Saturday, December 23, 2006

The U.N. votes to sanction Iran

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Following a similar effort a couple of months ago to try to curb the development of North Korea's nuclear program, the United Nations has finally turned its full attention to Iran:

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to impose economic sanctions on Iran for refusing to end a uranium enrichment program that the United States says is aimed at building nuclear weapons.

Iran immediately rejected the resolution.

The result of two months of negotiation, the resolution orders all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs. It also would freeze Iranian assets of key companies and individuals related to those programs.

If Iran refuses to comply, the resolution warns Iran that the council will adopt further nonmilitary sanctions.

And then what? Although I would likely oppose a U.S. strike on Iran -- and have argued against it here, here, and here -- I'm not sure how successful such "nonmilitary sanctions" would be in the long run, particularly with Russia's unwillingness to support U.S.-led efforts at the U.N.

Which isn't an argument for war as the only remaining option, just skepticism. Then again, if Bush hadn't squandered American credibility and leadership, perhaps a diplomatic solution would be more likely than it seems to be now.

This is a good step by the U.N., but it must be followed with ever more vigorous diplomacy and, ultimately, compromise. What does Iran want? What would it take for Iran to halt its nuclear program? Those are the questions that ought to form the basis of substantive talks with Tehran. Such talks might go nowhere, and there might be no suitable compromise, but the effort should at least be made.

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The Green Governator

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've written before on Arnold Schwarzenegger's impressive environmental record -- see here, here, and here -- but I must admit I'm pleasantly surprised by just how progressive he's proven to be in Sacramento. And there's more yet to come:

Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the type of guy you would necessarily associate with tree hugging. When he bought a Hummer in the early 1990s, it kicked off a nationwide craze for the gas-guzzling behemoths. His lighter-fluid-dowsed action flicks and protein-packed chest bespoke more of American excess than environmentalism, more violence than vegan.

But as governor of California, Schwarzenegger has engaged in a savvy makeover, befitting a Hollywood star. He retooled one of his four Hummers to run on alternative fuels and is quickly fashioning himself into one of the most aggressively pro-environment governors in a state known for leading the nation on that issue.

This year he signed the nation's first environmental law of its kind, committing the state to lowering its greenhouse gas production to 1990 levels by 2020 and setting up an international program that provides manufacturers with incentives to lower carbon emissions, which is supposed to begin by 2012. He has vowed to fight any attempt to drill for oil off California's coast.

And now Schwarzenegger, a Republican, wants to use his star power to turn global warming into an issue in the 2008 presidential election. "There is a whole new movement because of the change of people sent to Washington," Schwarzenegger said in an interview this week, referring to the Democratic Party's impending takeover of Congress. "We want to put the spotlight on this issue in America. It has to become a debate in the presidential election. It has to become an issue."

All of us who care about the environment and who worry about global warming and climate change more broadly should applaud his efforts and would do well to support him. The environment must not just be "an issue" but a leading -- if not the leading -- policy priority going forward.

If anyone can do it, Schwarzenegger can.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XXVIII

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The WaPo: "Five more American service members have been killed in Iraq, the U.S. military reported Friday, in what is shaping up to be one of the deadliest months for U.S. forces this year."

Just thought I'd mention it.

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Digging a deeper hole

By Creature

Let the escalation begin.

Top U.S. military commanders in Iraq have decided to recommend a "surge" of fresh American combat forces, eliminating one of the last remaining hurdles to proposals being considered by President Bush for a troop increase, a defense official familiar with the plan said Friday.

The president now has the military cover he so desperately needs. Did anybody really believe it would turn out different? Sigh.

The Los Angeles Times has more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The fright before Christmas

By Capt. Fogg

The Christmas bombing of 1972:
James Carroll wrote about it for the Boston Globe back in 2002. People my age don’t need to read about it. We remember being called traitors for our disgust with a massive anti-civilian act of unbridled terrorism:

American pilots flew nearly 4,000 sorties, including more than 700 by high-flying B-52s. Those "area bombers," incapable of precision, had never been used against cities before. That they were used now was a sure sign that this was terror bombing pure and simple... Everyone could see that the bombing was a final venting of frustration and rage by a superpower faced with ignominious defeat.

Carroll's point though, is not to point out the massive brutality this country can dish out without questioning its morality or that patriotism can be used to glorify murder most foul, but that years of war and flag waving and supporting the troops and making Americans with a conscience the scapegoat for our relentless defeat, the moral sensibilities of our leaders had declined to the level of panic and animal viciousness. Anything to win – anything at all:

Those who ordered and carried out the brutal attacks against population centers at the end of the Vietnam War would never have done so at the beginning. What Nixon commanded in 1972 he would have condemned in 1969... The war transformed America's moral sensibility; the war deadened it.

As Christmas approaches once again and as the Pentagon apparently plans to move additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region to join the carrier Eisenhower in striking range of Iran, is it silly to make comparisons? Bush insists that Iran prove it has no nuclear weapons program, just as he demanded of Saddam. Bush would love to make that bit of idiocy seem rational and honest. Is he planning to attack Iran to prove in his twisted way that it was reasonable to attack Iraq? Has providing some kind of victory -- any kind of victory -- become a plan to save face and provide some sort of ghastly “legacy?”

It’s not the sort of thing to bring visions of sugar plums to my slumbering brain in the days before Christmas.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

"I believe that we're going to win"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Not good enough, Mr. President. As always.

And, no, you're not covering the spread. Not even close.

