Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald


I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Is Syria next -- either by accident or on purpose?

(updated below)

I obviously don't know whether there is a clear plan in the Bush administration to have this Israel-Lebanon war escalate by (a) military deploying U.S. forces directly in the conflict and (b) expanding it to include Syria, but there certainly are some strong indications that this option is being seriously entertained. Rich Lowry lays out -- and appears to advocate -- the most likely rationale for such an escalation:

Perhaps the situation can still be saved, but it's hard to get around this calculation: Hezbollah is going to survive, and there's no way it is going to disarm voluntarily. A meaningful international force will enter southern Lebanon only if Hezbollah is disarmed, and since it won't be, there won't be a meaningful international force. That means one of the linchpins of the Israeli post-war strategy is not going to come about. So Hezbollah wins.

At this point, around the Middle East, the Bush administration seems to have two options: admit defeat, or continue to raise the stakes. Here is a good suggestion about how to do the latter with regard to Syria.

There are numerous other indicia floating around which suggest that U.S. involvement in some sort of offensive against Syria is possible, maybe likely. We have the report that the U.S. is privately encouraging an Israeli attack on Damascus even though the Israelis (understandably) don't appear eager to expand the conflict. And then there is the President's increasingly belligerent and self-consciously war-invoking rhetoric, both yesterday (when he made clear he considers this part of "our war") and today (in which the used very clear and deliberate ultimatum language to instruct Syria and Iran to cease funding and otherwise supporting Hezbollah, something they obviously will not do).

Then there is the fact that so many of the White House's most reliable allies are itching for further conflict. And we have the always parmount fact that this is an election year and the best hope, by far, for Republicans to avoid electoral disaster is a nice "war against the terrorists" to keep their only perceived strength front and center. Combine all that with the fact that the only proposed exit for the war -- an empty proposal to have an international force monitor Southern Lebanon (something which can't happen while Hezbollah is still armed) -- is entirely implausible, and it is therefore much easier to imagine the conflict escalating than it is ending.

Perhaps the most significant impediment to escalation is the fact that the Iraqi Shiites on whose good will we are dependent for preserving the small amounts of stability left in Iraq are making clear that the price for escalation -- or even for our continuing to stand in the way of a cease-fire -- would likely be far too high for us to accept. But escalation is more often than not unintentional, or at least the by-product of recklessness rather than a deliberate choice. We are already widely perceived in the Arab world to be an actual combatant in the bombing of Lebanon. With the increasing belligerence coming from the White House, combined with the disappearance of all other exits, it requires little imagination to see how we could easily and quickly become an actual combatant in a wider war.

Ultimately, it seems we are painting ourselves into a corner. We continue to block a cease-fire and attach ourselves to the Israeli military effort on every level. But, as even neoconservatives like Lowry are acknowledging, it seems increasingly clear that the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah is not going to produce anything resembling a victory. Neither the U.S. nor Israel can afford to simply have this war peter out without having a credible claim to victory. So what are the realistic options other than escalation?

UPDATE: The Syrians apparently think that their involvment in this war might be imminent:

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Syrian military on Monday to raise its readiness, pledging not to abandon support for Lebanese resistance against Israel. "We are facing international circumstances and regional challenges that require caution, alert, readiness and preparedness," Assad said.

And Haaretz reports: "Travelers from Syria have reported that some reservists have been called up for military duty - a sign that Syria is concerned the fighting in Lebanon could spill over." Perhaps this is the reason why: "Israeli air strikes have increasingly come closer, with repeated raids on the Beirut-Damascus highway that links Lebanon and Syria." I seriously doubt that Israel wants to expand its war to Syria, at least right now, but the combination of the anti-Syrian warmonger rhetoric combined with rising tensions can nonetheless trigger exactly such an expansion.

Speaking of an expanding war: "Israel's Security Cabinet has approved an expansion of the ground campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office announced early Tuesday."

Is Bill Kristol writing George Bush's Middle East speeches?

George Bush's radio address yesterday on the Israel-Lebanon war preaches pure neoconservative gospel. Every point the President made would fit very comfortably into a Bill Kristol Weekly Standard column or a Michael Ledeen Corner item. This speech leaves no doubt that, at least rhetorically, the President is still a full-fledged adherent to the tenets of neoconservatism, and thus considers the Israel-Lebanon war to be "our war" in every sense, merely another front in the Epic Global War of Civilizations (a/k/a The Long War, World War III/IV, etc.):

As we work to resolve this current crisis, we must recognize that Lebanon is the latest flashpoint in a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region. For decades, American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by promoting stability in the Middle East, yet these policies gave us neither. The lack of freedom in that region created conditions where anger and resentment grew, radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits. We saw the consequences on September the 11th, 2001, when terrorists brought death and destruction to our country, killing nearly 3,000 innocent Americans.

So, says the President, the Israel-Lebanon war is not about territorial conflicts or endless Israeli-Hezbollah disputes but, instead, is part of the glorious worldwide "struggle between freedom and terror." It is but the "latest flashpoint" in the "broader struggle," which includes the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, and America's hostilities with Iran and Syria. All of these problems are part of the same War, and are all caused by the one big neoconservative sin -- stability. Exactly as Mark Levin pointed out yesterday -- Mark Levin -- the President claims that the reason 9/11 happened is because the foreign policy of both political parties for the last several decades was devoted to preserving stability (i.e., a state of peace, avoidance of war), and stability in the Middle East is our greatest enemy.

That, according to neoconservatives (apparently including the President), is what needs to be changed. Stability is our enemy because it breeds hatred and war. Only instability and war will breed a "lasting peace." Thus, the more instability and war in the Middle East, the better. That is the central neconservative warmongering tenet and it is what is coming out of the President's mouth as he discusses his views of the new war in the Middle East. The President continues with his Weekly Standard essay:

The experience of September the 11th made it clear that we could no longer tolerate the status quo in the Middle East. We saw that when an entire region simmers in violence, that violence will eventually reach our shores and spread across the entire world. The only way to secure our Nation is to change the course of the Middle East -- by fighting the ideology of terror and spreading the hope of freedom.

Leave aside for the moment all of the strategic and moral objections to the neoconservative thirst for endless war. And leave aside the unfathomable hubris necessary to assert that we will "change the course of the Middle East" by "spreading the hope of freedom" through invasions and air attacks. This view is, in addition to everything else, unbelievably incoherent and internally inconsistent.

According to the President, the 9/11 attacks and other acts of terrorism occur when the "entire region simmers in violence" because that is when resentment arises. So that's the state we want to avoid -- the "entire region simmer(ing) in violence." And yet it's hard to remember a time when the Middle East has been simmering in more violence than it is today, much of it authored by us, and the President and his neoconservative allies seem most eager to find still more Middle Eastern countries on which to wage war.

More confounding still is the President's claim that we must re-make the Middle East in our image because terrorism has been fueled by "conditions where anger and resentment grew, radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits." Other than our ongoing occupation of Iraq, what could possibly breed more "anger and resentment" towards the U.S. among Middle Eastern Muslims than watching daily video of Lebanese civilians being blown to bits by U.S.-supplied bombs and fighter jets, while the U.S. eggs on the attacks and single-handedly blocks efforts to stop them?

That is the central incoherence which lays at the heart of the Bush administration's neoconservative mission -- one minute the objective is to win the "hearts and minds" of Muslims in the Middle East so that there will be less anti-American hatred for Al Qaeda to exploit when recruiting. The next minute the objective is to bomb as many of their countries as possible for their own good and hope that they are appreciative of all the carnage and destruction we are raining down on them in the name of warring against the evil of "stability." Peter Baker points out the obvious in The Washington Post this morning:

The Israeli bombs that slammed into the Lebanese village of Qana yesterday did more than kill three dozen children and a score of adults. They struck at the core of U.S. foreign policy in the region and illustrated in heart-breaking images the enormous risks for Washington in the current Middle East crisis.

With each new scene of carnage in southern Lebanon, outrage in the Arab world and Europe has intensified against Israel and its prime sponsor, raising the prospect of a backlash resulting in a new Middle East quagmire for the United States, according to regional specialists, diplomats and former U.S. officials. . .

"The arrows are all pointing in the wrong direction," said Richard N. Haass, who was President Bush's first-term State Department policy planning director. "The biggest danger in the short run is it just increases frustration and alienation from the United States in the Arab world. Not just the Arab world, but in Europe and around the world. People will get a daily drumbeat of suffering in Lebanon and this will just drive up anti-Americanism to new heights."

We have squandered hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of human lives in Iraq with the claimed purpose of eliminating hatred and resentment towards the U.S. in that region, and yet we continuously signal to the world that our principal foreign policy instrument is to wage or encourage more and more war in the Middle East and kill more and more Muslims. Can any reasonable person deny that our actions are so plainly in conflict with our claimed objectives?

Simply juxtapose the President's explanation yesterday for why anti-U.S. terrorism occurs (because of "conditions where anger and resentment grew, radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits") to the effects which are being spawned by our ongoing disastrous occupation in Iraq and our blatant support for, and participation in, Israel's bombardment of Lebanon. It's hard to imagine how we could be more efficiently aiding terrorist recruitment efforts if we tried.

Fittingly, the President ended his address with the neoconservative prayer -- that what appears to sane and civilized people as tragic and brutal wars in Iraq and in Lebanon are really glorious "opportunities" which we should celebrate and for which we should be grateful -- beautiful "birth pangs" on the road to a majestic transformation:

This moment of conflict in the Middle East is painful and tragic. Yet it is also a moment of opportunity for broader change in the region. Transforming countries that have suffered decades of tyranny and violence is difficult, and it will take time to achieve. But the consequences will be profound -- for our country and the world. When the Middle East grows in liberty and democracy, it will also grow in peace, and that will make America and all free nations more secure.

