Castles in the Clouds

Today’s Dan Froomkin:

“I understand how some Americans have had their confidence shaken,” President Bush said yesterday in Cleveland. “Others look at the violence they see each night on their television screens, and they wonder how I can remain so optimistic about the prospects of success in Iraq. They wonder what I see that they don’t.”

Bush tried to explain. But in the end, what he provided was yet another example of what others see — and he doesn’t.

That would be reality.

People say that President Bush is a liar. I guess I implied as much in the last post. But I fear he is not lying; that he believes the stuff he spouts. Which would make him nuts.

Stupid and crazy. And POTUS. God bless America.

Eugene Robinson writes in today’s Washington Post:

This is not good. The people running this country sound convinced that reality is whatever they say it is. And if they’ve actually strayed into the realm of genuine self-delusion — if they actually believe the fantasies they’re spinning about the bloody mess they’ve made in Iraq over the past three years — then things are even worse than I thought.

‘Course perhaps they haven’t strayed into the realm of genuine self-delusion; perhaps they’ve been living there all along, and the rest of the country has been too deluded to see it. Robinson continues,

Here is reality: The Bush administration’s handpicked interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, told the BBC on Sunday, “We are losing each day an average of 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is. Iraq is in the middle of a crisis. Maybe we have not reached the point of no return yet, but we are moving towards this point. . . . We are in a terrible civil conflict now.”

Here is self-delusion: Dick Cheney went on “Face the Nation” a few hours later and said he disagreed with Allawi — who, by the way, is a tad closer to the action than the quail-hunting veep. There’s no civil war, Cheney insisted. Move along, nothing to see here, pay no attention to those suicide bombings and death-squad murders. As an aside, Cheney insisted that his earlier forays into the Twilight Zone — U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators, the insurgency is in its “last throes” — were “basically accurate and reflect reality.”

Maybe on his home planet.

I believe Dick the Dick has been delusional all along. By “delusional” I mean that he had a fixed idea, bordering on obsession, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was fixin’ to use them in America. I think he really believed that; it wasn’t just an excuse to invade Iraq and get to the oil wells. The Dick is the one who demanded that Iraq intelligence be cherry-picked to reflect only what he believed to be true. Yes, this was to get us into a war that was about other things than WMDs. But if Cheney didn’t genuinely believe that the WMD stuff was true, he would have realized that there might be hell to pay (eventually) when the WMDs weren’t found.

And Bush only cares about Bush. As long as he is being worshipped and glorified all’s well in Bubble World.

Robinson continues,

George W. Bush, who speaks as if he has ascended to an even higher plane of unreality, marked the third anniversary of the invasion Sunday by touting a “strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq.” I know that “victory” is a word that focus groups love, but did anyone else hear an echo of Richard Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam? Does anyone else remember that there was no “secret plan”?

It’s bad enough when our leaders are cynical or clueless, Robinson says,

But cynicism and cluelessness are one thing. Actually being divorced from reality is another. Do Bush et al. really see only the democratic process they have installed in Iraq and not the bitter sectarian conflict that process has been unable to quell? Do they realize that whatever happens, there’s not going to be a neat package, tied up with a bow, labeled “victory” — certainly in the 34 months (but who’s counting?) that the Bush administration has left in office?

Via Froomkin — Gail Russell Chaddock writes in the Christian Science Monitor that on Capitol Hill, “many of the war’s vigorous defenders are looking for guidance outside the Bush administration on how to move ahead.”

Exhibit A is the quiet launch of an independent, bipartisan panel to bring “fresh eyes” to the Iraq conflict. Last week, the House included $1.3 million in a defense funding bill for the panel, which will work out of the congressionally chartered US Institute for Peace here. …

… The move to develop alternatives to Bush administrative briefings signals a growing distrust on Capitol Hill for the “closed circuit between people sitting inside the Green Zone and the ‘good news’ being sent back to Washington,” says Mr. Luttwak. “Congress is discovering that the Bush administration is repeating its own propaganda – and believes what they are saying.” [Edward Luttwak is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.]

