Saturday, April 03, 2004

Pelosi Slam Dunks Bush  

So much for the myth that liberals fear a brawl:
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco blasted the White House on Friday for insisting that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney testify together before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying it makes it look like Bush is a chief executive on training wheels.

'It's embarrassing to the president of the United States that they won't let him go in without holding the hand of the vice president of the United States,'' Pelosi, the House minority leader, told reporters in her Capitol offices. 'I think it speaks to the lack of confidence the administration has in the president going forth alone.'
Oh, Nancy, can we please get a dna sample and clone you like immediately?

Friday, April 02, 2004

Picture Found In The Economist  

What's up with them? Whatever, this is very good news. A non-endorsement at this time from The Economist is quite a statement!

Not Half As Much As It Should Be  

But it's not bad:
John Kerry's presidential campaign raised more than $50 million in the first quarter of 2004, a record for any nonincumbent White House contender, including George W. Bush, the Democrat's staff said on Friday.

Grass-roots contributions, many made on the Internet, accounted for $35 million of the quarterly total, Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said in a telephone news conference.

She said the campaign raised $38 million in March, the month that Massachusetts senator clinched the party nomination to run against President Bush in November."

Two More U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq  

And it continues:
A U.S. soldier and a Marine were killed in separate attacks by suspected insurgents in Iraq, the U.S. military said Friday.

Terrific Blog of Blogs  

Go to Political Wire. You will like it.

UK Headline: "US knew al-Qa'ida would attack cities with aeroplanes'"  

In the UK's Independent
'A former translator for the FBI with top-secret security clearance says she has provided information to the panel investigating the 11 September attacks which proves senior officials knew of al-Qa'ida's plans to attack the US with aircraft months before the strikes happened.

She said the claim by the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that there was no such information was "an outrageous lie".

Sibel Edmonds said she spent more than three hours in a closed session with the commission's investigators providing information that was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting that an attack using aircraft was just months away and the terrorists were in place. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has sought to silence her and has obtained a gagging order from a court by citing the rarely used "state secrets privilege".

She told The Independent yesterday: "I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."

She added: "There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used ­ but not specifically about how they would be used ­ and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities ­ with skyscrapers."

The accusations from Mrs Edmonds, 33, a Turkish-American who speaks Azerbaijani, Farsi, Turkish and English, will reignite the controversy over whether the administration ignored warnings about al-Qa'ida. That controversy was sparked most recently by Richard Clarke, a former counter-terrorism official, who has accused the administration of ignoring his warnings.
hat tip to Randi Rhodes on Air America Radio

Randi asks an interesting question: why aren't we hearing about this in the US?

Sooner or later, of course, it will be all over the news, let's just hope it doesn't take 2 years, as it did for the information in Woodward's book to get interpreted properly. Or as it did for the press to question the outrageous Bush evasion "Had I known exactly what al Qaeda was doing at 8:46 am on a beautiful Tuesday in the fall, with the exact flight numbers that they were going to use boxcutters and I was told real nice by someone I've got a snotty nickname for, well I would have done everything I could have to stop it," which was first floated in the middle of May 2002, and just now is getting shot down for the bs that it so obviously is.

The Pentagon's New Map: A Review, Interrupted.  

A few weeks ago, a publicist wrote my blog and asked if I would be interested in receiving an advanced copy of The Pentagon's New Map by Thomas P. M. Barnett, which expands upon an essay Dr. Barnett published in Esquire Magazine on the eve of the Bush/Iraq War (the article is reproduced here). Sure, why not? I thought. In fact, it looked rather interesting so I accepted the kind offer, and the book arrived about a week ago.

Dr. Barnett has a PhD in polisci from Harvard, he is a "senior strategic researcher and profeesor at the US Naval War College," and worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I figured if anyone could make the Administration's case for war, Dr. Barnett could. The article in Esquire, and the book, was based upon a policy briefing he gave continuously to the top Pentagon officials in the run up to war.

Surely, this book had a chance be that chimera in contemporary American political literature, the truly "thoughtful" book.

My concerns that it might turn out otherwise started on page 22. Dr. Barnett says that after the Cold War, a new global security buzzword had emerged in Pentagon strategic discussions: "chaos."
I have a lot of problems with the notion of chaos as a guiding strategic principle. it just seems like such a cop-out. So like any good Roman Catholic, I obsess instead about "rules," or all the procedures, laws, treaties...and conventional wisdom that seem to guide the actions of individuals, corporations, governments, and the international community at large.
Dr. Barnett is telling us something here that many readers would either gloss over or automatically agree with. Chaos implies messiness, confusion, uncertainty, ignorance, problems of causation. As he defines "rules," they represent order, stability, and (relatively) clearly defined paths of causality.

All well and good but there's just one problem, if you take this passage seriously and read it closely. What if the reality of foreign relations does not conform to Dr. Barnett's a priori and strongly held desire for them to conform to sets of well defined rules with predictable outcomes? He simply doesn't address the possibility, he doesn't provide any evidence that "chaos" is a poor paradigm for analzying foreign relations: he never even troubles to define what "chaos" in the technical sense it is used in such context means. He merely dismisses it as a "cop-out" that is not worth any further attention. In other words, he doesn't like the idea. And he brings up his religious teachings to support his distaste for such a notion.

In the pages that follow, Dr. Barnett assumes that rule sets can realistically define international relations and then proposes that September 11 is an important event that highlights that a brand new set of rules is now in effect.

This is a subtle example of what psychologists call "magical thinking." Magical thinking is defined, according to The American Psychiatric Glossary as "The conviction of the individual that his or her thoughts, words, and actions, may in some manner cause or prevent outcomes in a way that defies the normal laws of cause and effect." Magical thinking is surprisingly common, even in perfectly normal individuals like Dr. Barnett but it often shows up heavily disguised (see here for an interesting recent experiment) . In the case of the passage above, Dr. Barnett refuses to take seriously the notion that anything except a rule set which generates a relatively concise and cripsly defined set of predictable outcomes could adequately define international relations. His thought processes and religious training, he says, bias him away from such messy ideas. Therefore, he reasons quite irrationally, he will apply such rule sets to analyze reality, even if reality may require a different approach.

Of course, these rule sets need not be utterly simple ones. Indeed, they might be complex sets. Nevertheless, when properly understood, the correctly described rule set will, in his view, allow for reliable predictions about the future and provide (relatively) clear and orderly paths to follow to achieve a goal (eg, elimination of terrorism, world peace, prosperity, etc.). Implicit in the notion of such a rule set is that causality can be fairly strictly defined. If you do X , then either A will almost certainly happen, D could happen, and Z will never happen.

Naturally, this primitive, simplistic model of contingency in a complex in a complex system is a fallacy. But even with a less obvious straw man -identifying multiple factors , assigning variables and weights, calculating probabilities,- the fallacy doesn't go away, because it is part and parcel of the underlying wrongly held assumption: if we know all, or most, or the most important rules and all, or most, or the most important of the variables in a complex situation, then we will know the outcome and can predict the future. Mathematically, this does not always follow, as Dr. Barnett surely knows. And in the real world of international relations, it also doesn't follow.

