Saturday, December 09, 2006

The nerve of a desperate president

By Michael J.W. Stickings

After all he has done -- after dividing the country after 9/11, launching a disastrous war in Iraq on the basis of lies, and using the war for partisan gain -- Bush still has the nerve to say this:

Now it is the responsibility of all of us in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike, to come together and find greater consensus on the best way forward.

Pardon me, Mr. President, but fuck off. It is your war that has left thousands of Americans and many more thousands of Iraqis dead. It is your leadership, or lack thereof, that has gotten your country where it is today, stuck in a quagmire from which there is no easy way out. It is you who have turned so many of your fellow Americans against you and your warmongers. It is you who have destroyed America's reputation and credibility around the world.

And now, when things look so bleak, when you yourself are so desperate, only now do you reach out and seek consensus. Isn't it a bit late for that now? After all you've done?



Violence continued in Iraq on Saturday as a car bomb in the Shia holy city of Karbala killed at least five people and injured more than 40 others.

The bomb, driven by a suicide attacker, went off near the Imam al-Abbas shrine, the final resting place of the son of the founder of Shia Islam...

In other attacks on Saturday:

  • A car bomb killed three people in the northern city of Mosul
  • Two people died in a mortar attack in the mainly Shia suburb of Kadhimiya in Baghdad
  • Four civilians were killed in separate attacks by gunmen on crowds in Baquba, AFP news agency reports.

Yes, just another day in the life and death of Iraq.

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"How George W. Bush has ruined the family franchise"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I apologize for the paucity of posts the past couple of days. I just haven't been feeling very well. But keep checking back for more from me and the co-bloggers.


For your reading pleasure, check out this column by Eleanor Clift at Newsweek. Key passage:

The son who was wrongly launched has made such a mess of things that he has ruined the family franchise. Without getting too Oedipal, it’s fair to say that so many mistakes George W. Bush made are the result of his need to distinguish himself from his father and show that he’s smarter and tougher. His need to outdo his father and at the same time vindicate his father’s failure to get re-elected makes for a complicated stew of emotions. The irony is that the senior Bush, dismissed by Junior’s crowd as a country-club patrician, looks like a giant among presidents compared to his son.

Which is why I asked, the other day, if Bush 41 breaks down in tears over the failures of Bush 43.

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Weekend filler

By Creature

The black-market, American-issued gun trade in Iraq is booming as prices rise along with the violence -- it's good to see at least capitalism, if not democracy, has taken hold. The GOP is just as torn about what to do in Iraq as the Dems -- I wonder if Chris Matthews will now start hardballing them on what their plan is. Meanwhile, the president stomps his feet and reminds the world that he is commander-in-chief and that his job is the only job that he is unwilling to outsource. And, in case you couldn't get tickets, the Rummy farewell tour is on and he's as unknowable as ever. Happy reading. Happy weekend.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Waiting for The Decider

By Creature

Days pass, people die, and Bush spins a "way forward":

Bush's goal is to outline a shift in course in a speech to be delivered before the Christmas holiday. He has given a cool response to two key recommendations -- talks with Iran and Syria and pulling back U.S. combat forces by early 2008.

"I understand that Secretary Baker's comment yesterday about the fruit salad is descriptive, I think, of how they feel about it; however, I don't think the president considers it as any type of food," [White House spokeswoman] Perino said.

"I think that he is going to digest it, however, and he will take the time that he needs in order to figure out how he wants to move forward."

ABC News has the early word on the eagerly awaited Pentagon report that the president will be digesting:

The recommendations are not complete yet, but sources familiar with the reviews conducted by Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace and National Security Adviser Steven Hadley, tell ABC News that military leaders will advise the president that he change the primary mission from fighting insurgents to training and supporting Iraqi troops.

The plan for U.S. forces seems to mirror the one suggested by the Iraq Study Group. But there's one big difference.

Under the Iraq Study Group plan, released earlier this week, combat troops — about half of all the forces in Iraq — would return home by the first quarter of 2008.

But under the Pentagon's plan, those combat troops would remain in Iraq — with a new mission. Entire companies of U.S. combat forces (units of about 150 troops) could be embedded in Iraqi army and police battalions.

The Pentagon is also considering "taking steps to curb Iranian interference in Iraq." Taking steps? That doesn't sound very diplomatic to me.

So, if I read this right, our combat troops are pulling back. Some are splintering and embedding. The remaining will be resting up for the big fight with Iran. All the while we arm the Iraqi army to the teeth. This sounds fucking brilliant (and I haven't even mentioned the part where special operation troops target the "leaders in Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army.") Who says the neo-cons no longer have influence? This is Cheney's answer to the ISG.

Read more.

UPDATE: For more on Dick "80% solution" Cheney's wants and desires I send you to The Washington Post, Laura Rozen, and the Carpetbagger.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Friday afternoon poems

By Heraclitus

I kept waiting for the winter to get sufficiently bad to post this second poem, but then I realized that, since I don't live in a city, it's never going to get all that bad. I'm never going to have to deal with feet of grey snow packed against the curb, giant puddles along the side of the road that get sprayed all over you when a car drives by, etc., etc. Living in a village rather than a city just means a massive increase in your quality of life.

