting, it was hard not to wonder exactly how that is going to come to pass. Right now, hundreds of thousands of American refugees need our national concern and care. Thousands of people still need to be rescued from imminent peril. Public health threats must be controlled in New Orleans and throughout southern Mississippi. Drivers must be given confidence that gasoline will be available, and profiteering must be brought under control at a moment when television has been showing long lines at some pumps and spot prices approaching $4 a gallon have been reported.

Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.

While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?

It would be some comfort to think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily announced, America "will be a stronger place" for enduring this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the intensity of future hurricanes. But since this administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal.

See especially comments by Attaturk.

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8:23 am | link

wednesday, august 31, 2005

What Now?
 
The scenes of devastation from the Gulf Coast defy description. This is a terrible blow to the nation. The effects of this tragedy will be felt for generations.
 
New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.
With thousands of their citizen-soldiers away fighting in Iraq, states hit hard by Hurricane Katrina scrambled to muster forces for rescue and security missions yesterday -- calling up Army bands and water-purification teams, among other units, and requesting help from distant states and the active-duty military....
 
...National Guard officials in the states acknowledged that the scale of the destruction is stretching the limits of available manpower while placing another extraordinary demand on their troops -- most of whom have already served tours in Iraq or Afghanistan or in homeland defense missions since 2001.

More than 6,000 Guard members were mobilized in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida when the storm struck on Monday, with the number rising to 8,000 yesterday and hundreds more expected to be called to active duty, National Guard officials said yesterday.

"Missing the personnel is the big thing in this particular event. We need our people," said Lt. Andy Thaggard, a spokesman for the Mississippi National Guard, which has a brigade of more than 4,000 troops in central Iraq. Louisiana also has about 3,000 Guard troops in Baghdad.

Maybe Nero really didn't fiddle while Rome burned, but Bush played guitar while Mississippi drowned. Also via Americablog, "the New York Times lead editorial levels criticism at Bush while saying now is not the time to level criticism at Bush."
 
I'm sure the righties will be outraged at criticism of Bush. They will call it "politicizing" a tragedy. This amounts to enabling Bush incompetence. And even now the White House surely is planning to use the trajedy to prop up Bush's sagging public image.
 

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11:52 am | link

tuesday, august 30, 2005

Progress in Iraq
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who heads the powerful ultra-conservative Guardian Council, told worshippers in Tehran’s Friday prayers, “Fortunately, after years of effort and expectations in Iraq, an Islamic state has come to power and the constitution has been established on the basis of Islamic precepts”.

“We must congratulate the Iraqi people and authorities for this victory”, he said. [
Iran Focus News]
There's good news for the White House, too. Sunnis in Iraq, who had been sitting out the "nation building" process, are registering to vote so they can block ratification of the constitution. Democracy is on the march!
 

So what does the president have to say for himself? It's "hard work," but "we're making good progress." To be fair, Bush acknowledged, albeit in a minimizing way, that there "have been disagreements amongst the Iraqis about this particular constitution." He acknowledged that the violence in Iraq is likely to get worse before it gets better. And he did manage to get through an eight-minute speech on Iraq without mentioning 9/11 even once. But the president didn't acknowledge that the draft constitution -- even if it passes -- will create something less than the Western-style democracy he had envisioned for Iraq, nor did he give any hint that the breakdown in the constitutional process might be a cause to reassess what is possible in Iraq and how many U.S. troops should die in pursuit of it.

But what of the future? In the Los Angeles Times, Robert Scheer writes,
Someday, as a fragmented Iraq spirals further into religious madness, terrorism and civil war, there will be a bipartisan inquiry into this blundering intrusion into another people's history. The crucial question will be why a "preemptive" American invasion — which has led to the deaths of nearly 2,000 Americans, roughly 10 times as many Iraqis, the expenditure of about $200 billion and incalculable damage to the United States' global reputation — has had exactly the opposite effect predicted by its neoconservative sponsors. No amount of crowing over a fig leaf Iraqi constitution by President Bush can hide the fact that the hand of the region's autocrats, theocrats and terrorists is stronger than ever.