In the real world, causality within a complex system is extremely difficult to tweaze out, except in extreme circumstances. Certainly, the decline in the stock market immediately post 9/11 was, with reasonable certainty, mainly due to the attacks themselves and widespread fear stemming from them. But stock market movement that is only a small bit less dramatic, such as the long boom of the 1990's has too many causes interacting for one single cause, or small group of causes to be considered THE cause (was it Clinton's stewardship? Greenspan's? The delayed salutary effect of Reagan's tax cuts? Sheer randomness or dumb luck? All have been proposed by those who are deemed experts). In terms of even less extreme movement, the vagaries of the stock market defy prediction: as the Wall Street Journal has amply shown, darts beat analysts far more often than analysts would care to admit.

Not only is causality difficult to assign, but reliable predictions of the future are even more difficult, if not in most cases, utterly impossible, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs. One needs only to read Brzezinski's prognostications, orWalter Russell Mead's from 15 plus years ago, to realize that even the "best and the brightest" are often -perhaps usually?- totally wrong on how the future will unfold. To come to the analysis of foreign affairs with a built in bias towards a definable rule set that churns out relatively reliable predictions which compel certain kinds of actions is to make a fundamental and egregious error. For it just may be that the best way to prepare for the future is not to put that much stock in trying to predict too much of it, but rather simply to react to the present in a rational, knowledgeable, cautious, and self-interested fashion.

One final point about this fairly unimportant but revealing passage from Dr. Barnett's book: if Dr. Barnett has more substantive objections to the serious limits in predictability claimed by a formal "chaos theory," he needs to make them. It is a cop out on his part to say he thinks that such theories are a cop out and not go into detail.

But let's go on. My serious concerns about Dr. Barnett's ability to provide helpful analysis of our current situation were intensified by this remarkable passage at the bottom of page 34:
To me, 9/11 was an amazing gift-as twisted and cruel as that sounds...On that morning, America was forced to wake up from the dreamlike nineties.
Now, Dr. Barnett's inconsideration for the families of the victims didn't bother me that much here as I knew that he was merely availing himself of one of the most hackneyed of tropes that are profferred in times of adversity -there's a silver lining to every cloud. All will turn out for the best. No, what bothered was this:

What "America" you are talking about, sir, that was asleep and dreaming during the nineties? During the nineties, many of us, including me in my tiny small way, were screaming loudly at the government and the press to wake up to the fact that there were serious problems in the world that far outweighed anything that Bill Clinton did in Arkansas before his presidency, and certainly were far more important than what kind of intimate pleasures he enjoyed.

How much of America thought this way? Quite a lot. Remember, at the height of the impeachment, Clinton's poll numbers remained extremely good, one of many factors that contributed to him remaining in office. I haven't checked to see if it was ever done, but I suspect that back then any poll that asked, "Who's a greater threat to the US, Osama bin Laden or Monica Lewinsky?" would be overwhelmingly skewed to the former. When you put the question that starkly, is there any doubt as to exactly who was asleep. Was it the GOP hate squads who were using everything they could to destroy Clinton - or Clinton, whose every foreign policy move was met with ridicule, vituperation and accusations he was just wagging the dog? Was it the large, but largely ignored, group of Americans who were urging the country to focus on something more important than trivial land deals, a clumsy pass, and an act or two of fellatio?

No, Dr. Barnett. All of America wasn't in a dream state in the nineties. Nor, as recent revelations have made clear, was the Clinton administration. But the right wing was, fixated with singular passion on the goals of thwarting, then destroying the Clinton presidency, while warnings of serious problems - not just terrorism, but health care, racism, income disparity, poverty - were willfully ignored.

By now, I was not in the most receptive mood to read Dr. Barnett's book, but I persisted, and then encountered this on page 43 that left my mouth agape:
Most experts will tell you that modern terrorism began in the late 1960's, roughly corresponding to the youthquake that rocked many advanced industrial societies at that time. From its origins in the late 1960s, politically inspired or ideologically driven terrorist groups slowly ramped up their attacks worldwide, in no small measure because of systematic support from the Soviet bloc. When that aid disappeared in the late 1980s, global terroism nosedived, leading many experts (including me) to surmise it would no longer constitute a significant security threat for the international community as a whole.

What really happened in the 1990s is that many of these terrorist groups, cut off from Soviet material and ideological support, fundamentally reinvented themselves as religiously motivated terror movements.
He can't be serious.

He simply can't mean what he writes. Does Dr. Barnett seriously believe that the members of, say, the Baader-Meinhof gang ,reinvented themselves as al Qaeda? Does he really believe that there are any Weathermen who converted to Islam, went to Pakistan, and are now plotting the Bride of September 11? Does Dr. Barnett truly think that Umberto Eco, who was quite sympathetic to the leftist radicals in Italy in the 70's, now swears his allegiance to Osama?

I cannot imagine how any genuine expert who is even remotely familiar with the history of 20th century terrorism could write such nonsense. He provides no references whatsoever to back up this utterly bizarre opinion, that left wing extremists followed the money and reinvented themselves as Pan-Arabian ultranationalists.

To give Dr. Barnett every benefit of the doubt, it appears that once again, he may have fallen victim to his problem understanding causation. He has made a classic error. Correlation does not prove causation. Indeed, the decline in extreme left wing terroris and the ascent of radical Islamist terrorism correlates with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of Osama bin Laden. But in this case, every indication is that they could not be causally related as the same people were not involved; they are not even remotely the same terrorist population. Yes, former Soviet military officers have trained al Qaeda members and members of related groups. But there is no indication that I know about, and I looked into it a little bit, that these officers are now anything more than freelancers hustling to make a living.

One other possibility occurs to me, to explain what he's trying to say. Does Dr. Barnett mean that these Soviet officers were once involved in the training of the Baader-Meinhofs of the world and now that money has run out, they've reinvented themselves as the teachers of al Qaeda? If so, then he's saying these publicly undiscussed nearly anonymous shadowy figures are the true Evil Ones, not Bernardine Dohrn or al-Zawahiri or whomever, who are just their students and followers.

Again, I can't believe that's what Dr. Barnett could be talking about, for we are entering the world of Freemason conspiracies, Sarah Conner/Terminator -style psychosis, and a serious need for the generous dispensing of powerful neuroleptic supplements to one's personal pharmacopia. So I am left with a genuinely distressing puzzle: What on earth is this presumed expert on foreign affairs talking about here? And if he is, as seems patently obvious, wildly wrong, what the (*&#%#$$ is he doing briefing the Department of Defense?

Then, at the top of page 48, I got to this:
Like most people, I felt a sense of outrage over the many lives cut short, but I also felt a new sense of urgency in my work. A lot of my colleagues confessed that 9/11 made them feel that their work was somehow trivial, they they had been studying the wrong issues.
Richard Clarke doesn't feel he had been studying the wrong issues, Dr. Barnett.

And with that, I closed the book.

A sense of obligation caused me to read his Esquire article, referred to above, to see if there was anything that could be construed as useful advice for our country as we pursue the effort to protect ourselves and interact with the world. I found nothing at all but standard issue neo-Exceptionalism, oversimplified formulations (What path stands in the path of change in Iran and elsewhere? Fear, Dr. Barnett concludes. Golly, who ever would have thought that?), and vacuous generalizations (" Look at the other places U.S. Special Operations Forces have recently zeroed in on: northwestern Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen. We are talking about the ends of the earth as far as globalization is concerned." And what's Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe? Chopped liver? And how is their situation remotely like Pakistan's? Does Dr. Barnett seriously think he can lump all these utterly different situations together into a truly meaningful "top/down" rule set and apply much the same solutions to them all?).

