The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Paul Krugman - The Big Meltdown

The Big Meltdown


FEB. 27, 2008

The great market meltdown of 2007 began exactly a year ago, with a 9 percent fall in the Shanghai market, followed by a 416-point slide in the Dow. But as in the previous global financial crisis, which began with the devaluation of Thailand’s currency in the summer of 1997, it took many months before people realized how far the damage would spread.

At the start, all sorts of implausible explanations were offered for the drop in U.S. stock prices. It was, some said, the fault of Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, as if his statement of the obvious — that the housing slump could possibly cause a recession — had been news to anyone. One Republican congressman blamed Representative John Murtha, claiming that his efforts to stop the “surge” in Iraq had somehow unnerved the markets.

Even blaming events in Shanghai for what happened in New York was foolish on its face, except to the extent that the slump in China — whose stock markets had a combined valuation of only about 5 percent of the U.S. markets’ valuation — served as a wake-up call for investors.

The truth is that efforts to pin the stock decline on any particular piece of news are a waste of time.

Wise analysts remember the classic study that Robert Shiller of Yale carried out during the market crash of Oct. 19, 1987. His conclusion? “No news story or rumor appearing on the 19th or over the preceding weekend was responsible.” In 2007, as in 1987, investors rushed for the exits not because of external events, but because they saw other investors doing the same.

What made the market so vulnerable to panic? It wasn’t so much a matter of irrational exuberance — although there was plenty of that, too — as it was a matter of irrational complacency.

After the bursting of the technology bubble of the 1990s failed to produce a global disaster, investors began to act as if nothing bad would ever happen again. Risk premiums — the extra return people demand when lending money to less than totally reliable borrowers — dwindled away.

For example, in the early years of the decade, high-yield corporate bonds (formerly known as junk bonds) were able to attract buyers only by offering interest rates eight to 10 percentage points higher than U.S. government bonds. By early 2007, that margin was down to little more than two percentage points.

For a while, growing complacency became a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the what-me-worry attitude spread, it became easier for questionable borrowers to roll over their debts, so default rates went down. Also, falling interest rates on risky bonds meant higher prices for those bonds, so those who owned such bonds experienced big capital gains, leading even more investors to conclude that risk was a thing of the past.

Sooner or later, however, reality was bound to intrude. By early 2007, the collapse of the U.S. housing boom had brought with it widespread defaults on subprime mortgages — loans to home buyers who fail to meet the strictest lending standards. Lenders insisted that this was an isolated problem, which wouldn’t spread to the rest of the market or to the real economy. But it did.

For a couple of months after the shock of Feb. 27, markets oscillated wildly, soaring on bits of apparent good news, then plunging again. But by late spring, it was clear that the self-reinforcing cycle of complacency had given way to a self-reinforcing cycle of anxiety.

There was still one big unknown: had large market players, hedge funds in particular, taken on so much leverage — borrowing to buy risky assets — that the falling prices of those assets would set off a chain reaction of defaults and bankruptcies? Now, as we survey the financial wreckage of a global recession, we know the answer.

In retrospect, the complacency of investors on the eve of the crisis seems puzzling. Why didn’t they see the risks?

Well, things always seem clearer with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, even pessimists were unsure of their ground. For example, Paul Krugman concluded a column published on March 2, 2007, which described how a financial meltdown might happen, by hedging his bets, declaring that: “I’m not saying that things will actually play out this way. But if we’re going to have a crisis, here’s how.”

Be Afraid of President McCain

Be Afraid of President McCain

The frightening mind of an authoritarian maverick

The John McCain presidency effectively began on January 10, 2007, when George W. Bush announced the deployment of five more combat brigades to Iraq. This escalation of an unpopular war ran counter to the advice of Bush’s senior military leadership, ignored the recommendations made by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, and sidestepped the objections of the Iraqi government it was ostensibly intended to assist. But the plan was nearly identical to what the Republican senior senator from Arizona, nearly alone among his Capitol Hill colleagues, had been advocating for months: boost troop levels by at least 20,000, give coalition forces the authority to impose security in every corner of Baghdad, and increase the size of America’s overburdened standing military by around 100,000 during the next five years.

By enthusiastically endorsing McCain’s approach, the lame duck president all but finished the job of anointing the senator his political successor. McCain had already spent the previous three years lining up Bush’s campaign team, making nice with the social conservatives he railed against in the 2000 primaries, and positioning himself as the most hawkish of all the nomination-chasing Republican hawks. For the purposes of the 2008 campaign, Bush’s surge announcement was almost the perfect gift: McCain got to solidify his case with primary voters even while giving himself operational deniability. (“We’ve made many, many mistakes since 2003, and these will not be easily reversed,” he said on January 11, while reiterating his call for even more troops.) The sheer unpopularity of Bush’s move did knock the previously front-running McCain a notch or two behind Rudy Giuliani in the polls. (Both men have consistently finished ahead of Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in head-to-head competition.) But it also allowed McCain to recapture some of his lost reputation as a straight-talking independent. “I would much rather lose a campaign than lose a war,” he said with a grin on Larry King Live right after Bush’s speech. The press, which had been souring on the candidate during his noisy lurch to the right, breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Defiant McCain back as maverick,” declared the Chicago Tribune.

The significance of the McCain Plan transcended horse-race politics. It was a microcosm of the Arizona senator’s largely unexamined philosophy about the proper role of the U.S. government. Like almost every past McCain crusade, from fining Big Tobacco to drug-testing athletes to restricting political speech in the name of campaign finance reform, the surge involved an increase in the power of the federal government, particularly in the executive branch. Like many of his reform measures—identifying weapons pork, eliminating congressional airport perks, even banning torture—the escalation had as much to do with appearances (in this case, the appearance of continuing to project U.S. military strength rather than accept “defeat”) as it did with reality. And like the reputation-making actions of his heroes, including his father, his grandfather, and his political idol Teddy Roosevelt, the new Iraq strategy required yet another expansion of American military power to address what is, at least in part, a nonmilitary problem.

McCain’s dazzling résumé—war hero, campaign finance Quixote, chauffeur of the Straight Talk Express, reassuring National Uncle—tends to distract people from his philosophy of government, and his chumminess with national journalists doesn’t help. There is a more useful key to decode how he might behave as president. McCain’s singular goal in public life is to restore citizens’ faith in their government, to give us the same object of belief—national greatness—that helped save his life after he gave up hope as a POW in Vietnam.

Although Bill Kristol and David Brooks coined the phrase “national-greatness conservatism” in a 1997 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, the sentiments they expressed and the movement forefathers they chose would have been right at home in one of the Chamber of Commerce speeches about the virtues of patriotism that McCain gave in the 1970s. Kristol and Brooks wrote that “wishing to be left alone isn’t a governing doctrine” and “what’s missing from today’s American conservatism is America.” McCain, then an ambitious pol-to-be working the rubber chicken circuit as a famous ex-POW, would deliver inspiring sermonettes about the value of public service and restoring America as an international beacon. All three men would eventually come together on such National Greatness projects as the “forward strategy of freedom” in the Middle East, trying to drive money out of politics, and, not least or last, getting John McCain elected president.

Like Kristol and Brooks, McCain regards Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln as political idols; like them, he never hesitates in asserting that government power should be used to rekindle American (and Republican) pride in government. Unlike most neoconservative intellectuals, however, McCain is intimately familiar with the bluntest edge of state-sponsored force. A McCain presidency would put legislative flesh on David Brooks’ fuzzy pre-9/11 notions of “grand aspiration,” deploying a virtuous federal bureaucracy to purify unclean private transactions from the boardroom to the bedroom. And it would prosecute the nation’s post-9/11 wars with a militaristic zeal this country hasn’t seen in generations.

Military Son

To say John McCain comes from a military family is a little like pointing out that Prince Charles is a scion of the upper class. Born in 1936, McCain is the Navy captain son of a four-star admiral who was the son of another four-star admiral, all named John Sidney McCain. And that just scratches the surface.

John McCain and his ancestors have served in every major U.S. war from the Revolution to Vietnam, and the line won’t stop there: 20-year-old John Sidney McCain IV (you can call him Jack) is learning the family trade at the Naval Academy, and 18-year-old Jimmy is in the Marines, waiting to deploy to Iraq. McCain’s father headed up the military’s Pacific command from 1968 to 1972, convincing President Nixon to illegally attack Cambodia and famously ordering the bombing of Hanoi even though he knew his son was still imprisoned there. He also led the controversial 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic, which he defended by saying, “People may not love you for being strong when you have to be, but they respect you for it and learn to behave themselves when you are.” He warned early and often that Soviet naval power would soon eclipse America’s, and he palled around with the likes of the Indonesian dictator Haji Mohammad Suharto. His favorite book was Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, and his favorite poem was Oscar Wilde’s “Ave Imperatrix,” which he doubtless read as an unironic meditation on the righteous use of imperial power: “England! what shall men say of thee,/Before whose feet the worlds divide?/The earth, a brittle globe of glass,/Lies in the hollow of thy hand.”