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A tale of two headlines

By Creature

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino came out today to remind the press that it was their duty to print a positive story* about the all the work the president will be doing over the holidays. There will be meetings, there will be mulling, but there won't be any decided.

Bush plans to meet with the National Security Council on Thursday for "further consultations" about Iraq, said Perino.

"I would not consider that to be a decisional meeting," she said.

As the president mulls, people die. What a mess this presidency has become. Train. Wreck.

*though this Reuters reporter did manage to end his/her "hard work" story on a liberal pleasing note:

But as his helicopter landed in a field near the medical center, a house across the street displayed signs saying, "Bush lied, Innocents died" and "Peace on Earth."

Peace on Earth, indeed.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Pee in my pants frightening

By Creature

Yesterday the Pentagon confirmed the rumors.

The United States and Britain will begin moving additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region in a display of military resolve toward Iran that will come as the United Nations continues to debate possible sanctions against the country, Pentagon and military officials said Wednesday. [...]

Senior American officers said the increase in naval power should not be viewed as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran. But they acknowledged that the ability to hit Iran would be increased and that Iranian leaders might well call the growing presence provocative.

The problem with sending belligerent signals to Iran is that as the rhetoric gets more heated, as the brink comes rushing fast, George W. Bush has proven he is willing to take the United States right up to the line and then cross over. If Bush starts threatening Iran you can be sure he will follow through, broken army or not, and that is just terrifying. Pee in my pants frightening. What ever the administration's agenda (most likely oil), what ever the stated excuse (a generational battle between extremists and moderates, wev), the elections have passed and the administration is ready to follow through on the rest of their Middle East destabilizing neo-con plan. This story should be front page news.

The New York Times and Glenn Greenwald have more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The immaculate conceiver

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's Flora, an eight-year old Komodo dragon (think The Freshman) at the Chester Zoo in England. She's pregnant:

Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora's virginal conception, and that of another Komodo dragon earlier this year at the London Zoo, are the first documentations in a Komodo dragon...

Parthenogenesis is a process in which eggs become embryos without male fertilization. It has been seen in about 70 species, including snakes and lizards. Scientists are unsure whether female Komodo dragons have always had this latent ability to reproduce or if this is a new evolutionary development.

It's a fascinating story. Best wishes, Flora.

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Why more troops wouldn't be the answer in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In our must-read of the day, Slate's Fred Kaplan examines the latest Iraq troop increase proposal making the rounds in Washington, this time from the misguided mind of the AEI's Frederick Kagan:

It proposes "surging" 20,000 extra troops to secure Baghdad as a necessary and sufficient first step to securing and rebuilding the whole country.

It's being taken very seriously in White House and congressional quarters. I don't understand why, because it's not really a serious study. Numbers are grabbed out of thin air. Crucial points are asserted, not argued. Assumptions are based on crossed fingers, not evidence or analysis.

Imaginary numbers? Assertions and assumptions? No evidence or analysis? No wonder the warmongers like it. That's exactly how they've waged this disastrous war all along. Kagan's proposal fits in perfectly with everything that's come before it.

Make sure to read the whole piece.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Yabba dabba doo

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As many of you know, I'm sure, Joseph Barbera (of Hanna-Barbera animation fame) died earlier this week at the age of 95. (Here's the BBC's obituary.)

His triumph? The Flintstones, my favourite show when I was a kid, even in reruns long after it went off the air. It was a brilliant commentary on American life, well ahead of its time. (See the Wikipedia entry here.)

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Will there be a terrorist attack in London?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The British seem to think so:

British intelligence and law enforcement officials have passed on a grim assessment to their U.S. counterparts, "It will be a miracle if there isn't a terror attack over the holidays in London," a senior American law enforcement official tells

British police have been quietly carrying out a series of key arrests as they continue to track at least six active "plots" tied to what they call "al Qaeda of England."

Officials said they could not cite any specific date or target but said al Qaeda had planned previous operations during the Christmas holidays that had been disrupted.

"It is not a matter of if there will be an attack, but how bad the attack will be," an intelligence official told

Authorities say they are seeking at least 18 suspected suicide bombers.

There may, of course, be something to this. And one doesn't want to underestimate the terrorist threat. But could this be an overhyped threat? And why be so dramatic about it?

And that's the problem. Given how recklessly both the U.S. and the U.K. -- or, rather, Bush and Blair -- have politicized their "war on terror" for the sake of personal and partisan gain, who knows what, or whom, to believe anymore?

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By Capt. Fogg

I’m still waiting for a couple of things I heard many times as a child – well one actually. The first was that the sun always shines on Easter, which of course is true, given enough altitude. Just ask the guys on the International Space Station. The other is that there are miracles on Christmas. Of course, it’s a cynical quest. A miracle has to be something that can’t happen but does happen, and to my way of thinking, if it happens, it can’t be a miracle. Most people, though, are satisfied with much less in their miracles: a water stain on a wall, a burn pattern on a grilled cheese sandwich, someone who was sick got better despite some doctor’s prognosis. As Christmas approaches, we search for these justifications for our idiocy.

I don’t know if someone somewhere doesn’t have a vast database of disasters plotted against the calendar, but I would be willing to bet that the odds are about the same on Christmas as any day of the year for floods, landslides, earthquakes, fires, famines, and pestilences. It may be a holiday for most Americans, but not for Death. Taking a quick break from supervising my holiday house guests today, I see that the news is still full of grief and horror and sadness and misery and death as has the world been down all the thousands of generations, but I’m sure that someone will ferret out a miracle from the endless stories of the ferret eating the baby’s toes or the infant run through the airport X-ray machine. People will be blown to bits today, people will starve and die in agony in gutters. Life with its concomitant horrors will go on as it always has and without interruption.