This is not the place to rehash any further the serious problems a priori that I find with analyses related to Fukuyama's notion of the End of History, of which Thomas P. M. Barnett's is but the latest example. But I've just scratched the surface here, believe me.

I'm going to end this in, perhaps, a very strange fashion. The personality that shines through the 50 odd pages of Dr. Barnett's that I read, both in his article and book, seems like a charming one. He seems like a decent and honest guy and, heaven knows, we need more decentness and more honesty in government. But that said, being decent and being honest is not enough. If Dr. Barnett's fundamental problems as an analyst are so glaringly obvious that an intelligent but non-specialist reader can pick them up as easily as I, what combination of factors led to him obtaining such an influential job as briefing the Department of Defense?

And what kind of changes would help to provide our leaders with truly good advice? God knows, they need it. Desperately.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Treason Is Knowing The Truth And Staying Quiet  

TalkLeft links to this great letter in the Maui News from Annie Nelson:
The political fear palpable in a March 28 letter heartens me by indicating that truth is finally making headway in America. It is grasping at straws to suggest that because Richard Clarke cannot or should not live with lies from the top he is in violation of some law or code of ethics. What law or code of ethics suggest there is some legal obligation to protect anyone who has lied to Congress or that you must protect anyone who has violated his or her oath to protect America and its Constitution?
Everyone is under a moral, ethical and legal obligation to report to Congress, or anyone else who will listen, any crimes against this country he or she is knowingly aware of. Anything less is still morally, ethically and legally an act of treason against this country.

This administration's attempts to discredit Richard Clarke are sad at best. What it is really afraid of is what the truth will do to Bush's chances for election (note: not re-election). The futile attempts by administration mouthpieces to tell us what to think are failing. Americans are finally waking up to deceit.

Richard Clarke engages in what you claim is party politics and what those of us who have been watching call the truth. That's what gives Richard Clarke not only the right to publish his book, but the obligation.

5 For A Desert Island  

I was asked, by a contemporary music organization, to contribute five examples of my favorite non-contemporary American classical music. Who can limit themselves to five? How can I possibly not include the female pygmy music recorded by Louis Sarno, or Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music? Or Nusret Fateh Ali Kahn, for heaven's sake? What about the guilty pleasure of Esquivel? Or Janis at Monterey? But after a good deal of thought, I got it down to these (I may add links later, but I'm feeling kinda lazy right now):

1. Captain Beefheart (Don Vliet) - It's only a matter of time before John Ashcroft moves on from covering up that statue of Justice for indecency to the banning of Don's music. And I don't mean that because he wrote songs with words like "Like My Decals Off, Baby." I mean the music itself which is made from such clangorous and obscene purity. I'm still transported and reduced to tears whenever I hear it. Try Trout Mask Replica, his masterpiece. But nearly everything he recorded is brilliant. John French's drumming is some of the most original percussion playing around and guitarist Bill Harkleroad's work is what I hear when I stare at Duchamp's "The Bride Stipped Bare By The Bachelors, Even" - puzzling, deeply erotic, and inevitable.

2. Perotin - I still remember the first time I heard the great master of Notre Dame, in a music library at Columbia in 1971, pinned to my chair literally open-mouthed with awe, not believing that anything could be so beautiful. I listened to Viderunt Omnes and Sederunt principes over and over (the Heller recordings, maybe?) and then wandered around Manhattan for hours singing them to myself and dancing. The first great Western composer known by name. The first Western composer who understood the relationship between the dramatic and the transcendent. A composer whose rhythmic innovations prefigure the 20th century, whose use of brain-melting modal harmonies (yes, "harmony" is a poor choice of words but what else can you call what he does? "Vertical aggregates of rapidly unfolding range-crossing minor seconds and unresolved fourths" sounds, you know what I mean) points to a kind of new music no one yet has fully imagined.

3. The Kecak, aka Ramayana Monkey Chant - Let's put it this way: if I am not hearing the Monkey Chant after I've passed on from this Vale of Tears, then I've definitely ended up in The Wrong Place.

4. La Nozze de Figaro by W.A. Mozart - When he wrote Figaro, Mozart's only goal was to prove he could write the best opera anyone had ever written up to then. He did. And he still has. Try to see it live - it's an opera, after all. But it's nearly as much fun to spend an afternoon reading through the score and having it run around in your head. Still, the video (or DVD) of the Gardiner recording with Bryn Terfel is a great way to spend three hours or so.

5. Coltrane - My Favorite Things. Yeah, yeah, the know-it-alls respond, but which version, which Trane? All of them, obviously, but the last recorded one I know of, with Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Rashied Ali, and Jimmy Garrison is very, very special. Highlights that never are far from my mind: Jimmy Garrison's gnarly, Gnawa- like bass solo prologue; Coltrane's transition into the resolution of the tremolos as he introduces the melody for the first time; Alice Coltrane's piano playing, like Debussy's Sunken Cathedral riding piggyback on the Schoenmaker-Levy comet.

Weekly Standard Has The Solution For Iraq  

Just get rid of all the Iraqis and things will be just fine:
TThere's a serious obstacle remaining--the attitude of many Iraqis. Kurds, educated exiles who've returned from London and Detroit, and a good number of other Iraqis have embraced what Paul Bremer calls the "new Iraq." But many Iraqis haven't. They don't want Saddam back, but they look unfavorably on the American occupation. Like the French, they may never forgive America for having liberated them.

...Iraqis want help. Indeed, they demand it and are angry and frustrated when they don't get it instantly. But they appear to hate being helped.

Exterminate the brutes.

Bob Somerby, Thank You  

This morning I read the Times review of Richard Clarke's book and my brain exploded. There it was, that utterly bogus claim that Rice really did know the term "al Qaeda" before Clarke told her about it. I immediately wrote the Corrections section and explained the truth. I was gonna write to Bob Somerby, but I didn't have to. Go and read this utterly pathetic tale of the Times repeating, without checking, White House lies and distortions.

And if you want, go contact Corrections and insist that they correct the record:
Messages may be e-mailed to or left at this toll-free number: 1-888-NYT-NEWS (1-888-698-6397). For comments on an editorial: (by fax, 212-556-3622)...

To reach the public editor, Daniel Okrent, e-mail or telephone (212) 556-7652.

An Interesting Summary  

via Seraphiel, comes this post, focused on Rove about the upcoming campaign, and how difficult it will be. He does, however, wax cautiously optimistic towards the end:
The amazing thing about 2004 is not that a radical, reckless president has the chance to be reelected; the amazing thing is that, in the face of a political establishment and a news media that rarely said boo to George W. Bush, millions and millions of people have his number anyway. Where the people are concerned, therefore, Karl and W. are forced to make a dicier bet--against public memory, decency, and self-interest. It isn’t clear yet whether terror fears and “wedge” issues like gay marriage, guns, and religion will once again divert sufficient numbers of people from more pressing matters, such as their own livelihoods. Maybe not.

On the other hand, Karl Rove has never lost a race yet by underestimating the integrity and rationality of American electoral politics.

What Bush Really Thinks  

A video of the infamous Bush search for WMD joke, and reporters and politicians laughing along, can be found here , tastefully edited for your amusement.

Frankly, I started to cry when it was over. I've said many times that I don't hate Bush, just hate the fact he's president. After I viewed the tape, I may have to change my mind.

And you in the audience who laughed: shame on you. Shame on you. You should have howled in protest and walked out. For shame.

