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.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Various items

(updated below)

NSA expert James Bamford makes a vital point in a New York Times Op-Ed this morning: regardless of what happens with FISA issues going forward, George Bush violated the criminal law for the last five years by eavesdropping on Americans without warrants, and a federal court has already ruled that this is the case. Violations of FISA are felonies punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine per offense.

Judge Taylor's court ruling is not tantamount to a finding of criminal liability (other issues, such as intent, would need to be demonstrated, and all sorts of other procedural safeguards would be due), but -- as I argued previously -- it is a binding ruling that the President's warrantless eavesdropping program violated the criminal law, and there is no justification for simply walking away from that and implicitly agreeing that there will be no consequences from the President's deliberate and continuous lawbreaking.

(2) As expected, the administration is attempting to persuade the Sixth Circuit (which has before it the Government's appeal of Judge Taylor's ruling) to dismiss the NSA lawsuit on the ground that it is now "moot." Marty Lederman details the status of those efforts, including the Government's odd request that the case not only be dismissed, but Judge Taylor's order be vacated -- a request Marty attributes to the desire on the part of the administration to preserve its ability to begin eavesdropping again in the future without warrants.

Along those lines, one hopes to see some genuine and aggressive follow-up on the demand by Pat Leahy and other Senate Judiciary Committee members to learn exactly what the administration is doing now with the FISA court. Jim Webb's refusal to be brushed off by the administration on the question of presidential authority to wage war against Iran ought to be the model used for this FISA issue and any other requests/demands for information made by the Congress. Genuine oversight is going to require vigilant, aggressive and relentless confrontation, not merely theatrics and earnest though inconsequential expressions of "concern."

(3) Terry "Nitpicker" Welch, who was formerly a Staff Sgt. and media affairs officer for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, responds to the latest disgusting attempt by Michelle Malkin to cast a war journalist as an Al Qaeda ally. The target of Malkin's latest witch hunt is the courageous war correspondent for CBS News, Lara Logan (whose pointed and appropriately angry response several months ago to attacks by the Bush administration and Malkin-twin Laura Ingraham on journalists in Iraq was really superb -- if you haven't seen that, it is highly, highly recommended).

(4) Via Blue Texan, conservative blogger Austin Bay wrote a column in early December for the Austin-American Statesman which, in essence, voiced the accusations which right-wing bloggers at the time were making about the Associated Press and Jamil Hussein. Unlike most of them, Bay has now acknowledged that those accusations were unfouned, and he did the honorable thing -- published his own correction in the same paper, in which he wrote:

A columnist's mea culpa

In a column that ran in the American-Statesman on Dec. 1, I wrote that I doubted that an Associated Press source for a story originating in Baghdad existed. The story involved an allegation that six Sunni Arabs were murdered and set on fire. It turns out the AP source not only existed but had a two-year track record. The AP answered the questions raised on the two Web sites my column quoted. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior later admitted that police Capt. Jamil Hussein did work for the ministry in Baghdad.

The AP and other wire services are the backbone of truth on this planet. "New media" such as blogs still lack the reporting capacity of the wire services and major news operations. I am delighted to apologize to the Associated Press and congratulate the AP's Baghdad bureau for standing by their sources.

Bush followers wage war on any institutions which report facts, hence their hatred for the media, for Congressional oversight, for whistle-blowers. But as Bay notes, even with all of their flaws, we rely upon large media organizations to collect facts and keep us informed. That is particularly true for journalists in war zones (whatever you know about the Bush administration or Iraq or anything else that they did not want you to know, you know because journalists discovered and then reported it).

Those who want the media to improve criticize them. Those who want to block this truth-reporting function altogether wage war on the press and try to destroy their credibility completely. Most people do the former, while Bush followers (and the administration itself) do the latter. Bay, despite being a media critic, correctly ackonwledges what a critical function news organizations continue to perform. (And, just incidentally, congratulations are in order for Blue Texan, as he has picked up a new (or maybe not-so-new) reader).

(5) German prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for the individuals involved in what they are calling the kidnapping -- and that is what it was -- of Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, who was abducted by the CIA and taken to Afghanistan and several other countries as part of our so-called "rendition" program, only to be released when it turned out he had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism (as the Bush administration has privately admitted).

This is not a case of German prosecutors asserting universal jurisdiction in order to prosecute alleged war crimes that have nothing to do with Germany (a practice which, for reasons I set forth previously, I find objectionable). Instead, this is a German citizen who was kidnapped from Germany on his way from Germany to Macedonia with no due process whatsoever (and, needless to say, blocked by the Bush administration from obtaining justice in American courts). That is a crime and should be treated as one. (ADDED: It was Italy which previously issued arrest warrants for 25 CIA officers and an Air Force officer for kidnapping an Egyptian-born cleric off the streets of Milan and "rendering" him to Egypt for some torture).

(6) Hilzoy details the treatment of Chinese Uighur detainees at Guantanamo who are being held in round-the-clock solitary confinement even though, as Hilzoy says, they "were captured by bounty hunters nearly five years ago. They are in all likelihood innocent of any crime, and of any act against the United States; they have certainly never been tried and convicted of any." Hilzoy's discussion of this matter is characteristically thorough and well worth reading. One runs out of adjectives to describe things like this.

(7) In an obviously growing trend of political campaigns hiring bloggers, Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte has been hired by the John Edwards presidential campaign. That is part of a larger trend whereby the blogosphere is slowly ceasing to be its own closed, separate system and is instead seeping into, even merging with, all of the more traditional political and journalistic institutions. Whether that is something to celebrate or lament (and a case can probably be made for both), it is undoubtedly happening and will continue.

's new blog, Swampland, illustrates that trend. I'm no fan, to put it mildly, of any of the four Time writers at that blog, but they deserve credit for being much more responsive to, and interactive with, both commenters and other bloggers than journalists of that type usually are.

That Joe Klein and Karen Tumulty now regularly and directly hear criticism of their work from Atrios and company and even periodically engage that criticism can only have positive effects. That Time took some of its most establishment journalists and basically stuck them in the middle of the blogosphere, and that those journalists almost seem to relish their role as bloggers (albeit ones who represent and defend traditional, mainstream journalism), is, I think, an important and (more or less) positive development.

Along these lines, I will have a significant announcement about this blog in the next day or two. I apologize for the substance-less teaser, but I can't announce it yet, but it also seemed inexcusably coy to make the point I just made about the blogosphere without making clear that a related development is occurring with this blog and will be finalized in a day or so. The development is purely positive and I'm excited about it.


(8) One of the real downsides to Hillary Clinton's candidacy -- aside from the re-emergence of the dreadful egomaniac, Terry McAuliffe (h/t EWO) -- is that we're going to be subjected to all of the truly unpleasant psychological reactions which the Clintons generally trigger in people (especially journalists), but in this case, that will be severely exacerbated by all of the true psychological crises provoked by the possibility of a woman becoming the Chief Executive (and the "Commander-in-Chief") -- and not just any woman, but Hillary.

Digby examines -- in a hilarious though depressingly accurate way -- all of the issues revealed by Chris Matthews' discussion of the "Hillary joke," and included in the post is equally excellent analysis on the topic from the invaluable Bob Somerby.

(9) Now that Michelle Malkin and one of the blogger-employees she took along with her on her four-day, military-protected trip to Iraq have returned, they have begun claiming (the former implicitly, the latter explicitly) that they have special insight about the war and that nobody can disagree with their claims about the war who hasn't been there:

I’m not one to deploy the chickenhawk argument, but there really is something to the notion that unless you’ve seen a thing with your own eyes you may have a hard time understanding it. If you’re writing about a thing as often as Sullivan writes about the war, especially if you spend the bulk of your writings denouncing that thing, it’s irresponsible to stay as far away from that thing as possible. You have to, at some point, examine it for yourself.

