September 29, 2006
Quote of the Day (II)
More distinguished Senatorial utterances, from Trent Lott:
It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people," he said. "Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israelis and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.
Our political class is desperately mediocre these days, isn't it? How can we improve this dire situation? Yes, yes, we can try to vote the rascals out. But the problem is more endemic than that, and as we saw on tribunals/detainee rights, there is not much talent on either side of the aisle that causes confidence (Hillary's recent speech on this topic was strong, however). Still, and while I mostly stick to foreign policy in this space, I have a couple more mutinuous sentiments to share here ("mutinous" as I guess I'm still a Republican, if something of a dissident one, you know, the dead-on-the-vine Hagel kind, you might say), one spurred on by this latest comment quoted above from yet another charlatan masquerading as serious legislator. There are a couple of Lott's colleagues, up for election, that really need to go, in my view: 1) Rick Santorum, for his smarmy pieties and transparently naked, self-interested and devoid of real conviction political calculation, and 2) George Allen, for his tired good 'ol boy frat schtick (we can't afford any more of such cheery imbecilely for even a second longer come Jan '09, as we critically need competence rather than airy cheerleading in the Oval Office), not to speak of Allen's suspect past on issues of race. Go Webb and Casey!
Quote of the Day
"I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet."
-- President Bush, as reported in the New York Times per Bob Woodward's latest, speaking back in November of 2003.
By November of 2003 more American servicemen had died since May 1st of that year than had during the so-called "major combat" stage of the conflict in March and April of 2003 (more on how developed the insurgency was by late '03 here, here and here). As this detiorating security situation was intensifying, rather than focus on forging a serious counter-insurgency strategy, our President was instead pre-occupied with assuring no one in the councils of power use the "I" word. And we are told to believe we have Churchills at the helm. Bah! These are incompetents at the helm, not serious war leaders.
...via the NYT:
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is described as disengaged from the nuts-and-bolts of occupying and reconstructing Iraq — a task that was initially supposed to be under the direction of the Pentagon — and so hostile toward Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, that President Bush had to tell him to return her phone calls. The American commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, is reported to have told visitors to his headquarters in Qatar in the fall of 2005 that “Rumsfeld doesn’t have any credibility anymore” to make a public case for the American strategy for victory in Iraq.
A Secretary of Defense not answering a NSC Advisor's calls. We are far from the days Kissingers and Scowcrofts sat in that chair, eh? This maddening dysfunction had consequences, of course. Contra various blowhards chanting on about how we never needed more troops in Iraq:
Robert D. Blackwill, then the top Iraq adviser on the National Security Council, is said to have issued his warning about the need for more troops in a lengthy memorandum sent to Ms. Rice. The book says Mr. Blackwill’s memorandum concluded that more ground troops, perhaps as many as 40,000, were desperately needed.
Yes, when the NSC process is broken--the very one that is supposed to broker inter-Cabinet disputes and make cogent policy recommendations to the President--well, bad policy results. And wars get lost. But, hey, Rumsfeld may get to outlast McNamara as longest serving SecDef. That's the kind of thing that matters, these days, speaking of vanity!
September 27, 2006
A commenter in a previous thread says Iraq was a "vanity" war. I suspect many historians, a few years on, will increasingly take this view. There was the dynastic vanity of the son who wanted to right the perceived shortcomings of Poppy's prior Mesopotamian involvement. There was the Cheneyesque 'I know best' vanity of the soi disant wise, knowing elder calmly steering us through the choppy Hobbesian waters. There was the crude Jacksonian vanity of Rumsfeld, who never cared a whit for the Iraqis. There was the Wolfowitzian vanity of the too exuberant high-brow neo-cons (and there was also the "cakewalk" vanity of the low-brow, group-thinking, spittle-licking ones). There was the 'shock and awe' vanity of Tommy Franks. There was the vanity of good intentions, as with Colin Powell--soldiering on rather than resigning earlier--likely thinking he could temper all the cheap bravado and mitigate the fall-out resulting from the gross incompetence that surrounded him. And then there was something of a national vanity: that Afghanistan had been too easy, 9/11 too big, and so we needed to kick a little more ass, to put it colloquially.
Further, and we shouldn't forget or gloss over it, there were a helluva lot of us who got dragged along for the ride, played like chumps we now know with hindsight. Realist types like me mostly did based on fears of Saddam's supposed chemical and biological WMD capability (relying on Tenet's 'slam dunk' for the causus belli), thinking 9/11 might have inspired Saddam, and per 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend,' that he might decide to cozy up with transnational terror groups like al-Qaeda to deliver a severe second-round blow to the U.S. Like many New Yorkers and others who were impacted or witnessed the attacks, I suspect, I suppose I also felt much anger, fused with an ill-advised sense of absolutist, moral righteousness that was its own form of self-indulgent vanity too, one that helped spur on copious helpings of jingo-fever in the air--with too few of us asking the hard questions about the hows and why and whos of how the post-war nation-building effort would be pursued (I speak here of Iraq, not the fully warranted conflict in Afghanistan). Such public confessionals aren't particularly pleasant, of course, but they have the merit of being honest reflections of what I now believe, for whatever they're worth.
Yes, it is true, Saddam was an odious character, and few mourn his passing from the scene. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that we've committed a major blunder in Iraq, having helped stoke a new generation of jihadists in the Iraq bog, while having taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, and now floundering, to varying degrees, in both places. Our national repute in the Middle East is at a low ebb indeed, not to mention many others parts of the globe. Repairing this damage will take many years, perhaps decades even. Meantime, Islamist sentiment is growing in countries like Egypt and Syria--and our crude and naive democracy exportation policy appears increasingly untethered from such realities. We have become a clumsy, self-gratified and cocksure power, navigating a hugely complex region too often like purblind ignorants (see the recent Lebanese fiasco, to use a word in vogue, or our unserious, lazy policies with regard to Iran and Syria, among other examples).
But I digress, as we were speaking of vanity, meaning really a decadent self-satisfaction, an arrogant refusal to admit mistakes, a bloated sense of American exceptionalism. The irony is, what other country can assume a responsible mantle of world leadership at this turbulent time, if not us? Certainly not China, or the EU, or Russia, or anyone else. But we are dropping the ball, alas, including critically the moral high-ground, with our "evasive, quasi-participation" with regard to the Geneva Conventions (General Batiste's phrase), via the Addingtonian machinations bent on ensuring the Legislative Branch (wink wink) has blessed the Executive Branch's right to torture, albeit disguised with legalistic obfuscations or barely credible disclosure requirements in the Federal Register, among other such profoundly irresponsible chicanery that would have previously been unimaginable in our country anytime in the post-war era, if not well before then.
Well, in my humble view, the time for vanity is past, the time for recklessness is past, the time for falling easy prey to bamboozlement is past, the time for 'new paradigmists' thrashing hard-won tradition is past. It's high time for walloping doses of reality and sobriety and, above all, competence. But where is it? Certainly not among the incorrigible Beltway cheerleaders calling for a rapidly pitched together air-war on Iran, whatever the consequences. Have they no sense of deliberate statecraft or basic professionalism? Above all, have they no honor or shame?
The Case Against Fukuyama
I presume the breathtaking understatement of the first sentence of this book review is tongue-in-cheek, so as to inject a note of cheeky play into the august pages of TLS. Worth reading in full, for the high-brow talking points of those still defending the broad contours of the Bush Doctrine.
General Eaton: Excerpts From Opening Statement
Major General Paul Eaton, another senior military man who served in critical capacities in Iraq, testifying on the Hill earlier this week:
The most important function of government is to assure the security of the governed. Iraqis believe the same and observed to me that it is “better to live for 40 years under a dictatorship with order than 40 days of chaos.” The United States has failed to secure the peace after having artfully changed the Iraqi regime. We went in with a bad plan. We have failed to understand the strategic, operational and tactical levels of warfare in Iraq, and are responsible for the current state of affairs in a country the size of California with a population of 27 million souls. The leadership that has lead us to this point fails today to understand the strategic planning requirements to solve the Iraqi dilemma, stating essentially that their strategy is to stand up Iraqi Security Forces and to withdraw U.S. forces. Stay the course is not a strategy.
Heckuva job, Rummy!
It Was Surreal....
I worked for the Coalition Police Assistant Training Team during my tour in Iraq, in half of 04 and 05. The second writer, Gen. Eaton, pretty much lays it on the line. I'm the farthest thing in the world from a moonbat. I supported the decision to invade Iraq and still do, 100%. But many of the entering assumptions at the outset were proven wrong. When I got there the place was chock a block full of cops, and god bless em, from podunk Iowa who wanted to teach Iraqis how to investigate domestic violence disputes and do crime scene investigation. They were in no way, shape, or form able to teach them to fend off multi-pronged machine gun and RPG attacks on their police stations. For christ's sake, I'm a freaking senior chief supply guy from the submarine force. There's me and some reserve Army Captain trying to un-fuck, equip, and baby-sit a mechanized (what in fuck do I know about old soviet BTRs!?!) battalion of internal security forces, and we spent half our time trying to teach them that it wasn't acceptable to shit wherever they wanted and why it was important to test fire weapons they had just gotten out of the crate. We had shit for support, and relied almost exclusively on Iraqis who had a little grade school english to act as terps. It was surreal.
OK, so you're Donald Rumsfeld and it's 2 months after the statue in Baghdad falls, and the road to the airport still isn't secured. What do you do? You call up the force commander and you say, what's the story with the airport road. And he says, we're working on it. So you say, do you have enough troops? Do you have everything you need? And he says yes. So you diary it for 120 days. Then you call again, and you say, it's been 6 months and the president wants to know what the deal is with the airport road. And he says, we're working on it and yeah, we got everything we need. So you're thinking, this motherfucker is shining me on. But, what the fuck, this is only the global war on terror, this is only a clash of civilizations, this is only a situation where failure is not an option. So you give him another six months. And you get the same story. So you say, let me see if I got this right. You have enough troops, you have everything you need, but after a year you haven't secured the road to the airport? Right. So, are you telling me that the troops are of low quality? NO. Are you telling me that they're poorly trained? NO. Are you telling me that they're poorly led? NO. SO WHAT'S THE FUCKING PROBLEM? No answer, and you don't press for one, and you wait another fucking year before the road is finally secure. And from this we are to draw two conclusions: one, Rumsfeld is a smart, tireless, hands-on, detail-oriented leader; and two, we have enough troops in Iraq. And we do draw these conclusions, but only if we're as clueless as George Bush.
--Various comments left at this rabidly pro-Bush blog (via Sullivan). It appears even some patronizing the hard-core denialist precincts of the blogosphere are beginning to acknowledge the profound incompetence and mammoth recklessness manifested by Donald Rumsfeld in Iraq. Of course to not be able to so acknowledge, especially at this late juncture, would mean that one is either blind (willfully or otherwise) or alternately a total apologist for this Administration.
September 26, 2006
NOTE: Updated below.
My name is John Batiste. I left the military on principle on November 1, 2005, after more than 31 years of service. I walked away from promotion and a promising future serving our country. I hung up my uniform because I came to the gut-wrenching realization that I could do more good for my soldiers and their families out of uniform. I am a West Point graduate, the son and son-in-law of veteran career soldiers, a two-time combat veteran with extensive service in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, and a life-long Republican. Bottom line, our nation is in peril, our Department of Defense’s leadership is extraordinarily bad, and our Congress is only today, more than five years into this war, beginning to exercise its oversight responsibilities. This is all about accountability and setting our nation on the path to victory. There is no substitute for victory and I believe we must complete what we started in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Full transcript here. If any readers have the transcript of the actual Q&A of the hearing (the above quoted language is just the opening statement), as well as that of the other witnesses, please E-mail or post link below. Many thanks in advance.