Not an April Fools Joke (But I'd Understand If You Thought It Was)  

Contrary to rumor, irony did not die on Sept 11, 2001:
On Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday" -- but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals.

The speech provides telling insight into the administration's thinking on the very day that the United States suffered the most devastating attack since the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former U.S. officials who have seen the text.

The speech was postponed in the chaos of the day, part of which Rice spent in a bunker. It mentioned terrorism, but did so in the context used in other Bush administration speeches in early 2001: as one of the dangers from rogue nations, such as Iraq, that might use weapons of terror, rather than from the cells of extremists now considered the main security threat to the United States.
Time for Rice to resign. Actually, her resignation is long overdue.

Regardless, it looks like her reputation is so tarnished that my worst fear, that she would become the VP nominee, looks less and less likely. Thank God. I love being wrong about things like that.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Soros Attacked In Ukraine  

Man, I hate it when something like this triggers paranoid thoughts, like this may be the 21st century version of Nixonian-style dirty tricks. I hate the fact that Bush and Friends have proven themselves so contemptuous of the normal bounds of politics that I would entertain such worries, despite the fact that I know this has nothing to do with GOP political tactics this year.


The Unanswerable Question  

Here we go again. How should I vote on this question on today's CNN website?

If I answer honestly, I can only say that no, it doesn't. Those doubts were raised a long, long time ago. But I'm afraid my vote will be interpreted as a vote of confidence in Bush.

But if I answer "No," I'm buying into a lie. I never, ever thought Bush could "rebuild" Iraq (although I had little doubt he could conquer it). I refuse to entertain the notion that this late in the game the powers that be at CNN are raising doubts about Bush/Iraq. If doubts weren't raised until now about the craziness of Bush's folly in the minds of CNN reporters, something is seriously wrong with the way American journalists are processing information.

Oh, wait...

Clarke And MoveOn: A Proposal That Will Please Them Both  

Richard Clarke is angry that MoveOn is using clips of him in an anti-Bush ad. MoveOn refuses to pull the ad. But Clarke says that MoveOn is distorting his position. That very well may be the case. [UPDATE: Here's a link to the ad. Make up your own mind.]

Therefore, MoveOn should do the obvious. Pull the ad, then buy one hour of prime time on all three networks and interview Clarke in detail on his position, how he differs with Bush and how he differs with MoveOn. If Clarke won't sit down with MoveOn, which I can understand as he doesn't want his position to be construed as a partisan one, perhaps he would be willing to discuss his opinions in a roundtable with the 9/11 families.

More To Read  

John Dean in Salon:
Too many have died (and more in the future may) because of the abuses of power by this presidency. That's why their abuses are worse than Watergate.
You know the drill. Click here.

Quote Of The Day  

"Before we go to Mars, we must retake our own planet."

Al Franken

What IS It With The Media And Substance?  

Now, Gregg Easterbrook finds statements Clarke made on March 21, 2003 on ABC that appear to support the Bush/Iraq war.


First of all, Clarke was right about September 11 and he goes into considerable detail in his book as to why that judgment was no fluke. He also goes into detail as to why Iraq was a nutty idea, and proposes specific reforms to Homeland Security. Apparently none of this interests Mr. Easterbrook now, if it ever did. Instead, Clarke's credibility is being questioned. Despite the fact that he was 100% right and the Bush administration was 100% wrong.

To respond to Gregg's nonsense briefly:

What Easterbrook seems to forget is that not a single media outlet that had a major audience would dare air or print anything highly critical of Bush and his delusions back in March, '03. Only Dean, Jessica Mathews, a handful of American bloggers, The Nation, and the rest of the world were screaming as loud as we could. We were ignored because obviously, we didn't know what we were talking about when we warned that there were precious few kisses and flowers waiting for American invaders of an Arabic land.

Furthermore, as I've mentioned before, Clarke needs to be read/listened to very carefully. He is not being asked whether it's a good idea to go into Iraq, but whether, given the reality, the strategy of targeting Saddam makes sense. Being no fool, he doesn't address that, because it was a fait accompli.

Was Clarke a coward back then? Should he have stood up and shouted no?

Hell, yes, if you believe that career suicide is a good idea. Brady Kiesling was ignored; I think now he may be writing a book but the last I heard he was publicly declaring that it was difficult to find work. Colleen Rowley was ignored and other FBI whistle blowers have been fired, their careers destroyed.

Heroes, all. And they deserve far more recognition and admiration than they have received. But Clarke is not that kind of hero, as he would be the first to admit. He's a bureaucratic manipulator of great skill and subtlety, and he took a different approach than the romantic, admirable self-immolation of the heroes. He knew the war was not only an insane idea, but that the war would happen no matter what.

So Clarke wrote a book, not even a tenth as eloquently put as Kiesling's masterful resignation letter to Powell. But what Clarke has to say in it is profoundly important, not simply because, politically, it will help destroy Bush, although that is very important. But also because in Clarke's book are details and plans, lots of them, and this serious discussion of counterterrorism need serious, public debate. The country's discourse is never (okay, rarely) served by character assasination, and never less than right now, with Richard Clarke's substantive and alarming criticism of the way the government handled counterterrorism.

Think I'm kidding? Okay, please just read Clarke's book, read the criticisms coming from Bush, from the media and make up your own mind as to where this country should be placing its attention right now.

Tough Love  

What he really thinks of the unemployed from America's Finest News Source:
"My fellow Americans, don't come crying to me," Bush said. "I've got a job. I go to work every day, whether I feel like it or not. I don't take handouts, and I don't give them. That's a belief my daddy taught me. Now, let's get this show on the road!"

The unemployment rate remains high, in spite of the many tax-cut initiatives the Bush Administration has introduced over the past several years.

"The government can only do so much," Bush said. "How hard can it possibly be to find a job? A friend of mine lost his job when his company went belly-up. Did he bitch and moan about it? Absolutely not. He picked up the phone and started making cold calls, he landed back on his feet, and now he's the chief financial officer of a major petrochemical concern."
I have to say, I really think the article makes a good point.

If someone as untalented and inept as George Bush can get and keep his job, surely anyone can.

More US Soldier Deaths, And Corpse Dragging In Iraq  

It's getting very ugly over there, again:
n one of the bloodiest days in weeks for the U.S. military, five troops died when a bomb exploded under their military vehicle west of Baghdad on Wednesday. At least four foreign nationals, including one American, were killed in a separate attack and some of the bodies were burned, beaten and hanged from a bridge.

The explosive device that killed the American troops blew up when their vehicle ran over it, U.S. Army Col. Jill Morgenthaler said in Baghdad. The attack happened in Anbar province, which encompasses Fallujah, Ramadi and other towns where anti-U.S. insurgents are active.

Residents said the bomb attack occurred in Malahma, 12 miles northwest of Fallujah. U.S. Marines operate in the area, but it was unclear whether the slain troops were Marines.

In another attack Wednesday, gunmen in Fallujah attacked two four-wheel-drive civilian vehicles, killing their occupants and setting the cars on fire. Some witnesses said four people were in the vehicles, others said six.

Footage from Associated Press Television News showed one man beating a corpse with a metal pole. Others tied a cord to one of the bodies, attached it to a car and drove it down a street, surrounded by a cheering crowd. An Associated Press reporter saw two blackened bodies hanging from a bridge.