Apparently, it's perfectly fine to cheer on the war without visiting Iraq (as they did for the last four years), but criticizing the war is terribly inappropriate for those who haven't paid that country a visit. D. Aristophanes at Sadly, No entertainingly gives that "argument" all of the respect it deserves.

(10) I highly, highly recommend this 1987 Bill Moyers PBS documentary on the Iran-Contra scandal specifically, and U.S. covert military operations generally. Moyers has a clear viewpoint that he does not try to hide, but the documentary is filled with indisputable and well-documented facts and superbly constructed. I linked to it yesterday, but only in a late update, so you may not have seen it.

(11) The German newspaper Spiegel has a must-read interview with Tyler Drumheller, the former chief of the CIA's Europe division, on issues ranging from rendition to the CIA's pre-war WMD conclusions (h/t MD). The interview speaks for itself, though it is amazing how little our own media reports things of this sort.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Republicans and Congress' war powers -- then and now

Russ Feingold today is chairing a Committee hearing in order to demonstrate that Congress has the Constitutional authority to compel the President to withdraw troops from Iraq, a power that is not merely confined to cutting off appropriations. Sen. Feingold is holding the hearing in the face of claims -- mostly from Congressional Republicans and their supporters -- that only the President has the power to make determinations about troop deployments, and Congress' only power is one of appropriations.

Back in September, when Chris Wallace falsely accused Bill Clinton of emboldening the Terrorists by prematurely cutting-and-running from Somalia (a favorite right-wing meme), it was documented here (as Clinton himself pointed out to Wallace) that it was actually Republican Senators who forced Clinton to withdraw troops by imposing troop withdrawal deadlines on him and threatening further restrictions on his ability to keep troops there. But if one goes back and reviews that debate, it is quite striking that Republicans back then certainly did not seem to believe that Congress lacked the ability to restrict the President's power to deploy troops. They argued exactly the opposite - that they had that power -- and they used it to force Clinton out of Somalia (all excerpts are available here, by searching "Somalia):

John McCain's stirring pro-withdrawal Senate speech about why it was urgent that the Senate force Clinton to leave Somalia is particularly interesting in light of all of his completely contrary claims today about Iraq:

Sen. John McCain - October 19, 1993

There is no reason for the United States of America to remain in Somalia. The American people want them home, I believe the majority of Congress wants them home, and to set an artificial date of March 31 or even February 1, in my view, is not acceptable. The criteria should be to bring them home as rapidly and safely as possible, an evolution which I think could be completed in a matter of weeks.

Our continued military presence in Somalia allows another situation to arise which could then lead to the wounding, killing or capture of American fighting men and women. We should do all in our power to avoid that.

I listened carefully to the President's remarks at a news conference that he held earlier today. I heard nothing in his discussion of the issue that would persuade me that further U.S. military involvement in the area is necessary. In fact, his remarks have persuaded me more profoundly that we should leave and leave soon.

Dates certain, Mr. President, are not the criteria here. What is the criteria and what should be the criteria is our immediate, orderly withdrawal from Somalia. And if we do not do that and other Americans die, other Americans are wounded, other Americans are captured because we stay too long--longer than necessary--then I would say that the responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States who did not exercise their authority under the Constitution of the United States and mandate that they be brought home quickly and safely as possible. . . .

I know that this debate is going to go on this afternoon and I have a lot more to say, but the argument that somehow the United States would suffer a loss to our prestige and our viability, as far as the No. 1 superpower in the world, I think is baloney. The fact is, we won the cold war. The fact is, we won the Persian Gulf conflict. And the fact is that the United States is still the only major world superpower.

I can tell you what will erode our prestige. I can tell you what will hurt our viability as the world's superpower, and that is if we enmesh ourselves in a drawn-out situation which entails the loss of American lives, more debacles like the one we saw with the failed mission to capture Aideed's lieutenants, using American forces, and that then will be what hurts our prestige.

We suffered a terrible tragedy in Beirut, Mr. President; 240 young marines lost their lives, but we got out. Now is the time for us to get out of Somalia as rapidly and as promptly and as safely as possible.

I, along with many others, will have an amendment that says exactly that. It does not give any date certain. It does not say anything about any other missions that the United States may need or feels it needs to carry out. It will say that we should get out as rapidly and orderly as possible.

Sen Strom Thurmond (R-SC) - October 5, 1993

It is past time for the Congress to come to grips with this sorry spectacle and force the administration to find a way out of the quagmire--before Somalia becomes the pattern for future United States missions with the United Nations.

Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), October 7

The President's decision to extend our presence for 6 more months is totally unacceptable to me and totally unacceptable, I believe, to the Congress.

If the people of Texas--who are calling my phones every moment, who are sending me letters and telegrams by the hour--are representative of the will of the American people, the American people do not believe that we should allow Americans to be targets in Somalia for 6 more months. I cannot see anything that we would achieve in 6 more months in Somalia

Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID), October 5

Mr. President, it is time for our troops to come home. I would give this directive to the military leadership and that is that they are to use whatever means they determine necessary to secure the release of American POW's in Somalia, because to leave them behind would be to issue adeath sentence to those Americans, and that is absolutely unacceptable.

But, Mr. President, the longer we leave United States troops in Somalia under U.N. command, the longer we leave United States troops in unjustified danger. I owe my allegiance to the United States, not to the United Nations. It is time for the Senate of the United States to get on with the debate, to get on with the vote, and to get the American troops home.

Sen. Slade Gorton, October 6,1993 (R-WA)

We are in a disaster, Mr. President. If we had retreated earlier, we would have left fewer dead Americans behind. It is time to retreat now and leave no more dead Americans behind and to learn the lesson that American power should be used only where we have a clear stake in a conflict, a clear goal to be achieved, the clear means to reach that goal, and the potential of clear support on the part of the American people.

As none of those exist in Somalia today, it is time to leave. And for this body, it is time to debate this issue and not the nomination of an Assistant Attorney General.

Sen. Jesse Helms - October 6, 1993 (R-NC)

Mr. President, the United States has no constitutional authority, as I see it, to sacrifice U.S. soldiers to Boutros-Ghali's vision of multilateral peacemaking. Again, I share the view of Senator Byrd that the time to get out is now. We can take care of that criminal warlord over there. We have the means to do it and the capacity to do it. But it ought to be done by the United Nations. I do not want to play in any more U.N. games. I do not want any more of our people under the thumb of any U.N. commander--none.

As a matter of fact, while we are at it, it is high time we reviewed the War Powers Act, which, in the judgment of this Senator, should never have been passed in the first place. The sole constitutional authority to declare war rests, according to our Founding Fathers, right here in the Congress of the United States, and not on Pennsylvania Avenue. I voted against the War Powers Act. If it were to come up again today, I would vote against it. I have never regretted my opposition to it.

Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) - October 6

Let me close by saying I am willing to support our President, our Commander in Chief, if we have a policy either for decisive, potent, and powerful military action, without quarter, without reservation--or obviously for us instead to withdraw from Somalia.

What I cannot continue to support is the continuing endangerment of Americans in the service of a policy that remains absolutely mysterious and totally muddled.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) - October 4

And, thus, I hope that we, as a Senate, will proceed to discuss the issue of Somalia in the near future, in the immediate future, before any more American lives are lost; and that we shall put into definition and some focus what is our purpose there and, most importantly, how we intend to disengage or, if it is our decision, how we intend to engage pursuant to the laws which we, as a nation, have as a constitutional democracy.

