House GOP Down the Cyber Rabbit Hole

So the House passed a new “cyber security” bill called the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation would give employers and the government pretty much unlimited access to your personal cyber stuff without your knowing about it. ZDNet calls it “more heinous than SOPA.”

Techdirt says,

The government would be able to search information it collects under CISPA for the purposes of investigating American citizens with complete immunity from all privacy protections as long as they can claim someone committed a “cybersecurity crime”. Basically it says the 4th Amendment does not apply online, at all

Naturally, this thing was rammed through the House mostly by the Republicans. You know, those same people who are eternally screaming about the evils of Big Gubmint and how trying to get more Americans covered by health insurance is an assault on our Freedoms.

To be fair, 42 Democrats joined 206 Republicans in voting “yes,” and 28 Republicans joined the Dems in voting “no,” which in the minds of many progressives is proof that one party is just as bad as the other.

Now, here’s the really rich part: President Obama is threatening to veto this monster, and House Speaker Orange Julius Boehner claimed that this means President Obama wants to “control the Internet.” Seriously.

All together now: Freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength. What today’s GOP is all about.

The White House said,

“CISPA would trample the privacy and consumer rights of our citizens while leaving our critical infrastructure vulnerable.”

Sounds like the perfect Republican bill.

How this will fly in the Senate I do not know. The Senate bill is being co-authored by Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, which does not reassure me.

Happy Talk

Back in October 2002, Condi Rice was certain she knew how to keep North Korea in line.

North Korea’s collapsed economy gives the United States and its allies the diplomatic leverage to convince the communist regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Rice said.

“North Korea has been signaling and saying that it wants to break out of its economic isolation,” Rice told CNN’s “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer.” “It has to break out of its economic isolation.

“This is a regime that in terms of its economic condition is going down for the third time. Its people are starving.”

But Rice said, “It’s not going to break out of that isolation while it’s brandishing a nuclear weapon.”

U.S. officials have launched a “full-court press of consultations” with other countries in the region to convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to give up the nuclear weapons effort, Rice said.

The North Korean disclosure comes as the Bush administration faces a possible military confrontation with Iraq over its efforts to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he considered North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and missile capability a bigger threat to the United States than Iraq.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged the White House to rethink its priorities.

But Rice said Iraq’s history shows the Baghdad regime is harder to contain than North Korea.

“These are not comparable situations,” she said. “They’re dangerous, both of them dangerous. But we believe that we have different methods that will work in North Korea that clearly have not and will not work in Iraq.”

Now it’s October 2006. North Korea claims it is about to test a nuclear bomb. This morning South Korean soldiers fired warning shots at North Korean troops that had crossed the border, and Pyongyang threatens “catastrophe.”

Where is Secretary of State Rice today, btw? She’s off the radar at the moment. She may be in hiding after her recent trip to Iraq. From an editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times:

AFTER CIRCLING THE BAGHDAD airport for 40 minutes because of mortar and rocket fire, traveling by helicopter to the Green Zone to avoid the deadly bomb-strewn highway into the city and holding a meeting with President Jalal Talabani in darkness because the power was suddenly cut off, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a news conference Thursday to talk about all the progress being made in Iraq.

Latest news from Iraq, courtesy of the Washington Post:

The number of U.S troops wounded in Iraq has surged to its highest monthly level in nearly two years as American GIs fight block-by-block in Baghdad to try to check a spiral of sectarian violence that U.S. commanders warn could lead to civil war.

Last month, 776 U.S. troops were wounded in action in Iraq, the highest number since the military assault to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah in November 2004, according to Defense Department data. It was the fourth-highest monthly total since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Nicholas Kristof suggests we should listen to the Iraqis.

Iraqis are crystal clear about what the U.S. should do: announce a timetable for withdrawal of our troops within one year. They’re right. Our failure to declare a timetable and, above all, our coveting long-term military bases in Iraq feed the insurgency and end up killing more young Americans.

A terrifying new poll conducted last month found that 61 percent of Iraqis now approve of attacks on Americans. That figure, up from 47 percent in January, makes counter-insurgency efforts almost impossible, because ordinary people now cheer, shelter and protect those who lay down bombs to kill Americans. The big change is that while Iraqi Sunnis were always in favor of blowing up Americans, members of the Shiite majority are now 50 percent more likely to support violent attacks against Americans than they were in January.

The poll, by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, also found that 78 percent of Iraqis now believe that the American military presence is “provoking more conflict than it is preventing.”

Fareed Zakaria says it IS civil war

Over the past three years the violence has spread and is now franchised down to neighborhoods with local gangs in control. In many areas, local militias are not even controlled by their supposed political masters in Baghdad. In this kind of decentralized street fighting, 10,000 or 20,000 more troops in Baghdad will not have more than a temporary effect. Nor will new American policies help. The reason that the Democrats seem to lack good, concrete suggestions on Iraq is that the Bush administration has actually been pursuing more- sensible policies for more than a year now, trying vainly to reverse many of its errors. But what might well have worked in 2003 is too little, too late in 2006.

Iraq is now in a civil war. Thirty thousand Iraqis have died there in the past three years, more than in many other conflicts widely recognized as civil wars. The number of internal refugees, mostly Sunni victims of ethnic cleansing, has exploded over the past few months, and now exceeds a quarter of a million people. (The Iraqi government says 240,000, but this doesn’t include Iraqis who have fled abroad or who may not have registered their move with the government.) The number of attacks on Shiite mosques increases every week: there have been 69 such attacks since February, compared with 80 in the previous two and a half years. And the war is being fought on gruesome new fronts. CBS News’s Lara Logan has filed astonishing reports on the Health Ministry, which is run by supporters of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. According to Logan, hospitals in Baghdad and Karbala are systematically killing Sunni patients and then dumping their bodies in mass graves.

If I were Condi Rice I’d be off the radar, too. I don’t believe she’s scheduled for the talk shows today; we’ll see.

I want to go back to Korea for a moment. Rightie mythos says that it’s Bill Clinton’s fault that North Korea has nukes. I explained here why this is nonsense; it was Bush who screwed up, not Clinton. See also “Rolling Blunder” by Fred Kaplan and the Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes page from The Mahablog archives. I’m not going to re-explain all that this morning, except to say that the series of Bushie blunders that led to North Korea resuming plutonium processing was partly a reaction to diplomatic talks between Japan and North Korea. And why was that a problem? Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had gone to North Korea to work out a long-range missile agreement without consulting the United States first.

Well, today it appears that Japan and China have stepped into the foreign policy vacuum created by the implosion of U.S. global influence. (And is it significant that Shinzo Abe, Japan’s brand-new Prime Minister, made China his first official overseas destination? China and Japan haven’t had bilateral talks for years.) This seems to me a pretty clear indicator of how much our standing in the world has fallen.

And if you want to hear more about the progress we’re making in Iraq, read Peter Beaumont in today’s Observer: “Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq’s women.”

All together now — we’re doin’ a heck of a job.

See also: Michael Hirsh, “Ike Was Right.”

The Condi and Dennis Show

My sentiments exactly:

It’s a tossup in my mind as to whether it serves one’s interest in greater measure to be incompetent, dishonest, purposely ignorant, ideologically and/or religiously obsessed, cavalier about the loss of human lives and the destruction of tens and hundreds of thousands of families, fiscally promiscuous, or sexually promiscuous with innocent 16-year-olds, and hence, quite possibly guilty of statutory rape, to rise in the modern Republican Party. This sex scandal is a pretty good example of a Big Story to which I have absolutely nothing of use to contribute, though I did receive this kinda funny list in the mail this morning.