``The people of Fallujah hanged some of the bodies on the old bridge like slaughtered sheep,'' resident Abdul Aziz Mohammed said. Some of the corpses were dismembered, he said.

APTN footage showed the charred bodies of three slain men. Some were wearing flak jackets, said resident Safa Mohammedi.

One resident displayed what appeared to be dog tags taken from one body. Residents also said there were weapons in the targeted cars. APTN footage showed one American passport near a body and a U.S. Department of Defense identification card belonging to another man.

A Thing of Beauty  

Kevin Drum prints a lovely chart detaiing Bush's falling approval ratings.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

My Gawd  

This MoveON alert is so alarming I can barely process it:
The Republican National Committee is pressing the Federal Election Commission ("FEC") to issue new rules that would shut down groups that dare to communicate with the public in any way critical of President Bush or members of Congress. Incredibly, the FEC has just issued -- for public comment -- proposed rules that would do just that. Any kind of non-profit -- conservative, progressive, labor, religious, secular, social service, charitable, educational, civic participation, issue-oriented, large, and small -- could be affected by these rules.

What's Kevin Smoking?  

Kevin Drum basically agrees with Dan Drezner, whose arguments against Clarke and his annoying character Digby crisply dispenses with so I needn't bother:
I don't doubt that he was extremely unpleasant at times when he was trying to get people to pay attention to him and they ignored him. And I hope that I, too, would have gotten a little testy about that if I KNEW THAT TERRORISTS WERE GOING TO KILL AMERICANS AND THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND HIS STAFF REFUSED TO EVEN CALL A FUCKING CABINET MEETING ABOUT IT!
But I wanna go back to Kevin. He knows better than this:
He [Clarke] didn't find a home in the Bush administration because his monomania was different from Bush's and that made him an intolerable pain in the ass. (Clinton was genuinely more interested in terrorism than Bush, but I suspect the main difference was simply that Clinton had a gift for making it seem like he cared deeply about your issues even if they weren't truly at the top of his agenda.)
No. The main difference between Clinton and Bush on terrorism was that Clinton acted. Decisively. Effectively. A point made by Clarke and others in a position to know.

Unbelievably, Kevin also calls Clarke a "true believer:"
he's a true believer, and his religion is counterterrorism — something that he himself acknowledges. "Maybe I'm becoming like Captain Ahab with bin Laden as the White Whale," he quotes himself telling Condi Rice in May 2001...

...when a true believer is ignored, he's likely to feel contempt and scorn toward nonbelievers and to lash out accordingly.
No, Kevin. The true believer was Bush, and his religion was Iraq. Clarke admits he was getting obsessed. You wanna know why? No, it wasn't because he was ignored. No, it was because he was FUCKING RIGHT. It was because he was SCARED STIFF. It was because that BUSH WAS BACKSLIDING AND DELAYING VALUABLE CLINTON-ERA INITIATIVES. It was because BUSH WAS A TRUE BELIEVER WHO WOULDN'T LISTEN TO REASON.

Clarke's personality is not the issue here. Bush's stupidity is. Kevin goes on:
Clarke's monomania also illuminates what I felt was probably his biggest weakness: he's willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who "gets it" even if they aren't very effective. He's scathing toward FBI Director Louis Freeh, for example, who simply didn't take counterterrorism seriously, but is rather more complimentary toward CIA Director George Tenet. CIA didn't really get much more done than FBI, but he felt that at least Tenet understood the problem and was doing his best.
No! He's scathing to FBI Louis Freeh because Freeh was a far right wing religious ideologue who had such contempt for Clinton he turned in his White House pass, refused to have anything to do with Clinton, was such a Luddite, he refused to use email, refused to computerize the FBI (you read that right), and missed some of the most important dots in the 9/11 story, and others. Tenet, for all his faults, never approached this level of negligence, which borders on the near treasonous. Freeh also was involved in the infamous Katrina Leung case, probably far more so than has yet come out, except in dribs and drabs.

Kevin continues:
As Dan points out, the irony in all this is that Bush's terrorism policies turned out to be largely identical to Clinton's.
Not so. There was a dramatic shift in policy between Clinton and Bush. For nine months, Bush ignored nearly everything Clinton had implemented, was planning to implement, and was studying, in order to focus, not on stem cells as Kevin says, but on Star Wars, and planning for the conquest of Iraq.

Last quote:
Clarke says that in early September he told Condi Rice to "put herself in her own shoes when in the very near future al Qaeda had killed hundreds of Americans: 'What will you wish then that you had already done?'" If that's really what he said, it sure explains why she didn't want him around any longer. Who wants to share an office with their very own personal Cassandra?
So you force the Cassandra to resign because he's right, and you keep the incompetent Rice around because she doesn't put up a squawk.

Makes sense to me when you've just had a major terrorist disaster.

Kevin, Clarke was right. Rice was wrong. Thousands of lives were lost. I don't give a damn about Clarke's abrasiveness, if that's what how he seemed to the Bushites. I want him protecting me, my daughter, my wife, my city my country because he knows what he's doing and he's obsessive and he cares passionately about people's lives, evident in the arc of his career, the dedication of his book, his asides on the personalities of the people he worked with, and his public mea culpa.

Condi Rice can go to hell for all I care. All she did was fail. Miserably.

Bomb Kills GI  

Another one:

We're Going the Wrong Way, Boys and Girls  

Despite a week of negative headlines about how his administration handled the threat of terrorism before September 11, 2001, President Bush's political position against Sen. John Kerry has strengthened, according to a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

Attention Walmart Shoppers! Buy Your Nazi Videos Free From Bush Bashing Propaganda!  

Video they won't carry because it's "unpatriotic": Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War.

Video they will carry, apparently because it is patriotic: Triumph of the Will.
You can go here to track down the links.


Manifest Destiny And Its Children  

Daily News Online has the first of a three part series on American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny, a subject this blog has addressed with some frequency (eg here; here; here; here; here; here (scroll down) and here's one from Digby, where he mentions my thoughts). It is a long article, discussing the relationship between Manifest Destiny and racism; the ones to come promise insight into the racist underpinnings of the Monroe Doctrine, and the doctrine of pre-emption.

Well, yes, it is racist, but I think there's something just as bad, maybe even worse, afoot in American Exceptionalism, namely a psychotically delusional cultural narcissism that transcends racism, transcends ethnocentricity. Exceptionalists demands that others recognize American superiority in all areas of human life and thought. Even in its weaker, liberal hawk form, Exceptionalism all but requires that those who believe it to condone the imposition of the American Way at any cost, including at the business end of the gun, or worse.

Racism is only one aspect of the fallacy of American Exceptionalism, but it is an important one nevertheless.

Lynne Cheney's Dyke Fantasies Get A New Life  

On March 10, your not-so-humble correspondent passed along the rather curious information that Lynne Cheney once wrote an overheated lesbian novel. Or was that a novel of overheated lesbians? Anyway, today Daily Kos reports that it being reissued.

Don't get me wrong. The only thing for dear Lynne to be ashamed of is, well, the plot, the writing, and the execrable dialogue:
"Let us go away together, away from the anger and the imperatives of men. We shall find ourselves a secluded bower where they dare not venture. There will be only the two of us, and we shall linger through long afternoons of sweet retirement."

Tapping The Proper Context  

TAPPED is out to harm Howard Dean's reputation in the party. For the life of me, I don't understand why. Check this out.