Anyways, here are the poems. The first is one of the oldest poems in the English language. Here it is in Middle English (I believe) and in a modern English translation. For more information on the poem, which was originally the lyrics to a round, see

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu.
Sing cuccu!
Summer is a-coming in
Loudly sing cuckoo
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
and springs the wood anew
Sing cuckoo!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
lhouþ after calue cu,
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ.
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes þu cuccu.
ne swik þu nauer nu!
Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!
Ewe bleateth aft-er lamb,
Calf loweth after cow,
Bullock starteth, buck farteth,
Merry sing cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!
Well singest thou cuckoo,
Nor cease thou never now!
Sing cuckoo now, Sing cuckoo!
Sing cuccu, Sing cuccu nu!
Foot (or Bass)
Sing cuckoo, Sing cuckoo now!


About seven hundred years later, Ezra Pound wrote a version for a different season:

"Ancient Music"

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
and how the wind doth ramm,
Sing: Goddamm.
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm,

Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

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The devastating truth about the Iraq Study Group

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Much has been written in response to the report and recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, including here at The Reaction. Baker, Hamilton, and the other distinguished ISG commissioners are all over the news media and the political blogosphere. You can find all the latest over at Memeorandum, such as this report by the Post's Dana Milbank. And just wait until Sunday.

The best commentary on the ISG's report I've come across, though, is by Fred Kaplan at Slate -- see here. He calls the ISG's report "an amorphous, equivocal grab bag":

Its outline of a new "diplomatic offensive" is so disjointed that even a willing president would be left puzzled by what precisely to do, and George W. Bush seems far from willing.

Its scheme for a new military strategy contains so many loopholes that a president could cite its language to justify doing anything (or nothing).

To be sure, "[t]he report is at its best, and most devastating, when it details the 'grave and deteriorating' situation in Iraq. 'Current U.S. policy is not working,' it states bluntly." (This amounts to a thorough rebuke of Bush and the warmongers.) But, in the end, all the report tells us is that "[i]t's a mess," that "[n]ot even Jim Baker really knows what to do about it".

In other words, what is truly most devastating about the ISG's report is not just its realistic assessment of the current situation in Iraq, and its trajectory, but its lack of a coherent plan for how best to deal with Iraq.

The devastating truth about the ISG is that it failed to come up with the answer.

And the devastating truth about this disastrous war is that there may not be one.

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So much for moderate Republicanism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With the Democratic victory last month, the GOP has become a party of extremism* -- "more ideologically homogenous now than it has been in modern history".

For more, see BooMan.

*well, more so than before.

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I'm with Dean

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the St. Petersburg Times:

Republican Vern Buchanan might be the official winner in a messy Sarasota-area congressional race, but Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean says the Democratic-controlled Congress should not seat Buchanan without another election.

"Absolutely not," Dean said... "You cannot seat someone if you don't have an election that's valid.

"This election is not valid. There are 18,000 people who may have voted, and we don't know what happened to their votes," Dean said.

Democrat Christine Jennings has asked for a revote, but "a little-known provision in the U.S. Constitution gives the House the final decision on who sits in its chamber". At the very least, Congress should investigate this matter. Short of calling Jennings the winner, which would be politically risky for Democrats, it should demand a revote. It would be the only way to ensure the representational legitimacy of Florida's 13th congressional district.

For more on this controversy, see my post "Stealing Sarasota" here.

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The Saudi insurgency

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Remember Nawaf Obaid? He's the former Saudi security advisor who, in a Post op-ed, claimed that Saudi Arabia would militarily protect Iraqi Sunnis if the U.S. withdrew from Iraq. The Saudi government denied the claim and Obaid was promptly fired.

But was he right? It may not matter. For it seems that the Saudis have already intervened in support of the Sunnis. And how are they doing that? By funding the Sunni insurgency:

Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.

Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the U.S.-led coalition.

But the U.S. Iraq Study Group report said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by The Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.

Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, told the AP most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities.

Some Saudis appear to know the money is headed to Iraq's insurgents, but others merely give it to clerics who channel it to anti-coalition forces, the officials said.

So the question is, what does the Saudi government think of this? Is it actively trying to stop this flow of "private" money into Iraq? Or is it passively supporting the insurgency by allowing it to happen? (Consider Saudi complicity with respect to Osama bin Laden's private money.)

Obviously, the Saudi government can't openly support an insurgency that is not just anti-Shiite but anti-American -- the Saudis and the Bushies are close friends, after all -- but the support seems to be there nonetheless.

Maybe Bush should ask his good pal Bandar about this.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pictures from Iraq

By Heraclitus

Have a look at some pictures from Iraq via The Quaker Agitator.
They're even sadder (could I pick a more banal word here?) if you're listening to Charley Patton's "I'm Goin' Home" while viewing them.

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Stay the course

By Creature

Denial runs deep for the president. See, it's all a matter of speed, not of failure. This gem from today's high on rhetoric, low on specifics -- it's a clash of civilizations damn it -- Blair/Bush press conference:

"I do know we have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed. I do understand that progress is not as rapid as I had hoped."