What is currently driving me the craziest, however, are the variations on this story. The upshot is this. Tenet briefed Condi Rice about a potentially catastrophic terrorist attack on the United States on July 10, 2001. Rice ignored the briefing, just as she and Bush both ignored the August 6 “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo, when Bush told the CIA briefer who delivered the memo to him that he had “covered his ass” and then went fishing for the rest of the day. Rice not only ignored the briefing, but also misled the 9-11 Commission and then lied when confronted with the evidence by Bob Woodward. Add her name to the long list of Bush administration officials who will leave office with the blood of thousands of innocents on her hands, and who was promoted by Bush for exactly that reason. Greg Mitchell has more here. Of course Rice should be fired, and perhaps tried, but instead she will be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Bush will run another campaign on how Democrats cannot be trusted to protect you from the terrorists he’s created.

Be sure to read Eric Alterman’s whole column.

Judging by Memeorandum, at the moment national security issues are being outblogged by the Foley scandal by a wide margin.

I think this could a mistake. I also wonder if someone in the White House (initials K.R.) had a hand in tipping off the press about Foley. Yeah, I know, it’s a stretch, and I’m paranoid. But from the Rove perspective, throwing some congressmen under the bus with a sex scandal might be better than having the nation’s attention on the Bush Administration’s flaming national security incompetence.

Although I also disagree with John Dickerson — Foley’s homosexuality is not the issue. And, at this point, Foley’s behavior is no longer a political issue, since he is no longer a congressman, and out-of-control sexual predation is not an exclusively Republican problem. The issue is whether other Republican congressman tolerated having a sexual predator in their midst. The issue is whether they knew about his behavior and looked the other way, even covered up for him. That cannot be tolerated.

And don’t miss Glenn Greenwald:

In need of moral absolution and support from a respected and admired figure who possesses moral authority among Hastert’s morally upstanding Republican base, to whom does Hastert turn? A priest or respected reverend? An older wise political statesman with a reputation for integrity and dignity? No, there is only one person with sufficient moral credibility among the increasingly uncomfortable moralistic Republican base who can give Hastert the blessing he needs:

Rush Limbaugh.

Too rich.

There’s a social-psychological phenomenon, I read somewhere, in which people who talk a lot about morality are perceived as being moral, even if their behavior says otherwise. Conversely, people who don’t talk much about morality are not perceived as being particularly moral, even if they’re as upright as the Washington Monument. I suspect the same phenomenon applies to people who talk tough.

Bottom line: the Republicans’ reputation as the guardians of moral values and the Republicans’ reputation as the guardians of national security are both so much fluff. All talk, no walk.

And, the more I think about it, the more I believe the Dennis Hastert story and the Condi Rice story are essentially the same story. It’s the story of people who, for whatever reason, were just plain not doing what they should have been doing, either to protect the congressional pages or the nation.

The difference is that, somehow, the Bush Administration managed to hide their failure and incompetence behind a facade of strength and resolve and toughness. And the very people whose foreign policy judgments have proved to be wrong, time and time again, continue to get away with painting their opposition as incompetent and untrustworthy.

The question of why these people failed interests me less than the question of how we change public perception. We can argue endlessly about whether the Bushies failed to act on the pre-9/11 warnings because they were incompetent (my choice) or whether they made a cold calculation that some domestic terrorism would work to their political advantage, or for some other reason we have yet to uncover. And I have no way to know if Dennis Hastert failed to separate Mark Foley from the pages because he didn’t care, or because he was more focused on keeping Congress in Republican hands, or out of the psychological fog that all too often causes people not to notice sexual predation.

What matters is that the Bush Administration has a history of really bad judgments on national security and foreign policy and do not deserve the nation’s trust to guard the nation. What matters is that Republicans are not uniquely virtuous and do not deserve the nation’s trust to guard moral values. (As if guarding moral values were the government’s job, anyway; I say it isn’t.)

Yesterday’s Countdown had a brilliant clip of rightie talking points on Foley (at Crooks & Liars, natch). They’re falling back on their traditional argument — The Dems did it too. The hard-core Right will buy this, of course, but I can only hope the bulk of American voters, looking on, see how truly pathetic this is.

But the most fundamental issue here is the misperception, the myth, of Bush Administration competence and Republican virtue. Are scales truly falling from eyes, or are we liberals still just talking to ourselves?

Moment of Truth?

[Big update below.]

I’d hate to be George Tenet or Cofer Black right now. I’m betting the full weight of the White House is bearing down on them now to watch what they say.

At issue is the truth about the meeting of July 10, 2001, in which (Bob Woodward says) Condi Rice brushed off warnings of an imminent terrorist attack in the U.S.

Just now on Countdown, Roger Cressey told Keith Olbermann that he had seen the same Tenet-Black presentation that was shown to Condi Rice on July 10, and Cressey confirmed that the presentation was mostly an explicit warning that al Qaeda was about to carry out a major terrorist attack in the U.S. In 2001 Cressey was the National Security Council staff director.

[Update: Here’s the transcript from Monday’s show. Just a snip:

OLBERMANN: My first question, you‘re now consulting within a firm with Richard Clarke, who was at that meeting on July 10, on the central question of whether Rice was warned then of an attack on the U.S. Do we know who‘s right here, Woodward or Secretary Rice?

CRESSEY: Yes, she was warned. I mean, there was a meeting. It was George Tenet, Dick Clarke, another individual from the agency, Cofer Black, and Steve Hadley. And what it was, Keith, was a briefing for Dr. Rice that was similar to a briefing the CIA gave to us in the situation room about a week before, laying out the information, the intelligence, laying out the sense of urgency. And it was pretty much given to Dr. Rice and Steve Hadley in pretty stark terms.

Cressey also said the transcript of the July 10 meeting are part of the 9/11 Commission collection in the National Archives. If so, could someone dig it out so we can all have a look at it? Or is access restricted?]

Dan Froomkin:

If the omniscient narrator of Woodward’s book is to be believed, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice waved off warnings that should by any reasonable standard have put the government on high alert for an al-Qaeda attack.

And in what looks like a potential administration cover-up, Rice and the other participants in that meeting apparently never mentioned it to anyone, including investigators for the 9/11 Commission.

Condi Rice denies she was told about a critical threat. Froomkin continues,

On Sunday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett issued a new rebuttal on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” Here’s the video ; here’s the transcript .

Speaking for Rice, Bartlett said: “I spoke to her this morning. She believes this is a very grossly mis-accurate characterization of the meeting they had.”

Stephanopoulos: “So this didn’t happen?”

And here’s the money quote from Bartlett: “That’s Secretary Rice’s view, that that type of urgent request to go after bin Laden, as the book alleges, in her mind, didn’t happen.”

Get that? In her mind, it didn’t happen.

Robin Wright, Washington Post:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Sunday vehemently denied that she ever received a special CIA warning about an imminent terrorist attack on the United States, angrily rebutting new allegations about her culpability in U.S. policy failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by al Qaeda.

I guess the August 6, 2001, memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States” doesn’t count, either.

She said it was “incomprehensible” that she would have ignored such explicit intelligence or appeals by senior CIA officials.

I have to agree with her on that. It is incomprehensible. Yet, apparently, that’s what happened.

At TPM Muckracker, Justin Rood points out that Time magazine reported on the July 10 meeting back in 2002. This is from Time:

In mid-July, Tenet sat down for a special meeting with Rice and aides. “George briefed Condi that there was going to be a major attack,” says an official; another, who was present at the meeting, says Tenet broke out a huge wall chart (“They always have wall charts”) with dozens of threats. Tenet couldn’t rule out a domestic attack but thought it more likely that al-Qaeda would strike overseas.

Roger Cressey, however, said tonight that the meeting did focus on possible strikes within the U.S.

Cressey said Andrea Mitchell reported today that the 9/11 Commission was, in fact, briefed on the July 10 meeting, even though none of the members seem to remember it now. I can’t find details on this on the web, but it’s mentioned in this Andrea Mitchell interview of Bob Woodward. Cressey believes not including the meeting in the final 9/11 Commission report was an “oversight.” Maybe.

