Saturday, July 15, 2006

Israel and Lebanon: How Bush lost his mojo

Accustomed to dictating the agenda, putting opponents on the defensive, dividing the rest of the world into good and evil, black and white, yin and yang, the Bush administration is now reduced to watching an escalating Middle East conflict from the sidelines. There are several reasons for that, but most prominently America's diminishing role throughout the world —traceable to Bush's failure in Iraq, the world wide rejection of his discredited policy of pre-emption, and the nature of the "new government" —if government it is —in Iraq.

Israel will ignore UN calls for restraint and the conflict will intensify because a principal player is missing in action, or should we say, inaction. That player is the United States —bogged down in Iraq, finding itself unable to restrain Israel, without any chance of dialogue with Syria or Iran. Bearing the brunt is Lebanon to whom the US can only say: "Hang in there, buddy!"

Over three decades, the US has tempered inflammatory situations, playing "good cop" to the Israeli "bad cop". Having given tacit approval to an Israeli "over-reaction" , the Bush administration compromises its traditional role of "honest broker". Without dialogue or leverage, Bush is not only out of the loop, he may even be on the wrong side.

Likewise, Israel lost control of the agenda when Hamas won recent elections in Palestine, a situation very nearly summed up by the Washington Post:

Since Hamas won control of parliament in the recent Palestinian elections, policymakers in Washington and Jerusalem have been faced with a dilemma: how to deal with a democratically elected government that is also on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Last week, Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth interviewed Hamas's new prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, by phone in his home in the refugee camp where he lives with his wife and 12 children in Gaza.

Palestinian President Abu Mazen and the international community have put forward conditions for dealing with Hamas: 1) recognize Israel; 2) recognize existing agreements with Israel made by the Palestinian Liberation Organization; 3) renounce violence. Will you agree to these conditions?

We are surprised that such conditions are imposed on us. Why don't they direct such conditions and questions to Israel? Has Israel respected agreements? Israel has bypassed practically all agreements. We say: Let Israel recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinians first and then we will have a position regarding this. Which Israel should we recognize? The Israel of 1917; the Israel of 1936; the Israel of 1948; the Israel of 1956; or the Israel of 1967? Which borders and which Israel? Israel has to recognize first the Palestinian state and its borders and then we will know what we are talking about.

'We Do Not Wish to Throw Them Into the Sea', Washington Post
Tragic irony! Bush's neocon base have long supported Israel and would have supported an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran. Iran, of course, now has close ties with the Shi'ites who now call themselves the government in Iraq. By way of Hezbollah, Bush's new Shi'ite government in Iraq may find itself in a war with Israel. More simply: Bush had no clue! Bush had no idea what he was getting into when he ordered US troops into harm's way in Iraq. Now Bush is reduced to watching it all unfold on TV.

Bushies will resort to form: the no one could have foreseen defense. We've all heard it before. Condoleeza Rice used it following 911 when she said that no one could have foreseen that hijackers would use airliners. That was not so, of course; everyone but Bushco had "gamed" it.

More recently, Bush himself whined to Diane Sawyer: no one could have foreseen that the levees would break. In fact, everyone but Bush had foreseen that possibility. National Geographic did a documentary about it. Now, Bush can be counted on to come up with something equally absurd like no one could have foreseen that Shi'ites would win the elections in Iraq or no one could have foreseen that Israel would want to attack Lebanon. Who is dispensing those mind altering drugs at the White House?

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The Existentialist Cowboy

Friday, July 14, 2006

American conservatives are dead wrong and why it matters

According to John Dean in his new book Conservatives Without Conscience, Ric Santorum said: "Conservatism is common sense; liberalism is ideology". Therein lies the crux of the problem. Conservatives cannot think clearly about themselves, let alone "liberals" whom they've irrationally demonized over a period of some 30 to 40 yeas. Santorum is most certainly not the first self-confessed "conservative" to get it wrong; he is, however, among a radical elite who often get it 180 degrees the wrong way 'round.

Historically, conservatives have always criticized "liberals" from their ideological biases, primarily religious and economic. Liberals were too pragmatic, they said, and were lacking ethics based upon religious conviction. It's a fair question: when did those godless pragmatists suddenly become ideologues? My cynical response is: godless pragmatists and empiricists suddenly become ideological when Santorum's focus group told him that ideological was a better word with which to tar his opponents. Certainly the term liberal is by now a golden-oldie epithet so overused as to be a self-inoculating cliche. It doesn't even seem to be working for Rush Limbaugh who has a worse problem than drugs. Ratings!