Again, aside from the genuinely repugnant and casual celebration of carnage, none of this makes even basic sense. The two countries on which Israel is waging war, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, both have democratically elected governments, as does, at least to some degree, the country on which we most want to wage war, Iran. By contrast, the closest and most reliable allies we have in that region -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan -- are the least democratic. The notion that we can bomb the Middle East into peace-loving, pro-U.S. democracies is painfully, self-evidently absurd by now, but the President believes it.

The neoconservative extremists are ridiculed on an almost daily basis, because the extent of their ever-increasing lunacy is truly difficult to fathom. But that mindset is not merely some fringe radicalism but, instead, has been driving our foreign policy for the last five years. And it still is, because the individual who happens to be the President, along with the omnipotent Vice President, are full-fledged adherents to this approach, and while scores of people marvel at how increasingly deranged the Bill Kristols and Richard Perles of the world seem to be, those who occupy the White House believe they speak great wisdom and are listening intently to (and outright echoing) what they have to say.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Quick notes

(updated below)

Several brief items:

(1) I have an article in tomorrow's edition of Salon regarding the Specter/FISA bill. The article is now available here.

For the reasons I explain in the article, I believe that blocking Congressional approval of the Specter bill is the single most important domestic political objective right now. Its enactment will do more to legitimize and institutionalize the Bush administration's radical theories of unlimited executive power than any other event in the last five years, not to mention will vest in this President the power to eavesdrop on Americans with no judicial oversight of any kind.

(2) Speaking of Salon, I will be guest-blogging there next week (which includes the Lieberman-Lamont primary on Wednesday Tuesday) at the War Room for Tim Grieve, who is on vacation for the next two weeks. I may begin guest-blogging there this upcoming week, but will definitely be there next week exclusively. I will have at least one guest blogger here while I'm blogging over there.

(3) I will be hosting two chats for the FireDogLake Book Club for John Dean's book, Conservatives Without Conscience, on August 27 and September 3. My review of the book is here. Dean will attend and participate in the second chat, on September 3.

Dean's book is doing exceptionally well -- it is #3 on the New York Times Best Seller List (last week it was at #2) -- and yet it has received a small sliver of the attention which, for instance, Ann Coulter's rantings have received. The book is highly worth reading in its own right, and the more it is supported, the more attention will be given to its important thesis about the true character of the so-called "conservative" movement. And reading the book and then being able to talk to Dean about it at the FDL Book Club is some added incentive read it.


(4) As was discussed in the comments section over the weekend, I switched the commenting program here to Haloscan, as it provides much more flexibility for managing the comments section, eliminating deliberate disruptions, etc. The two principal problems are that (1) the commenting template for Haloscan is somewhat asthetically unappealing and, worse, (2) the comment threads from the prior posts do not transfer from Blogger to Halsocan, which means, for the moment, that the prior comment threads are not available online.

From what I understand, both problems can be addressed. The commenting format can be improved with HTML adjustments on Haloscan. The second problem is by far the more pressing one. I have often linked in my posts to comments here, and there are countless substantive contributions in comments that I'd prefer not to lose. Please e-mail me if you have any thoughts about how to restore or archive old comment sections and/or if you can help do that.

(5) The superb Anonymous Liberal will be guest blogging here next week when I am blogging at War Room.

The crazed face of neoconservatism

(updated below)

In two short posts at National Review, warmonger Mark Levin captures the essence of neoconservatism. First is his response to the news that Iran has rejected the proposal for an agreement whereby it would cease uranium enrichment:

Ok, let’s all say it together, shall we? Diplomacy doesn’t work with terrorists. Terrorists only understand fear. They don’t fear us yet because we have not punished them enough.

All of the bad countries in the Middle East (and elsewhere) are "terrorists" and we must treat them as such. Only weaklings and appeasers would try to negotiate with or contain "terrorists." The only thing one can do with "terrorists" is kill them all so that we can rule the world (or at least the Middle East) by fear. That's why incidents like the killing of 50 Lebanese civilians in Qana is something to be cheered, rather than either condemned as deliberate or reckless, or at least lamented as a tragic accident. To neoconservatives like Levin, we need more of these incidents, because it shows the "terrorists" that there are consequences -- bad, ugly, scary, brutal consequences -- for confronting us.

That really is the essence of neoconservativsm. It's nothing more noble or complex than a base belief that we have to wage as many wars as possible and kill as many people as possible until people are sufficiently fearful of the U.S. that they will comply with our mandates. It is psychopathic and deranged, and the fact that it is typically cheered on by the likes of Mark Levin -- people who plainly lack feelings of physical power themselves -- is not insignificant. The contrived chest-beating and transparent desire to feel like a feared warrior, with none of the risk, is manifest, and it is what has shaped our foreign policy for the last five years and, by all appearances, continues to do so.

Levin's second post spews contempt at this Op-Ed by Bush 41 National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. Scowcroft commits the grave neoconservative sin of advocating the ultimate evil -- a peace plan for the Middle East. Levin's response demonstrates just how radical neoconservatives are:

Thank goodness Brent Scowcroft is no longer influencing U.S. foreign policy. He helped bring the Middle East to its current point, and should be dismissed as another failed diplomat. Scowcroft, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton — all failures ... which means the Big Media will continue to seek out their views.

To neconservatives, everything that made the U.S. a respected superpower over the last six decades is all obsolete and worthless. To them, foreign policy experts from both political parties are responsible for 9/11 and the rise of Islamic extremism because they believe too much in diplomacy and restraint. They didn't wage enough wars and the wars they did wage weren't ferocious enough. There weren't enough Qanas, and as a result, we aren't sufficiently feared. People around the world need to know that they either comply with our instructins or fire and brimstone will rain upon their heads.

I still consider Jonah Goldberg's explanation for why he favored the invasion of Iraq to be the Gold Standard for illustrating the impulses which lay at the heart of the neoconservative syndrome:

Q: If you're a kid and you've had enough of the school bullies pants-ing you in the cafeteria, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Punch one of them in the nose as hard as you can and then stand your ground.

That is why we hear that the "people who are fighting this war" include Michael Ledeen, Cliff May, and Mark Steyn. It's why we hear someone like Jonah Goldberg -- who still has to move his nepotistic umbilical cord so that it doesn't get in the way when he types -- warn us in his best tough-guy, no-nonsense voice that we are becoming "A Nation of Wimps" because "Parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children." This is all about a personal craving for feelings of power and superior strength, to be fulfilled through endless war waged on those who have not been placed in sufficient fear of our warrior greatness.

All of this is why George Will recently called neoconservatism a "spectacularly misnamed radicalism." It is opposed to every guiding principle of American foreign policy under both political parties, and seeks to transform the U.S. into a rogue state which operates with no moral limits or ethical constraints, and for which unrestrained war is always the preferred option. All failures can be and are explained away by the fact that we just haven't killed enough people yet. It is homicidal madness, real derangement, masquerading as some sort of serious philosophy, and it is a true indictment of our political life that its advocates are taken seriously at all, let alone often listened to at the highest levels of our government.

UPDATE: Mr. Montalban at Sadly, No uses the Mark Steyn column referenced above to explore some of the ideological antecedents, as it were, to neoconservatism, which have devolved into nothing more complex than this: "(Steyn's) main point is crystallized around the reference to John Podhoretz’s recent whine that the West may lack the stones to do what it really needs to do: commit genocide on the filthy wogs." As noted in the post below, John Hinderaker offered us this weekend the only-slightly-more-dignified corporate lawyer version of this homicidal theme. It is the sentiment that has been darkly lurking in our foreign policy for some time, and which -- mobilized by the excitement over the "Great Opportunity" in the Middle East -- is now parading itself around for all to see.

The "terrorist" trick

The most used and exploited word in our political dialogue, both domestic and foreign, is also the least clearly defined -- "terrorist." In the hands of the Bush administration and its neoconservative supporters, it basically means "anyone who dislikes us or whom we want to kill."

Here is David Brooks in his New York Times column this morning discussing the Israel-Lebanon war:

There are victory markers strewn across southern Lebanon commemorating the last time Israel withdrew from that land. While reporting a piece for The New Yorker a few years ago, Jeffrey Goldberg would come upon them by the roads. It was like seeing the battle markers at Gettysburg or Antietam, he wrote.

One brightly colored sign, written in both Arabic and (rough) English, marked the spot where “On Oct. 19, 1988 at 1:25 p.m. a martyr car that was body trapped with 500 kilograms of highly exploding materials transformed two Israeli troops into masses of fire and limbs.”

Busloads of tourists would take victory tours and stop at the prominent sights. Before the current war, there were gift shops and, in at least one place, a poster showing a Hezbollah fighter lifting a severed Israeli head. It all testified to the magnetism of a successful idea: that Muslim greatness can be restored through terrorism.

If one country (Israel) invades and then occupies another (Lebanon), and people in the invaded country resist the invasion by killing some of the invading/occupying soldiers, is that really "terrorism"? Which countries would just allow other countries to invade and occupy with no resistance? Clearly, Hezbollah engages in acts of terrorism, whatever definition one wants to use for that term. But the killing of soldiers from an invading country cannot possibly constitute "terrorism" if that word is to have any value beyond its use as a political tool.

Throughout the 2004 presidential election, the Bush campaign endlessly wielded this rhetorical tactic, casting the war in Iraq as a war against "the terrorists" by defining the Iraqi insurgents not as Iraqis resisting invasion but as "terrorists." With that premise in place, those who favored the war in Iraq by definition favored fighting the "terrorists", while those who opposed the war by definition wanted to stop fighting the "terrorists" -- and as a result, real debate over the war, as intended, became impossible. After all, "terrorists" are the people who flew those planes into our buildings. Who could oppose waging war on them -- the "terrorists"?