In any event, a great deal rides on whether Tenet and Black confirm or deny the Woodward story. If they shoot the story down, it will no doubt negate everything else Woodward says in his book that the Right doesn’t like. However …

Update: Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, and John Walcott write for McClatchy Newspapers

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about an imminent al-Qaida strike on an American target that was given to the White House two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Hmm, and in July 2001, John Ashcroft began to avoid commercial flights in favor of chartered government jets.

The State Department’s disclosure Monday that the pair was briefed within a week after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was told about the threat on July 10, 2001, raised new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.

One official who helped to prepare the briefing, which included a PowerPoint presentation, described it as a “10 on a scale of 1 to 10” that “connected the dots” in earlier intelligence reports to present a stark warning that al-Qaida, which had already killed Americans in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and East Africa, was poised to strike again.

Apparently there’s been a crack in the facade:

Ashcroft, who resigned as attorney general on Nov. 9, 2004, told the Associated Press on Monday that it was “disappointing” that he never received the briefing, either.

But on Monday evening, Rice’s spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement confirming that she’d received the CIA briefing “on or around July 10” and had asked that it be given to Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.

The information presented in this meeting was not new, rather it was a good summary from the threat reporting from the previous several weeks,” McCormack said. “After this meeting, Dr. Rice asked that this same information be briefed to Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft. That briefing took place by July 17.”

Just how many warnings did Condi get, anyway?

The CIA briefing didn’t provide the exact timing or nature of a possible attack, nor did it predict whether it was likely to take place in the United States or overseas, said three former senior intelligence officials.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the report remains highly classified.

The briefing “didn’t say within the United States,” said one former senior intelligence official. “It said on the United States, which could mean a ship, an embassy or inside the United States.”

Yet in July Ashcroft was avoiding commercial flights. Domestic commercial flights.

And on August 6, this information was followed up by a memo titled … all together, now … “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”

But after the July 10 meeting, Condi sprang into action and called a Principal’s Meeting for September 4 … oh, wait …

More Psychopathology and Denial

From Woodwards’s new book, in today’s Washington Post:

For months, Tenet had been pressing Rice to set a clear counterterrorism policy, including specific presidential orders called “findings” that would give the CIA stronger authority to conduct covert action against bin Laden. Perhaps a dramatic appearance — Black called it an “out of cycle” session, beyond Tenet’s regular weekly meeting with Rice — would get her attention. …

Tenet and Black felt they were not getting through to Rice. She was polite, but they felt the brush-off. President Bush had said he didn’t want to swat at flies.

As they all knew, a coherent plan for covert action against bin Laden was in the pipeline, but it would take some time. In recent closed-door meetings the entire National Security Council apparatus had been considering action against bin Laden, including using a new secret weapon: the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, that could fire Hellfire missiles to kill him or his lieutenants. It looked like a possible solution, but there was a raging debate between the CIA and the Pentagon about who would pay for it and who would have authority to shoot.

Besides, Rice seemed focused on other administration priorities, especially the ballistic missile defense system that Bush had campaigned on. She was in a different place.

Tenet left the meeting feeling frustrated. Though Rice had given them a fair hearing, no immediate action meant great risk. Black felt the decision to just keep planning was a sustained policy failure. Rice and the Bush team had been in hibernation too long. “Adults should not have a system like this,” he said later. …

… Afterward, Tenet looked back on the meeting with Rice as a tremendous lost opportunity to prevent or disrupt the Sept. 11 attacks. Rice could have gotten through to Bush on the threat, but she just didn’t get it in time, Tenet thought. He felt that he had done his job and had been very direct about the threat, but that Rice had not moved quickly. He felt she was not organized and did not push people, as he tried to do at the CIA.

Black later said, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.”

Editor’s Note: How much effort the Bush administration made in going after Osama bin Laden before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, became an issue last week after former president Bill Clinton accused President Bush’s “neocons” and other Republicans of ignoring bin Laden until the attacks. Rice responded in an interview that “what we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years.”

Right now I need to take a time out and, I don’t know, throw some plates at the wall, or smash pumpkins, or something.

This morning the fine point under discussion is what did the 9/11 Commission and other investigators know about this meeting, and when did they know it? Another paragraph from Woodward:

The July 10 meeting between Tenet, Black and Rice went unmentioned in the various reports of investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks, but it stood out in the minds of Tenet and Black as the starkest warning they had given the White House on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.

In yesterday’s WaPo, Peter Baker wrote,

The July 10 meeting of Rice, Tenet and Black went unmentioned in various investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks, and Woodward wrote that Black “felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.”

Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, said she checked with commission staff members who told her investigators were never told about a July 10 meeting. “We didn’t know about the meeting itself,” she said. “I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it.”

White House and State Department officials yesterday confirmed that the July 10 meeting took place, although they took issue with Woodward’s portrayal of its results. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, responding on behalf of Rice, said Tenet and Black had never publicly expressed any frustration with her response.

“This is the first time these thoughts and feelings associated with that meeting have been expressed,” McCormack said. “People are free to revise and extend their remarks, but that is certainly not the story that was told to the 9/11 commission.”

Tenet and Black did not respond to messages yesterday.

Yesterday Greg Mitchell at Editor & Publisher reported on Peter Baker’s story. This rightie blogger accuses Mitchell of a cover up because he left out the part about “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.”

Reading the excerpt and the Peter Baker story together, my impression is that because no one spoke of the July 10 meeting in testimony before the commission, the commissioners overlooked it. There may be nothing remarkable in the paperwork, nothing that calls out Tenet and Black’s concerns, and such paperwork would have been part of several truckloads of paperwork the commissioners were given.

Or, maybe Tenet and Black are exaggerating the significance of the meeting now because they’re trying to cover their own butts for the record.

Or, maybe the commissioners were doing their best to be “fair” to the White House, meaning they didn’t follow up information that made Bush and his team look bad unless it got into public record.

Many things are possible. Certainly there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered about 9/11. I strongly suspect that if we were to wade through all the little details in all the documentation given the 9/11 commission, we would find lots more interesting stuff.

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

I got up this morning looking forward to wallowing in the Lamont victory (I know there’s a big challenge ahead, but we get so little to wallow in; enjoy, I say). I had also planned to float the speculation that the Lieberman team deliberately sabotaged their own web site because they knew they were losing, and Joe wanted an excuse. An unfair primary gives him a moral basis on which to challenge the election results.

But then I read this from the Washington Times supplement Insight:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has become increasingly dismayed over President Bush’s support for Israel to continue its war with Hezbollah.

State Department sources said Ms. Rice has been repeatedly stymied in her attempts to pressure Israel to end strikes against Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon. The sources said the secretary’s trip to the Middle East last week was torpedoed by the Israeli air strike of a Lebanese village in which 25 people were killed.

“I’ve never seen her so angry,” an aide said.

The U.S. response to the Israeli-Hezbollah war was said to have divided both the administration as well as the family of President George W. Bush. At the same time, it marked the first time since Ms. Rice became secretary of state that the president has overruled her.

Yesterday I speculated that the President had tuned out the Middle East because he doesn’t give a shit. But maybe he does give a shit. Or else the cluster bombing of civilians reminds him of his wholesome Texas childhood and the exploding frogs.

“We were terrible to animals,” recalled [Bush pal Terry] Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush borne turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out. “Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them,” Throckmorton said. “Or we’d put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.”

Kristof made plain that “we” explicitly included George W. Bush, and that George W., the Safari Club International Governor of the Year in 1999 for his support of trophy hunting, was the leader among the boys who did it.

I think I read somewhere that children get their first lessons in conflict resolution from playing with other children. But now let’s go back to Insight:

“For the last 18 months, Condi was given nearly carte blanche in setting foreign policy guidelines,” a senior government source familiar with the issue said. “All of a sudden, the president has a different opinion and he wants the last word.”