UPDATE: Thanks to the readers who suggested via E-mail I get the transcript via Lexis-Nexis, but I'm traveling overseas without easy access, which was why I was shopping around for a link. Meantime, however, Travis Sharp of the Iraqi Insider blog has more on Batiste's testimony, including this snippet from another witness, Colonel Hammes, who stated rather succinctly: "We have articulated a clear-hold-build strategy, but we have taken away the money for build and the troops for hold.” Put differently, our Administration pretends they have the will to prevail, and a convincing plan to get us there, but they aren't devoting the resources to do so, and therefore the "plan" (Batiste's delicious and appropriate use of quotation marks in his opening statement says it all) is unconvincing, to say the least. We have at least moved away from Rumsfeld grotesque obstinacy in refusing to acknowledge even that we face a serious insurgency, and so have moved in the right direction with "clear, hold, build", sound counter-insurgency doctrine, and one of our key strategies in theater. But, as always with Rumsfeld, we're under-resourcing it, so that improved strategy is nonetheless not effective enough in persuasively changing the course of the conflict.
That is to say, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld troika are only pretending to have the sang-froid and will and staying power and Churchillian courage to prevail in Iraq. But they are being dishonest with us. They are empty suits, presiding over a failing strategy, none of them with the energy or intellectual courage to own up and demand either that the nation sacrifice and devote adequate resources to the effort, or failing that pursue a convincing alternative strategy. Of course, it's not all their fault, as they are bowing to some realities, one suspects. If Bush gave a speech calling for re-institution of the draft, or implemention of a war tax, or even less dramatic moves but nevertheless ones that demanded more sacrifice (sending another 50,000 troops in, with casualty rates inevitably increasing, especially if we adopted less conservative force postures in keeping with best counter-insurgency practice) one presumes the nation would turn on the war all the faster (though if such moves changed the tenor of the war for the better perhaps support would not drop as much as one might suspect, although one would need real leaders at the helm explicating the need persuasively, which we don't). Worth noting too, Rove would allow none of it, with midterms looming in November.
Regardless, what we have now is not quite 'stay the course', or the comically desperate sounding 'adapting to win', or some such soundbite. What we are doing, really, is half-assing along as best we can without truly summoning all the national reservoirs of power (military, economic, diplomatic, humanitarian) to really have a real go at prevailing, assuming one believes there is still a shot at eking out a victory, an issue where intelligent people (as the previous thread indicated) can disagree. At some point, we either step up, talk to the Iranians and Syrians so as to get more intelligent about pursuing a regional strategy, make clear and signal to Iraqis we're there to truly prevail by sending in more forces, and otherwise get more serious (more robust force posture to truly "clear", not via endless rounds of whack-a-mole, but with a convincing footprint and level of sustained effort through entire areas of concern simultaneously, more funds for reconstruction and infrastructure to effectively "build", increasing American embeds operating with both Iraqi Army and even Police units so as to help develop more of an indigenuous "hold" function, and so on)--or we need to think much more about pursuing an intelligent withdrawal strategy--if perhaps we don't think the additional effort is worth it (perhaps presiding over a confederation, but holding out the prospects of a unitary state in the future, a la Dayton, is worthy of more thought). Either way, the rough status quo, with a couple soldiers dying a day, dishonors their sacrifice, because it is a sacrifice made in vain. And our leaders are not honest enough to come clean with us about this, or if they think they are being honest with us, it is only because they are living in a deluded fantasy land where fundamentalist-style verities reign, rather than the grim realities presented by the empirical evidence around them.
P.S. Bob Geiger's has got all the "YouTube" links here.
September 25, 2006
Was Failure Pre-Ordained, or Was It Gross Incompetence?
Jim Henley throws the flag at me here, and wonders whether I used the phrase "the best and the brightest" in a previous post, as Jim puts it, "with even a hint or irony." Truth be told, when I wrote that post, I immediately wondered whether drawing on David Halberstam's famous phrase would beg such criticism, but I nevertheless used the verbiage assuming readers wouldn't be too offended by the potential ironies. Perhaps it is a function of having read Larry Diamond's Squandered Victory, or Trainor's Cobra II, or now Ricks' Fiasco--but I can't help feeling a more talented team that understood counterinsurgency doctrine, believed in the import of nation-building, didn't go to war with swagger and arrogance, and relied more heavily on regional experts who understood the depths of the ferocity of ethnic tension among Kurds, Shi'a and Sunni--I can't help wondering whether a more convincing effort could have been waged, one where we might have had a better chance at creating a viable, unitary nation-state in Iraq, one moving in a genuinely democratic direction even, rather than crude majoritarianism and incipient civil war.
Dan Drezner asked the $64,000 question here, a week or so back:
"It also dredges up what will be an age-old debate -- was the failure in Iraq preordained because the mission was hopeless, or was it becaused the administration bungled the execution?"
I invite readers to comment here, with one added wrinkle. Do any of them believe, if we actually now intelligently pursued a regional strategy so as to begin full diplomatic discussions on Iraq (among other issues) with Iran and Syria (we need both of these countries cooperating, at least more than at present, if we want more than a prayer of success, and just saying "they know what they need to do" isn't going to get us any real cooperation, to say the least), if we increased troops levels so as not to simply perennially rotate personnel from Anbar to Baghdad or whatever the latest hot spot, but had enough forces in each area, and enough too to provide greater security for infrastructure development so 'clear, build, hold' was being pursued more effectively, and if we got a new Defense Secretary at the helm to inject fresh strategic oversight to the war effort at the civilian leadership level, among other critical policy corrections--could it make a difference at this late stage?
Linked to this, it seems to me, the big question in Iraq now, putting the simmering Kurdish sleeper issue aside for the moment, is whether a moderate Shi'a politics is possible in that country? Are the Malikis and, to an extent, the calming influences of the Sistanis, are they mostly fig-leafs, with a historical wave of Shi'a revanchism having been unleashed that has the Hakims and Sadrs fully in the driver's seat, or could a combination of a continued major US force presence and deft diplomacy with the Iranians (aimed at achieving new regional security understandings, and less support for radical Shi'a players in Iraq emitting from Teheran), perhaps foster, over several years yet, a more moderate Shi'a center? If this were achievable, and the Sunnis could derive comfort that Shi'a dominated government was not necessarily synonymous with vicious drill-wielding death squads, is it possible, if just, to see Iraq turn in a better direction in coming years?
This is a thin reed, to be sure, but I throw it out for discussion too, although I suspect the main issue for debate in comments will turn out to be whether people view the failure in Iraq as totally pre-ordained, or more a function of collosal blunders committed by this Administration. Given the proverbial 'furies' unleashed, and our early errors in execution, as compounded by this Administration's inability to speak with its adversaries, and make dramatic enough course corrections elsewhere, it's hard not to see us heading in a direction where a viable Iraqi central state becomes more and more a distant fantasy. But here's the rub. If Iraq splinters into a confederation, Iran will have gained its lebensraum in the south, Baghdad might well become divided (if the Sunnis aren't ultimately run out of the entire city), an embittered Sunni para-state, riddled with insurgents and supported to various degrees by sympathetic constituencies in neighboring Sunni states (Syria, Jordan and Saudi) will emerge, and the relationship between Turkey and the Kurdish north will become increasingly fraught with tension. In short, Iran will have emerged all told the biggest victor, but the prospects of regionalization of the conflict will be persistent and real, so that Teheran's interests will be threatened too (which is why, if to a limited degree, both the US and Iran's interests are aligned to the extent neither want a total melt-down in Iraq). Unlike Vietnam then, where the domino theory proved a chimerical fear, an American departure from an Iraq still unsettled and cascading into potentially greater chaos could serve to further radicalize the region, not only threatening our allies, but creating more terrorists and space for religious radicalism generally (yes, even more than to date). This is why I still hope something can be salvaged still from the horrific blunders we've committed, and this is why I still hope against hope that failure might not have been always pre-ordained, but rather been more a function of woeful incompetence, because if nothing else, it gives one at least a modicum of hope the situation can improve in coming months and years, rather than degenerate further even.
September 21, 2006
The Failed Rumsfeld Doctrine
Carl Robichaud elaborates.
A deal on tribunal law and detainee treatment? Devils in the details, of course, which don't appear to be public yet.
UPDATE: I've just gotten off two long-haul flights and am pretty much in wall-to-wall meetings. Still, I have had a chance to review the developments on the Hill, and hope to post commentary in the next day or so. Meantime, don't miss Ariel Dorfman in today's WaPo, asking "Are We Really So Fearful"?:
Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?
At the most basic level, we are fighting to keep Muslim apes from flying planes into buildings. I dont care if we have to cut their arms off while we interrogate them. The point of fighting will not be lost if cut off arms. The point of fighting will be lost if we are treated to spectacle of people jumping out of buildings again. I use the term Muslim apes in reference to Muslim men who would kill because they are too lazy to go out and get a job. I dont use it in reference to all Muslims.
Clinton, Zelikow on the Middle East Peace Process
Bill Clinton, speaking with the FT:
And ironically all these exceedingly painful things that have happened in the Middle East may create the conditions in which some positive movement can take place because there’s so many people worried about the various things happening – the situation in Iraq, the erosion of the situation in Afghanistan, the terrible suffering of the Lebanese, the rising popularity of the Hezbollah leader you know doing it both ways - “I’ve got people in the parliament and people shooting rockets” – all these apparently bad news stories have created an unsettling sense that if we don’t want further disintegration to occur then we had better come up with a strategy that goes forward in creating a new sense of order and arrangements and order that enables everybody to live together.
Meantime, a top advisor to Condi Rice, Philip Zelikow, recently gave a speech at the Washington Insitute for Near East Policy where he said:
The significance of the Arab-Israeli dispute across these problems is, I think, obvious to all of you. What I would want to emphasize is if you see the threats in a way something like the way I've just described them, think then about what is the coalition you need to amass in order to combat those threats. Who are the key members of that coalition? You can imagine the United States, key European allies, the state of Israel and the Arab moderates - Arabs who seek a peaceful future. You could call it the coalition of the builders, not just a coalition of the willing. The coalition of the builders as opposed to the coalition of the destroyers.
Zelikow expanded on these remarks in the Q&A, including this snippet:
For various reasons, I believe the Europeans and the Arab moderates are central allies in the coalition we need to forge against our most dangerous enemies. Now, if you start with that as a premise then what you always need to do when you share power is you share a common mission with friends. You have to think about what they want and what they need too. For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about. We can rail against that belief; we can find it completely justifiable, but it's fact. That means an active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute is an essential ingredient to forging a coalition that deals with the most dangerous problems.
The point here is not to suggest there is any strict linkage between a prospective so-called coalition of the builders (Zelikow's phrase) regarding Iran and bolstering the Middle East peace process, which I don't think is the case. The point is rather than one can't help feeling there is finally a slight uptick of serious talk in the Beltway (echoed by Clinton, albeit with the caveats that he has no insider knowledge) about finally getting back to seriously thinking about how to address the Israeli-Palestinian situation more attentively. To the extent Zelikow places the importance of same into a larger strategic lens, and to the extent he might reflect Condi Rice's thinking, this is a good thing. But again, I see no explicit linkage between Iran policy and Arab-Israeli conflict resolution, as a State Department spokesman hastened to clarify.
More Support for McCain
Mr. Bush also wants the CIA to be able to treat its detainees to such practices as "cold cell," or induced hypothermia, in which detainees are held naked in near-freezing temperatures and repeatedly doused with water; "long standing," in which prisoners are handcuffed in an uncomfortable standing position and forced to remain there for up to 40 hours; and prolonged sleep deprivation.