Garance Franke-Ruta publishes a comment Dr. Dean posted to the Dean blog in its entirety. Then glosses it with this:
I'll leave it to someone else to delve into the deeper meanings behind "sometimes a blow against the establishment is a blow against all the people we say we want to help" and just say that writing publicly, "I guarantee you if you vote for Kerry you will be disappointed," is not exactly called supporting the nominee.
Talk about pulling quotes out of context! Dean was commenting, apparently, to some Naderite. He was saying,

"Don't be a fool, you fool! If you vote for Nader who doesn't have a chance in hell, you are voting against your best chances to actually get some changes." And then he said,

"Off your knees, my child. I am not a god, nor is John Kerry. We are but mortal flesh, we are not even saints, and we will surely fail your hopes at some point. But for all our lack of Godliness, we care about what you care about, we are competent, we can win, and we will surely try our best."

I am haunted by that picture of Dr. Judith Dean in the Times, the one where she's listening to her husband in a pair of old blue jeans and older, worn out sneakers, not a touch of makeup visible on her. I know this sounds weird but I found it an unbelievably sexy picture. She looked smart, focused, sincere, and most of all, absolutely real, a genuine example of one kind of 21st Century American woman. Surely, if someone like Dr. J. Dean was Howard's wife, then Governor Dean must also be smart and real. Oh, to have someone like Judith Dean as First Lady! Imagine her greeting Mrs. Vladimir Putin in those jeans, a stethoscope still slung around her neck as she barely had time to get back from her rounds. Imagine her inviting Mrs. Putin, or Mrs. Kim Jong Il (he is married, yes?), into the White House kitchen for some chamomile tea to discuss how stupid their husbands behave, how inconsiderate they are when they stay late in their offices, pretending they are so important that the fate of the world hinges on them, then getting up early to go back to the hospital, Mrs. Putin or Mrs. Kim Jong Il asking to come along, where she meets other women and men as passionate about their work as her American friend. No, I'm not kidding.

I also realized that when the Times printed that photo, there were engaging in an unbelievably mean-spirited attack on the Dean campaign and sure enough, MoDo went into a paroxysm of jealous rage when she saw the pic and penned a column that set a new low in the Times sordid record of bitchiness.

Anyway, Dean spoke an important truth to his audience, as he did throughout his campaign. Don't kid yourself, TAPPED. Dean is the future. Not necessarily the man himself, but those who are smart, knowledgeable, principled, tough, progressive and practical got politicized by George Bush. And there's a lot of us. And we're gonna start winning lots and lots of elections. And Dean to his everlasting credit was the first to recognize us and give us a long-overdue national voice.

The Trusting Nature of David Neiwert  

As many of you know, I am an unabashed fan and acolyte of David Neiwert's writing. So, I truly wish I shared Dave's trusting nature when it comes to the Bush administration. True, it does appear on the surface that Dave shares my profound distrust of the Bush administration:
It's hard to tell whether the White House is simply playing a kind of shell game, but it's clear that a larger agenda beyond even covering up its failures to protect the nation from terrorist attacks is at play in the refusal to let National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice testify under oath before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.
But then, Dave goes and writes this:
Closer examination, in fact, reveals that the agenda at work is an unprecedented expansion of presidential powers, so that it becomes in effect unanswerable to any power other than the voters every four years.
Y'see, Dave believes that the Bush administration is honest enough actually to trust the voters to vote for them. Alas, I just look at the whole computer voting scandal, and the way the GOP-controlled Congress is blocking accountability for ballot casting and I think to myself, "Why on earth should I believe that the Bush administration would risk a fair election when there are disturbing indications that they have everything they need in place to rig them?"

A Prayer  

Dear God,

I have an an urgent request.

In Your omniscience, I am sure you came across this announcement of the imminent publication of the 12th volume of the Left Behind series, in which Your Son returns to earth. One excited bookseller gushed:
"I really believe that there is a blessing on this series from the Lord," he said. "Just like with the `Passion' movie, it is all part of the warning we get before Christ returns." He added, "Many people have asked me, Do you think they will finish the series before Christ comes?"
Now, Lord, You know me as a sensible man, who thinks such sentiments as the above qualify the author for a stay of undetermined length in a psychicatric hospital and triple the normal doze of Thorazine. But please, God, let me be wrong. Let ME be the deluded one, and not he. I beseech Thee, from the depths of my soul:

Bring on The Rapture now!

Oh Kind and Benevelovent God, you will bless all of us with Your Mercy - saint and sinner alike - if you will immediately spirit away such delusional and sanctimonious morons at Your earliest Convenience. They will be with their own kind, spouting vacuous spiritual bromides at each other for all eternity. Meanwhile, we Left Behinders will be, eh, left behind to go about our lives, finally freed of the dangers and annoyance that the self-Elected have inflicted on humankind since time immemorial, when they first misunderstood the nature of Your Godness and Your Grace.

Please, Lord, take them now. And should You tire of these fools - as I am sure You will, for You are such a wise and intelligent Being - please feel free to come visit us at any time, hang out, and share a large goatskin of wine or two. You are always welcome.



Quote Of The Day  

From John Dean courtesy Paul Krugman:
"I've been watching all the elements fall into place for two possible political catastrophes, one that will take the air out of the Bush-Cheney balloon and the other, far more disquieting, that will take the air out of democracy."  
It's difficult to understand what Dean means when he characterizes the former as a catastrophe, but I think he means not that the fall of Bush-Cheney would be a catastrophe, but rather that the fall, should it entail a Nixonian impeachment trial and resignation would create a wrenching spectacle that would wound the United States body politic.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Michael Totten Won't Do His Homework  

Every once in a while, I check in to see what Michael Totten is up to. Unfortunately, he hasn't learned a thing. He still thinks he can opine without doing a shred of research. In a post on Richard Clarke, Michael stumbles over his ignorance almost from the get go:
Neither the Bush nor the Clinton Administrations did a particularly bang-up job [on counter terrorism], although I'm willing to give both of them a pass for mistakes made before that dreadful date [September 11] for the same reason I don't blame FDR or Herbert Hoover for Pearl Harbor.
Wha? This is so historically clueless a comparison it doesn't even deserve further comment.

Then Michael says his BS detector went off when he heard that Clarke claimed Rice had never heard of al Qaeda until he told her about them. Okay, normally I might concede that it rings a little bit less than real. Except for one thing: Rice has only non-denial denied it. Check out this typical report of her response to Clarke's charge, where she insinuates that Clarke was negligent, but never answers the charge directly:
Clarke said Rice appeared not to recognize post-Cold War security issues and effectively demoted him within the National Security Council staff. He wrote that Rice appeared to never have heard of Al Qaeda until she was warned about it early in 2001, and that she "looked skeptical" about his warnings.

But on Monday, Rice told Fox News this account is "ridiculous," adding that Clarke may be trying to protect himself.

"We, of course, had, of course, heard that, in 1998, when Dick Clarke was the counter-terrorism czar, Al Qaeda had bombed U.S. embassies. We, of course, heard that Al Qaeda was suspected of bombing the [USS] Cole in 2000 when Dick Clarke was counter-terrorism czar. And We learned that plots against the U.S. had been hatching since the '90s, when Dick Clarke was counter-terrorism czar." [emphasis added.]
Uh, Condi, it's not about "we." It's about whether you had heard the phrase "al Qaeda" before Clarke told you.

