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.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The President's praise of fair trials and the rule of law

(updated below - Update II)

By Glenn Greenwald - President Bush today hailed the critical importance of fair trials and the rule of law . . . . in Iraq:

Today, Saddam Hussein was executed after receiving a fair trial -- the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime.

Fair trials were unimaginable under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule. It is a testament to the Iraqi people's resolve to move forward after decades of oppression that, despite his terrible crimes against his own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial. This would not have been possible without the Iraqi people's determination to create a society governed by the rule of law.

The President is certainly right that it is is a good thing that Saddam Hussein was given a trial, represented by lawyers, with an opportunity to contest his guilt, before being deemed to be guilty. That is how civilized countries function, by definition. In fact, allowing people fair trials before treating them as Guilty is one of the handful of defining attributes -- one could even say (as the American Founders did) a prerequisite -- for countries to avoid tyranny.

That is why it is so reprehensible and inexpressibly tragic that the Bush administration continues to claim -- and aggressively exercise -- the power to imprison and punish people without even a pretense or fraction of the due process that Saddam Hussein enjoyed. The Bush administration believes that it has the power to imprison whomever it wants, for as long as it wants, without even giving them access to the outside world, let alone "a fair trial." The power which it claims -- which it has seized -- extends not only to foreign nationals but legal residents and even its own citizens.

George Bush ordered U.S. citizen Jose Padilla abducted and shoved into a black hole for almost four years, all the while torturing him and refusing him any contact with the outside world, let alone any due process. He did the same to U.S. citizen Yaser Hamdi and legal resident Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. In all of those cases, he claimed -- and still claims -- the power to hold them in that manner forever, and claims they are not entitled to any process of any kind.

The President -- the American President -- has also ordered foreign nationals abducted both inside the U.S. and from other countries, including our own allies, and sent to Syria and Egypt with the knowledge, with the intent, that they be tortured. None were given any trials, "fair" or otherwise. In fact, some were unquestionably innocent.

For the Bush apologists who require them, help yourselves to all the meaningless caveats you want. Saddam Hussein was far more brutal, more tyrannical, more liberty-abridging than George Bush. When it comes to internal repression, the two should not be compared.

Those who take comfort in comparisons like that, who think that these sorts of rationalizations constitute some kind of mitigating argument -- "hey, American behavioral standards still hover above those of Saddam's Baathist Iraq, so only deranged Bush-haters would object to America's treatment of its detainees!" -- are precisely the people who have no understanding of what kind of country America is supposed to be.

It is truly vile to listen to George Bush anoint himself the Arbiter of Due Process and Human Rights by praising the Iraqis for giving a "fair trial" to Saddam when we are currently holding 14,000 individuals (at least) around the world in our custody -- many of whom we have been holding for years and in the most inhumane conditions imaginable -- who have been desperately, and unsuccessfully, seeking some forum, any forum, in which to prove their innocence. This lawlessly imprisoned group includes journalists, political activists, and entirely innocent people.

The Bush administration has been steadfastly refusing to grant the very "fair trials" which served today as the basis for the President's pious, patronizing praise for the Iraqis (which, in reality, is intended as self-praise). The President and his followers -- including the majority of the 109th Congress, which just enacted the Military Commissions Act -- have made unmistakably clear that they do not actually believe in fair trials, literally.

The President's unreviewed and unreviewable accusation of guilt is sufficient to justify imprisoning anyone -- including for life -- and no process at all, let alone a "fair" one, is necessary. After all, allowing "fair trials" for those whom we consign to Guantanamo and similar hellholes might "swamp" our busy court system, an administrative concern which, by itself, easily outweighs the imperative of proving someone's guilt before deeming them to be Guilty.

And all of this is to say nothing of the President's grotesque praise for what he called "a society governed by the rule of law," praise issuing from the same person whose presidency has been centrally predicated on his claim to be larger and more powerful than the petty constraints imposed by "law" -- something which is, at best, a theoretical luxury to be enjoyed during peacetime but not during our Eternal War.

Apparently, "fair trials" and the "rule of law" are requirements for the Iraqis if, in the President's moving words, their "young democracy [is to] continue to progress." But for our older democracy, such concepts are quaint and obsolete relics which must not interfere with the Leader's Will and with his Glorious, Endless War.

UPDATE: Dahlia Lithwick has the only non-worthless year-end Top 10 list I've ever read -- The Top 10 Most Outrageous Civil Liberties Violations of 2006. The ultimate perpetrator of each abuse is the same individual who today arrogated unto himself the right to pat the Iraqis on the head for their embrace of "fair trials" and their adherence to the "rule of law."

* * * * * * *

On Thursday, I was a guest on a radio program hosted by Sean-Paul Kelley, who blogs at The Agonist. The show is broadcast in San Antonio. Sean-Paul is an excellent interviewer and we discussed multiple topics, including the President's war-making powers, our policies towards Iran and Iraq, and the torture bill. For those interested, the podcast of the interview (about 35 minutes long) is here.

UPDATE II: One need not agree with each of Jane Hamsher's specific points here, but she has some of the best insight into the underlying meaning and creepiness of the Saddam execution -- the way it was done and the motives behind it far more than the act itself -- and she expresses those insights perfectly.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Joe Lieberman: Iran's Best Friend

By Anonymous Liberal

By Anonymous Liberal---As Glenn points out below, in his Washington Post op-ed today, Joe Lieberman all but declared war on Iran. Lieberman summed up the fault lines in the current conflict in Iraq thusly:

On one side are extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran, on the other moderates and democrats supported by the United States.

Let's put aside for the moment the fact that this is an absurd description of the actual state of affairs in Iraq. Let's put aside the fact that Lieberman implies here, and throughout the piece, that al Qaeda and Iran are somehow in cahoots (which is totally ridiculous). Let's just accept Lieberman's premises, as simplistic and strange as they are. Let's assume for the sake of argument that Iran really is the Supreme Enemy and is pulling all the strings behind the scenes.

If you accept all that, you are left with one inescapable conclusion: our Supreme Enemy has no better friend than Joe Lieberman.

There can be little doubt that, from an Iranian perspective, our invasion and occupation of Iraq has been an extraordinary windfall. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Saddam's Iraq was Iran's chief enemy and regional rival. The two nations had fought a long and costly war that eventually ended in a stalemate. They were checks on each other's power.

But then, at the urging of Joe Lieberman (who co-sponsored the Iraq war resolution), we invaded Iraq. In doing so, we not only eliminated Iran's chief regional rival, we replaced Saddam's regime with a Shiite-led regime that is destined to become, if it hasn't already, a client state of neighboring Iran. Not only that, but in the process of implementing this regime change, we managed to get ourselves bogged down in an endless guerilla conflict which exposed our weaknesses, depleted our manpower and resources, and rendered us both unable and unwilling to confront Iran in any meaningful way.

And throughout this slow-motion trainwreck, there has been no more outspoken and influential advocate of this policy (other than the President himself) than Senator Joe Lieberman. Seriously, had Iran managed to plant a "Manchurian Candidate" in the United States Senate back in 2002, a candidate whose secret agenda was to advance in any way possible policies that benefit Iran, that Senator could not possibly have done a better job than Joe Lieberman actually did. Iran is in an infinitely better position than it was four years ago, and due almost entirely to policies for which Lieberman has been the chief advocate.

Lieberman claims that if we don't "win" in Iraq, it will be a big victory for Iran. But, as Steve Clemons points out, the government we're fighting to support, the al-Maliki government, has the support of Iran. To the extent "victory" is defined as leaving Iraq in the hands of this Shiite-run, Iran-friendly regime (which is what Lieberman seems to think), it's hard to see Iran being terribly upset by such an outcome. I believe this is what's called a win-win situation, at least from Iran's perspective (from ours it's pretty clearly a lose-lose).

Moreover, it was beyond predictable that the primary beneficiary of our invasion of Iraq would be Iran. Yet I don't remember Joe Lieberman giving this obvious consideration even a moment's thought in the lead up to the Iraq invasion.

Lest my sarcasm be misunderstood, I obviously don't think Lieberman has been consciously trying to help Iran. But there can be no doubt that the policies he has championed have benefited Iran, immeasurably, a fact which makes Lieberman's current lectures about the dangers of Iran all the more exasperating and intolerable.

Joe Lieberman's declaration of war on Iran

(updated below)

In his Washington Post Op-Ed today, the Great Warrior Joe Lieberman predictably endorsed sending more troops to Iraq, in the process dutifully spouting (as always) every Bush/neoconservative talking point. But Lieberman had a much larger fish to fry with this Op-Ed, as he all but declared war on Iran, identifying them as the equivalent of Al Qaeda, as the Real Enemy we are fighting:

While we are naturally focused on Iraq, a larger war is emerging. On one side are extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran, on the other moderates and democrats supported by the United States. Iraq is the most deadly battlefield on which that conflict is being fought. How we end the struggle there will affect not only the region but the worldwide war against the extremists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001.