In fact, one of the very few politicians who has been consistent in his views on this question is -- unsurprisingly -- Russ Feingold, who argued then what he argues now: namely, that the Constitution vests war-making power in the Congress and that Congress can (and, in both cases, should) restrict the President's use of military force:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) - October 5

In February, I declined to cosponsor the Senate resolution which was introduced and passed in 1 day because I thought the resolution was too vague in terms of the United States mission and duration of our commitment in Somalia. It was also because of the War Powers Act, because of a lack of congressional approval for this specific mission, that I, with six of my colleagues, voted against that resolution in the DOD bill. It turns out, I believe, that the original resolution, which mandated a withdrawal of U.S. troops within 30 days unless continuation was authorized by a specific act of Congress, was probably the correct position.

I join several of my colleagues who have spoken today to say that we should leave Somalia now: we should not increase the American troop level or increase our involvement. Our continued presence risks not only more American lives but also the possibility that the worldwide broadcasting of the mistreatment of U.S. prisoners will so inflame our national pride that it will be increasingly difficult to leave.

When Bill Clinton was President, most of the country's leading Republicans did not seem to have any problem at all with Congressional "interference" in the President's decisions to deploy troops (really to maintain troop deployments, since President Bush 41 first deployed in Somalia). There wasn't any talk back then (at least from them) about the burden of "535 Commanders-in-Chief" or "Congressional incursions" into the President's constitutional warmaking authority. They debated restrictions that ought to be legislatively imposed on President Clinton's military deployments and then imposed them.

And Sen. McCain in particular made arguments in favor of Congressionally-mandated withdraw that are patently applicable to Iraq today. And he specifically argued with regard to forcible troop withdrawal that "responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States." The Constitution hasn't changed since 1993, so I wonder what has prompted such a fundamental shift in Republican views on the proper role of Congressional war powers.

Andrew Sullivan and the hollow "Conservative Soul"

(updated below)

There is a serious fraud emerging in the political landscape that, though easily predictable and predicted, is now being perpetrated with full force -- namely, that the so-called "conservative movement" is not responsible for the destruction wrought on the country by the Bush presidency and the loyal Republican Congress which followed him. Even more audaciously, the claim is emerging that the "conservative movement" is actually the prime victim here, because its lofty "principles" have been betrayed and repudiated by the President and the Congress which have ruled our country for the last six years.

This cry of victimization was the principal theme at the so-called "National Review Institute conservative summit" held this weekend, at which one conservative luminary after the next paraded on stage to lament that the unpopular President and rejected GOP-controlled Congress "abandoned" conservatism and failed for that reason. As but one illustrative example, here is National Review Editor Rich Lowry in his opening remarks, introducing Newt Gingrich, whom Lowry afterwards described as "inspiring, brilliant, creative, visionary":

It is, in all seriousness, it is a distressing and depressing time to be a conservative. I'm reminded of the old saying by Mao -- things are always darkest before they go completely black.

In recent years, we have watched a Republican Congress disgrace itself with its association with scandal, with its willful lack of fiscal discipline, and with its utter disinterest in the reforms that America needs. And at the same time, we watched a Republican President abet or passively accept the excesses of his Congressional party and, more importantly, fail to take the steps - until perhaps now - fail to take the steps to win a major foreign war. . . .

So we need to figure out a way how to make conservative policy and principles appealing and relevant again to the American public, and we need to do it together.

Note the passive tone Lowry uses to signify a lack of agency, even victimhood -- "we have watched a Republican Congress disgrace itself . . . " and "we watched a Republican President abet or passively accept the excesses of his Congressional party . . . . " Poor Lowry and his fellow movement conservatives: they have stood by helplessly and with such sadness as the country was damaged by a President and Congress which abandoned and violated their conservative principles and left conservatives isolated and with nowhere to turn.

But the deceit here is manifest. Lowry and his "conservative" comrades were anything but passive observers over the last six years. They did far more than "watch" as the President and the Congress "disgraced" themselves and damaged this country. It was self-identified "conservatives" who were the principal cheerleaders, the most ardent and loyal propagandists, propping up George Bush and his blindly loyal Republican Congress.

It was they who continuously told America that George Bush was the unified reincarnation of the Great American Conservative Hero Ronald Reagan and the Great Warrior Defender of Freedom, Winston Churchill, all wrapped up in one glorious, powerful package. It was this same conservative movement -- now pretending to lament the abandonment of conservatism by Bush and the Congress -- which was the single greatest source of Bush's political support, which twice elected him and propped up his presidency and the movement which followed it.

So why, after six years of glorifying George Bush and devoting their full-fledged loyalty to him and the GOP-controlled Congress are conservatives like Lowry and Gingrich suddenly insisting that Bush is an anti-conservative and the GOP-led Congress the opposite of conservative virtue? The answer is as obvious as it is revealing. They are desperately trying to disclaim responsibility for the disasters that they wrought in the name of "conservatism," by repudiating the political figures whom they named as the standard-bearers of their movement but whom America has now so decisively rejected.

George Bush has not changed in the slightest. He is exactly the same as he was when he was converted into the hero and icon of the "conservative movement." The only thing that has changed is that Bush is no longer the wildly popular President which conservatives sought to embrace, but instead is a deeply disliked figured, increasingly detested by Americans, from whom conservatives now wish to shield themselves. And in this regard, these self-proclaimed great devotees of Conservative Political Principles have revealed themselves to have none.

When he was popular, George Bush was the Embodiment of Conservatism. Now that he is rejected on a historic scale, he is the Betrayer of Conservatism. That is because "Conservatism" -- while definable on a theoretical plane -- has come to have no practical meaning in this country other than a quest for ever-expanding government power for its own sake. When George Bush enabled those ends, he was The Great Conservative. Now that he impedes them, he is the Judas of the Conservative Movement. It is just that simple and transparent.

* * * * *

It is in this context that Andrew Sullivan's book, The Conservative Soul, is highly worth reading, both because of how revealing and frustrating it is at the same time. Sullivan was one of the very few conservatives who repudiated Bush and the Bush movement when Bush was still popular.

He did so based on the recognition that the Bush presidency never had anything to do with the Goldwater/Reagan "conservative principles" which one finds in textbooks and think tanks (but never in reality). Instead, the Bush movement is a rank fundamentalist and authoritarian movement which sought to vest virtually unlimited power in George Bush as Leader (and will do the same with its next Leader), and to expand, rather than contract, federal power in order to forcibly implement its view of the Good and to perpetuate its own power. That is what "political conservatism" in this country has become.

Sullivan's general critique of the Bush administration, and his specific complaint that it has fundamentally deviated from the abstract conservative principles to which people like Lowry profess fidelity, is both accurate and persuasive. Along those lines, Sullivan cites the borderline-religious belief in tax cuts, depicted not as sound policy but as a moral good, to be pursued "unrelated to any empirical context of consistent rationale," and thus imposed even in the face of suffocating deficits and the virtually unprecedented expansion of government spending.

And it was this same evangelical certainty in the movement's Rightness that not only led the administration to invade Iraq but to persist in the occupation and to insist that things were going well, even in the face of mountains of undeniable empirical evidence to the contrary:

In that worldview, what matters was the ideological analysis: good versus evil. What mattered was the assertion of the United States' right to act alone if necessary to defend its own security. What mattered was the zero-sum analysis that we had to choose between war against Saddam and a potential mushroom cloud in an American city. It was this rigid and abstract analysis that essentially abolished the idea that the war was subject to rational debate. . . . The fundamentalist makes his mind up instantly, makes the fundamental decision, and cannot, by necessity, stop short at a later date and ask himself if he's right. Such second-guessing undermines his entire worldview. It threatens his psychological core.