Still, we will have our miracles to clutch at in this cold and uncaring universe, to give a sense of meaning to lives that mean anything only to us as we sink into the inevitable grief and sorrow and suffering and an eternity of oblivion as the universe stretches out into an infinite and meaningless immensity.

Happy Holidays.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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How convenient

By Creature

With all the talk lately about a conflict between the president and his top military brass over escalating the number of troops currently in Iraq, today we conveniently get these two wire stories to help the president's side of the escalation argument along. Like Bush's political campaigns, where rooms are filled with like-minded people, if these soldiers were cherry picked and used as spin fodder for these headlines then the White House has sunk to an all new low.

No soldier present said U.S. forces should be brought home, and none said current troop levels were adequate, as some commanders have argued.

Amazing. Not one dissenting opinion.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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A rhetorical caveat

By Creature

Did Bush blink?

Apart from any increase in Iraq, Bush said the military's overall size should be increased to relieve the heavy strain on U.S. troops, reversing the previous position of his administration during Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon tenure. Bush also said a troop surge in Iraq would have to be for a specific mission.

His remarks appeared intended to address doubts voiced by prominent military officials who worry that sending more troops to Iraq would be ineffective and put more demands on an already-stretched U.S. military.

"There's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops before, you know, I agree on that strategy," the president said. [emphasis me]

So we have a caveat. The same caveat we have heard from the Pentagon brass. Does this mean Bush has turned away from the idea of a "surge" in troops? On last night's Hardball, Chris Matthews seemed to think so. He latched onto Bush's caveat as clear proof that the president is backing down from the surge idea. So, now we are all supposed to take a deep breath and sit back, secure in the knowledge that the president has stepped away from the neo-con cliff. If only we could trust what the president says. How long before the president announces that he has looked into the eyes of his new defense secretary and has been assured that there is a "specific mission that can be accomplished" and he is ready to agree on the new escalation strategy? It's only a matter of time, but in the meantime we'll be fed a steady diet of the "reasonable president" rhetorical spin.

The WaPo has more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Unrest among Iranian students

By Heraclitus

Here's a story from the BBC about a wave of student protests against the current hard-line government dominated by clerics and other religious conservatives. More generally, the article details some of the attempts by the Iranian government to control speech and thought at Iranian universities by banning student groups and newspapers, intimidating students, and forcing professors into retirement. The students are referring to these as purges.

Iranian students say there is a second cultural revolution under way in the universities with scores of professors forcibly retired and politically active students being threatened with expulsion.

Student anger exploded with an unprecedented show of defiance when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went to Tehran's Amir Kabir University on 12 December.

Pictures shot on a mobile phone showed angry students chanting against the president, accusing him f being a fascist and a puppet of the hardliners.

They held portraits of Mr Ahmadinejad upside down to mock him and then set them on fire.

The day before the president visited, the university was in turmoil with students shouting "Death to the dictator".

Iranian television only showed a few seconds of the disturbance. Later Mr Ahmadinejad put a brave face on it saying the protest showed there was freedom of speech in Iran compared to his tudent days under the Shah.


It was the president who appointed a cleric for the first time since the revolution to head Tehran University -- he country's most political and prestigious university.

Mr Ahmadinejad told journalists the chancellor should be friendly with the students, moving among them and visiting their dormitories --otherwise he should give up his job to someone else.

The first time the new chancellor entered the university, students protested by knocking off his turban - a sign of extreme disrespect for a cleric.


Students complain the international community is not paying enough attention to the worsening human rights situation in Iran because of the obsession with the nuclear issue.

"The Islamic Republic has managed to focus the international community's attention on Iran's nuclear case and the possibility of an Israeli attack. That has diverted attention from the human rights situation in Iran," says Mr Nesbati.

He believes it is possible that one day Iranian officials will solve the nuclear crisis but "in the mean time they will have crushed all their internal critics".

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The ISG aftermath

By Creature

Politically speaking, can't it be said the White House's reaction to the Iraq Study Group's report has been a complete and utter failure? They chose to embraced the "new way forward" slogan and go out on an elaborate listening tour, all the while knowing that they would continue to stay the course just under a new and bolder name. But in opening up the decision making process they have opened up a can of worms: leaks, delays, back-stabbing, public support in the toilet, a shaken and defensive "I will not be rushed" president, Tony Snow having to defend the process, and the president, day after day after day. Not the smoothest sailing for the boys at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but then again, politically speaking, these folks -- Karl Rove -- have been off their political game for a while now.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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"We're not winning, we're not losing"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Sure, Mr. President. That's the latest spin, I understand, and it beats the "we're winning" nonsense that you spewed before the midterms, but only your most delusional supporters believe you now. I think I'll take Powell's word over yours. Of course, your spin raises the question of the meanings of "winning" and "losing," but you can't possibly convince me that the meanings of "winning" and "losing," as well as the line between the two, are what you imagined them to be back when you were rushing to war and then celebrating mission accomplished. How can being stuck in a quagmire not be losing?