McCain’s grandfather commanded all naval air power during World War II and started a three-generation tradition of schmoozing in Washington by heading the Bureau of Naval Aeronautics, where he ordered up weapons systems. McCain’s major-general granduncle was the father of the modern military draft. And his paternal great-grandmother’s side of the family, he says, has an even stronger military tradition, including a militia captain on George Washington’s Revolutionary War staff, an Army captain in the War of 1812, even royalist brawlers in England’s mid-17th-century Civil War.

The McCain men switched from Army to Navy right when Teddy Roosevelt dramatically expanded the country’s naval force—the “big stick” he waved whenever a rival colonial power got uppity in the Americas or the Pacific. McCain’s grandfather was on the flagship of the famous Great White Fleet when it finished its demonstrative 14-month world tour in 1908. “For the McCains of the United States Navy, as well as for many of our brother officers, presidents just didn’t get much better than Teddy Roosevelt,” McCain wrote in his 2002 book Worth the Fighting For. “He transformed the American navy from a small coastal defense force to an instrument for the global projection of power.”

The senator, his father, and his grandfather all took as a given that the U.S. Navy should control the world’s shipping lanes, guarantee the political stability of far-flung continents, and use overwhelming force at the hint of a threat to national interests. When John Sidney McCain III was growing up, every male around the dinner table could cite the exploits of British Admiral Lord Nelson, recite verse from Rudyard Kipling, and sing ribald songs about drunken misbehavior in ports of call. It’s the character trait reflected by that last fact, more than any highfalutin’ stirrings of National Greatness, that initially gave young John the fighting will to survive five years of brutal captivity during the Vietnam War.

John McCains I, II, and III shared more than just a name and profession. Each was short for a sailor, quick to violent temper (especially when accused of dishonesty or of benefiting from privilege), and lousy in the classroom. (The future senator graduated 894th out of a Naval Academy class of 899, but that was only marginally worse than his father, who was 423rd out of 441.) One reason for the poor academic performance was that each McCain was a five-star binge drinker and carouser. Grandpa “smoked, swore, drank, and gambled at every opportunity he had,” Sen. McCain wrote in his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers. Dad, while more discreet, was an out-and-out alcoholic. John spent his teens and 20s constantly flirting with disciplinary disaster by breaking every drinking and curfew rule on the books, concentrating more on Brazilian heiresses and Florida strippers than on his aviating skills. This wide streak of good-time rebelliousness—and his unusual frankness in discussing it—is one of many endearing things about the senator, along with his active and self-deprecating sense of humor, his still-salty tongue, and his convincing passion when confronting some types of injustice and government waste.

Any young McCain worth his salt could convert a grudge into motivational sustenance and torment his tormentors with defiant lip. So after being shot out of the sky during a risky raid over Hanoi in 1967, then pummeled by a mob of local Vietnamese and detained at the notorious prison nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton, McCain comported himself heroically despite two broken arms, a mangled knee, and innards wracked by dysentery and other maladies. Every morning for two years a guard the prisoners called The Prick would demand that McCain bow to him. Every morning McCain would refuse, then brace for his beating. Herded into a made-for-propaganda Christmas Eve service in the prison yard, McCain punctured the enforced silence with repeated shouts of “Fuck you!” while raising his middle finger to the camera. Beat senseless for days on end for refusing to divulge information or accept early release (which would have given the North Vietnamese a propaganda victory and violated the Navy’s honor code), he would reveal only the names of every player he could remember from the Green Bay Packers. “Resisting, being uncooperative and a general pain in the ass,” he wrote, “proved, as it had in the past, to be a morale booster for me.”

But it wasn’t enough to prevent him from finally cracking. After two weeks of particularly severe beatings in 1968, he recorded a forced confession—though not before half-heartedly attempting suicide—and then plunged into inconsolable, shame-wracked despair. “They were the worst two weeks of my life,” he recalled. What pulled him back from the brink was not the stubborn individuality that had sustained him through the years but the selfless encouragement of his fellow prisoners, who told him he did the best he could even while giving him strength to do better next time. “I discovered in prison that faith in myself alone, separate from other, more important allegiances, was ultimately no match for the cruelty that human beings could devise,” he wrote. “It is, perhaps, the most important lesson I have ever learned.”

Submerging and channeling his individuality into the “greater cause” of American patriotism became McCain’s reason for living. “I resolved that when I regained my freedom,” he wrote in Faith of My Fathers, “I would seize opportunities to spend what remained of my life in more important pursuits.” Upon his return to America he rehabilitated his injuries, studied the Vietnam War for a year at the National War College (cashing in on his father’s connections to gain a privilege for which his rank of lieutenant commander did not qualify him), commanded an air squadron for two years (again attaining a position for which he wasn’t technically qualified), and then rode out the 1970s as the Navy’s liaison officer to the U.S. Senate, where he built the political relationships that made possible his second career. After divorcing his first wife, retiring from the Navy, and marrying the young Arizona-based daughter of one of the country’s largest Anheuser-Busch distributors, McCain hunted around for an available Arizona congressional seat, bought a house in the district of 30-year GOP incumbent Jim Rhodes on the day the congressman announced his retirement, and served two terms in Congress before graduating to the Senate, where he succeeded a retiring Barry Goldwater in 1986.

Starting off as a Reagan conservative, McCain soon got caught up in the 1989 “Keating Five” scandal, in which he and four other senators were raked over the coals for pressuring regulators to go easy on the savings and loan magnate (and generous campaign donor) Charles Keating. Because the scandal called his honor and integrity into question, he counted it as an even worse experience than Vietnam. After enduring the scandal and his wife’s messy addiction to pills, McCain locked in on a lifelong political goal: to give all Americans the same opportunity to transform their lives that he had, by focusing their belief on the Land of the Free.

The 12-Step Guide to Expanding Government

Reading McCain’s four best-selling books is a revelatory experience. Not since Teddy Roosevelt has a leading presidential contender committed so many words to print about his philosophies of life and governance before seeking the Oval Office. All of McCain’s charming strengths and alarming foibles are there, hiding in plain sight, often unintentionally.

McCain on the page is reflexively self-effacing (“I have spent much of my life choosing my own attitude, often carelessly, often for no better reason than to indulge a conceit,” he writes in the second paragraph of Faith of My Fathers), consciously reverent of his heroes (Why Courage Matters and Character Is Destiny are basically collections of hagiographic mini-profiles threaded with a few self-help bromides), and refreshingly authentic-sounding (for a politician, anyway). He has a tendency to write passages that would fit perfectly in a 12-step recovery guide, especially Steps 1 (admitting the problem) and 2 (investing faith in a “Power greater than ourselves”). There isn’t any evidence that McCain himself has gone through the 12 steps, but his father was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, his second wife received treatment in 1994 for her five-year addiction to pain medication, and he has spent a life surrounded by substance abusers. “I have learned the truth,” he writes in Faith of My Fathers. “There are greater pursuits than self-seeking.…Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself.”

That “something” is the “last, best hope of humanity,” the “advocate for all who believed in the Rights of Man,” the “city on a hill” once dreamed by Puritan pilgrim John Winthrop (whom McCain celebrates in Character Is Destiny). Any thing or person perceived as tarnishing that city’s luster has a sworn enemy in the Arizona senator. “Our greatness,” he writes in Worth the Fighting For, “depends upon our patriotism, and our patriotism is hardly encouraged when we cannot take pride in the highest public institutions, institutions that should transcend all sectarian, regional, and commercial conflicts to fortify the public’s allegiance to the national community.”

So it was that McCain fought in 1994 to abolish a minor congressional privilege—use of the parking lot closest to the main terminal at National Airport. He readily acknowledged this was “merely a symbol” of corruption, not an actual abuse of power. “I meant only to recognize that people mistook such things for self-aggrandizement,” he explained in Worth the Fighting For. “Every appearance that inadvertently exacerbates their distrust is a far more serious injury than it would be had we made other, more serious attempts to rekindle Americans’ pride in their government.”

So many ways for Americans to lose their pride in government, so little time for reform! Everything from the trivial to the sublime became a “transcendent issue” requiring urgent federal attention. McCain has used the “transcendent” tag not just for campaign finance reform, the War on Terror, and Iraq, but for expanding Medicare, cracking down on Hollywood marketers, even banning ultimate fighting on Indian reservations. “National pride will not survive the people’s contempt for government,” he wrote in Worth the Fighting For. “And national pride should be as indispensable to the happiness of Americans as is our self-respect.”

Occasionally this impulse translates into a libertarian stance, as with the senator’s long-running rhetorical war on pork-barrel spending. More often it results in more government, even at the expense of the First Amendment.

