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July 02, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
What Greg said

He beat me to it. I just want to add, per his penultimate paragraph, that given the amount of noise Bill O'Reilly in particular has been making lately about liberal media types "undermining the war effort," I eagerly await Mr. No Spin Zone's impassioned denunciations of Karl Rove. Frankly, the only intellectually consistent thing O'Reilly could do would be to demand Rove's resignation and imprisonment, as frequently and bombastically as possible.

...and then there's this.

Things could get interesting very quickly.

Greg Saunders:
Treason in the White House

It's official! Karl Rove is the man who leaked the identity of an undercover CIA agent who specialized in weapons of mass destruction :

I revealed in yesterday's taping of the McLaughlin Group that Time magazine's emails will reveal that Karl Rove was Matt Cooper's source. I have known this for months but didn't want to say it at a time that would risk me getting dragged into the grand jury.

McLaughlin is seen in some markets on Friday night, so some websites have picked it up, including Drudge, but I don't expect it to have much impact because McLaughlin is not considered a news show and it will be pre-empted in the big markets on Sunday because of tennis.

Since I revealed the big scoop, I have had it reconfirmed by yet another highly authoritative source. Too many people know this. It should break wide open this week. I know Newsweek is working on an 'It's Rove!' story and will probably break it tomorrow.

In other news, Aldrich Ames is spending the rest of his life in prison for revealing the names of undercover CIA agents.

Considering the enormity of the nuclear proliferation threat that we currently face and the fact that this leak happened in the middle of a war that was ostensibly about stopping the spread of WMD's, Karl Rove deserves nothing less than to join Benedict Arnold and Julius Rosenberg in the history books as men whose names are synonymous with "traitor". And anyone who helped cover up for these crimes should join Rove in jail or on the gallows. This not only means the occupants of the West Wing (every one of whom should be subjected to a polygraph test) but the partisan cowards in Congress who have shirked their constitutional duty in order to protect a treasonous scumbag.

As far as the right-wingers are concerned, I'll be eagerly awaiting your condemnation of Rove. Considering how quick you are to judge any liberal criticism of the execution of these twin wars as "undermining the war effort", you're now faced with evidence that one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington actively worked to undermine the effort to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Motives are irrelevant (both Rove's for leaking and yours for helping cover-up). If you're serious about the very real threat of terrorism to the United States, then you've got to be honest enough to admit that spreading the name of CIA agents through the press could seriously harm our ability to stop terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear material.

Still waiting for more evidence? Well, let's just hope the smoking gun against Karl Rove and his accomplices doesn't come in the form of a mushroom cloud...


July 01, 2005

Greg Saunders:
Borked in the Head

From a CNN interview this morning, guess who's still got a chip on his shoulder?

KAGAN: Interesting person to talk to on the phone right now. Robert Bork on the phone, somebody who got almost to the Supreme Court. The judge nominated in 1987, a nomination that did not work out in the way that Judge Bork, I think, you would have liked.

Your comments today on Sandra Day O'Connor and her legacy on the court, please.

JUDGE ROBERT BORK, FMR. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Well, she's a very nice person, but she is -- as a justice, she has been -- they call her the swing vote. That's true. But that means that she didn't have any reaffirmed judicial philosophy.

However, on the crucial cultural question, she has lined up with the liberal side on abortion, on affirmative action, homosexual normalization and so forth.

KAGAN: Excuse me. Judge Bork, do you think it's fair to say she didn't have an judicial philosophy? Perhaps that she didn't have the same judicial philosophy that you share. But she probably -- she possibly had a more moderate philosophy and was expressing that as a swing vote on the high court.

BORK: I think that referring to a moderate philosophy and a conservative philosophy and so forth is quite wrong. The question is, those judges who depart from the actual Constitution, and those who try to stick to the actual Constitution.

She departed from it frequently. So that I wouldn't call that moderate[1]. I would call it unfortunate.