The radical right is running out of red flag words. Liberal was so worn out that Ann Coulter had to call her book Slander and then: Treason! Now she's reduced to attacking the widows of 911 victims. What's next? Either it is true that Rush and Ann have not gotten that memo or it is true that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. It'll be interesting to see what the focus groups come up with. Easy livings depend upon something good ...or should I say evil?

Dean also quotes former Reagan aide, Michael Deaver who wrote of conservatives that they favor: government, individual liberty, and the prospect of a strong America. —Michael Deaver, as quoted by John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience
If conservatives are claiming now to be empirical and pragmatic, how is Deaver's comment to be taken seriously? Verifiable facts disprove Deaver's thesis. Let's take Deaver's three points in turn.
  • Conservatives believe in limited Government.
Oh Really? Let's start with Ronald Reagan, whom conservatives have all but deified. Reagan tripled the national debt and ran up historically high deficits. Despite a respite in the 90's the bad old days are back under Bush, a fact not lost on some fiscal conservatives:
From 2000-2003, Washington had a rare opportunity to save the average household nearly $2,500 in taxes without reducing any federal services. After 50 years of steady increases, interest payments on the national debt declined by $247 billion from 2000 to 2003, thanks to the balanced budgets of the 1990s. Like the post-Cold War “peace dividend,” Congress and the president got a once-in-a-lifetime “interest dividend” of $247 billion.

And they squandered every penny.

—Capitol Magazine, Washington's $782 Billion Spending Spree

That was published in 2002. It's only gotten worse since then.

Conservatives would also have us believe that it's liberal entitlements that account for the sorry state of the US budget. That's not so either. From the same conservative source:

Others finger big-ticket entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, claiming that they're growing uncontrollably. However, these program's budgets haven't grown any faster over the last four years than they did over the past two decades.

—Capitol Magazine, Washington's $782 Billion Spending Spree

    James Carville charged that Ronald Reagan significantly increased the Federal Bureaucracy in We're Right, They're Wrong; typically and unfortunately, however, Carville will be summarily dismissed by partisan Republicans and especially when he's absolutely correct and on target. He's both on this point. I have other sources for that information:
    When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the popular belief was that the size of government would be cut and that some of the regulatory excesses of the prior decade would be rolled back. However, the growth of the federal government continued throughout the Reagan presidency and no agencies were phased out.

    —Regulation and the Reagan Era: Politics, Bureaucracy and the Public Interest, Roger E. Meiners, Bruce Yandle (Editors)

    In fact, Reagan increased the federal bureaucracy by 68,000 workers even as he very nearly tripled the national debt.
    Reagan’s legacy is clear in the budget deficit neighborhood. He entered the White House in January 1981–after winning the presidency by campaigning that tax cuts and massive increases in defense spending could co-exists with a balanced budget. The budget deficit was $74 billion when he entered the White House; it grew to $231 billion in Reagan’s final year. The trade deficit was even worse, nearing $200 billion per year when Reagan left office. The national debt rose to $2 trillion.

    —Michael Fauntroy, Reconsidering Reagan

    These are facts that Republicans will deny to this day.
    • Conservatives believe in individual liberty
    Is that so? Not if they support George W. Bush. Nowhere has Bush attacked the separation of powers more strenuously than with his so-called unitary executive concept. At stake are regulatory agencies, independent since the Great Depression. Control has been shared between President and Congress. Bush would tip the balance of power by putting the agencies under his sole control and authority.

    Elsewhere, Bush strikes at the very heart of individual liberties: the Bill of Rights. Many people seem to be unconcerned about their phone calls and their bank records, objects of Bush's program of widespread domestic surveillance. But, alas, it's not about bank records; it's not about phone calls. It's about probable cause —two words that stand between us and tyranny.

    • Conservatives are stronger on national defense
    Are they really? In fact, terrorism increased during Reagan's administration. We were less safe and even less safe now under Bush! During a period some two years in which Ronald Reagan waged a so-called "war on terrorism", terrorist attacks against the United States very nearly tripled. [Source: Total Acts of Terrorism in the U.S. 1980-98, America's Response to Terrorism, The Brookings Institute (Based on FBI Statistics)]

    Typically, Reagan announced his "War on Terrorism" to a meeting of evangelicals on March 8, 1983. Reagan warned terrorists: "You can run but you can't hide"! A statistical analysis would seem to indicate that Reagan's War on Terrorism was as much a cause as a cure for terrorism. There are two possible explanations. One, Reagan's war —not well thought out —was simply impotent and ineffective. It may even have been counter-productive, a rallying cry to legitimate critics of US imperialism as well as terrorists.