Regardless, I hear that you want to expand the size of the military for the sake of the Iraq War and that nebulous war on terror. I am tempted to make some obvious quip about the matter of size, but I'll restrain myself. Besides, whatever the size, it's what you do with it, right? And look what you've done with it. Would more make any difference? Not, I'm afraid, with you deciding when and where to shove it in.

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War criminals for McCain

By Michael J.W. Stickings

John McCain has tapped Henry Kissinger to be the honorary co-chair of his presidential campaign in New York. Which should win him the war criminal vote for sure.

No wonder, as Jonathan Singer is reporting at MyDD, McCain is losing independents. According to a recent poll, Hillary would beat him 50 to 43.

For more, see Think Progress.

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Bigotry in the blogosphere: Barack Obama and the anti-Muslim paranoia of the right

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Debbie Schlussel is one of the leading bigots of the right-wing blogosphere, so much so that she should be an embarrassment to the thoughtful and sensible conservatives (Ed Morrissey, James Joyner, Steven Taylor, Stephen Bainbridge, Sister Toldjah, etc.) who inhabit that region of our medium.

What is her problem now? Barack Obama's middle name, which happens to be Hussein, and his familial ties to Islam:

[W]hile Obama may not identify as a Muslim, that's not how the Arab and Muslim Streets see it. In Arab culture and under Islamic law, if your father is a Muslim, so are you. And once a Muslim, always a Muslim. You cannot go back. In Islamic eyes, Obama is certainly a Muslim. He may think he's a Christian, but they do not.

So, even if he identifies strongly as a Christian, and even if he despised the behavior of his father (as Obama said on Oprah); is a man who Muslims think is a Muslim, who feels some sort of psychological need to prove himself to his absent Muslim father, and who is now moving in the direction of his father's heritage, a man we want as President when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?

Astonishing. He may think he's a Christian? What is that supposed to mean? That, no matter his beliefs, he isn't a Christian because his father was Muslim? Schlussel isn't just a bigot, she's a fucking idiot.

What this is really about is Schlussel's paranoid hatred of Muslims, a hatred presumably shared by many others on the right. She doesn't want Obama to be anywhere near the presidency not just because of his middle name and his familiar ties to Islam -- and her attempts at psychological analysis are truly pathetic -- but because she evidently thinks that all Muslims are terrorists who cannot possibly be loyal to America. She claims, after all, that "we" are fighting a war not just against Islamofascists or jihadists or whatever else they may be called but against Islam, against the entire religion.

To be fair to Morrissey et al., I realize that thoughtful and sensible conservatives do not hold this view. And Bush and the warmongers don't hold it either. However much I may disagree with the president on policy, I commend him for stressing that the war on terror is not a war against Islam but a war against a certain renegade element of Islam that is waging war not just against the West, including Israel, but against the majority of its own religion.

But bigots like Schlussel didn't get the message. Their hatred runs deep. Thoughtful and sensible conservatives would do well to distance themselves from them as much as possible lest they be tainted by their bigotry.


UPDATE: And I notice that many of them are. See, for example, this excellent post by Baldilocks. She calls it what it is: bigotry.

And see also Media Matters: "Schlussel's column fits into a larger pattern in the recent media coverage and commentary regarding Obama."

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Reid's prudent clarification

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A couple of days ago, I discussed incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's risky strategy of supporting a temporary troop increase in Iraq in return for the withdrawal the bulk of U.S. forces by 2008 -- that is, of supporting Bush in return for reciprocal support thereafter.

I didn't buy it. Bush has done nothing to earn our trust. Why support him now on something as ludicrously stupid as a troop increase?

Well, Reid has issued a clarification of his position at The Huffington Post, and his clarified position does not include support for a troop increase: "Frankly, I don't believe that more troops is the answer for Iraq. It's a civil war and America should not be policing a Sunni-Shia conflict. In addition, we don't have the additional forces to put in there. We obviously want to support what commanders in the field say they need, but apparently even the Joint Chiefs do not support increased combat forces for Baghdad."

And Reid is clearer than ever on what needs to happen now:

1. I believe we should start redeploying troops in 4 to 6 months (The Levin-Reed Plan) and complete the withdrawal of combat forces by the first quarter of 2008. (As laid out by the Iraq Study Group)

2. The President must understand that there can only be a political solution in Iraq, and he must end our nation's open-ended military commitment to that country.

3. These priorities need to be coupled with a renewed diplomatic effort and regional strategy.

Reid needs to bring this sort of clarity to the Senate. And Democrats shouldn't think that they'll ever reach a suitable compromise with Bush. They won't. Which is why clarity must be coupled with conviction.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

By Heraclitus

Here's the setup: a week or so ago, Conan O'Brien ad-libbed a line about "" Apparently, there's a rule (at least at NBC) that if you mention the name of a website that doesn't exist on-air, NBC has to by the domain name. So they bought "" and have been developing it. Check it out. It's received literally millions of hits in the week or so that it's been in existence. It starts out with a tour that is a parody of a porn site, then takes you to a page with video clips of the original mention of "" and the ongoing sage, including James Lipton, of "Inside the Actor's Studio" fame, reading poems sent in by viewers and dancing with the original web-cam manatee. There are also pages and pages of fan art. If you haven't heard about this, it's worth looking at; much of it is quite funny. Is it safe for work? Who the hell knows?

(And I hope Michael won't delete this post.)