Such has been the case with McCain’s favorite domestic issue: campaign finance reform. To restore Americans’ faith in their political system, McCain and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) sponsored a 2002 law that prohibits advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club from paying for any radio or TV ad that mentions a federal candidate within two months of an election. As a result, active political participants (candidates and parties) and deep-pocketed media organizations can continue to attack and praise contenders, but independent groups may not (unless they form separate political action committees subject to federal contribution limits). Meanwhile, the McCain-Feingold bill tasked the Federal Election Commission with constantly re-interpreting the rules to close off new sources of financial support for political speech.

McCain’s fondness for government power doesn’t stop there. He pushed for the huge airline industry bailouts after September 11. He recently proposed legislation requiring every registered sex offender in the country to report all their active email accounts to law enforcement or face prison. He wants to federalize the oversight of professional boxing. He wants yet more vigor in fighting the War on Meth. He has been active in trying to shut down the “gun show loophole,” which allows private citizens to sell each other guns without conducting background checks. He has lauded Teddy Roosevelt’s fight against the “unrestricted individualism” of the businessman who “injures the future of all of us for his own temporary and immediate profit.”

If you’re beginning to detect a rigid sense of citizenship and a skeptical attitude toward individual choice, you are beginning to understand what kind of president John McCain actually would make, in contrast with the straight-talking maverick that journalists love to quote but rarely examine in depth. For years McCain has warned that a draft will be necessary if we don’t boost military pay, and he has long agitated for mandatory national service. “Those who claim their liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it live a half-life, indulging their self-interest at the cost of their self-respect,” he wrote in The Washington Monthly in 2001. “Sacrifice for a cause greater than self-interest, however, and you invest your life with the eminence of that cause. Americans did not fight and win World War II as discrete individuals.”

McCain’s attitude toward individuals who choose paths he deems inappropriate is somewhere between inflexible and hostile. Nowhere is that more evident than when he writes about his hero Teddy Roosevelt, a man whose racism (he was a Darwin-inspired eugenicist who believed “race purity must be maintained”) and megalomania (he declared before the 1916 presidential campaign that “it would be a mistake to nominate me unless the country has in its mood something of the heroic”) do not merit more than a couple paragraphs’ pause in McCain’s adulation of his expansionist accomplishments. “In the Roosevelt code, the authentic meaning of freedom gave equal respect to self-interest and common purpose, to rights and duties,” McCain writes. “And it absolutely required that every loyal citizen take risks for the country’s sake.…His insistence that every citizen owed primary allegiance to American ideals, and to the symbols, habits, and consciousness of American citizenship, was as right then as it is now.” McCain, always disarmingly transparent in projecting his own ambitions onto the objects of his hagiography, describes Roosevelt as an “Eastern swell” who traveled West and fought wars to become “a man of the people.” He admires in equal measure the former president’s trust busting, his prolific writing, and his boyish, bull-headed vigor, but somewhere down deep he will always see Roosevelt as the commander of the Great White Fleet.

All War, All the Time

McCain’s lack of respect for individual choice, coupled with his slow-motion suck-up to social conservatives, has led to several reversals of social policy positions, most conspicuously regarding gay rights. McCain voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution, has repeatedly chastised his fellow Republicans for trying to win votes by marginalizing gay Americans, and gave a stirring eulogy in San Francisco for the United Flight 93 hero Mark Bingham, who was gay. But in the 2006 elections he made a fool of himself campaigning for an Arizona ballot initiative banning gay marriage. Perhaps because of the libertarian strain in Arizona’s political tradition, the proposition lost. McCain has been a pretty consistent opponent of abortion, but he went from saying he wouldn’t seek to reverse Roe v. Wade in 1999 to saying he would in 2006.

Such flip-flops have cooled McCain’s longstanding, mutually satisfying love affair with journalists. The senator had a natural affinity for writers long before his political career—befriending, for example, the legendary New York Times scribe R. W. “Johnny” Apple before his imprisonment in Vietnam. During the Keating Five scandal, he made a decision to start answering all media inquiries promptly and exhaustively. If there’s one thing journalists love, it’s access. (The New Republic’s John Judis opened a 2006 analysis of McCain by gushing about how he has liked him ever since a one-on-one interview a decade ago.)

And if there’s one thing reporters love more than access, it’s politicians who buck the orthodoxy of their own party, especially when the party is Republican. McCain made some lifelong media allies when he called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance” in 2000 and when he spoke out against ethanol subsidies despite the strategic importance of the Iowa caucuses. Throw in his war hero status, which plays well in the eyes of a distinctly nonmartial profession, and you’ve got the most favorable press notices of any U.S. senator.

Until now. Besides the damage done by his sudden turn to social conservatism, McCain’s stubborn and distinctly glum support of Bush’s widely despised troop surge in Iraq has brought into sharp focus the candidate’s concepts of when and how Washington should use the strongest military ever assembled, and whether the president should recognize any constraints from the co-equal branches of government. On these questions, the most militaristic presidential candidate since Ulysses S. Grant has provided a clear answer: If you think George W. Bush had an itchy trigger finger, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

In addition to calling for tens of thousands more troops in Iraq than Bush has committed, McCain has pushed to keep military options against Iran “open,” criticized the “repeated failure to back…rhetoric with action” against North Korea, supported a general policy of “rogue state rollback,” and lamented the Pentagon’s failure to intervene in Darfur. On his short list of senatorial regrets is voting to cut off funds for the botched invasion of Somalia and failing to push for sending troops to Rwanda. Like the neoconservatives with whom he has increasingly aligned himself, he sees Iraq and Iran as integral to a new twilight struggle against Islamic radicalism, while holding onto the belief that too much multilateralism can screw up a perfectly good war.

“A world where our ideals had a realistic chance of becoming a universal creed was our principal object in the last century,” he wrote in Worth the Fighting For. “In the process, we became inextricably involved in the destiny of other nations. That is not a cause for concern. It is a cause for hope.” As for the current mess in Iraq, McCain defends Bush’s doubling down by arguing that the alternatives are too horrible to contemplate. “We should make no mistake: Potentially catastrophic consequences of failure demand that we do all we can to prevail in Iraq,” he said in the Senate on January 11. “We were able to walk away from Vietnam. If we walk away from Iraq, we’ll be back, possibly in the context of a wider war in the world’s most volatile region.”

Regarding the U.S. president’s war-related prerogatives, McCain has a nearly unbroken record of deferring to them, from the moment he volunteered to testify against The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case (even though his only expertise was in being a prisoner of war) to his rollover when Bush insisted that his ballyhooed anti-torture bill deny habeas corpus rights to War on Terror detainees and give the White House authority “to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” McCain once wrote that Teddy Roosevelt “invented the modern presidency by liberally interpreting the constitutional authority of the office to redress the imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches that had tilted decisively toward Congress.” This is the kind of president John McCain is aching to be.

McCain is at his most unintentionally revealing when writing about his Republican predecessor in the Senate, Barry Goldwater. “I really don’t think he liked me much,” he wrote in Worth the Fighting For. “I don’t know why that was.…He was usually cordial, just never as affectionate as I would have liked.”

That it never occurred to McCain why a libertarian Westerner might keep a “national greatness” conservative and D.C.-bred carpetbagger at arm’s length is both touching and deeply worrisome. Does he not understand that there are at least some people in American life who take liberty as seriously as McCain takes his notions of national duty? Judging by a comment he made recently on the Don Imus radio show, the answer seems to be no. Defending campaign finance reform, McCain said, “I would rather have a clean government than one…where ‘First Amendment rights’ are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice I’d rather have a clean government.”

He may have his choice soon enough.

Matt Welch is assistant editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Military Press Crackdown Extends Further Than Walter Reed

Military Press Crackdown Extends Further Than Walter Reed

By Joe Strupp
Editor and Publisher

Published: February 28, 2007 2:45 PM ET

NEW YORK A report today that soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are being told not to speak with the press is apparently just the latest move in a recent effort to tighten restrictions on journalists' access to many military facilities, according to the president of Military Reporters and Editors.

James Crawley, a military reporter with MediaGeneral and MRE president, said today's revelation by Army Times that Walter Reed patients had been barred from speaking with reporters is not the first case of tightened restrictions. In recent months, he says several MRE members have reported similar crackdowns. What's worse, many of the denials are apparently in reaction to the potential negativity of a planned story.

"It is starting to look like it is becoming a policy in some areas where they are not allowing reporters on the base unless it is an absolutely positively good news story," said Crawley. "The military is making it harder and harder to do stories on bases, as far as doing man on the street interviews."

A Pentagon spokesman contacted by E&P had no immediate comment.

Crawley's accusations followed today's Times story, which reported that Walter Reed patients had been muzzled just a week after The Washington Post revealed that outpatients at the facility were forced to live in rundown, poorly maintained housing. The Times also reported that "The Pentagon ... clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: 'It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while [the Walter Reed] review takes place.'"