So dissenting from the conservative view on abortion, affirmative action, and the like is tantamount to departing from the Constitution? I like this guy a lot better on the phone than on the bench. How do you feel about the justice who took your spot, Judge Crybaby?
KAGAN: A lot of people -- a lot of conservatives do wish that you had been confirmed and serving on the high court. Instead, it's been Justice Kennedy, who has been more moderate than a lot of people think.

BORK: I wish you would stop using the word "moderate." But go ahead.

KAGAN: Well, no. What would you use? How would you compare what Justice Kennedy has done instead of perhaps what you have done if you had been on the court.

BORK: I would call it activist.

Boo-frickin'-hoo. Any advice for a future nominee, Poopyhead?
BORK: I -- you know, they're going to -- they're going to insist upon answers to questions, "How will you vote on this? How will you vote on that?" Which I think is a very unfortunate practice, but that's what they are doing now in the Senate.

KAGAN: So would you tell a nominee not to answer those questions?

BORK: Either to find a way not to answer it on the grounds that they shouldn't be answered, or to give straightforward answers, which will mean that he will line up a lot of opposition.

Stonewalling on questions is one piece of advice that Bush judicial nominees don't need, but thanks anyways. Dust off those anti-coathanger signs folks, you're gonna need them.

1 : You can see my take on the "moderate" issue here.

Jeanne d'Arc:

George Bush's pose as the great humanitarian -- increasing foreign aid, standing up for human rights -- has always bothered me far more than his military posturing. If Georgie wants to do costumes and codpieces, let him strut his stuff, for all I care (although I'd prefer he kept his fetishes out of my face.)

But pretending to give aid and to care about human rights when you're actually making things worse, is not only hypocritical, it risks making people cynical about the possibility and process of helping others. I've been obsessed for years with the supposed money for AIDS relief in Africa, which even people who dislike Bush sometimes give him credit for. It's an obvious sham. The money has never been allocated in the promised amounts, and what has been spent is frequently wasted on name brand drugs and grants to inexperienced religious groups.

I knew that. But it's worse than I thought:

As global leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum in January, officials from President Bush's $15 billion anti-AIDS program issued a news release citing their accomplishments. Nowhere were the numbers more impressive than in Botswana, where 32,839 AIDS patients were receiving life-extending treatment with the help of the U.S. government, they said.

But thousands of miles away in Botswana, the Bush administration's claim provoked frustration and anger among public and private partners that had built Africa's most far-reaching AIDS treatment program, recalled those involved. Although the Bush program had promised millions of dollars of support, no money had yet arrived, they said.

The operations manager of Botswana's treatment program, Segolame Ramotlhwa, called the U.S. figures "a gross misrepresentation of the facts." His boss, Patson Mazonde, who as deputy permanent secretary for health services had overseen the program since its inception in 2002, called the Bush claim "false" but suggested it was merely a mistake.

They agreed on the number of patients in Botswana who had been put on treatment because of the Bush program: zero.

How in the world do Bush and Company have the nerve to claim to be supporting AIDS treatment, when they're not coughing up any funds? Well, it depends on how you define "support."

In March, in an annual report on the program, the Bush administration said support could include general "system strengthening" -- a category so broad that it could allow officials to claim to have supported treatment of any AIDS patient who benefited, however indirectly, from U.S. government assistance.

The head of the Bush administration's program in Botswana, Peter H. Kilmarx, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said in an interview here in May that he was aware of the upset among the Botswanan officials but that the treatment claims fit within U.S. government guidelines. The definition used for measuring support, he said, had broadened to the point that even assistance as trivial as editing a government health official's speeches could allow the Bush program to say it had supported treatment for everyone receiving antiretrovirals from that nation's public health system.

To people who define "supporting the troops" as sticking flags on their bumpers, I guess that makes sense.

But keep it in mind when you see headlines about Bush proposing "New Spending to Assist Poor Africans."

Look closer: Bush's budget, submitted a few months ago, cut spending for infectious diseases by $45 million. The announcement of a "new" $30 million anti-malaria program doesn't even make up for that planned cut. Even if the money is actually spent -- a big if in this administration -- we've still got a $15 million cut spun as a $30 million increase.