    Or —the raison d'etre may have been to rally a disparate GOP base. Typically, wars are easily exploited to stir feelings of patriotism and false pride.

    Just as Reagan's war made Americans less safe, Bush's war is increasingly perceived as making the world a more dangerous place. According to Pew, American skepticism about the war in Iraq has increased steadily from its inception; it is increasingly seen as harming the "war on terrorism".

    A plurality (47%) believes that the war in Iraq has hurt the war on terrorism, up from 41% in February of this year. Further, a plurality (45%) now says that the war in Iraq has increased the chances of terrorist attacks at home, up from 36% in October 2004, while fewer say that the war in Iraq has lessened the chances of terrorist attacks in the U.S. (22% now and 32% in October). Another three-in-ten believe that the war in Iraq has no effect on the chances of a terrorist attack in the U.S.

    —Pew Research Center, Iraq Hurting War on Terror

    The level of vituperative rhetoric has dangerously divided and radicalized the right wing. John Dean, whose book I have previously referenced, still thinks himself a Barry Goldwater conservative though he has been among George Bush's most vocal critics. That he looks like a liberal now, he says, is only a measure of how far right the right has become. In fact, many so-called "conservatives" who support Bush are not conservative at all by Deaver's definition. They favor big and intrusive government; many, like Dick Cheney, believe deficits no longer matter; and, others —neocons in particular —openly pine for another Pearl Harbor that might be exploited for political purposes. [See: Project for a New American Century] Radical authoritarians, they have little in common with "conservatives".

    Barry Goldwater may have been the last conservative. Indeed, he may have been the first —a short-lived movement of one. Certainly, contemporary conservatives have little in common with anyone who would tell John Dean that the conscience of a conservative was pricked by "any action or anything that debases human dignity". Dean asked: "Doesn't poverty debase human dignity?" Of course it does," Goldwater replied. He went on to tell Dean that if the family, friends, and private charities cannot handle the job, then the government must.

    It sounds like FDR.

    That Goldwater and Eisenhower would be called liberal today reveals the polarization that has taken place in this country. A radicalized right wing is a cancer upon the body politic; its roots are found in the left overs of Nixon's utterly failed administration. This is something about which Dean can write authoritatively. It was Dean, after all, who warned a President of a cancer on the Presidency.

    Tragically — our enemy within takes the form of an increasingly authoritarian right wing which exemplifies what Sartre called mauvaise foi —bad faith! I've rarely believed what conservatives say about liberals, but even less of what they say about themselves. It is not unusual for a politician to lie to others. Conservative lies to themselves, however, are especially pernicious and destructive. Another word is delusion; delusion is a symptom of psychosis.

    Sadly, many conservatives do not see themselves as subversives even as they support Bush assaults on the Constitution. The biggest lie yet told is that Bush took us to war to bring Democracy to Iraq. Perhaps, then, when he has done so, we should all move to Iraq so that we might enjoy the blessings of Democracy. We've all but lost them here at home. It was Jay Leno, as I recall, who asked: Why don't we let Iraq have our Constitution. We don't have any use for it anymore!

    Thom Friedman recently asked: What does being right have to do with anything? Let him go to Iraq where he will learn what being dead wrong and lying about it has to do with everything!

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    Monday, July 10, 2006

    Bush and his Iraq war tar baby descend into hell

    Facts on the ground have overtaken delusions and lies. Here's a quick round-up from media and blogosphere, painting a picture of Iraq descending into anarchy and chaos amid increased incidents of mass murder, rape and other war crimes by an illegal US occupation.
    Iraq is continuing to deteriorate. The bloody curse of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice fiasco is reaching a pure descent into Hell, yet the mainstream corporate media is still providing a veneer of credibility to Bush, when all around the world is crumbling.

    Buzzflash Editorial

    Maureen O'Dowd writes:

    Baghdad Erupts in Mob Violence

    BAGHDAD, July 9 — A mob of gunmen went on a brazen daytime rampage through a predominantly Sunni Arab district of western Baghdad on Sunday, pulling people from their cars and homes and killing them in what officials and residents called a spasm of revenge by Shiite militias for the bombing of a Shiite mosque on Saturday. Hours later, two car bombs exploded beside a Shiite mosque in another Baghdad neighborhood in a deadly act of what appeared to be retaliation.