But, you say, Michael quotes Mark Steyn who has proof she did know about al Qaeda before Clarke mentioned it:
As it turns out, Clarke's ability to read "facial expressions" is not as reliable as one might wish in a "counter-terrorism expert". In October the previous year, Dr Rice gave an interview to WJR Radio in Detroit in which she discoursed authoritatively on al-Qa'eda and bin Laden - and without ever having met Richard Clarke!
Well, that settles it! Or does it? Let's link to a transcript reproduced by Bob Somerby:
HANNITY: Mr. Speaker, I want to ask you this. This new book by Mr. Clarke that is out there, he accused Condoleezza Rice, I think he was particularly vicious towards her, of having never heard of al Qaeda until he mentioned it to her in early 2001. Quote, he said, "Her facial expression gave the impression she'd never heard of al Qaeda before."

Well, I have a tape of Condi Rice. She was on a WJR radio interview in Detroit with David Newman, and I want to play this because it contradicts that frankly mean-spirited lie that's in this book.

Wow! Hannity really had the goods! He was going to refute Clarke's mean-spirited lie! Rubes leaned forward in their chairs. And the rube-runner played this tape:

RICE: Osama bin Laden do two things [sic]. The first is you really have to get the intelligence agencies better organized to deal with the terrorist threat to the United States itself. One of the problems that we have is a kind of split responsibility, of course, between the CIA and foreign intelligence and the FBI and domestic intelligence.

There needs to be better cooperation because we don't want to wake up one day and find out that Osama bin Laden has been successful on our own territory.

Sean was thrilled. "Pretty amazing, isn't it, Mr. Speaker?" he asked. Diplomatically, Newt changed the subject.

Why did Speaker Newt move on? Duh. Clarke didn't say that Rice had never heard of bin Laden; he said she may have been stumped by the term "al Qaeda." But readers, Rice didn't use that term in this tape! And trust us: If Rice ever said "al Qaeda" in public before she met Clarke, the tape would be there in Sean's hands.
And of course, Steyn's article has no more information than Hannity had to back up his claim that Rice had heard the term "al Qaeda." And no, I haven't heard the rest of the tape of the interview. I can't find it. And yes, I agree with Somerby that it is not the biggest of deals, but Steyn is clearly wrong and Michael is wrong to repeat it: there is public evidence she knew who bin Laden was, but so far nothing has surfaced that proves she had heard of al Qaeda before Clarke claims he informed her.

Michael continues:
If Clarke has something substantive to say, we ought hear him out.
Indeed he does as anyone who has bothered to read Clarke's very accessible and short book knows. It is detailed, heavily detailed, filled with substance. Clearly, Michael has not read Clarke's book but you should.
If he would like to propose a different anti-terror strategy, that would be great - at a separate place and time.
In fact, that is precisely what Clarke does in his book!
Not at the commission that wants to know what went wrong before 911.
Oh, Michael, you poor guy. Didn't you learn anything when I, and others, called you out about how ignorant you were about your subject on a previous occasion (the subject was McCarthy)? You see, in his book, Clarke makes the point that he proposed an anti-terror strategy which wasn't even discussed until September 4, 2001. In his testimony, with which Michael also seems to be unfamiliar, he made it these two points: Clarke says that Bush didn't bother to take his very clear, oft repeated warnings about al Qaeda as being of the highest priority until it was too late. That's "what went wrong before 911," my dear Michael
And using his witness chair to gripe about overthrowing Saddam all but guarantees a polarized reaction to his testimony.
Again, Michael demonstrates that he never heard or read Clarke's testimony. Clarke made two points, also discussed in the book. First, the Bush administration was so obsessed with Iraq from the beginning that they refused to entertain the notion that al Qaeda, a non-state player, was THE primary threat, a mistaken attitude that was clearly still held on September 11 itself. Second, the Iraq War was in many ways the worst thing that the US could have done to counter terrorism in an effective fashion.

Those aren't "gripes." Hardly. Michael, Clarke is leveling bald-faced accusations of gross incompetence at the Bush administration. And most disturbingly, he is one of the few people who is truly in a position to know what went on. If he, a professional high-level bureaucrat who has dedicated his life to counter-terrorism, is prepared to speak so plainly, so alarmingly, well... let's put it this way:

Michael, no one cares if you don't take Richard Clarke seriously. But, God help us, someone better and fast.

If Politics Were Software  

War Rationale: Version 10.0
Saddam Hussein poses an 'imminent threat' to the American people.

  • Version 1.0 - Saddam Hussein is an imminent threat
  • Version 1.01 - Saddam Hussein is a gathering threat
  • Version 1.02 - Saddam Hussein poses a real and dangerous threat
  • Version 1.1 - The smoking gun will be a mushroom cloud
  • Version 1.2 - We can't afford to wait
  • Version 1.3 - We never said imminent
  • Version 1.3.1 - OK, maybe we did say it once or twice
  • Version 1.4 - We should have been more precise

And there's much more to read.

The Book On Brooks  

DonkeyRising has the details:
... Brooks' defense of his approach--which we get in the Issenberg article--is that he really doesn't mean his cultural-political assertions as factual assertions. They are not meant to be taken literally and are more in the nature of jokes or satire.
Well, I certainly would agree that most of what he wrote (up until the moment that, for health reasons, My Smart Spouse banned me from reading anything more from his pen) was a joke.


"from the first look ghosttown seems like a normal town, someone put their washing hungs on a balcony, some windows open, other clothed, here is taxi stop, there is grocery store... then, you read this slogan on building- "party of Lenin lead us to the triumph of a communism"- that helps to realise that clothes hung on balcony for 18 years and that town is empty.."

Not to be missed. Read and see it href= "">here.

NYRB Goodies  

Way too much great stuff in The New York Review of Books this month. What a wonderful magazine (usually). Garry Wills finds something to laugh at in The Pa$$ion of the Chri$t but then switches subject to the far more ominous topic of the Legion of Christ. Steven Weinberg finds nothing to like in Bush's faith based Mars initiative. Larry McMurtry writes about a woman who wanted to and failed to make Mark Twain's final years the scandalous ones she would have liked to. And Stephen Greenblatt discusses the changing attitudes over the ages to masturbation (although he oversimplifies Freud's attitude considerably). But for my money, the standout is Willaim Pfaff's review of Zbigniew Brzezinski's The Choice. Pfaff, whose qualifications are impeccable -for one thing, like Brzezinski, his name is bereft of some necessary vowels- has this to say
Brzezinski's book is a disappointing work in that its assumptions about the nature of contemporary international relations, and about the demands and ultimate objectives of American foreign policy, do not fundamentally challenge those of the Bush administration and those who support its general approach. A recent and comprehensive survey of American opinion, conducted by Notre Europe, a studies and research group headed by Jacques Delors and supported in part by the European Commission, concludes that the 2001 attacks were a "clarifying moment" in American opinion, producing a perceptible "long-term convergence of views amongst the American foreign policy elite...based on the strategies of preemption and democratic enlargement...on both sides of the political divide."
This, unfortunately, is exactly right. It is dismaying, to say the least, to read Walter Russell Mead these days. His disagreement with Bush's policies are standard liberal hawk bromides, rather than the trenchant debunking Walter is capable of producing.