And this authoritarian mindset, as John Dean so ably documented, leads to all sorts of excesses and amoral behavior. As Sullivan put it: "Self-surrender to authority first; conscience and self-determination second."

So this is all well and good as far as it goes. Personally (and I'm aware that this is going to grate on a lot of sensibilities), I think Sullivan is an excellent writer and a commendable and insightful political thinker. As is evident from his book and his blog, he explicitly examines and frequently re-visits the first principles underlying his beliefs, which is why he is open to rational opposition and to changing his mind about his political views, even on fundamental questions. That is a trait that is all too rare.

That is what makes The Conservative Soul worth reading. It highlights the true philosophical and psychological roots of the Bush movement -- its first principles -- and reveals just how rotted those fundamentalist roots are. It does this as well as, if not better than, any other book has done. And it makes a unique and compelling case for the virtue of doubt, something from which anyone with strong political convictions would probably benefit.

As is true for many people who are driven by their passions, Sullivan himself is certainly prone to excessive, blinding emotion arising from his own self-righteous certainties. That is a flaw that has led him astray in the past into hysteria-based crusades and rather ignoble accusations against others who expressed certain political views, including anti-war and anti-Bush views which Sullivan himself has now come to embrace.

His admissions of error in that regard, while commendable, are less complete and repentant than one would like. He refers to his "analytical errors in the past few years" -- meaning, principally, his support for the war in Iraq specifically and the Bush presidency generally -- but then attributes those errors to a noble cause: "outrage at the atrocity of September 11."

But Sullivan was not merely wrong on the question of Iraq and related matters. He was really one of the leaders of the ugly lynch mobs which impugned not just the judgment, but the motives and patriotism, of Americans who did not succumb to the errors of judgment and raging hysteria which consumed Sullivan. And it's certainly understandable that some people, particularly those who were the targets of that bile, are unlikely ever to think positively about him.

On balance, though, I think the virtues of Sullivan as a political commentator easily outweigh his sins, and The Conservative Soul illustrates why. When he was cheering on George Bush and the Iraq invasion in 2002 and 2003, Sullivan was a virtual hero to Bush supporters. He was far and away the most popular right-wing pundit at the time, and he had a large and loyal constituency. He could have easily maintained and even expanded that popularity -- and preserved the material and other advantages which accompany it -- simply by adhering to his views.

But he didn't do that. He gradually recognized what the Bush movement really was and, as a result, turned on the President and repudiated the political movement which was his fan base. He did so even though he had to know that he would never really be welcomed by liberals, with whom he had been warring for a decade at least. Knowingly alienating oneself from one's core supporters, while being well-aware that it is likely to leave one isolated and without a real constituency, is a commendable act which requires courage. Courage is also required to publicly repudiate one's prior, emphatically advocated positions. That's something which most people, I think, would find very difficult, if not impossible, to do.

And, as an aside, because he has been such a polarizing figure, Sullivan's courage in other, even more important respects has been quite under-appreciated -- courage exemplified by being openly gay at a time when most people weren't, and as part of a political movement where that could only impede him; being one of the first public figures in America to openly disclose his HIV status and to talk openly about living with the virus; and advocating gay marriage long before it was anything remotely like a mainstream topic. Though most people have a strident and absolute view of Sullivan one way or the other, he is a complicated, intelligent, thoughtful and unpredictable political commentator -- open to modifying his views and admitting error -- all of which sets him apart -- and, I think, above -- the majority of the trite, standardized, lifeless pundits who dominate our political discourse.

* * * * * *

All of this brings us back to Rich Lowry and Newt Gingrich and the emerging deceit which the conservative movement is attempting to perpetrate. In contrast to the vast majority of so-called "conservatives" who loyally stood by and cheered on the Bush Presidency and the "disgraced" Republican Congress, there were a handful of conservatives who -- long before Bush's popularity collapsed -- were pointing out just how "un-conservative" the Bush movement was. Sullivan was one such person, along with people like Bruce Bartlett and Pat Buchanan and The American Conservative. And they were treated like blasphemers and pariahs by the Lowry/National Review/Gingrich/Weekly Standard conservatives, because the "Conservative Movement" became synonymous with the Bush Movement, and it therefore became impossible to repudiate the latter without being cast out of the former.

One of the principal flaws of Sullivan's book is that it speaks of "political conservatism" in a way that exists only in the abstract but never in reality. The fabled Goldwater/Reagan small-government "conservatism of doubt" which Sullivan hails -- like the purified, magnanimous form of Communism -- exists, for better or worse, only in myth.

While it is true that Bush has presided over extraordinary growth in federal spending, so did Reagan. Though Bush's deficit spending exceeds that of Reagan's, it does so only by degree, not level. The pornography-obsessed Ed Meese and the utter lawlessness of the Iran-contra scandal were merely the Reagan precursors to the Bush excesses which Sullivan finds so "anti-conservative." The Bush presidency is an extension, an outgrowth, of the roots of political conservatism in this country, not a betrayal of them.

All of the attributes which have made the Bush presidency so disastrous are not in conflict with political conservatism as it exists in reality. Those attributes -- vast expansions of federal power to implement moralistic agendas and to perpetuate political power, along with authoritarian faith in the Leader -- are not violations of "conservative principles." Those have become the defining attributes of the Conservative Movement in this country.

That is why the warnings from Sullivan and others that the Republican Party was acting in violation of "conservative principles" fell on deaf ears and even prompted such hostility -- until, that is, Bush's popularity collapsed. "Conservative principles" are marketing props used by the Conservative Movement to achieve political power, not actual beliefs. Sullivan's principal argument that the Bush presidency never adhered to conservative principles is true enough, but the same can be said of the entire American conservative political movement. That is why they bred and elevated George Bush for six years, and suddenly "realized" that he was "not a conservative" only once political expediency required it.

UPDATE: For a sense of just how much of a precursor the Reagan administration was with regard to the Bush administration's sheer lawlessness, I highly recommend this superb 1987 Bill Moyers documentary on the Iran-Contra affair (which features convict Elliot Abrams, a member of both administrations). Some of the parallels are quite astounding, really almost exact (h/t reader CW). Respect for the "rule of law" is, of course, included in the Pantheon of Conservative Principles.

George Washington and the Middle East

George Washington's 1796 Farewell Address is an amazingly prescient warning to the U.S. to avoid certain dangers with regard to foreign policy. As we become more and more entangled in the intricacies not only of regional politics in the Middle East, but also in the domestic political conflicts of virtually every significant Middle East country, it almost seems as though we have purposely set out to violate every principle of foreign affairs which Washington articulated:

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? . . . . .

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.

It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests.

The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.

It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public council? Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

One could, I suppose, debate the extent to which some of Washington's specific warnings are currently being ignored by our foreign policy and by our debates over that policy. But what seems beyond dispute is that our foreign policy is being driven by three principal goals -- (1) shaping, dictating and even changing (through various means) the governments of almost every Middle Eastern country that exists ("regime change" is a concise summary of the policy against which Washington most stridently warned); (2) what Washington called "inveterate antipathy" against a particular nation -- Iran -- notwithstanding its repeated efforts (all of which have been rebuffed by the Bush administration) to achieve rapprochement with the U.S.; and (3) equating hostility towards Israel with hostility, even threats, towards the U.S.