Everything that is happening in Iraq is the fault of Iran and Al Qaeda:

This bloodshed, moreover, is not the inevitable product of ancient hatreds. It is the predictable consequence of a failure to ensure basic security and, equally important, of a conscious strategy by al-Qaeda and Iran, which have systematically aimed to undermine Iraq's fragile political center.

Our Real Enemies on the "battlefield" in Iraq are Iran and Al Qaeda:

On this point, let there be no doubt: If Iraq descends into full-scale civil war, it will be a tremendous battlefield victory for al-Qaeda and Iran. Iraq is the central front in the global and regional war against Islamic extremism.

The real danger if we "lose" in Iraq -- if (perish the thought) -- is that it will enable Iran to commit still more terrorist attacks (like all the ones they've been sponsoring in order to kill Americans, such as 9/11):

Radical Islamist terrorist groups, both Sunni and Shiite, would reap victories simultaneously symbolic and tangible, as Iraq became a safe haven in which to train and strengthen their foot soldiers and Iran's terrorist agents.

One might question why someone who is one of the most vocal advocates of the Iraq Disaster would seek to expand the war to include Iran, a country much larger and more formidable on every level than Iraq. After all, things aren't going that well in Iraq, and it might seem to a simplistic and Chamberlain-like appeasing coward that the absolutely most insane idea ever is to try to expand "our war" to include Iran. So what would motivate Lieberman to do this?

Initially, it must be emphasized that whatever his reason is, it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the sentiments expressed by Israel's newest cabinet minister, Avigdor Lieberman (whose duties include strategic affairs and Iran) when he visited the U.S. earlier this month and gave an interview to The New York Times:

Our first task is to convince Western countries to adopt a tough approach to the Iranian problem,” which he called “the biggest threat facing the Jewish people since the Second World War.” [Minister] Lieberman insisted that negotiations with Iran were worthless: “The dialogue with Iran will be a 100-percent failure, just like it was with North Korea.”

Joe Lieberman's desire for the U.S. to view itself as being at war with Iran also has nothing whatsoever to do with this:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday compared Iran's nuclear ambitions and threats against Israel with the policies of Nazi Germany and criticized world leaders who maintain relations with Iran's president. . . .

Israel has identified Iran as the greatest threat to the Jewish state. Israel's concerns have heightened since the election of Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who frequently calls for the destruction of Israel and has questioned whether the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews took place.

"We hear echoes of those very voices that started to spread across the world in the 1930s," Olmert said in his speech at the Yad Vashem memorial.

Back in late 2001 and early 2002, U.S.-Iranian relations were at their best state, by far, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The two countries were cooperating extensively in Afghanistan. New diplomatic channels had been created. Iran was eager to make one concession after the next in order to achieve rapprochement with the U.S. And foreign policy experts including Colin Powell were hailing the prospects for a new cooperative relationship with the Iranians.

In November, 2001, Powell shook hands with the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. PBS’ Frontline described that event as “a simple yet historic gesture that seemed the most tantalizing hint of rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran since the Islamic revolution and the hostage crisis in 1979.”

But also in January, 2002, the Israelis intercepted a ship filled with mostly defensive (though some offensive) arms destined for the Palestinian Authority, which they claimed came from Iran. And the Israelis began a full-scale campaign to prevent Iran-U.S. rapproachement.

By the end of that month, David Frum wrote George Bush's State of the Union speech declaring Iran to be a charter member of the "Axis of Evil," and relations between the two countries have been quite hostile ever since. Even after that occurred, the Iranians continued to make extraordinary overtures to better relations, but they were all unceremoniously rejected by the Bush administration.

Sen. Lieberman's call for the war to include Iran has absolutely nothing to do with strategies such as those articulated by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in January, 2002, in a Report entitled Destabilizing Implications of Iranian-U.S. Rapproachment for Israeli and Global Security. That Report warned of what it called “multiple signs of this developing U.S.-Iranian relationship over the last three months." Insisting that "any Iranian-U.S. rapprochement" is "premature and potentially destabilizing," its core strategy was clearly described:

If Iran only posed a threat to Israel, while offering new diplomatic opportunities to the U.S. and its NATO allies, then it would be possible to anticipate a threat perception gap between Jerusalem and Washington.

However, Iran's continuing support for international terrorism through Hizbullah -- an organization with proven global reach from South America to Saudi Arabia -- and its declared interest in achieving a nuclear-strike capability demonstrates the severe hostility and broad geographic scope of involvement of the Iranian regime.

When Sen. Lieberman warns of Iran's "terrorist agents," what he means, of course, are Hezbollah and Hamas, groups that are dedicated to fighting against Israel, not the U.S. But the tactic of those who want to conflate Israel's enemies with American enemies -- and thereby draw the U.S. into fighting those who are hostile to Israel -- is to ignore any such distinctions and to pretend that supporting anti-Israeli groups is evidence of support for the people who flew those planes into American buildings on 9/11.

That is one of the principal deceitful tricks that was played with Saddam Hussein (the "support for terrorism" of which he was supposedly guilty was payments to the families of Palestinians carrying out attacks against Israel, not terrorist attacks against the U.S. -- a distinction which was never made, but instead, was purposely obscured). Here Sen. Lieberman is invoking the same deceitful little game to try to underhandedly suggest that Iran is an Ally of Al Qaeda and a Supporter of "the Terrorists," purposely blurring all distinctions in the hope of driving a deeper and more hostile wedge between the U.S. and Israel's worst enemy.

But we nonetheless must be very clear at all times that Sen. Lieberman's desire that the U.S. "recognize" that the war has already "expanded" to include Iran has nothing whatsoever to do with the strategy by right-wing Israelis to convince the U.S. that Iran poses a threat not only to Israel but to the U.S., so that the U.S. will act against Israel's most formidable and threatening enemy. Those two matters are completely unconnected -- when they converge, it is pure coincidence -- and to suggest otherwise is conclusive evidence of poisonous anti-semitism and bigotry of the worst sort.

In fact, anyone who would even raise the possibility of such a connection is engaging in the worst type of irresponsible debate, as the Leader himself instructed us earlier this year:

The American people know the difference between responsible and irresponsible debate when they see it. They know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being prosecuted and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people. And they know the difference between a loyal opposition that points out what is wrong, and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right.

Clearly, Sen. Lieberman just happens to believe that it would be a really good idea for us to start a new war with Iran (or, more accurately, to "recognize" that we are already at war with Iran and start acting like Churchillian men and fight them). After all, everyone knows that Iran has invaded all sorts of countries, threatened to invade the U.S., poses a grave risk to our sovereignty, helped plan the 9/11 attacks, is best friends with Osama bin Laden, and is ruled by madmen way beyond the realm of reason and are even building concentration camps as we speak.

What rational, brave patriot wouldn't agree that the U.S. should wage war against Iran? The only possible reason to suggest that Sen. Lieberman, in his war dances against Iran, might be driven by considerations other than American interests could only be the by-product of an ugly, bigoted mind. Such people must be -- and most assuredly will be -- scorned with a venom reserved for few others. Just ask Jim Baker. Or Jimmy Carter. What Sen. Lieberman's Op-Ed painfully and conclusively demonstrates is that the people who brought us the war in Iraq are nowhere near done with their wretched work.

UPDATE: For the sake of clarity, and to avoid being misunderstood, I want to add one point here that really merits its own separate discussion. If I were an Israeli, I'd very likely perceive Iran as an enemy (and vice-versa). And as I've argued many times before, one can reasonably argue that the U.S. should have a policy of supporting its most important allies and/or other democracies, including Israel. The U.S. provides security guarantees for all sorts of countries. That's all fair game for open discussion.

But few things are more threatening to Israeli interests than deceitfully securing American policies based on pretext or by concealing the real agenda. People can be fooled only for so long, and people who feel deceived generally backlash against the deceivers. The argument is not that people like Joe Lieberman do too much to help Israel but that, though that might be their motive, they achieve the precise opposite result.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A cult of wrongness

Mark Steyn -- the deeply brilliant foreign policy guru and most highly revered neoconservative, Muslim-hating prophet (and favorite of New Republic editor Marty Peretz) -- participated in a National Review "symposium" last December concerning what we should expect in 2006 in the Middle East. Among other things, here is what he wrote:

* Iraq will recede deeper and deeper into the newspaper due to an ongoing lack of bad news.

* Baby Assad will not last the year as Syria's President.

* Osama bin Laden will continue to be dead, and will be confirmed as such.

And, for good measure: "Despite the many obvious defects of congressional Republicans, Democrats will fail to make any gains in November's elections."