But some MRE members said that the clampdown is in place at other military facilities, not just medical centers. Sig Christenson, former MRE president and military writer at the San Antonio Express-News, cited two recent instances of access denials he received.

Several weeks ago, he said he was denied entrance to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for a story related to the 3,000th death in Iraq. Just this week, he said Lackland Air Force Base had refused to let him in for a story related to the recent controversy surrounding drill sergeant Michelle Manhart, who was demoted by the Air Force for posing in Playboy.

"I wanted to spend some time with the trainers there and show how they instill core values and integrity in these troops," said Christenson. "They refused me access because Michelle Manhart was part of the story. They did not want to support another story that had Michelle Manhart in it."

Christenson said the denials were serious because they were apparently in reaction to the subject of the story, not any security issue. "This is the first time in 10 years that any installation had denied me access on the basis of the content of my reporting," Christenson, a multiple Iraq embed, said. "It is a really dangerous thing that raises a lot of issues. It raises the question of my credibility."

Crawley agreed. "This is troublesome because it keeps the average person from learning the real facts here," he said. "They are trying to censor the news, in this case it is bad news. The military has gone into a bunker mentality." He also had heard reports from some reporters that casualty numbers were not being released as freely as in the past. "They are trying to manage the news," he said. "There has to be some middle ground and in the past there has been middle ground."

Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet

Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Army Times
Posted : Wednesday Feb 28, 2007 20:26:13 EST

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.

Soldiers say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters.

They were also told they would be moving out of Building 18 to Building 14 within the next couple of weeks. Building 14 is a barracks that houses the administrative offices for the Medical Hold Unit and was renovated in 2006. It’s also located on the Walter Reed Campus, where reporters must be escorted by public affairs personnel. Building 18 is located just off campus and is easy to access.

The soldiers said they were also told their first sergeant has been relieved of duty, and that all of their platoon sergeants have been moved to other positions at Walter Reed. And 120 permanent-duty soldiers are expected to arrive by mid-March to take control of the Medical Hold Unit, the soldiers said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Army public affairs did not respond to a request sent Sunday evening to verify the personnel changes.

The Pentagon also clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: “It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place,” referring to an investigation of the problems at Walter Reed.


HOW TO CREATE PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS. Ezra's wondering where the next generation of Arthur Schlesingers will come from. Look no further than this paragraph from the Times' obituary:

Mr. Schlesinger spent a year at Peterhouse College of Cambridge University on a fellowship and returned to Harvard, where he had been selected to be one of the first crop of junior fellows. Their research was supported for three years, but they were not allowed to pursue Ph.D.’s, a requirement intended to keep them off the standard academic treadmill.

That's all there is to it. The Harvard Society of Fellows no longer forbids people from getting onto the "standard academic treadmill," indeed, its one of the choice spots on the treadmill.

Obviously, there's no factory for creating new Schlesingers or Galbraiths (although those two families do pretty well) but anything that can be done to change the system of incentives for young academics or would-be academics so that there are rewards to making relevant contributions to public life, rather than incrementally advancing some narrow question within their field, would be good.

And needless to say, creating those rewards for a certain kind of academic is one thing the right has done quite well. People don't suddenly wake up one day and become Paul Krugman. They need networks, encouragement, and places to publish. Like, for example, this magazine.

My friend Kevin Mattson, who manages to keep up with the academic treadmill while also contributing to the public debate, wrote a great essay in Democracy last fall citing Schlesinger:

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. argued in the Atlantic that when scholars abandon engaged history and leave public life behind, they empower "prophetic historians" who replace complexity with a big overarching idea (Schlesinger had in mind Marxism). Today, scholars are leaving behind the public world not to communist theory but to the History Channel, where the imperative of entertainment trumps veracity, where shows about absurd conspiracy theories run alongside more serious fare, all formatted to work in between commercials. Or they leave it behind to blockbuster historians–think David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, or the recently deceased Stephen Ambrose–whose books, though widely bought, lack analytical power and critical insight.

-- Mark Schmitt.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

George Lakoff - The Words None Dare Say: Nuclear War

Published on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 by
The Words None Dare Say: Nuclear War
by George Lakoff

"The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran's nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete."
—Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker, April 17, 2006

"The second concern is that if an underground laboratory is deeply buried, that can also confound conventional weapons. But the depth of the Natanz facility - reports place the ceiling roughly 30 feet underground - is not prohibitive. The American GBU-28 weapon - the so-called bunker buster - can pierce about 23 feet of concrete and 100 feet of soil. Unless the cover over the Natanz lab is almost entirely rock, bunker busters should be able to reach it. That said, some chance remains that a single strike would fail."
—Michael Levi, New York Times, April 18, 2006

A familiar means of denying a reality is to refuse to use the words that describe that reality. A common form of propaganda is to keep reality from being described.

In such circumstances, silence and euphemism are forms of complicity both in propaganda and in the denial of reality. And the media, as well as the major presidential candidates, are now complicit.

The stories in the major media suggest that an attack against Iran is a real possibility and that the Natanz nuclear development site is the number one target. As the above quotes from two of our best sources note, military experts say that conventional "bunker-busters" like the GBU-28 might be able to destroy the Natanz facility, especially with repeated bombings. But on the other hand, they also say such iterated use of conventional weapons might not work, e.g., if the rock and earth above the facility becomes liquefied. On that supposition, a "low yield" "tactical" nuclear weapon, say, the B61-11, might be needed.

If the Bush administration, for example, were to insist on a sure "success," then the "attack" would constitute nuclear war. The words in boldface are nuclear war, that's right, nuclear war — a first strike nuclear war.

We don't know what exactly is being planned — conventional GBU-28's or nuclear B61-11's. And that is the point. Discussion needs to be open. Nuclear war is not a minor matter.

The Euphemism

As early as August 13, 2005, Bush, in Jerusalem, was asked what would happen if diplomacy failed to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program. Bush replied, "All options are on the table." On April 18, the day after the appearance of Seymour Hersh's New Yorker report on the administration's preparations for a nuclear war against Iran, President Bush held a news conference. He was asked,

"Sir, when you talk about Iran, and you talk about how you have diplomatic efforts, you also say all options are on the table. Does that include the possibility of a nuclear strike? Is that something that your administration will plan for?"

He replied,

"All options are on the table."

The President never actually said the forbidden words "nuclear war," but he appeared to tacitly acknowledge the preparations — without further discussion.

Vice-President Dick Cheney, speaking in Australia last week, backed up the President.

"We worked with the European community and the United Nations to put together a set of policies to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations and resolve the matter peacefully, and that is still our preference. But I've also made the point, and the president has made the point, that all options are on the table."

Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain, on FOX News August 14, 2005, said the same.

"For us to say that the Iranians can do whatever they want to do and we won't under any circumstances exercise a military option would be for them to have a license to do whatever they want to do ... So I think the president's comment that we won't take anything off the table was entirely appropriate."

But it's not just Republicans. Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards, in a speech in Herzliyah, Israel, echoed Bush.

"To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table. Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table."

Although, Edwards has said, when asked about this statement, that he prefers peaceful solutions and direct negotiations with Iran, he has nonetheless repeated the "all options on the table" position — making clear that he would consider starting a preventive nuclear war, but without using the fateful words.

Hillary Clinton, at an AIPAC dinner in NY, said,

"We cannot, we should not, we must not, permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons, and in dealing with this threat, as I have said for a very long time, no option can be taken off the table."

Translation: Nuclear weapons can be used to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Barack Obama, asked on 60 Minutes about using military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, began a discussion of his preference for diplomacy by responding, "I think we should keep all options on the table."

Bush, Cheney, McCain, Edwards, Clinton, and Obama all say indirectly that they seriously consider starting a preventive nuclear war, but will not engage in a public discussion of what that would mean. That contributes to a general denial, and the press is going along with it by a corresponding refusal to use the words.

If the consequences of nuclear war are not discussed openly, the war may happen without an appreciation of the consequences and without the public having a chance to stop it. Our job is to open that discussion.

Of course, there is a rationale for the euphemism: To scare our adversaries by making them think that we are crazy enough to do what we hint at, while not raising a public outcry. That is what happened in the lead up to the Iraq War, and the disaster of that war tells us why we must have such a discussion about Iran. Presidential candidates go along, not wanting to be thought of as interfering in on-going indirect diplomacy. That may be the conventional wisdom for candidates, but an informed, concerned public must say what candidates are advised not to say.

More Euphemisms

The euphemisms used include "tactical," "small," "mini-," and "low yield" nuclear weapons. "Tactical" contrasts with "strategic"; it refers to tactics, relatively low-level choices made in carrying out an overall strategy, but which don't affect the grand strategy. But the use of any nuclear weapons at all would be anything but "tactical." It would be a major world event – in Vladimir Putin's words, "lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons," making the use of more powerful nuclear weapons more likely and setting off a new arms race. The use of the word "tactical" operates to lessen their importance, to distract from the fact that their very use would constitute a nuclear war.