Josh Marshall describes an exchange between Bush and Helen Thomas in which Junior tries to revise history. Bush said this today:

I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That’s why I went to the Security Council; that’s why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences … and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.


Of course, that’s not what happened. We were there. We remember. It wasn’t a century ago. We got the resolution passed. Saddam called our bluff and allowed the inspectors in. President Bush pressed ahead with the invasion.

His lies are so blatant that I must constantly check myself so as not to assume that he is simply delusional or has blocked out whole chains of events from the past.

Here’s a recent editorial from the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Nearing the third anniversary of the disastrous and unnecessary decision to invade Iraq, the President was still citing stale themes during a speech last week. While acknowledging “tense” moments, he proclaimed progress is being made.

“We will not lose our nerve,” he said.

Well. This isn’t about nerve, of course — America’s armed forces have shown plenty of that, despite incompetent civilian leadership — and the public has been remarkably patient. What is at issue is whether the President’s perception of progress is real or delusional.

Hmm, I think a theme is emerging here —

… tough talk is useless if it’s hollow, and neither Congress nor the American public, for painfully obvious reasons, would follow George W. Bush into another war.

Iran, presumably, knows that as well as anyone.

Ah-HEM, yes. I ‘spect they do.

Update: See Michael Stickings, “Fantasy and Reality After Three Years in Iraq“: “Americans are being led by a cadre of the delusional.”

A Time Capsule Opened

I see that Bubble Boy was defending his war again today. He revealed that he expects troops to stay in Iraq as long as he is president. He also claimed he hadn’t wanted a war. Whereupon his nose grew several yards longer and sprouted branches.

Of course, the presidential schnoz was already formidable. Added to the recent “I didn’t say that there was a direct connection between September 11th and Saddam Hussein” by now it’s twice the length of a football field.

There are several good Iraq War commentaries on the web today that I want to link to and comment on. For now I want to look at just one, which took me back to another article written in March 2003 before the invasion — Fred Kaplan writes in Slate

A story by George Packer in the New York Times Magazine of March 2, 2003 (a couple of weeks before the war began), recounted a January meeting in the Oval Office between President Bush and three Iraqi exiles. The exiles spent much of the meeting explaining to Bush the difference between Sunnis and Shiites; they were stunned that he seemed unaware of the two groups’ existence.

This fascinated me. I found the article in the NYT archives; it’s called “Dreaming of Democracy.” In it, Packer explains the whole neocon “let’s invade Iraq and turn it into a democracy” fantasy. And he barely mentions weapons of mass destruction or homeland security or terrorism. Here’s the section from the Packer article that Kaplan talks about:

The longer you try to look at Iraq on the morning after Saddam, the more you see the truth of what many people told me: getting rid of him will be the easy part. After that, the United States will find itself caught in a series of conundrums that will require supreme finesse: to liberate without appearing to dominate, to ensure order without overstaying, to secure its interests without trampling on Iraq’s, to oversee democratization without picking winners, to push for reforms in the neighborhood without unleashing demons. It’s hard to know whether to be more worried by the State Department’s complacency or by the Pentagon civilians’ zealotry.