In mid-2005, Steyn made virtually the same claims about Iraq:

I think Iraq is on the wane as a domestic policy issue in the US. American troops will be there for some time, but increasingly in a supporting role to the new Iraqi forces.

My bet is that enough of the American people are made of sterner stuff, and that Democrats who continue to argue for retreat – and thus defeat - will find the anti-Iraq drum has less and less resonance. . .

There’ll be other changes with the Iraqis in the driving seat, rather than a Bush Administration that has to keep one eye out on whether Dick Durbin’s going to blubber all over the Senate floor again. . . .I'm also thinking of the Syrian border, where Iraqi troops are much more likely to exercise their right of hot pursuit than the Americans are. This time next year, it could be Iraq destabilizing Syria rather than the other way around.

I'm well aware of this lamentable though blossoming "tradition" where all the pundits playfully issue their little quirky year-end predictions about what is to come -- Person X will lose his job and Person Y will be appointed to that position and so-and-so will win an Academy Award -- and it's really cute and funny when they review their predictions the following year and oh-so-humbly laugh at all their errors, at their "defective crystal ball." A good time is had by all. But that's not what this is.

Steyn is one of those endlessly deceitful propagandists who have been lying for three straight years about what is happening in Iraq -- doing everything he can to assure Americans that the war is going well, that the media is exaggerating the violence, that we are on the precipice of victory, that American cities are more unsafe than Baghdad, that concerns over sectarian violence are nothing more than disguised Bush-hating desires that America lose, etc. etc.

In a rational, fact-based, truth-concerned country, wouldn't someone who said this:

Iraq will recede deeper and deeper into the newspaper due to an ongoing lack of bad news. . . .

. . . and who has been saying essentially the same thing for three years now, publicly present themselves and simply admit: "I am forced by my record of continuous abject wrongness to acknowledge that I actually have no idea what I am talking about and the tiniest amount of shame that I possess therefore precludes me henceforth from ever opining on this topic again, and if I am incapable of adhering to this commitment, I urge you in the strongest terms not to rely upon anything that I say, because my pronouncements have been so blatantly misleading for years"?

And if, as is true in Steyn's case, the person is devoid of even the minimal shame which would compel a public accounting of that sort, wouldn't statements like this lead virtually everyone to agree that the person is a delusional quack, without a shred of reliability or credibility, and cease listening to anything he has to say? And yet . . .

As bizarre as it is, it is simply beyond doubt that when it comes to foreign policy credibility, advocating an extremely stupid and destructive war with false and ill-informed claims is valued more highly than opposing an extremely stupid and destructive war with correct, prescient, and highly informed claims. Advocating a war -- any war -- is always worth more credibility and seriousness than opposing a war. That twisted formula explains a great deal about many things.

The point here is not that the opinions which Steyn expresses are unpersuasive or amoral or extremist (though they are all of that). It's that his statements -- his factual claims -- are repeatedly demonstrated to be pure nonsense, completely false, purely wrong, demonstrably erroneous. And Steyn is by no means alone.

Most of our respected foreign policy analysts and general political pundits -- not to mention our wonderful national "journalists" -- have a rich history of statements over the last four years on Iraq filled with claims just as misleading, inane, and wrong as Steyn's are. And among the crowd who caught the terrorism "fever" (to use Colin Powell and Gerald Ford's accurate term to try to account for what happened to Dick Cheney), the more wrong Steyn is, the more wise and prophet-like he becomes.

That is how our foreign policy debates function. After all, one of the wrongest people on the planet -- Fred Kagan -- is the one whose grand "plan," the Glorious Kagan-Keene Surge, is, according to the most loyal Bush followers, what the President is turning to in order to save us now in Iraq. We've somehow become a country run by a political movement for which Error, Deceit and Wrongness are the highest virtues (and their opposites the greatest vice).

Cliff May's free speech lectures desperately needed here at home

National Review's Cliff May doled out a lecture yesterday about the meaning of free speech to an Islamic cleric in Azerbaijan. The cleric was objecting to a newspaper article which blamed Islam for Azerbaijan's economic troubles, and the cleric said: "I am for freedom of speech but not the freedom to insult." In reply, May sermonized: "You can't have one without the other."

Many of May's ideological comrades here in America are in need of that lecture as much as (at least) the Azerbaijan imam. On Fox News several days ago, Bill Hemmer hosted a segment protesting the "comparison" by The View's Joy Beher of Adolph Hitler and Donald Rumsfeld. One of the two Fox guests was right-wing radio talk show host Mike Gallagher, and this is what he said (h/t mbf):

You know it's a little bit ridiculous that we continue to watch these TV stars and movie stars who smear our leaders. I just wonder, Rob, if you'll think for a moment what our enemies think of seeing TV personalities comparing the outgoing Defense Secretary to Adolph Hitler.

I mean, you know, conservatives never get a pass. Strom Thurmond is wished a Happy Birthday by Trent Lott and the sky falls in on Trent Lott. But if Joy Behar goes on national TV and compares a good man like Rumsfeld to the evilest man in the world and there's no repercussions for Joy Behar.

You know, I think we should round up all of these folks. Round up Joy Behar, round up Matt Damon, who last night on MSNBC attacked George Bush and Dick Cheney. Round up Olbermann, take the whole bunch of them and put them in a detention camp until this war is over because they're a bunch of traitors.

Let us leave to the side for the moment the laughter-until- choking-inducing premise (highlighted by Newshounds) that Islamic terrorists are watching The View and are emboldened by Joy Behar's criticisms of Donald Rumsfeld.

Let us also leave to the side Gallagher's gushing praise, also expressed on Fox back in 2004, for a political ad that he said "brilliantly put together side by side Al Gore's raging, maniacal rant next to Adolf Hitler. It was actually pretty cleverly done."

And let us further leave to the side the all-consuming irony that Gallagher is bitterly complaining about the oh-so-inappropriate invocation of Nazism when criticizing right-wing Bush followers, only to then advocate that critics of the Government-- what he calls "our leaders" -- should be "rounded up" and placed into concentration camps (but only "until this war is over" -- which happens never). One could spend all day if one were so inclined ridiculing Mike Gallagher, but he isn't the issue here.

What is notable is how unnotable comments like these are. There is something quite striking about the fact that Fox News casually broadcasts to its viewers a call for Americans who critcize government leaders to be put into detention camps. And while the opposing guest, radio host Rob Thompson, somewhat lamely pointed out that criticism of "our leaders" isn't treasonous, there was no real challenge to Gallagher's truly disgusting remarks.

In fact, the grinning, empty-headed Bill Hemmer said nothing about Gallagher's outburst. He did, though, point out that he found the remarks by Beher to be "a bit unexcusable," and he ended the segment by inviting the guests back "next week," and then cheerfully added: "Happy Holidays, see you guys."

Perhaps my surprise is a bit naive (and I know there will be several people in comments eager to point out how naive), but shouldn't the expressed call to put domestic political opponents of the Bush administration into "detention camps" render someone beyond the pale? If that doesn't, what does? Is there anything that is considered too authoritarian for Fox News?

Gallagher isn't the first person to make this "argument" of course. Ben Shapiro, among others, on Townhall called for the prosecution and imprisonment of leading Democrats (Al Gore, Howard Dean, John Kerry) for their "sedition" (meaning their criticism of "our leaders").

And Michael Reagan -- a regular guest on Fox and sometimes guest host on Hannity & Colmes -- made one of the most reprehensible though under-appreciated statements from any relatively mainstream political figure when he called for the hanging -- the hanging -- of Howard Dean as a result of Dean's remarks about the war in Iraq:

Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war!

The danger here -- at least the short-term, imminent danger -- is not that anyone is going to be implementing the calls by Gallagher, Shapiro and Reagan to start putting Bush critics into concentration camps. The real issue is the same one raised by the post yesterday discussing Commentary's call for war on Iran in order to seize its oil assets, and it is the same point raised by the "debates" we have had over torture and indefinite detention.

By including advocates of these views in what is considered to be acceptable political discourse -- given forums by the likes of Fox News and treated with respect -- the scope of acceptable and mainstream viewpoints expands outwards towards its most authortarian fringes, until it squarely includes full-blown advocacy of tyranny. As but one example, by including pro-concentration-camp arguments from Gallagher and Reagan in our mainstream discourse, Fox renders the recent, repeated and truly radical calls from Newt Gingrich for a so-called "debate" on what the First Amendment "should protect" as moderate and mild.

The fact that one can turn on Fox News and regularly hear people who advocate the hanging or imprisonment of mainstream Bush critics for the opinions they express is a far more notable development than passive acceptance of it would suggest.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Glorious War Plan for Iran

By Glenn Greenwald - It is hardly news to point out that the warmongers and neoconservatives in the Bush movement are radical, and are becoming increasingly more desperate with the rapid worsening of the predicaments for which they are responsible.