But once safely re-elected, the President in 2005 gave one of his speeches designed to pass along to Americans one of the tutorials he received about what was going on in Iraq, and in doing so, he admitted that the vast, vast majority of people whom we are fighting in Iraq are not "terrorists" at all, but merely Sunni "rejectionists" who favor a system of government which preserves long-standing Sunni privileges in Iraq:

A clear strategy begins with a clear understanding of the enemy we face. The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein -- and they reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group.

This semantic deceit lays at the heart of virtually every Bush administration abuse and every warmongers' crazed dreams. Torture against allegedly suspected "terrorists" is fine because "terrorists don't deserve rights." Warrantless eavesdropping on Americans is fine because who doesn't want our government to listen in on the "conversations of the terrorists"? The bombing of all of Lebanon is justified because we have to kill "the terrorists." We can even openly entertain mass, indiscriminate bombings of civilians throughout the Middle East because we need to be brutal and merciless against the "terrorists". This tactic is, unsurprisingly, vividly illustrated by a John Hinderaker Powerline post from yesterday:

Anti-terror policy no doubt involves complexities at various points, but the fundamental principle, I think, is quite simple. There are two kinds of terrorists: live terrorists and dead ones. The basic object of anti-terror policy should be to turn the former into the latter. As long as that process is proceeding satisfactorily, it should continue. The time for a cease-fire, it seems to me, is when Hezbollah has more or less run out of live terrorists. I don't think that moment has yet arrived.

So that's our "simple" and "fundamental principle." The only thing we really need to know is that we need to kill as many "terrorists" as possible. In the abstract, most people won't consider that all that controversial; after all, who opposes the killing of the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks or other similar acts of slaughter of civilians? Somehow, though, this "kill-the-terrorists" mandate is endlessly expanded and then used to justify the Israeli bombing of all of Lebanon, presumably because all of the people who are dying there are "terrorists," even the Lebanese civilians.

Digby recently illustrated the dangers of using "terrorism" as the centerpiece of American policies all while keeping it as an elastic and infinitely expansive term, free of any real definitional limits:

I suspect one reason Newt Gingrich and his fellow nutballs are working overtime to get this WWIII business playing in people's heads is because to Americans the GWOT remains vague and ill-defined. They have yet to sign on to this existential struggle against well --- everybody, or at least a bunch of people they don't even know, forever. Are the French terrorists? They must be because we are supposed to hate them. How about the Mexicans who are invading our borders? Newt keeps bringing up Venezuela as part of our epic struggle against terrorism. And North Korea is a charter member of the Axis 'o Evil, so we know they are terrorists. Who are we fighting again?

If we are going accept fundamental changes to how our system of government operates in order to catch the "terrorists," and if we are going to wage one war after the next in order to kill all the "terrorists," shouldn't we at least know what that means? David Brooks clearly has no idea what it means, or at least recognizes that it is a term that is now impoverished of all meaning and exists only as a manipulative tool. Alan Dershowitz wants to disqualify human beings as counting as "civilians" if they are even near the "terrorists." Shouldn't those who want to use "terrorism" to justify all sorts of slaughter and war and abolition of basic constitutional protections at least say what they mean by that term?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Remember Iraq?

(updated below)

One of the most bizarre and disturbing media phenomena in some time is the very sudden, and virtually complete, disappearance of the war in Iraq from the media radar. That country is literally falling apart, engulfed by what even war proponents are acknowledging increasingly appears to be an inevitable civil war and growing anarchy. And yet for the last week, Iraq was barely discussed, save for a completely inconsequential gossipy sideshow about whether the Democrats did something which the Republicans would never, ever do -- namely, exploit a national security matter (Prime Minister Maliki's condemnation of Israel) for political gain.

For the media, new wars are always more exciting than old wars, but the Israel-Lebanon war is not (yet) "our war," despite the zealous dreams of American warmongers. What is very much our war is the true disaster taking place in Iraq. What is going on there is not just devastating for Iraqis -- although it is very much that -- but for American national security as well. And yet the proponents of this war seem to be eager to simply forget the whole thing and just move on to their next little project, blithely accepting the fact that Iraq is going to be engulfed by civil war and anarchy and that there is not much we can do about it.

But there is no greater danger to American national security than the complete mess which war proponents have made of Iraq, and to know that, one can just listen to what they themselves have been saying for the last several years. Let's use war proponent Joe Lieberman as an example.

Here is what Sen. Lieberman said in an October 7, 2002 speech when explaining why he was one of four sponsors in the Senate of the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq:

But we must understand that the ultimate measure of a war's success is the quality of the peace that follows. If, in the aftermath, we leave the Iraqi people to fend for themselves in chaos and squalor, without more freedom or opportunity, we will end up hindering, not advancing, the wider war against terrorism and slowing, not speeding, the world's march toward democracy and the rule of law.

And when Sen. Lieberman spoke at the Brookings Institute on April 26, 2004 -- when he, in essence, urged Democrats in an election year to stop being so critical of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq -- Sen. Lieberman warned that our national security depends upon what the outcome in Iraq will be, and made clear that a chaotic, violent Iraq would be devastating to American security:

I repeat, the outcome of this new war in Iraq will have enormous consequences for the people of Iraq, America and the world. If our enemies prevail and America retreats, Iraqis will face chaos, or a dictatorship, or both. The Iraqi domino could fall backwards as easily as it could fall forwards, and topple hopes for democracy throughout the Middle East. The region would be profoundly destabilized, which would gravely endanger American security, and the fanatical Islamic terrorists will be emboldened to take more aggressive actions against people in America, Europe and the Islamic world. The safety of our children’s future would be greatly endangered.

In March of 2004 on the Senate floor, Sen. Lieberman similarly warned: "If we fail to stop these insurgents and lose the peace in Iraq, we will condemn the Iraqi people to relentless violence, the Middle East will be destabilized, and we will give the forces of worldwide terrorism new confidence, new energy and new resources to attack us."

For exactly those reasons, the proponents of the destruction of Iraq have single-handedly done more damage to American national security than all other groups combined. And having insisted for years that the fate of the free world and American security hangs in the balance in Iraq, they now just want to forget about the whole thing, pretend it never happened, and shut their eyes to the disaster they created and which they so plainly cannot control.

It isn't just that our occupation of this imploding country is being ignored by the media. What is so striking is the way which Iraq is now being talked about. It is purely surreal how the primary challenge to Sen. Lieberman is described -- in a way that is intended to be dismissive, to belittle it -- as all stemming from just one little, tiny disagreement: Iraq. Gosh, Sen. Lieberman is such a great Senator -- he votes the right way on the environment and everything -- and all he did was make one little mistake -- Iraq -- and now everyone is turning on him. That is so irrational and mean and unfair.

It is the proponents of this invasion who have insisted that Iraq is the centerpiece of American national security, that it is the primary front in the war on terror, that failure is not an option, etc. etc. They used their militaristic posture in Iraq -- and the "appeasing weakness" of opponents of the invasion -- to win two consecutive national elections. And now that the extent of the damage they created is too glaring to be denied, they want to walk away from it all, insist that it's unfair to hold them accountable for it, and hope that the media moves on to more interesting and exciting adventures than the plodding, depressing collapse of Iraq.

But along with the assault being waged on the rule of law domestically, Iraq is the political issue of our time. Our preemptive, disastrous invasion of that country has fundamentally changed not just the perception of America's character around the world, but America's national character itself. We spawned chaos, militia rule, and a sectarian civil war in the middle of the most inflammable region on the planet, and did so while knowing that chaos and lawlessness are exactly the conditions in which terrorists groups thrive.

And we have no idea of how far things will unravel, of how far and wide this violence and instability will spread. But there is no greater danger to American national security -- no more potent ally of terrorism -- than the implosion of Iraq that our invasion created. And to know that, one can simply look at what the war proponents have been saying for the last four years.

What rationale exists for not holding accountable the architects and authors and advocates of this debacle? It is not irrational that political challenges are being made against war proponents. What would be irrational is if there were no such challenges. Those who advocated this invasion -- and, worse, those who continued to insist that things were going well long past the time when it was clear that such claims were false -- have revealed themselves to be completely lacking in judgment if not integrity and honesty. It is self-evident that removing that faction from political power is a critical goal, arguably the most critical.

It really seems as though the "plan" now in Iraq is just to step back and allow the whole country to collapse. That impression is strongly bolstered by the fact that war proponents seem eager to ignore Iraq and focus on other matters just as the civil war and destruction of that country seems to be reaching the point of no return. War proponents continuously argued that chaos, violence and instability in Iraq would be a grave threat to American security and a great ally of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. And yet exactly that situation has resulted from our invasion, and now the proponents of the war -- and apparently much of the media -- want to just forget about all of that.

UPDATE: Via Atrios, it seems that Lieberman himself yesterday "suggested that he wanted to move the debate away from the war. 'We’re going to try hard to focus this back on the issues that I think really are ultimately more important to the future of families in Connecticut: jobs, health care, education,'" he said.

Somehow, the war went from having "enormous consequences for the people of Iraq, America and the world" to being something that isn't really all that important to talk about.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why is being right or wrong on Iraq so irrelevant?

(updated below)

With more and more prominent administration supporters now admitting that our invasion of Iraq has turned out to be a disaster, and acknowledging that a vicious and tragic religious civil war is rapidly unfolding, it is worth recalling what Howard Dean was saying prior to the invasion about why he thought it was ill-advised based on the evidence that we knew then.

Dean was pilloried by virtually all Republicans, by many Democrats and by the national media -- not only for his opposition to the war but also for the rationale on which he predicated that opposition. As a result of his belief that we ought to at least wait until we knew for sure if Saddam had WMDs before we started a war, Dean was relentlessly depicted as a fringe, irresponsible, appeasing lunatic who knew nothing about foreign policy or the grave dangers we face in the world.