Amen. This isn't about increased clarity. Just the opposite. As the editorialists at the Washington Post point out, the Geneva-compliant Army Field Manual spells out detailed, effective, clear interrogation techniques. Bush wants to continue to shroud detainee interrogations in secrecy, the better so he can resort to torture like induced hypothermia, techniques which would make an old KGB man like Vladimir Putin proud.
Meantime, John McCain, a couple days back: "By the way, I forgot to mention this: George Shultz said I could say that he strongly favors our position." Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State has always been a very decent man, and it is nice to see him step up with this statement. Pity Caspar Weinberger (UPDATE: See correction below) and Frank Carlucci, other Reagan-era heavyweights, haven't yet done the same. Finally, note we've now got five former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs standing behind McCain:
Five former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff have backed efforts by a group of Republican senators opposing President George W. Bush's plan to write rules dealing with the handling of terrorism suspects, one of the senators announced Wednesday.
5 Former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs. Senatorial leaders with distinguished military experience like John Warner and John McCain. George Schultz. And I can't help suspecting the President's own father, if he didn't have to stand by his son because of family bonds, would strongly disagree with the Cheney-Addington position too. Meantime I note Bill Kristol has picked up the Standard's pom-poms so as to cheerlead the pro-torture position. Can we safely assume his chances of enjoying a high level policymaking role in a potential McCain Administration have been reduced (see earlier speculation about McCain's key foreign policy advisors here)? Certainly after penning said sad little ditty, one might hope so...
CORRECTION: An important reminder from uber-commenter Zathras re: Caspar Weinberger. Apologies to all for the error, not least Mr. Weinberger's family. I was thinking of leading Reagan era alum, and writing in haste had forgotten that Mr. Weinberger had died last March. My apologies again.
Detainee Treatment Developments
A few positive developments on the detainee treatment front: Specter wants to eye-ball the bill, even James Sensenbrenner wants the House side Judiciary Committee to have a look-see too, and eight more Republicans have joined McCain, Graham and Warner (Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar, Mike DeWine, Gordon Smith, John Sununu, Lincoln Chafee, and Chuck Hagel). The Congress remains, on the whole, rather woefully supine, but we are at last seeing increasing signs of life. That's to be welcomed, of course, but the amount of remedial work required remains very significant indeed. As Bruce Fein has recently written, about what he rightly describes as "congressional dereliction":
The most frightening claim made by Bush with congressional acquiescence is reminiscent of the lettres de cachet of prerevolutionary France. (Such letters, with which the king could order the arrest and imprisonment of subjects without trial, helped trigger the storming of the Bastille.) In the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Bush maintained that he could pluck any American citizen out of his home or off of the sidewalk and detain him indefinitely on the president’s finding that he was an illegal combatant. No court could second-guess the president. Bush soon employed such monarchial power to detain a few citizens and to frighten would-be dissenters, and Republicans in Congress either cheered or fiddled like Nero while the Constitution burned. The Supreme Court ultimately entered the breach and repudiated the president in 2004’s Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Republicans similarly yawned as President Bush ordained military tribunals to try accused war criminals based on secret evidence and unreliable hearsay in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court again was forced to countervail the congressional dereliction by holding the tribunals illegal in 2006’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Republicans have shied from challenging Bush by placing party loyalty above institutional loyalty, contrary to the expectations of the Founding Fathers. They do so in the fear that embarrassing or discrediting a Republican president might reverberate to their political disadvantage in a reverse coat-tail effect.
Meantime, while I can understand the Democrats sitting back and watching with glee the internecine Republican warfare, when you are dealing with issues of as much import as ensuring no torture is allowed under American law, I'd expect more from a serious opposition party. Sitting on the sidelines is rather lame, isn't it?
Democrats, who have spent the past few years in a constant attack mode against the Bush administration and Republican congressional leaders, appear to have discovered a new strategy — serving as passive spectators of the GOP infighting.
September 17, 2006
Mr. President: Don't You Dare Disband The CIA Interrogation Program
I try hard to respect the Office of the President of the United States, but it is truly a miserable wretch of a man who would threaten to disband the CIA interrogation program if he doesn't get his wish to eviscerate a good deal of Article 3 compliance thereto, as the President threatened at a press conference last week. This hullabaloo about "outrages against personal dignity" versus "shocking the conscience" is a tempest in a teapot. Outrages against personal dignity are like pornography, which is to say, you know it when you see it (sometimes, indeed, they fuse somewhat, like Rumsfeld's Pentagon authorized tactic at Guantanamo of having female guards rub their breasts in the face of a male detainee, before smearing fake menstrual blood on him, in a particularly noxious use of our military personnel).
Article 3 compliant interrogations have stood us in good stead for decades, and there is absolutely no convincing reason for a carve-out allowing the CIA to avoid compliance with its provisions. We know that Army Field Manual compliant interrogations are more than effective, and we know further that torture often leads to false confessions and unreliable information. So if Congress has the will to face the President down (which they must), the CIA interrogation program should be allowed to continue, but with the interrogations pursued in accordance with the requirements of the Geneva Convention. This is, after all, how the uniformed services are again now (after belated remedial action) satisfactorily interrogating detainees. Bush, like a petulant adolescent who risks not having his way, is threatening to shut down the entire CIA progam if his gutting of portions of Article 3 doesn't prevail through Congress. Then, the cowardly pro-torture crowd, should god forbid a terror attack subsequently occur, will blame those noted anti-American appeasers and defeatists like John Warner, Colin Powell, Jack Vessey, Lindsay Graham and John McCain for allowing the carnage.
One would think even this President would not be so reckless as to shut down an important interrogation program merely because he'd have to comply with Article 3, which would be more than effective regardless. Or so one would at least hope. But he will likely disingenuously argue he cannot abide risking CIA interrogators facing criminal liability because of vague and confusing standards, as if "shocking the conscience" is crystal-clear black-letter law, and "outrages against personal dignity" constitute some amorphous, hyper-confusing morass of conflicting standards. For decades these standards have been more than clear, so this rationale must be seen for what it is, utter and complete claptrap. Appropriate legal safeguards for interrogators can be drafted into the law, but the bedrock principle here must be total fidelity to Article 3 norms, not so we here can preen as detainee rights purists, but rather so as to preserve America's moral leadership on an issue so critical to the ideological component of the war on terror, so as to prevent other governments from rushing to a race to the bottom on detainee and interrogation treatment standards, and not least, to better be able to protect our own POWs, from a position of moral strength, when they are, as they inevitably will be, captured by foreign forces.
Of course, very little if anything surprises me anymore with this White House. If Bush actually attempts to cynically shut down this program, we must all passionately shout from the rooftops for it to be kept active, of course in a Geneva compliant incarnation. And if he does nevertheless shut it down, because he insists on enshrining a right to torture in American law, via Addingtonian subterfuge, and a terror attack does occur, let him not dare accuse those who fought for the preservation of basic standards of American dignity and morality with the bloodshed. We will not tolerate this cynical demagoguery, and if it comes to it we will have to turn it on him, and argue his disbanding of the program, if anything, was more of a contributing factor.
...The Whole Universe to Improve...
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, in a must-read WaPo piece:
Twenty-four-year-old Jay Hallen was restless. He had graduated from Yale two years earlier, and he didn't much like his job at a commercial real-estate firm. His passion was the Middle East, and although he had never been there, he was intrigued enough to take Arabic classes and read histories of the region in his spare time.
Haveman, a 60-year-old social worker, was largely unknown among international health experts, but he had connections. He had been the community health director for the former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, who recommended him to Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense.
Brings to mind Pyle from Graham Greene's The Quiet American:
Pyle was absorbed already in the Dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West; he was determined ... to do good, not to any individual person but to a country, a continent, a world. Well, he was in his element now with the whole universe to improve.
We set loose a whole gaggle of Pyles to run around cluelessly in Mesopotamia--mostly poorly qualified ones, chosen on the basis of ideological affiliation, in the main. The innocence would almost be poignant (implement comprehensive new securities regs! overhaul the entire Iraqi pharmaceutical procurement & delivery system!) if the ramifications haven't been so deathly. It's a national and international disgrace, and those who helped enable this cocksure, dismally executed adventure (including this writer), without calculating for the profound incompetence of this Administration, will always have much to answer for. We must now focus on lessons learned, including ensuring that a nation-building effort is never again run via such cronyistic folly, but rather by finding and incentivizing the best and the brightest to man the effort, selected mostly by rigorous meritocratic criteria. Rumsfeld initially demanded ownership of this nation-building effort and ran it with his typically cheap bravura, a frivolity that would have led a better man to long ago resign in shame (it should be noted too that the President and the Vice President are totally complicit in the mostly bungled effort).
Regardless, and as often, the heaviest burden has fallen on our military. Today, we have very talented men like Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli trying to turn around the legacy of the first 2-3 years of disasterous policy missteps chronicled judiciously and non-polemically in Tom Rick's Fiasco, in Bernard Trainor's Cobra II, in articles like this one today that I've extensively quoted above. Rather than occupying themselves with imbecilic thoughts of 'shock therapy' to liberalize Iraq's economy, or new securities regs, or reciting numbers of hospitals open (even when they lack the most basic equipment), they instead understand that the primary issues are ones of security, of infrastructure build-out, of mundane but critical matters like reducing the amount of trash on the streets in places like Sadr City. Men like Chiarelli, in short, are trying to supply the strategic oversight leadership, in addition to their military mandates, that Tony Zinni, among so many others, know has been so sorely lacking since the inception of this Iraq adventure. So we are demanding even more of these Generals in the field, because we have only incompetents at the helm in Washington. In short, our civilian leadership's recklessness has been nothing short of scandalous, but at least the war has now in the main been belatedly outsourced to men like Abizaid, Casey and Chiarelli. But this is a lot to ask of them, and with their political overseers mostly discredited, spent forces--I believe at very least a new Defense Secretary is owed them. Which is why, I suspect, people like Batiste and Swannack, among others, are so hopping mad he's still sitting in the E-Ring, the scene of the crime, if you will, one marked by negligence so gross it's hard to fathom even today.
September 16, 2006
Vessey on Article 3
Here's General Vessey's letter, the one Colin Powell referenced in his recent note to John McCain dealing with the same subject:
It's interesting that fighting to uphold conservative, traditional military values has one tarred as an appeasement-minded terrorist-lover these days, or, of course, just "confused." Interesting times...
Note: General Vessey's address omitted from the document, for privacy. Thanks for reader SH for providing a copy.
September 15, 2006
With a bikers bandanna tied under his helmet, the Special Forces team sergeant gunned a Humvee down a desert road in Iraq's volatile Anbar province. Skirting the restive town of Hit, the team of a dozen soldiers crossed the Euphrates River into an oasis of relative calm: the rural heartland of the powerful Albu Nimr tribe.
More here (be sure not to miss the chart on page 10). A judicious look at the "unsuccessful" column of the chart reads like a succinct precis of the blundering Rumsfeld approach, doesn't it? The past 12 plus months, of course, commanders have gotten more autonomy to fight the war smarter, but they are still grappling with the legacy of Rumsfeld's hubris-ridden collosal missteps, the continued poverty of strategic civilian leadership emitting from the top, and now too a low-intensity civil war afoot in strategic parts of the country. It's a grim picture, alas. One thing is for certain. The war might not yet be lost. But we certainly won't win it with the strategic civilian leadership currently at the helm. They are profoundly discredited, and with few new ideas. Our forces in the field desperately need higher quality leadership in Washington. It's a profound shame it's not being made available.