And yet despite the need for speed the president still waits for the other very important reports he has requested as political cover in order to blunt the political cover offered to him by the ISG.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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What the Iraq Study Group means to Iraqis

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From WaPo's Sudarsan Raghavan, the Iraqi perspective:

The Iraq Study Group's prescriptions hinge on a fragile Iraqi government's ability to achieve national reconciliation and security at a time when the country is fractured along sectarian lines, its security forces are ineffective and competing visions threaten to collapse the state, Iraqi politicians and analysts said Wednesday.

They said the report is a recipe, backed by threats and disincentives, that neither addresses nor understands the complex forces that fuel Iraq's woes. They described it as a strategy largely to help U.S. troops return home and resurrect America's frayed influence in the Middle East.

Iraqis also expressed fear that the report's recommendations, if implemented, could weaken an already besieged government in a country teetering on the edge of civil war.

"It is a report to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq's problems," said Ayad al-Sammarai, an influential Sunni Muslim politician.

Well, of course it is. That was the intention all along. Who cares about Iraq's problems anymore?

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Senate confirms Gates

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Robert Gates is the new defense secretary. After an easy ride through the Senate Armed Services Committee -- easy because Gates was honest and realistic about Iraq, a notable shift away from Rumsfeld's bombast -- the full Senate approved him by a vote of 95-2.

And who were those two? Republicans -- yes, Republicans -- Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Jim Bunning of Kentucky. And why did they vote against him? Because, according to Bunning, "Gates has repeatedly criticized our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan" and "believes in directly engaging rogue nations such as Iran and Syria". Santorum, who appears to have lost his mind along with his seat, if he even had much mind to lose, gave a blustery speech on "Islamic fascism" and claimed that Gates is not "up to the task".

I have my own reservations about Gates, but he seems to be a good choice, relatively speaking, to replace Rumsfeld. But to criticize him because he has been critical of the U.S. and wants to engage in diplomacy with Iran and Syria is ridiculous. It's about time someone at the top turned a critical eye to what have been rather unsatisfactory efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it's about time for some diplomacy, even with unsavory interlocutors like Tehran and Damascus. Going it alone clearly hasn't worked out too well.

For more on Gates, I recommend Fred Kaplan's typically excellent piece at Slate. The above image is from The Washington Post, where you can find a profile of the new SecDef.

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Get a room

By Creature

Why is consensus on Iraq strategy a good thing? Why is bipartisanship a good thing? Doesn't compromising on Iraq mean that the Republicans -- who have been so wrong, for so long -- get to have half of their piss poor ideas still on the table?

And as I watch the ISG coverage on the TV I can't help to go back to what I said last week when their initial recommendations were leaked:

[T]he bipartisan panel charged with finding domestic political cover for a situation out of our control has reached a toothless compromise as they jerk each other off, pat themselves on the back, and enjoy their Oprah moment.

Interview after interview the ISGers still love themselves more than they love the troops. I just wish they'd get a room, preferably a room outside the Green Zone in Iraq.

David Broder has more on the ISG circle jerk.

Matthew Yglesias has more on the ISG recommendations that turn out to be moot even before the ink has dried.

Spencer Ackerman gets the last ISG word.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The limitations of the Iraq Study Group

By Michael J.W. Stickings

[Creature's note: Michael's stuck in the office and asked me to post this for him. These are his initial thoughts on the ISG recommendations. More thoughts will follow.]

The Iraq Study Group story is overblown. The media -- in particular David Broder and his clones-- talk up bipartisanship and "centrism" all the time. They feed off the partisanship, but in moments of self-importance, which are common, they like to situate themselves above the divisive rancour. Hence McCain's ongoing media popularity and questionable reputation as a maverick. Hence all the talk about how moderates won the midterms for the Democrats. (I don't buy into the whole "centrism" thing, but that's because I think liberalism is the center and that conservatives have propagandized everyone into believing the center is much further over to the right than it really is.) Hence Jim Baker's media popularity, hence his reputation as a statesman unsullied by partisanship when his whole career has been in the service of the interests of the Bush family. Hence the fact that the media are lavishing such positive attention on the ISG, its co-chairman (Baker and Lee Hamilton) and its rather predictable report.

The conventional wisdom was that Bush would use the ISG for cover, but he's shown no willingness to follow the ISG lately. Indeed, he seems more stubborn and clueless than ever. And so the ISG is really just regurgitating, under its own cover of bipartisanship and independence, various ideas that Democrats and sensible Republicans like Chuck Hagel have been pushing for a long time, as well as various ideas that have already been tried to some degree, like pressuring the Iraqis to do more for themselves by themselves. How nice of Bush and the warmongers to invade a country, screw pretty much everything up, and then tell the people of that country it's their fault.