Here are excerpts from a speech Dean gave on February 17, 2003 -- just over a month before we invaded -- at Drake University:

I believe it is my patriotic duty to urge a different path to protecting America's security: To focus on al Qaeda, which is an imminent threat, and to use our resources to improve and strengthen the security and safety of our home front and our people while working with the other nations of the world to contain Saddam Hussein. . . .

Had I been a member of the Senate, I would have voted against the resolution that authorized the President to use unilateral force against Iraq - unlike others in that body now seeking the presidency.

To this day, the President has not made a case that war against Iraq, now, is necessary to defend American territory, our citizens, our allies, or our essential interests.

The Administration has not explained how a lasting peace, and lasting security, will be achieved in Iraq once Saddam Hussein is toppled.

I, for one, am not ready to abandon the search for better answers.

As a doctor, I was trained to treat illness, and to examine a variety of options before deciding which to prescribe. I worried about side effects and took the time to see what else might work before proceeding to high-risk measures. . . .

We have been told over and over again what the risks will be if we do not go to war.

We have been told little about what the risks will be if we do go to war.

If we go to war, I certainly hope the Administration's assumptions are realized, and the conflict is swift, successful and clean. I certainly hope our armed forces will be welcomed like heroes and liberators in the streets of Baghdad. I certainly hope Iraq emerges from the war stable, united and democratic. I certainly hope terrorists around the world conclude it is a mistake to defy America and cease, thereafter, to be terrorists.

It is possible, however, that events could go differently, and that the Iraqi Republican Guard will not sit out in the desert where they can be destroyed easily from the air.

It is possible that Iraq will try to force our troops to fight house to house in the middle of cities - on its turf, not ours - where precision-guided missiles are of little use. . . .

There are other risks. Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.

Iran and Turkey each have interests in Iraq they will be tempted to protect with or without our approval. . . .

Some people simply brush aside these concerns, saying there were also a lot of dire predictions before the first Gulf War, and that those didn't come true.

We have learned through experience to have confidence in our armed forces - and that confidence is very well deserved.

But if you talk to military leaders, they will tell you there is a big difference between pushing back the Iraqi armed forces in Kuwait and trying to defeat them on their home ground.

There are limits to what even our military can do. Technology is not the solution to every problem.

Dean also warned that getting mired and distracted in Iraq would enable Kim Il Jong to build up North Korea's nuclear threat, and that "North Korea is a far greater danger to world peace than Iraq." And this is what Dean said about Colin Powell's oh-so-convincing effort at the U.N. to convince the world that Saddam had WMDs: " I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness. . ."

Was there anything Dean was wrong about or his critics right about? And that was just all in one speech. But it sure was fun to ridicule Howard Dean and all the pacifistic, American-hating losers who supported him. Apparently, the fun of doing that hasn't subsided one bit, despite the fact that Dean was not just right, but prescient in almost everything he said about Iraq.

The real geniuses in the national media and both political parties back then knew that Saddam had WMD's, that it would be so very easy for us to invade and get rid of the weapons and set up the country we wanted. Anyone who said otherwise was just an appeasing hysteric. All that depressing talk about civil wars and insurgencies was just the defeatist paranoia of weaklings who were the new Neville Chamberlains.

And this went on even after the invasion. In December, 2003, Dean's questioning of whether the capture of Saddam really made American safer subjected him to great ridicule from most corners. And when Dean, in December 2005, compared Iraq to Vietnam by pointing out that there was no reason to stay any longer if we couldn't fulfill our objectives, he was again widely ridiculed and attacked, and labelled a coward and a traitor.

This is worth noting not because all of that was conventional wisdom back then, but because -- unfathomably -- it is still the conventional wisdom. Howard Dean is still considered a far left extremist who is completely "unserious" about national security and whose party -- all together now -- can't be trusted with national security.

If you want to know what the U.S. should do about the new Middle East war and any other complex, grave national security matter, you have to talk to Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes and Stephen Hadley and Peter Beinart and Joe Lieberman and John McCain and Tom Friedman and Rich Lowry and Newt Gingrich and all the other "serious" tough guys who might have been wrong about every single thing they said about Iraq but, for some reason that is impossible to discern, are supposed to be the only ones with any credibility on these questions -- still. But whatever you do, just don't listen to Howard Dean or anyone of his ilk, no matter how right he might have been about Iraq.

UPDATE: Billmon reminds us of the type of tough guy, know-everything rhetoric to which the Howard Deans of the world were subjected -- this from, appropriately enough, David Frum and Richard Perle in their crazed war-mongering book: "Now the pessimists are quivering because the remnants of the Baath Party have launched a guerrilla war against the allied forces in Iraq." Guys like Frum and Perle were way too smart and tough to do anything so weak and scared like "quiver" over something as meaningless and irrelevant as the Iraqi insurgency, which barely even existed.

And just compare Dean's pre-war predictions to those of serious military genius Paul Wolfowitz, testifying before Congress in February, 2003 -- the same time Dean gave his speech quoted above:

In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo. He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it. "I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

And then there's Peter Beinart, who, despite being wrong about virtually everything with Iraq, continues to run around lecturing those who were right about how dumb, frivolous and unprincipled they are when it comes to foreign policy. It's almost like being completely wrong is some sort of badge of intellectual and moral honor, while being right is a sign of "unseriousness."

Even neoconservatives now accepting defeat in Iraq

David Frum was one of the leading neoconservative advocates of the invasion of Iraq. The former Bush speechwriter is a true believer, having co-authored a radical neoconservative book with Richard Perle entitled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, which -- according to its publisher -- "calls for the United States to overthrow the government of Iran, abandon support of a Palestinian state, blockade North Korea, use strong-arm tactics with Syria and China, disregard much of Europe as allies, and sever ties with Saudi Arabia."

But in a strikingly candid essay on his National Review blog yesterday, Frum all but admits that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been a failure, and says that the only realistic goal we can hope to achieve is preventing Iraq from becoming a training ground for Al Qaeda -- a goal which was already achieved, of course, prior to our invasion:

Hands up, everybody who believes that the "hundreds" of troops that the Pentagon plans to move from the rest of Iraq into Baghdad will suffice to secure the capital against the sectarian militias now waging war upon the civilian populations of the city? Anybody? No, I didn't think so.

To take back the capital from the militias that now terrorize it will take thousands, not hundreds, of American plus tens of thousands of Iraqis. . . . So a real plan for success in Baghdad will have to be built upon additional troops from out of area, potentially raising US troop levels back up to the 150,000 or so of late 2005.

Manifestly, neither the administration nor the Congress will contemplate such a move. Which means, most likely, continuing violence in Iraq and a continuing rise in the power of the militias, especially the Iranian-backed Shiite militias: the Hezbollah of Iraq.

Frum has been arguing for the last five years, at least, that Iran is an evil supporter of international terrorism and a monumental threat to the U.S. Indeed, Frum is credited with creating the phrase "axis of evil" when he was at the Bush White House, which famously included Iran, and even now is agitating for confrontation with Iran. And yet, by Frum's own admission, the invasion of Iraq which he and his comrades so desperately wanted, has delivered control of Iraq into the hands of our arch Iranian enemies, and Frum admits that the U.S. has no realistic hope of doing anything to reverse that result.

Frum now admits that the sectarian civil war will rage on until Shiites assert total dominion over Baghdad and all of Southern Iraq, at which point "Baghdad - and therefore central Iraq - will in such a case slide after Basra and the south into the unofficial new Iranian empire." About this result, Frum admits: "The consequences for the region and the world will be grim."

Admitting that the Bush administration, in an election year, will not deploy additional troops to Iraq, Frum says that the best we can hope for in Iraq is the essentially defeatist plan urged in a New York Times Op-Ed by Bill Clinton's Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith. Galbriath points out that the Iraqi government actually governs nothing beyond the Green Zone in Baghdad and that -- as Frum accepts -- it is impossible for the U.S. to stop the civil war or re-take control from Shiite militias without substantially increasing our troop presence there.

With those premises in place, Galbriath advocates -- and, notably, Frum accepts -- that the U.S. military should withdraw entirely from the Sunni region and re-deploy as a small “over the horizon” force in Kurdistan. The rationale for Galbraith's plan is this:

Seeing as we cannot maintain the peace in Iraq, we have but one overriding interest there today — to keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States. Thus we need to have troops nearby prepared to re-engage in case the Sunni Arabs prove unable to provide for their own security against the foreign jihadists. . . .

Yes, a United States withdrawal from the Shiite and Sunni Arab regions of Iraq would leave behind sectarian conflict and militia rule. But staying with the current force and mission will produce the same result. Continuing a military strategy where the ends far exceed the means is a formula for war without end.

So that's what our mission in Iraq has been reduced to -- ceding most of Iraq to Iranian control and acknowledging that a civil war is now inevitable and we can do nothing to stop it. Worse, the only thing we can possibly hope to accomplish is to prevent Al Qaeda from turning Iraq into its new terrorist training ground, something it was entirely incapable of doing prior to our invasion.

Put another way, in exchange for the thousands of lives lost, hundreds of billions of dollars squandered, and destruction of U.S. credibility as a result of our invasion, the best we can hope for is what we already had -- a situation where Al Qaeda cannot run free in Iraq -- along with a vicious civil war and control by Iranian mullahs over most of Iraq. And that is what one of the leading neconservative advocates of the war is saying.

