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, November 30, 2005

The Hillary Disease

Nothing makes blindly partisan Republicans swoon with dizziness and irrationality more than Hillary Clinton. Entire academic disciplines could be sustained just by studying the incomparably intoxicating effect she has on so many of our otherwise sensible (and not so sensible) fellow citizens.

Yesterday, Hillary issued a typically Clintonian statement which purported to state her position on the war in Iraq but which actually staked out every position, and therefore, no position at all. Of course, the fact that she even has to issue a statement in order for us to know her position on this somewhat prominent issue says a lot in itself. Well-orchestrated maneuvers like these show why, in the mold of her husband, she is simultaneously the most formidable and the most soul-less Democratic politician around.

John Rocket at Powerline knows he has to say something about Hillary's Iraq statement and he knows it can't be anything good. That presents a real problem for our intrepid Power pundit because Hillary's statement has an overwhelmingly pro-war odor to it, which, among other things, refuses to repudiate her pro-war vote or to advocate troop withdraw. As intended, this makes it exceedingly difficult for Bush-worshipers to use the statement to attack her.

But John does not disappoint. He reaches deep down into the Hillary insult cliche barrel and digs this out:

There is a certain sourness in the position Clinton has staked out: the war was a mistake which I voted to authorize only because I didn't know the facts; ever since, it has been bungled horribly; nevertheless, we have no choice but to see the mistake through to the bitter end. It smacks, somehow, of the purse-lipped, take-your-medicine feminist First Lady of the early days of Bill Clinton's presidency.

If there is a Non-Sequitur of the Year contest somewhere, Rocket John should start planning his victory party now. John (who uses a Rocket as his symbol, placed above his buddy who calls himself "Big Trunk") cannot escape the piercing image of Hillary as power-hungry feminist. He sees this Hillary everywhere, so that even her rather standard, hawkish prescription for Iraq -- which, as John notes, almost completely mirrors Bush's views -- "somehow" becomes a reflection of her evil, emasculating feminism.

It's only 2005. The level of madness that Hillary's candidacy will inspire once she actually announces that she's running is truly scary to contemplate.

The pro-torture contingent unmasks itself

The volatile debate over torture has evolved significantly. It began as an argument over whether the United States has been systematically torturing people, with Administration critics insisting that it has done so, while Administration defenders outrageously objected to the very suggestion that the U.S. would do such a terrible thing.

As the evidence of torture mounted, it became inescapably clear that torture has indeed played some role in the Administration's policies for interrogating (at the very least) suspected terrorists. That has forced some Administration defenders, for whom criticizing the Administration is never an option, to abandon their denial of American torture and, instead, embrace a defense of it. That means that we now have a substantial and growing portion of the population that actually espouses a pro-torture viewpoint, i.e., they believe that the U.S. should torture people as part of its war on terrorism.

For compelling proof that the pro-torture advocates are now unabashedly embracing their position, and for a glimpse of how the pro-torture argument is to be advocated, there is this post from "Ace" at Ace of Spades, who proudly enunciates the virtues of torture. Ace's post -- which is driven by outrage over the anti-torture objections of Andrew Sullivan to a particularly vile exploitation of John McCain's torture experience -- foreshadows some of the rhetorical techniques to be used by those who are pro-torture as they bravely unmask themselves more and more:

(1) Those who think torture is wrong are simply hysterical and overemotional. The term Ace uses for the anti-torture contingent is "torture hysterics," as featured in this sentence:

"One of the lies the torture hysterics have been peddling for years is that torture never works. "

He also labels Sullivan a "shrieking hysteric," "Saint Andrew of the Scared Heart-Ache," and the "Shrill Shill." People who are opposed to torture just need to get a hold of their emotions, stop being such pussies, and butch up.

(2) Anyone who accepts reality must acknowledge that torture works. It is an important and powerful tool to be used against terrorists. Thus, Ace pronounces the notion that torture does not work to be "one of the lies of torture hysterics." With respect to the widespread view of intelligence and interrogation experts that torture is an ineffective interrogation tool (for instance, CIA Director Porter Goss yesterday: "We want accurate information . . . and we do it in a way that does not involve torture because torture is counterproductive"), Ace tells us: "It's untrue and it always has been."

With the argument being advanced that torture is an effective tool against terrorists, it can't be that far off for us to start hearing that anyone who opposes torture is pro-terrorist.