But if you really spend intensive time digging deeply into the things they've been saying and thinking for the last five years -- as I've been doing recently in writing my book -- it is nonetheless astounding: (a) just how deranged and detached from basic reality are their statements and (b) that they have not been forcefully cast out of respectable and mainstream political dialogue as a result of what they say and how they think.

Neoconservatives have now become such caricatures of themselves that it almost pity-inducing to read what they are writing (though even the briefest reminder of the tragic damage they have wrought precludes any possibility of real pity). When it comes to operating within the minimum confines imposed by basic rationality and plain reality, neoconservatives really are indistinguishable from, say, Lyndon LaRouche or Fred Phelps or any number of other deranged extremists who are not merely radical in their ideology, but are so far removed from reality that they command no attention beyond the occasional derisive reference.

Yet there is little doubt that these same neoconservatives still exert the greatest influence on the thinking of our current President, and the more decorated among them still command great respect from our nation's media stars. They are as bloodthirsty as they are detached from reality, as amoral as they are radical, and it is long past the time that just a fraction of the scorn that they so plainly merit be heaped upon them.

The immediate proximate cause prompting this observation is this most repellent article in the leading neoconservative magazine, Commentary, by Arthur Herman, a History Professor at George Mason University. The article, entitled Getting Serious About Iran – a Military Option, is an all-out demand that war with Iran commence as soon as possible, and it offers a detailed plan for how the war should be executed.

Herman declares at the outset that his purpose in the article is to undermine what he scornfully calls the "consensus [that] has taken root in the minds of America’s foreign-policy elite." What is this heinous "elite consensus" that must be uprooted? "That military action against Iran is a sure formula for disaster." Yes, perish that thought. Herman's mission is to defeat the "appeasing line" that war with Iran is "unthinkable." Not only is it thinkable, he contends, but it is feasible and urgently necessary for America's survival.

After reviewing all of the available short-of-war options for deterring Iranian nuclear proliferation, Herman declares -- with a claim that defines a new level of irony -- that “all of these recommendations fly in the face of reality." Dismissing away the consensus of the intelligence community, Herman claims that Iran may possess a nuclear weapon “within the next two to three years,” and that the U.S. (of course) possesses more than ample justification for waging war now on Iran:

Which brings us back to the military option. That there is plentiful warrant for the exercise of this option—in Iran’s serial defiance of UN resolutions, in its declared genocidal intentions toward Israel, another member of the United Nations, and in the fact of its harboring, supporting, and training of international terrorists—could not be clearer.

Like a teenager in the obsessive midst of an online vídeo war game, Herman lays out a detailed fantasy plan for our military attack on Iran:

the attack could move to include Iran’s nuclear facilities—not only the “hard” sites but also infrastructure like bridges and tunnels in order to prevent the shifting of critical materials from one to site to another. Above all, the air attack would concentrate on Iran’s gasoline refineries.

But with the massive air attack on Iran’s industrial infrastructure (not to mention the destruction of their bridges and tunnels, tacked on as an afterthought), Herman is just warming up:

The scenario would not end here. With the systematic reduction of Iran’s capacity to respond, an amphibious force of Marines and special-operations forces could seize key Iranian oil assets in the Gulf, the most important of which is a series of 100 offshore wells and platforms built on Iran’s continental shelf.

North and South Pars offshore fields, which represent the future of Iran’s oil and natural-gas industry, could also be seized, while Kargh Island at the far western edge of the Persian Gulf, whose terminus pumps the oil from Iran’s most mature and copiously producing fields (Ahwaz, Marun, and Gachsaran, among others), could be rendered virtually useless. By the time the campaign was over, the United States military would be in a position to control the flow of Iranian oil at the flick of a switch.

Once the U.S. controls Iran’s oil, Herman envisions that we can then start dictating to Iran what their government will be, what policies they should and should not undertake, and basically put them into complete submission to our will. Herman argues that our war plan:

must therefore be predicated not only on seizing the state’s oil assets but on refusing to relinquish them unless and until there is credible evidence of regime change in Tehran or—what is all but inconceivable—a major change of direction by the reigning theocracy.

And what of the rather self-evident, towering risks of unilaterally attacking a country like Iran and seizing its oil assets? Those are all dismissed away by Herman as casually and cursorily as he drew up his grand war plans: “The tactical risks associated with a comprehensive war strategy of this sort are numerous. But they are outweighed by its key advantages.”

This is not some "thought experiment" or some game theory. This is really what Herman, and so many like him, believe the U.S. should do, and do now.

The very idea that we are going to launch a unilateral bombing campaign against Iran, shatter its infrastructure, and then seize its oil assets is pure insanity of the highest order. There is no other way to describe that. And that would be true at any time, let alone when we are bogged down in the greatest strategic disaster in our nation's history, where our already horrendous position could be worsened immeasurably by Iran.

One feels absurd even dignifying Herman's "analysis" with a substantive response. It really is the stuff of the babbling prophet standing on a cardboard box in the 1980s version of Times Square.

But with the fate of our Iraq occupation sealed through the end of the Bush presidency, the most pressing question is whether the Leader will use the last two years of his presidency to provoke some sort of military confrontation with Iran, and people like Herman are not standing on boxes in Times Square where they belong, but instead are writing in Commentary, which continues to exert real influence among the radicals who have driven our country into the state it is currently in (as but one example, Mark Halperin favorite Hugh Hewitt commended Herman's war plan as a "must-read").

When attempting to understand what has happened to the United States over the last six years, the fact that moronic commentary like Herman's was (and largely continues to be) treated as "serious" and "responsible" foreign policy wisdom, while those opposing the commencement of offensive wars were demonized as frivolous radicals, is the necessary starting point. For the same reason, excising people like Herman and his allies from our political dialogue is the highest priority in beginning to repair the destruction they have spawned.

Incentivizing Honesty in Politics

By Anonymous Liberal

By Anonymous Liberal--In my post yesterday, I highlighted the stark difference between the rigid standards that apply to commercial advertising in this country and the ‘anything goes’ nature of political advertising. My primary point was that human nature doesn’t suddenly change when the conversation shifts from shopping to politics, and therefore it’s bizarre that everyone seems to assume that “voters” possess the sort of truth-detection skills that we all know “consumers” do not. Consumers and voters are, after all, the same people, and advertisements are advertisements, regardless of whether they’re selling laxatives or representatives.

Indeed, the robust protections provided to consumers may actually make the problem of false political advertising more acute. As a commenter over at Digby’s points out, many people have internalized the prohibition against false-advertising and simply assume that it applies to political ads as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things like “that ad must be at least technically true or they wouldn’t be allowed to air it.”

We live in an era where the outcomes of elections often hinge on the effectiveness of political advertising. For reasons I discussed in my previous post, however, it is simply not feasible (or advisable) to regulate the truthfulness of political advertising in the same way we regulate the truthfulness of commercial advertising.

But that doesn’t mean we have to resign ourselves to a system that actually encourages deceptive political advertising.

In the realm of commercial speech, we incentivize honesty by punishing dishonesty. Those who mislead consumers face the prospect of stiff fines, high damage awards, injunctions, and even imprisonment depending on the circumstances. It’s a very stick-heavy approach, which is why it raises so many First Amendment concerns when applied to political speech. But good behavior can be encouraged through the use carrots as well as sticks. And therein lies the key to avoiding First Amendment objections: focus less on punishing dishonesty and more on rewarding honesty.

A change of emphasis is also needed. Because consumer protection laws are primarily aimed at businesses and those driven by a desire to make money, they understandably focus on combating dishonestly through the use of economic disincentives. The idea is to create a system where your economic interests are better served by being honest than being deceptive.

But politicians and political parties are driven by a different bottom line. In order to tailor this approach to the political realm, incentives and disincentives have to be political in nature. We need to try to create a system where a candidate’s political interests will be better served by honesty than deception.

The most effective tool for aligning incentives in this way is the media, both new and old. To the extent journalists and bloggers can generate political blowback when a politician lies, politicians will be discouraged from doing so. Unfortunately, our emasculated press corps tends to do the exact opposite. In order to avoid accusations of bias, journalists adhere to a painfully formulaic "dueling narrative" style of journalism which actually encourages dishonesty by giving lies equally billing to the truth. Blogs are a welcome counterweight in this regard and do have some ability to influence media narratives and expose lies and deception. I’m optimistic that as the medium of blogging continues to mature and evolve, blogs will play an increasingly important role in creating the sort of incentive structure necessary to encourage more honest politics.

That said, I believe it will take more than just the media (even the new media) to create the structural incentives necessary to significantly improve the situation. We really need to start thinking outside the box on this issue. We need to think of ways in which legislation and private initiatives can create the sort of incentives necessary to influence the basic political calculus.