The disagreement between Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice is over the ramifications of U.S. support for Israel’s continued offensive against Lebanon. The sources said Mr. Bush believes that Israel’s failure to defeat Hezbollah would encourage Iranian adventurism in neighboring Iraq. Ms. Rice has argued that the United States would be isolated both in the Middle East and Europe at a time when the administration seeks to build a consensus against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Instead, Ms. Rice believes the United States should engage Iran and Syria to pressure Hezbollah to end the war with Israel. Ms. Rice has argued that such an effort would result in a U.S. dialogue with Damascus and Tehran on Middle East stability.

It occurs to me that this article may be part of the neocon’s scheme to scapegoat and marginalize Condi for being a stick-in-the-mud. Sidney Blumenthal wrote last week that the Bush Administration’s neoconservative insiders are eager to “widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war,” and Condi isn’t helping:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have been “briefed” and to be “on board,” but she is not a central actor in pushing the covert neoconservative scenario. Her “briefing” appears to be an aspect of an internal struggle to intimidate and marginalize her. Recently she has come under fire from prominent neoconservatives who oppose her support for diplomatic negotiations with Iran to prevent its development of nuclear weaponry.

Rice’s diplomacy in the Middle East has erratically veered from initially calling on Israel for “restraint,” to categorically opposing a cease-fire, to proposing terms for a cease-fire guaranteed to conflict with the European proposal, and thus to thwarting diplomacy, prolonging the time available for the Israeli offensive to achieve its stated aim of driving Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. But the neocon scenario extends far beyond that objective to pushing Israel into a “cleansing war” with Syria and Iran, says the national security official, which somehow will redeem Bush’s beleaguered policy in the entire region.

Last month Insight published an article titled “Dump Condi” that is riddled with dire warnings about accommodation and appeasement. Real Men don’t accommodate; they dictate. The neocons complain that Rice’s “ignorance of the Middle East” is hindering U.S. foreign policy. They expect Rice to be “transferred” after the November midterms, because by that time by that time “even Mr. Bush will recognize the failure of relying solely on diplomacy in the face of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Right now it’s hard to know exactly what Mr. Bush’s recognizes. Fred Kaplan writes in Slate that Bush doesn’t seem to understand his own foreign policy. Writing of Monday’s “presser” (in which Condi expressed her solicitous concern for the emotional problems of the Lebanese), Kaplan writes,

The transcript contains so many mind-boggling statements that it’s hard to know where to begin, so let’s take them in chronological order.

“Everybody wants the violence to stop,” Bush said in answer to the session’s first question. But of course this isn’t true. If it were, he could have imposed a cease-fire in the first few days. He and Rice explicitly wanted the violence to continue, wanted Israel to pummel Hezbollah, so that when the time was ripe for a settlement, Israel could come to the table with a huge advantage.

Then Bush made a statement that curiously veered off script: “People understand that there needs to be a cessation of hostilities in order for us to address the root causes of the problem.” This contradicted Rice’s mantra of the last two weeks—that there should be no cessation until these root causes are addressed. Did he understand what he was saying? Everybody skipped over it in any case.

And on and on. I urge you to read the entire Kaplan column. I may come back to it in another post. But there’s some more juicy stuff in the new Insight article about the spat between Condi and George. You’ll like this:

Mr. Bush’s position has been supported by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and to a lesser extent National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. They have urged the president to hold off international pressure and give Israel more time to cause strategic damage to Hezbollah as well as Iranian and Syrian interests in Lebanon.

“I think if you think of what’s happening in Lebanon and Israel right now, you see the face of the beginning of the 21st century,” Mr. Rumsfeld said in a radio interview on Aug. 2.

Wait, it gets better.

Aides for Mr. Cheney have argued that the United States should have targeted Hezbollah and Syria during the war against Iraq in 2003. They said despite U.S. intelligence warnings Hezbollah was allowed to dominate Lebanon and build a formidable force along the Israeli border.

“There was talk of taking care of Hezbollah and Syria, but Condi and [then-Secretary of State Colin] Powell said ‘no way. We don’t need another front,'” an official said.

Oblivious doesn’t even get close to describing these people. They are lost in their own shit. John Williams writes about the neocon worldview on The Guardian web site:

One of the most interesting things I did as Jack Straw’s press secretary was to arrange the meeting between some of his Muslim constituents and Condoleezza Rice. That day in Blackburn last March came to mind when I saw the extraordinary suggestion that Straw might have been removed from the Foreign Office because the US administration thought he was too influenced by Muslim opinion in the town.

I say “extraordinary” not because I think it’s inaccurate but because it takes extreme mental gymnastics to conceive how anyone could believe it to be a bad thing to listen to and understand Muslim points of view. I’ve no idea whether the story is true. Under our unwritten constitution, nobody tells you why your competent, creative, diligent, honest, thoughtful boss of five years has suddenly been defenestrated.

The point about this story is that it is taken seriously. And it should be, because of its original source – Irwin Stelzer. An adviser to Rupert Murdoch, Stelzer is part of the commentating class in the US that glorifies itself with the title neoconservative. I’ve never quite understood the neoconservative worldview, except that its evidential base is their own prejudice, and its prescriptions are built on the world as they would like it to be, rather than as it is.

Some of them – for example, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard – actually believe that Iranians would welcome a military attack on their country by America, taking their cue to rise up against their leaders. Again, it takes advanced mental gymnastics.

Nah, “mental gymnastics” doesn’t get there. It’s more like the neocons are so full of themselves they displace the rest of the universe. Reality is put through so many filters of ego-centrism and bigotry in a neocon’s head that it dissipates before it can reach consciousness. A neocon literally cannot see anything else in the world but himself. Wherever he looks, he sees only the shining reflection of his own bigotries and ideologies and pathologies scowling back at him.

[UPDATE: See also Robert Scheer, “Why We Don’t Know Our Enemy.” Outstanding.]

But I keep wandering away from the Insight article. We’re almost done. In fact, here’s the punch line:

Mr. Bush has been dismayed by the Israeli failure to defeat Hezbollah. They said several high-ranking Republicans have expressed amazement at the plodding Israeli advance into Lebanon.

“One Jewish friend of Bush actually called up a senior Israeli official and began yelling, ‘What the hell’s going on here,'” a source said. “‘Are you going to fight or what?'”

I love it that a friend of Bush who is, it seems, neither an elected or appointed government official takes it on himself to dictate policy to another nation. Grand.

Warren Strobel and Carol Rosenberg of McClatchy Newspapers (formerly known as Knight Ridder) write that Israel is preparing to expand the ground war in Lebanon. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora begs Washington Post readers to “End This Tragedy Now.” And in Salon, Mitchell Prothero writes in “Bombs Over Beirut” that once pro-Western Lebanese are rapidly becoming Hezbollah supporters. Juan Cole has news of the fighting over the past few hours.

I’m going to wallow for awhile now. Catch ya later.

Update: See also Scott Ritter, “The Grave Consequences of Supporting War in Lebanon“; Thomas Friedman, “Warren Buffet and Hezbollah

Taking Sides

Today’s Israeli airstrike that killed (at least) 56 people, half of them children, seems to be causing some, um, re-evaluation. Condi Rice has cancelled a trip to Beirut, for example. She was going to talk to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora about “steps” to a cease fire. It seems Prime Minister Siniora told Condi she was not welcome and could take her steps and shove ’em where the sun don’t shine.

The plan had been for Rice to leave for Beirut in an hour to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to discuss steps toward a ceasefire. Now, that trip would be cancelled. She had talked to Siniora, whom she described as “depressed” and “emotional” over what happened in the village of Qana. Rice said, “I called him and told him that I was not coming today because I felt very strongly that my work toard a ceasefire is really here, today.” Siniora, however, had made it clear in a televised address that her trip would have been pointless. He declared he would not engage in any more negotiations until a ceasefire was in place.