"The U.S. now has to recognize that [it] overthrew Saddam Hussein to replace him with a pro-Iranian state," said regional expert Peter W. Galbraith, the former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and an advisor to the Iraqi Kurds. And, he could have added, a pro-Iranian state that will be repressive and unstable.
Ooo, kind of negative, there. Let's not forget that we got rid of Saddam! Even if the new Iraq turns into a cesspool of fundamentalist Islamic repression and anti-Americanism, at least we got rid of Saddam! And the righties say Iraq is better off without Saddam, huh?
 
More interesting stuff to read:
 
 
 

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8:09 am | link

monday, august 29, 2005

Moral Values, Moral Strength
 
I recommend this essay by Peter Daou on moral versus material strength: 

The unbridgeable divide between the left and right’s approach to Iraq and the WoT is, among other things, a disagreement over the value of moral and material strength, with the left placing a premium on the former and the right on the latter. The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent. They see the left's protestations as appeasement of a ruthless enemy. For the left (broadly speaking), America’s moral strength is of paramount importance; without it, all the brute force in the world won’t keep us safe, defeat our enemies, and preserve our role as the world’s moral leader.....

War hawks squeal about America-haters and traitors, heaping scorn on the so-called “blame America first" crowd, but they fail to comprehend that the left reserves the deepest disdain for those who squander our moral authority. The scars of a terrorist attack heal and we are sadder but stronger for having lived through it. When our moral leadership is compromised by people draped in the American flag, America is weakened. The loss of our moral compass leaves us rudderless, open to attacks on our character and our basic decency. And nothing makes our enemies prouder. They can't kill us all, but if they permanently stain our dignity, they've done irreparable harm to America.

Isn't it ironic that the "moral values" crowd cares so little about morality? The same people who lay awake at night in fear of gay marriage, stem cell research, and evolution wave away the brutality of warfare as beneath their concern.
 
Either the Right doesn't see the connection between America's moral standing in the world and our national security, or else they sincerely don't see the immorality. Alarming, either way.
 
Hard-core righties seem to think that all we need is brute strength to force our will upon the world. Fostering international cooperation through diplomacy or aid programs is "appeasement." But the moment the nations of the world decide they are better off without our friendship than with it, we will be a poorer and weaker nation, indeed.
 
Via James Walcott, here's another good essay, by Tom Watson. 

The symbols have never been more stark: no screenwriter (even those who write farces) could have sold such a script in 2000, before the national election was pickpocketed by James Baker. Too unbelievable. A blithe, play-acting President on a bicycle on the ranch, under siege from a growing camp of aggrieved Americans while the finest, middle class youth of the nation is bled white thousands of miles away in the midst of a religious civil war triggered by the United States - with no hope of victory, no hope of Jeffersonian democracy, no hope for honor. Yes, this does sound like 1968 - minus the bicycle, and with lower approval ratings and a more mainstream opposition.

Yet, of course, the toothless, political cowardice of the Democrats must not slip away into the night of history. Particularly in this Congress, lockstep support for national security in the "time of war" has given the Administration the social checkbook it needs to write the bills for this war. Far too many Democrats went along for the ride, bought too easily into the argument that everything is different after 9-11. They missed the fact that one thing didn't change, despite the panic of the President and his little yelping terriers: we still have some national character in this country, we can't be sold a bill of goods forever, we know when to hold 'em and to fold 'em.

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4:41 pm | link

Those in Peril
 
Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on our beautiful Gulf Coast. I understand the storm turned slightly overnight and will not strike directly at New Orleans, which is a great relief. But it's going to be a very hard day for many millions of people and other living creatures.
 
However--I just want to say that I really, really hate the way television news covers hurricanes. I just watched some guy in a rain slicker ramble for ten minutes about the fact that some local police precinct has called in all of his cars. And the camera lingered on a roof that hasn't blown off yet, but might. Whoop-di-do.
 