What am I talking about? Well, for instance, you’re probably familiar with the provision of the McCain-Feingold bill that requires those sponsoring political ads to indicate who paid for them (“My name is Bob Smith and I approved this message.”) The idea behind the provision was that it would discourage truly sleazy and dishonest ads by making politicians embarrassed to be associated with them. I think the authors of the bill failed to appreciate just how little shame many politicians have, but I’m more concerned with the structure of the provision than the provision itself. The important thing is that the Supreme Court held that this disclosure requirement does not violate the First Amendment. That’s important, because it opens the door to a number of other creative ways of discouraging deceptive politics.

For instance, suppose a state were to pass a law creating some sort of body—perhaps consisting of retired judges—which was empowered to review the truthfulness of political ads. It could be called the “Election Commission” or something similar. To avoid First Amendment concerns, there would be no requirement that ads be submitted to the Commission for review, but there would be a requirement that all ads disclose prominently, ala McCain-Feingold, whether or not the ad has been submitted and approved by the Election Commission (i.e. “this ad has been reviewed for truthfulness by the Election Commission” or “this ad has not been submitted to the Election Commission”).

The Commission would be instructed by law to withhold its blessing of ads which are either false or materially misleading (the same standards that govern commercial advertising). Those seeking approval of ads would submit them, along with an affidavit attesting to and supporting its truthfulness. Preliminary approval could be granted very quickly, within hours. If anyone wished to question the approval, they could submit counter-evidence, which if found to be persuasive, would result in the withdrawal of the Commission’s approval.

While politicians and interest groups would be under no obligation to submit their ads for review, there would be a strong incentive to do so. Those who wish to be taken seriously and viewed as honest would readily submit their ads to the Commission. Those who choose not to submit their ads to the Commission would be free to run them anyway, but would likely pay some political price for doing so. The ads would be looked upon much more skeptically by the public and opposing politicians would likely try to score political points by pointing to the candidate’s unwillingness to seek Commission approval (“What is my opponent so afraid of?”).

Would this sort of legislation really work? It’s hard to know. I’m sure the insightful commenters at this site will point out any number of potential problems with such a plan, perhaps some of them fatal. But I hope this example at least illustrates the sort of proposals I have in mind. We need to think of ways to establish structural incentives that reward honesty and discourage deception. We need to work toward creating a system where politicians see it as being in their best political interest to avoid making false and misleading claims.

I realize that’s an enormously ambitious goal, but even a marginal improvement in the current incentive structure would go a long way toward improving the quality of political discourse in this country. And one of the greatest aspects of our federalist system is that we have 50 laboratories in which to experiment with these kinds of proposals; all it takes is a good idea and a state willing to try it. So I ask you to put aside your cynicism for a moment and really think long and hard about this issue. There have to be creative ways we can come up with to incentivize honesty in politics—even if just a little bit--without running afoul of the First Amendment. That’s my challenge to you (and to myself).

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Paradox at the Heart of Modern Politics

By Anonymous Liberal

By Anonymous Liberal - As a political junkie and a litigator who works primarily with large corporate clients, I’ve come to appreciate that there is a fundamental disconnect between the assumptions that underlie the prevailing approach to and coverage of political issues in this country and the assumptions that drive our policies in virtually every other context.

For example, within the context of commerce and the marketplace, we long ago realized that the average consumer is generally not in a position to tell whether or not she is being lied to or misled, whether by way of an advertisement or an overzealous sales pitch. That’s why, over the years, we have put in place a complex array of overlapping laws and regulations designed to protect consumers from being misled. If a company makes a claim which is even slightly misleading, it will quickly find itself up to its eyeballs in litigation, whether in the form of government enforcement actions, lawsuits by competitors, or consumer class actions (often all three). There are also any number of tort and quasi-contractual claims that aggrieved consumers can bring against the individuals and companies who deceived them.

As a result, companies take great care to ensure that their statements are truthful, and consumers can be reasonably confident that advertisers are not lying to them.

The same is not at all true in the realm of politics, where candidates and interest groups can pretty much say whatever they want and voters are generally left to fend for themselves. Lies and misleading claims are commonplace, if not the norm. The perverse result is that most Americans are far better informed (or at least far less misinformed) when they step into the mall than when they step into the voting booth.

To put it another way, our system attributes to people in their capacity as voters the very truth-detection skills that it assumes they do not have in their capacity as consumers.

What accounts for this disparity? Why is it that the basic assumptions about human nature that animate our approach to so many areas of the law are suddenly thrown out the window when it comes to politics?

As an initial matter, I should point out that it’s not as if no one has ever thought of trying to import our consumer protection policies into the realm of politics. Various states have experimented with such laws. But these attempts invariably run into two major problems.

First, the realities of the political calendar make the consumer protection approach difficult to implement. By the time an aggrieved party can successfully litigate a false-advertising claim, the election is usually over and the issue is either moot or very difficult to remedy.

Far more important, though, is the second obstacle: the Constitution. The First Amendment provides much more robust protections to political speech than it does to commercial speech (and for good reasons). As a result, consumer protection laws can go much farther in regulating what people can and cannot say. For instance, in the commercial context, false advertising laws can and do prohibit claims that are truthful-but-misleading; they also create liability regardless of whether the maker of the statement knew it to be false.

In the political context, however, a law that does anything more than prohibit the making of knowingly false claims--a very difficult burden to meet--is unlikely to pass constitutional muster. There’s plenty of room to be deceptive without resorting to demonstrable falsehoods, and even when caught red-handed in a lie, candidates and interest groups are likely to plead ignorance or mistake.

These difficulties have led most states to abandon legislative efforts to protect voters from false and misleading political claims. As a result, we end up with a system in which you have to be scrupulously honest when selling a toaster, but you can pretty much say anything you want when you’re selling the next president of the United States.

As a believer in the First Amendment, I understand why this is the case and why the same approach we use to protect consumers from deceptive and misleading claims would be highly problematic if applied to political speech. What I don’t understand is why everyone seems to throw their understanding of human nature out the window when the conversation shifts from commerce to politics.

For reasons that I don’t understand, our mainstream journalists and media figures always seem to operate under the assumption that the average person is capable of sorting through all the political information they’re bombarded with and reaching an informed decision. This despite the fact that half of our laws are premised on the exact opposite assumption, i.e., that people are easily misinformed by those with an incentive to do so.

I remember, for example, that in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, the media made a habit of noting that most Americans supported the invasion. Rarely, however, did anyone mention the fact that nearly 70% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 or the fact that the Bush administration had been going out of its way to foster that misperception.

As I’ve observed before, when it comes to covering politics, journalists today are much more like play-by-play announcers than referees. They no longer see it as their job to step in and call fouls, i.e., to call a lie a lie. This is a pity because--for the reasons explained above--it is in the arena of politics where we are most in need of referees; it is in the arena of politics where the normal referees (government officials, judges, private litigants) cannot operate effectively.

I'll have much more to say about this topic in the near future, including (hopefully) some suggestions of ways to incentivize honesty in political advertising without running afoul of the First Amendment. For now, though, I thought I'd start by simply highlighting this paradox. We live in a country of incredibly well-informed consumers and incredibly misinformed voters. We desperately need to find a way to improve the level of political discourse in this country.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Lapping up Zawahiri's hate

By Nitpicker

By Nitpicker--You would think that Republicans would be shamed by the fact so many of them seem to agree, at least to some extent, with the beliefs of terrorists and other Muslim extremists. For example:

  • Dinesh D'Souza thinks that "decadent and depraved American culture...angers and repulses other societies—especially traditional and religious ones." You know, like the religious conservatives of al Qaeda.

  • Congressman Virgil Goode (R-VA) believes, in the manner of the Taliban, that countries should be run by a single religion. They only disagree on which religion should rule.

  • Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter think certain Americans are simply asking to be attacked by terrorists.

  • Bush supporter author Orson Scott Card thinks that, when terrorists call us decadent and evil, Hollywood movies "prove their point."

  • Mary Grabar, writing on one of the most-visited conservative sites, writes she agrees with pre-Enlightenment views of women, specifically that"Women, without male guidance, are illogical, frivolous, and incapable of making any decisions beyond what to make for dinner." It's unlikelythe Saudis who keep women from taking part in the electoral process would disagree.

Me, I'd be ashamed if these beliefs were held by people on my side of the political aisle, but not Republicans.

Tom DeLay, for example, has said about the midterm elections that "Democrats didn't win. Republicans lost." Today, Ayman al Zawahri released yet another tape (a reminder, of course, that he's still on the loose) and it seems like he's been listening to Tom DeLay.

(Democrats) aren't the ones who won the midterm elections, nor are the Republicans the ones who lost. Rather, the Mujahideen -- the Muslim Ummah's vanguard in Afghanistan and Iraq -- are the ones who won...