Oh, wait-- we already have heard that, from big tough warrior Paul Mirgenoff at Powerline, who accused John McCain of being "pro-terrorist rights" because McCain, like the subversive wuss that he is, favors legislation to ban torture.

Once the premise is advanced that "torture works," equating those who oppose torture with the surrender-happy terrorist-lovers who want Osama bin Laden to win is inevitable and imminent.

(3) Strip anyone who opposes torture of their status as hero and patriot. The heroism of John McCain's past can't be impugned, but it can surely be pointed out how long ago and obsolete that heroism is:

So Newsmax offers the genuine martial and moral hero (at least he was such some time ago) of John McCain as yet another strong, committed, patriotic man ultimately broken down by torture.

If the new line is that torture works because it broke down John McCain and the North Vietnamese made him sign statements against his country, how far off are we from the pro-torture advocates finally getting it off their chests and accusing McCain of being a traitorous coward? Ace claims he doesn't believe that, but as the torture debate heats up even more, and McCain continues to be the face of the anti-torture contingent, can that final and ultimate attack on McCain's character really be suppressed much longer? We'll see.

The fact that we are even having a real torture debate now -- not over whether we do it, but whether our doing it is justifiable -- is rather significant in itself. Even the existence of the terms "pro-torture" and "anti-torture" position is by itself striking. The taboo against torture is gone, irreversibly, and one can now proudly and in (sort of) good company declare oneself to be pro-torture and attack those who are "anti-torture" as being weak and irrational.

It used to be unnecessary to even express opposition to the American Government torturing people, since its doing so was beyond the pale of debate. It no longer is. In fact, to believe that torture should be off-limits to the Government is to reveal yourself as a "torture hysteric," and, sooner rather than later, a pro-terrorist, surrender-happy traitor.

If things like torture, not to mention the indefinite incarceration of American citizens, aren't off-limits to the American government, what is?

Giuliani's business success may harm his political ambitions

Ever since his tenure as New York City's Mayor came to an end in late 2001, Rudy Giuliani has been on a money-making splurge. Beyond just his exorbitant speaking fees, his firm, Giuliani Partners, and its related affiliates, have their multiple tentacles in countless industries and highly lucrative transactions. That Giuliani wants to cash in on the 9/11 fame and admiration he earned is understandable after a couple of decades of living on a government salary, but that pursuit may end up sabotaging his Presidential ambitions.

At least in terms of his integrity -- one of the principal selling points for the former federal prosecutor’s candidacy -- Giuliani’s career has been unmarred. But any substantial venture into the private sector usually entails associations with less-than-pure individuals and transactions which, at the very least, can be cast in a negative light. If nothing else, Giuliani's extensive and diverse business activities are sure to provide ample fodder for opposition research on the part of any campaign looking to undermine his sterling image.

The starting point for Giuliani's troubles will, of course, be Bernie Kerik, one of Giuliani's closet friends and associates both during his tenure as Mayor (when he rapidly promoted Kerik to Police Commissioner) and afterwards (when he and Kerik were partners in Giuliani-Kerik LLC, an affiliate of Giuliani Partners). After enduring a painfully humiliating week during his doomed nomination for Homeland Security Secretary, which saw one seemingly credible accusation after the next against Kerik ranging from bribery solicitation to substantial mob ties, he was back in the news last week with accusations from New Jersey officials that Kerik, when he was NYC Corrections Commissioner (appointed by Giuliani), accepted kickbacks from a company connected to organized crime in exchange for municipal contracts. That same year, Giuliani made Kerik his Police Commissioner.

But Bernie Kerik is just the starting point, albeit a large one, for Giuliani’s problems. The New York Sun yesterday published an article detailing a failed Giuliani venture in Boca Raton, Florida, where Giuliani's firm was to oversee a much-hyped project to decontaminate the building formerly occupied by The National Enquirer, one of the targets of the 2001 anthrax attack. The project was a failure, and Giuliani’s company was replaced and then ended up in a messy dispute entailing the loss of millions of dollars in fees.

This is hardly a significant scandal, but it illustrates the hazards of Giuliani’s business ventures. As the New York Sun article put it:

[T]he ensuing contract dispute, and the fact that Bio-One has never been paid for its efforts, could contribute to questions about Mr. Giuliani's management of his business endeavors since leaving office at the end of 2001. If Mr. Giuliani goes ahead with a possible bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, his business ventures, which are far flung and include legal and consulting work, are likely to come under increased scrutiny. Already, he has drawn critical press attention for his consulting work on anti-crime initiatives in Mexico City and his ties to a for-profit vocational college in Kentucky that recently shut down due to financial difficulties.