On the day that Saigon fell in 1975, the British writer James Fenton found a framed quotation on a wall of the looted American embassy: ”Better to let them do it imperfectly than to do it perfectly yourself, for it is their country, their way, and your time is short.” The words are from T.E. Lawrence. Vietnam remains the shadow over every American war, but never more than the one we’re poised to fight, for no war since Vietnam has professed greater ambitions: to change the political culture of a country, maybe a whole region. Ever since Woodrow Wilson worked to put democracy and self-determination on the agenda at Versailles, this strain of high-mindedness in the American character has drawn the world’s admiration and its scorn. In Graham Greene’s novel ”The Quiet American,” which was recently released as a film, the title character is a young idealist sent to Vietnam in the early 1950’s to find a democratic ”Third Force” between the French and the Communists. The book’s narrator, a jaded British journalist, remarks, ”I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.” Americans have never been very good at imperialism, or much interested in it; we’re too innocent, too impatient, too intoxicated with our own sense of selfless purpose. Several Iraqis expressed the wish that their occupiers could be the British again, who took the trouble to know them so much better, who wrote whole books on the Marsh Arabs and the flora and fauna of Kuwait. Afghanistan lost America’s attention as soon as Kandahar fell, and it remains unfinished business. As for Iraq, Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment, says, ”Our country is not remotely prepared for what this is going to take.”

If so, the fault mainly lies with President Bush. His articulation of political aims and postwar plans has been sketchy to the point of empty cliché. He has never discussed the human costs of war, nor its price. The Yale economist William D. Nordhaus estimates the military expenditure between $50 billion and $140 billion; far more daunting, his study finds, the postwar costs to the United States of occupying and rebuilding Iraq, along with the impact on oil markets and the economy, could run as high as $2 trillion. This is a calculation that no one in the administration has dared to make, at least publicly. Privately, some officials suggest that Iraqi oil will pay for it.

More than anything, the president hasn’t readied Americans psychologically to commit themselves to a project of such magnitude, nor has he made them understand why they should. He has maintained his spirit of hostility to nation-building while reversing his policy against it. Bush is a man who has never shown much curiosity about the world. When he met with Makiya and two other Iraqis in January, I was told by someone not present, the exiles spent a good portion of the time explaining to the president that there are two kinds of Arabs in Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites. The very notion of an Iraqi opposition appeared to be new to him. War has turned Bush into a foreign-policy president, but democratizing an Arab country will require a subtlety and sophistication that have been less in evidence than the resolve to fight.

This was written before the invasion, mind you. Here’s another section:

The champions of Iraqi exceptionalism include the neoconservatives in the administration — Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon; John Bolton at the State Department; Lewis Libby in the vice president’s office; Richard Perle, who is chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a panel that advises the Pentagon — and numerous scholars, columnists and activists, most of them identified with the pro-Israel American right. In recent weeks, President Bush himself has appeared to embrace the idea as a geopolitical rationale for war. The story being told goes like this:

The Arab world is hopelessly sunk in corruption and popular discontent. Misrule and a culture of victimhood have left Arabs economically stagnant and prone to seeing their problems in delusional terms. The United States has contributed to the pathology by cynically shoring up dictatorships; Sept. 11 was one result. Both the Arab world and official American attitudes toward it need to be jolted out of their rut. An invasion of Iraq would provide the necessary shock, and a democratic Iraq would become an example of change for the rest of the region. Political Islam would lose its hold on the imagination of young Arabs as they watched a more successful model rise up in their midst. The Middle East’s center of political, economic and cultural gravity would shift from the region’s theocracies and autocracies to its new, oil-rich democracy. And finally, the deadlock in which Israel and Palestine are trapped would end as Palestinians, realizing that their Arab backers were now tending their own democratic gardens, would accept compromise. By this way of thinking, the road to Damascus, Tehran, Riyadh and Jerusalem goes through Baghdad.

The idea is sometimes referred to as a new domino theory, with tyrannies collapsing on top of one another. Among the harder heads at the State Department, I was told, it is also mocked as the Everybody Move Over One theory: Israel will take the West Bank, the Palestinians will get Jordan and the members of Jordan’s Hashemite ruling family will regain the Iraqi throne once held by their relative King Faisal I.

At times this story is told in the lofty moral language of Woodrow Wilson, the language that President Bush used religiously in his State of the Union address. Others — both advocates and detractors — tell the story in more naked terms of power and resources. David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter who wrote the first two words in the phrase ”axis of evil,” argues in his new book, ”The Right Man,” ”An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein — and a replacement of the radical Baathist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States — would put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe the Romans.”