Still, I credit the ISG's realistic assessment of the situation in Iraq. It's right to conclude, against the delusions of the White House (or at least the rhetorical spin from the White House), that the situation is "grave and deteriorating": "No one can guarantee that any course of action in Iraq at this point will stop sectarian warfare, growing violence or a slide toward chaos. If current trends continue, the potential consequences are severe." (Indeed.) It's right to recommend that diplomatic channels be opened and that efforts to internationalize the reconstruction of Iraq be pursued. (If it's not too late already.) And it's right to call for a flexible withdrawal of most U.S. troops by 2008. (The American people want them home, and the presence of U.S. forces is making the situation worse.)

And now, as Iraq continues to slide ever further into a chaotic abyss, and with the likelihood that peace and stability, let alone effective and legitimate self-governance, won't be established anytime soon, it's back to Bush. What will he do? He may, if only for the sake of his own public relations, for the sake of looking good, support some of the ISG's recommendations. There are 79 of them, after all, and surely Bush can find a few of them he likes. But Bush has also indicated that the ISG is just one of several groups looking into Iraq, and he may prefer to heed the advice of the Pentagon, soon to be under the anyone-but-Rumsfeld leadership of Robert Gates, who said yesterday that the ISG report is not "the last word". The ISG may have been perceived to be political cover for Bush, but now it seems more to be a nuisance, not least because of all the positive media attention, and Bush's "new" strategy may mean not diplomacy and withdrawal but a troop increase and a commitment to a lost cause.

Bush has shown extraordinary ignorance, incompetence, negligence, self-delusion, and self-righteousness throughout this disaster of a war. Why would that change now?

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Study Group Roadshow

By Creature

There is definitely an Iraq Study Group (ISG) political show going on today. The ISG was at the White House this morning. They visited Congress this afternoon. They called Maliki directly. And, now, the broadcast networks are pre-empting their soaps for the big ISG press conference. It all seems so well orchestrated that it is hard to imagine the White House hasn't approved the show and that they aren't going to use the study group as political cover. It's a shame, however, that the core suggestion of the study group -- that is to push the Iraqis to stand-up (with a possible stick replacing the carrot) -- is exactly the course we have been on for the last three years. Sorry, but beyond the recommendation for high-level talks with Iran and Syria (and some really dire talk about the situation in general), there is nothing groundbreaking here.

Well, at least nobody is talking about going big.

UPDATE: Shakes says she has nothing to add to the blogosphere's ISG reactions, yet somehow she manages to add a lot.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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See, I was right about Jane Harman

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I supported Jane Harman for House Intelligence Committee Chair. My supported softened somewhat, but I still supported her. And when it was clear that Pelosi was going to pick someone else, I supported Rush Holt as a suitable compromise candidate. And when Pelosi picked Silvestre Reyes, I was fine with it.

And how's that working out? Let's just say, not as expected:

In a surprise twist in the debate over Iraq, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the soon-to-be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he wants to see an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops as part of a stepped up effort to "dismantle the militias."

The soft-spoken Texas Democrat was an early opponent of the Iraq war and voted against the October 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to invade that country. That dovish record got prominently cited last week when Speaker designate Nancy Pelosi chose Reyes as the new head of the intelligence panel.

But in an interview with NEWSWEEK on Tuesday, Reyes pointedly distanced himself from many of his Democratic colleagues who have called for fixed timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

I'm with Kevin Drum on this: "OK, let me get this straight. Even though she clearly knows her brief and was the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman was passed over for the committee chairmanship because she had supported the war and was just generally a little too hawkish on national security matters... Which is better: someone who got it right in the beginning but has since lost his way, or someone who originally made a mistake but seems to have learned something since then? I think I'd pick door #2."

Nice move.

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Anyone but Rumsfeld

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The bar is so low that any SecDef nominee would look good. And -- keeping in mind Creature's recent "love in" post -- I do think Gates looked good yesterday. Which isn't to say I don't have my reservations. Gates has more than his share of dirty laundry. And which isn't to say that I think Gates is right that "it's too soon to tell" whether or not the Iraq War was a good idea. And which isn't to say he ought to be supported going forward, beyond his inevitable confirmation -- he's still a Bush appointee, after all, and his alleged realism may soon find itself trumped by Bush's grand delusions.

But consider this:

Oct. 25, 2006

Bush: "Absolutely, we're winning."

Dec. 5, 2006

Levin: "Mr. Gates, do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?"
Gates: "No, sir."

The contrast is striking. No wonder Senator Levin, who has called for phased withdrawal, said this: "What we heard this morning was a welcome breath of honest, candid realism about the situation in Iraq."

Alright, there's your "love in". And, I agree, it was all rather unseemly, all rather unpleasant. Couldn't the Democrats have pressed him a bit more aggressively?

Well, sure. But he said the right things. (Indeed, the White House is already spinning him, which is a positive sign -- see The Carpetbagger Report for more.)

And, above all, he's anyone but Rumsfeld. That makes all the difference.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The crying shame

By Michael J.W. Stickings

CNN: "Former President George H.W. Bush broke down in tears as he cited his son, Gov. Jeb Bush, as an example of leadership."

Do you think he breaks down in tears when he thinks about how his other son -- George, that is, not Neil or Marvin -- has fucked up as president and is one of the worst presidents ever?