 

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8:26 am | link

sunday, august 28, 2005

Before the Parade Passes By
 
Our national non-dialogue over Iraq has devolved into one side still waiting for the victory parade, while the other side is wanting to grab the kids and the dog and the photo album and evacuate.  'Cause whatever is comin' ain't gonna be no parade
 
On the Right is Christopher Hitchens, who has written a hallucinogenic little piece for the Weekly Standard called "A War to Be Proud Of."
Before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp. Now, and not without reason, it is an international byword for Yankee imperialism and sadism. Yet the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day. How is it possible that the advocates of a post-Saddam Iraq have been placed on the defensive in
this manner?
Unarguably. Somebody give Snitch a new balloon; the helium's gone out of his old one.
 
Ms. Sheehan's protest was the catalyst for a new national argument about the war that managed to expose both the intellectual bankruptcy of its remaining supporters on the right and the utter bankruptcy of the Democrats who had rubber-stamped this misadventure in the first place.

When the war's die-hard cheerleaders attacked the Middle East policy of a mother from Vacaville, Calif., instead of defending the president's policy in Iraq, it was definitive proof that there is little cogent defense left to be made. When the Democrats offered no alternative to either Mr. Bush's policy or Ms. Sheehan's plea for an immediate withdrawal, it was proof that they have no standing in the debate.

Indeed, every time a rightie makes an issue of Cindy Sheehan instead of just answering her question--why are we at war in Iraq?--it proves Sheehan's point. 
 
Why doesn't President Bush answer the question? Hitchens has an explanation:

So deep and bitter is the split within official Washington, most especially between the Defense Department and the CIA, that any claim made by the former has been undermined by leaks from the latter. (The latter being those who maintained, with a combination of dogmatism and cowardice not seen since Lincoln had to fire General McClellan, that Saddam Hussein was both a "secular" actor and--this is the really rich bit--a rational and calculating one.)

There's no cure for that illusion, but the resulting bureaucratic chaos and unease has cornered the president into his current fallback upon platitude and hollowness. It has also induced him to give hostages to fortune. The claim that if we fight fundamentalism "over there" we won't have to confront it "over here" is not just a standing invitation for disproof by the next suicide-maniac in London or Chicago, but a coded appeal to provincial and isolationist opinion in the United States. Surely the elementary lesson of the grim anniversary that will shortly be upon us is that American civilians are as near to the front line as American soldiers.

I suppose I should have warned you to stand clear before releasing the messy effluvia of Snitch's rhetoric; sorry.  But that is, in fact, Snitch's defense of the President--that because the "Bush Administration" is actually a leaderless collection of fiefdoms working against each other, the "President" (who is somehow the innocent victim of this state of affairs) cannot stand up and provide actual leadership, but must keep his supporters in line by appealing to their ignorance. OK.   
 
Now let's skip back to Frank Rich:
Last week Mr. Bush started saying that the best way to honor the dead would be to "finish the task they gave their lives for" - a dangerous rationale that, as David Halberstam points out, was heard as early as 1963 in Vietnam, when American casualties in that fiasco were still inching toward 100.

And what exactly is our task? Mr. Bush's current definition - "as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" - could not be a better formula for quagmire. Twenty-eight months after the fall of Saddam, only "a small number" of Iraqi troops are capable of fighting without American assistance, according to the Pentagon - a figure that Joseph Biden puts at "fewer than 3,000." At this rate, our 138,000 troops will be replaced by self-sufficient locals in roughly 100 years.

Lewis Simons, a former foreign correspondent for WaPo and Knight Ridder, describes how Bush's explanations for the war are understood by Iraqis:
After President Bush recently congratulated soldiers at Fort Bragg for fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we wouldn't have to face them here at home, a Baghdad University professor told an interviewer that Bush was saying that Iraqis had to die to make Americans safe.
Christopher Hitchens explains the coming victory, thus:
The peaceniks love to ask: When and where will it all end? The answer is easy: It will end with the surrender or defeat of one of the contending parties. Should I add that I am certain which party that ought to be? Defeat is just about imaginable, though the mathematics and the algebra tell heavily against the holy warriors. Surrender to such a foe, after only four years of combat, is not even worthy of consideration.
The "mathematics and the algebra" in Snitch's head say that if we keep shootin' jihadists there will be fewer of 'em to fight. Lewis Simons explains it doesn't work that way:
What we failed to understand in Vietnam -- that people who want foreign occupiers out of their country are willing and prepared to withstand any kind of privation and risk for however long it takes -- we are failing, once again, to grasp in Iraq...
 