Giuliani made the choice to be out of the spotlight pursuing these business ventures while potential rivals like John McCain and George Allen are prominently inserting themselves in the news and will continue to do so. That is a disadvantage which the very well-known Giuliani could likely overcome. But for a politician whose biggest selling points are his integrity and attributes of leadership and management, close ties with intensely corrupt individuals like Bernie Kerik and a growing list of failed, messy business disputes would seem to pose some very serious problems for his candidacy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How to apologize and express remorse

Most apologies from public officials are of the disingenuous non-apology apology sort -- where the person pretends to apologize but is really doing nothing but offering excuses, justifications and defenses for their behavior. To the extent there is an "apology" at all, it's to express regret about how other people (unjustifiably) reacted to the behavior -- i.e., "I apologize if someone got hurt, was misled, was offended, as a result of (the completely justifiable) action I took." For a recent example of this ignoble and ugly genre, see this fake non-apology from Bob Woodward.

An authentic apology -- where the person admits wrongdoing without dilution or justification and expresses real remorse -- is very rare. It takes more courage and conviction than most people can muster in order to offer such an apology, particularly to do so publicly.

That's why the statement from Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (.pdf, via TPM) is so impressive. Cunningham pled guilty yesterday to some pretty despicable acts -- as a long-standing defense hawk in the middle of a war, he took substantial bribes in order to pressure the Defense Dept. to award contracts to the parties bribing him. He also lied repeatedly about his actions once they began to be exposed. And he will pay a heavy price for his crimes -- substantial fines, relinquishment of property, loss of his Congressional seat, destruction of his reputation, and prison, all at the age of 65.

But the statement which Cunningham issued yesterday is a model of candor, courage and authenticity. His political career was permanently destroyed yesterday, and -- other than the fact that he meant it -- he had no motive at all for issuing such a statement. That makes what he did that much more commendable:

I am resigning from the House of Representatives because I’ve compromised the trust of my constituents.

When I announced several months ago that I would not seek re-election, I publicly declared my innocence because I was not strong enough to face the truth. So, I misled my family, staff, friends, colleagues, the public -- even myself. For all of this, I am deeply sorry.

The truth is -- I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.

Some time ago, I asked my lawyers to inform the U.S. Attorney Carol Lam that I would like to plead guilty and begin serving a prison term. Today is the culmination of that process. I will continue to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation to the best of my ability.

In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow. And now I know great shame. I learned in Viet Nam that the true measure of a man is how he responds to adversity. I cannot undo what I have done. But I can atone. I am now almost 65 years old and, as I enter the twilight of my life, I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends.

The first step in that journey is to admit fault and apologize. The next step is to face the consequences of my actions like a man. Today, I have taken the first step and, with God’s grace, I will soon take the second.

Thank you.

Remember Cunningham's genuine apology the next time someone wants to pretend to apologize while doing nothing but making excuses for themselves.

UPDATE: Lest there be any confusion, I believe Duke Cunningham has behaved reprehensibly over the course of many years, for the reasons amply set forth by Digby here and for other reasons as well. And, independently, he deserves all the punishment he gets for these crimes.

But even reprehensible people are capable of honorable, commendable acts and of feeling authentic remorse. My praise is strictly confined to the refreshingly unabashed and candid apology which Cunningham publicly issued for his behavior.

Rove has the same problem which sunk Libby

In the multiple Plamegate articles in Time which were written or contributed to by Viveca Novak, there exist substantial clues as to the likely reason why Patrick Fitzgerald wants to depose her.

These articles strongly suggest that the topic which Fitzgerald is most interested in discussing with Novak is the same issue which led to Lewis Libby's indictment -- namely, whether Rove first learned of Plame's CIA employment from reporters (as he claimed) or whether, like Libby, he learned of it from governmental sources. Novak clearly discussed this issue numerous times with Rove lawyer Robert Luskin. And the Time articles themselves strongly suggest that it is this issue -- whether Rove lied about how he first learned about Plame's CIA employment -- which remains Rove's most pressing danger for being indicted as part of Fitzgerald's investigation.