It's Like Deja Vu All Over Again....
Thank You, Mr. Powell
P.S. If anyone has a copy of Vessey's letter, please send on, as hasty googling didn't uncover it.
"Somehow I think there's this construct in people's minds that we want to restore the rack and start getting people screaming, having their bones crunching," Snow said. "And that's not at all what this is about." He said Powell did not discuss the issue with the White House before releasing his letter.
It's almost unfair and cruel to watch. Giants like McCain and Powell and Warner being accused of confusion by genial court attendants fresh off from lapping at Roger Ailes' trough. Let's help Tony retain a smidgen of dignity up there, OK?
Cowardice Leads To Bad Law
A cri de coeur, and a righteous one, from Jack Balkin. An important post from Hilzoy. Meantime, Katherine, also writing over at ObWi, has been blogging up a storm too. More background notes from Katherine, with loads of links here and here.
September 14, 2006
The Specter of Nuclear Terror
Graham Allison, writing about the specter of nuclear terror, in an excellent article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
In sum, my best judgment is that based on current trends, a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States is more likely than not in the decade ahead. Developments in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea leave Americans more vulnerable to a nuclear 9/11 today than we were five years ago. Former Defense Secretary William Perry has said that he thinks that I underestimate the risk. In the judgment of most people in the national security community, including former Sen. Sam Nunn, the risk of a terrorist detonating a nuclear bomb on U.S. soil is higher today than was the risk of nuclear war at the most dangerous moments in the Cold War. Reviewing the evidence, Warren Buffett, the world's most successful investor and a legendary oddsmaker in pricing insurance policies for unlikely but catastrophic events like earthquakes, has concluded: "It's inevitable. I don't see any way that it won't happen."
The entire article is worth reading. I'll have more on this soon, but in the meantime am opening this up to comments. Some of the issues worth discussing are quite obvious. Do people agree an act of nuclear terror is as probable as serious people like Warren Buffet and Graham Allison believe? How feasible is it, really, to effectuate Allison's so-called "three no's"? And has the Bush Administration's war in Iraq enhanced, rather than decreased, the chances of nuclear terror? There are many other issues embedded in Allison's article, but these are a few of them to kick off discussion. Somewhere here too, I suspect, our policy towards not only North Korea and Iran, but also India, is worth pondering in more detail. One dreams at times of some grand package deal creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and South Asia some day, with Israel, Pakistan and India giving up their nukes, and Iran forsaking development of same--so that the nuclear club remains just the core five, US, UK, France, Russia and China (thus greatly reducing proliferation risks), but alas, as I said, that's mostly a dream, I fear.
Recommended: Paulson Speech on China
A big part of being a global economic leader is a commitment to open markets at home. China's record of reform is remarkable by any standard. But much remains to be done. The tasks faced by Beijing are so daunting that the biggest risk we face is not that China will overtake the U.S., but that China won't move ahead with the reforms necessary to sustain its growth and to address the very serious problems facing the nation.
Read the whole thing. I suspect with Bob Zeollick having left the State Department, Mr. Paulson will pick up much of the slack on China policy. This speech is very impressive, and it is good to know that, in sharp distinction to other top Cabinet posts, we've got the best of the best serving at Treasury.
Zilmer's (Duty-Bound) Verbal Contortions
Major General Richard C Zilmer: "For what we are trying to achieve out here I think our force levels are about right...Now, if that mission statement changes — if there is seen a larger role for coalition forces out here to win that insurgency fight — then that is going to change the metrics of what we need out here.."
I'll resist the temptation to "translate" that comment, but readers may wish to. Note I certainly don't hold this tangled verbiage against Zilmer, as he is forced to tip-toe gingerly over a verbal minefield to avoid contradicting his boss.
MORE: Tony Snow: "As a matter of fact, the central mission to the United States is to train Iraqi forces so they can do the job. They get better intelligence. They know the people who are there. It is their country. And it's their obligation and responsibility."
No Tony, it's really our "obligation and responsibility". You break it, you own it. But the United States is risking essentially abdicating that responsibility, amidst a sea of collosal missteps, bitter recriminations, unleashed historical forces increasingly beyond the occupying forces control, sheer incompetence, and an exhausted war council denuded in the public eye as abjectly discredited. I suspect Bush's final act will be to simply pretend he has to will to persevere in Iraq, via stock speeches and a continued ultimately inadequate troop presence, while likely presiding over the loss of the war (if a more serious successor arrives too late to resuscitate the effort). He's so deluded, however, that he'll think he won it. Just like we don't torture. Faith and ideology will have trumped empirical evidence, again.
September 13, 2006
Another Blogospheric Scoop!
I note quickly in passing that some blogospheric eminences declared Gulbuddin Hekmatyar captured a couple nights back. Except he wasn't. Such eager-beaver fancy appears to have gotten picked up by other hifalutin' outlets too. Good news, even if we have to concoct it from thin air! Meantime, more bogus claptrap being (predictably) peddled here. I suspect serious people have figured out who the real "bozos" are, however. Hint: They're, for example, those who would believe the Syrians would concoct such a spot of street theater to stave off a US attack, and other such nonsense. Rather, one feels compelled to signal to varied ignorants in our midst, we've got a real growing problem in Syria--with Islamist sentiment erupting dangerously--not least given the misadventure next door in Iraq. Note too the hilarious sourcing ("(a)ccording to well informed Syrian sources"). Yes, yes: I'm sure they're quite well informed indeed, certainly in terms of knowing full well how to feed sophomoric and jocular fantasies to the gullible and naive, that is.
P.S. Capturing Hekmatyar would be huge, but I suspect most people blogging about it have nary a clue who he is (e.g. "bad guy bagged", goes the typically deep analysis). Regardless, count me still relying on the dastardly MSM for most of my breaking news, as well as "counter-terrorism" analysis, I'm afraid.
Wisdom from Dartmouth
Jeffrey Hart, Professor of English at Dartmouth, conservative, and former speechwriter to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan:
On the subject of democratizing Iraq and the Middle East, Bush has voiced some of the most extraordinarily ideological statements ever made by a sitting president. “Human cultures can be vastly different,” Bush told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute in February 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq. “Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on earth…For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror.”
Amen to the bolded part. It's come to that, as it's that bad. Turn them out!
More from Bruce Bartlett, another dismayed righty:
As a conservative who’s interested in the long-term health of both my country and the Republican Party, I have a suggestion for the GOP in 2006: lose. Handing over at least one house of Congress to the other side of the aisle for the next two years would probably be good for everyone. It will improve governance in the country, and it will increase the chances of GOP gains in 2008.
Condi Rice: "I do think the Syrians reacted to the attack in a way that helped to secure our people, and we very much appreciate that." Oh no, lots of long faces among the creative destruction crowd today, one suspects. But hey, at least it's another opportunity for the tiresome group-thinkers and faux Churchills to chant on about Condi's appeasing ways...meantime, one wonders: would such pleasant Islamists, like those who tried to attack our Embassy, replace Bashar Asad if the 'on to Damascus' brigades got their wishes, or would we instead have a good old fashioned Sunni strong-man instead, one likely much more amenable than even confused Bashar to fortifying the rat-lines to Anbar? Oh, I almost forgot. Doubtless, one suspects, there's a Syrian Ahmad Chalabi that our Beltway clowns have in mind to save the day? Pray tell...
September 12, 2006
The View From My Window
Downtown Manhattan, 9/12/06, 12:25 A.M (Note: And with apologies for rather shamelessly ripping off the concept from Andrew Sullivan).
Posted by Gregory at 05:44 AM
A very impressive speech by David Cameron, the U.K.'s Conservative Party leader.
In that context, what should be the outline of British and American foreign policy in the post-neo-conservative world? Let me start by making clear where I agree with the neo-conservative approach. I fully appreciate the scale of the threat we face. I believe that the leadership of the United States, supported by Britain, is central to the struggle in which we are engaged. I believe that the neo-conservatives are right to argue that extending freedom is an essential objective of western foreign policy. And I agree that western powers should be prepared, in the last resort, to use military force. We know from history that a country must be ready to defend itself and its allies. More than that, we and others are justified in using pre-emptive force when an attack on us is being prepared, and when all means of peaceful dissuasion and deterrence have failed. Furthermore, I believe that we should be prepared to intervene for humanitarian purposes to rescue people from genocide.
Read the whole thing, as they say.
Bush, in his 9/11 speech this evening: "The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power." True or false? I can think of strong arguments on both sides, what do commenters think?
UPDATE: Looks like the "false" got it, eh?
Religion and Foreign Policy
Watching CNN just now, Larry King's show morphed into something of a country music show for a few seconds, with excerpts of this song played. The lyrics that got my attention were as follows:
I'm just a singer of simple songs
I get the feeling this is becoming a larger and larger constituency in this country, which is rather alarming, I think.
Somewhat relatedly, and reacting to this post, reader Tim Schultz wrote: "Really good post, with the exception of the shabby swipe at Gerson's religious faith. I would say it's beneath you, Greg, but you've done it so regularly recently that it's sort of par for the current course. Sort of makes you Hitchens without the charm..." Ouch! Look, Hitch is doubtless much more charming than me, after all, I'm just another dull corporate lawyer by trade. But I did want to react to the reader taking objection to my treatment of Gerson. My intent was not to belittle Gerson's faith, as I'm not in the business of poo-pooing anyone's religious faith here (for the record, I was baptized Roman Catholic and attend church, if infrequently, and not typically for formal services, but rather for private prayer). But I do recoil at those whom I believe can't help imposing their fundamentalist style verities within policy-making councils, rather than just around the dinner room table or such. When Bush reacts to Hezbollah's kidnapping of IDF personnel by using religiosity-infused language about it constituting a "clarifying moment," or appears unaware that one of the few areas where our Middle East policy has been successful of late has been with Saudi Arabia, where we are collaborating well with an autocratic government, or can stand next to Vladimir Putin and tout Iraq as a model democracy the Russians should seek to replicate, I get worried. I get worried about a government where senior policymakers appears to be making policy too often by relying on faith, rather than empirical evidence. Michael Gerson is a smart guy, and I'm looking forward to reading his output now as a Senior Fellow at the CFR. I also note that intelligent observers like Walter Russell Mead caution skeptics that evangelicals could play a positive role in American foreign policy. This may well be true, on certain fronts. But I remain concerned that this Administration is too divorced from reality, and that a Christian born-again world view, overly convinced that the chosen course of a clumsily messianic 'freedom' agenda is unimpeachably the right course, and too often unaware of regional subtleties, is endangering the pursuit of a sophisticated and credible foreign policy in the Middle East.
UPDATE: A reader writes in:
Look Greg, if you start regularly bashing religious people like everyone else these days, I'll abandon your blog. I have no idea if the born-again messaianic world-view partly explains Bush's terrible foreign policy. Maybe it does. But that country song you quote has nothing to do with it. It's a very corny song, but it is not a song about foreign policy. You write about it as if he said "I don't know the difference between Iraq and Iran, but bomb the fuck out of them." But look again. The singer's point could be restated: "I don't understand the geopolitical significance of September 11--I don't even know the difference between Iraq and Iran. But I got its (let's call it) spiritual significance: that in the face of murder, death, destruction, uncertainty and contingency the important thing is to love one another". Is this an offensive or dangerous sentiment? I hope not....