What is "low yield"? Perhaps the "smallest" tactical nuclear weapon we have is the B61-11, which has a dial-a-yield feature: it can yield "only" 0.3 kilotons, but can be set to yield up to 170 kilotons. The power of the Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons. That is, a "small" bomb can yield more than 10 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb. The B61-11 dropped from 40,000 feet would dig a hole 20 feet deep and then explode, send shock waves downward, leave a huge crater, and spread radiation widely. The idea that it would explode underground and be harmless to those above ground is false — and, anyway, an underground release of radiation would threaten ground water and aquifers for a long time and over wide distance.

To use words like "low yield" or "small" or "mini-" nuclear weapon is like speaking of being a little bit pregnant. Nuclear war is nuclear war! It crosses the moral line.

Any discussion of roadside canister bombs made in Iran justifying an attack on Iran should be put in perspective: Little canister bombs (EFP's — explosively formed projectiles) that shoot a small hot metal ball at a humvee or tank versus nuclear war.

Incidentally, the administration may be focusing on the canister bombs because it seeks to claim that the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 permits the use of military force against Iran based on its interference in Iraq. In that case, no further authorization by Congress would be needed for an attack on Iran.

The journalistic point is clear. Journalists and political leaders should not talk about an "attack." They should use the words that describe what is really at stake: nuclear war — in boldface.

Then, there is the scale of the proposed attack. Military reports leaking out suggest a huge (mostly or entirely non-nuclear) airstrike on as many as 10,000 targets — a "shock and awe" attack that would destroy Iran's infrastructure the way the US bombing destroyed Iraq's. The targets would not just be "military targets." As Dan Plesch reports in the New Statesman, February 19, 2007, such an attack would wipe out Iran's military, business, and political infrastructure. Not just nuclear installations, missile launching sites, tanks, and ammunition dumps, but also airports, rail lines, highways, bridges, ports, communications centers, power grids, industrial centers, hospitals, public buildings, and even the homes of political leaders. That is what was attacked in Iraq: the "critical infrastructure." It is not just military in the traditional sense. It leaves a nation in rubble, and leads to death, maiming, disease, joblessness, impoverishment, starvation, mass refugees, lawlessness, rape, and incalculable pain and suffering. That is what the options appear to be "on the table." Is nation destruction what the American people have in mind when they acquiesce without discussion to an "attack"? Is nuclear war what the American people have in mind? An informed public must ask and the media must ask. The words must be used.

Even if the attack were limited to nuclear installations, starting a nuclear war with Iran would have terrible consequences — and not just for Iranians. First, it would strengthen the hand of the Islamic fundamentalists — exactly the opposite of the effect US planners would want. It would be viewed as yet another major attack on Islam. Fundamentalist Islam is a revenge culture. If you want to recruit fundamentalist Islamists all over the world to become violent jihadists, this is the best way to do it. America would become a world pariah. Any idea of the US as a peaceful nation would be destroyed. Moreover, you don't work against the spread of nuclear weapons by using those weapons. That will just make countries all over the world want nuclear weaponry all the more. Trying to stop nuclear proliferation through nuclear war is self-defeating.

As Einstein said, "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war."

Why would the Bush administration do it? Here is what conservative strategist William Kristol wrote last summer during Israel's war with Hezbollah.

"For while Syria and Iran are enemies of Israel, they are also enemies of the United States. We have done a poor job of standing up to them and weakening them. They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible a few years ago. Weakness is provocative. We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak.

The right response is renewed strength--in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."

—Willam Kristol, Weekly Standard 7/24/06

"Renewed strength" is just the Bush strategy in Iraq. At a time when the Iraqi people want us to leave, when our national elections show that most Americans want our troops out, when 60% of Iraqis think it all right to kill Americans, Bush wants to escalate. Why? Because he is weak in America. Because he needs to show more "strength." Because, if he knocks out the Iranian nuclear facilities, he can claim at least one "victory." Starting a nuclear war with Iran would really put us in a world-wide war with fundamentalist Islam. It would make real the terrorist threat he has been claiming since 9/11. It would create more fear — real fear — in America. And he believes, with much reason, that fear tends to make Americans vote for saber-rattling conservatives.

Kristol's neoconservative view that "weakness is provocative" is echoed in Iran, but by the other side. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted in the New York Times of February 24, 2007 as having "vowed anew to continue enriching uranium, saying, 'If we show weakness in front of the enemies, they will increase their expectations.'" If both sides refuse to back off for fear of showing weakness, then prospects for conflict are real, despite the repeated analyses, like that of The Economist that the use of nuclear weapons against Iran would be politically and morally impossible. As one unnamed administration official has said (New York Times, February 24, 2007), "No one has defined where the red line is that we cannot let the Iranians step over."

What we are seeing now is the conservative message machine preparing the country to accept the ideas of a nuclear war and nation destruction against Iran. The technique used is the "slippery slope." It is done by degrees. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water – if the heat is turned up slowly the frog gets used to the heat and eventually boils to death – the American public is getting gradually acclimated to the idea of war with Iran.

* First, describe Iran as evil – part of the axis of evil. An inherently evil person will inevitably do evil things and can't be negotiated with. An entire evil nation is a threat to other nations.
* Second, describe Iran's leader as a "Hitler" who is inherently "evil" and cannot be reasoned with. Refuse to negotiate with him.
* Then repeat the lie that Iran is on the verge of having nuclear weapons —weapons of mass destruction. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei says they are at best many years away.
* Call nuclear development "an existential threat" – a threat to our very existence.
* Then suggest a single "surgical" "attack" on Natanz and make it seem acceptable.
* Then find a reason to call the attack "self-defense" — or better protection for our troops from the EFP's, or single-shot canister bombs.
* Claim, without proof and without anyone even taking responsibility for the claim, that the Iranian government at its highest level is supplying deadly weapons to Shiite militias attacking our troops, while not mentioning the fact that Saudi Arabia is helping Sunni insurgents attacking our troops.
* Give "protecting our troops" as a reason for attacking Iran without getting new authorization from Congress. Claim that the old authorization for attacking Iraq implied doing "whatever is necessary to protect our troops" from Iranian intervention in Iraq.
* Argue that de-escalation in Iraq would "bleed" our troops, "weaken" America, and lead to defeat. This sets up escalation as a winning policy, if not in Iraq then in Iran.
* Get the press to go along with each step.
* Never mention the words "preventive nuclear war" or "national destruction." When asked, say "All options are on the table." Keep the issue of nuclear war and its consequences from being seriously discussed by the national media.
* Intimidate Democratic presidential candidates into agreeing, without using the words, that nuclear war should be "on the table." This makes nuclear war and nation destruction bipartisan and even more acceptable.

Progressives managed to blunt the "surge" idea by telling the truth about "escalation." Nuclear war against Iran and nation destruction constitute the ultimate escalation.

The time has come to stop the attempt to make a nuclear war against Iran palatable to the American public. We do not believe that most Americans want to start a nuclear war or to impose nation destruction on the people of Iran. They might, though, be willing to support a tit-for-tat "surgical" "attack" on Natanz in retaliation for small canister bombs and to end Iran's early nuclear capacity.

It is time for America's journalists and political leaders to put two and two together, and ask the fateful question: Is the Bush administration seriously preparing for nuclear war and nation destruction? If the conventional GBU-28's will do the job, then why not take nuclear war off the table in the name of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons? If GBU-28's won't do the job, then it is all the more important to have that discussion.

This should not be a distraction from Iraq. The general issue is escalation as a policy, both in Iraq and in Iran. They are linked issues, not separate issues. We have learned from Iraq what lack of public scrutiny does.

George Lakoff is the author of Thinking Points (with the Rockridge Institute staff) and Whose Freedom? He is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and a founding senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. - Diplomacy and Empire

Diplomacy and Empire

Remarks to DACOR (Diplomats and Consular Officers, Retired)
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
9 February 2007
DACOR-Bacon House, Washington, DC

In 1941, as the United States sat out the wars then raging in both the Atlantic and Pacific, Henry Luce penned a famous attack on isolationism in Life Magazine. "We Americans are unhappy," he began. "We are not happy about America. We are not happy about ourselves in relation to America. We are nervous – or gloomy – or apathetic." Luce argued that the destiny of the United States demanded that "the most powerful and vital nation in the world" step up to the international stage and assume the position of global leader. "The 20th Century must be to a significant degree an American Century," he declared.