Typically, when the potential of a perjury charge against Rove is discussed, the focus is on his initial failure to disclose to the Grand Jury his July, 2003 conversation with Time’s Matt Cooper. The issue there is simple enough: Rove claims that he simply forgot about the conversation until Luskin found an e-mail which reminded him of it, while a perjury charge would contend that Rove deliberately concealed the conversation from the Grand Jury.

The issue of Rove’s failure to remember his conversation with Cooper seems to be the issue which Luskin himself is trying to hype as Rove’s primary problem (perhaps because it's easy to dismiss away as being nothing more than a memory failure). Here is what Viveca Novak, likely prompted by Luskin, said about that issue in an October 24, 2005 article written with Mike Allen (subscription required):

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald appears to be seriously weighing a perjury charge for Rove's failure to tell grand jurors that he talked to TIME correspondent Matthew Cooper about Plame, according to a person close to Rove. Rove corrected himself in a later grand jury session. If charged with perjury, he will maintain he simply didn't recall the conversation with Cooper and told Fitzgerald as soon as he did.

But Rove's claim that he first learned about Plame's employment through reporters, although discussed far less, seems much more of a threat to him than the this mere failure to remember the Cooper conversation. This is the precise issue which lays at the heart of the Lewis Libby indictment, and at least part of the perjury charge that Fitzgerald is still clearly mulling against Rove almost certainly involves this same question – i.e., whether Rove, like Libby, lied to the Grand Jury when he claimed he first learned of Plame’s CIA employment only from reporters.

This issue appears over and over again in Time articles which Novak either wrote or to which she contributed reporting (the latter circumstance occurring when the focus of the article was principally about some other Plamegate issue, but also contained quotes or information expressly attributed to, or almost certainly obtained anonymously from, Luskin). Clearly, Novak was discussing with Luskin over this period of time the issue of how Rove learned of Plame’s CIA identity – surely a focus of Fitzgerald’s perjury contemplations.

An August 8, 2005 Time article by Massimo Calabresi (with Novak credited as having contributed reporting) says this:

As the investigation tightens into the leak of the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, sources tell TIME some White House officials may have learned she was married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson weeks before his July 6, 2003, Op-Ed piece criticizing the Administration.

That prospect increases the chances that White House official Karl Rove and others learned about Plame from within the Administration rather than from media contacts. Rove has told investigators he believes he learned of her directly or indirectly from reporters, according to his lawyer.

And here is a July 25, 2005 article by Nancy Gibbs, for which Novak is again credited as having contributed reporting. The primary thrust of the article is Gibbs’ interview with Plame and Wilson at their home, but it also contains very interesting information and claims about Rove’s defenses, some of which is attributed to Luskin and some of which appears to have come on background from Luskin via Novak:

And all the while, Rove's defenders were artfully pivoting from saying he hadn't done anything to saying he hadn't done anything wrong, that Plame wasn't really a secret agent anyway, or if she was, Rove didn't know that, or if he did, he only brought her up because he was trying to keep reporters from writing a bad story based on Wilson's false charges, and besides, it was a reporter who blew Plame's cover to him in the first place and not the other way around.

Rove had long insisted that he didn't know Valerie Plame's name or leak it and was cooperating fully with the probe. By last week, that denial had come to seem Clintonian in its legal precision. It's true Rove didn't tell Cooper her name but rather referred to her as Wilson's wife. On the other hand, a simple Google search of Ambassador Wilson turned up her name but not her affiliation. The evolving explanation of Rove's role was enough to let Democrats dream that they might have snared him at long last, while Republicans retorted that, far from incriminating Rove, the latest evidence exonerated him

According to sources close to the investigation, Fitzgerald seemed most interested in whether officials who stayed at the White House while the President was in Africa also had the memo that week, when the first known calls to reporters took place. Details of the memo, if not the memo itself, may have been shared with one or more White House officials well before Wilson's article appeared. Rove and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, have told prosecutors they had never seen the document, according to sources familiar with their statements.

But Rove had learned Plame's identity from someone: a source who has been briefed on Rove's account to Fitzgerald, says Novak called Rove the next day, July 8, and mentioned to him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. According to the source, Rove replied, "I've heard that too," and told Fitzgerald that he had heard it from a reporter--or perhaps from someone else in the Administration who said he got it from a reporter--Rove just couldn't be certain or remember which one.