If one set out with the specific objective of creating a foreign policy in the Middle East that sought out as much as possible the dangers against which Washington warned -- "permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others" as well as "frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests" caused by "[a]ntipathy in one nation against another dispos[ing] each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable" -- one would end up with our current Middle East policy.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Our little Churchills

We've now arrived at the point where the White House and its followers reflexively characterize any criticism of the Leader's war of any kind as aid to the Enemy and an attack on our troops. They don't even bother any more to pretend that some types of criticism are "acceptable." It is now the duty of every patriotic American to cheer enthusiastically for the President's decisions. Anything else is tantamount to siding with the Enemy.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton, whose criticism of the war has been as muted and restrained as can be, "accused President Bush of trying to pass the problems in Iraq on to the next president and described his actions as 'the height of irresponsibility.'" The White House's immediate response: that is a "partisan attack that sends the wrong message to our troops, our enemies and the Iraqi people." That's the only response the Bush movement now even bothers to make: those who speak against the Leader hate the troops and help the Enemy.

Here is Bill Kristol yesterday on Fox telling Sen. John Warner -- literally -- that his duty as an American and a Senator is to keep his mouth shut and cheer on the President's plan:

John Warner -- there's a great puff piece about my senator from Virginia on the front page of the Washington Post saying what do they want us to do in the Senate, do nothing? That's absolutely right. Absolutely right.

Support the troops. Appropriate the funds. Encourage them. Let Dave Petraeus have a chance to win this war. Don't pass a meaningless resolution that, as Joe Lieberman said -- on the one hand, it's non-binding so it's meaningless, but symbolically, it could only encourage our enemies.

That was preceded by courageous tough-guy Brit Hume's mockery of Chuck Hagel: "I would say there's one exception to that, and that's poor Chuck Hagel, who seems to -- who's getting grandiloquent about voting for a legislatively meaningless Senate resolution and calling it courage. That makes you kind of sad." And earlier in the show, Sen. Lieberman said -- again -- that anti-surge resolutions will "discourage our troops" and "encourage the enemy."

So Chuck Hagel needs courage lectures from Brit Hume, John Warner needs permission from Bill Kristol before he can express his views about the war, and we all need to listen to Joe Lieberman and the White House tell us that criticizing the Leader helps the Terrorists. These are the same people -- the President, Lieberman, Bill Kristol, the Fox warriors -- who never tire of dressing up in Winston Churchill costumes and spouting the only historical analogy they know in the most reductionist form possible ("Churchill = strong, war; Chamberlian = weak, anti-war; we must Be Churchill").

But Churchill would have recoiled -- he did recoil -- at their argument that criticism of the Leader and the war are improper and hurts the war effort. Churchill repeatedly made the opposite argument -- that one of the strengths of democracies is that leaders are held to account for their decisions and that those decisions are subject to intense and vigorous debate, especially in war. In January, 1942, Britian had suffered a series of defeats and failures (which Churchill candidly acknowledged and for which he took responsibility), and he therefore addressed the House of Commons and insisted that a public debate be held in order to determine whether he still had the confidence of the House of Commons in his conduct of the war (h/t MD):

From time to time in the life of any Government there come occasions which must be clarified. No one who has read the newspapers of the last few weeks about our affairs at home and abroad can doubt that such an occasion is at hand.

Since my return to this country, I have come to the conclusion that I must ask to be sustained by a Vote of Confidence from the House of Commons. This is a thoroughly normal, constitutional, democratic procedure. A Debate on the war has been asked for. I have arranged it in the fullest and freest manner for three whole days.

Any Member will be free to say anything he thinks fit about or against the Administration or against the composition or personalities of the Government, to his heart's content, subject only to the reservation, which the House is always so careful to observe about military secrets. Could you have anything freer than that? Could you have any higher expression of democracy than that? Very few other countries have institutions strong enough to sustain such a thing while they are fighting for their lives. . . .

We have had a great deal of bad news lately from the Far East, and I think it highly probable, for reasons which I shall presently explain, that we shall have a great deal more. Wrapped up in this bad news will be many tales of blunders and shortcomings, both in foresight and action. No one will pretend for a moment that disasters like these occur without there having been faults and shortcomings.

I see all this rolling towards us like the waves in a storm, and that is another reason why I require a formal, solemn Vote of Confidence from the House of Commons, which hitherto in this struggle has never flinched. The House would fail in its duty if it did not insist upon two things, first, freedom of debate, and, secondly, a clear, honest, blunt Vote thereafter. Then we shall all know where we are, and all those with whom we have to deal, at home and abroad, friend or foe, will know where we are and where they are. It is because we are to have a free Debate, in which perhaps 20 to 30 Members can take part, that I demand an expression of opinion from the 300 or 400 Members who will have sat silent.

I am not asking for any special, personal favours in these circumstances, but I am sure the House would wish to make its position clear; therefore I stand by the ancient, constitutional, Parliamentary doctrine of free debate and faithful voting.

Churchill then proceeded to give an account of the war and a defense of his strategic decisions (along with numerous admissions of grave error) far more detailed, substantive, lengthy and candid than any given by George Bush on any topic, at any time, during the last six years. He knew that he could and should continue in the war only if he had the support of the Parliament and his country for his decisions, and that support had to be earned through persuasion and disclosure. It was not an entitlement that he could simply demand.

Unlike our little Churchillian warriors today, the actual Churchill did not seek to stifle criticism or bully anyone into cheering for him by insisting that they would be helping the Enemy if they criticized him. To the contrary, he ended his 1942 address this way:

Therefore, I feel entitled to come to the House of Commons, whose servant I am . . . I have never ventured to predict the future. I stand by my original programme, blood, toil, tears and sweat, which is all I have ever offered, to which I added, five months later, "many shortcomings, mistakes and disappointments." But it is because I see the light gleaming behind the clouds and broadening on our path, that I make so bold now as to demand a declaration of confidence of the House of Commons as an additional weapon in the armoury of the united nations.

And several months earlier, in 1941, Churchill made the point -- in an address to the House of Commons -- that it would be absurd to turn Parliament into a mindless, rubber-stamping body given that parliamentary democracy was what England was fighting for in the war (h/t Sysprog):

The worst that could happen might be that they might have to offer some rather laborious explanations to their constituents. Let it not be said that parliamentary institutions are being maintained in this country in a farcical or unreal manner. We are fighting for parliamentary institutions. We are endeavouring to keep their full practice and freedom, even in the stress of war.

And, quite similarly, there is this letter from Abraham Lincoln, written while a member of Congress in 1848, to William Herndon (h/t FMD). Herndon had argued (echoing the claims from the White House and the likes of Joe Lieberman and Bill Kristol today) that the President had the unrestrained power to wage war against Mexico in order to defend U.S. interests regardless of the views of Congress or anyone else -- a view which Lincoln (accurately) found repulsive to the core principles of our political system:

But to return to your position. Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure.

Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--"I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.

The view of America as advocated by George Bush and his followers is as antithetical as can be even to the views of the individuals to whom they claim allegiance. They exploit historical events and iconic individuals as tawdry props, and they neither understand them nor actually care about their meaning. They turn them into cheap cartoons -- Churchill! Lincoln! America! -- drained of their actual substance and converted into impoverished, degraded symbols used to promote ideas that are the exact opposite of what they actually embody.