(In all seriousness, this public display of fatherly love is touching. But what does he really think of Dubya? He must know what a failure he's been. And that must hurt him deeply. Right?)

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

George Pataki is set to go to Iowa and New Hampshire. Which is to say, he may be running for president.

And yet I really don't care. Huh.

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Gates love-in

By Creature

Was anybody else left a bit nauseous by the Democratic kid-glove performance at today's Gates hearing? I understand that politically there was no real battle to be had, but did it have to be such a lovefest? Personally it seemed like Gates said a whole lotta nothing. I fear the only change the White House is considering is an increase in troops. Withdrawal expectations (and soldiers lives) be damed.

For more check out the Carpetbagger for his take on Tony Snow's take on the nuance of "no".

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Dion's dividends

By Michael J.W. Stickings

How did Stéphane Dion win Canada's Liberal Party leadership race over the weekend? The Globe and Mail points to an "unwritten accord" between Dion and former Ontario Education Minister Gerard Kennedy. And, to be sure, it was Kennedy's support that put Dion ahead of Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, both of whom seemed to hit a ceiling of support well short of a majority of convention delegates.

But as a friend suggested to me today, perhaps Liberals simply wanted a Liberal to lead them. Ignatieff may or may not be a Liberal, but, party affiliation aside, he seems to be more cult of personality, one-man celebrity ego trip, than party man, and he doesn't have Dion's experience in the party. And Rae was the New Democratic premier of Ontario. He took down the governing Liberals in the 1990 provincial election, and he's just a recent convert to the Liberal Party at the federal level. Both Ignatieff and Rae had strong support at the convention, but, in the end, neither man could overcome the desire of a majority of the delegates to elect one of their own. Hence Dion's "surprise" victory.

The Globe also calls Dion's win a "seismic shift" for the party. That seems too strong to me. It may very well be that "the results mean the end of the 17-year Chrétien-Martin period and its divisiveness," and it's true that most MPs backed other candidates, notably Ignatieff and Rae, but Dion is hardly an outsider. He's a Chrétien Liberal from Quebec, which is about as establishmentarian as one can get. His environmentalism sets him apart from other top Liberals, perhaps, but it's not as if the Liberals are anti-green. And his federalism is of the sort promoted by Trudeau, the greatest Liberal of them all. So how exactly did "Liberals [thump] the power brokers of the Chrétien-Martin era this weekend"? By electing the "unheralded" Dion? By picking one of their own?


Look for Quebec, once more, to be a key battleground -- and a key issue -- in the next election, which may come as early as early next year: "Conservative MPs believe there is a significant negative sentiment among some in Quebec toward Mr. Dion because of his hard-line approach to national unity, particularly following the 1995 sovereignty referendum." But Dion won't back down in his home province. Prime Minister Harper's recent declaration of support for Quebecois nationhood within the federation, a highly controversial and still-unofficial designation, was meant to boost Conservative electoral fortunes in that province. Dion will make the very credible case that the Conservatives don't care about Quebec, that Quebec is far better off with the Liberals than with the Conservatives. He will put up a valiant fight.


With much of the media's attention focused on the Liberals of late, it should come as no surprise that there's been a bounce:

Canada's opposition Liberals jumped six percentage points ahead of the ruling Conservatives, a new poll showed Monday, after the party picked former environment minister, Stéphane Dion, as its new leader...

A Strategic Counsel poll of 1,000 Canadian voters, taken hours after Dion's win, showed support for the Liberals at 37 per cent, compared with the Conservatives' 31 per cent and the New Democrats' 14 per cent.

The poll, published in The Globe and Mail, showed the Liberals had gained five percentage points from a similar poll in October when the Liberals and Conservatives were tied at 32 per cent.

All of which is well and good, but now what? Well, it was back to the House for Dion today, no rest for the weary, where the new Liberal leader challenged Harper as he must over the coming months. With the Conservatives in the minority, an election in the new year is likely, but the timing is uncertain. The Liberals may seek to bring down the government over the budget, but the Conservatives will try to hold out until the time seems right for them to go down to defeat in the House. Both parties want the government to be defeated, but only when they want it to be defeated, only when defeat will necessitate an election at just the right time. This is the game the leading parties will play along with the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, both of which have their own more limited electoral fortunes to consider.

And it's the game Dion will have to play with prudence and caution as he settles into the leadership of the Liberal Party, the party that has governed for most of our history.

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Is Bush planning to use nuclear weapons against Iran?

By Heraclitus

Via everyone's favorite hipster meanie, there's this post by tristero at Hullabaloo, suggesting that Bush's plan to redeploy troops in Iraq is just a ploy to prepare for a nuclear attack on Iran. tristero's post perhaps draws a bit too heavily on the work of one Seymour Hersh to be taken at face value, but I think it's something we all need to be looking out for. It may seem far-fetched or insane, and indulging in fears that such a thing will happen may seem too partisan or Bush-bashitastic, but consider Amanda's response to these objections.