... Today, Muslim suicide bombers and terrorists are our Viet Cong. We can bring 'em on, smoke 'em out and hunt 'em down from now until doomsday, but the line of committed volunteers seems only to grow longer. The world -- not just the Middle East, but South and Southeast Asia, Europe and North America -- is being populated with more and more alienated and bitter young Muslims who feel that they have nothing to lose. The ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq and across the Middle East doesn't intimidate them; it just stokes their fury.
Indeed, Richard Clark wrote in his book Against All Enemies that this was bin Laden's plan all along. At least a decade before 9/11, according to Clark, Osama was hanging out in the Sudan dreaming up an Iraq scenario--
The ingredients al Qaeda dreamed of for propagating its movement were a Christian government attacking a weaker Muslim region, allowing the new terrorist group to rally jihadists from many countries to come to the aid of the religious brethren. After the success of the jihad, the Muslim region would become a radical Islamic state, a breeding ground for more terrorists, a part of the eventual network of Islamic states that would make up the great new Caliphate, or Muslim empire. [p. 136]
Snitch still thinks "that Osama bin Laden did us all a service (and holy war a great disservice) by his mad decision to assault the American homeland four years ago." Seems to me the Plan is working out just as Osama predicted, thanks to the American Right and their fearless leader, George W. Bush--surely, the best useful idiots a terrorist could have.
 
Snitch does provide a list of benefits of the Iraq War, not one of which is unarguable. My favorite is the last --
(10) The training and hardening of many thousands of American servicemen and women in a battle against the forces of nihilism and absolutism, which training and hardening will surely be of great use in future combat.
Of course, the "forces of nihlism and absolutism" are getting lots of training and hardening, too, a point Snitch overlooks. But as Frank Rich writes,
John McCain has talked about sending more troops to rectify our disastrous failure to secure the country, but he'll have to round them up himself door to door. As the retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey reported to the Senate, the National Guard is "in the stage of meltdown and in 24 months we'll be coming apart." At the Army, according to The Los Angeles Times, officials are now predicting an even worse shortfall of recruits in 2006 than in 2005. The Leo Burnett advertising agency has been handed $350 million for a recruitment campaign that avoids any mention of Iraq.
Rich describes the marketing of the war:

IN the new pitch there are no mushroom clouds. Instead we get McCarthyesque rhetoric accusing critics of being soft on the war on terrorism, which the Iraq adventure has itself undermined. Before anyone dare say Vietnam, the president, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld drag in the historian David McCullough and liken 2005 in Iraq to 1776 in America - and, by implication, the original George W. to ours. Before you know it, Ahmad Chalabi will be rehabilitated as Ben Franklin.

I wanted to bring up that last line, because on this very day, in the Washington Post, Jim Hoagland dedicated half a column to Chalabi, who is selflessly working to increase Iraq's oil production. Too funny.
 
I also want to second what Rich says about the Democrats:
If there's a moment that could stand for the Democrats' irrelevance it came on July 14, the day Americans woke up to learn of the suicide bomber in Baghdad who killed as many as 27 people, nearly all of them children gathered around American troops. In Washington that day, the presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference vowing to protect American children from the fantasy violence of video games.

The Democrats are hoping that if they do nothing, they might inherit the earth as the Bush administration goes down the tubes. Whatever the dubious merits of this Kerryesque course as a political strategy, as a moral strategy it's unpatriotic. The earth may not be worth inheriting if Iraq continues to sabotage America's ability to take on Iran and North Korea, let alone Al Qaeda.

Of course, there's little the Dems can do as long as the Bushies remain in control. But how pathetic is it that Dems can't take a stand against the war even now, when the public is turning against it decisively?
 
Soon Bush will leave Texas and head back to Washington. And soon we'll face another 9/11 anniversary. And the Bushies will be pulling out all the stops to remind us of their glory days and reconnect 9/11 and Iraq in the public mind. Bush's next speech: resolve, stay the course, freedom on the march, blah blah blah
 
But if the hype doesn't work, a whole lotta politicians in both parties may find the parade marched off without them. 

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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."

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