Americans have long ago recognized what even David Frum (though, notably, not Joe Lieberman) now admits -- that our invasion of Iraq will produce no real benefits and that our continued presence there can achieve nothing. The newly released NYT-CBS poll shows that a solid majority of Americans favor "a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq" -- precisely what the President most steadfastly refuses to accept. With even David Frum endorsing a close permutation of the "over the horizon" re-deployment which Jack Murtha months ago advocated, Democrats should have no trouble unifying on this issue and advocating that Republicans should be turned out of office for stubbornly and destructively clinging to the prosecution of a war which cannot possibly achieve any good.

When Howard Dean, in the wake of Saddam Hussein's capture, questioned whether the invasion of Iraq would make the U.S. "safer," he was ridiculed by virtually everyone as a radical and a lunatic, with the ridicule led by Joe Lieberman. But reality has become too overwhelming for all but the most manipulative political figures to deny. As a result, there are very few people left willing to defend the invasion and occupation as anything other than a disaster, but the remaining holdouts happen to be sitting in the White House (and in one of Connecticut's Senate seats). That discrepency is disastrous for American interests, but is an excellent opportunity for Democrats to finally make the case that this administration has been a failure on every level, not just including -- but especially -- in the area of national security.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Celebrating UN deaths - acknowledging civil wars - blocking judicial review

(updated below - updated again - and updated again)

Several items of note:

(1) Here's another item to discuss in the next newspaper article about the "Angry Left": members of the Little Green Footballs community last night celebrate the death by Israeli bombing of four UN peacekeepers (UPDATE - the proprieter of LGF is apparently (and understandably) embarrassed by the comments appearing on his site and has therefore re-directed the link I had to that page to another blog. He has not, however, removed the comments from his blog).

5- I would not put it against the Israelites, nor hold it against them, to have targeted this position based on the revelation, yesterday, that Indian UN 'peacekeepers' were complicent in the kidnapping/murder of Israelites, earlier.

20 - Too bad Kofi wasn't there, too.

22 - So what is Koffi going to do about it even if they did? I understand the paper cuts from a strongly worded letter can really hurt if desert sand gets in them. We are all at war with the UN, time to admit it.

37- I'm finding it hard to feel bad for these so-called peacekeepers. Most of them blindly shilled for Hezbollah while attacking Israel.

I do not believe that Israel intentionally targeted them, but even if they did, their anti-Israeli propaganda made them a fair target in this war. Much like the trial and execution of people like Lord Haw Haw and Tokyo Rose. Anything that would help bolster Hezobllah's morale has to be seen as a weapon.

38 - I know it sounds a bit harsh, but I wish that it were deliberate, and that Israel came right out and said so.

All the UN seems to do is rape children, enable terrorists and act openly hostile towards Israel, If I'm Israel, I say any UN 'Peacekeeping' teams in the region will also be subject to attack.

63 - On the other hand, who could blame Israel for not shedding great big tears for the blue-helmeted terror enablers?

70 - I never wish death on anybody (well, most anybody) and it is a tragedy that two people died but...

I be laughing my ass off if somebody launched one right in Kofi's office while he was groping his secretary.

That was just from the first 100 comments (more here). Consider the mindest required to celebrate the death of U.N. peacekeepers. It's time for another news article on the Angry Left.

(2) Don Rumsfeld gave a little noticed press briefing yesterday after meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister and, rather remarkably, refused to deny that Iraq is in the midst of a "civil war" (but he explained that whatever one wants to call it, it's not all that bad, because it's only raging wildly and uncontrollably in 3 of 17 Iraqi provinces):

Q. Is the country closer to a civil war?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different. There is -- there is a good deal of violence in Baghdad and two or three other provinces, and yet in 14 other provinces there's very little violence or numbers of incidents. So it's a -- it's a highly concentrated thing. It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the one to decide if, when or at all.

If even Don Rumsfeld acknowledges the possibility that Iraq now has a civil war, that is a rather potent indication of what is going on in that country.

(3) The significance of the Bush administration's defeat last week in the EFF/AT&T federal court case was illustrated by yesterday's dismissal by a federal court in Chicago of a different lawsuit brought by the ACLU against AT&T, this one challenging the legality of AT&T's cooperation with the Bush administration's domestic telephone data-collection program. The Bush administration, as always, invoked the "state secrets" doctrine in this case to claim that the federal court could not litigate the claims without risking disclosure of state secrets, and the federal judge accepted -- as federal judges almost always do -- the administration's assertion that "state secrets" would be revealed merely by AT&T's confirmation or denial of their participation in this program. That is why it was so remarkable when the EFF/AT&T judge outright rejected that claim last week -- because it was such a rare departure from the federal courts' deference to the executive's invocation of this doctrine.

This Chicago case presented a more difficult challenge than did the EFF case for the plaintiffs to overcome the "state secrets" assertion. Whereas the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program has been confirmed by the administration (thereby making it hard to argue that its existence is a "state secret"), the administration has never confirmed the existence of the data-collection program. Nonetheless, well-sourced news reports, along with Republicans in Congress, have confirmed the existence of this likely illegal effort to chronicle all domestic calls made or received by all Americans. But the administration has, yet again, prevented a judicial determination as to whether its behavior is legal.

The administration plainly believes that it is entitled to engage in conduct which violates the law while blocking courts from ruling on the legality that behavior. What is the point of having laws if political officials can violate them and then immunize themselves from being held accountable in a court of law -- as the Bush administration, at least thus far, has successfully done?

(4) It is difficult to chronicle at once all of the dangers and abuses of the Specter FISA bill because they are so numerous. One of the more pernicious aspects of it that has been overlooked is that, as Bill Weaver points out, it mandates that all legal questions surrounding warrantless eavesdropping -- including the question of its constitutionality -- be decided by the FISA court, which means that (a) only one side will be present in court to argue these issues (the Bush administration) and (b) all proceedings, including the decision itself, may very well be secret.

It is one thing for specific warrant applications to be conducted in secret, with only one side present, and with even the decision itself always sealed from the public -- the standard operating procedures for the FISA court. But those procedures are so plainly inappropriate for deciding critical questions of constitutional law which determine the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to all Americans against the Government. The parameters of the Fourth Amendment and decisions as to whether our highest government officials have been continuously violating it cannot possibly be determined in secret and then kept secret from American citizens.

But that is what would likely happen with the Specter bill. Add that to the list of reasons as to why defeat of the Specter bill is so urgent.


(5) Oddly, the very pro-Israel New York Sun says that the Israel-U.N. incident "could prove a turning point in Israel's war to rid its northern border of Hezbollah." I don't see why that would be the case. Almost every war has incidents of this sort. The U.S. bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killed a group of Canadian troops in Afghanistan in an F-16 strike, and shot missiles at media offices in Baghdad. Incidents of this type are not uncommon.

Additionally, it was somewhat surprising that Kofi Annan would so quickly and impulsively make such serious accusations against Israel -- namely, that the bombing of the U.N. observation post was "deliberate," rather than accidental. That may well be the case, but it may very well not be, and it is hard to see how Annan could know that already.

Either way, I don't see how this incident will have much of an effect on what Israel is doing. Those who were already opposed to Israel's conduct will use this incident to confirm their views, and those who defend Israel's conduct will simply dismiss its importance as an unfortunate and inevitable part of war, and they'll blame Hezbollah (and the ambitious ones will blame Syrian and Iran). Israel and the U.S. have already decided that world opinion will not impede what they are doing here, rendering this incident inconsequential, at least in terms of the effect it will have on the war.


(6) As Steve Benen notes, the The Washington Post this morning has published an editorial responding to Arlen Specter's frivolous Op-Ed on Monday. The whole editorial is devoted to explaining basic constitutional law principles to Specter and warns: "would thereby legitimize not only whatever the NSA may now be doing but lots of other surveillance it might dream up." For whatever reasons, Democratic Senators listen to the Post editorial page, and if the Post is going to be serious and devoted in its opposition to that bill, that would unquestionably be helpful in inducing the Senate Democrats to consider a filibuster.


(7) I wouldn't say that this factual account of the Israeli bombing from the Guardian justifies Kofi Annan's accusation that the bombing was "deliberate" -- that is an accusation which ought not to be made absent definitive proof, especially in such volatile circumstances -- but if the facts in the Guardian story are accurate, it would certainly lend support to the claim that the Israelis were, at the very least, completely reckless with regard to the lives of the U.N. peacekeepers.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What makes someone a "chicken hawk"?

Jeff Jacoby launched an impassioned attack in The Boston Globe on Sunday against what he calls "the chicken hawk slur," an attack which was widely hailed by many who apparently feel they've been unfairly smeared with the term. But in order to attack the "chicken hawk" argument, Jacoby completely distorted what it actually means:

"Chicken hawk" isn't an argument. It is a slur -- a dishonest and incoherent slur. It is dishonest because those who invoke it don't really mean what they imply -- that only those with combat experience have the moral authority or the necessary understanding to advocate military force.

That is simply not what "chicken hawk" means, and it is less than forthright of Jacoby to mis-define the concept in order to argue against it. Although there is no formal definition for it, the "chicken hawk" criticism is not typically made against someone who merely (a) advocates a war but (b) will not fight in that war and/or has never fought in any war (although, admittedly, there are those who mis-use the term that way). After all, the vast majority of Americans in both political parties meet that definition. The war in Afghanistan was supported by roughly 90% of Americans, as was the first Persian Gulf War, even though only a tiny fraction of war supporters would actually fight in those wars which they advocated.

Something more than mere support for a war without fighting in it is required to earn the "chicken hawk" label. Chicken-hawkism is the belief that advocating a war from afar is a sign of personal courage and strength, and that opposing a war from afar is a sign of personal cowardice and weakness. A "chicken hawk" is someone who not merely advocates a war, but believes that their advocacy is proof of the courage which those who will actually fight the war in combat require.

