Saturday, January 21, 2006

Now for Some American Voices

In the past two days, the Washington Post Style Section featured two Americans who dissent from BushCheney’s insane war.

The first is retired Colonel Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Colonel Wilkerson calls the Iraq war a “blunder of historic proportions”.

“...’This is really a very inept administration,’ says Wilkerson, who has credentials not only as an insider in the Bush I, Clinton and Bush II presidencies but also as a former professor at two of the nation's war colleges. ‘As a teacher who's studied every administration since 1945, I think this is probably the worst ineptitude in governance, decision-making and leadership I've seen in 50-plus years. You've got to go back and think about that. That includes the Bay of Pigs, that includes -- oh my God, Vietnam. That includes Iran-contra, Watergate.’..."

The second is historian William Blum, the obscure author of “Rogue State: A Guide to the Worlds Only Super Power”, the book recommended by Osama bin Laden in his most recent audiotape.

“...Blum's exact words? ‘If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize -- very publicly and very sincerely -- to all the widows and orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism.’

...[H]e made clear that he deplores the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But he argues, as many other essayists have, that they were an understandable retaliation against U.S. foreign policy. ‘The thesis in my books and my writing is that anti-American terrorism arises from the behavior of U.S. foreign policy,’ he said. ‘It is what the U.S. government does which angers people all over the world.’

"I am totally against what they did. But we cannot view that as totally the acts of a bunch of madmen. If we do . . . we will continue making the same mistakes, and the so-called war on terror will be as doomed to fail as the war on drugs’..."

Two very different voices, two very different perspectives pointing in the same direction.

The War Comes Home

When you go into combat, you never really come back. Even if you are fortunate enough to return, you bring the combat with you. Douglas Barber escaped his demons in the only way he could.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Mission Accomplished?

“No war for oil” has been a favorite mantra of the anti-war activists from even before the invasion of Iraq. BushCheney has been equally insistent that oil is not the reason for the invasion. The media have largely ignored the issue of oil hegemony in the three years of the Iraq war. As a result, oil has been, at best, a peripheral issue, not quite on the radar but still lurking in the background. The failure of the US to restore Iraq’s oil production suggests that if the war was launched for oil, it has not been a success.

That supposed lack of success may actually be just the opposite, at least in terms of controlling oil resources. Iraq’s oil may not be flowing to American consumers or the customers of American oil companies but it’s not going anywhere else, either. The US may not be able to allocate and direct the flow of oil from the world’s second largest petroleum reserve, but we certainly have control of that most precious resource and most likely will continue to control it. As long as the insurgency continues and Iraq is saddled with a weak central government, not much of Iraq’s oil is going anywhere.

This is certainly consistent with the ideological underpinnings of this administration as presented in the Project of a New American Century which counts numerous current and former BushCheney administration officials among its architects. One of its key principles is to preserve and extend “ international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles....” While this is a generic function of any government, PNAC’s efforts to use military force to establish a world-wide American hegemony in the face of an increasingly multi-polar world suggests a willingness to invest considerable money and blood for this purpose, a willingness that is both costly and not necessarily in the long-term interests of all Americans, although the oil companies and military contractors will certainly benefit.

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe in cooperation among nations and rebuilding national and world economies to reduce dependence on non-renewable resources. Naif that I am, I just can’t believe that war and neo-colonialism is either sustainable and in our best interest. Combined with my first hand knowledge of war at the ground level and I have a strong aversion to war as a tool for economic security.

My reservations notwithstanding, the US is in a war for oil and has succeeded in asserting dominance over Iraq’s reserves. So maybe BushCheney wasn’t so dumb after all, or he is dumb like a fox. He got the oil away from Saddam Hussein and is keeping it away from everyone else. Americans may not be reaping the benefit of that oil but neither can anyone else. The future of Iraq’s oil is still to be determined and the United States has a powerful position in deciding that disposition.

In the 19th century Britain and Russia pursued what came to be known as the “Great Game” for influence and control in central Asia. Although time, circumstances and players have changed since then, the game continues. In the 21st century the prize is oil and all the world is the playing field.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


My post on Al Gore’s speech highlighted a quote that has also been cited by bloggers Kos and Tom Tomorrow. Each of us takes a different perspective on that quote in our posts but a central point is that the “Global War on Terrorism” is not exactly the threat to this nation that BushCheney has used to justify his war and near-dictatorial powers for the past four years. The 9-11 attack was a horrible, costly event, no doubt about that. But it does not justify much of what this nation has done in response.