It’s an audacious idea, and part of its appeal lies in the audacity. It shoves history out of a deep hole. To the idea’s strongest backers, status-quo caution toward the sick, dangerous Middle East is contemptible, almost unbearable. ”You have to start somewhere,” says Danielle Pletka, a vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group. ”There are always a million excuses not to do something like this.” Who wouldn’t choose amputation over gangrene? If we have the will and imagination, the thinking goes, we can strike one great blow at terrorism, tyranny, underdevelopment and the region’s hardest, saddest problem.

”It’s called magical realism, Middle East-style,” says Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Exactly how, he wonders, would this chain reaction occur? Arab countries are stuck between autocratic governments and Islamist opposition, he says, and ”our invasion of Iraq isn’t going to remove those political forces. They’re going to be sitting there the next day.” The war, which is vastly unpopular in the Arab world, is far more likely to improve the fortunes of the Islamists, he says, and provoke governments to tighten their grip, than to ventilate the region with an Arab spring.

There were also Iraqi exiles — and not just Chalabi — promising the neocons that U.S. troops would be greeted with “sweets and flowers,” as well as “kites and boom boxes.” Weird. But plenty of people were making predictions about how the invasion would turn out that we can now see were spot on.

At Slate, Kaplan writes about whether the mess we’ve made of Iraq would have turned out better if other decisions had been made — if we’d sent more troops, if we hadn’t disbanded the Iraqi army — but seems to me that anyone with the knowledge and wisdom to have dealt successfully with the many postwar conundrums wouldn’t have ordered the bleeping invasion to begin with.

Three Lessons About Abortion

There’s an excellent op ed in today’s Los Angeles Times by Marianne Mollmann of Human Rights Watch. In “Abortion lessons from Latin America,” Mollman draws on the experiences of women in Latin America to compile three lessons for the bleepheads who brought about South Dakota’s abortion ban.

Lesson 1: Outlawing abortion does not stop women from having them. “What do I care if abortion is legal or illegal?” Marcela E. told me in 2004 in Argentina, where abortion generally is banned. “If I have to do it, I have to do it.” The 32-year-old mother of three had a clandestine abortion after her husband raped her.

A community organizer in Argentina told me: “You will not believe what women end up putting in their uteruses to abort.” I wish I didn’t.

I have spoken to women who used knives, knitting needles, rubber tubes, even pieces of wood to pry open their uteruses. Some got access to abortive medicines that in theory lower the possibility of direct infection but that caused serious complications when they took them without medical assistance. Affluent women suffered fewer traumatic ordeals, often traveling to the U.S. for the procedure or sneaking off to upscale private Latin America clinics where, on paper, they had surgery for appendicitis.

Banning abortion doesn’t stop abortion. Banning abortion doesn’t seem to put much of a dent in the rate of abortion. Latin America is proof. As I wrote here, worldwide there is no correlation whatsoever between abortion rate and abortion law. Some nations that ban abortion have very high rates of abortion; some nations with legal abortion have very low rates of abortion. According to this New York Times article,

Regional health officials increasingly argue that tough laws have done little to slow abortions. The rate of abortions in Latin America is 37 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, the highest outside Eastern Europe, according to United Nations figures. Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions.

By contrast, the abortion rate in the U.S. is 21.3 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The Netherlands and Belgium, with liberal abortion laws, have an abortion rate of 7 per 1,000 women of childbearing age.

Mollman continues,

Lesson 2: Providing limited exceptions to an abortion ban does little to improve access to safe abortions.

In reality very few, if any, women get such “non-punishable” abortions because there are no clear procedures. Fearing that they’d be charged with a crime, many of the women I interviewed who might have qualified for a legal abortion because they had been raped or because their health was endangered by the pregnancy did not dare to out themselves as potential abortion candidates. They went straight for the illegal and mostly unsafe back-alley abortions. A large proportion of maternal mortality in Latin America is caused directly by the consequences of such unsafe abortions.