And so it proved to be, as the United States led the world to victory over fascism, created a new world order mimicking the rule of law and parliamentary institutions internationally, altered the human condition with a dazzling array of new technologies, fostered global opening and reform, contained and outlasted communism, and saw the apparent triumph of democratic ideals over their alternatives. But that 20th Century came to an end in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and the emergence of the United States as a great power without a peer. There followed a dozen intercalary years of narcissistic confusion. Americans celebrated our unrivaled military power and proclaimed ourselves "the indispensable nation" but failed to define a coherent vision of a post Cold War order or an inspiring role for the United States within it. These essential tasks were deferred to the 21st Century, which finally began in late 2001, with the shock and awe of 9/11. Then, in the panic and rage of that moment, we made the choices about our world role we had earlier declined to make.

Since 9/11 Americans have chosen to stake our domestic tranquility and the preservation of our liberties on our ability – under our commander-in-chief – to rule the world by force of arms rather than to lead, as we had in the past, by the force of our example or our arguments. And we appear to have decided that it is necessary to destroy our constitutional practices and civil liberties in order to save them. This is a trade-off we had resolutely refused to make during our far more perilous half-century confrontation with Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union.

There is unfortunate historical precedent for this, as the author Robert Harris reminded us last year. In the autumn of 68 B.C., a vicious league of pirates set Rome's port at Ostia on fire, destroyed the consular war fleet, and kidnapped two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff. Rome panicked. Mr. Harris comments that: "What Rome was facing was a threat very different from that posed by a conventional enemy. These pirates were a new type of ruthless foe, with no government to represent them and no treaties to bind them. Their bases were not confined to a single state. They had no unified system of command. They were a worldwide pestilence, a parasite which needed to be stamped out, otherwise Rome – despite her overwhelming military superiority – would never again know security or peace." In response to these imagined menaces, Pompey (self-styled "the Great") persuaded a compliant Senate to set aside nearly 700 years of Roman constitutional law, abridge the ancient rights and liberties of Roman citizens, and appoint him supreme commander of the armed forces. With due allowance for a bit of pointed reinterpretation, if not revisionism by Mr. Harris, most historians regard this incident and its aftermath as the beginning of the end of the Roman republic.

The ultimate effects on our republic of our own slide away from long-standing constitutional norms remain a matter of speculation. But, clearly, our departure from our previous dedication to the principles of comity and the rule of law has made us once again unhappy about ourselves in relation to America and the world. It has also cost us the esteem that once led foreigners to look up to us and to wish to emulate and follow us. Our ability to recover from the damage we have done to ourselves and our leadership is further impeded by the extent to which we now cower behind barricades at home and in our embassies abroad. The current wave of anti-foreign and anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States also compounds the problem. A recent poll of foreign travelers showed that two thirds considered the United States the most disagreeably unwelcoming country to visit. There is surely no security to be found in surly discourtesy.

To fail to welcome the world's peoples to our shores is not simply to lose the economic benefits of their presence here but greatly to diminish both the vigor of our universities and the extent of our influence abroad. To lose the favor of a generation of students is to forfeit the goodwill of their children and grandchildren as well. And to fail to show respect to allies and friends is not simply to diminish our influence but to predispose growing numbers abroad to disapprove or even oppose anything we advocate. By all this, we give aid and comfort to our enemies and undercut the efficacy in dispute resolution and problem solving of measures short of war.

There has been little room for such measures – for diplomacy – in the coercive and militaristic approach we have recently applied to our foreign relations. Much of the world now sees us as its greatest bully, not its greatest hope. Self-righteous lawlessness by the world's most powerful nation inspires illegality and amorality on the part of the less powerful as well. The result of aggressive unilateralism has been to separate us from our allies, to alienate us from our friends, to embolden our detractors, to create irresistible opportunities for our adversaries and competitors, to inflate the ranks of our enemies, and to resurrect the notion – at the expense of international law and order – that might makes right. Thus, the neglect of both common courtesy and diplomacy fosters violent opposition to our global preeminence in the form of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and war.

With the numbers of our enemies mounting, it is fortunate that our military power remains without match. The United States' armed forces are the most competent and lethal in history. And so they are likely to remain for decades to come. Our humbling on the battlegrounds of the Middle East does not reflect military inadequacy; it is rather the result of the absence of strategy and its political handmaiden – diplomacy. We are learning the hard way that old allies will not aid us and new allies will not stick with us if we ignore their interests, deride their advice, impugn their motives, and denigrate their capabilities. Friends will not walk with us into either danger or opportunity if we injure their interests and brush aside their objections to our doing so. Those with whom we have professed friendship in the past cannot sustain their receptivity to our counsel if we demand that they adopt secular norms of the European Enlightenment that we no longer exemplify, while loudly disparaging their religious beliefs and traditions. Diplomacy-free foreign policy does not work any better than strategy-free warfare.

When war is not the extension of policy but the entrenchment of policy failure by other means, it easily degenerates into mindless belligerence and death without meaning. Appealing as explosions and the havoc of war may be to those who have experienced them only vicariously rather than in person, military success is not measured in battle damage but in political results. These must be secured by diplomacy.

The common view in our country that diplomacy halts when war begins is thus worse than wrong; it is catastrophically misguided. Diplomacy and war are not alternatives; they are essential partners. Diplomacy unbacked by force can be ineffectual, but force unassisted by diplomacy is almost invariably unproductive. There is a reason that diplomacy precedes war and that the use of force is a last resort. If diplomacy fails to produce results, war can sometimes lay a basis for diplomats to achieve them. When force fails to attain its intended results, diplomacy and other measures short of war can seldom accomplish them.

We properly demand that our soldiers prepare for the worst. As they do so, our leaders should work to ensure that the worst does not happen. They must build and sustain international relationships and approaches that can solve problems without loss of life, and pave the way for a better future. If we must go to war, the brave men and women who engage in combat on our behalf have the right to expect that their leaders will direct diplomats to consolidate the victories they achieve, mitigate the defeats they suffer, and contrive a better peace to follow their fighting. Our military personnel deserve, in short, to be treated as something more than the disposable instruments of unilateral belligerence. And our diplomats deserve to be treated as something more than the clean-up squad in fancy dress.

Every death or crippling of an American on the battlefields of the Middle East is a poignant reminder that, in the absence of diplomacy, the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, however heroic, can neither yield victory nor sustain hegemony for the United States. A diplomatic strategy is needed to give our military operations persuasive political purposes, to aggregate the power of allies to our cause, to transform our battlefield successes into peace, and to reconcile the defeated to their humiliation. Sadly, our neglect of these tasks, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, has served to demonstrate the limits of our military power, not its deterrent value. This is, however, far from the greatest irony of our current predicaments.

In the competition with other nations for influence, America's comparative advantages have been, and remain, our unmatched military capabilities, our economy, and our leading role in scientific and technological innovation. We spend much, much more on our military – about 5.7 percent of our economy or $720 billion at present – than the rest of the world's other 192 nations combined. With less than a twentieth of the world's population, we account for more than a fourth of its economic activity. Almost two thirds of central bank reserves are held in our currency, the dollar – which, much to our advantage, has dominated international financial markets for 60 years. The openness of our society to new people and ideas has made our country the greatest crucible of global technological innovation.

The moral argument put forward by both left and right-wing proponents of aggressive American unilateralism is that, as a nation with these unexampled elements of power and uniquely admired virtues, the United States has the duty both to lead the world and to remake it in our image. But our recent confusion of command and control with leadership and conflation of autocratic dictation with consultation have stimulated ever greater resistance internationally. Thus the aggressive unilateralism by which we have sought to consolidate our domination of world affairs has very effectively undermined both our dominion over them and our capacity to lead.

The most obvious example of this has been our inability, despite the absolute military superiority we enjoy, to impose our will on terrorists with global reach, on the several battlegrounds of the Middle East, or on Iran or North Korea. But, in many respects, these illustrations of the impotence of military power are far from the most worrisome examples of policy backfire. After all, despite all the lurid domestic rhetoric about it and the real pain it can inflict, terrorism poses no existential threat to our country – except, of course, to the extent we betray American values in the name of preserving them. The more worrisome examples are the mounting effects of unrelentingly coercive foreign policies on our political credibility, economic standing, and competitiveness.

As distaste has succeeded esteem for us in the international community, we have become ever more isolated. Our ability to rally others behind our causes has withered. We have responded by abandoning the effort to lead. We are now known internationally more for our recalcitrance than our vision. We have sought to exempt ourselves from the jurisdiction of international law. We have suspended our efforts to lead the world to further liberalization of trade and investment through the Doha Round. We no longer participate in the UN body charged with the global promotion of human rights. We decline to discuss global climate change, nuclear disarmament, or the avoidance of arms races in outer space. If we have proposals for a world more congenial to the values we espouse, we no longer articulate them. The world is a much less promising place for our silence and absence.