Shit, if terrorists directly copied the "it's not you, it's me" explanation of one of the leaders of my party, I'd probably whistle quietly to myself and hope that no one else noticed. Republicans, they lap it up.

The Jawa Report: How many times have we said that Democrat victotry will be seen by Islamic terrorists as a victory for them?

Riehl World View: If the Democrats had the slightest bit of back bone to offer in support of the war on terror, you'd think some Democrat leader would immediately want to take this head on. Unfortunately, they can't really do that, perhaps because to a good extent, it's true.

California Yankee, at Redstate: Zawahri may be right, but the Democrats couldn't have done it without the help of the biased media wing of the Democratic Party.

Power Line's Hinderaker: I actually agree with Zawahiri on that one...Once again, I think he has a point...Once again, Zawahiri isn't entirely wrong...(And I simply have to add that Jules Crittenden praises Hinderaker for "sacrific(ing) himself to give us a good roundup. No greater love..." Apparently, in right wing world, reading is now what amounts to sacrifice and is worthy of praise similar to that which Jesus gives to those who sacrifice their lives for their friends [John 15:13].)

Yeah, you're reading that right. Those are four major right wing blogs agreeing with al Qaeda's Number Two!

Hell, Zawahiri should probably get his own log-in over at the Corner for his statement that attempting a diplomatic solution involving Iran would be to "embark on a painful journey of failed negotiations." (Then again, they've got too many radical weirdos over there already...How about My Pet Zawa?)

So far, only the conservative blogger "Captain Ed" has shown the sense to warn his "friends on the internet" that this is propaganda from a "delusional psychopath" and "(t)aking any part of it seriously is a mistake of the first order." Too bad for Ed that so many of his friends are themselves delusional and, therfore, willing to agree with a terrorist as long as he supports their beliefs about Democrats.

Cross-posted at Nitpicker.

Friday, December 22, 2006

What Haditha says about the warbloggers.

By Blue Texan

By Blue Texan -- Yesterday, the Haditha tragedy was again in the news, as 8 Marines now face criminal charges in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians -- including women and children -- killed in the Iraqi town on November 19, 2005.

Predictably, this has been totally ignored thus far by Bush followers, including Mobius Dick, Michelle Malkin, Powerline and RedState. It's a given, had the Marines not been charged, that their sites would be lighting up like Christmas trees, attacking the media over its rush to judgement, how it hates our troops, how it was trying to hurt Bush and undermine the war, etc.

Oh wait, they already did that.

Those who would reduce war crimes to mere partisan footballs are not manning the bulwarks of moral seriousness, however much they might adopt that pose.

Indeed. Remember, unserious leftists, it's only acceptable to use war crimes as partisan footballs to flog the media again and again and again and again, accuse it of "Bush-bashing" and attack the UN for good measure.

All of Mobius Dick's Haditha posts can be found here, and they're basically all about the same thing: media bias. Kind of a narrow, um, analysis.

Ironically, two days prior to the killings at Haditha, John Murtha, who Mobius deemed a "disgrace," called for the complete withdrawal of US troops in Iraq, saying they no longer had a clear mission and that the war in Iraq was a "flawed policy." This is the very same month, by the way, that President Bush announced his "Strategy for Victory" in Iraq.

The warbloggers shrieked and screamed at Murtha (Powerline later called him "disgusting" and Michelle Malkin accused him of "hanging the Marines"), and of course propped up the Great Leader. But in their frantic demonizing of Murtha and the media they never bothered to ask this critical question about Haditha: why were the Marines there? Why were Marines getting blown up by IEDs and knocking down civilian doors in Anbar, almost three years after Mission Accomplished?

We should remember that the cretins (as Chris Matthews called them earlier this week) who put those guys in that terrible situation are just as responsible for Haditha as the men on the ground. If you put overstressed combat soldiers in an untenable situation, bad things happen. John Murtha, who was a Marine for 37 years, understood that. The warbloggers like Mobius Dick, who've never served, still don't.

A doubly informative op-ed

By Nitpicker

By Nitpicker--In today's New York Times, Flynt Leverett, a former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, and Hillary Mann, a former Foreign Service officer, write about how the Bush administration has been playing rhetorical chicken with Iran since the beginning of 2002. Glenn (who should be working on his book) discussed the administration's most recent and blatant provocations against Iran earlier today, but Leverett and Mann describe an administration which has been dragging us toward this point all along.

In December 2001, xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx x Tehran to keep Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the brutal pro-Al Qaeda warlord, from returning to Afghanistan to lead jihadist resistance there. xxxxx xxxxxxx so long as the Bush administration did not criticize it for harboring terrorists. But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the “axis of evil.” Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech. xxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxx the Islamic Republic could not be seen to be harboring terrorists.
If you're curious about all those Xs, they represent the black bars covering portions of the op-ed redacted by the White House. According to Leverett, this op-ed is "based on (a) longer paper...just published with the Century Foundation--which was cleared by the CIA without modifying a single word of the draft." The White House, Leverett says, demanded that he and Mann redact several sections of the piece, including at least one whole paragraph, claiming that they deal with classified information.

Leverett, Mann and the Times, however, have performed a great service to the American public. Not only have they highlighted this administration's failure to act in a diplomatic, intelligent way toward Iran, but, by printing the essay with the black bars and providing a page entitled "What We Wanted To Tell You About Iran," they are also giving us an insight into the administration's continued attempts to politicize intelligence. The page offers links--without specific connections to redacted areas--to sites which already host the information the White House wanted covered up.

I have not yet definitively filled in the redacted portions yet, but the links provided show that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and others said they spoke with Iranian diplomats in December 2001. It is only a matter of time until someone fills these Xs in and posts a repaired version of the op-ed on their blog. (My money's on Juan Cole having the most accurate version.)

Since the information is already in the public domain, however, we get to see a bit more of how the increasingly creaky clockworks of this administration operate. The muckrakers at Josh Marshall's TPMmuckraker's site have been creating a list of information that this administration has "disappeared" since Bush took office. When you look at that list in light of today's piece, it becomes clear that this is part of and informational set piece, designed to keep Americans from understanding the full depths of either their ineptitude or their intent to begin yet another war in the Middle East. Bushies do not want Americans to connect these dots. They know the information exists in scattered bits--as thousands of points of light?--but clearly intended to prevent the synthesis of this information becoming part of the conversation about how the U.S. should deal with Iran.

It is likely the White House believed slicing Leverett and Mann's essay drastically would convince the Times, but, instead, the redacted version is ever more useful.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Bush administration's provocations towards Iran

(updated below)

By Glenn Greenwald - Over the past several days, there have been reports of increasing U.S. military activity in the Persian Gulf aimed at Iran, and today The New York Times confirms that "the United States and Britain will begin moving additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region in a display of military resolve toward Iran." The buildup includes "a second aircraft carrier and its supporting ships to be stationed within quick sailing distance of Iran by early next year."

There is no doubt that these moves are intended to signal to the Iranians (as well as to what the Times describes as "Washington’s allies in the region who are concerned about Iran’s intentions") that we are capable of an offensive military strike against Iran:

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

One purpose of the deployment, they said, is to make clear that the focus on ground troops in Iraq has not made it impossible for the United States and its allies to maintain a military watch on Iran.

Bush officials cite two "justifications" for these maneuvers: (1) to enforce any sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council as a result of Iran's refusal to comply with its resolutions (sanctions which have not yet been imposed), and (2) to deter Iran from a military blockade of oil shipments in retaliation for not-yet-imposed sanctions.

The President was not even asked about his intentions with regard to Iran at yesterday's Press Conference. He was asked whether he would follow the ISG's recommendation to negotiate with Iran concerning Iraq, and the President gave his standard bizarre answer that he would negotiate with the Iranians once they agreed to suspend their nuclear research program -- i.e., once they agreed in advance to do everything we would demand that they do in negotiations. The Iranians have responded in-kind by saying that they would negotiate with the U.S. only once we left Iraq.

According to the Times, Bush officials "view recent bold moves by Iran — and by North Korea as well — as at least partly explained by assessments in Tehran and North Korea that the American military is bogged down in Iraq and incapable of fully projecting power elsewhere." There is undoubtedly truth in that. For an administration which has operated on the bellicose premise that "weakness is provocative," it has hard to overstate the extent to which the Iraq disaster has -- quite rationally -- emboldened countries around the world against the U.S. and diluted the deterrent threat of our military force.

Any action which brings us even a small step closer to military confrontation with Iran should be, by definition, the most attention-generating news story. Any military conflict with Iran would be so disastrous for the U.S. that it cannot be adequately described. In contrast to the weakened, isolated, universally reviled Saddam regime, the Iranians are smart, strong, shrewd and supported by scores of vitally important allies around the world. And that's to say nothing of the resources that are being drained away, and the ever increasing U.S. isolation, that occurs every day that we continue to occupy Iraq.