As discussed here, would-be abortion banners have a remarkable ability to not think real hard about how their abortion bans would actually be implemented. They claim that women seeking abortion wouldn’t be punished (as if forced pregnancy and childbirths weren’t punishment). But where the banners allow for exceptions, who judges? If there’s a rape allowance, how does a woman prove she was raped? Would the rapist have to be convicted first (in which case, the “product” would be potty trained by then). Would this cause women seeking abortion to make false rape charges? If there’s a “life of the mother” exception, who stands over the physician’s shoulder to make the call? Some conditions (preeclampsia comes to mind) may be manageable, or may be fatal. It’s hard to know for certain until the woman drops dead. Different physicians may make different judgments on whether the pregnancy should be terminated. Is the government going to snoop around and second-guess doctors who perform abortions to save women’s lives?

Mollmann continues,

Lesson 3: In Latin America, as everywhere else, the best way to stop abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Women and girls act within the circumstances imposed upon them. In Latin America, where contraceptives are inaccessible and sex is stigmatized (through cultural expectations that they be virginal and uneducated about sex), unwanted pregnancies are more common; not surprisingly, there is a higher proportion of abortions to pregnancies than in, for example, the U.S. The simple fact is that women with unwanted or imposed pregnancies would have preferred not to need abortions.

Recently Priya Jain reported in Salon about a movement in the U.S. to ban birth control. Now, I don’t think the American public would put up with this, but they are putting up with allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions, so what do I know? Recently the Missouri state legislature refused to fund family planning services in public health clinics. And Jain points out that Concerned Women for America is anti-contraception. It’s becoming more and more obvious that if the abortion banners get their way with abortion, banning contraception will be their next goal.

Mollman concludes,

South Dakota’s abortion ban won’t end or even cut down on abortions among the women in that state, and it probably will have disastrous effects on their health and lives. Laws and policies on abortion and contraceptives should not punish women and girls for doing what they feel they must to live with dignity.

Well said.

See Pacific Views, especially this part —

That’s the result of public ‘morality.’ The result of public servants wanting to pray in front of the masses and be admired for their rectitude. It happens in every single country where abortion is outlawed and access to contraception is restricted. It has already happened in America as a result of parental notification laws:

Becky Bell lived with her parents, Karen and Bill, and brother in a small town near Indianapolis. Becky was a junior in high school in 1988 when she became pregnant. She sought an abortion at a women’s health clinic but learned that, under Indiana law, she first had to obtain the consent of one parent. Afraid to disappoint her parents, Becky had an illegal abortion and died from complications one week later. This is Karen Bell’s story…. The nuns and nurses at St. Vincent Hospital, where we have taken her for everything, kept asking Beck, “What have you done to yourself?” I heard the nurses say her veins had collapsed. They put oxygen on her, but Becky pulled the mask off. I leaned down and said, “Honey, tell Mom, tell me, honey.” She said, “Mom, Dad, I love you, forgive me.” And that was it. Her heart stopped. They said that her lungs had literally come apart from infection, and they hooked her up to life support.

… Bill and I decided to speak out; we thought we could prevent other girls from dying. We appeared on 60 Minutes. The anti-choice crowd came after us. They followed us. There would be crowds of people with their fetuses in a bottle, and some would say that Becky didn’t die the way we said she did. They loosened the lug nuts on our car. In Arkansas, they shot a hole in the building where we were speaking. They cared more about a fetus than about my daughter. I thought, “I’m not afraid of anybody, because my daughter is dead and you can’t hurt me anymore.”

The questions to ask when thinking about abortion restrictions come simply to these: What lower-income mother would you sentence to health problems she can’t afford? Whose daughter would you sentence to death?

BTW, when did any advocate for abortion rights shoot a hole in a building where a “lifer” was speaking?