The same article recognizes that the central issue for Rove is how he learned about Plame’s CIA employment:

What does it matter who put Plame's identity in play? That reporters may have been part of a loop of information, not just receivers of it, has for some time been one of the hypotheses in the case. The Washington Post reported that Libby, who has been interviewed by the grand jury three times, learned Plame's name from a reporter too. NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert spoke with Fitzgerald under oath in August about a call from Libby, who gave Russert clearance to testify about their talk. Russert says he told Fitzgerald that he was not Libby's source.

From legal and political angles, it looks better if Administration officials were leakees, not leakers. If the blame for blowing the cover of a CIA officer can be spread around, so much the better. And it suggests the challenge that Fitzgerald may face in building a case. It is one thing if Rove happened to hear from a reporter that Plame was a CIA officer, casually confirmed that he had already heard that to another reporter (Novak) and incidentally spread the word to a third (Cooper). It's perhaps something else if Administration officials made an effort to gather information on Wilson, discovered that his wife was a CIA officer and carried out a strategy to discredit Wilson that included outing his wife to a number of reporters. It is still another thing to do the second and pretend, under oath, that you had done the first.

As the Libby Indictment demonstrates, Fitzgerald has long focused on the question of how White House officials first learned of Plame’s CIA employment. He obviously concluded that Libby lied about this very issue when Libby testified that he first learned of it from reporters (or that he thought he had when he spoke with reporters in June and July). Fitzgerald's Grand Jury indicted Libby based on the numerous and documented ways that Libby learned of Plame’s CIA employment from government channels long before he ever spoke to any reporter about Plame.

Is it any more believable that Rove – who hardly fits the role of an uninformed outsider kept in the dark and having to wait around for reporters to tell him something about a White House enemy – never caught wind of Plame’s CIA employment during the multiple sessions which enabled Libby to learn about that employment? At the very least, Fitzgerald has to be monumentally skeptical of Rove’s claims in this regard, and – according to the Time articles – he has been.

As is demonstrated by the now famous and not-very-cryptic reference to "Official A" in Paragraph 21 of Libby’s Indictment, Rove and Libby did discuss Plame’s CIA employment prior to the publication of Novak’s article. Fitzgerald must be very interested in trying to find out whether Rove learned of that employment from any of the numerous government sources which Libby used to find out this information, or from Libby himself.

These facts seem to suggest quite strongly that the most likely topic causing Fitzgerald to want to speak with Novak is the question of how and why Rove learned about Plame’s CIA involvement. Novak plainly had multiple conversations with Luskin about that topic, and it is almost certainly be at the forefront of any ongoing interest Fitzgerald has in perjury charges against Rove.

None of this explains why Fitzgerald waited until now to explore Luskin’s conversations with Novak (it very well could be that Fitzgerald focused on Luskin’s conversations with Novak only when Luskin tried to use those conversations in some way as part of his desperate, eleventh-hour plea not to indict Rove), but it is hard to believe that Rove’s claims as to when he first learned of Plame’s CIA employment is not one of the main topics, if not the main topic, to be featured in Novak's imminent testimony before Fitzgerald.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fitzgerald's likely pressure on Robert Luskin

In light of the rather unjournalistic silence by Time and Viveca Novak regarding the circumstances surrounding Novak's agreement to testify before Patrick Fitzgerlad about her conversations with Rove lawyer Robert Luskin, all one can do is speculate as to how and why she agreed to testify. (UPDATE: Substantially more advanced and documented speculation, arising from an exhaustive review of Novak's Plamegate articles in Time, is found here).

Tom Maguire wonders whether Time and Novak are simply violating their confidentiality pledge to Luskin, leading him to ask: “Does TIME Magazine still protect their sources?”

More charitably, he speculates that the oddly rapid agreement by Time and Novak to comply with Fitzgerald’s request suggests that perhaps Fitzgerald is interested only in what Novak told Luskin (which would not be covered by any confidentiality obligation), rather than what Luskin told Novak. Jeralyn at Talk Left suggests the same: “Perhaps Fitzgerald wants to know what Novak told Luskin about Time and Cooper's intentions and the substance of Cooper's conversations with Rove -- as opposed to merely what Luskin told Novak.”

Even if one assumes that Luskin spoke to Novak under an anonymous source agreement (something that is not clear at all since, as Maguire notes, Luskin spoke on the record to Novak), speculation that Novak is testifying only by burning her source or that Fitzgerald is interested only in Novak’s statements to Luskin (but not in Luskin's responses), seems misplaced.