The question I ask myself when I start to wonder if it’s possible that Bush and his crew are batshit enough to deliberately arrange things so that they “get” to kill god only knows how many innocent people with a nuclear bomb is this: What is the likelihood that he can be convinced to let go of the dream of being the President with the balls to do it? I know it sounds stupid and immature to frame refraining from full scale massacre as some sort of emasculation, but before you write that off, take a moment to consider how, at every turn, the Bushies have demonstrated that they think that anything short of being a nasty, brutish bully is a sure sign you’ve turned into a girl. Let’s just hope the Democrats can find a way to stop him.

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

John Bolton is out at the U.N. He submitted his resignation to President Bush, and Bush has reluctantly accepted it. And so, finally, the Bolton era is over.

And yet, in his reluctance, Bush proved once again just how delusional and stubborn he is, just how much he doesn't get it:

"I accept it; I'm not happy about it," Bush told reporters this afternoon in the Oval Office after a meeting with Bolton. He said his nominee "deserved to be confirmed" as the U.S. envoy to the United Nations. "We're going to miss you in this administration," Bush told Bolton. "You've been a stalwart defender of freedom and peace."

Bolton's many shortcomings are old news -- they have been documented brilliantly by, among others, Slate's Fred Kaplan and The Washington Note's Steve Clemons, both of whom I admire a great deal, and, following them, I wrote about them in several posts. For example, see here. But enough is enough. It's over. He got his recess appointment, but there was no way the Senate was going to confirm him, not with sensible Republicans like Lincoln Chafee turning against him.

But Bush is still the president, alas, and what we get with Bolton's resignation is yet another glimpse into his detachment from reality.


The Bolton resignation has been, needless to say, the story of the day. For all the coverage you need, go to Memeorandum. In particular, I would single out The Carpetbagger Report, Booman Tribune, The Brad Blog, Firedoglake, TAPPED, and Hullabaloo.

And see this great post by Steve Clemons. I await Fred Kaplan's next Bolton column.

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US government spying on citizens

By Heraclitus

Have a look at this Glenn Greenwald post on all of the information the US government is trying to gather on US citizens. The information includes all kinds of facts about airline travel (including seating preference and what kind of meal you order [what airline is still serving meals?]), and an attempt to, in the words of a source inside the NSA, "create a database of every call ever made in the US." That's right, knowing that wrong number you dialed last Thursday and exactly what days and times you've called your favorite Thai place for take-out will make us safer. In a familiar pattern, it's a Republican, in this case Lindsey Graham on Fox News, for crying out loud, who really protests. “The idea of collecting millions or thousands of phone numbers — how does that fit into following the enemy?”

Greenwald argues that the agencies collecting this information, or rather the individuals working for these agencies, will inevitably abuse their power. In fact, this has already happened to him; a commenter on a right-wing blog posted his travel information, and told the blogger to contact him if he wanted more information. This commenter has identified himself on other right-wing blogs as an employee of the Department of Homeland Security. Good stuff.

The key here, it seems to me, isn't even that this is good or bad. I think it is, as Graham says, a waste of energy and resources, an obsession born of a neurotic control freak's fevered brain. I also think it's a violation of privacy, etc. But the crucial point is that it's not being debated at all. There's been no public discussion of this whatsoever, because it's been kept secret by the Bushies (there's a surprise). Greenwald says it well:

Surveillance technology is only becoming more potent, as is -- in some circles -- the mentality that the Government's claimed need to "protect us" means that its power to monitor what we do ought to be unlimited. Those two trends -- increasingly potent surveillance abilities combined with an increasingly submissive and authoritarian-minded public -- have the potential, actually the likelihood, to create all sorts of undesirable outcomes, to put it quite mildly.

The last thing that ought to happen is that these matters get decided without public awareness, let alone debate. If our Government thinks it has good reason to start monitoring our actions and collecting and storing detailed data about how we live our lives -- including the millions of citizens suspected of no crimes -- then it ought to say what it wants to do and we can then debate if it ought to have that power. Why is that proposition controversial? (Apparently, like the prior disclosures about domestic spying, there was no national security reason to conceal this program, since it was the Government itself which, after several years of collecting this information, just disclosed the travel data program in the Federal Register).

I'm sure I've said here before that Greenwald, for all his virtues, can tend to be long-winded and repetitive. So he can, but this post is well worth reading in full.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XXV

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From CNN:

-- "Nine U.S. troops died in Iraq during the weekend, including five killed by roadside bombs, the U.S. military reported Sunday."

-- "Iraqi police found 51 bodies across the Iraqi capital, all shot to death, a Baghdad emergency police official said Sunday. Some were blindfolded with bound hands, and showed signs of torture. They are believed to be victims of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian warfare."


Oh, but there may be "significant changes" ahead, according to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. "'The president has said that what is going on in Iraq is not going well enough or fast enough,' Mr. Hadley said [yesterday] on the NBC News program 'Meet the Press,'" as reported in the Times.