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Gunboat diplomacy

By Creature

A few weeks back ABC News reported that as part of our "new way forward" in Iraq the president and the pentagon were considering "taking steps to curb Iranian interference in Iraq." Today, despite all the talk about The Decider not yet deciding a thing, there are plans for a new way forward. This nugget from NBC News:

The U.S. Central Command is aggressively planning a naval buildup in the Persian Gulf, including the addition of a second aircraft carrier, in response to a series of aggressive actions by Iran, U.S. military officials told NBC News on Tuesday.

The officials pointed to Iran's interference in Iraq — including its support for Shiite militants and shipments of improvised explosive devices into the country — recent military naval exercises in the Gulf, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The attempt at "gunboat diplomacy" is in its final planning stages. Although it has not been approved yet, it appears likely the increase in U.S. warships into the Gulf could come as early as January, the officials said.

Don't be fooled. The president has already decided. To George Bush "a change in Iraq" means a new, even bigger, war.

Read more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Juxtapositional contrasts

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A rather odd picture from the BBC. Yes, those are children in Santa Claus costumes riding a camel. Yes, that's the Taj Mahal in the background. Go figure. Happy Holidays!

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Hillary's purgatory

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So Hillary Clinton now says she "wouldn't have voted that way" -- authorizing Bush to use force against Iraq in 2002 -- if "we knew then what we know now".

Satisfied? Me neither.

Pam Spaulding calls this Hillary's "sorry-ass strategy". And Will Bunch finds that what Hillary won't "do is what some of her Democratic White House rivals have done: Admit that her vote was a mistake, and admit it in the clearest language possible."

The obvious contrast here, as Will rightly notes, is John Edwards, who admitted in a prominent Washington Post op-ed in November 2005 that he had been "wrong" to vote for war: "The world desperately needs moral leadership from America, and the foundation for moral leadership is telling the truth." Bush and the warmongers weren't telling the truth, but 27 Democratic senators, including Edwards, Kerry, and Clinton voted for what has become a mistake of horrific proportions. While Edwards and Kerry have taken responsibility for their mistake, Clinton remains stuck in a typically Clintonian state of purgatorial triangulation where she wants to have it all ways but where nothing really means anything and where what appears to be political calculation is really nothing but a mask for cowardice.

Clinton may change her ways and come clean, but would that matter?

We have Edwards.

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Losing, losing, lost

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He was wrong to side with Bush and the warmongers and his case for war at the U.N. continues to live in infamy, but give Colin Powell credit for saying the right things now, finally:

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the United States is losing what he described as a "civil war" in Iraq and that he is not persuaded that an increase in U.S. troops there would reverse the situation. Instead, he called for a new strategy that would relinquish responsibility for Iraqi security to the government in Baghdad sooner rather than later, with a U.S. drawdown to begin by the middle of next year.

Not that Bush will listen to him or anything. But still.


Meanwhile, the Pentagon is acknowledging that the situation in Iraq is getting worse for the U.S.:

The Pentagon said yesterday that violence in Iraq soared this fall to its highest level on record and acknowledged that anti-U.S. fighters have achieved a "strategic success" by unleashing a spiral of sectarian killings by Sunni and Shiite death squads that threatens Iraq's political institutions.

In its most pessimistic report yet on progress in Iraq, the Pentagon described a nation listing toward civil war, with violence at record highs of 959 attacks per week, declining public confidence in government and "little progress" toward political reconciliation...

The rapid spread of violence this year has thrown the government's future into jeopardy, Pentagon officials said.

Not that Bush will pay much attention to this or anything. But still.

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Delusions of victory

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There was a brilliant column by Joseph Galloway in yesterday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Make sure to read the whole thing, but here's a taste:

The power brokers in Washington carefully arranged fig leaves and tasteful screens to cover the emperor's nakedness while he was busy pretending to listen hard to everyone with an opinion about Iraq while hearing nothing.

Sometime early in the new year, President Bush will go on national television to tell a disgruntled American public what he has decided should be done to salvage "victory" from the jaws of certain defeat in the war he started.

The word on the street, or in the Pentagon rings, is that he'll choose to beef up American forces on the ground in Iraq by 20,000 to 30,000 troops by various sleight-of-hand maneuvers -- extending the combat tours of soldiers and Marines who are nearing an end to their second or third year in hell and accelerating the shipment of others into that hell -- and send them into the bloody streets of Baghdad...

This hardly amounts to a "new way forward," unless that definition includes a new path deeper into the quicksand of a tribal and religious civil war in which whatever Bush eventually decides is already inadequate and immaterial.

And that's because the Iraq War -- Bush's war -- has already been lost.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Already has

By Creature

"Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come." -- newly sworn in U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates staying on script at a ceremony at the Pentagon. [emphasis mine]

I may not know much, but this I do know: Iraq is already a calamity, that is already haunting our nation, that has already destroyed our credibility and has clearly inspired enough new terrorists to endanger Americans for decades to come.

Failure in Iraq has already occurred, today is about mitigating the damage already done.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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A few words on some possible uses of blogging

By Heraclitus

Okay, I had hoped to work these comments by Tocqueville into a more original post than what I'm about to write, but it appears it is not to be. Besides, a few weeks ago questions about the purpose of blogging and what it's accomplished were making the blogular rounds, so maybe some of these points bear repeating (for more see here and here).

Let's start by taking a look at Alexis de Tocqueville on the role of newspapers in America.

When men are no longer bound among themselves in a solid and permanent manner [as they were in aristocracies, and especially the French ancien régime], one cannot get many to act in common except by persuading each of them whose cooperation is necessary that his particular interest obliges him voluntarily to unite his efforts with the efforts of all the others.