Of the $400 million in funding to improve education in Africa that Bush is talking about, only $40 million is new spending. And keep your eyes open for gimmicks to keep even that from being spent. As a Washington Post editorial points out, there's nothing to stop "new" money from being shifted from an already existing program.

And while we're on the subject, could someone please tell Bono to stop being such an enabler?



June 30, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Ramblin' Bob

Bob Harris is travelling again, and apparently his only access to the internet involves radio tubes and hand-crank telephones. At any rate, he's managed to get a few updates up over at his own site, so go visit.


June 29, 2005

Greg Saunders:
Bush Quotes Bin Laden

Close your eyes and imagine the wingnut response if John Kerry had said something like this in a speech :

Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Hear the words of Osama Bin Laden: "This Third World War is raging" in Iraq. "The whole world is watching this war." He says it will end in "victory and glory, or misery and humiliation."

The terrorists know that the outcome will leave them emboldened, or defeated. So they are waging a campaign of murder and destruction. And there is no limit to the innocent lives they are willing to take.

Yeah, I know it's a bit of a straw man argument, but let's be serious here. If John Kerry had said the exact same thing last year, Republicans would have gone hoarse shouting "Kerry agrees with Bin Laden?!" and accused him of emboldening our enemies or other such nonsense.


June 28, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Shorter George Bush

We really screwed the pooch, and now you have no choice but to let us try to clean up the mess.

Tom Tomorrow:
One quick post in search of a headline

Since Greg comments on part of what Drum says, I feel obliged to weigh in on the rest:

I actually agree with the overall gist of Christopher Hitchens' latest column in Slate. He argues that it's absurd to think you've scored some kind of withering putdown of war supporters by pointing out that most of them (and their sons) haven't volunteered for duty. Since I support police, fire, and social welfare programs despite the fact that I'm not a police officer, a firefighter, or a social worker, I think he's right on this.

Of course, the crucial distinction is that we, as a society, don't tend to deliberately start unnecessary fires and then ask firemen to risk their lives trying to extinguish them. We don't deliberately stage hostage dramas or bank robberies for no apparent reason and then send the police in to resolve the matter. And so on. Clumsy metaphor, but you get the idea. This war was not some random act of God, fate or nature. This war was optional. And as such, it's perfectly reasonable to ask its supporters if they are willing to encourage their own children to enlist (or, if they are Young Republicans, if they'll be volunteering for duty soon). Because if the answer is "no," then they only support the war insofar as others bear the brunt of it. And they deserve to be called on it.

Tom Tomorrow:
When did Superman go to work for Halliburton?

Another peculiar comic cover from the the best web site ever. (Hat tip: reader Fran O.)

Greg Saunders:
The President Hates Homosexuals More Than Terrorists

Kevin Drum is right to point out this piece of Christopher Hitchens idiocy :

Come to think of it, what happened to the loud and widespread demand that gays be allowed to serve in uniform? Surely that was not just a Clinton-era campaign to be dropped in favor of gay marriage at just the time when the country needed troops in Afghanistan (generally agreed) and in Iraq (much disputed)?

I don't intend a taunt in the above sentence (it's more of a tease, really, as well as a serious question to which I have heard no answer)

If you haven't heard an answer, it's because you aren't paying attention, Mr. Hitchens. Pretty much every progressive blogger I know has written numerous posts about how "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" hurts the war on terror (mine are here, here, and, here). It was also addressed by Wesley Clark and John Edwards during on the Democratic primary debates a year and a half ago.

Since it didn't sink in the first hundred or so times, here's the crux of the liberal argument. According to various inquiries into the 9/11 attacks, the government's lack of qualified Arabic translators is "one of the most serious issues limiting the Intelligence Community’s ability to analyze, discern, and report on terrorist activities in a timely fashion."(PDF), yet gay translators are still being discharged. This is a serious issue that goes well beyond gay rights, yet the President is too cowardly to stand up to the hateful segments of the Republican party do the right thing. Considering that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a Presidential order away from being overturned, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the George W. Bush's homophobia is hurting national security.