If Novak had pledged confidentiality to Luskin with respect to the conversations Fitzgerald wants to know about, it seems extremely likely that Fitzgerald would simply have asked Luskin to release Novak from any such pledges -- just as Luskin's client did with Matt Cooper and Lewis Libby finally did with Judy Miller. And, under the circumstances, isn't it virtually certain that in response to such a request from Fitzgerald, Luskin would have agreed to do so almost immediately?

With Rove's fate still hanging in the balance, and with that fate still resting firmly in Fitzgerald’s palm, the last thing Luskin would want to do is appear to be obstructing Fitzgerald’s investigation by single-handedly preventing Fitzgerald from learning what he wants to know from Novak.

It is worth remembering that Fitzgerald previously "encouraged" Libby to release Judy Miller from her confidentiality obligations in his September 12, 2005 letter to Libby’s counsel to Libby’s counsel, Joseph Tate. If Fitzgerald wanted to know about Luskin’s conversations with Novak, and Novak told Fitzgerald that she couldn’t disclose the content of those conversations unless Luskin agreed, it would be highly surprising if Fitzgerald did not put the same pressure on Luskin that he put on Libby to release the journalist from her confidentiality obligation.

And it would be even more surprising if Luskin, faced with a such a request from Fitzgerald, did anything but immediately and fully comply.

After all, Luskin has long recognized the basic principle that whatever else he does, he should not make Fitzgerald think that he is impeding the investigation. Here is National Review’s Byron York recounting a converation back in July with Luskin in which Luskin emphasized the paramounce of cooperating with Fitzgerald:

During a conversation with Robert Luskin, Karl Rove's lawyer, last July, Luskin said, "Rule number one is cooperate with Fitzgerald, and there is no rule number two." It was a standard defense attorney line; the last thing one would want to do is to alienate Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor who controls every aspect of the CIA leak investigation.

And, independent of the desire to protect Rove’s interests by cooperating with Fitzgerald, it is possible that Luskin himself could have some legal exposure of his own. If, as Redd Hedd and Emptywheel have both speculated, Luskin said things to Novak which prove that Rove not only was making false statements to the Grand Jury, but knew that they were false at the time, wouldn't that put Luskin in jeopardy as well? The attorney-client privilege does not permit a lawyer to suborn his client's perjury -- which is exactly what may have occurred if Luskin said things to Novak which proved that Rove's Grand Jury testimony (of which Luskin was obviously aware) was knowingly false.

All of this is to suggest that it is impossible to imagine Luskin enforcing Novak’s confidentiality obligation in the face of Fitzgerald's request that he release her from that obligation. Given what is known about Fitzgerald's investigative practices and Luskin's recognized imperative to cooperate, the most likely scenario accounting for Novak's testimony seems to be that Luskin released Novak from her confidentiality obligation, and did so quite quickly, after receiving a request from Fitzgerald that he do so.

At the very least, that scenario seems much more plausible than Novak whimsically violating her confidentiality commitment to Luskin. And Luskin's release of Novak also seems far more likely than imagining that Fitzgerald would be interested only in learning about Novak's statements to Luskin, but not Luskin's statements to Novak, and, even more implausibly, that Fitzgerald would agree in advance to restrict his questioning to Novak’s side of that conversation.

The War on Drugs silently gets dumber and more invasive

Issues like Iraq and terrorism so overwhelm the limited attention of the media and the public that other critically important matters, such as illegal immigration and the nation's ongoing "War on Drugs," go all but ignored.

For that reason, it's always nice to have periodic reminders of the utter wastefulness, oppressiveness and naked stupidity which continue to fuel the Drug War.

Bush v. The Washington Media

Whatever else one might say about George Bush, it is hard to dispute that he steadfastly believes in and adheres to the decisions he makes like virtually no other American political figure we have seen. And whatever it is that accounts for this refusal to change course in response to even the most intense political pressure -- whether it's personality traits, or a genuine set of principles, or messianic religious convictions about his actions and/or himself -- he is largely immune to the weapons which the Washington establishment, and particularly its press corps, have long wielded in order to force political officials to change course.

This steadfastness and refusal to play by the long-standing rules of the Washington establishment is almost certainly the attribute which most accounts for the increasingly intense dislike of the Bush Administration by the Washington press corps. This trait harshly denies the Washington media an entitlement which they have long held and which they believe is rightfully theirs: to be listened to, respected as holders of elevated wisdom, and to be given the power to force change even among the country's highest political officials.