… the Lebanese government (of which Shrub was so paternally proud just a few short weeks ago) has just told Madame Supertanker to go take a flying you-know-what at the moon:

    Lebanon told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday that it could not meet with her before a ceasefire ends a 19-day-old Israeli offensive, Lebanese officials said. The officials said Rice, who was due in Beirut later on Sunday, was informed of the Lebanese position after an Israeli airstrike killed more than 40 civilians in south Lebanon.

And the Kofi Annan has called an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, at which a resolution calling for an immediate cease fire no doubt will be offered, forcing the United States to veto it — thus officially going on record all by its lonesome in favor of large and horrific massacres.

Juan Cole:

Israeli war planes scored a direct hit on a building in the Shiite village of Qana where destitute farming folk, including old people, women and children, had taken refuge in the basement from Israeli bombing raids. At least 54 are dead, as bodies are pulled from the rubble. 19 children are confirmed dead and another 11 are thought still to be in the basement. The Israelis say they had pamphleted the region demanding that all civilians leave, and high Israeli officials have openly said that anyone who remains is fair game (low civilianity index, and maybe low humanianity index, too). The Israelis don’t say, however, how desperately poor hardscrabble farmers including the aged and infirm and children are supposed to travel to Beirut over the roads and bridges that the Israelis have bombed out, and on what they are supposed to live when they get there.

The Israelis had launched 80 air raids on the village of Qana overnight, with large numbers of buildings flattened, according to CNN.

I boldfaced the part about aged and infirm and children with no way out, because according to Victor Davis Hanson these people wanted to be bombed. I suspect otherwise. A number of trolls have dropped by here today saying that Israel has been oh, so careful not to hurt civilians, and those who remain in areas they’d been warned to vacate have only themselves to blame if they get killed. But every news story I’ve seen about Lebanon in print and electronic media has noted that infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports — have been destroyed, and people are having a hell of a time getting anywhere.

According to the New York Times:

Israel said residents in Qana and the region had been warned several days in advance to leave the village.

Today, Mr. Siniora said Qana’s residents were not warned. He described a scene in the region illustrating the difficulties for civilian evacuations, saying the Israeli strikes had cut “the whole country into pieces,” destroyed bridges and blanketed the village with 50 airstrikes at night. …

… “What we have really been witnessing is something beyond description. And this is something that is unacceptable, and that’s why we are asking for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire,” he said.

“We cannot continue discussing under the sort of blood that is being put on our necks,” Mr. Siniora added.

How did the White House respond, by the way?

Responding to the strikes on Qana, the White House urged Israel today to take more care to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon. It said that Ms. Rice was working to arrange the conditions for a “sustainable” halt to the violence.

Yeah, that’s tellin’ ’em.

And now, back to Travels With Condi

Rice and her team had already been working with the knowledge that Israel was not going to cease its attacks soon. The night before, she had had dinner with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who told her that Israel needed 10 days to two weeks to complete its military operations. The attack on Qana — apparently the site of rocket launches against Israel — occured shortly after midnight.

On Sunday, a few hours after Rice’s press conference, more bad news arrived when U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced that the Israeli Defense Ministry had asked U.N. peacekeeping forces in Lebanon to evacuate two more villages before sunset, suggesting they would meet Qana’s fate. By Sunday evening, Rice had apparently decided that she had done all she could do in Jerusalem and made it known she was heading back to Washington Monday morning.

Well, well.

Via Talking Points Memo, we learn that Siniora has expressed “gratitude” to Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah. This reveals, seems to me, that Hezbollah’s political position in Lebanon has been strengthened by Israeli bombs.

In other developments, the bombing at Qana caused King Abdullah II of Jordan to condemn Israel’s “criminal aggression.”

Abdullah condemned “the ugly crime perpetrated by Israeli forces in Qana, which led to the killing of innocent civilians, including a large number of children and women,” said a statement released by the king’s press office.

“This criminal aggression constitutes a blatant violation of the law and all international conventions,” the king said.

Abdullah repeated his call for an “immediate cease-fire.”

This is significant, because Jordan’s King Abdullah is possibly the most pro-western ruler in the Middle East. My understanding is that he has closer ties to the U.S. than he does to Syria and Iran. Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel back in 1994, and has kept that agreement. But the King has a Palestinian problem of his own. About half of the population of Jordan are Palestinians. Many of these Palestinians are refugees (or children of refugees) from earlier Palestinian-Israeli conflicts. The King of Jordan does not want more Palestinian refugees, because a Palestinian majority could lead to the overthrow of his rule. Nor does the King want Palestinians already living in Jordan to decide he is an enemy of the Palestinians. If forced to choose sides between Israel and Lebanon, I ‘spect the King would choose Lebanon. And it may become hard for him to remain too openly friendly with the United States as well.

Conclusion: War is stupid.

I called this post “Taking Sides” because it shows how extreme actions can force people to take sides they’d rather not take. Right now, the entire world, including Britain, is lining up on one side, and the U.S. and Israel are on the other side. This ought to be making us nervous.

A number of the trolls commenting on yesterday’s “wankers” post have jumped to the conclusion that this blogger is pro-Hezbollah, which is extremely far off the mark. Simple-minded people think there are just two sides to every issue, and if you are not on this side you must be on that one. But there are other sides they don’t see.

Beside the fact that it breaks my heart to see Lebanon being torn apart, my sympathies are with the children, the families, the noncombatants, of all nations, religions, and ethnicities who are being slaughtered and traumatized by Israeli bombs and Hezbollah rockets. My antipathies are against everyone who is making and supporting war, especially war going beyond what is needed for self-defense — again, of all nations, religions and ethnicities.

See also: “U.S. Intelligence on Hizballah and Iran“; “The day Israel realised that this was a real war“; “Watching Beirut Die.”

The Limitations of Military “Solutions”

Michael J. Totten describes the effects of Israel’s military actions in Lebanon (emphasis added):

Sectarian tensions and hatreds run deep in Lebanon, even so, far deeper than those of us in the West can begin to relate to. 32 years ago Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East. But 15 years ago Lebanon was the Somalia of the Middle East. It made the current troubles in Iraq look like a polite debate in a Canadian coffeeshop by comparison. There is no ethnic-religious majority in that country, and every major sect has been, at one time or another, a victim of all the others.

I spent a total of seven months in Lebanon recently, and I never could quite figure out what prevented the country from flying apart into pieces. It barely held together like unstable chemicals in a nitro glycerin vat. The slightest ripple sent Lebanese scattering from the streets and into their homes. They were far more twitchy than I, in part (I think) because they understood better than I just how precarious their civilized anarchy was. Their country needed several more years of careful nurturing during peace time to fully recover from its status as a carved up failed state.

By bombing all of Lebanon rather than merely the concentrated Hezbollah strongholds, Israel is putting extraordinary pressure on Lebanese society at points of extreme vulnerability. The delicate post-war democratic culture has been brutally replaced, overnight, with a culture of rage and terror and war. Lebanon isn’t Gaza, but nor is it Denmark.

Lebanese are temporarily more united than ever. No one is running off to join Hezbollah, but tensions are being smoothed over for now while everyone feels they are under attack by the same enemy. Most Lebanese who had warm feelings for Israel — and there were more of these than you can possibly imagine — no longer do.

Totten goes on to say that a great many Lebanese blame Hezbollah, also, and he thinks these factons could take up arms against Hezbollah whenever there’s an Israeli-Hezbollah cease fire. But generally when factions within a nation are taking up arms against each other you’re looking at a civil war. This takes us back to the “failed state” model. Tottrn continues,

But democratic Lebanon cannot win a war against Hezbollah, not even after Hezbollah is weakened by IAF raids. Hezbollah is the most effective Arab fighting force in the world, and the Lebanese army is the weakest and most divided. The Israelis beat three Arab armies in six days in 1967, but a decade was not enough for the IDF to take down Hezbollah.