Tom Tomorrow:

I'm watching Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana on Cspan as he addresses the College Republicans. Much talk about heroes and serving and sacrifice--but not in terms of enlisting to help fight the war they all so enthusiastically support. "Serving" in the sense of pursuing their own careers. "Heroes" in the sense of courageously striving to become future Republican leaders. This passage in particular struck me as extraordinary, given the 900-pound elephant in the room that no one seems to be mentioning, the Army's current desperate need for 18-22 year-old bodies:

If you really want to know what's in your heart, ask this question: what would you die for? Who would you die for? Are there people, are there ideas, are there causes in your life for which you would lay that life down? Find that, men and women, and you will find your heart.

Unbelievably, he does not go on to mention the war in Iraq, which is apparently not such a cause--instead meandering toward such platitudes as "understand America"--because "you cannot lead America if you do not know her."

And there you have the crux of it. These are the elite, the future leaders. That whole messy fighting and dying business--that would be for other people.

(My transcript, no link.)


June 27, 2005

City Lights

Tom's latest post (see below) reminded me of something I meant to point out last week, after Tom DeLay made his absurd comparison between Baghdad and his home town:

You know, if Houston, Texas, was held to the same standard as Iraq is held to, nobody'd go to Houston, because all this reporting coming out of the local press in Houston is violence, murders, robberies, deaths on the highways."

This was, of course, completely unfair to the Iraqi capital. Baghdad was one of the great cities of the world when Houston was nothing more than stinking, festering swamp.

Which just goes to show that some things never change.

But DeLay's inept stab at propaganda reminded me that the rhetorical gimmick of comparing [insert Iraqi location here] to [insert American city here] isn't limited to wing-nut bug catchers who've huffed way too much of their own Malathion. Field Marshal von Rumsfeld himself has shown a fondness for it. So have some Army officers in the field -- although I bet most of them wouldn't talk that way now. A few examples:

Despite problems in restoring and repairing Iraq's electrical system, Baghdad at night glows with light, [Rumsfeld] said: "For a city that's not supposed to have power, there's lights all over the place. It's like Chicago."

Rumsfeld: Iraq 'Better Every Day'
September 5, 2003

Look, you've got to remember that if Washington D.C. were the size of Baghdad, we would be having something like 215 murders a month. And it is -- there's going to be violence in a big city.

Donald Rumsfeld
Press Briefing
June 18, 2003

After six weeks of patrols in his area, Colonel Grimsley said the level of violent crime was lower than in Atlanta, the nearest big city to the brigade's base in Georgia."

New York Times
Anxious and Weary of War, G.I.'s Face a New Iraq Mission
June 15, 2003

I don't know. I haven't been to Iraq, but I have been to Chicago, Washington and Atlanta, and I can't see it. I also live near a major American city, and I didn't notice any public beheadings, exploding land mines or scattered body parts the last time I went downtown -- but then I don't go down in the subway much. Still, the power and water are usually on 24/7. And I hardly ever get shot at when I drive to the airport.

On the other hand, it may not be fair to compare my home town to a city in a failed Third World state run by warring tribal leaders, corrupt politicians and crazed religious fundamentalists. And that's not even counting West Texas. So who knows? Maybe Houston really is as bad as Baghdad.

I mean, it may not have as many suicide bombers and beheadings as Baghdad, but Baghdad doesn't have Tom DeLay, and that still counts for something.

Tom Tomorrow:
Just like Houston
In Iraq last week, multiple car bombs on successive days in Baghdad killed more than 40 people and wounded at least 100, and a police official was assassinated. More than 700 people have been killed in the capital by insurgents in the past month.



June 26, 2005

The Game of the Name
There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place. Merely it became known, with extreme suddenness and everywhere at once, that Eastasia and not Eurasia was the enemy.