Just this week, Bill Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard in order to urge U.S. intervention in the Israeli war, argued that those who want the U.S. to intervene in that war are "strong horses" and those who oppose such intervention are "weak horses." Accordingly, to Kristol, E.J. Dionne, Richard Cohen, and George Will are all "weak horses," because they wrote columns arguing against increased U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern wars. By contrast, Kristol is a "strong horse" because he wants to send other people off to fight in more wars.

Kristol believes that his desire for other people to go fight more wars in the Middle East makes him not only wise (which it might), but also courageous, resolute and "strong" (which it most certainly does not). The flaw in Kristol's perception is not that he wants the U.S. to fight a war which he does not plan to fight himself, but rather, that he assigns to himself the courage and strength of those who will actually fight the war, simply because he sits in his office, protected and safe, and advocates that the war be fought.

Over and over again, those who simply advocate a war in which the lives of other people will be risked label themselves strong and courageous. National Review's Cliff May this week argued that those who advocate wars are warriors every bit as much as those who actually fight them. Conversely, pro-war advocates frequently ascribe qualities of weakness, spinelessness, cowardice, hysteria, and anti-American subversiveness -- not to mention being “small hollow men [who] are the equivalent of those grubby little Nazis” -- to anyone who is against the war in Iraq or who favors an end to our occupation there sooner rather than later.

This dynamic requires criticism because it is so irrational, false and manipulative. There is nothing courageous or strong about wanting to send other people to war or to keep them in wars that have already been started. And there is nothing weak or cowardly about opposing the commencement of a war in which others will bear the risks. To the extent courage and cowardice play a role in war advocacy at all, one could argue that those who blithely want to send other people off to war in order to protect themselves against every potential risk are driven by fear and weakness. And those who are less fearful will require a much higher level of personal threat before believing that it is desirable and just to send other people off to risk their lives.

It is certainly true, as Jacoby argues, that whether someone has fought previously in a war neither proves nor disproves the wisdom of their foreign policy views, nor is prior military service a prerequisite for participating in debates over whether the U.S. should go to war. But one's views about whether the U.S. should fight a war that will bring little or no risk to the advocate has nothing to do with personal courage or strength. The term "101st Keyboard Brigade" mocks not those who merely support wars, but who strut around as though their support for the war means that they are fighting it, and who consequently apply the warrior attributes to themselves (and the coward/deserter attributes to war opponents).

A "chicken hawk" is one who strikes the pose of a warrior, who imputes the personal courage of a soldier in combat to themselves by virtue of the fact that they are in favor of sending that soldier off to war, or who parades around with the pretense of personal courage and resolve while assuming none of the risks. And a "chicken hawk" will, conversely, attempt to depict those who oppose such wars as being weak, spineless and cowardly even though the war opponents are not seeking to avoid any personal risk to themselves, but instead, are arguing against subjecting their fellow citizens to what they perceive are unnecessary dangers.

There certainly is an argument to make that those who will incur the risks of war are more likely to think carefully and soberly about whether to start one than those who can urge on wars without risks. It is, for instance, much more difficult for Israelis to urge war with Lebanon than it is for Americans sitting comfortably out of reach of Hezbollah rockets to do so. And it was much more difficult for European monarchs to choose war when their own children would fight on the front lines than it is for American Senators and administration officials whose family members won't fight to make the same choice. And indeed, the Founders mandated in the Constitution that only Congress could declare war because they knew war would be less likely if those who bore the burden (which they assumed would be the nation's citizens) were required to approve of any wars. Despite all of that, one can still advocate a war in a risk-free position without being a "chicken hawk."

A "chicken hawk" is one who fails to recognize these logical principles by desperately equating advocacy of wars with fighting a war itself, or opposition to wars with running away from risks. "Chicken hawks" are not those who simply urge war without fighting in it, but who urge war and then pretend that doing so makes them courageous, powerful and strong. They are the ones who use dichotomies such as strong/weak, resolute/spineless, and courageous/cowardly to describe not those who fight or run away from wars, but those who encourage or oppose wars from a safe distance.

Time for a new war yet?

(updated below)

The new war in the Middle East has almost completely eclipsed the old war in Iraq, at precisely the time that Iraq appears to be on the verge of total collapse. How are things going in Iraq? Here is yesterday's article by The Independent's Patrick Cockburn, the Middle East correspondent who has been reporting from Iraq for several years (h/t Billmon):

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, meets Tony Blair in London today as violence in Iraq reaches a new crescendo and senior Iraqi officials say the break up of the country is inevitable.

"Iraq as a political project is finished," a senior government official was quoted as saying, adding: "The parties have moved to plan B." He said that the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties were now looking at ways to divide Iraq between them and to decide the future of Baghdad, where there is a mixed population. "There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into [Shia] east and [Sunni] west," he said. . . .

But he painted a picture of a deeply divided administration in which senior Sunni members praised anti-government insurgents as "the heroic resistance".

Granted, the sources on whom Cockburn is relying likely have an interest in promoting a picture of chaos, but whatever else might be true, it is clear that the situation in Iraq is growing increasingly desperate and all sides are undoubtedly seriously considering every option, including partition along sectarian lines. Independently, news report leave no doubt that the security situation has worsened considerably, and Cockburn reports that this is because the Maliki Government is incapable of doing much of anything outside of the Green Zone:

Mr Maliki, who is said to be increasingly isolated, has failed to prevent the violence. Other Iraqi leaders claim he lacks experience in dealing with security, is personally very isolated without a kitchen cabinet and is highly dependent on 30-40 Americans in unofficial advisory positions around him.

"The government is all in the Green Zone like the previous one and they have left the streets to the terrorists," said Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Iraqi politician. He said the situation would be made worse by the war in Lebanon because it would intensify the struggle between Iran and the US being staged in Iraq. The Iraqi crisis would now receive much reduced international attention.

Maliki's current trip to Washington will, of course, be exploited for political benefit by the administration -- as has happened every time the latest "new, strong Iraqi leader" visits with great fanfare -- but this is part of what Maliki is saying during his trip, according to this morning's NY Times:

When Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki visits the White House on Tuesday for the first time, he is expected to make requests that clash sharply with President Bush’s foreign policy, Iraqi officials say, signaling a widening gap between the Iraqis and the Americans on crucial issues.

The requests will include asking President Bush to allow American-led troops in Iraq to be tried under Iraqi law, and to call for a halt to Israeli attacks on Lebanon,
according to several Iraqi politicians, and to a senior member of Mr. Maliki’s party who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the prime minister.

The Times also reports that "sectarian violence has soared despite the presence of the Americans," that Iraqis are growing increasingly furious over the alleged behavior of American troops, and that Maliki and his top allies "want to maintain strong ties to Iran." And he is insisting that there be no immunity for trying American troops for criminal acts.

So, to recap as dispassionately as possible -- Iraq is falling apart. There is apparently serious talk of dividing Baghdad, or even the country as a whole, along sectarian lines. Sectarian tension is at an all-time high, with continuous reprisal mass murders, and the government appears incapable of enforcing the law or maintaining even basic security, and worse, relies upon the good will of powerful, well-armed lawless militias and death squads just to maintain the level of chaos currently engulfing the country.

Meanwhile, for the very first serious crisis which arises in the Middle East, the Iraqi Government is on the opposite side of the U.S., condemning Israel's actions with increasing fervor. All the while, the government does not hide its intent to maintain strong alliances with Iran, the country we are told is now the worst threat to American interests and world peace. And all of this is occurring while we have 140,000 troops occupying the country and the Iraqi government is dependent upon them. Imagine what will happen in terms of Iraq's allegiances if we ever actually leave that country and that dependence no longer exists.

Our invasion of Iraq certainly ousted Saddam Hussein from power, but in his place will be a government that is a close ally of Iran, our new arch enemy, and which appears incapable of maintaining even basic stability for a long time to come, if it ever can. And we are told that Al Qaeda-type terrorists thrive in environments where there is a weak government and chaos, which happens to be exactly what we created in Iraq for the foreseeable future -- at the cost of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, and counting. Is there even a single theoretical benefit to American security that we derived from our invasion and occupation of that country in exchange for the immeasurable damage we created and are enduring?

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan today publishes an e-mail from an American solider in Iraq, reporting that "Baghdad has descended into complete anarchy" and that Iraqi police officers are afraid even to drive to Baghdad. Sullivan calls our invasion of Iraq, which he vocally supported, "one of the the biggest military fiascoes in American history." I realize there is always controversy generated when supporters of the war end up acknowledging that it was a mistake, but between someone who acknowledges error and those who continue to insist in the face of undeniable reality that things are going well in Iraq and that our invasion was the right thing to do, I will take the former over the latter every time.

Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman points out that Moqtada Sadr appears to be sending his Mahdi Army militia to Lebanon to fight with Hezbollah against Israel -- a move which not only risks direct Iraqi Shiite-Israel conflict, but which also puts great pressure on the Maliki government to oppose Israel even more actively so as to avoid appearing controlled by the U.S. The possibilities for the U.S. to be dragged into a wider war in the Middle East are too numerous to count.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Specter instructs us to be grateful to the President

Sen. Arlen Specter has an Op-Ed in this morning's Washington Post which attempts to justify his proposed FISA legislation -- legislation which, at its core, renders legal the President's lawbreaking and cedes to the President the right to eavesdrop on Americans with no judicial oversight. The bill would also all but kill pending litigation challenging the legality of the President's eavesdropping conduct, and endorse a theory of presidential power so extreme that even the President's own Attorney General rejects it. Despite all of this, Specter claims, apparently with a straight face, that "negotiations with administration officials and the president himself were fierce" and that the bill is "a preeminently fair compromise."