They have never had and still do not have those powers with the Bush Administration, and they are quite unhappy about it. Seymour Hersch appeared last night on CNN with Wolf Blitzer (via Daily Kos) in order to advance even further the cartoon image of Bush as the Boy in the Bubble -- a borderline insane religious freak who believes that he and his actions are divinely mandated, and who is therefore immune from criticism and thus allows his aides to keep him shielded from any "facts" which might undermine his God-inspired certainty.

Hersch reveals the real source of his frustration when he complains to Blitzer about how wrong and scary it is that they -- Hersh and Blitzer and the rest of the vitally important Washington media drones -- have been denied their rightful role in Presidential palace decision-making:

BLITZER: Here's what you write. You write, "Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the president remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding. "Those are incredibly strong words, that the president basically doesn't want to hear alternative analysis of what is going on.

HERSH: You know, Wolf, there is people I've been talking to -- I've been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming. They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago. . . .

And so it's a little alarming because that means that my (sic) and my colleagues in the press corps, we can't get to him maybe with our views. You and you can't get to him maybe with your interviews. How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he's not going the right way?

So Hersh thinks it's "alarming" that he's been writing anti-war articles for several years now and Bush still hasn't caved in his support for the war. We're supposed to be scared and outraged because Bush doesn't watch Wolf Blitzer interviews and then change his mind afterwards, or that Bush still supports the war even after Hersh writes another article based on anonymous officials who have come to him in order to attack Bush's policies.

And when Hersh complains that Bush is inured to "facts," what he plainly means is that Bush doesn't accept Hersh's view of Iraq. In sum, Bush is supposed to know that he has to listen when the Washington press elite speaks, and his refusal to do so means that he is either pathologically stubborn, certifiably crazy, or a religious fanatic beyond any reason. Certain elements on the Left hungrily eat up this cheap and easy caricature.

Ever since he took office, Bush has refused to play by many of the long-standing rules of the Washington game. He doesn't fire his cabinet secretaries and aides when editorial boards and other politicians demand that he do so. The appearance of as-yet-unproven scandals doesn't cause him to dump whomever is said to be associated with them. He doesn't abandon or soften his positions when polls begin to show an increasing public unrest with those positions or when pundits begin insinuating that weakening political support makes those positions untenable.

And, most significantly, he doesn't go out of his way, Clinton-like, to make sure that reporters -- or anyone else -- feel that their opinions are listened to and cherished. If anything, the opposite is true: Bush has never tried to hide that he has very little regard for the opinions of the Washington media establishment; that he could not care any less about winning their approval; and that the tried-and-true pressure tactics which they have used for decades to force White Houses to change course have no effect on Bush, unless it's to make him dig in even deeper.

The New York Daily News, in an article today that is largely critical of the White House, makes exactly this point:

Even as his poll numbers tank, however, Bush is described by aides as still determined to stay the course. He resists advice from Republicans who fear disaster in next year's congressional elections, and rejects criticism from a media establishment he disdains.

"The President has always been willing to make changes," the senior aide said, "but not because someone in this town tells him to - NEVER!"

For better or for worse, Bush arrived in Washington with a firmly entrenched set of convictions about himself and the world, and the self-important permanent Washington media establishment has not been able to shake those convictions no matter how hard they try. They thus feel irrelevant and impotent and they are not happy about it. They put up with it after 9/11 when a combination of Bush's towering popularity and their own fear-driven worship of Bush's cowboy swagger kept those resentments in check. But as 9/11 fades further into the distant past along with the aura of Bush's invulnerability, these resentments are blooming in plain sight.

Steadfastness or stuborness, like Clinton's eagerness to accomodate the positions of others, can be a good or a bad trait in a President. But for the preening, hubristic, status-obsessed Washington media elite, what matters is the influence and power they have, and in this respect, Bush's refusal to grant them their rightful place is nothing but a source of anger.