George Orwell

It seems the Cheney administration's decision to negotiate with the Iraq insurgents actually made the Sunday babbling head shows today. One of the more teling moments was Rumsfeld's effort to justify the new party line by creating a fresh linguistic distinction between the Sunni insurgents and the foreign terrorists:

"They [contacts] go on all the time,” he added. “Second, the Iraqis have a sovereign government. They will decide what their relationships with various elements of insurgents will be. We facilitate those [relationships] from time to time."

But Mr. Rumsfeld said no negotiations are taking place with hardened terrorist elements belonging to al-Qaida or those, as he put it, "with blood on their hands." (emphasis added)

I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more about this crucial distinction in the weeks and months ahead. Hell, before you know it -- depending on how the talks go -- Rummy may be referring to them as Sunni "freedom fighters."

But such abrupt shifts in the party line are always jarring -- as in Orwell's famous description of Big Brother's security agents frantically ripping down propaganda posters that suddenly had the name of the wrong enemy on them. It wasn't too long ago (four months, to be exact) that our Cheerleader-in-Chief was lumping all "anti-Iraqi" forces together in the same Islamofascist stew:

"Terrorists and insurgents are violently opposed to democracy, and will continue to attack it. Yet the terrorists' most powerful myth is being destroyed. The whole world is seeing that the car bombers and assassins are not only fighting coalition forces, they are trying to destroy the hopes of Iraqis, expressed in free elections.

And the whole world now knows that a small group of extremists will not overturn the will of the Iraqi people.

This, of course, was the party line for many moons. It was not, however, the original line. In the good old days -- back when Bush was still posing in his flight suit -- the insurgents were usually painted as a motley crew of "former regime elements" and "Baathist dead enders," reinforced by "criminals and thugs" released from Saddam's jails. Foreign terrorists, when they were mentioned at all, were a distinctly secondary propaganda element.

All this changed in the spring of last year, when the insurgency exploded into full view of the folks back home. The tidal wave of bad news -- Americans burned alive in Fallujah, the revolt of Moqtada Sadr's Shi'a militia, Abu Ghraib, the failure of the WMD snipe hunt -- apparently convinced the White House spin doctors that the war in Iraq had to be tied much more closely to the war against Al Qaeda.

The result was a sudden, obsessive focus on the evil al-Zarqawi and his jihadi legions -- as when Dan Senor, the GOP campaign mouthpiece turned coalition spokesman, tried to blame Zarqawi for the entire Fallujah debacle:

The problem here is not with the Fallujans, the problem here is not with the coalition. The problem here is with foreign fighters, international terrorists, people like Zarqawi, who we believe to be in Fallujah or nearby.

Here's Rummy, banging on the same propaganda drum back at the Pentagon:

The terrorists, assassins are threatened by the Iraqi's people's progress toward self-government, because they know that they will have no future in a free Iraq. They know, as al Qaeda associate Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi put it in his letter recently, that we intercepted: "Democracy is coming."

From that point forward, administration officials usually made a special point of referring to the Iraqi resistance as "the terrorists" -- and even launched a mini-campaign to pressure the media into using either that word or the newly invented phrase "anti-Iraq forces" instead of the more neutral "insurgents" or "insurgency."

But now the whole world (or at least, that part which reads the newspapers) knows that "terrorists" and "assassins" are the administration's new negotiating partners. Since Bush has a rock-hard policy of never negotiating with such people, the only solution is a rhetorical one. The line must be changed again. New labels must be invented and applied to those insurgents who "don't have blood on their hands." (Roughly the gazillionth oxymoron created by the administration in this war. But whose counting?)

It's definitely going to be an Orwellian challenge. Even if Rummy and the gang drop the "terrorist" and "assassin" lingo and go back to "former regime elements," or "Baathist diehards," they still will have to explain the morality of negotiating with butchers who gas their own people and then bury them in mass graves (that is, when they aren't relaxing in their rape rooms.) Such is the problem with wartime atrocity propaganda: In a rapidly shifting situation, it may have too long a shelf life.

An Orwellian challenge, but one I'm sure the Cheney administration can handle -- especially since the corporate media and a sizable fraction of the American people now seem to carry portable memory holes around in their own heads.