To which I replied, probably not comprehensively enough, but time is tight:
I think you're are being unfair to me, i expressly stated my intent wasn't to poo-pooh (read: bash) people's religious feelings, and that I prayed myself, hardly the comments of a cheap faux-sophisticate athiest pissing on the believing masses. As for 'clarifying moment', i do think there are some religiousity-infused overtones linked to a fundamentalist temperament manifested in such statements. My gripe is w/ faith contributing to messianic policy, substituting for serious statecraft, not religion per se.
Am I doing a poor job of explaining myself on this one? If so, chastise me in comments, I guess, and perhaps that will spur me on to fleshing this out in deeper, less polemical (no country music quotes!), fashion. Cheers.
We are training Iraqi troops so they can defend their nation. We are helping Iraq's unity government grow in strength and serve its people. We will not leave until this work is done. Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone. They will not leave us alone. They will follow us. [emphasis added]
"They will follow us" is a thinly veiled reference to the so-called flypaper meme. I consider it deeply unpersuasive, and ultimately dishonest. I wrote about it back in August of 2005 here.
My 9/11--A Personal Reflection
Against Christopher Hitchen’s wise advice to avoid recitations about one’s own private 9/11, here are nevertheless a few words describing my experiences that day, as I feel, now five years on, that the time is right to share them. This is purely a personal reflection, without judgments about the wisdom (or lack of) any policy choices made since then in the global war on terror that began that day. With this by way of brief preface and disclaimer, here is my 9/11 story.
I woke up to the news that the Towers had just been hit, and decided to stay downtown that A.M. (I lived a couple blocks south of Union Square at the time). Needing to head over to a friend’s apartment in the East Village, I caught my first glimpse of the two Towers on fire on my way further downtown. I still remember the block I was on when I first saw the Towers in flames: University Place and 11th. “Holy Shit”, I thought. “What’s going to happen to the people up on those floors!?!” It was already clear that, with two towers in flames already, this had been a concerted attack, not some fluke accident. My mind was reeling and processing this information, but not coherently yet.
In the East Village, down around 1st Avenue and 2nd Street, a guy in a livery cab with his radio on and windows rolled down turned to me as I waited at my friend’s apartment door ringing the buzzer: “They just hit the Pentagon, and a car bomb went off at the State Department” (this last a rumor that appeared to be circulating widely that AM). Oh no! I thought of the many times I had been to the State Department, visiting my father who had served there during a long three decade plus diplomatic career. How many there might have been lost, I wondered? And the Pentagon… the very seat of American military power! What stunning and horrific developments. The nation was under concerted attack.
I rushed back to my apartment a few minutes later. On the street, there was already grafitti ("Time to Fight Back"). And this was the East Village! Back at home, only one channel was working for some reason. I guess antennas had been knocked out for most of the channels. Was it CBS still functioning? I can’t recall. No commercials, just non-stop coverage of the towers on fire. And then, the unthinkable happened. The first Tower crumbled! And then the second! Fear. For the first time that day I felt real fear, deep fear. Now if felt like anything could happen. Like all bets were off. At this point, I was pacing somewhat madly around the apartment, incredulous, agitated and aghast. The last time I had felt anything close was seeing the fall of Srebrenica broadcast on CNN from my apartment in Zagreb in July of ‘95. But this was of course totally different. I was in my hometown, and what I thought then could be tens of thousands of people had just died in a massive dust-cloud a few dozen blocks south of my location. Lower Manhattan had just become a war zone.
A few minutes later, my roommate arrived (we shared a loft space). He was a bond trader at Goldman Sachs, and their offices were way downtown, very close to WTC, at 85 Broad. He was with about five colleagues. They had just raced uptown, I think on foot. Boy did everybody look shaken up, but also almost numb, very resigned. About a half hour or so later, I volunteered to get everyone lunch, and walked across Broadway in the low teens to find a place. Dust-covered people were streaming up Broadway escaping downtown. I turned to a friend: “This is like the kamizakes at Pearl Harbor. Except it’s an iconic civilian target in the heart of our greatest city.” But I still couldn’t really fathom what had just happened. I picked up some Mexican food, and all the deli guys were looking at the unfolding events on a small black and white T.V. I headed back to my place, and we ate lunch, staring at the news, still in profound shock. I think everyone just wanted to be around other people, and hard as it is to imagine, those who lived uptown weren’t quite ready to trek north just yet. Everyone waited another hour or two to feel that it was ‘safe’ to head back out.
Around 4 PM, I felt I needed to get outside again, and told my friends I was heading to a watering hole, unsure which one. I ended up further north, quite by chance, at the Gramercy Park Hotel and started ordering drinks (perhaps I gravitated towards the comfort of the beautiful park nearby). Grown men were walking in and breaking into tears. “I lost X” said one, to the bartender, before starting to cry and shake. It was awful. On CNN, some military action was taking place in far-away Afghanistan. Were we already retaliating? No, couldn’t be...probably something related to Massoud’s recent assassination, I figured. Friends gathered, now nearing a half dozen of us, and we decided to have dinner at an old steakhouse called Billy’s in the East 50s. We took the subway (yes, north of 14th street, it was working OK even that day, if memory serves), perhaps wanting to reassure ourselves that our quotidian habits hadn’t been violated. Six of us gathered around a large table, and we proceeded to order big steaks and lots of bottles of full red wines and more scotches. Discussion got heated and emotional, as we began to try to figure out: Who? From where? Why? It was an animated discussion, not least as there were some foreign policy hands among us. We figured it was Osama bin Laden who had ordered the attack, and that major U.S. forces would be in Afghanistan sooner rather than later. I can’t remember if Iraq was mentioned, but I do remember someone kicking around something akin to what came to be known as the Bush Doctrine, that terrorist sanctuary states should be held to account as much as the terrorist groups themselves, if a rather raw, inchoate version of it.
But the specifics of the discussion, now five years on, are rather cloudy. I only remember that we were loud, even a bit rowdy, almost as if the dinner was meant to serve as a rallying call to help bolster our spirits. The owner came over, a great old school New York City lady, the great-granddaughter of founder Mickey Condron (as it turns out, Billy’s was the oldest family owned restaurant in NYC, having opened in 1870): “We’ve been open every single day for over a hundred years,” she told us. “Waiters walked over the Brooklyn Bridge today to get to work”, she said. (I paraphrase, relying on memory, and hope I've got it right still). God I was happy to hear that, proud of her spirit, her staff's spirit, the city’s spirit. We’d make it through this, I thought ( Mike Bloomberg’s anti-smoking ban would later do Billy’s in, where 9/11 didn't!).
That night I went to bed with heavy heart, anguished and angry, but with a sense of innate optimism that the American way of life would persevere through this trial. On at least three occasions later, I would have nightmares about planes flying into buildings, causing mass casualties, but not that first night. I think I slept soundly, and don’t remember exactly what the next morning brought, save that the dust and stench were beginning to spread, enveloping the city—and that I was curious to see the New York Times headline on Sept.12th, which struck me as well chosen: “U.S. Attacked”. The weeks to follow were equally dramatic, in many ways, particularly downtown (through the post-attack weeks and months there was a marked difference between uptown and downtown, with the atmosphere much more impacted south of 14th Street, and especially south of Houston). But that is a story for another day. For that night, we had persevered as a city through the worst terrorist attack in US history, and could be counted among the lucky ones that grim and fateful day. An old classmate was not so lucky, as were so many of the other victims of this odious attack on innocents, whom we must always remember. Much has happened, both in the world at large, and in my little life, these five years. I moved to London, and then back to New York, I got married, I changed jobs. But now half a decade on, that day still remains firmly etched in my memory, and it's a rare day that I do not think about it at least once. I suspect that will always be the case, for the rest of my life.
September 11, 2006
The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western al Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents.
Yes, Anbar is only one province, the Administration's increasingly desperate cheerleaders will say, but a quick look at any map explains why it's such an important one, not least as it's Iraq's biggest (constituting 30% of Iraq's land mass), is home to key urban centers like Ramadi and Fallujah, where increasing influence better allows Sunni insurgents opportunities to reinforce allies in Sunni areas of Baghdad. Meantime, on the Shi'a front, SCIRI head Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim has been calling more vigorously for a so-called Shi'a 'super-state' in the south (read: more lebensraum for Iran). In countering Hakim's objectives, it appears we are pinning our hopes on Maliki, probably a losing proposition, though perhaps too Sadr can be deftly used to counter Hakim on this issue (Sadr's firebrand nationalism is, of course, deathly opposed to the US, but on the issue of federalism, his inclination is likely still more oriented towards preservation of a unitary state). No wonder so many bloggers are grasping onto Peter Galbraith's 'send the GIs to Kurdistan' gambit, as the Kurds are friendly to us--not least as they want protection from the Turks--which could create something of a mess going forward. Regardless, as long as US forces don't put real pressure on the Kurds to cease the reverse Arabization underway, and Kurdistan gets its fair share of oil revenues--the amicable relations won't turn sour, at least in the short to mid-term.
And then there is the world beyond Iraq, beyond Anbar. Between the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, growing Islamist influence in Somalia, and Islamabad's 'truce' with tribes in North Waziristan (Musharraf appears somewhat keen to seek 'strategic depth' again in Afghanistan, that is to say, is reverting, at least to a limited degree, to Pakistan's pre- 9/11 posture re: Afghanistan, where staving off perceived encirclement by Delhi was and is the paramount Pakistani strategic concern)--it's almost as if prospective al-Qaeda sanctuaries and safe havens are mutiplying these days, isn't it? More gloom here.
Here Is New York
In the weeks after 9/11, I found myself visiting a small storefront in Soho that had been transformed into a gallery with a running exhibit entitled "Here Is New York: A Democracy of Photographs". Anyone with photos of 9/11 related events, including the long aftermath in the city (the missing, the flags, the memorials, etc) could contribute their pictures, which were then hung up in the (increasingly crowded) gallery space. Pictures could be purchased for $25, and the proceeds went to charity. The photographs are still very moving today, now five years on. The site is here, and I urge readers to view them if interested. You can search too by "category" via a drop-down menu here.
The State of Ground Zero
September 10, 2006
The Rhetoric of Unity, Again
I know many readers have taken objection to my reading of Rumsfeld's American Legion speech, and via Frank Rich today, we are reminded that talk of "unity" is hardly unique to Rumsfeld. Rich quotes FDR's immortal line about the "warm courage of national unity", from his First Inaugural Address (by coincidence, and like Hitler's Berlin Proclamation and Heidegger's Rector's Address, FDR was also speaking in 1933). But here's the rub. Unlike Rumsfeld, FDR's address was not a thinly veiled attempt to tar opponents of the Administration as appeasers. Unlike Rumsfeld, FDR doesn't stoop to divisive rhetoric such as "(b)ut some seem not to have learned history's lessons". Unlike Rumsfeld, there is not rank fear mongering: ("we hear every day of new plans, new efforts to murder Americans and other free people. Indeed, the plot that was discovered in London that would have killed hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of innocent men, women and children on aircraft flying from London to the United States should remind us that this enemy is serious, lethal, and relentless. But this is still not well recognized or fully understood. It seems that in some quarters there's more of a focus on dividing our country than acting with unity against the gathering threats), but rather, just the opposite:
This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
Of course, FDR was speaking about emerging from the trauma of the Great Depression, not the threat of international terror. But the point here isn't the specific subject matter of the speech, but rather that FDR was appealing to our 'better angels', if you will, a sense of honesty and optimism in our national discourse, rather than the fear mongering rhetoric of the Rumsfeld's that seeks to paint some among us as but appeasers and defeatists.