It's unclear whether the President really believes that a military confrontation with Iran is inevitable if they do not stop their nuclear program (which they will not do, particularly if we refuse to negotiate). He has given speeches in the recent past in which he spoke of Iran exactly the same way he spoke of Iraq in late 2002 when, in his mind, an attack on Iraq was already a fait accompli.

It's possible that that rhetoric was designed to satiate his hungry, crazed warmongering "base." And it's also possible that it was designed to simply convey to the Iranians that military force is possible despite our occupation of Iraq.

But it's equally possible that he really does believe that some sort of war with Iran is inevitable -- even if it is "just" an air attack -- and recent news events suggesting that public opposition to President Ahmadinejad is growing may trigger the President's messianic complex and lead him to the belief that the U.S. is "called upon" to help bring democracy to that country. And many of the people who convinced the President to invade Iraq have long harbored dreams of regime change in Iran as the Ultimate Success, or at least the Next Step in the Epic War of Civilizations.

The warmongers who unquestionably still have the President's ear immediately transformed the recent debate over whether we should negotiate with Iran (prompted by the ISG) into an argument that Iran is our Real Enemy, not just in general but specifically in Iraq, and that Iran should be attacked, not negotiated with. Those wild-eyed war-loving elements are tempting to dismiss because of how obviously extremist and detached from reality they are, but they continue to occupy places of high influence with the President (both inside and outside of the White House).

Worse, there are convincing signs that the President is one of them, i.e., that he now irreversibly shares their world view that War with Islamic Extremism requires a progressive series of wars with various states, the next of which is Iran. One thing that is so clear that it ought to be beyond doubt: if the President is convinced that some sort of military action is necessary or even warranted, nothing -- not public opinion nor his supposed "lame duck" status nor the sheer insanity of the proposal -- is going to stop him.

Few things have been as disturbing as the President's now immovable belief that he is Harry Truman -- fighting a necessary war even in the face of widespread opposition from weak and blind people in his own country and around the world -- but destined to be vindicated by history. And, as he sees it, the more he fights against anti-war headwinds and the bolder he is in the risks he takes, the greater his vindication will be.

Geopolitical considerations do not determine what the U.S. will do vis-a-vis Iran. The President's personality does.

Even if the President and/or his top advisors are less than clear about their intent with regard to Iran, it may not matter. Military build-ups of this sort, plainly aimed at one country in particular, can easily produce miscalculations or lead to unintended provocations. As but one of countless permutations, if the Iranians -- governed, we are unconvicingly told, by irrational and crazed Hitlers -- perceive that moves of this sort suggest that military confrontation with the U.S. is inevitable, then they can become incentivized to strengthen their position, particularly while the U.S. is weakened in Iraq, which can in turn cause the U.S. to escalate its actions, etc.

Or a restless anti-mullah movement can be quieted by uniting the country behind conflict with the U.S. It is an incomparably dangerous game and the consequences are almost certainly beyond our capacity to predict, let alone manage.

There are also all sorts of constitutional questions about the type of Congressional authorization required in order to interact militarily with Iran, but those would almost certainly be swept aside by an administration that would claim that it already has such authorization either inherently or as a result of Iran's involvement in our war in Iraq. If the President were really intent on war with Iran, it is very difficult to envision Congressional Democrats, or really anything else, stopping him.

None of these issues is clear and I would not describe anything as inevitable when it comes to Iran. But at a time when the country is vigorously opposed to our ongoing occupation in Iraq -- opposition which is being steadfastly ignored by a Washington Establishment that is about to increase our troop presence there -- any actions of the sort we are currently undertaking to militarily provoke Iran should be at the top of the list in our political debates.

While there may be all sorts of nice, clean, abstract theories which even Democrats can embrace about why a military build-up is wise and necessary as a show of force against Iran, it must be kept first and foremost in mind that it is the Bush administration that is overseeing the build-up and will decide whatever steps are taken as a result. That is reason enough not only to justify urgent opposition to these events, but to make such opposition a matter of unparalleled importance.

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UPDATE: Digby -- whose blogging, more than anything else, convinced me of the unique potential of the blogosphere, which, in turn, motivated me to begin this blog -- is asking for reader donations to sustain and help support the truly invaluable blogging that takes place on Hullabaloo. Last year, I donated to Digby myself and encourage anyone who is a fan of Digby's blogging to do so.

Some bloggers have a larger daily readership, but few have as much impact and influence on the content of our political dialogue as Digby does. And that, in my view, is a very good thing that ought to be maintained and encouraged.

* * * * * * * * *

Atrios, whose blog has been down ever since he was hoodwinked by Blogspot into accepting the "quick, easy and painless" upgrade they have been offering (which I have been steadfastly resisting), is blogging temporarily here.

Instapundit's brave and principled stand for truth and accuracy.

By Blue Texan (Updated below) (Updated again)

By Blue Texan -- Glenn Reynolds aka "Mobius Dick" continued his tedious campaign against the free press today. Reflexive hostility to the press is a favorite staple of right wingers, so it's no surprise that this is an ongoing obsession of his. Since the war began, not satisfied with calling the media merely biased, Mobius Dick has accused the press of being objectively pro-terrorist on more than one occasion.

A rational person looks at our media and sees Fortune 500 corporations -- GE, Viacom, Disney, News Corp. Corporations that, by their very nature, are conservative. Corporations which actually financially benefit from war. Corporations which are cozy with political authority. Corporations which are driven by conservatives' beloved free market --- ratings and revenue --- over any political agenda.

A crazy person looks at our media and sees willing accomplices of jihadists and suicide bombers, eager to defeat the Great Satan, eager to humiliate the Great Leader and bring about the downfall of the West.

Mobius Dick, though he has insisted for over three years that the pro-terrorist media has been exaggerating the calamity that is the Great Leader's Iraq policy, has finally gotten around to facing reality and admits today that maybe we're not winning after all. But he's still angry.

Just because things are bad in Iraq doesn't justify false reports using phony sources, something that the AP's defenders seem to be suggesting. "Fake but accurate" isn't a standard to be raising, is it? The fact is that we've seen a massive institutional failure on the part of the media.

How can anyone who compiles a pathetic public record like this on Iraq claim to have the credibility or moral standing to lecture anyone else on failure? What about his many failures? I'm sorry, but anyone who promoted a bizarrely imaginary link between Timothy McVeigh and Saddam Hussein pretty much forfeits their standing to criticize anyone else's accuracy forever.

And his smug self-righteousness is that much more nauseating now that he's been proven wrong. While Mobius Dick glibly pecked his "Hehs" and "Indeeds" on his keyboard from the safety of East Tennessee while Iraq burned, real reporters were dying in Iraq, and in record numbers. Reporters that were telling the story he dismissed as anti-Bush and defeatist. The story that happened to be true.

Also, note his incessant, reductive use of the word, "the press" and "the media", as though that's a single entity. What media, Mobius Dick? Fox News? Rush Limbaugh? The New York Post? The Chicago Sun-Times? The National Review? The Wall Street Journal? NBC? Your blog?

What set Mobius Dick off today was fellow Bush follower and National Review editor Rich Lowery's admission that the mainstream media was right about Iraq and the Bush followers like Mobius Dick who were screaming media bias were wrong.

(This is a long quote, but it's so fun to read, again and again).

Most of the pessimistic warnings from the mainstream media have turned out to be right -- that the initial invasion would be the easy part, that seeming turning points (the capture of Saddam, the elections, the killing of Zarqawi) were illusory, that the country was dissolving into a civil war...

The "good news" that conservatives have accused the media of not reporting has generally been pretty weak. The Iraqi elections were indeed major accomplishments. But the opening of schools and hospitals is not particularly newsworthy, at least not compared with American casualties and with sectarian attacks meant to bring Iraq down around everyone's heads in a full-scale civil war. An old conservative chestnut has it that only four of Iraq's 18 provinces are beset by violence. True, but those provinces include 40 percent of the population, as well as the capital city, where the battle over the country's future is being waged.

In their distrust of the mainstream media, their defensiveness over President Bush and the war, and their understandable urge to buck up the nation's will, many conservatives lost touch with reality on Iraq. They thought that they were contributing to our success, but they were only helping to forestall a cold look at conditions there and the change in strategy and tactics that would be dictated by it.

And that explains this. That at least partially explains why Bush followers like Mobius Dick have done a tremendous disservice to their country -- and ironically, their own political party -- in propping up a failed policy, a failed war, a failed President. But really, what it comes down to is simple, base partisanship. Iraq was more a Republican war than any other, and it was to be the Great Leader's legacy.