Tom Tomorrow:
Shorter Washington Post

Accusing half the country of treason is a brilliant political strategy.

(But, oh, that Howard Dean--what a nutcase!)

Tom Tomorrow:
The law of unintended consequences

Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor under Carter, acknowleded in a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur that the Carter administration began funding the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan six months before the Soviets invaded (a statement corroborated by former CIA director Robert Gates).

Brzezinski: According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

* * *
Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?

B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

B: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn't a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries.

At this point in history, one need hardly elaborate on the short-sightedness of a policy which sought to give the Soviets their own Vietnam at the small cost of a few "stirred up Muslims". But for the rare, obtuse reader, let's state it flat out: there's a direct line leading from this ill-conceived decision to the events of September 11, 2001.

The law of unintended consequences.

One of the post-facto rationales for the Iraq war, popularized by Andrew Sullivan back in his Screaming Eagle days, is the "flypaper theory"--the idea that we'll all be safer in the United States if the terrorists are kept busy in Iraq. In other words, trust us, we've got everything under control! We meant for this to happen!

The law of unintended consequences:

The News: A classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was for Al Qaeda in the days of the struggle against Soviet occupation. Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat.

Behind the News: The assessment, as described by several Congressional and intelligence officials, says the urban nature of the war in Iraq is helping combatants learn how to carry out assassinations, kidnappings, car bombings and other kinds of attacks that were never a staple of the fighting in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet campaigns of the 1980's.

The report says that, for now, most potential terrorists are expected to focus their energies on attacking American forces in Iraq, but that Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries would soon have to contend with well-trained militants from the conflict.

The history of Western intervention in the Middle East is the history of unintended consequences, and it should have been clear from the start to anyone with basic cognitive functions that the Iraq war was going to come back and bite us in the ass. And make no mistake--it will.

But what the hell. Just a few stirred-up Muslims, right?

With the flypaper theory, the neocons and their cheering section have effectively claimed pre-emptive responsibility for whatever future 9/11's await us--but I doubt they'll see it that way. The dark irony of it is, no matter what horror unfolds as a result of this little terrorist training camp they've manged to create, they'll claim it as further proof that they were Right All Along, and of the need to Stay the Course. Even as they deny knowing what flypaper even is, or having ever heard of flies.

Chocolate rations have always been up. Or, as Atrios often says, "Clap louder! Clap louder!"

Negotiating With Terrorists
No nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.

George W. Bush
Remarks to Reporters
April 4, 2002

After weeks of delicate negotiation . . . a small group of insurgent commanders apparently came face to face with four American officials seeking to establish a dialogue with the men they regard as their enemies. The talks on June 3 were followed by a second encounter 10 days later, according to an Iraqi who said that he had attended both meetings . . . further talks are planned in the hope of negotiating an eventual breakthrough that might reduce the violence in Iraq.

The Sunday Times of London
US 'in talks with Iraq rebels'
June 26, 2005

I should say, right off the bat, that I didn't juxtapose the items above because I disapprove of negotiating with the insurgents -- far from it. Fracturing the resistance by reaching some kind of deal with the homegrown, non-Al Qaeda aligned elements of it is one of the few moves left on the Iraq chess board that doesn't end in massive bloodshed.

But the contrast certainly demonstrates how far we have come since the post-9/11 days of "moral clarity" and "you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists." It also highlights the absurdity of Karl Rove's little treatise on the difference between the conservative and liberal approaches to the war on terror. Instead of "showing steel" to the evildoers, the Cheney administration's envoys appear to have been more interested in playing 20 questions with them:

The American team began to irritate the Iraqis with what some saw as a crude attempt to gather intelligence. They asked questions about the “hierarchy and logistics of the groups, how they functioned, how orders were dispatched, how they divide their work and so on,” the Iraqi source said.

“It was a boring line of questioning that indicated an attempt to discover more about their enemy than about finding solutions,” one of the sources added. “We told the translator to inform them that if they persisted with this line we would all walk out of the meeting.”