What Specter's Op-Ed actually does is provide a powerful reflection of the extent to which the Congress has been reduced to an empty, symbolic vessel which is permitted to act only to the extent it retroactively endorses the President's conduct. The outright debasement of the Congress by the administration is additionally reflected by the fact that Specter is actually expressing gratitude for the President's willingness to allow courts to adjudicate the constitutionality of his conduct, as though that is something the President has the power to prohibit. Here is Specter explaining what he considers to be the grand concession he won from the White House:

President Bush's record of seeking to expand Article II power has been a hallmark of his administration. The president and vice president have vociferously argued that the administration had the authority for the program without any judicial review. Bush's personal commitment to submit his program to FISC is therefore a major breakthrough.

This is as incoherent as it is alarming. With the Specter legislation, Bush has not agreed to allow the FISA court, or any other court, to adjudicate the legality of his eavesdropping program (meaning whether he has been violating the law for the last five years by ordering warrantless eavesdropping). To the contrary, the Specter bill would all but kill pending litigations around the country which allege that the President acted criminally by violating FISA. Nor would the Specter bill require the President to submit eavesdropping requests to courts for approval. To the contrary, the bill expressly allows the President to eavesdrop on Americans with no judicial oversight.

The sole question which a court will decide under this claimed oral agreement between Specter and the President is whether warrantless eavesdropping violates the Fourth Amendment. Thus, what Specter is celebrating here is that the President courteously agreed to "allow" a federal court to decide whether the eavesdropping he has ordered on Americans violates the Constitution's prohibition on searches and seizures in the absence of probable cause warrants. Since when does a President have the option to prohibit judicial determinations as to whether his conduct violates the Constitutional rights of American citizens? In what conceivable way can it be said to be a "concession" that George Bush has deigned to permit a federal court to rule on the constitutionality of the eavesdropping he ordered?

The Bush administration, as is well known by now, believes that the President has the power to violate laws enacted by Congress. But not even George Bush, Dick Cheney or John Yoo have argued that he can override specific constitutional protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. All Bush has "agreed to" is to conditionally "allow" a court to decide if his eavesdropping violates the 4th Amendment. Expressing gratitude for that or acting as though it is some sort of concession is to now vest the President not merely with the power to violate Congressional law, but also the Bill of Rights.

Worse still, Specter endorses a theory of radical presidential power which (a) has been rejected for 50 years in this country (since Youngstown); (b) the Supreme Court just again emphatically rejected in Hamdan; and (c) even Alberto Gonzales acknowledges is simply wrong. Specifically, Specter argues as follows:

Critics complain that the bill acknowledges the president's inherent Article II power and does not insist on FISA's being the exclusive procedure for the authorization of wiretapping. They are wrong. The president's constitutional power either exists or does not exist, no matter what any statute may say. . . . If the president's assertion of inherent executive authority meets the Fourth Amendment's "reasonableness" test, it provides an alternative legal basis for surveillance, however FISA may purport to limit presidential power. The bill does not accede to the president's claims of inherent presidential power; that is for the courts either to affirm or reject. It merely acknowledges them, to whatever extent they may exist.

Specter here echoes the central myth which the President's most disingenuous followers have been disseminating ever since the NSA scandal began -- that because the President has the "inherent authority" under the Constitution to eavesdrop, Congress cannot restrict, regulate or limit that power in any way. That is just plainly wrong. The whole point of our system of Government is that the three branches share power in all areas. That is what "checks and balances" means. Congress has every right to regulate even those powers which the President possesses. That is beyond dispute at this point.

The Supreme Court in Hamdan just ruled not more than three weeks ago that even though the President has the Constitutional power to create military tribunals for war detainees (just as he has the Constitutional power to eavesdrop), he is required to do so in accordance with the laws enacted by Congress. That was the whole point of Hamdan -- that the President is required to abide by the law even with regard to the exercise of his Constitutional powers. And just to make certain that this point was not lost on the Arlen Specters of the world, the Court (f. 23; emphasis added) explained :

Whether or not the President has independent power, absent congressional authorization, to convene military commissions, he may not disregard limitations that Congress has, in proper exercise of its own war powers, placed on his powers. See Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U. S. 579, 637 (1952) (Jackson, J., concurring).

Justice Kennedy, in his Concurring Opinion, emphasized that this has been the law since at least Youngstown, which he quotes to make that point (emphasis added): "If the President has exceeded these [Congressional] limits, this becomes a case of conflict between Presidential and congressional action . . . And '[w]hen the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb.'"

Most amazingly, when Alberto Gonzales testified before Specter's own Judiciary Committee, had told Specter that it is false to claim -- as Specter just did -- that Congress lacks the power to regulate or restrict "inherent Constitutional powers" of the President:

GONZALES: Well, the fact that the president, again, may have inherent authority doesn't mean that Congress has no authority in a particular area. And when we look at the words of the Constitution, and there are clear grants of authority to the Congress in a time of war. And so if we're talking about competing constitutional interests, that's when you get into, sort of, the third part of the Jackson analysis.

The whole premise of Specter's defense of the President and his bill is just indisputably false. It has been unambiguously rejected by Youngstown, Hamdan, and even Alberto Gonzales. Both Marty Lederman and Anonymous Liberal add their astonishment that Specter could articulate such a plainly false legal argument. And it is not some obscure legal error, but a principle that lays at the core of how our system of government works. The President does not have the power to operate outside of the laws of our country, and that's particularly true when it comes to actions he takes against American citizens on U.S. soil.

This is what we have been reduced to. A Senator actually celebrates as some sort of victory or "concession" the fact that the President will allow the constitutionality of his actions to be decided by a court. And we are told that although the President has been breaking the law for the last five years, that is all perfectly "understandable" and we should just all be grateful that the President is allowing us to pass a law which makes that conduct legal.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

John Dean and Authoritarian Cultism - a Review

(cross-posted at C&L)

The full extent and irreversibility of the damage to our country wrought by the Bush administration will likely not be known until well after George Bush finally disappears from our political life. But understanding the dynamics and impulses of the movement which have enabled these abuses is a critically important task, and that is the project undertaken by John Dean's new best-selling book, Conservatives Without Conscience (selected excerpt is here). Fortuitously for Dean, this examination of what has become the so-called "conservative" movement (composed of Bush followers, neoconservatives and hard-core religious conservatives) comes at the perfect time.

With 2 1/2 years still left for this administration, the true radicalism of the administration and its followers has becoming unavoidably, depressingly clear, and it is equally clear that this movement has not reached anywhere near the peak of its extremism. Dean's central thesis explains why that is so.

Dean contends, and amply documents, that the "conservative" movement has become, at its core, an authoritarian movement composed of those with a psychological and emotional need to follow a strong authority figure which provides them a sense of moral clarity and a feeling of individual power, the absence of which creates fear and insecurity in the individuals who crave it. By definition, its followers' devotion to authority and the movement's own power is supreme, thereby overriding the consciences of its individual members and removing any intellectual and moral limits on what will be justified in defense of their movement.

Dean relies on substantial social science data to illustrate the personality type that seeks out authoritarian movements. But his case is made much more persuasively by what one can visibly see unfolding before one's own eyes.

As Iraq collapses into all-out civil war and new, tragic levels of violence, Bush supporters continue to insist that things are going well there and our invasion was a success. As the Middle East spirals into all-out regional war, Bush supporters insist that this repulsive violence is actually good for the region -- wars are encouraging "birth pangs" on the road to progress, as the Secretary of State put it yesterday -- and they are now actively involving the U.S. in this escalated conflict, even while Iraq rapidly falls apart.

And there is seemingly no limit -- literally -- on the willingness, even eagerness, of Bush supporters to defend and justify even the most morally repugnant abuses -- from constantly expanding spying on American citizens, to a President who claims and aggressively exercises the "right" to break the law, to torturing suspects, imprisoning journalists, and turning the United States into the most feared and hated country on the planet.

And as radical as the administration has become, it is clear that the administration has not even come close to reaching the level of extremism which would be necessary for its supporters to object -- if such a limit exists at all. If anything, on those exceedingly few occasions over six years when his followers have dissented from the Presidents's decisions -- illegal immigration, Harriet Miers, Dubai ports -- it has been not because the administration was too radical, extremist, militaristic and uncompromising -- but insufficiently so.

Bush supporters want more spying, much more aggressive actions against investigative journalists and even domestic political opposition, more death and violence brought to the Middle East, more wars, and still fewer restraints on the President's powers, to the extent there are any real limits left. To them, the Bush administration has not been nearly as extremist and aggressive as it ought to be in dealing with the Enemies. And that is to say nothing of the measures that would be urged, and almost certainly imposed, in the event of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil or in the increasingly likely event that our limited war in Iraq expands into the Epic War of Civilizations which so many of them crave.

Ultimately, as Dean convincingly demonstrates, the characteristic which defines the Bush movement, the glue which binds it together and enables and fuels all of the abuses, is the vicious, limitless methods used to attack and demonize the "Enemy," which encompasses anyone -- foreign or domestic -- threatening to their movement. What defines and motivates this movement are not any political ideas or strategic objectives, but instead, it is the bloodthirsty, ritualistic attacks on the Enemy de jour -- the Terrorist, the Communist, the Illegal Immigrant, the Secularist, and most of all, the "Liberal."

What excites, enlivens, and drives Bush followers is the identification of the Enemy followed by swarming, rabid attacks on it. It is a movement that defines itself not by identifiable ideas but by that which it is not. Its foreign policy objectives are identifiable by one overriding goal -- destroy and kill the Enemy, potential or suspected enemies, and everyone nearby. And it increasingly views its domestic goals through the same lens. It is a movement in a permanent state of war, which views all matters, foreign and domestic, only in terms of this permanent war.