Our recent record in the Middle East alone includes the six-year suspension of efforts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians and a seeming shift from the pursuit of al-Qaïda to the suppression of Islamism in Afghanistan. Although we seem belatedly to be improving, we have become notorious for delusory or self-serving assertions masquerading as intelligence assessments. Our disregard for treaties abroad and the rule of law at home is leading to the indictment of our operatives abroad by our closest allies. Our scofflaw behavior thus undercuts transnational cooperation against terrorists. The bloody consequences of our occupation of Iraq for its inhabitants are too well known to require mention. We continue to provide military support and political cover for Israeli operations entailing intermittent massacres of civilian populations in Lebanon and Gaza. We sit on our hands while wringing them over parallel outrages in Darfur. We are indifferent to the views of our friends and refuse to speak with our enemies.

Taken together, these acts of omission and commission have devastated American standing and influence, not just in the Middle East but more widely. There are examples of such policy backfires to be found in every region; I will not cite them to this audience. You've read the polls. You've heard the speeches at the United Nations and the applause with which they were received. You know how difficult it now is for us to obtain support from the international community and how often we need to exercise our veto in the UN Security Council. The point is this: every leader needs followers; with rare exceptions, we have lost or are losing ours. And even a superpower needs political partners.

This is true for the economic arena as well. Our ability to do business with others in our own currency has been a unique aspect of our global economic power. But our budget, trade, and balance of payments deficits have grown to levels at which some foreigners now have more dollars than they know what to do with. The value of our currency has come to depend on central bankers continuing to play a reverse game of chicken, in which they nervously hang onto dollars while watching each other to make sure that no one can bail out without the others' noticing and dumping the dollar too. No central bank wants to be the first to devalue its own and everyone else's dollar-denominated reserves. So every day, Arab, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian officials as well as assorted gnomes in the "Old Europe" lend our Treasury the $2.5 billion it needs to keep employment here up, interest rates down, and the economy growing.

Unlike central bankers, however, businesses and private investors are notoriously bad at "coordination games." They are not willing to wait for the dollar to approach collapse before getting out of it and into other currencies and places. As a result, there are now many more euros in circulation than dollars. The euro has displaced the dollar as the preeminent currency in international bond markets. In a few years, the Chinese yuan will clearly join it in this role. Hong Kong and London have overtaken New York in IPO's. The regulatory environment in our country, including the expensive annoyances of Sarbanes-Oxley and class-action suits, does, as New York Senator Schumer has claimed, indeed have something to do with this. But an equally important factor is our increasingly frequent resort to unilateral sanctions and asset freezes based on assertions of extraterritorial jurisdiction over the dollar.

Over the past decade, we have adopted unilateral sanctions against some 95 countries and territories. Most recently, we have worked hard to shut down banking in the occupied territories of Palestine, severely curtail it in Iran, and prevent the use of the dollar in Sudan's oil trade. The nobility of our motives in each case is not the issue. But, if we assert the right to confiscate dollar-denominated wealth, and to do without due process or legal recourse and remedy, it should not surprise us that people begin looking for ways to avoid the use of our currency. There is now an active search on the part of a growing number of foreign financial institutions for ways to avoid the dollar, bank-clearance procedures that touch New York, or transactions with US-based financial institutions. Adding oil traders to the list of the dollar-averse increases the incentives for them to find alternatives to our currency.

Our ill-considered abuse of our financial power may thus have put us on the path to losing it. The dollar accounts for much of our weight in global affairs. American investors are now increasingly hedging the dollar and going heavily into non dollar-denominated foreign equities and debt.

You would think that growing disquiet about American financial over-extension would impel our government to make a major effort to boost our exports to rapidly growing markets like China. Our exports are in fact growing. But our government's present policy focus, judging from its hiring patterns, is not export promotion but an attempt to block exports of scientific knowledge and technology to China and other potential rivals. Export controllers want to require export licenses for foreign graduate students and researchers in our universities and to compel U.S. companies to conduct detailed due diligence on prospective foreign purchasers of their goods and services. These initiatives reflect the mood of national paranoia and the concomitant growth of a secrecy-obsessed garrison state that have made Osama Binladin the greatest creator of federal employment since FDR. They encourage would-be customers to buy un-American.

Along with unwelcoming visa and immigration policies, such export-suppressive measures are a small part of a much broader assault on the openness of our society. The increasing restriction of American intercourse with foreigners encourages the outsourcing not just of jobs but of innovation in science and technology, research and development, engineering and design services, and industrial production. Xenophobic policies and practices have begun to erode the long-standing American scientific and technological superiority they were intended to protect. Like economic protectionism, intellectual protectionism, it turns out, weakens, not strengthens one, and makes one less rather than more competitive in the global marketplace.

The last half of the 20th Century was, as Henry Luce had hoped, in many ways an American century. We became the preeminent society on the planet not by force of arms but by the power of our principles and the attraction of our example. The effort to replace that preeminence with military dominion is failing badly. There will be no American imperium. The effort to bully the world into accepting one has instead set in motion trends that threaten both the core values of our republic and the prospects for a world order based on something other than the law of the jungle. Militarism is not an effective substitute for diplomacy in persuading other peoples to do things one's way. Coercive measures are off-putting, not the basis for productive relationships with foreign nations. Other peoples' money can provide an excuse for continued self-indulgence; it is not a sound foundation for economic leadership. Obsessive secrecy is incompatible with innovation. Fear of foreigners and rule by cover-your-ass securocrats is a combination that breeds weakness, not strength.

More than anything now, we need to get a grip on ourselves. 9/11 was almost five and a half years ago. There has been no follow-up attack on our homeland. We are far from Waziristan and al-Qaïda's leaders are obsessed with matching, if not exceeding, their previous standard of iconic success, something even much more talented terrorists than they would find it hard to do. Perhaps in time they will succeed but our nation will endure. Meanwhile, Al-Qaïda's associates elsewhere have felt no such operational constraints, especially in Europe. Yet, despite all the bombings there by homegrown and al-Qaïda-affiliated terrorists, government offices in Europe are still accessible to the public, security measures at transportation nodes are respectfully efficient, the rule of law continues to prevail, and the rights of citizens remain intact.

The contrast with the situation here underscores the extent to which al-Qaïda has achieved its central objectives. It has unhinged America and alienated us from the world. We are apparently willing to sacrifice everything, including the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, to achieve absolute security from risks that others rightly consider nasty but manageable. Quite aside from the fact that absolute security is absolutely impossible, this is not who we were. It is not who most of us want to be.

America defines itself by its values, not its territory or ethnicity. The supreme purpose of our foreign policy must be to defend our values and to do so by means that do not corrode them. By these measures, what we are doing now is directly counterproductive. It must be changed. Let me very briefly propose a few principles to guide such change:

First, an America driven by dread and delusion into the construction of a garrison state, ruled by a presidency claiming inherent powers rather than by our constitution and our laws, is an America that can be counted upon to respect neither the freedoms of its own people nor those of others. The key to the defense of both the United States and the freedom that defines us as a great nation is to retain our rights and cultivate our liberties, not to yield them to our government, and to honor and defend, not to invade, the sovereignty of other nations and individuals.

Second, it is time to recognize that freedom spreads by example and a helping hand to those who seek it. It cannot be imposed on others by coercive means, no matter how much shock and awe these elicit. Neither can it be installed by diatribe and denunciation nor proclaimed from the false security of fortified buildings. We must come home to our traditions, restore the openness of our society, and resume our role as "the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all ... [but] the champion and vindicator only of our own."

Third, credibility is not enhanced by persistence in counterproductive policies, no matter how much one has already invested in them. The reinforcement of failure is a poor substitute for its correction. Doing more of the same does not make bad strategy sound or snatch successful outcomes from wars of attrition. All it does is convince onlookers that one is so stubbornly foolish that one is not afraid to die. Admitting that mistakes have been made and taking remedial action generally does more for credibility than soldiering blindly on. The United States needs big course corrections on quite a range of foreign and domestic policies at present.

Fourth, we must recover the habit of listening and curb our propensity to harangue. We might, in fact, consider a war on arrogance to complement our war on terror. And to demonstrate my own humility as well as my respect for the limited attention span of any audience after lunch, even one as polite and attentive as you have been, I shall now conclude.

Guantánamo, AbuGhraib, the thuggish kidnappings of "extraordinary rendition," the Jersey barrier, and an exceptional aptitude for electronic eavesdropping cannot be allowed permanently to displace the Statue of Liberty and a reputation for aspiration to higher standards as the symbols of America to the world. To regain both our self-respect and our power to persuade rather than coerce the world, we must restore our aspiration to distinguish our country not by the might of its armed forces but by its civility and devotion to liberty. The best way to assure the power to cope with emergencies is to refrain from the abuse of power in ordinary times.

All the world would still follow America, if they could find it. We must rediscover it to them. That, not bullying behavior or a futile effort at imperial dominion, is the surest path to security for Americans.

'Support the troops' mantra continues to dog Democrats

'Support the troops' mantra continues to dog Democrats

By Margaret Talev
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Support the troops.