Churchill accomplished exactly that which Bush cannot manage -- namely, he convinced his country that the war he was leading was legitimate and necessary and that confidence in his war leadership was warranted. It's precisely because Bush is incapable of achieving that that he and his followers are now insisting that democratic debate itself over the Leader and the war is illegitimate and unpatriotic. One can call that many things. "Churchillian" isn't one of them. Nor, for that matter, is "American."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Just "evolution in action"

(updated below - updated again)

Glenn Reynolds points to this article from The Independent which reports that a "leading Islamic doctor is urging British Muslims not to vaccinate their children against diseases such as measles, mumps, and rubella because they contain substances making them unlawful for Muslims to take." Reynolds' response:


I don't think there is any evolutionary theory that celebrates or finds purpose in the death of children as a result of stupid actions taken by their parents. This just seems instead like a good excuse for pointing out how primitive Muslims are and how they deserve death (what else does it mean to say "Just think of it as evolution in action"?).

And it would be one thing if the people at risk of death were the adults who refused vaccines for themselves on religious grounds, but what kind of person has this reaction to reading a story about the lives of children being endangered as a result of a denial by their parents of necessary medical precautions? "Evolution in action"? That's just deranged.

But beyond that, one does not need to go searching for isolated British Muslim doctors in order to find examples of the lives of children being endangered due to the religious beliefs of adults. Merck, among other pharmaceutical companies, developed a highly effective vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) -- by far the leading cause of cervical cancer in women -- but an entire American political movement called "social conservatism" has been desperately trying to prevent its widespread approval -- or at least persuade parents not to have their daughters vaccinated -- because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and they therefore believe that a vaccine will be seen as an endorsement of premartal sex:

A new vaccine that protects against cervical cancer has set up a clash between health advocates who want to use the shots aggressively to prevent thousands of malignancies and social conservatives who say immunizing teen-agers could encourage sexual activity. . . .

Groups working to reduce the toll of the cancer are eagerly awaiting the vaccine and want it to become part of the standard roster of shots that children, especially girls, receive just before puberty.

Because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted virus, many conservatives oppose making it mandatory, citing fears that it could send a subtle message condoning sexual activity before marriage. Several leading groups that promote abstinence are meeting this week to formulate official policies on the vaccine. . . .

The vaccine appears to be virtually 100 percent effective against two of the most common cancer-causing HPV strains.

And those opposing these vaccines are not isolated or fringe groups. Instead, they are the groups that lay at the core of the Republican Party, and have thus received high-level and influential appointments by President Bush, including positions that give them great power over health policy:

The jockeying reflects the growing influence social conservatives, who had long felt overlooked by Washington, have gained on a broad spectrum of policy issues under the Bush administration. In this case, a former member of the conservative group Focus on the Family serves on the federal panel that is playing a pivotal role in deciding how the vaccine is used.

"What the Bush administration has done has taken this coterie of people and put them into very influential positions in Washington," said James Morone Jr., a professor of political science at Brown University. "And it's having an effect in debates like this."

This is what one of James Dobson's doctors said in explaining opposition to the vaccine:

"Some people have raised the issue of whether this vaccine may be sending an overall message to teen-agers that, 'We expect you to be sexually active,' " said Reginald Finger, a doctor trained in public health who served as a medical analyst for Focus on the Family before being appointed to the ACIP in 2003.

And the Family Research Council had this to say:

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.

Though the FDA finally approved the vaccine, social conservative groups continue to lobby for the right of parents to refuse the vaccine for their daughters and to advocate against the HPV vaccine, insisting that abstinence is the preferred course.

So, when American Christian girls die of cervical cancer in their teens and early 20s because James Dobson and the rest of the "social conservative" movement convinced their parents that giving them the HPV vaccine would turn them into sex-crazed whores -- and that it's therefore preferable to leave them vulnerable to a cancer-causing viral agent -- should we "just think of that as evolution in action" also?

And that's to say nothing of the unwanted pregnancies and cases of HIV transmission due to vigorous religious-based opposition to health programs designed to promote condom usage. When teenagers of Christian parents in the U.S. with no access to condoms have premarital sex and end up with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, should we "just think of it as evolution in action"?

What is really at play here is not hard to discern. If the deaths of children of devout Muslims should be considered nothing more than "evolution in action" -- something that is warranted, even deserved -- then we can start bombing them a lot more indiscriminately without much regret. That's just "evolution in action." Both the intensity and frequency of rhetoric like this directed towards Muslims -- whereby all sorts of theories are offered to justify their deaths -- are increasing rapidly.

UPDATE: As always, the point here is not Reynolds himself (who, like any specific blogger discussed here, is only illustrative). The important point is that Muslim-dehumanizing rhetoric of this type is becoming much more commonplace (that is the point, I believe, of the recent mini-controversy over Marty Peretz's blog of bigotry), and what that rhetoric is intended to justify is obvious. In that regard, one should compare Reynolds' commentary on this story to his notorious post from November, when he cited a reader e-mail and then added his own comments (emphasis added):

READER: The ball is in the Iraqis' court. We took away the obstacle to their freedom. If they choose to embrace death, corruption, incompetence, lethal religious mania, and stone-age tribalism, then at least we'll finally know the limitations of the people in that part of the world. The experiment had to be made.

REYNOLDS: . . . it's also true that if democracy can't work in Iraq, then we should probably adopt a "more rubble, less trouble" approach to other countries in the region that threaten us. If a comparatively wealthy and secular Arab country can't make it as a democratic republic, then what hope is there for places that are less wealthy, or less secular?

This is now an an emerging theme among war supporters looking for someone to blame for their disastrous war -- "we did everything we could for those people, but alas, they're too primitive and savage to take advantage of it, so it's time to start bombing them ("more rubble") with a clear conscience, knowing they brought it on themselves." If we do that, just think of it as evolution in action.

Some commenters have pointed out that, strictly speaking, the actions of a parent that result in the death of a child are part of evolution. Fair enough. But the point is that there are all sorts of comparable acts by American Christians and other religionists (including those above). Reynolds would never link to a story reporting on the death of a 19-year-old Christian girl who died of cervical cancer because James Dobson persuaded her parents to prohibit her from obtaining an HPV vaccine, and then say: "Just think of it as evolution in action." Reynolds' post reveals a way of thinking and speaking about Muslims that is, in equal parts, despicable and dangerous.

UPDATE II: Via Henry Farrell, this is about the most cogent explanation I have seen in awhile for what is going on with the anti-Muslim rhetoric arising out of the ash heap we created in Iraq. From Anatol Lieven's review in London Review of Books (sub. req'd):

One important aspect of Westad’s book is the complex connection he makes between the US and Soviet modernising projects and racism. While both regimes insisted on their right to dictate values and solutions to the benighted peoples of the Third World, both also claimed that those peoples were capable of adopting them, doing so rapidly, and thereby joining the ‘socialist community’ or the ‘free world’.

But because, in classic missionary style, both sides saw their truths as self-evident, their programmes as beneficial, and their own benevolence as beyond question, they often had no rational explanation to offer when their projects failed and their clients turned against them. In these cases, there was often an astonishingly rapid swing towards racist explanations. Currently, the neo-cons in America alternate between arguing that all Arab societies are capable of making rapid progress towards democracy (and that anyone who denies this is racist) and asserting that ‘Arabs understand only force.’"

That about sums up one of the most hopeless contradictions that lies at the heart of our neoconservative, warmongering missions -- the same people who want to convince us that they are doing nothing more than bringing peace, love, joy and freedom to the world with all of their bombings and invasions are also the first to insist that the people in the parts of the world we are invading are brute savages who get what they deserve.

That is how Reynolds went from piously accusing war opponents in 2003 of being "racist" for doubting whether we could export democracy to Iraq, to citing in 2006 the so-called "limitations of the people in that part of the world" as proof that the savages in Iraq are incapable of democracy and so it's time instead to start bombing. And when we do, we should just think of it as evolution in action.