An authoritative new foreign policy blog courtesy of Gideon Rachman and the FT. I suspect Rachman's blog will prove one of the very best sources for incisive foreign policy commentary. Don't miss this post, for instance. Like Mr. Rachman, I'm increasingly concerned about recent trends in Turkey as well:
Something strange and disturbing is happening in Turkey. For the first time ever less than 50 per cent of Turks (44 per cent to be precise) are prepared to accept the idea that “Nato is still essential”. Turkish support for joining the EU is still above 50 per cent - but only just. It stands at 54 per cent compared with 73 per cent two years ago. And Turks are dramatically out of sympathy with America. Asked to rate their feelings for other nations and groups of people out of 100, the most popular group are the Palestinians (47), followed by the EU (45), Germany (44) and Iran (43). America is down at 20, beaten in the unpopularity stakes only by Israel on 12. [emphasis added]
In addition, the NYT has an editorial on Turkey today here. Note I hope to have more on Turkish developments in coming days in this space.
September 08, 2006
Has Waterboarding Been Banned?
First, from the NYT:
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions bars, among other things, “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” The administration says that language is too vague.
Could we now be arguing between tactics that fall somewhere between Article 3 and the McCain Amendment? I'm probably one of the last persons to believe anything John Yoo has to say on this matter, but I note that Ron Suskind in a recent interview states: "Death threats, waterboarding, profound deprivation issues, heat, cold, denial of medical attention -- those are now abandoned."
While my strong preference is for complete fidelity to Geneva's Article 3 requirements, pursuant to best Army Field Manual practice and norms, it is at least progress, if true, that tactics such as death threats, waterboarding and induced hypothermia are being abandoned. Progress, mind you, not an all clear, not by a long shot. Not least as we are not being told what tactics are still being employed, as far as I know, and they could well constitute torture (particularly given the Administration's duplicitious and untrustworthy track record on the entire gamut of detainee treatment and interrogation tactics issues over the past half decade). In addition, we have not seen any of the internal Administration legal memoranda making the case why tactics to be used going forward do not rise to torture as per the Torture Convention. Finally, don't miss this snippet from the NYT piece:
A senior intelligence official said that the new legislation, if enacted, would make it clear that the techniques used by the C.I.A. on senior Qaeda members who had been held abroad in secret sites would not be prohibited and that interrogators who engaged in those practices both in the past and in the future would not face prosecution.
Bottom line, at least as of tonight: I've been burned too many times to believe that this Administration has truly banned any and all tactics that constitute torture on enemy combatants in CIA custody, and so I'm not convinced yet we are are just dealing with penumbras as between Article 3 and the McCain Amendment, as Yoo would spin it. On top of this, I am a firm believer that strict compliance with best practices under Article 3 is the best way forward regardless, and even if I could be persuaded otherwise, I'm not at all comfortable with what this Administration would view as not 'shocking the conscience' regardless-- and thus permissible under their reading of the McCain Amendment requirements--certainly given previous Administration lawyering on such matters that can only be described as unprofessional and irresponsible in the extreme.
Note this is not about knee-jerk detainee rights absolutism, as some would have it. Ensuring torture is totally banned under American law is a touchstone issue that defines our very civilization, to include its continued embrace of Englightenment values, a belief in progress in the face of adversity, and ensuring that our most odious enemies are not successful in having us sully our human rights leadership, one so hard earned through the Cold War. In short, we must all remain seized and vigilant with regard to the great import of regaining our moral leadership on the world stage with respect to these foundational issues.
MORE: Marty Lederman has a related post here.
More on Rummy's Speech
A commenter writes, re: a previous post:
Rumsfeld's Salt Lake City speech is important and revealing in many ways. Historically, in times of crisis, the position of secretary of defense and its predecessor posts have been carefully kept above the political fray – a step important to maintaining national consensus with respect to the actual conduct of war. Having a secretary of defense who is simultaneously the most fractious and arguably the most partisan figure in the cabinet breaks with an old and very wise tradition and suggests that for this administration partisan politics is given a higher place than national security.
The final paragraphs of Heidegger's Rector's Address, a seminal moment in Heidegger's descent into the clutches of Nazism, are excerpted here:
Do we, or do we not, will the essence of the German university? It is up to us whether, and to what extent, we concern ourselves with self-examination and self-assertion, not just in passing, but starting from its foundations, or whether we – with the best of intentions – merely change old institutions and add new ones. No one will keep us from doing this. But no one will even ask us whether we do or do not will, when the spiritual strength of the West fails and its joints crack, when this moribund semblance of a culture caves in and drags all forces into confusion and lets them suffocate in madness. Whether this will or will not happen depends solely on whether we, as a historical-spiritual people, still and once again will ourselves – or whether we no longer will ourselves. Each individual participates in this decision even when, and especially when, he evades it. But we do will that our people fulfill its historical mission. We do will ourselves. For the young and the youngest strength of the people, which is already reaching beyond us, has already decided the matter. But we will only fully understand the magnificence and greatness of this new departure when we carry within us that profound and far-reaching thoughtfulness that gave ancient Greek wisdom the saying: τά µєγλα πάυτα έπιφαλη ("All that is great stands in the storm").
See too this Rumsfeld snippet, again from the American Legion speech: "The question is not whether we can win; it's whether we have the will to persevere to win. I'm convinced that Americans do have that determination and that we have learned the lessons of history, of the folly of trying to turn a blind eye to danger. These are lessons you know well, lessons that your heroism has helped to teach to generations of Americans."
It's true, there is a lot of talk about "will" these days, isn't there? Or faith too, of course. Neither constitute serious policy-making, however. More often, they represent merely aspirational fancy, or worse, propagandistic discourse. The former is not good enough, the latter dangerous.
UPDATE: David Rieff writes in:
You're absolutely right to emphasize all this 'will-talk,' Spenglerian claptrap that it is. As you doubtless recall, Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film for Hitler was called 'Triumph of the Will.' The other day, I found myself re-reading Isaiah Berlin's essay on perhaps the greatest reactionary thinker in Western history, Joseph de Maistre. This is how Berlin characterizes Maistre's view. For him, he wrote, "All [human] achievement was painful, and likely to fail, and could be accomplished, if at all, only under the hierarchy of beings of great wisdom and strong will, who, being the repositories of the forces of history (which to Maistre is almost God's will made flesh), laid down their lives in performing their task of organization, repression, and preservation of the divinely ordained order."
I've never been a big fan of the 'chickenhawk' appellation, frankly, but still I take most of David's points. The Powerline gang, for instance, it must be said, really haven't distinguished themselves lately with their adulatory great leader fare, I'm afraid--nor their tendency towards 'airbrushing' hagiographies (e.g. the recent one re: Rummy's stewardship of the Afghan and Iraq wars).
Chinese Diplomacy Watch
I missed this over the weekend, but if you're at all interested in China's U.N. diplomacy, be sure to catch James Traub's piece on the subject in last week's NYT magazine.
UPDATE: Suzanne Nossel, who knows a thing or two about the U.N., has more on this well worth reading here.
September 07, 2006
Interrogation Tactics: A Geneva Carve-Out For The CIA?
QUESTION: General and Mr. Stimson, some of the tactics that were used, in particular in Guantanamo Bay, that were considered by investigators to be abusive when used together are now prohibited, for example, the use of nudity, hooding, that sort of thing.
-- Pentagon officials announcing revised/clarified interrogation tactics as enshrined in a revised Army Field Manual today.
We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used -- I think you understand why -- if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.
President Bush, in a speech earlier today.
So the President, in the face of solid U.S. military interrogation doctrine, is attempting to preserve the right to use tactics such as water-boarding and hypothermia with enemy combatants under CIA, rather than U.S. military, control. Even though his own Pentagon officials think these tactics unnecessary and ineffective. Even though enshrining a right to employ such tactics of quasi-torture (Update: Please see important clarification below), such degrading and humiliating techniques, such outrages to personal dignity, among other non-Geneva compliant tactics, is a profound blight on our reputation as global avatar of human rights. And even though it could have corrosive effects on our legal system that far exceed any perceived, chimerical benefits. He and Cheney and Rumsfeld are tenacious, let's at least give them that, in their misguided pursuit of bucking the basic requirements of the civilized world when it comes to interrogation tactics. But there is hope that Bush's cynical ploy to transfer KSM and other unimpeachably bad guys to Guantanamo, so as to help force through flawed military tribunals through Congress (you're either with us or with KSM!) could backfire. Why? Because of three Republican Senators, in the main, namely John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner. And just like we must hope that Uniform Code of Military Justice compliant proceedings more akin to court martials than Bushian kangaroo military tribunals win the day on the Hill (as most JAGs wish, I believe), we must also fight to have the CIA respect the very same tactics the uniformed services will now abide by (though I have some slight residual concerns thereto, of which more another day), in a belated renunciation of Rumsfeld's bastardization of best Army Field Manual interrogation practices. More on all this soon, as there were quite a few more alarming issues embedded in Bush's speech.
MORE: Amen (with thanks to reader RM). It's not that I have a problem with Bush going back to Congress on the tribunal issues, as that's basically what SCOTUS invited him to do. It's going back to Congress in the manner he's done it. Which is to say, with this nakedly transparent political stunt (moving the mastermind of 9/11 to Guantanamo around the time of the fifth year anniversary, and announcing said move with the family of 9/11 victims in the audience, in a raw appeal to emotion), and with Congress wrapping up its session in a manner of a few short weeks. How enemy combatants are to be tried is a matter of the highest national import. It deserves dispassionate, patient and thorough deliberation (this is what a proud, storied and great legislature should do, but alas we have a supine, cowed and mediocre one instead in our current Congress). This issue should not be turned into a political football cynically employed to tar opponents of Bush's proposed tribunals as going soft on KSM--the leading candidate for most despicable terrorist on the planet (save perhaps UBL and Zawahari). But Bush again is employing crude political tactics rather than statesmanship. In this, and so much else (think Harriet Miers), he again and again shows himself to be a profoundly unserious man. Combined with Cheney, Addington, Rove and Rumsfeld's appetite for untrammeled executive power and predilection for skirting violations of international treaty commitments regarding detainee treatement and interrogation norms, we are continuing to sully this nation's honor. But this is not only a question of morality. There is also a utilitarian arguement here, as such policies continue to have us losing hearts and minds in a war on terror that is fundamentally a global counterinsurgency, where to win we ultimately must prevail by showcasing our moral leadership. We aren't doing so convincingly today, and can only hope the remnants of a more statesmanlike Senate (people like John Warner) can walk us back from the brink. These are sad and anguishing times for those of us who wish to preserve America's moral leadership role on the world stage.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: As I mentioned in comments, I was clumsy in my verbiage above. Drafting this in haste late last night, I conflated my concern that Bush was attempting to portray the tactics he is fighting to permit the CIA to employ as nothing more than "quasi-torture" (that is to say, 'torture-lite,' if you will), with my larger point that various tactics not in compliance with Army Field Manual interrogation doctrine should be strictly forbidden. My reference to "quasi-torture" was more to relay a sense that Bush's description of the procedures he seeks to have permitted under American law as: "tough...safe...lawful, and necessary" was a craven attempt to define torture down, and cannot be allowed to stand. The United States is a party to the "Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment" which defines torture as:
[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Sorry to say, but waterboarding and hypothermia firmly fit under this rubric. It would be a profound scandal if we permit a right to torture in American law. Chris Suellentrop, at his informative Opinionater blog in the New York Times, wrote: "Gregory Djerejian, at his Belgravia Dispatch blog, says Bush supports a policy of “quasi-torture.”" Others have picked up my language too, and I again regret the confused verbiage. Let there be no doubt, Bush is fighting to enshrine a right to torture under U.S. law, certainly if the CIA interrogation tactics will continue to involve waterboarding, induced hypothermia, and other such methods. The deafening silence of many of our leading intellectuals, politicians and media figures is therefore a profound disappointment, to say the least.