Totten is a pro-Iraq War writer who, earlier this year, traveled around Iraqi Kurdistan and blogged (for an enthusiastic rightie audience) about all the good results of the Iraq War. His reports on the (pro-American) Kurds were linked to and praised all over the Right Blogosphere. Unfortunately for Mr. Totten, he has lived in Lebanon and has befriended flesh-and-blood Lebanese. When he spoke out against the bombing of Beirut the righties turned on him like a school of piranha on fresh meat. Mr. Totten had to close his blog comments.

(Meanwhile, Condi flaps about saying things like “I have no doubt there are those who wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib,” even as she obstructs a cease fire to give Israel more time to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib.)

Totten says that by destabilizing Lebanon, Israel is setting itself up for having a failed state on its border. And if Lebanon becomes a failed state, Israel will have accomplished Hezbollah’s purpose. Totten’s analysis may be oversimplified, but I suspect he’s being realistic.

Certainly Israel has a right to defend itself, and certainly Hezbollah’s aggressions toward Israel touched off the conflict. But it is becoming increasingly clear that Israel cannot eliminate Hezbollah through military means, and the end result of the current military action could very easily make the security of Israel more precarious than it was before. Seems to me it would have been in Israel’s interests to find ways to support Lebanon’s democracy and the 60 percent of the Lebanese who are not Shia. Perhaps at some point in the future Israel could have found ways to help Lebanon disarm Hezbollah, especially since a large part of the Lebanese — possibly a majority — wanted Hezbollah disarmed. But that’s a possibility Israel has crossed off the list.

Once again, we’re looking at the limitations of military “solutions.” Military aggression is not the all-purpose remedy for all foreign policy ills. It has very limited applicable use, in fact, and it’s risky — there’s a high incidence of unfortunate side effects. This is not to say that having a big, scary military that intimidates one’s enemies is a bad thing; not at all. It does mean using that big, scary military wisely. It should be only one of many tools in the foreign policy toolbox. It’s not an all-purpose, the-only-tool-you’ll-ever-need tool.

Juan Cole wrote yesterday that “Hizbullah is ratcheting up its kill ratio with the Israeli military toward 1:1, something no other Arab fighting force has even approached.”

Professor Cole goes on to describe Lebanon before the bombing:

I was in Beirut briefly in mid-June. I went downtown in the evening, where big LCD displays had been set up outside at the cafes, and thousands of people were enjoying the World Cup games. The young Lebanese, in jeans, were dancing to the new pop music of stars like Nancy Ajram and Amal Hijazi. Some had painted their faces with Brazilian flags. They were rooting for Brazil. The shops were full of fashionable clothing and jewelry, the restaurants tastefully decorated, the gourmet Lebanese food tantalizing. The bookstores were full of probing studies and intelligent commentary. The Syrians were gone and there was a lighthearted atmosphere. The snooty nightclubs at places like Monot street were choosy about who could get in.

I went to see publishers about my project, of publishing the works of great American thinkers in Arabic. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King. They mentioned about how the US did not have a good reputation and maybe not many readers would be interested. I said, maybe that is changing. Washington supports the new government, after all. We are your well-wishers. [emphasis added]

The professor is no supporter of Hezbollah:

I haven’t complained about the Israeli border war with Hizbullah. I’m not sure it is wise, and I don’t know how many Israelis Hizbullah even killed in, say, the year 2005. Is it really worth it? But I don’t deny that Hizbullah went too far when it shelled dozens of civilian towns and cities and killed over a dozen innocent civilians, even in reprisal for the Israeli bombing campaign. (You can’t target civilians. That is a prosecutable crime.) That is a clear casus belli, and I’d like to see Nasrallah tried at the Hague for all those civilian deaths he ordered. The fighting at Maroun al-Ra’s and Bint Jbeil was horrible on all sides, but it was understandable, even justifiable. The fighting itself isn’t going to lead anywwhere useful, though, and it is time for a ceasefire and political negotiations–the only way to actually settle such disputes.

What was Israel thinking when it decided on a military solution to Hezbollah?

Philip Gordon relays the thinking of the Israeli political and military elite behind its inhuman and massive bombing of all Lebanon:

    ‘ According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of the campaign is to “create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters.” The message to Lebanon’s elite, he said, is this: “If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land.” ‘

In other words, Zbig was right that the Israelis have kidnapped the 3.8 million Lebanese and are holding them all for ranson, while breaking their legs from time to time to encourage prompt payment. The horrible thing is that the Lebanese could not do anything about Hizbullah if they wanted to. Their government is weak and divided (Hizbullah is in it, and the Bush administration and Ambassador Mark Feltman signed off on that!) Their new, green army only has 60,000 men, and a lot of them are Shiites who would not fight Hizbullah. Lebanon was a patient that needed to be nurtured carefully to health. Instead, it has been drafted and put into the middle of the worst fighting on the battlefield.

Then there is this: ‘ Brigadier General Dan Halutz, the Israeli Chief of Staff, emphasised that the offensive . . . was open-ended. “Nothing is safe (in Lebanon), as simple as that,” he said. ‘

In other words, Halutz, who is also said to have threatened ten for one reprisals, is openly declaring that he will commit war crimes if he wants to. Nothing is safe? A Christian school in the northern village of Bsharri? A Druze old people’s home in the Shouf mountains? A Sunni family out for a stroll in the northern port of Tripoli? He can murder all of them at will, Halutz says. And Luft gives us the rationale. If these Lebanese civilians aren’t curbing Hizbullah for Israel, they just aren’t going to be enjoying their lives. They are a nation of hostages until such time as they have properly developed Stockholm syndrome and begin thanking the Israelis for their tender mercies.

Adding fuel to the fire, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is calling for a holy war against Israel. Billmon comments:

It’s interesting that the first tangible sign Al Qaeda might have something to say about the most violent conflict between Jew and Muslim since 1973 came just one day after the House of Saud semi-officially defected from the anti-Hizbollah coalition. If I didn’t know better, I might almost suspect the two organizations were still playing footsie under the table — but that way lies paranoia and endless suspicion, and such emotions are totally out of place in a discussion of Middle East politics. Ahem.

Remember, earlier this week there were reports that the Bush Administration was leading on the Saudis to talk to Syria about Hezbollah, because the Bushies won’t talk to Syria themselves, because Syria isn’t nice. Once again, the simple neocon worldview, in which everyone can be neatly divided up into “friends” and “enemies,” is revealed to be, um, stupid.

Billmon links to this commentary by Bernard Haykel that describes the complex relationship and rivalry between Hezbollah (shia) and al !Qaeda (sunni).

Al Qaeda, after all, is unlikely to take a loss of status lying down. Indeed, the rise of Hezbollah makes it all the more likely that Al Qaeda will soon seek to reassert itself through increased attacks on Shiites in Iraq and on Westerners all over the world — whatever it needs to do in order to regain the title of true defender of Islam.

The Sauds are “friends” who may have backchannel influence with al Qaeda, our enemies. Hezbollah and al Qaeda are enemies, but a mutual enmity makes them provisional allies.

And this morning Condi, now in Malaysia attending a regional security conference, said she is “more than happy” to go back to the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that she is “more than happy” to go back to the Middle East if it helps in resolving the Lebanon crisis.

Go back? Like she has more pressing concerns elsewhere?

Speaking at a news conference in Malaysia, where she is attending a key regional security meeting, Rice said: “I am willing and ready to go back to the Middle East anytime.

“I am more than happy to go back if my efforts can move towards a sustainable ceasefire that would end the violence.”

CNN keeps running segments on the coming of the Apocalypse. Maybe the Apocalypse could get Condi’s attention for more than a couple of days.