This discussion of newspapers takes place in Tocqueville's larger discussion of individualism and the need for associations, political and otherwise, in modern democracies. The very inequalities that define an aristocracy bind people together in immutable relationships of dependence, and the permanence of people's respective stations made those bonds all the more secure. In democracies, by contrast, all are equal, but all are also therefore isolated and shorn of any necessary connection to others in the larger society. Thus associations are necessary to draw people out of themselves, to create the kind of social connections that the essential features of democracy work to retard or eradicate. Modern democracy, which requires the people to govern themselves, thus relies on civil associations and social bonds to survive, but also makes these things more difficult to create.

Thus newspapers, according to Tocqueville, have an even more important role to play than disseminating information. Or, to put this point somewhat differently, both detractors and defenders of the MSM seem to agree that it presents a fairly uniform version of reality or of political events. Tocqueville, however, sees the real importance of newspapers as being less a matter of giving people a shared view of political life or of authoritatively announcing the truth behind or within current events and more a matter of facilitating communication and common action. But this communication and common action can and should be taking place among a variety of heterogeneous groups (the view of our MSM overlords that there should be one homogenous version of political reality is obviously a bad one, or at least it seems to me obviously bad). Thus whether or not those uniting get things "right" is less important than they fact that they are uniting, and thus keeping themselves from falling into an atomized sloth slouching its way towards the end of democracy (a little melodramatic, but you see what I'm saying).

I shall not deny that in democratic countries newspapers often bring citizens to make very inconsiderate undertakings in common; but if there were no newspapers, there would almost never be common action. The ill they produce is therefore much less than the one they cure.

A newspaper not only has the effect of suggesting the same design to many men; it furnishes them the means of executing in common the designs they themselves had already conceived...

It often happens in democratic countries...that many men who have the desire or the need to associate cannot do it, because all being very small and lost in the crowd, they do not see each other and do not know where to find each other. Up comes a newspaper that exposes to their view the sentiment or the idea that had been presented to each of them simultaneously but separately. All are immediately directed toward that light, and those wandering spirits who had long sought each other in the shadows finally meet each other and unite.

The newspaper has brought them near, and it continues to be necessary to them to keep them together.

In order that an association in a democratic people have some power, it must be numerous. Those who compose it are therefore dispersed over a great space, and each of them is kept in the place he inhabits by the mediocrity of his fortune and by the multitude of little cares that it requires. They must find a means of speaking to each other every day without seeing each other and of moving in accord without being united. Thus there is scarcely a democratic association that can do without a newspaper.

I think it's obvious at once how blogs, especially with comments, can perform these functions or tasks even better than newspapers. I assume that the point of this discussion and how it bears on the goodness or relevance of blogs in obvious.

Of course, there are some strange or uncomfortable features of Tocqueville's analysis. He seems to take it for granted that most associations, and hence most newspapers, are expressions of what looks like a hive mind. Indeed, the high-flown and self-serving conception most journalists have of themselves as seeking something called "truth" seems completely out of place in Tocqueville's handling of their profession. The good that newspapers and blogs do is simply getting people to speak to and act with one another; Tocqueville doesn't seem to hold out very high hopes about the content of what you'll find in the average newspaper, or about its relation to the truth. I think this is mostly, well, true, both of newspapers and of blogs, although there are inevitably exceptions. Though on occasion there shines forth a hipster meanie who is extraordinarily insightful and original (much more so, in this case, than anyone writing for a newspaper), for the most part, the good that blogs do consists in igniting and fueling group action, not revolutionizing the way that people think.

This post is already long enough, and although there's surely more to say about this last point, I want to finish with the bashing of the MSM that any bloggist's (I'm taking this word from James Lileks, though I can't find the post where he originally proposed it) description of his medium must include at some point. Rather than ask what blogs have accomplished, it might be better to ask what the MSM has accomplished these past six years. Take, for instance, the indescribably execrable New York Times, which, after spinning the invasion of Iraq harder than Fox News and The Weekly Standard combined, has decided to devote itself to fellating the most retrograde government in Israel's history. Readers of this blog know the greatest hits of the Bush administration, but it suffices to recall the press's handling of the invasion of Iraq, secret prisons, and the current mystery about exactly what "techniques" are being used on prisoners at Gitmo to see the worthlessness of our current press. Somehow or other the MSM has come to regard itself as the gatekeeper to "reality," when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. They are, in fact, rather like the representatives of "the free and liberal press" in Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, who loudly boast of their nobility and defiance of authority, but who in reality are more quickly and easily bought out than the petty bourgeosie who runs the actual printing press. This example, it seems to me, is enough to vindicate Tocqueville's conception of what a healthy press will look like in a modern democracy, and the role of blogs in realizing that conception.

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Reid's risky strategy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I was not initially amused to read over the weekend that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "offered qualified support Sunday for a plan to increase U.S. troops in Iraq," according to the AP. After all, it's one thing for Silvestre Reyes to come out in favour of an increase, quite another for the Senate's top Democrat to do so. But Reid does not support an increase just for the sake of an increase, that is, for an unqualified increase, which is what differentiates his position from, say, John McCain's. For Reid, an increase "would be acceptable as part of a broader strategy to bring combat forces home by 2008".

Over at State of the Day, our co-blogger Creature refuses to give Reid "the benefit of the doubt," and he might well be right to remain suspicious of Reid's true intent: "It's exactly how the Democrats capitulated in '02 and allowed this insane war to move forward in the first place. Give Bush & Cheney an inch and they will take a mile. They will escalate now and they will escalate again tomorrow. They will escalate until their term is up."