The Bush administration’s ideological rhetoric concerning US policy in the Middle East has become separated from the policy itself to an extent almost reminiscent of the former Soviet Union. According to the rhetoric, the US has adopted democratisation as the core of its political strategy and made a clean break with its past strategy of propping up local dictatorships and playing one country and ethno-religious group against another.
Speaking of Soviet comparisons, and on another topic, how sad that a sitting American President would evidently view it as helpful to his party's electoral chances to disclose the existence of secret prisons reportedly located in former Warsaw Pact countries. The ironies are profound.
September 06, 2006
Rumsfeld writes letters to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi:
I was concerned about comments attributed to you in the media about the remarks I recently made to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Well, I didn't read the AP coverage of Donald Rumsfeld's speech, instead having read directly from the Pentagon transcript itself. But I'm not in the least bit surprised by Rumsfeld's typically disingenuous spin that somehow AP's version of the speech was some gross distortion of his remarks, while the original was all peachy clean and unimpeachably above board. After all, he's become accustomed to treating a supine media and public as idiots, and too often, he gets away with it. The usual routine, more often than not, is something akin to: Goodness gracious! (Followed perhaps by another folkism or two). Then, fake protest: why all the indignation, don't you know the perfidious MSM was at fault—or perhaps some other conveniently trumped up scapegoat? On top of all this, and sorry to say, this time Rumsfeld sounds like something of a spurned third grader too when he writes: "(t)hought and careful preparation went into what I said." So there! But really? Indeed, one might respond that, if “thought and careful preparation” really did go into this speech, he's rather less creative and thoughtful than one might hope a Secretary of Defense to be, given how mediocre the substantive points in his speech were (putting aside its offensive rhetorical overtones that I mentioned in passing earlier).
But, without further ado, let's analyze the actual speech, by directly citing to the text of the original, so as to explain better (Note: Rumsfeld's speech in italics, my commentary interspersed in non-italicized font, with the entire speech excerpted, save introductory thank-you’s, unrelated fare about his time in the Boy Scouts, and other such boiler-plate):
No one is more proud of these young people than their Commander-in-Chief, and I know that President Bush is looking forward to being with you later this week. It's a privilege to work with a president who is determined to protect our flag. We are fortunate to have a leader of strong resolve at a time of war.
On September 14th, 2001, the day of Bush's famous 'bullhorn' visit to Ground Zero, the one Rumsfeld evokes above, I was alternately enraged, horrified, and bewildered by what had occurred several blocks south three days earlier. Downtown Manhattan felt like a bona fide war zone, reminding me of time I had spent in places like the former Yugoslavia in the mid-90s. This time, however, it was not Gorazde or Sarajevo or Vukovar but my own home, my own city, my own country. The New York City I so loved was in a state of deep and profound mourning. Missing posters were all over the streets. The smell of the 2,700 dead (though we didn't know the toll yet), mixed with the ash and debris of the destroyed buildings of WTC 1, 2 and 7, hung lugubriously over the streets of lower Manhattan. It is true, Bush's unscripted moments later that day, bullhorn in hand, actually bolstered my spirit. 'We're gonna make it," I thought, "we took a big hit but we are going to stand tall and get through this and get the people who did this." As it happens, I had written about the so called bullhorn moment, on a subsequent 9/11 anniversary, here.
All this is to say, in response to Mr. Rumsfeld, I well appreciated the moment our President stood in the rubble of Ground Zero and rallied this nation from the catastrophe that befell it. But I don't believe in creating false myths or heroes or engaging in leader-worship. It might be true, as Rumsfeld says, that Bush "has worked every day to fulfill his vow to protect the American people", but if he is not learning, really learning, from his Administration's mistakes, what good is that? I am a pragmatist, and I will not put a President who relies too much on faith-based policy-making and has blundered like an amateur in Iraq, and who is innocent in the extreme to the damage his policies in the Middle East are doing to the U.S. national interest, I will not give him a pass based on cheap mythologizing by a proven incompetent like Mr. Rumsfeld, solely so the latter can tee off via such cheerleading the impending Congressionals. We simply cannot afford to let Rumsfeld get away with this kind of stuff anymore.
That year --1919--turned out to be one of the pivotal junctures in modern history with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the creation of the League of Nations, a treaty and an organization intended to make future wars unnecessary and obsolete. Indeed, 1919 was the beginning of a period where, over time, a very different set of views would come to dominate public discourse and thinking in the West.
With this speech Rumsfeld has become something of our 1938ist-in-Chief (though POTUS appears to be giving him a good run for his money of late). A 1938ist is a journalist, or think-tanker, or blogger, or policy-maker (this last, the most dangerous variant, by far) who tiresomely wield cliched and hackneyed historical analogies about, mostly, Munich, Chamberlain, Hitler and Churchill, somewhat like dim primitives, so that all significant geopolitical challenges these United States are currently confronting are met with clarion calls that we sternly rebut any pussy-footed Chamberlainism, that we be sure to wield Churchill's steely will and adopt his grave mien, that we be careful not to futilely feed the uber-crocodile of Islamic fascism. It's something akin to a freshman 20th Century European history class, where the little nerdy guys who want to prove their manhood yelp on about the perils of appeasement, all the while barely understanding what we are at risk of appeasing even.
I mean, we are led to believe that Sheikh Nasrallah, Ahmadi-Nejad, Khaled Mashal, Bashar Asad, Sunni insurgents in Anbar (whether criminals, neo-Baathists, local Sunni nationalists, or international jihadists), Shi'a militias (whether Mahdi or hard-line Badr, or Mahdi splinter groups), Hamas' leadership in Gaza and the West Bank--all are part of one big mega-pot--one where they can easily be labeled with the nonsensical moniker of Islamic Fascists. And us pussy-footers who dare question whether staying the course (sorry, 'adapting to win') via Rumsfeld's failed strategy in Iraq is the best policy, or refraining from direct high level diplomatic discussions with Syria or Iran (or indirect talks, via European and Arab proxies, with elements of Hamas' leadership), or keeping Guantanamo open, we are told we are rank appeasers. We are Chamberlains. We are defeatists. We are traitors.
But this is madness. This is idiocy. This rote regurgitation of hyper-simplistic "analysis" is not worthy of the world's reigning superpower's foreign policy and policy-making elites. But, alas, we are not blessed with talented practitioners, but rather blundering “leaders” wedded to failed strategies who are not statesmanlike enough to look at the larger national interest dispassionately, so as to execute much needed course corrections. In short, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush have become stubborn discredited national security actors who, with Rove, are attempting to grasp on to continued Congressional support for the remainder of a lame-duck term, and they are trying to take us along for the ride, not least with liberal dispensations of fear-mongering rhetoric.
The scary thing is, it could work. This is a country in the grips of a national mania, namely gross paranoia fused with governmental incompetence. We are petrified when we see an Arab language T-shirt on a plane, we dutifully ditch our bottled water and shampoo and stick deodorants before boarding a flight (without even the merest peep about whether there might not be a more intelligent way to ban prospectively dangerous liquids), we don't stop to wonder how by failing to provide for basic security in Iraq, or not pushing for a general peace settlement as 'honest broker' between the Arabs and Israelis, or not controlling the excesses of Israel's recent military action in Lebanon, or not stopping to ponder whether Iran today is really anywhere near as powerful an actor as Hitlerian Germany--whether such policies in the region might not be helping to radicalize new generations of jihadi recruits, not least as the 1938ist broad-brush approach looping all the above parties into some idiotically simplistic categorization of Islamic Fascists, or Islamo-Nazis, or so on, is contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby we are dutifully helping to effectuate Bin Laden’s bidding by stoking a bitter religious war.
Rumsfeld goes on:
We need to consider the following questions, I would submit:
Who is counseling appeasement, Mr. Rumsfeld? Critics like me want to prevail in this war. To do so, we must either, as I've written here, bulk up by a magnitude of about another 40,000-70,000 troops, ditch you, continue to pursue a long term training and equipping of the Iraqi Army and Police (a five year effort, at minimum, yet, and I’m speaking of the Army, let alone the Police), while prosecuting a more classic counter-insurgency campaign (see the linked post for more). In the alternate, if our political leadership lack the vision and wherewithal to make such moves (our uniformed officers get it, but Rumsfeld manifestly doesn't) we need to look at helping midwife an Iraqi confederation, also as discussed in the linked piece. This last would be a terrible outcome, but it would be better than staying the course (read: unconvincingly 'adapting to win') in the face of a failed stategy, one where we are not even devoting enough resources to infrastructure repair (so critical in winning hearts and minds), among myriad other shortcomings that have us failing to snuff out the Sunni-led insurgency, or adequately containing the rising sectarian violence, or putting persuasive pressure on Mahdi militia and other radical Shi'a groups.
Or perhaps Rumsfeld is cautioning us not to appease Iran, so that he's not even talking about Iraq, having effectively resigned it to the dust-bin. But, of course, the best way to contain a resurgent Iran, I'd proffer, is to see through a unitary Iraq, one where we can allow the breathing room, over many years yet, for the emergence of a moderate Arab Shi'a politics. In tandem with Iran's youthful demographic, and if we don't blunder into another war, one could just, per chance, see a wider de-radicalization taking root over many years in the region. But this most assuredly will not occur if we mount air strikes on Iran, not if we continue to fail to stabilize Iraq so the chaos there continues, not if we give carte blanche to the Israelis to devastate large portions of the infrastructure of an entire nation emerging from the Syrian yoke, not if we conflate the grievances and aspirations and politics of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Syria, Shi’a militias and Sunni extremists in Iraq under one single moniker of Islamic Fascism. This is far too simplistic, and brings to mind jihadi recruitment tactics that seek to grossly oversimplify the issues of Palestine and Chechnya and Iraq and Kashmir and Kosovo into one meta-narrative. We live in the post-modern era, one that Francois Lyotard has characterized as a time of incredulity to meta-narratives. Our policymakers, to the extent there are intelligent ones with any influence around, should keep this in mind.
Rumsfeld: "Can folks really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?
What "folks", Mr. Rumsfeld, are recommending "a separate peace" with al-Qaeda? Not even Nancy Pelosi is recommending such imbecilities. This is but yet another in a long line of cheap straw man arguments. Now, if he means that the "terrorists" are the Iranians, or the Syrians, Mr. Rumsfeld is going to have to summon up the intellectual courage to tell us that, rather than engage in evasive ambiguities, rank demagoguery, and other such dishonest tactics. After all, men at least as intelligent as Rumsfeld think we should be talking to the Iranians. There are legions of profound idiots in the blogosphere, most of who have never set foot in the Middle East and barely know the difference between Iran and Iraq, who are aghast at the prospect of us speaking to the "Mullahs". Are you a dhimmi? Do you seek servitude? Don't you know your cowardice risks us becoming Islamacized? And so on, the buffoonish prattling goes on and bloody on. But, among serious people who know more than just to peddle such sophomoric fears and moronic fare, and have actual familiarity with the region, people like Robert Gates, and Henry Kissinger and Chuck Hagel and Dennis Ross and Richard Lugar--well, they think we should be speaking with Iran, it turns out, and directly.
What is Rumsfeld's view? He doesn't say. We are just warned that "free countries" shouldn’t be "negotiat(ing) a separate peace with the terrorists". But again, what separate peace is he talking of? Is it Iran he’s spouting on about? Is it Iraq? Is it perhaps Syria, a country even many Israelis wish we were speaking to? And if not, I again ask Mr. Rumsfeld, so spoiled by a dim media climate that doesn't call BS more sharply to the old dog’s cheap tricks and evasions, I ask him, what serious American politician, in either the Republican or Democratic parties, has counseled “appeasement" of al-Qaeda? Betcha he can't name one. Put up Mr. Rumsfeld, or admit you are a fibber and dissembler extraordinaire.