And yet Mobius Dick is defiant still. In 20 years, when we speak of Iraq like Americans once spoke of Vietnam, people like Mobius Dick will still be blaming the media, just as the right today blames Walter Cronkite for losing Vietnam.

The only word that comes to mind is crazy.


If you need any confirmation how delusional the far right is, check out the hostile reaction to Lowery's column in Town Hall. Amid the cries of "leftist" and "defeatism", right on cue, Walter Cronkite is yet again blamed for losing the Vietnam War:

If the MSM wants to report the bad news and also the good news, that would be okay. But when a popular talking head like Walter Cronkite gets on national tv and tells everybody that we have lost the war, when in fact that is totally false, that is determental to our national security. I also consider the blood of 3 million Vietnamese to be on his hands, along with his media cohorts! Cronkite wasn't reporting the news, he was making non-factual statements about the war based upon his ideology, which caused many people to die.

Ah, yes. You see, it wasn't that the communists had popular support in the south, or that the government we were propping up in Saigon was totally corrupt, or that the Vietnamese people viewed the US presence there as imperialism. No, it was all Walter Cronkite's fault. He is responsible for the deaths of 3 million Vietnamese. If it weren't for him, Vietnam would now be a Jeffersonian democracy, instead of one of the few remaining communist countries in the world.

Yep -- crazy.


For a related discussion, see this excellent analysis at Media Matters by Eric Boehlert. He concludes,

It's odd that warbloggers have expended an enormous amount of time and energy trying to pick apart a single source from a single, relatively brief AP dispatch, arguing that the misleading information in that article somehow calls into question all of the Iraq reporting, yet warbloggers have been relatively silent about the recent string of book-length critiques of the war. I'm thinking in particular about Thomas Ricks' excellent book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Penguin Press, July 2006), which, in its first 100 pages, tells readers all they need to know about the botched war. Warbloggers either don't read books, or are so completely overwhelmed by the definitive evidence produced in a book like Fiasco, which relies heavily on sources from within the U.S. military to paint its convincing picture of Bush administration incompetence, that warbloggers simply have no choice but to turn away and focus their attention on evil AP stringers.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Quotes within quotes

By Nitpicker

By Nitpicker--For the record, I was all ready to write a post pointing out how, finally, Bush was coming around to reality in realizing that we are not winning in Iraq, as quoted by Washington Post reporter Peter Baker.
As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we're winning."
Thank God, I thought upon reading that. Bush has at least met the reality-based community halfway. This should be the Come to Jesus Moment those few Americans still hanging on to the shreds of this debacle.

But, unfortunately for both those who want this end this war and those interested in the current state of the American press, Bush didn't really sign on to this "formula," but you'll only know that if you look at the transcript.
WAPO: Are we winning in Iraq, in your estimation?

BUSH: You know, I think an interesting construct that General [Peter] Pace uses is, "We're not winning, we're not losing." There's been some very positive developments. And you take a step back and look at progress in Iraq, you say, well, it's amazing -- constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, which is a remarkable development in itself.
So, despite the fact that Bush is clearly quoted in the article, there should be quotes within those quotes. He never says he believes "we're not winning, we're not losing," but only describes Pace's "interesting construct" on the issue. Of the three Post reporters present, no one asks him whether he subscribes to that "construct" himself. Later, there is this follow up:
WAPO: Can we come back to General Pace's formulation about winning, not losing? You said October 24th, "Absolutely, we're winning." And I wanted to --

BUSH: Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win...
You see, Bush clearly never backs Pace's view, but ducks and dodges as well as Clinton ever did. Regardless, the Post ran with the headline: U.S. Not Winning War in Iraq, Bush Says for 1st Time

I mocked right wing bloggers like John Hinderaker when they complained that Robert Gates' admission we weren't winning (or losing!) in Iraq wasn't news. It's clearly newsworthy when someone nominated by a president clearly disagrees with the president's stated position on something as important as the Iraq war, no matter how Tony Snow tries to spin it. But here you see an example of how the American media has devolved into a "gotcha" machine. The only news in this entire article was Bush's statement that he wanted to increase the size of the military. The rest was political fodder, questions designed to stock the quivers of Hannity and Colmes, Limbaugh and Franken, Hinderaker and me.

Those on the right will say that this is a sign of media bias, but that's a ridiculous argument. Ask Howard Dean--whom the press treated like a slipup slot machine--if the press only focuses its gotcha guns on the right. The truth is, the press has simply lost its sense of purpose. There are too few members of the Fourth Estate who understand the need to help Americans to make the important choices citizens must make in a democracy by giving their stories context; by discussing the ideas which drive (or should drive) our political debate; and, yes, by crying bullshit when necessary.

Do I think we're a nation led by a dolt? I most certainly do, but that doesn't mean I want the press feeding my beliefs or the beliefs of others by misrepresenting what is said. I want the truth. Those on the right will cry bullshit about the headline of the Post article and they'll be correct in doing so. The press needs to learn that the "media critics" on the right are, in a way, like the Iraqi insurgents: They will use a small error to create big damage. Every time a member of the press writes an article like this one, they give the right more ammunition to chip away at their credibility. From now until doomsday, Brent Bozell will always be able to fall back on "If the press is so balanced, then why did they say Bush said we're not winning in Iraq?" All he--and others like him--are looking for is an opportunity to cloud the issue, to give their believers on the right, as I've said, permission to not believe the press.

As I've admitted many times, I'm just a filthy blogger, a "fool" writing to "imbeciles" (as The Wall Street Journal's Joseph Rago would have it) and I'm not above mocking politicians or making the informational equivalent of a fart joke. But let me say this again: I'm just a filthy blogger. I am neither paid six figures to be credible (though I like to think I am, and for free) nor am I entrusted with an audience with one of the most important people in the world. It's damn hard for anything I write on my blog--or even here at this much more trafficked one--to influence the course of human events, which is one of the inevitable results of journalism in a democratic society. For example: The media, in general, failed to question this president appropriately before the war. So we got a war. Now it's mea culpas all around and promises of we'll do better next time and, meanwhile, another 12 people died in Baghdad.

There are journalists who are doing God's work. There are journalists who are risking their lives trying to tell us about the world (32 of them died in Iraq this year, which is why I get so pissed at some of the b.s. bias complaints of bedwetters who refuse to put their own asses on the line). But so much of our major American media refuses to treat their job as if it makes a difference. Corrupt politicians? Feh. Most of them are tiny, broken people who take their thirty pieces of silver and stow it away, hurting relatively few people in the process. We should be focusing on the corruption of our media, which, instead of the doing the hard work of finding the truth, spends most of their time saying Look! Shiny things! To make my case, I give you another excerpt from the transcript of Bush's interview with the Washington Post.
BUSH: You're the objective filter through which my -- (Laughter.)

WAPO: I suspect your message gets out. (Laughter.)

BUSH: I do want to say something about the press. I hope you realize that, one, I enjoy the relationship, and two, know it is vital for my presidency. You can't exist without me, and I can't exist without you. And I generally respect the hard work of the press corps. I don't necessarily generally respect every word you write, but nevertheless, I do respect the fact that you're a hardworking group of people seeking the truth. And we're necessary for each other. And that relationship can either be a positive relationship or a suspicious, harmful relationship. And I have worked hard to make it a positive relationship. And I think it is, generally, I do believe it is. And I bear no ill will, and I don't think you do, either.

WAPO: We appreciate that, and you've certainly been good for business --
Yuk yuk yuk. Bush is good for business. Division is good for business. Strife is good for business. War is good for business. Car wrecks are good for business. The search for the truth? Ideas? Borrrrriiiiinnnng.

Jon Stewart may have put it best: "A free and independent press...serves to inform the public on matters relevant to its well-being. Why they've stopped doing that is a mystery."

Update: At Bush's press conference today, this exchange took place:
Q Mr. President, less than two months ago at the end of one of the bloodiest months in the war, you said, "Absolutely we're winning." Yesterday you said, "We're not winning, we're not losing." Why did you drop your confident assertion about winning?

THE PRESIDENT: My comments -- the first comment was done in this spirit: I believe that we're going to win; I believe that -- and by the way, if I didn't think that, I wouldn't have our troops there. That's what you got to know. We're going to succeed.

My comments yesterday reflected the fact that we're not succeeding nearly as fast as I wanted when I said it at the time, and that conditions are tough in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad.
He didn't back off of WaPo's take, so Blue Texan's point (in comments) that "we can assume from the context that Bush has partially, at least, backed off from his 'Of course we're winning' hard line" is dead on. Still, the journalism here was shoddy and symptomatic, in my opinion, of the larger issues raised. After all, who gives a damn whether Bush thinks we're winning or not? We're not. Everyone knows that. Put those three journalists to work figuring out something we don't know.

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