But I wonder. Perhaps AMERICAblog's John Aravosis is right:

At first I was a bit concerned that Reid was endorsing John McCain's plan to increase troop levels by tens of thousands. More troops is not the answer. And letting McCain off the hook by endorsing his plan wouldn't strike me as wise. But, Reid may not be endorsing McCain's plan at all. He may be forcing Bush and McCain to endorse his.

Reid may be using the troop increase as a backdoor way of getting a firm commitment to end our combat engagement in Iraq by 2008. By giving our commanders on the ground what they want -- if in fact they want more troops -- Reid and the Democrats are seen as supporting our commanders rather than undercutting the war effort, and ultimately being blamed by the Republicans for losing the war. But at the same time, Reid is giving our generals, and our commander in chief, one last change to fix things. And if they don't, we're out of there -- the public will know that Bush has lost this war, Harry Reid gave him a fair shot, and it was the Democrats that finally got our troops home safely.

If this is indeed Reid's strategy, it's a risky one. It could help Democrats to look tough now, but looking tough means giving Bush and the warmongers, including McCain, what they want. And what if, down the road, a troop increase is disconnected from withdrawal? That is, what if withdrawal doesn't follow a troop increase? Then we're right back in 2002, when Democrats signed off on Bush's militaristic intentions with respect to Iraq. Democrats supported the president, Republicans have been able to say, most notably in 2004, when John Kerry's opposition to the war was overshadowed to some extent by his initial support for the war. Would not Republicans say the same thing now if Democrats were to sign off on a troop increase? Reid may want to tie support for an increase to a guarantee on withdrawal, but why should anyone trust Bush to follow through on such a quid pro quo? He has hardly done anything to earn such trust.

Which brings me back to Creature's point. Give 'em an inch...

Reid seems to be willing to take the risk. Perhaps other Democrats are, too. Have they learned nothing? Or, having learned from the past, from what happened in 2002, do they know what they're getting themselves into?

If this strategy is pursued -- and I am hesitant to say that it ought to be, but perhaps it ought to be considered further -- it must be done so with the utmost caution and without a firm commitment yet. Democrats must have an exit strategy from such a risky strategy. It is the only way to protect themselves from another Republican trap.

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Newt Gingrich is a dangerous idiot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It wasn't so long ago that conservatives were all for free speech, particularly on university campuses, where they opposed p.c. speech codes. (At Tufts in the early- to mid-'90s, during the culture wars, I was with them on this, and, indeed, with my weekly political column in The Tufts Daily I was one of the major voices on campus against any such attempts to regulate speech.)

But things are different now. Times have changed. It's 9/11, stupid. In the shadow of those attacks, it's all about terrorism, or rather about the Republican exploitation of the fear of terrorism for partisan gain.

It's the GOP's Culture of Fear.

And so we have Newt Gingrich in New Hampshire attacking the "ACLU left" and defending curbs on free speech. And playing shamelessly on Americans' fears, the very fears stoked by Republican exploitation.

And it gets worse: "If you give me any signal in the age of terrorism that you're a terrorist, I'd say the burden of proof was on you," he said in an interview. Which is a deeply un-American view that once more reflects exploitation.

Steven Taylor responds: "Ok, so not only does he want to do away with speech that he doesn't like, he wants to toss out the bedrock foundation of our criminal justice system, which is predicated on the notion that suspects are innocent until proven guilty."

(Blue Girl has an excellent post on Gingrich here.)

And this isn't just Gingrich saying stupid things as he eyes '08. The views he holds are very much the views of the post-9/11 Republican Party and its conservative allies.

Be vigilant, my American friends. They'll take your rights away if they can.

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Laura's lament

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So Laura Bush would like to see more "positive" news coming out of Iraq, eh?

Well, boo-friggin'-hoo.

Iraq is what it is, and largely because of her incompetent husband, whether the First Lady likes it or not.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

More on Pinochet and Darfur

By Heraclitus

For more on the supposed economic miracle worked by Pinochet (again I say, may he rot in hell), see
this excellent post by Greg Palast (via Kai Chang -- and for some reason the permalink won't load on my computer, so I'm just linking to his main page). Some high points:

The claim that General Pinochet begat an economic powerhouse was one of those utterances whose truth rested entirely on its repetition.

Chile could boast some economic success. But that was the work of Salvador Allende -- who saved his nation, miraculously, a decade after his death.

In 1973, the year General Pinochet brutally seized the government, Chile’s unemployment rate was 4.3%. In 1983, after ten years of free-market modernization, unemployment reached 22%. Real wages declined by 40% under military rule.

In 1970, 20% of Chile’s population lived in poverty. By 1990, the year “President” Pinochet left office, the number of destitute had doubled to 40%. Quite a miracle.

Pinochet did not destroy Chile’s economy all alone. It took nine years of hard work by the most brilliant minds in world academia, a gaggle of Milton Friedman’s trainees, the Chicago Boys. Under the spell of their theories, the General abolished the minimum wage, outlawed trade union bargaining rights, privatized the pension system, abolished all taxes on wealth and on business profits, slashed public employment, privatized 212 state industries and 66 banks and ran a fiscal surplus.