Freedom is on the march

The following is a very revealing, and disturbing, video illustrating what is taking place in Baghdad (h/t Andrew Sullivan). The first part shows an almost exclusively Shiite group of Iraqi Army troops administering to handcuffed Sunnis what the watching, cheering American troops giddily refer to as the "Rodney King treatment." The second part documents various neighborhoods that were previously mixed with Sunnis and Shiites but which now are almost exclusively cleansed one way or the other:

And this morning's Guardian has an article featuring a "commander" of a Shiite militia (the Madhi Army) which earns great profit kidnapping and slaughtering Sunnis (even if their families pay ransom). The commander and his comrades "describe an intimate relationship with Iraqi security services, especially the commandos of the Iraqi interior ministry." They frequently go on their kidnapping and murder missions with security forces along for the ride, subordinate to the militia commanders.

So the best case scenario in Iraq -- what we achieve in the extremely unlikely circumstance that we accomplish our current, stated goals -- is to strengthen a government dominated by Shiite death squads and/or Iran.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Public servant v. Military Commander

(updated below)

Garry Wills has an Op-Ed in the New York Times this morning criticizing the practice of constantly referring to the President as the "Commander-in-Chief":

The word has become a synonym for “president.” It is said that we “elect a commander in chief.” It is asked whether this or that candidate is “worthy to be our commander in chief.”

But the president is not our commander in chief. He certainly is not mine. I am not in the Army. . . .

The glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements.

Wills recounts that Dwight Eisenhower, "a real general," would not exchange salutes while President, because saluting was for those in the military, not civilian Presidents. The practice of presidential saluting was begun by Ronald Reagan, who -- like our current President -- loved ceremonial displays of warrior courage and military power even though (more likely: because) he had none in his real history.

The point Wills makes is an important one, but like most politically insightful points, my first exposure to this insight was in the blogosphere. Back in January, 2006, as part of its "reporting" on the NSA scandal, Newsweek's Evan Thomas and Daniel Klaidman labeled objections over President Bush's illegal eavesdropping program as "histrionics," and pronounced that "the debate was narrow and somewhat vacuous." After all, this was all that had happened with the NSA scandal:

The message to White House lawyers from their commander in chief, recalls one who was deeply involved at the time, was clear enough: find a way to exercise the full panoply of powers granted the president by Congress and the Constitution.

In response, Digby wrote (emphasis in original):

First of all, I'm sick of this bullshit about the president being the commander in chief all the time. This isn't a military dictatorship. Citizens, and even lawyers in the Justice department, don't have a commander in chief. We have a president. I know that's not as glamorous or as, like, totally awesome, but that is what it is. A civilian, elected official who functions as the commander in chief of the armed forces.

It was Digby's post which led me to include a passage on this topic in How Would a Patriot Act? (p. 84), and to note specifically that this was not some stylistic preference but a matter of constitutional division of powers:

Moreover, while President Bush's supporters are fond of referring to him as the "commander in chief" -- typically to insinuate that he should be beyond criticism or that his authority cannot be questioned, particularly in "times of war" -- the president under our system of government holds that position only with regard to those in the armed forces (see Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution: "The president shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States"). With regard to Americans generally, the president is not our "commander" but instead our elected public servant, subject to the mandates of the law like every other citizen and subordinate to the will of the people.

This is much more than semantics. The constant, improper references to President Bush as "Commander-in-Chief" -- rather than what Theodore Roosevelt called "merely the most important among a large number of public servants" -- pervades the media and shapes how it talks about the President in all sorts of destructive ways. Just look at the January, 2006 Newsweek article on the NSA scandal to see the sickness that infects the perspective of those who see the President as the Supreme Military Leader.

According to Newsweek back then, there was nothing to be concerned about with regard to the President's lawbreaking and secret eavesdropping. Illegal eavesdropping was merely the by-product of a President "determined to stand tall in the war on terror" because he faced "a mortal yet invisible enemy." And Bush was doing what any Commander-in-Chief worth his salt would do: "a president will almost always choose to violate individual rights over the risk of losing a war." And what was the real worry which Evans and Klaidman had concerning the "histrionics" over the lawless NSA program? This:

The American public may be less than sympathetic to the targets of the Bush antiterror crackdown. But if the administration is shown to have violated the civil liberties of mainstream peace groups or (heaven forbid!) members of the press, the outcry could produce an overreaction. After the reformers got through with the intelligence community post-Watergate, Richard Nixon acerbically commented, "They cut the balls off the CIA." He was not entirely exaggerating.

These are journalists writing for one of our country's leading news magazines and they were mocking the concern that the Commander-in-Chief might abuse his secret and unlawful eavesdropping powers to spy on journalists ("heaven forbid!") . What the President ordered was merely an "antiterror crackdown" and the Commander-in-Chief was using all of his powers to protect the nation during War, as any good Commander does.

And, said Newsweek, if it did occur that the Commander abused his powers by eavesdropping on journalists and political opponents (and, just incidentally, we still don't know how the Bush administration used these secret eavesdropping powers, but one hopes we will be finding out soon), then their concern was not that it would constitute a grave abuse of power or threat to press freedoms. Instead, they were worried that such a revelation would "produce an overreaction" -- like the Watergate revelations did -- and take away too much of the Commander-in-Chief's powers.

These are journalists who lament Watergate -- not the break-in or the cover-up, but the revelations of that conduct -- because they "cut the balls off" the Commander-in-Chief (through emasculating measures such as oversight and the rule of law). That mindset -- President as War Commander -- leads directly to this, from Newsweek's Thomas and Klaidman:

The talk at the White House in the days and weeks after 9/11 was all about suitcase nukes and germ warfare and surprise decapitation strikes. . . .

Such chilling sights are not likely to inspire thoughtful ruminations about the separation of powers or the true meaning of the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. The message to White House lawyers from their commander in chief, recalls one who was deeply involved at the time, was clear enough: find a way to exercise the full panoply of powers granted the president by Congress and the Constitution. If that meant pushing the boundaries of the law, so be it. . . .

The Bush administration did not throw away the Bill of Rights in the months and years that followed; indeed, NEWSWEEK has learned, ferocious behind-the-scenes infighting stalled for a time the administration's ambitious program of electronic spying on U.S. citizens at home and abroad.

See, when you're the Commander-in-Chief, you can't afford "thoughtful ruminations about the separation of powers or the true meaning of the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures." Lofty concepts like the "Constitution" and the "law" might be fine for effete law professors and whiny "histrionic" liberals to prattle on about, but a Commander-in-Chief -- "determined to stand tall in the war on terror" -- doesn't have time for those things, and that's understandable. He has a War to win, and he is therefore above such petty constraints. War is hell and all of that, and the Commander-in-Chief is our Leader in War.

Right after I read Wills' Op-Ed this morning, I just happened to read this article from Jonah Goldberg, expressing horror that Democrats did not stand and cheer loudly or frequently enough during the State of the Union, when the Leader -- to use Jules Crittenden's immortal words -- "address[ed] us . . . and show[ed] us the way forward." Jonah wrote:

But it is revealing. Indeed, the Democratic party's most honest moment Tuesday night came not in Webb's brusque words but in the Democrats' brusquer body language.

The president asserted that no one wants failure in Iraq. Understandably, the commander in chief wanted to avoid conceding how very real a possibility failure is, so he chose his rhetoric carefully. He spoke in the abstract about the bipartisan desire for victory and success.

And yet the Democrats for the most part sat on their hands, refusing to applaud, never mind rise in favor of such statements from a wartime president.