Supreme Court justices who rule against the President on national security matters are tyrants, traitors and pro-terrorist. Journalists who uncover legally dubious government conduct carried out in secret are criminals who should be imprisoned for life or hanged. Virtually every political opponent of the administration's of any significance -- Howard Dean, Al Gore, John Kerry, the Clintons -- is relentlessly branded as a liar, mentally unstable, corrupt, seditious, and sympathetic to the Enemy.

And even those who devoted much of their adult lives to military service to their country (often in ways far more courageous and impressive than most Bush supporters), or even those who have been longtime Republicans and conservatives, have their characters relentlessly smeared and motives and integrity impugned as soon as they criticize the administration in any way that could embarrass the President -- Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, the war critic Generals, Joe Wilson, Scott Ritter, Wesley Clark, John Murtha, John Paul Stevens, and on and on and on.

It is a movement devoted to the destruction of its enemies wherever they might be found. And it finds new ones, in every corner and seemingly on a daily basis, because it must. That is the food which sustains it.

* * * * *
In many ways, John Dean is the ideal person to examine this dynamic because he has seen and experienced both sides of it up close and personal. Attracted to the political conservatism of Barry Goldwater, Dean joined the Nixon administration and, at the age of 32, became Nixon's aggressive White House counsel, deeply involved in helping to perpetrate many of the Watergate abuses. Morton Halperin, who was a standing member of Nixon's "enemy list," claimed in an Op-Ed in Friday's Los Angeles Times that Dean authored a 1971 memo setting forth a plan to "use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies."

But in 1973, Dean became the first high-level Nixon official to turn against the administration, famously testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee that the President (as well as Dean himself) was personally involved in the Watergate cover-up. As a result of his refusal to copy the example of blindly loyal authoritarian followers such as G. Gordon Liddy and Charles Colson -- who lied and covered-up for their leader -- Dean became one of the most hated enemies of Nixon followers, a hatred which, he later discovered, would make him the target of the right-wing authoritarian tactics which he previously wielded against Nixon's enemies.

In 1991, as Dean recounts at length, he learned that 60 Minutes and Time Magazine were preparing to feature a new book, entitled Silent Coup, which claimed that Dean himself was the one who ordered the Watergate break-in. The book alleged that Dean's motive was that his wife, Maureen, had a connection to a Washington, DC call-girl operation and thus had knowledge of various sex scandals involving Democrats, and Dean sought to obtain documentation to use against them.

The very idea that Dean himself had ordered the Watergate break-in because of his wife's connection to a call-girl service, and that these secrets were somehow kept for 20 years, was completely absurd on its face. And once Dean vehemently denied these allegations, both 60 Minutes and Time investigated the claims and both decided not to run the story -- a noble decision which, in Time's case, led to the loss of the $50,000 it had paid for the rights to run an excerpt of the book.

But using right-wing smear techniques which, back then, were still new, but which are now a staple of the "conservative" movement, these patently false allegations against Dean were aggressively promoted by right-wing ideologues and then accepted and given great attention by the mainstream media. The book's publishers enlisted both right-wing follower G. Gordon Liddy and by-then-born-again Christian activist Charles Colson -- both of whom still hated Dean for his blasphemy in testifying truthfully against the President -- to promote the book and push its allegations against Dean.

More and more right-wing groups and personalities jumped on board this smear campaign, until it received full-fledged support from mainstream right-wing media personalities. That, in turn, induced many mainstream media programs -- from Good Morning America to CNN's Larry King Live -- to invite the authors on to discuss the book. Out of this now all-too-familiar process, this defamatory book ended up on the New York Times' Best Seller List. As Dean recounts:

Despite most of the news media’s fitting dismissal of Silent Coup’s baseless claims, the protracted litigation provided time for the book to gather a following, including an almost cultlike collection of highprofile right-wingers. Among them, for example, is Monica Crowley, a former aide to Richard Nixon after his presidency, and now a conservative personality on MSNBC, cohosting Connected: Coast to Coast with Ron Reagan. Other prominent media-based conservatives who have joined the glee club are James Rosen and Brit Hume of Fox News. How these seemingly intelligent people embraced this false account mystified me, and I wanted to know. . . .

As for Colson, his reason for promotion of Silent Coup remained a complete mystery for me, as did the motives of people like Monica Crowley, James Rosen, Brit Hume, and all the other hard-core conservatives who embraced this spurious history and made it a best seller. The only thing I could see that these people had in common was their conservatism.

That is how the "conservative" movement works to this day, although its methods have become even more efficient and less scrupulous. Petty allegations and character attacks begin percolating in the smear sewers of the right wing -- through insinuations by talk-radio dirt-mongerers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, speculation by Matt Drudge, smear campaigns by shadowy groups and organizations, and now by attention-desperate and glory-seeking right-wing blogs. From there, the attacks are reported by the right-wing media and then fed into the mainstream media.

A lynch mob is created which seeks not the truth of what happened, but the destruction of the movement's enemies. "Conservative" rank-and-file, confining themselves to an echo chamber, embrace the allegations instinctively, because they are made by the movement's defenders against the movement's enemies. And their allegiance to their movement and a desire to destroy their opponents overrides any concern for proportionality or truth. As Dean documents, it is what the contemporary, so-called "conservative" movement feeds on more than anything else -- a limitless and bloodthirsty attack on the character of its opponents and enemies.

* * * * *

Dean advances and then amply documents (both with his own analysis and social science data, the former being far more persuasive than the latter) what I consider to be the book's two central points:

First, that what is currently described as the "conservative movement" bears virtually no resemblance to Goldwater's conservatism, and has nothing to do with restraining government power or preserving historical values. Instead, it has transformed into an authoritarian movement which largely attracts personality types characterized by a desire and need to submit to and follow authority.

Second, because those who submit to authority necessarily relinquish their own conscience (in favor of serving the conscience of their leader and/or their movement), those who are part of this movement are capable of acts which a healthy and normal conscience ought to preclude. They can use torture, break laws, wage unnecessary wars based on false pretenses, and attempt to destroy the reputation of plainly patriotic and honest Americans -- provided that they are convinced that doing so advances the interests of the authority they serve and the movement of which they are a part.

The central premise of Dean's argument is that the current "conservative" movement shares none of the core principles of the political conservatism which attracted Dean to its movement -- those espoused by Dean's longtime friend, Barry Goldwater (whose 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative, is the source for Dean's title). That the Bush movement bears no resemblance to traditional conservatism is a view shared by scores of the country's most prominent conservatives, such as Pat Buchanan and increasingly George Will. The Father of Modern Conservatism, Bill Buckely, just yesterday pronounced that Bush's "singular problem" is "the absence of effective conservative ideology." And before his death, Barry Goldwater himself frequently accused the religious right of assaulting core conservative principles.

Relatedly, Dean documents that the "conservative" movement is composed of various factions who actually share very little in common in the way of political beliefs and could not come close to agreeing on a core set of political principles and ideals which define their movement. In the absence of a set of core, shared beliefs, what, then, binds them and maintains their allegiance to this political movement?

The answer Dean provides is the shared hatred of common enemies. And their collective attacks on those enemies have become the consevative movement's defining attribute. And that is sufficient to maintain allegiance because, argues Dean, what Bush followers crave more than anything else is submission to a powerful authority as a means of alleviating their fears of ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity -- the same attributes which are common to all followers of authoritarian movements on both the right and the left:

Given the rather distinct beliefs of the various conservative factions, which have only grown more complex with time, how have conservatives succeeded in coalescing as a political force? The simple answer is through the power of negative thinking, and specifically, the ability to find common enemies. . . .

Important conservative opinion journals, like the National Review and Human Events, see the world as bipolar: conservative versus liberal. Right-wing talk radio could not survive without its endless bloviating about the horrors of liberalism. Trashing liberals is nothing short of a cottage industry for conservative authors. . . .

The exaggerated hostility also apparently satisfies a psychological need for antagonism toward the “out group,” reinforces the self-esteem of the conservative base, and increases solidarity within the ranks.

The heart of [New York University Professor John] Jost and his collaborators’ findings was that people become or remain political conservatives because they have a “heightened psychological need to manage uncertainty and threat.” More specifically, the study established that the various psychological factors associated with political conservatives included (and here I am paraphrasing) fear, intolerance of ambiguity, need for certainty or structure in life, overreaction to threats, and a disposition to dominate others.

This data was collected from conservatives willing to explain their beliefs and have their related psychological dynamics studied through various objective testing techniques. These characteristics, Dr. Jost said, typically cannot be ascribed to liberals.

A healthy skepticism is warranted with regard to the ability of social science data to reveal truths about political movements. But ultimately, the ability of that data to persuade is dependent upon the extent to which it comports with one's own observations. And when Dean cites and applies the conclusions of the famous study by Stanley Milgram, in which subject participants administered what seemed to be excruciatingly painful electric shock because they were instructed by authority figures in white coats to do so, its applicability to the Bush movement becomes self-evident:

When "a person acting under authority performs actions that seem to violate his standards of conscience, it would not be true to say that he loses his moral sense," Milgram concluded. Rather, that person simply places his moral views aside. His "moral concern shifts to a consideration of how well he is living up to the expectations of the authority figure."

The Bush administration's ability to engage in extraordinary and radical behavior has not occurred in a vacuum. The administration is radical and can act seemingly without limits because its supporters and followers are radical and limitless in their allegiance to its abuses. Understanding the disturbing and dangerous human dynamic which fuels that movement is critical to understanding the movement itself, and ultimately, to defeating it. Dean's book is a uniquely valuable tool for understanding what the so-called "conservative" movement has become.

UPDATE: It is difficult to select a 1,000 word excerpt from the book, as most of Dean's arguments are lengthier and can't be contained within that limit, but I've selected a somewhat representative sample from a different part of the book than that which is highlighted in the review. The excerpt is here.

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