Few phrases in American politics sound so innocuous but sting so much.

Republican backers of the Iraq war have revived a tactic from the Vietnam era, trying to put Democrats on the defensive by accusing critics of President Bush's decision to send thousands more troops to Iraq of failing to "support the troops" that are already there.

This line of attack could explode next week, when Congress returns from a short recess. The Democratic majority will shift tactics from seeking nonbinding anti-war resolutions to trying to limit troop deployments and curb funding for the Iraq war.

Historians, political strategists and linguists say that questioning Democrats' loyalty to the troops is probably the best leverage supporters of the unpopular war have left.

"What that reflects is the aftermath of Vietnam and what happened to the Democrats," said Stephen Hess, a George Washington University professor and Brookings Institution scholar who worked in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations. Although polls show that solid public majorities oppose the Iraq war, Democrats still can be portrayed as undermining the troops.

The Bush administration and its congressional allies, however, are open to counter-charges that they've overworked the Army and Marine Corps, failed to provide troops in Iraq with adequate armor and neglected serious problems in how the military and the Veterans Administration are caring for wounded warriors.

Democrats also can argue that the best way to support the troops is to bring them home, said Frank Luntz, the pollster and language consultant who shaped the Republicans' 1994 "Contract with America."

Democrats, however, still fear being branded anti-troop, experts say, for reasons as esoteric as the nation's residual guilt over how Vietnam veterans were shunned and as practical as the memory of the 1972 presidential election, when Democratic anti-war nominee George McGovern lost in a 49-state landslide to President Nixon.

"If you're seen as anti-soldier, you're in trouble," said Luntz. "There's been a tremendous resurgence in support for the rank-and-file within the American military. We may have issues with the Pentagon, but as a nation our respect for the troops is back to where it was before Vietnam."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly pledged not to endanger ground troops. They've stood in photo-ops and news conferences with Iraq veterans.

But Democrats are still hypersensitive to the phrase.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., went into a rage on the House floor this month after Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., implied that the troops could be left hanging.

"Do not hide behind the troops!" Hoyer barked. "Do not assert that anybody on this floor does not have every intention and commitment to supporting to whatever degree necessary our young men and women!"

Senate Democrats stopped debate, unwilling to reject a Republican resolution that said troop funds should be protected. They feared that approving it might pressure them into giving Bush whatever war funds he seeks, and they know that they may have to put strings on those funds to force a change in Iraq policy - which of course would expose them anew to charges that they don't "support the troops."

Already, Vice President Dick Cheney is ramping up the troop rhetoric. In an interview Wednesday in Japan, Cheney told ABC News: "I do think that the important thing here is that we support the troops and we support the strategy, that we give it a chance to work. ..."

Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan is telling GOP donors that Democrats want to "gradually take away the resources our men and women need to fight the terrorists in Iraq ... limit reinforcements and possibly even close the bases that offer support and shelter for our troops."

Even Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, a Republican known for his long opposition to the war, has called on House Democrats' top defense appropriator to drop plans to tie conditions to war funds.

"Any attempt to 'starve' the war as a way of bringing it to conclusion ... would be wrong," Jones wrote to Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. Jones wrote that he promised "our brave men and women in uniform that I will never vote to cut off funding for our troops in the field."

Before Vietnam, the mantra to "support the troops" wasn't a political weapon.

"During World War II it was `Support the troops by buying war bonds,'" said James S. Olson, a history professor and Vietnam expert at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

That changed with the birth of the Vietnam antiwar movement.

By 1966, about a year after massive numbers of U.S. ground troops began going to Vietnam, Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas held highly publicized hearings critical of the war before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That's when "you began to have critics of the antiwar movement charging that the movement itself was causing American soldiers to die by encouraging Ho Chi Minh," Olson said.

Now Republicans accuse war critics of emboldening Iraqi insurgents, al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.

"It's a very difficult argument to counter," Olson said, "because what you have to say is, `Yes, I see that my opposition could be making it more difficult for the troops, but I am so against it that I have to.'"

Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, thinks the rhetorical threat to Democrats may be weaker now than it was in the Vietnam era - partly because antiwar forces use language more sympathetic to soldiers.

During Vietnam, "there were many in the antiwar movement who did attack the troops," he said. That undermined their credibility when they said "support the troops - bring them home."

With Iraq, "the antiwar movement has been much more careful. You never see attacks on the troops. I think the Democrats have actually been aggressive in responding to that, saying, 'We don't want American lives lost in this pointless war.' Which is not what was happening in Vietnam, where the left reacted to the war as Western imperialism," Nunberg said.

The best counter-punch for anti-war Democrats seeking to blunt attacks that they don't 'support the troops': "'You support them by bringing them home.' That's probably the best line they have at this point," said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Digby - Rube Goldberg Policy Contraption

Rube Goldberg Policy Contraption

by digby

After you watch a presidential admnistration for a while you begin to see shifts in policy or different phases of the old ones by the way the officials all speak. In the case of the Bush administration, it's remarkably easy because they robotically and fanatically follow talking points. They are, as we've seen many times, more concerned with marketing than subtance and place a very high premium on properly "rolling out their product."

So, when president Bush used the phrase "protect our troops" followed by everyone from Gates to Rice, my antennae were way up; it was obvious that it was a potential cassus belli for an attack on Iran. January 11, 2007:

SEC. RICE: Well, I think General Pace has spoken to what we think the necessity is and what it is we intend to do. We've made very clear to the Iranian government and the Syrian government, for that matter, that we don't expect them to continually engage in behavior that is destabilizing to the Iraqi government but also that endangers our troops, and that we will do what is necessary for force protection.

But we leave to those who deal with issues of force protection how these raids are going to be taken out (sic). I think you've got an indication of that in what has been happening, which is the networks are identified, they are identified through good intelligence, they are then acted upon. It is without regard to whoever is in them, whatever the nationality. And we're going to protect our troops.

Then in her appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month:

“Obviously, the President isn’t going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq.I do think that everyone will understand that—the American people and I assume the Congress expect the President to do what is necessary to protect our forces.”

Today we have a new article from Seymour Hersh that is so mindblowing that you must do yourself a favor and go and read the whole thing right now. It's called "The Redirection" and it starts like this:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country’s right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that “realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region.”

After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”

Think about this for a moment. The crackerjack Bush administration --- which failed to anticipate the rise of Iran once they removed its dangerous enemy from the scene --- is supposed to be able to recognize who's who among these various Muslim players and deftly play all the factions against one another in a very discrete and high stakes game in which they finesse a final outcome that brings about peace and security.

Oh. My God.

But apparently we needn't worry because Prince Bandar is on the scene helping Dick Cheney sort everything out:

“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. “The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.”

In case anyone forgot, Al Qaeda are Sunni radicals. And most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. But let's assume they weren't. Can anyone believe that this administration is capable of playing such a delicate geopolitical chess game? Dear God, these are people whose idea of playing checkers is to up-end the board and do a victory dance. Let's just say that subtlety isn't their stong suit.

This is what Bush and Cheney are talking about when they say that history will vindicate them. The believe that by tearing the middle east to pieces that when it finally settles down after years of carnage and bloodshed, they will get credit for the clever plan that set it in motion.

Read it all. There's much more and it's fascinating stuff. And frightening.

This is the part that gets me. When Bush brought that war criminal piece of garbage Elliott Abrams back in to the government we all should have known they were going down this road:

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)


The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House’s policy goals but “wanted to do it by the book.” The Pentagon consultant also told me that “there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn’t fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives.” It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.”

The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions,” he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

“This goes back to Iran-Contra,” a former National Security Council aide told me. “And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it.” He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, “The C.I.A. is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ They’re concerned, because they think it’s amateur hour.”

It is amateur hour and these zombies must be stopped. Until the Democrats, and the country, recognize this undemocratic and criminal element in our politics it is going to continue every time the Republicans take power. When they have a congressional majority with a Republican president they steal the country blind and when it's a Democrat they harrass him so badly that its a miracle he is able to function. When they have the presidency they become despotic criminals. This has been true for the last 30 years.

And now the Bush administration has spawned untold numbers of future war criminals who will claw their way back into power so they can "prove" they were right the first time. This pattern is repeating itself over and over again and we simply have to figure out a way to put an end to it.

Right now we have the DOD equivalent of Brownie running around with boatload of cash making deals with Muslim extremists and Saudi princes, whom the administration has divided up into completely useless designations of "reformer" and extremist." Nobody knows who's talking to who or what agenda they really have. Liberals think up complex plots like this and make them into movies. Republicans steal billions from the taxpayers and actually try to implement their hare-brained schemes.

Meanwhile, in case you've been away from the media for a while, Anna Nicole Smith is still dead and Chris Matthews and Cokie Roberts are desperate to find out if Bill Clinton is "being a good boy." We're in trouble.