    While Baghdad has been ravaged by Sunni-Shiite bloodletting in recent months, even by recent standards the violence here on Sunday was frightening, delivered with impunity by gun-wielding vigilantes on the street. In the culture of revenge that has seized Iraq, residents all over the city braced for an escalation in the cycle of retributive mayhem between the Shiites and Sunnis that has threatened to expand into civil war.

    The violence coincided with an announcement by American military officials that they had formally accused four more American soldiers of rape and murder, and a fifth soldier of "dereliction of duty" for failing to report the crimes, in connection with the deaths of a teenage Iraqi girl and three members of her family. ...

    Former US soldier charged with killings, rape in Iraq

    A former US soldier discharged from the Army with a personality disorder has been accused in court of raping an Iraqi woman and killing her and her family in March, US officials have said.

    Former Private first class Steven Green, 21, who was stationed in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, appeared in court in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is expected to be sent to Kentucky where he has been charged with the attacks that took place in Iraq.

    Green faces a possible death penalty if convicted. He has been charged as a civilian, but could be brought back on military duty and charged as a soldier, a defence official said.

    According to a statement by the US attorney in Kentucky, Green is charged with going to a house near Mahmudiya with three others to rape a woman living in the house. ...

    Another bleak report, this one from the Rubicon:
    That criminal negligence starts at the top, negligence of Iraqi civilians and American soldiers alike. George Bush is the commander who first set the tone, notably in his juvenile challenge three years ago:

    Anybody who wants to harm American troops will be found and brought to justice. There are some that feel like if they attack us that we may decide to leave prematurely. They don't understand what they are talking about if that is the case. Let me finish. There are some who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on.

    "Let me finish," he whines. It's well past time to interrupt his swaggering speeches—and his feckless military adventures. Bring the American militia home now. It's the only way to bring the killing to an end.

    As of today, these are the numbers of the dead:
    • 2,543 American military personnel
    • 226 other coalition military personnel
    • at least 341 coalition contractors
    • more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians—at least 38,901 deaths have been fully documented in online media reports
    • about 9,000 Iraqi military (during the invasion)
    • at least 91 journalists
    And in Afghanistan, 317 American soldiers and 91 other coalition soldiers have died.
    The bloodshed and chaos in Iraq is beyond description. Making the task harder for working journalists on the scene is the fact that travel and access are restricted. Bush, meanwhile, wages another war on any media that dares to tell the truth about his quagmire.

    Seven Questions: Covering Iraq

    Reporting from Iraq has become one of journalism’s most difficult and dangerous jobs. FP spoke recently with Rod Nordland, who served as Newsweek’s Baghdad bureau chief for two years, about the challenge of getting out of the Green Zone to get the scoop.


    Are Americans getting an accurate picture of what’s going on in Iraq?

    Rod Nordland: It’s a lot worse over here [in Iraq] than is reported. The administration does a great job of managing the news. Just an example: There was a press conference here about [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi’s death, and somebody asked what role [U.S.] Special Forces played in finding Zarqawi. [The official] either denied any role or didn’t answer the question. Somebody pointed out that the president, half an hour earlier, had already acknowledged and thanked the Special Forces for their involvement. They are just not giving very much information here.

    FP: The Bush administration often complains that the reporting out of Iraq is too negative, yet you say they are managing the news. What’s the real story?

    RN: You can only manage the news to a certain degree. It is certainly hard to hide the fact that in the third year of this war, Iraqis are only getting electricity for about 5 to 10 percent of the day. Living conditions have gotten so much worse, violence is at an even higher tempo, and the country is on the verge of civil war. The administration has been successful to the extent that most Americans are not aware of just how dire it is and how little progress has been made. They keep talking about how the Iraqi army is doing much better and taking over responsibilities, but for the most part that’s not true.

    FP: How often do you travel outside of the Green Zone?

    RN: The restrictions on [journalists’] movements are very severe. It is extremely dangerous to move around anywhere in Iraq, but we do. We all have Iraqi staff who get around, and we go on trips arranged by the U.S. State Department as frequently as we can.

    Clearly —Bush, his Neocon gang, the war hawks of both parties in Congress, and Bush supporters throughout the nation were wrong about Iraq amid a cacophony of jingoistic crowing, boycotts of French fries and Dixie Chicks. Dead wrong!

    As Iraq fell apart, Thom Friedman still had the nerve to ask: "What does being right have to do with anything?" Let him go to Iraq! He will at least learn what being wrong has to do with everything!

    The Existentialist Cowboy