Apparently, trying to understand our enemies isn't such a bad idea after all.

Rove, of course, is not the only one who should be ordering the crow entree for dinner -- that is, assuming this Sunday Times report is as correct as its stories on the Downing Street memos. Over the past two years, the U.S. Army and its civilian overlords in the Pentagon have gone from denying the insurgency's existence, to predicting its rapid demise, to claiming they are winning the war against it, to promising victory sometime in the future.

And now we're told they've been reduced to fishing for information over glasses of sweet tea, and demanding at the negotiating table what could not be obtained by force -- despite operations Dagger, Lightning, Matador, New Market, Spear, Thunder etc. etc.

After a discussion about Al-Qaeda activities, the Americans bluntly advised the Iraqis to “cease all support, logistics and cover for Zarqawi’s group.” Only if links to Al-Qaeda were severed would the Americans be ready to discuss Iraqi demands.

How low the mighty have fallen.

One assumes the Cheney administration is hoping its decision to negotiate with the terrorists (as the White House itself defines the term) will receive the same level of coverage the Downing Street memos initially got from the U.S. corporate media -- which is to say, either studiously ignored or buried in the back pages. Such, at least, was the fate of earlier, less detailed reports about negotiating feelers put out by the American side.

The Rovians better hope it plays out that way, because it's hard to imagine a story that could do more to collapse whatever public support is left for the war and the administration's conduct of it.

The basis of Bush's appeal has always been his obsessively cultivated image of strength and resolution -- of never backing down or looking for a way out of a fight. Likewise, the administration's last effective selling point for the war is the classic circular argument: America must stay in Iraq because it is in Iraq. Withdrawing before the "mission" is completed would show weakness and encourage the terrorists.

Negotiating with the "terrorists" completely undermines both arguments. It makes Bush look like a trimmer -- exactly the charge leveled with such effect against John Kerry, as in this explanation from the nutcase conservatives at NewsMax:

The Bush campaign's central message on Kerry: Anyone who would negotiate with terrorists can't be trusted with U.S. national security in a post-9/11 world.

By opening negotiations (according to the Sunday Times, the Americans made the first move, not the insurgents) the administration has shown weakness -- every bit as much, if not more, than it would by setting a timetable for withdrawal.

Bush acknowledged on Friday that “the way ahead is not going to be easy” and for once the Iraqi insurgent commander agreed with him. “It looks like the Americans are in big trouble in Iraq and are desperate to find a way out,” the commander said. “Why else would they have rounds of negotiations with people they label as terrorists?”

The true believers of the Bush cult no doubt can be relied upon to wipe the contradiction from their minds. We'll probably get a post any day now from the Powerline bundists explaining why only liberal traitors oppose negotiating with terrorists. But the silent majority might not be so easy to con. It supported the war when the goal was to defeat the insurgency. It was willing -- much more reluctantly -- to keep the troops in Iraq long enough for "Iraqization" to work, so that Iraqi troops could defeat the insurgency. But you have to wonder whether they'll be willing to keep sending their children to die fighting evil, head-chopping terrorists, when their government is negotiating with those very same terrorists.

And so we arrive at the heart of the problem: To salvage any ending short of total defeat in Iraq, the Cheney administration must act like those spineless, flip-flopping liberals. They have to negotiate with the terrorists, listening to their demands, trying to understand their grievances and goals -- shit, offering them therapy sessions for all I know. But at the same time, Bush also has to keep up the never-give-an-inch macho act, lest the silent majority finally grasp the dismal truth: Their sons and daughters must go on dying in the quagmire so the neocons can find a way out that doesn't involve losing too much face.

That's why I think this story has the potential to develop into a PR debacle that dwarfs Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the Downing Street memos put together. It echoes all too painfully the primal sin of Vietnam as enshrined in popular mythology: that the politicians led the army, and the country, into war, but weren't willing to pursue it to victory.

That's why I'll be watching closely to see how (or whether) the lapdogs of the American media react to this story. Because if they can ignore this, they can ignore anything.


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