Freed of the dead hand of bureaucracy, taxes and union rules, the country took a giant leap forward… into bankruptcy and depression. After nine years of economics Chicago style, Chile’s industry keeled over and died. In 1982 and 1983, GDP dropped 19%. The free-market experiment was kaput, the test tubes shattered. Blood and glass littered the laboratory floor. Yet, with remarkable chutzpah, the mad scientists of Chicago declared success. In the US, President Ronald Reagan’s State Department issued a report concluding, “Chile is a casebook study in sound economic management.” Milton Friedman himself coined the phrase, “The Miracle of Chile.”


By 1982, the pyramid finance game was up. The Vial and Cruzat “Grupos” defaulted. Industry shut down, private pensions were worthless, the currency swooned. Riots and strikes by a population too hungry and desperate to fear bullets forced Pinochet to reverse course. He booted his beloved Chicago experimentalists. Reluctantly, the General restored the minimum wage and unions’ collective bargaining rights. Pinochet, who had previously decimated government ranks, authorized a program to create 500,000 jobs.

In other words, Chile was pulled from depression by dull old Keynesian remedies, all Franklin Roosevelt, zero Reagan/Thatcher. New Deal tactics rescued Chile from the Panic of 1983, but the nation’s long-term recovery and growth since then is the result of -- cover the children’s ears -- a large dose of socialism.

The whole post is well worth reading.

(Our previous posts on Pinochet are here, here, here, here, and here. -- MJWS)


Meanwhile, Quaker Dave has a new blog, Daily Darfur. It's not only keeping track of the daily news from Darfur but also focusing on who's benefitting and benefitting from the vile government in Khartoum. Everyone should have a look.

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Sunday morning poem

By Heraclitus

Okay, so last week I posted some not very nice things about certain (admittedly howlingly risible) emerging (and, one hopes, stillborn) forms or strands of Christianity. This Sunday morning, I want to take a little time out from my part in the War on Christmas (I blow up lawn Santas) to post a wonderful religious poem, good for Sunday, good for this time of year. It's by John Donne, and besides the brilliant imagery and metaphors, I love the way the poem presents "Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,/ But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue."

"Batter my heart, three-person'd God"

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to'another due,
Labor to'admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me,'untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

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The return of Saddam's officers

By Michael J.W. Stickings

They're back:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday Iraqi army officers of all ranks sacked after the U.S. invasion in 2003 would be allowed to reapply for their posts in the new army.

A little late, no? This should have happened in 2003, not 2006. But Paul Bremer (and his overlords) made the terrible decision to disband the army.

If the army had been reconstituted back then, the security situation in Iraq might not be as bad as it is today. Of course, the Shiites and Kurds would likely have responded negatively to the reinstatement of Sunni officers from Saddam's army, and, to be sure, there is a lot of room for second guessing here. But it does seem that a concerted effort to rebuild an Iraqi army -- a cross-sectarian army with at least some Sunni officers -- early on in the occupation could have prevented the quick rise of a Sunni insurgency, as well as lessened the extent of the insurgency altogether, and avoided the eventual development of an unprepared army that must contend with both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias, as well as a largely Shiite police force that contributes to the escalating sectarian violence.

But there's the gross mismanagement of the Iraq War for you. So much was botched, but this was one of the key mistakes.

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John Edwards to run for president

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Great news. With much of the talk (and the hype) centered around Clinton and Obama, and perhaps Gore, John Edwards has decided to run for president in '08, according to the AP. Edwards will make a formal announcement in New Orleans, the perfect setting for the start of his candidacy, sometime between Christmas and New Year's:

Edwards' novel choice of sites shows how he wants to distinguish his candidacy: emphasizing policies he believes can unite a country divided by economic inequality, a situation no more evident than in the city's Lower Ninth Ward, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

To be sure, it won't be easy for him. Though he benefits from having run with Kerry in '04 and from not being in Washington at a time when Washington is extremely unpopular and voters may be looking for an outsider, Clinton is the clear front-runner and has distinct advantages in terms of organization and money, and Obama is, for now at least, the sexy candidate who is fuzzy on policy but abundant in ideas and inspiration. (And Gore is, well, Gore.)

But in my view he is an impressive man, will be a competitive candidate, and would make an exceptional president. Although I prefer not to endorse anyone so early on in the process, I have often said that Edwards and Gore and my two favourites, and I am extremely happy that Edwards has decided to run.

As some of you may know, I am a featured blogger at Edwards's One America Committee Blog. In fact, I am proud to say, The Reaction was the fourth featured blog there -- after Daily Kos, Iddybud, and The Ethical Werewolf. You can find the full list of featured blogs here (in reverse chronological order), but the others are pretty good company: Nathan Newman, Blogging of the President, Ezra Klein, Talking Points Memo, Connecticut Blog, Political Wire, Eschaton, and BlueNC.

For more on Edwards, I encourage you to check out the One America Committee main site, his online community at MySpace, and the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina, where Edwards is the director.

I'm confident that the more you learn about John Edwards the more you'll like him and, yes, the more you'll support him. Indeed, I have come to admire John (and Elizabeth) a great deal over the past few years. John fights the good fight for working families, social justice, and a better America. He has been an active supporter of a minimum wage increase. He has worked to put an end to poverty. He has launched a grassroots effort to support Democrats at the state level. And he has elaborated a foreign policy that envisions America as a moral leader once again and that addresses the key challenges ahead: Iraq, Islamic terrorism, North Korea, Iran, Russia, HIV/AIDS in Africa, nuclear proliferation, energy supply.

John Edwards. One America. 2008.

It's time for new leadership.

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