Which is laughable, given that this is Bush's war. He wanted it and he got it and he's responsible for it. And, however disastrous it's been and continues to be, it's evidently a war he still wants to fight -- desperately, stubbornly. Hadley said that there won't be withdrawal for the sake of withdrawal: "'That's cut and run, and of course, as the president has said, cut and run is not his cup of tea,' Mr. Hadley said." Not his "cup of tea"?! This war isn't anyone's cup of tea anymore. It certainly isn't the American people's cup of tea. And, Mr. Hadley, isn't there a better way to put it than "cup of tea"? In case you haven't noticed, people are dying. Lots of people. American troops and many, many Iraqi civilians. It's a gruesome mess. If Bush doesn't favour withdrawal, it's not because it's not his "cup of tea". It's because he inhabits a realm of fantasy, a bubble of delusion and self-righteousness, that is largely impenetrable.

Hadley said that Bush will present his new direction in "weeks, not months". But it's already too late. Those of us who pay attention to reality, including Democrats and Republicans alike who are proposing various plans for withdrawal, have known that for a long time.


Meanwhile, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said this in opposition to calls for an international conference on Iraq: "We are an independent and a sovereign nation, and it is we who decide the fate of the nation."

There you go, Mr. Hadley. Would you mind passing that along to your boss?

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Venezuela votes

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Hugo Chavez has been re-elected in Venezuela, easily defeating challenger Manuel Rosales in yesterday's presidential election. With 78 percent of the vote counted, Chavez was ahead 61.3 to 38.4.

And Chavez was as humble as always: "Long live the socialist revolution! Destiny has been written... We have shown that Venezuela is red!... No one should fear socialism... Socialism is human. Socialism is love... Down with imperialism! We need a new world!"

Sure, as long as that new world can by tyrannized over by Chavez himself. And make no mistake about it: Chavez may have won a "democratic" election, but he's still a tyrant who bribes and oppresses the people.


There's some excellent coverage at Venezuela News and Notes, my new go-to blog for all things Venezuelan.

The BBC is providing updated coverage here (and has a good Q&A here). And see the Wikipedia entry here.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hagel v. Lieberman

By Michael J.W. Stickings

On CBS's Face the Nation today:

-- Lieberman: " believe that America is a mighty enough nation that we should never fear to talk to anyone. But anyone who believes that Iran and Syria really want to help us to succeed in Iraq, I just is missing the reality. Asking Iran and Syria to help us succeed in Iraq is like your local fire department asking a couple of arsonists to help put out the fire. These people are flaming the fire. They are the extremists. They are supporting terrorists in Iraq, in Lebanon and of course in the Palestinian areas."

-- Hagel: "That’s not the point. Of course the Iranians and Syrians are not going to come to our assistance. Of course not. But they are going to respond in their own self-interest. All nations respond in their own self-interests. Talleyrand once said that nations don’t have friends. They have interests. He was right. It’s not in the interest of Syria or Jordan or Iran to have a failed state that would be a complete mess for the middle east."

Hagel's right. Lieberman just doesn't get it. And with Iraq the disaster it is today, and with no good options facing the U.S. as it prepares for eventual withdrawal, why not at least talk to Iran and Syria? Why not open up those lines of communication to Iraq's key neighbours? Why not try to find out what they want, how they would deal with Iraq? Why not work the diplomatic channels in pursuit of a regional effort to deal with Iraq?

Because it's us and them, says Lieberman, "mighty" America and the terrorist-supporting extremists, displaying the Bush-like good-versus-evil worldview that got the U.S. into this mess in the first place and that has prevented Bush and the warmongers from understanding, and effectively responding to, the realities on the ground in Iraq.

It's wishful thinking. It's ignorance. It's stupidity. But there's Joe Lieberman for you.

Think Progress has the video and transcript here.

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Ranking Bush

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Earlier today, I mentioned that Eric Foner ranks Bush the worst president ever, while Douglas Brinkley considers him the new Hoover, another "case study on how not to be president". Well, there's more. Michael Lind, David Greenberg, and Vincent Cannato have also contributed to the Post's "What Will History Say?" series.

Lind ranks Bush the fifth worst president, behind Buchanan, Johnson, Nixon, and Madison.

Greenberg argues that Bush isn't as bad as Nixon. (Not yet.) And it may be "premature" to "consign him to the bottom tier of presidents".

Cannato suggests that these "worst president ever" considerations are "too often ideology masquerading as history". Perhaps, in some cases, but how can Cannato claim that "tax cuts, the No Child Left Behind Act, [and] the prescription drug plan" have been "domestic policy successes"? The first is unabashed plutocracy, irresponsibility and injustice at a time of endless war, soaring budget deficits, and economic insecurity; the second is all rhetoric, a hollow shell of a program; and the third is massive, industry-friendly bureaucracy. There's nothing wrong with "humility," nor with letting "years pass" before passing judgment, but I doubt that Bush will leave "a mixed record". The record we have now suggests far worse.

Whether Bush is the worst or the second worst or the fifth worst, he has been a terrible president. Historians are writing about him already, but I suspect that his presidency will only seem worse with time.

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Dennis Prager hates America

By Capt. Fogg

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

-- Article VI, United States Constitution


What bothers me most about the effort to make the United States into a Christian State, where non-believers or believers in other religious traditions have no place, is that there is so little protest. Forgetting that early Christians were persecuted as atheists, atheists are said by many self-styled Christians to be unfit to be full citizens much less to hold political office. Republicans from George H.W. Bush to Katherine Harris have asserted this notion.