Hard Realities, Soft Buns

This morning’s news is that the violence in the Middle East is escalating. Via Laura Rozen, Michael Young suggests in today’s New York Times that Hezbollah’s aggression could be turned to Israel’s advantage:

It would be far smarter for Israel, and America, to profit from Hezbollah’s having perhaps overplayed its hand. The popular mood here is one of extreme anger that the group has provoked a conflict Lebanon cannot win. The summer tourism season, a rare source of revenue for a country on the financial ropes, has been ruined. Even Hezbollah’s core supporters, the Shiite Muslims in the south, cannot be happy at seeing their towns and villages turned again into a killing field. …

… The five permanent Security Council members, perhaps at this weekend’s Group of 8 meeting, should consider a larger initiative based on the resolution that would include: a proposal for the gradual collection of Hezbollah’s weapons; written guarantees by Israel that it will respect Lebanese sovereignty and pull its forces out of the contested Lebanese land in the Shebaa Farms; and the release of prisoners on both sides. Such a deal could find support among Lebanon’s anti-Syrian politicians, would substantially narrow Hezbollah’s ability to justify retaining its arms, and also send a signal to Syria and particularly Iran that the region is not theirs for the taking.

David Ignatius, in general, agrees. He says that Israel and America need to realize they can’t shoot their way out of this crisis:

Israeli and American doctrine is premised on the idea that military force will deter adversaries. But as more force has been used in recent years, the deterrent value has inevitably gone down. That’s the inner spring of this crisis: The Iranians (and their clients in Hezbollah and Hamas) watch the American military mired in Iraq and see weakness. They are emboldened rather than intimidated. The same is true for the Israelis in Gaza. Rather than reinforcing the image of strength, the use of force (short of outright, pulverizing invasion and occupation) has encouraged contempt.

Instead of force …

In responding to the Lebanon crisis, the United States should work closely with its allies at the Group of Eight summit and the United Nations. Iran and its proxies would like nothing more than to isolate America and Israel. They would like nothing less than a strong, international coalition of opposition.

The Canadian National Post reports that the G8 leaders are at odds over the crisis, however. Or, more accurately, Russia is at odds with the other seven nations, which have defended Israel’s right to defend itself.

Russia blasted Israel for its massive land, sea and air attacks on Lebanon, setting itself firmly in opposition with fellow G-8 members, including Canada and the United States, who it will be hosting at this weekend’s summit in St. Petersburg.

”One cannot justify the continued destruction by Israel in Lebanon and in Palestinian territory, involving disproportionate use of force in which the civilian population suffers,” Moscow said a statement Thursday. ”We firmly reaffirm support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

What does the President of the United States have to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin? Luke Harding reports for The Guardian:

George Bush yesterday promised to bring up Russia’s human rights record during tomorrow’s G8 summit, but said he did not intend to “lecture” or “scold” his host, Vladimir Putin.

President Bush, who was in Germany yesterday before he flies to St Petersburg today, said he would “respectfully” convey Washington’s message: that allowing political opposition, a free press and civil society was in Russia’s interests.

“My job is continually to remind Russia that if she wants to have good relations … she has to share common values,” he said, adding: “My own view in dealing with President Putin is that nobody likes to be lectured a lot.”

Yeah, just the thing.

His remarks follow a distinct chilling in US-Russian relations, which began in May when the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, accused Russia of using its energy reserves “as a tool of intimidation and blackmail”. This week Mr Putin hit back, dismissing the criticism as “an unsuccessful hunting shot” – a reference to the errant shot fired by Mr Cheney on a hunting trip that wounded a colleague.

“It was pretty clever,” Mr Bush said yesterday, when asked about the remark. “Actually, quite humorous – not to diss my friend, the vice-president.”

The Prez picked a heck of a time to go from being a hot dog to being a weenie.

More on Why We’re Screwed from Fred Kaplan at Slate:

It’s a perfect storm out there, each crisis feeding into the others yet at the same time laden with unique origins and features, demanding unique approaches and solutions. George Marshall himself would have a hard time keeping his grip.

The United States is hardly the only country at fault. Yet by its claims (“the sole superpower,” “the indispensable nation,” “we’re an empire now”) and by the objective facts (we are closer to being those things than any other country is), it does have the leverage—some would argue, the responsibility—to organize, mediate, and lead the way toward some solution. …

… But this sort of neglect is but a side effect of the larger deficiencies at the top. Whatever else might be said of them, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld are not worldly men. They’re neither well-traveled nor curious about the world. They came into office believing that America had emerged from the Cold War as the only real power and, as such, they didn’t have to care about what other countries said. They didn’t understand that powerful countries—at least powerful democracies—have always acted through alliances, even if only by manipulating them. A powerful country doesn’t always need allies to get a job done—but it does need them to get a job done with legitimacy, to get it done and keep it done.

One senior Bush adviser famously told Ron Suskind, back in those halcyon days shortly after Saddam fell: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” What’s happening now is that reality is roaring back.

A quickie survey of the righties indicates they are torn between believing Bush will order attacks on Iran, but is waiting for the right time, and those who are baffled by the new weenie Bush and want a hot dog to take charge and attack Iran. It appears that war between the U.S. and Iran is a given on the Right. Like going to war has been working out so well in the recent past. (See also Liberal Oasis.)

E.J. Dionne reminds us that the war in Iraq was supposed to prevent these little dust-ups:

Installing a democratic government in Iraq would force a new dawn. Newly empowered Muslim democrats would reform their societies, negotiate peace with Israel and get on with the business of building prosperous, middle-class societies. …

… “Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad,” Cheney said. “Moderates throughout the region would take heart, and our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced.”

Today, with Israeli troops battling on their northern and southern borders, with Iran ignoring calls for negotiations on nuclear weapons, with Baghdad in flames and with many of Iraq’s moderates living in fear, those Cheney sentences stand as the most telling indictment of the administration’s failures.

The fact that righties think more war is just the thing to straighten out the mess — and that the Bush Administration is just the crew to carry out the plan — sorta brings home the importance of reality. Some of us are living in it, and some of us, um, aren’t.

Dionne writes that this is the time for bipartisan effort to face up to what’s gone wrong and come up with a plan to undo the damage. However,

… those in charge of Republican campaigns this year have another idea. They have hit upon the brilliant strategy of pushing any serious discussion of the failure of American foreign policy past Election Day. For the next 3 1/2 months, they want the choice before the voters to be binary: staying the course and being “tough,” or breaking with President Bush’s policy and being “soft.” There are just two options on the ballot, they say: firmness or “cut and run.”

Personally, given Bush’s blatant impotence to deal with the current crisis, I’d be turning that around on the Republicans — Bush is a weenie who lacks the moral courage to face his own obvious failures and do what is necessary to salvage anything worthwhile from the mess. Instead, he hides behind aphorisms and Condi Rice’s skirts.

Hilzoy provides the backstory for those who came in late. See also Arianna Huffington on “Rummy’s Disease.

Serious About Rummy

Via True Blue Liberal — the Army Times conducted one of those online, not-scientifically-valid polls asking readers this question:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come under fire in recent weeks from a variety of retired generals, who say he should resign for his performance in managing the war in Iraq. Do you think the U.S. war effort is grounds for Secretary Rumsfeld to resign?

That’s a carefully worded question; note it doesn’t say that Rummy’s performance was bad or hint that the war effort is not going well. Anyway, the results as of this writing (4,339 total votes) are yes, 63.47 %; no, 32.96 %; and no opinion, 3.57 %.

These results don’t prove anything. I have no doubt a scientifically conducted poll would have different results. Still, it suggests some Army Times readers, not known to be loony leftie peaceniks, are really pissed off at Rummy.

Some mid-level officers interviewed last week by New York Times reporters Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt sounded pissed at both Rummy and the generals who didn’t speak out about him until after they retired.

The discussions often flare with anger, particularly among many midlevel officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and face the prospect of additional tours of duty.

“This is about the moral bankruptcy of general officers who lived through the Vietnam era yet refused to advise our civilian leadership properly,” said one Army major in the Special Forces who has served two combat tours. “I can only hope that my generation does better someday.”

An Army major who is an intelligence specialist said: “The history I will take away from this is that the current crop of generals failed to stand up and say, ‘We cannot do this mission.’ They confused the cultural can-do attitude with their responsibilities as leaders to delay the start of the war until we had an adequate force. I think the backlash against the general officers will be seen in the resignation of officers” who might otherwise have stayed in uniform for more years.