Pfaff continues:
Brzezinski condemns the domineering Bush method, which, as he says, "eventually mobilizes countervailing opposition." To him, the task is "to progressively transform America's prevailing power into a co-optive hegemony—one in which leadership is exercised more through shared conviction with enduring allies than by assertive domination." He is aware of the backlash against American power; hence his emphasis on converting clients to consensual allies. However he maintains that "the acceptance of American leadership by others is the sine qua non for avoiding chaos." This strikes me as Bush policy given a human face.

A different formulation of national policy might note that while international relationships are never simple, and power is an essential ingredient in them, justice as well as peace usually profits from a realistic acceptance of multiple (if unequal) national power centers, and of the inevitability of conflicting interests and values. The search for consensual American global hegemony, as for the "defeat" of terrorism and "victory" over evil, is a naive simulacrum of the serious armed utopianisms that were the curse of the twentieth century. One might even consider, as Kennan dared to do in 1951, as the cold war intensified, that national quality and success is ultimately determined by a nation's "spiritual distinction"—not a measure often cited in foreign policy discussions.
Indeed. This is Aron's argument, one entirely missing, as far as I can tell from the currently accepted spectrum of elite foreign policy opinion. To say the least, the current consensus on what makes up informed criticism is far too restrictive for anyone's good:
The ultimate criticism to be made of the position Brzezinski shares with many other foreign policy experts is that it ignores or denies the importance of what historically has been the principal force in international relations—the competitive assertion of national interests, founded on divergent values and ambitions among nations, assuredly including democratic ones

His argument presumes that such differences will find resolution in some version of an end of history, achieved through convergence with the United States. Brzezinski and those who share his views would seem to believe in what has been called the Whig interpretation of history: that history's purpose has been to lead up to us. The pursuit of national interest by other states produces the "global chaos" against which he warns. Condoleezza Rice made the identical argument, as in a speech last year to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, saying that policies based on balance of power are the road to war.

This position rejects both the classical Western view of history, which is not progressive, and the realist school of political philosophy dominant in past Western political thought, which traditionally has taken a disabused view of human nature and political possibility. The progressive view is a manifestation of hope, or of faith. It amounts to an ideology, teleological in nature. It denies the proposition that hegemony produces hubris, inviting the attention of Nemesis, ending in destitution...

This belief that the United States has a unique historical mission—whether or not divinely commissioned—is not open to logical refutation. But an American policy that rests on a self-indulgent fiction must be expected to come to a bad end.
Exactly right.

The Secret History  

You simply must read Richard Clarke's book for yourself. Nothing I've read about it really gets the point of the book. I'm not going to review it, but I'll make some points.

1. Clarke, perhaps more than anyone else in or out of government, knows exactly what he is talking about. He led the fight against foreign terrorism for years and every page reflects his deep, hands on understanding of his area of expertise.

Clarke is extremely concerned -no, Clarke is terrified - that the Bush administration is so utterly incompetent on so many levels, that the country today is far more vulnerable than it was on 9/11, or at any time in his nearly 30 years of government service.

2. Many people have noted Clarke's bulldog tenacity and blunt opinions of people and policies. Few have noted his ability to be, dare I say it, fair and balanced.

Obviously, Clarke believes that the FBI is an organization that is so crippled that it can barely function. Louis Freeh is portrayed not as criminally incompetent, but as nearly treasonously negligent and a religious fanatic. Even so, there are times when the FBI does get it together and does great work. While predictably, John O'Neill is nearly canonized by Clarke, what is striking is that Clarke often acknowledges, without any snarking, the good work done by those who don't live up to O'Neill's level.

In other words, Clarke, while passionate and judgemental, is not someone who evaluates information and people as "either/or," black and white, but rather in terms of gray. Rudman and he strongly disagree on the Department of Homeland Security. Even so, Clarke finds many areas of agreement and writes of their present collaborations with enthusiasm and respect.

This tendency to be both extremely blunt and and surpisingly judicious gives the angry sections of his book considerable force. The portrayal of the Bush administration as hopelessly incompetent is given considerable weight because of Clarke's ability to acknowledge even a smidgen of good work whenever he finds it. He thinks the Patriot Act, for instance, contains vital reforms, even as he attacks it for egregious excess.

He finds very little to no competence in Bush. Coming from someone like Clarke, that should alarm every American.

3. Anyone who is sensitive to literary style will find themselves wincing while reading the book, especially the dialogue reconstructions. They will be making a huge mistake, however, if they ignore how carefully and subtly Clarke has composed his text. When you've spent 30 years in the government and risen as high as Richard Clarke, you become expert at presenting information in numerous different ways in order to persuade your readers. Clarke wastes little of our time, for example, on John Ashcroft; in a paragraph or two, he makes it clear that Ashcroft is dumb as a post and that there is nothing he does or says that's worth our attention.

On the other hand, his portrait of Tom Ridge is much more kind and understanding. Well, it seems that way, until you read it closely. The sections on Ridge, however, are blatantly obvious in technique compared to others, where a single, easily overlooked adjective changes the meaning of the passage. It pays to read Clarke very carefully.

4. From the moment Clinton first appears, he is portrayed as decisive, brilliant, deeply empathic, and focused. Even when Clarke rolls his eyes in exasperation and says Clinton drove everyone to distraction, he does so with an amused, even loving, respect. The portrait he draws is of a great president, who fully understood the problems of his world and did a good job overall. Whatever the failures of his administration, he maintains his respect for Clinton's vision and his character. This is a radically different portrait of Clinton than the conventional one. It is also, at least to me, the most convincing one I've read.

5. The crucial sections of the book are the ones about the Bush administration post 9/11, particularly the last few chapters. The book is really about the stupidity of the Bush/Iraq War. He makes it clear that had there been no Iraq war, he would never have left government service, let alone written the book.

Clarke wastes no breath bothering to debunk the starry-eyed Wilsonian rationalizations of the Liberal Hawks. He simply quotes from an evaluation by the Army War College Strategic Studies Institute that the Iraq War "was a strategic error of the first magnitude." The rest is details.

6. In these final chapters, Clarke makes some important policy proposals regarding the FBI and other areas. Obviously, they are couched in general terms, for the lay reader. How good these proposals are when you get to the level of implementation is beyond my expertise, but given Clarke's stature, and the intelligence with which they are described, they beg to be taken seriously and evaluated. So far, I've not read a word about them anywhere.

7. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, in the controversy that has been whipped up about Clarke that addresses the substance of the important issues Clarke addresses in the book. The inability for the Bushites to focus on what is truly important proves Clarke's point: the Bush administration's attention is woefully, dangerously misplaced.

Read this book. Ignore the controversies and the interviews which are irrelevant to the real substance Clarke addresses in print. Just read the book.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

We Should Call 'Em Freedom Fries Again  

Because this means all the French folks think Saddam's innocent:
A French attorney who has represented other notorious figures said Sunday that he will defend ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in any future trial...

Among witnesses he plans to call to testify, Verges said, are Western leaders who backed Saddam's government during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Y'mean, like Donald Rumsfeld?

Where Friedman Gets His News  

And it's not the Times:
I have this routine. I get up every morning around 6 a.m., fire up my computer, call up AOL's news page and then hold my breath to see what outrage has happened in the world overnight.
AOL? AOL? My God, what a loser.

Tom, Tom, the cool kids know better. To get a real sense of the world we start here, then go here and then, to catch up with what's on tv, we end the day going here.

But you got one thing right, Tom. We, too, don't count that much on the NY Times for anything important. Especially when it comes to good op-eds.

Other than Krugman, of course.

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