Rumsfeld: Can we afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply law enforcement problems, like robbing a bank or stealing a car, rather than threats of a fundamentally different nature requiring fundamentally different approaches?
Talk about a cheap analogy, fit for the radio show interviews Rumsfeld does routinely with adulatory lap-dogs, but easily laughed out of more distinguished company. I agree that the war on terror is not just NYPD Blue fare, it's a war, and it involves marshalling the entire panoply of our nation's might, to include both hard and soft power, to include financial investigatory tools, Geneva-compliant interrogations of detainees, covert intelligence gathering, monitoring of conversations done in accord with Constitutional requirements, and yes, calibrated military action on occasion.
But what is Don Rumsfeld's favored "fundamentally different approach"? Turning Nasrallah into something of a Nasser, the better to fire up Islamist sentiment in the Arab world? Is it to hand Somalia over to the Islamists? Is it to hand Anbar over to al-Qaeda in Iraq (Rumsfeld’s “just enough troops to lose” approach is risking just that outcome)? Is it to lose Baghdad? Is it to bungle an Iran containment strategy by uniting all Iranians against America after a misguided bombing campaign (doubtless a botched one, if Rumsfeld is at the helm)? Is it to midwife the rise to power of Moktada-al-Sadr's party in Iraq, or get involved in intrigues with used carpet salesmen like Chalabi? Is it to rely on piss-poor hyped intelligence from in-house Pentagon intel shops? In short, what fundamentally different approach is this failed figure speaking of? You bet we need a "fundamentally different approach." And you can further bet your bottom dollar it’s not the inept Rumsfeld one.
Rumsfeld: And can we really afford to return to the destructive view that America, not the enemy, but America, is the source of the world's troubles? These are central questions of our time, and we must face them and face them honestly.
But we aren’t but a Blame America First Caucus. This is again a straw man, mendaciously deployed to gain applause lines in front of friendly audiences. To stress, all this isn’t about chest-beating about America, and whether she is right or wrong. It’s about winning a conflict through the effective marshalling of our nation’s hard and soft power, with competence and intelligence and sobriety. Rumsfeld has shown none of these qualities. He must go!
Rumsfeld: We hear every day of new plans, new efforts to murder Americans and other free people. Indeed, the plot that was discovered in London that would have killed hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of innocent men, women and children on aircraft flying from London to the United States should remind us that this enemy is serious, lethal, and relentless.
Here we have more fear-mongering, married to a canard that some just don’t get it and are acting to weaken the country’s fiber like some fifth column or such. Most everyone is serious about the threat of terrorism, Mr. Rumsfeld, and that includes large swaths of the opposition party, as well as Republicans like myself who have absolutely no confidence in you (despite the Decider’s immensely poor decision to keep you in office). We well realize that there are thousands of international terrorists out there keen on slaughtering as many Americans as they can their hands on, here or abroad. But it doesn’t follow, unless we wish to hand over a victory to these terrorists of our own volition (by shredding our freedoms in favor of a Hinderakerian Big Brother approach to government), that we should not feel more than comfortable in airing our differences in opinion as to how this war is best conducted, rather than run around goose-stepping in kowtowing accord to the grotesque incompetence you have displayed prosecuting this war.
Rumsfeld: It's a strange time: When a database search of America's leading newspapers turns up literally 10 times as many mentions of one of the soldiers who has been punished for misconduct -- 10 times more -- than the mentions of Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terror... (a)nd it's a time when Amnesty International refers to the military facility at Guantanamo Bay -- which holds terrorists who have vowed to kill Americans and which is arguably the best run and most scrutinized detention facility in the history of warfare -- "the gulag of our times." It’s inexcusable. Those who know the truth need to speak out against these kinds of myths and distortions that are being told about our troops and about our country. America is not what's wrong with the world. The struggle we are in -- the consequences are too severe -- the struggle too important to have the luxury of returning to that old mentality of “Blame America First”…. Your watchdog role is particularly important today in a war that is to a great extent fought in the media on a global stage, a role to not allow the distortions and myths be repeated without challenge so that at the least the second or third draft of history will be more accurate than the first quick allegations we see You know from experience personally that in every war there have been mistakes, setbacks, and casualties. War is, as Clemenceau said, “a series of catastrophes that result in victory. And in every army, there are occasional bad actors, the ones who dominate the headlines today, who don't live up to the standards of the oath and of our country. But you also know that they are a very, very small percentage of the literally hundreds of thousands of honorable men and women in all theaters in this struggle who are serving our country with humanity, with decency, with professionalism, and with courage in the face of continuous provocation.
The shamelessness of the above passage is just breathtaking. In addition, in a LA Times op-ed that appeared shortly after the American Legion speech, Rumsfeld recites the dirty spin that, basically, the detainees at Guantanamo are getting meals that cost more than those of their American counterparts relying on MRE’s, and that they are all running around reading Harry Potter (I kid you not). But it’s not the conditions, since improved given international scrutiny (including groups like Amnesty International, of course), that raises the ire of critics. It’s that the basic writ of habeas corpus has been shunted aside, it’s that interrogation tactics that Rumsfeld authorized at Guantanamo, some of which arguably ‘worked’ under controlled circumstances, far removed from a war zone, and with adequate guard to detainee ratios, spun totally out of control when they ‘migrated’ to places like Abu Ghraib, located in a war zone, with woefully untrained troops guarding far too many detainees. Even the Pentagon approved Schlesinger Report acknowledges that Guantanamo was a contributing factor re: what occurred at Abu Ghraib, and deep down most thinking people well realize Rumsfeld should have been relieved of his duties in disgrace when this scandal broke. Why? Because, put simply, the fish rots from the head, in the main, as it did with the prison scandals. But it’s one thing to not resign (I speak here not of likely ritualistic exercises, soi disant geniune, where Rumsfeld reportedly offered up his resignation to the President a couple times, but the real thing, where you walk in announcing your are going, no matter what) quite another to continue to raise the issue unapologetically, and disgracefully avoid any accountability by blaming a few bad apples. So you can be assured Mr. Rumsfeld, those of us who “know the truth”, as you put it, will do out utmost to “speak out.” Just not the way you would have it, I’m afraid. As for quoting Clemenceau about cascading catastrophes, we all know what Rumsfeld had predicted back in the day, and it was much closer to Ken Adleman’s “cakewalk”, of course, than anything akin to a “series of catastrophes”.
Rumsfeld: And that is important in any long struggle or long war, where any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong, can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere. Our enemies know this well. They frequently invoke the names of Beirut or Somalia -- places they see as examples of American retreat and American weakness. And as we've seen -- even this month -- in Lebanon, they design attacks and manipulate the media to try to demoralize public opinion. They doctor photographs of casualties. They use civilians as human shields. And then they try to provoke an outcry when civilians are killed in their midst, which of course was their intent.
Ah, a good ‘fauxtography’ angle in the speech too boot, doubtless cheering on the brutish blogospheric hordes on towards going forward glorious ‘catches’. But tell me, Mr. Rumsfeld, what attacks were “designed” to “demoralize public opinion” in Lebanon? Was Qana “designed” by Hezbollah? Yes, yes, I know, the Roger Simons of the world are taken by a green-helmeted bestubbled A-rab running around with dust-caked babies being paraded in front of the cameras. Courageous chaps like Mark Steyn, among other notables, smell a rat. So, of course, the fact that dozens of innocents were killed doesn’t matter a whit, right? This was all designed by the Hez-bullies, so as to kill their kin to help the cause. Ah, and a photograph of a casualty or two was doctored. Michelle Malkin espied La Pieta amidst the rubble of South Beirut, and somewhere billowing smoke was photo-shopped up to look smokier. This is what our Defense Secretary is up in arms about, in a campaign that led to the death of over a hundred Israelis, about a 1,000 Lebanese, set back the Cedar Revolution, had hundreds of thousands of Israelis hunkering amidst air raid sirens, and over 1 million Lebanese internally displaced, and returning to homes often littered by cluster munitions? This is the pitiable crap that occupies our Secretary of Defense’s time, a photo-shop or two, as if we don’t employ psy-ops and propaganda tactics when we wage war too? C’mon! As for “human shields”, I defy Rumsfeld to provide us a concrete example of where Hezbollah specifically employed civilian Lebanese as such, rather than this simply being about asymmetrical guerrilla tactics that require hiding and basing near and even among civilians, often supportive ones, I hasten to add, despite the fairy tale land POTUS occupies.
Rumsfeld: The good news is that most Americans, though understandably influenced by what they see and read, have good inner gyroscopes. They have good center of gravity. So, I'm confident that over time they will evaluate and reflect on what is happening in this struggle and come to wise conclusions about it.
I do think Americans, on the whole, have “good inner gyroscopes”. Which is why the Democrats will carry the midterms (at least the House), I hope and believe, so that the American public will have rejected this cheap demagoguery and signaled deep frustration with the failed policies of the past.
Rumsfeld: Iraq, a country that was brutalized by a cruel and dangerous dictatorship, is now traveling the slow, difficult, bumpy, uncertain path to a secure new future under a representative government that will be at peace with its neighbors, rather than a threat to their own people, to their neighbors, or to the world. As the nature of the threat and the conflict in Iraq has changed over these past several years, so have the tactics and the deployments. But while military tactics have changed and adapted to the realities on the ground -- as they must -- the strategy has not changed, which is to empower the Iraqi people to be able to defend, and govern, and rebuild their own country.
All of this is far from assured, of course, not least because of Rumsfeld’s serial bungling. If Turkey feels compelled to intervene in Kurdistan, if Iraq devolves into civil war and the Iranians enter more directly, if the Saudis feels compelled to become involved in some fashion, believe me, it is far from clear that Iraq “will be at peace with its neighbors”.
Rumsfeld: The extremists themselves call Iraq the “epicenter” in the War on Terror. And our troops know how important their mission is. A soldier who recently volunteered for a second tour in Iraq captured the feeling of many of his peers. In an e-mail to some friends, he wrote the following, and I quote:
Mr. Rumsfeld, it is you who is tired, bereft of new ideas, and recycling old lines, cheap canards, and using divisive rhetoric with your back against the wall. It is you who lack will, not us. It is you who must step down, without further delay, to allow fresh thinking to take hold with regard to the struggle that is indeed the “epicenter” of US efforts in the Middle East today, Iraq, where you failed war strategy has cost us a massive loss of prestige on the world stage, has costs us thousands and thousands of lives lost, and where we risk dismal failure. It is you who have tarnished your distinguished career, all of which came before now but a footnote, as history will remember you now as but a hubris-ridden incompetent who dangerously had us skirting failure in Afghanistan, and perhaps even presiding over an outright strategic loss in Iraq. If will is eroding, it is because of a lack of confidence in our leaders, a loss of confidence that ultimately, I suspect, is mostly based on a legitimate fear that our leaders do not possess the very will they accuse their opponents of lacking, at least if their dearth of ingenuity, intelligence, and honesty is any indication.
My condolences to Josh Marshall regarding the news of his father's death. Josh remembers him with eloquence and deep feeling here.
Posted by Gregory at 12:05 AM
September 05, 2006
Much travel these past several days, but I hope to have fresh content (yes, including more on Rumsfeld's speech) tomorrow sometime late evening. Just FYI.
Posted by Gregory at 05:05 AM
About Belgravia Dispatch
Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.
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