In defense of the generals, some of them said they did try to explain reality to the Pentagon, but the exercise proved as fruitful as explaining verb conjugation to a tree stump.

Mo Dowd (via True Blue Liberal) writes of Rummy’s and Condi’s little visit to Baghdad this week:

The former “Matinee Idol,” as W. liked to call him, is now a figure of absurdity, clinging to his job only because some retired generals turned him into a new front on the war on terror. On his rare, brief visit to Baghdad, he was afraid to go outside Fortress Green Zone, even though he yammers on conservative talk shows about how progress is being made, and how the press never reports good news out of Iraq.

If the news is so good, why wasn’t Rummy gallivanting at the local mall, walking around rather than hiding out in the U.S. base known as Camp Victory? (What are they going to call it, one reporter joked, Camp Defeat?)

Very often when us loony leftie peaceniks criticize the war, the righties spin it as a slam on our troops. It’s as if they absolutely cannot fathom that fault may lie with leadership and planning rather than execution. And, of course, the ultimate responsibility for the debacle in Iraq lies with the bleepheads who made the decision to invade for no good bleeping reason.

But let’s brush that aside for the moment.

According to a Virginia businessman named Joseph Robert, Jr., who has been in Iraq, the troops are still dedicated to the mission; it’s everyone else who has screwed the pooch. Robert writes in today’s Washington Post:

First, U.S. forces in Iraq remain focused on their mission. Talking with soldiers and Marines over dinner in their mess halls, it’s easy to see why reenlistment rates among U.S. troops in Iraq are the highest in the military. These men and women understand their mission and believe they are making a difference. Like my son, Joe III, after he returned from a tough mission in Fallujah, the Marines I met said they would be happy to return to Iraq because they believe what they’re doing is important.


… dangerous failures in Iraq’s economic reconstruction are undermining progress on the security and political fronts. …

… This strategic failure is a direct result of something else I observed: Only one element of the U.S. government — the military — seems to be treating Iraq as “the vital national interest” that President Bush declares it to be. Across Iraq, military personnel are heroically managing local reconstruction and development projects for which they lack the proper training or tools. Meanwhile, back in the Green Zone, hundreds of civilian positions — from the departments of State, Justice, Commerce and Agriculture — go unfilled.

U.S. commanders expressed frustration that dozens of Justice Department billets sit empty despite Iraq’s urgent need for help in developing a functioning judicial system. American troops like my son describe risking their lives to arrest suspected insurgents, testifying in Iraqi courts and then watching in frustration as the offenders are tossed back on the streets. In government, as in business, refusing to devote the resources and personnel to a strategic priority is a recipe for disaster.

This reminds me of something George Packer said on The Daily Show awhile back (link to video on this page). Parker spoke of many individuals in Iraq, both Iraqi and American,

Packer: … really pouring their hearts into this project, and meanwhile back in Washington decisions being made on the fly, or not being made at all, being made against all expert advice as if it almost didn’t matter. …

… there was a whole tide of young Republican operatives coming over to staff the occupation, people who had never lived abroad, certainly had no experience in the Middle East, there were maybe three Arabic speakers in the whole coalition provisional authority in the first few few months …

Stewart: You say the more you know about Iraq the more you’d be punished, it seems.

Packer: Yes. It’s a law of the occupation that the more you know the less influence you have, and as you go higher and higher in the Administration, knowledge decreases until at the very top …

… they were unbelievably reckless, and I think it’s going to take time for historians to explain how they could have rolled the dice in such a risky way and not taken it more seriously. Over and over again that’s the thing that I come back to. They didn’t take it very seriously.

As I wrote here, the Bushies seem congenitally incapable of taking anything seriously. Unless it’s a political threat, of course.

Philip Gold writes in today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer that “Too few are carrying the burden of war.” He discusses a book written by Dr. Ron Glasser titled Wounded: Vietnam to Iraq. Dr. Glasser had been an Army doctor stationed in Japan during the Vietnam war.

When the Iraq war started to sour, Glasser, now a prominent Minneapolis pediatric nephrologist, noticed that new kinds of wounded were coming back. Thanks to improved body armor and lack of enemy artillery and mortars, there were fewer traditional gunshot and fragmentation wounds. But because of the wide use of improvised explosive devices such as suicide bombs, there were far more serious wounds to limbs and closed head injuries. Gone was the “Million Dollar Wound” that got you honorably home but still reasonably intact. Now the military was doing amputations at a rate unknown since the Civil War and dealing with head injuries that could only be described as “polytrauma.” …

… “Wounded” tells it to the American people like it is and warns that these new wounded are going to require expensive lifetime care from a Department of Veterans Affairs that will be struggling with Vietnam vets for the next three decades.

Toward the end, “Wounded” shifts from medicine to note who’s not coming home shattered in body and spirit: America’s more privileged sons and daughters.

Glasser also wrote about the sounded of Iraq in a July 2005 Harper’s Magazine article. Glasser writes that the Bushies aren’t taking the Iraq wounded seriously, either.

“Based on what we should be doing, the VA is simply underfunded,” former Georgia senator Max Cleland, a triple amputee from the war in Vietnam and head of the Veterans Administration under President Carter, told me. “The budgetary constraints put into place by this administration’s tax cuts have proved a disaster for the whole system. The VA can’t handle what they have to do now; how are they going to handle the flood of physical and emotional casualties, many of whom will be the responsibility of the VA for the rest of their lives?”

Ultimately, if the Bush Administration continues its refusal to accept the realities of this conflict, the most enduring images of the Iraq war will be the sight of legless and addled beggars on our street corners holding cardboard signs that read: IRAQ VET. HUNGRY AND HOMELESS. PLEASE HELP.

See also “Coming Home from War on the Cheap” by Judith Coburn.

In other news, Drew Brown reports for Knight Ridder that the cost of the war is skyrocketing. Ewen MacAskill reports for the Guardian that the “US admits Iraq could become haven for terror.”

And the righties complain the press isn’t reporting the good news in Iraq. Such a shame.

But about Rummy? You know we’re living in strange times when something written by William S. Lind, Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation, shows up in the hyper-leftie online mag Counterpunch.

Rumsfeld’s defenders argue that some of his critics are dinosaurs who resent “Transformation” because it disrupts business as usual, they have a point. As anyone who has dealt with the higher ranks of the U.S. military knows, they put the La Brea tar pits in the shade as a dinosaur graveyard. …

But here too the story is not so simple. While Rumsfeldian “Transformation” represents change, it represents change in the wrong direction. Instead of attempting to move from the Second Generation to the Third (much less the Fourth), Transformation retains the Second Generation’s conception of war as putting firepower on targets while trying to replace people with technology. Its summa is the Death Star, where men and women in spiffy uniforms sit in air-conditioned comfort zapping enemies like bugs. It is a vision of future war that appeals to technocrats and lines industry pockets, but has no connection to reality. The combination of this vision of war with an equally unrealistic vision of strategic objectives has given us the defeat in Iraq. Again, Rumsfeld lies at the heart of both.

Lind believes that Rummy’s is the only head that should roll. But seems to me that if the President were serious about the war in Iraq, Rummy’s head would have rolled a long time ago.

Liz Sidoti reports for the Associated Press that many Senate Republicans would like Rummy to be gone, but are resigned to the fact the the President wants him to stay.

And why does the President want Rummy to stay? Because the President can’t admit he made a mistake, that’s why. It’s all about Dear Leader and his glorious ego.

As of this morning, 2398 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.

Update: Flaming idiot rightie Mark Noonan of Blogs for Bush linked to the Joseph Robert, Jr., article I link to and quote above, and wrote, “Warning: No Liberal Should Read This! It is positive news about Iraq, and we wouldn’t want to spoil the nice, little anti-Bush fantasy land the liberals live in…”

How stupid are these people?