I read in Crooks and Liars that Fox News’ latest attempt to make the Christian Bible an official U.S. Government document includes the crucifixion of Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota). who, as is his guaranteed right, wishes to use the Koran instead of a Christian document. Take Sean Hannity, for instance. If Ellison gets to use the Koran, he asks, then what’s to prevent some other representative elect from using Mein Kampf. My answer would be nothing – and thank God (and the Constitution) for that.

Of course, the unexplained equation of a Hitler book with the Koran is an obvious inflammatory ploy, but the insinuation that there should be government rules regarding which books are acceptable is obviously in opposition to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Fox seems to hope that you’ll be afraid enough of those “liberals” electing a Muslim ( read: potential traitor) to give up your right to vote for whomever you please, whether he reads the Koran, The Bhagavad Gita, or Bible stories for children.

This wouldn’t be the first or most egregious attempt of Fox to overthrow the rule of law in the U.S., nor would it be the clumsiest or most thinly disguised, but of course the real problem with Fox’s attack on America is not the rickety, fearmongering fallacies, but the inherent assertion that the government can, should, and must legitimize one religion and render another illegitimate.

“If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress,”

said Foxhound Dennis Prager, thereby advocating the denial of both equal protection and freedom of religion to an American citizen in good standing. Now where is the riot? Where are the marches and demonstrations? Where are the legions of mocking and bloviating radio personalities and swiftboat crewmen? Why are Hannity and Prager and all the other dogs of Fox not in Guantanamo?

Dennis Prager hates America. Fox News and its billionaire media tycoon owner hate America and are spending billions to try to overthrow the rule of law and replace it with mob rule and fundamentalist theocracy. Where is the protest?

If you are unable to accept the legitimacy of the U.S. constitution, says Captain Fogg, and must resort to creating fear in this country in order to promote your attack on the Constitution and the republic for which it stands, then you and Fox News and Rupert Murdoch (for whom it stands) are terrorist insurgents. Perhaps you’d like to reconsider your stance on torture, habeas corpus, and special renditions?

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Bush is the new Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Johnson, Harding, Coolidge, and Nixon

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Or worse.

As distinguished historian Eric Foner writes in the Post:

He has sought to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the Magna Carta in Anglo-American jurisprudence: trial by impartial jury, access to lawyers and knowledge of evidence against them. In dozens of statements when signing legislation, he has asserted the right to ignore the parts of laws with which he disagrees. His administration has adopted policies regarding the treatment of prisoners of war that have disgraced the nation and alienated virtually the entire world. Usually, during wartime, the Supreme Court has refrained from passing judgment on presidential actions related to national defense. The court's unprecedented rebukes of Bush's policies on detainees indicate how far the administration has strayed from the rule of law.

Historians are loath to predict the future. It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.

And, indeed, perhaps he is. I am not about to disagree. (There's so much that Foner leaves out, after all, like plutocratic tax cuts, negligence on global warming, irresponsible industry deregulation, etc. Plus, Bush has been an embarrassment on so many levels that he has surely degraded the very institution of the presidency.)

For more, see The (liberal) Girl Next Door here and J. Kingston Pierce here.


Also in the Post, Douglas Brinkley, another distinguished historian, writes that Bush is the new Hoover: "Though Bush may be viewed as a laughingstock, he won't have the zero-integrity factors that have kept Nixon and Harding at the bottom in the presidential sweepstakes... He has joined Hoover as a case study on how not to be president."

I recommend both pieces.

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Reality according to the Saudis (revisited)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A few days ago, as I posted here, an advisor to the Saudi government, Nawaf Obaid, wrote in The Washington Post that Saudi Arabia would intervene "to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis" if the U.S. left Iraq.

But "Saudi Arabia said there was no truth in an article by a Saudi security adviser suggesting the kingdom would back Iraq's Sunnis in the event of a wider sectarian conflict," according to Gulfnews, which also quotes an "official source" as saying that Obaid "does not represent any official body in Saudi Arabia. What he published only represents his personal opinion and does not in any manner at all represent the policy or positions of the kingdom."

Which could just be spin, of course. Obaid's "opinion" may be more "official" than the Saudis want us to believe. Or perhaps not. Regardless, we'll likely find out when the U.S. withdraws from Iraq and the ongoing sectarian slaughter, not to mention Iran's involvement in Iraq in support of the Shiites, tempts the Saudis to act.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XXIV

By Michael J.W. Stickings

More of the same:

More than 50 people have been killed in three car bomb blasts in the centre of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, police say.

At least 90 were wounded when the cars exploded in quick succession in a busy shopping area of the city.

It just goes on and on. And Maliki's recent guarantee that Iraqi forces would be ready by mid-2007 hardly inspires much in the way of confidence. Even if he's right, which he likely isn't, there's no way these Iraqi forces -- whatever that even means, given the sectarianism of those forces -- would be able to control, let alone curb, this violence.

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