The 9-11 Commission found that BushCheney ignored intelligence that would have led to further investigation and perhaps disrupted the plot. Despite the changes in intelligence policies and interrogation methods introduced since 2001, what would have been more effective in 2001 and(even now) would have been someone awake at the wheel. BushCheney and his administration missed all the clues.

And his response has been nothing short of disastrous. America, with the support of much of the world, attacked al-Quaeda in Afghanistan but left that country in the lurch as BushCheney launched an unnecessary war in Iraq. He claims America is safer now, as evidenced by the lack of attacks on “the Homeland” but the claim is specious. Al-Quaeda may have been disrupted but it is far from eliminated as a threat. Moreover, they now have a most convenient target in the American forces in Iraq. Our casualties there will soon exceed the 9-11 toll.

The recent estimate of the total cost for the Iraq War further illustrates the scope of this disaster. Because terrorists killed some 3,300 Americans and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damage, we are now engaged in a war that will kill at least that many more Americans and scores of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani lives at a cost of one to two trillion dollars.
A good rule of thumb is that you don’t spend more to solve a problem than the problem is actually costing. It’s called cost-effectiveness. The Global War on Terror is not cost-effective. It’s not even effective.

Terrorism is a real problem, but it’s not World War II or the Cold War. As Gore said, “Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction.”

Some perspective would be good here. I hope Al Gore is not the last to speak out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fine Words

Al Gore spoke well yesterday, blending the words and spirit of Martin Luther King with is own to warn Americans of the dangers now facing the Republic. You can read the entire speech here. Gore makes any number of good points. My favorite:

“...[T]he Administration has tried to control the flow of information is by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. As President Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens' right not only to life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch and the President's apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law....”

But Gore’s fine words also demonstrate the paucity of political debate in modern America. I am pleased that he speaks so eloquently and forcefully these days but I wonder where this Al Gore was in 2000 when he ran for office. In 2000 Gore was the conventional, safe politician, unwilling to ruffle feathers, a man who seemed to lack the passion to really stand for anything. Anyone who knew Gore’s record and
beliefs knew that caricature was misleading but too many only saw Al Gore, the scheming career politician. Even then, he won more votes than George W. Bush. Had he shown the passion he demonstrated yesterday, the past five years might have been quite different. With no office to lose, he is now free to speak. Like Gore the candidate, many Democratic office seekers are hesitant to speak their minds for fear of alienating voters. That’s why Howard Dean was so electrifying in 2003 and why he scared the hell out of the Democratic establishment.

The pusillanimity of the Democratic establishment was evident a few weeks ago when 13 former Secretaries of State and Defense met with George Bush. Billed as a “consultation”, it was little more of than a photo-op. Bush spoke for all but ten minutes, leaving the 13 former cabinet officials with about 46 seconds each to speak. Some consultation. One Daily Kos diarist pointed out that the Democratic secretaries could have spoken out about this sham event. (Sorry, I cannot locate the links for the event and the post.) None did, although they would have risked little since none are ever likely to seek elected office. Had they done so, they would have not only exposed the hollowness of the event but they would have also provided some cover to elected critics of the administration.

If America is lucky, 2006 will be a year when principled Americans speak truth to power. Gore’s speech yesterday is a good start. I hope more Americans, office seekers and citizens, will do the same.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Another Iraqi Voice

Raed in the Middle:

"...So if there was a question whether this war and occupation was worth the cost paid by Iraqis and U.S. people, I would say: 'definitely not'. The right change should have come from the inside, and the right type of democracy should have emerged from a long-term grassroots movement growing within Iraq....

The foreign occupation turned the dream of having an Iraq without Saddam to a darker nightmare, a nightmare where Iraqis lost even the smallest benefits they used to have before the occupation while the political oppression stayed the same if not worse. The biggest irony in this nightmare is when the 'liberators' compare themselves to the former dictator to market their “new” Iraq. 'Saddam killed 300,000 but we just killed a 100,000 to make you vote', this is the how the logic of the mainstream pro-war activists and media sounds like. The same people who used Saddam’s crimes to justify the war on Iraq are committing the very same crimes against Iraqis....[snip]

The occupation turned Iraq into the heaven and haven of violent extremists, and everyday of occupation is a happy day for extremists. I’m sure AMZ never dreamt of having such a comfortable space where he can work and launch attacks against Jordan, Israel and other countries in the region.