What kind of Americans don't "rise in favor" and cheer when their glorious Commander-in-Chief gives a war cry? To find the answer, let's turn the floor over again to Theodore Roosevelt, who apparently had some sort of future-travelling ability that enabled him to see and hear the Bush movement. Roosevelt, writing in the middle of a war, wrote:

[The President] should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.

Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

In describing what he found "base and servile" -- not to mention "morally treasonable" and "unpatriotic" -- Roosevelt used words almost identical to those used by Jonah. Roosevelt said it was "base and servile" for someone "to announce that . . . we are to stand by the President, right or wrong." Jonah chided Democrats for failing to "rise in favor of such statements from a wartime president." Base. Servile. Unpatriotic. Morally Treasonable.

Most media flaws are so fundamental and systemic that they will take a long time to resolve, if they can be at all. But one quick, easy and critical step would be to cease speaking of the elected civilian President as our military Commander and instead treat him as the public servant that he is. There is no obligation or duty to support the President, fully including matters relating to war. Quite the contrary: he "should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole."

UPDATE: Jim Henley writes that he was posting about the improper references to the President as "Commader-in-Chief" all the way back in 2002, when virtually the entire country was paying homage to the President as monarch. And indeed Henley did make that point (emphasis in original):

The President is not “our Commander-in-Chief.” He is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. (You can look it up.) . . . If you ain’t in the uniformed services or the active duty militia, you ain’t got a commander-in-chief. It’s a republican thing, with a small ‘r.’

The very best kind.

By pointing to Digby's post, I was, of course, merely identifying the first time I read someone making this point, not purporting to identify the First Time Ever that it was made in the Whole World, though the fact that Henley was pointing this out as far back as 2002 only serves to bolster my claim that the "most politically insightful points" are typically found first in the blogosphere (though Henley has to then go ruin that point by admitting that he first encountered it in a 1991 book review in The New York Review of Books, also by Garry Wills, but that was The Pre-Blog Era).

Whatever its origins, this point is sufficiently clear, and it seems like a straightforward enough proposition that national journalists should have no difficulty ingesting it and adhereing to it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tale of two governments

(updated below)

Maher Arar is a computer engineer and Canadian citizen who was abducted by the U.S. Government in 2002 and sent to Syria for a year to be tortured despite having no terrorist ties of any kind. Back in September, the Canadian Government issued a report which concluded "categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada."

Today, this is what the Canadian Government did about this grotesque travesty:

Canada's prime minister apologized to Maher Arar on Friday and announced the government would compensate him C$10.5 million (US$8.9 million) for its role in his deportation from the U.S. to Syria, where he was tortured while held in prison for nearly a year. . . .

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I want to extend a full apology to you and Monia as well as your family for the role played by Canadian officials in the terrible ordeal that you experienced in 2002 and 2003," Harper said. Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, and their young son and daughter now live in Kamloops, British Columbia.

"I sincerely hope that these words and actions will assist you and your family in your efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in your lives," Harper said, adding the compensation package would also pay for his estimated $1 million in legal fees.

Compare that to what the Bush administration has done to Arar as he sought some small amount of justice for having been wrongfully abducted and tortured by our government for almost a year:

Two lawsuits challenging the government's practice of rendition, in which terror suspects are seized and delivered to detention centers overseas, were dismissed after the government raised the secrets privilege.

One plaintiff, Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained while changing planes in New York and was taken to Syria, where he has said he was held in a tiny cell and beaten with electrical cables. . . .

The United States never made public any evidence linking either man to terrorism, and both cases are widely viewed as mistakes. Arar's lawsuit was dismissed in February on separate but similar grounds from the secrets privilege, a decision he is appealing.

[The other case referenced there is that of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who alleges -- with the support of German prosecutors and the admission of the Bush administration -- that the U.S. Government abducted him, drugged him, flew him to multiple different torture-using countries (and shuttled him at least to Kabul, Baghdad, and Skopje, Macedonia) as part of the administration's "rendition" program, only to then release him after five months when the U.S. realized it had abducted the wrong person (El-Masri has a name similar to a suspected terrorist). The case El-Masri subsequently brought in our federal courts was also dismissed after the administration invoked the "state secrets" doctrine].

Not only did the Bush administration block Mahar's efforts to seek justice in our courts for having been abducted and tortured, but they continue to keep him on the no-fly list despite the whole case having been a mistake from the beginning and despite the increasingly angry protests from the Canadian Government. TPM Muckarcker has the details behind a letter sent last week by Attorney General Gonzales to the Canadians (TPM also has the conclusory, fact-free letter itself, insisting that the administration will keep Arar on the no-fly list).

The fact that the Bush administration simply refuses to remove him is generating significant tension with the Canadians. From the AP article:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper again called on the U.S. government to remove the Ottawa telecoms engineer from any of its no-fly or terrorist watchlists and reiterated that Ottawa would keep pressing Washington to clear Arar's name.

"We think the evidence is absolutely clear and that the United States should in good faith remove Mr. Arar from the list," Harper told a news conference in Ottawa. "We don't intend to either change or drop our position."

The report issued previously by the Canadian Government also concluded:

The American authorities who handled Mr. Arar's case treated Mr. Arar in a most regrettable fashion. They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there. Moreover, they dealt with Canadian officials involved with Mr. Arar's case in a less than forthcoming manner.

By "less than forthcoming," what the Report is referring to is the fact that the "F.B.I. continued to keep its Canadian counterparts in the dark even while an American jet was carrying Mr. Arar to Jordan" because they knew the Canadians would object if they learned that their citizen was being sent by the U.S. to be tortured. So the Bush administration did it anyway and only told the Canadians afterwards.

Like the Jose Padilla case, it's difficult even to know what to say about this incident. I've written about it before, but one's anger is renewed each time there is a further development. There is absolutely no question that Arar is a completely innocent individual whom our government literally abducted and sent to be tortured -- for months, away from his family and everything he knew. Once this entire matter came to light, the administration simply dug its heels in further, insisting that national security required that his case be dismissed from our courts (which naturally obliged), and now -- almost out of spite and/or a pathological inability to admit error -- continues to keep him on its no-fly list.

This was the case that caused Pat Leahy to have a genuine and intense outburst of rage after Alberto Gonazles placidly recited his mindless buzzphrases to defend the administration's conduct here. It is hard to see how anyone doesn't have a similar burst of outrage when thinking about what our government has done, and continues to do, to Maher Arar (of course, the purposeful dehuminization of Arabs and Muslims allows us to not only bomb them free of any regrets, but also to subject them to treatment of this sort).

At least the Canadian Government seems to be run by people with a minimal sense of conscience and decency. The contrast with our own government, in this case at least, is depressingly glaring. A video regarding this case, including an interview with Arar, is here.

* * * * * * *

Welcome back, Jane Hamsher, reporting great news: "my doctors . . . tell me there's no reason I can't be in Washington DC on Monday morning, Febrary 5, sitting at the Prettyman courthouse getting ready to watch Dick Cheney sweat, just like I promised." On her blog, and watching Dick Cheney sweat, is where Jane belongs.

UPDATE: Via Attaturk and C&L, the Canadian report specifically recommended that the Canadian Goverment "review their policies governing the circumstances in which they supply information to foreign governments with questionable human rights records," and specifically urged that "information should never be provided to a foreign country where there is a credible risk that it will cause or contribute to the use of torture."

One of the most infuriating apsects of the Bush presidency and all of the complicity that has enabled it is that a rational person with pride in the history and values of the U.S. no longer has any basis for objecting to characterizaions like this of our country. Those descriptions aren't the by-product of some sort of reflexive anti-American sentiment or overwrought internationalist righteousness. They are just undeniably and objectively true characterizations of what our government has done. And it is infuriating to have to accept that.

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