The only way to stop the violence in Iraq is to pull out the US troops. The British troops are pulling out after the elections; most of the smaller troops are pulling out as well. The only people who know how to stop violence in Iraq are Iraqis themselves. They’ve done that for the last decades, and they can do it again when the occupation troops give them back their country...."

Wanted: A Real Opposition

To say that I am disappointed in the performance of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee would be putting it mildly. Reading and listening to the coverage of the hearings, they came across as ego-centric blowhards, harassing a qualified Everyman. They even made his wife cry. What worthless caricatures these Democrats are. Neil’s comment on a previous post suggests that senators with “lifetime” tenure (he mentioned Ted Kennedy; I will add Ted Stevens for partisan balance) are as troublesome than justices, probably more so. After watching the Democrats in Congress and the party generally over the past five years, it’s hard not to agree with his assessment even if I don’t share his opinion of Alito.

The Alito hearings were, for me, simply another example of the Democrats’ overall problem, to wit: there’s no THERE there (with apologies to Gertrude Stein and Oakland, California). The Democrats are all tactics but no strategy in opposing BushCheney and his corporate minions. The Democrats’ tactic on Alito was to provoke an outrageous statement from him that would reveal him as the radical he is. They lost. Alito was well schooled and too smart for that. He and his handlers learned the lesson of Robert Bork well. Absent Alito’s “confession”, the Democrats had nothing to go on. They certainly did not make the case in the hearings that Alito’s record and opinions would further erode Constitutional checks and balances that would strengthen the president against the other branches of government, creating the executive power that the Framers sought to prevent.

This performance is by no means isolated. Democrats offer no real alternative to BushCheney’s disastrous foreign policies that have mired this nation in an endless war, alienated much of the world and created rather than reduced threats to this nation and its allies. Rather than relentlessly pointing out how these policies have injured America, the Democrats keep waiting for them to fail, for the American people to turn against them. The approach is reactive; it bespeaks a party that really has little to offer. That’s why they don’t appear to be gaining support even as BushCheney’s approval plummets to Nixonian depths.

Tactics are only as good as the strategy they implement. So far Democratic tactics are essentially to nibble at the margins, to oppose specifics here and there without questioning the overall policies. That’s like fighting a war without ever taking on the enemy’s main force. Knocking off a patrol or even winning battles doesn’t do much of the enemy is still able to field a strong force (Remember, the Confederates won most of the early battles in the Civil War. The US won all the battles in Vietnam, according to William Westmoreland. Look what good it did in either case.) So far BushCheney has been able to maintain the initiative with his so far unchallenged “terror-safety” message. Until the Democrats begin pointing out the dangerous fallacies and consequences of these policies, they will remain a (with apologies to Richard Nixon) “a pitiful, helpless giant”, continually floundering, always ineffectual and not much of a “giant” to boot.

Back to Alito for a moment , I think he should not be confirmed to the Supreme Court. His record reflects anything but an open mind, rather he would join the radicals already on the Court, to weaken government protections for individuals against the government that has served Americans well for over two centuries. But after watching the Alito hearings, I don’t know that the Democratic minority is capable of marshaling an effective argument for such a strong action, a weakness that characterizes Democrats in virtually every debate.

Others have made good suggestions for rebuilding the Democratic Party as a real opposition to BushCheney. Examples are here and here. I will add that until the Democratic Party actually bases its opposition on a clear set of ideas, it will continue to be irrelevant. I will also add that rebuilding takes time. It took the Republicans almost two decades to regroup and recover from the Goldwater debacle in 1964. Forty years later, they wield absolute control of the federal government. It’s a lesson in message and determination that the Democrats need to remember.

Update: Armando at Daily Kos makes the argument the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee should have made.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hero's Tale.

This video tells the story of Hugh Thompson and the events surrounding his heroism at My Lai and his experience afterward. The world could use more like him.