The media sees shifting public opinion in Iraq as their big chance to show that their power has not waned. They are committed to milking public discomfort over Iraq in order to show the Administration that they still rule Washington. And the longer Bush refuses to adhere to their demands -- or, as Hersch revealingly complained, the longer they "can't get to him maybe with (their) views" -- the angrier and more frustrated they are going to become.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Midge Decter: The Mother Sheehan of the Right

A couple of months ago, a Daily Kos diarist wrote a post urging his fellow anti-war activists to refer to Cindy Sheehan only with the creepy, cult-like title of "Mother Sheehan." His reasoning was almost as disturbing as the suggestion itself:

She is not a person now, she is a mother, which is not an expression of her individuality, but rather the expression of her eternal character: the mother, the bringer of life who has been wronged by state power.

Unsurprisingly, this post was the source of much derision on the Right, where she is still invariably referred to by that title.

It seems, though, that trying to bestow onto a political figure some sainted Mother image is ridiculous and funny only when someone on the Left does it. When the Right does it, it is profoundly moving and insightful.

Bruce Kesler over at Democracy Project has written a Thanksgiving love letter to neoconservative mistress Midge Decter, entitled "Thanksgiving for Midge Decter: Thanks Mom." Kesler shows that he is quite serious about considering Midge his mother, and really lays on the motherhood dribble much thicker than anyone ever did for Mother Sheehan:

Unbeknownst to Midge Decter, until last year, although having children of her own to raise, she has been my spiritual mother since I was 20. Midge Decter’s writings, on the nexus of culture and politics, the guide of the values we have at home to those we practice in the world, are rooted in the life experiences and concerns of a Jewish mother for the survival and success of her family. America is Midge Decter’s extended family. . . .

It was then, through a mutual friend I was graced to meet during the campaign, that I sent Midge Decter an email about her quote from 1968 and its effect on my life. She responded, overgraciously, but only as a proud mother can, that my contribution saved the country. A son was never prouder. . . .

Midge Decter felt responsible for what had happened to America, as only a mother can . . .

In May 2004, Midge Decter updated her maternal reflections . . .

This mother of sense, mine for almost 40-years, now extends her apron of motherly blessing and lessons to the next generation of America’s defenders. Just as those who served extend our faith, solidarity and hands to them.

With Midge Decter as their spiritual mother, a latter day lady of liberty, how can they go wrong! Thanks Mom.

Really, this borders on the disturbed. At least the Kos diarist wanted to use the "Mother Sheehan" title as a symbol. Kesler appears to have really come to think of Decter as his mom.

And what does the Right think of this emotionally twisted transformation of a political activist into a symbol of surrogate Motherhood? They must be mocking and scorning it the way they did when the Daily Kos diarist did the same thing to Cindy Sheehan, right?

Uh, no. They are celebrating and even drippily expounding upon Kesler's love note, and are recommending it to all.

I am sure that Mother Decter is very proud to have so many adoring, grateful little neocon boys who are appropriately appreciative of everything their mother did for them. What Mother wouldn't be?

The Tough-Guy Warriors are Going Soft

When the U.S. needed a nice, compliant puppet to run Iraq once Paul Bremer stepped down as its ruler, it chose old CIA asset Iyad Allawi. Allawi was then promptly turned out of office once the Iraqis were able to choose their own government, in no small part due to Allawi's long-standing, close ties to the U.S. and to the CIA.

For that reason, Allawi's comments yesterday -- in which he said that the magnitude of human rights abuses in Iraq today is comparable to what they were under Saddam's regime -- are extremely serious, and cannot be snidely dismissed as some sort of anti-U.S. propaganda from someone who wants to sabotage our mission and make us look bad. Allawi is a U.S. ally and long-standing Saddam enemy who supported our invasion and occupation, and this is what he said about the state of things in Iraq:

Abuse of human rights in Iraq is as bad now as it was under Saddam Hussein, if not worse, former prime minister Iyad Allawi said in an interview published on Sunday.

"People are doing the same as (in) Saddam Hussein's time and worse. It is an appropriate comparison," Allawi told British newspaper The Observer.

"People are remembering the days of Saddam," said Allawi, a secular Shi'ite and former Baathist who is standing in elections scheduled for Dec. 15. "These are the precise reasons why we fought Saddam Hussein and now we are seeing the same things.

"We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated," said Allawi in an apparent reference to the discovery of a bunker at the Shi'ite-run Interior Ministry where 170 men were held prisoner, beaten, half-starved and in some cases tortured.

"A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations."

Allawi said the Interior Ministry, which has tried to brush off the scandal over the bunker, was afflicted by a "disease".

If it is not cured, he said, it "will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government".

London's Observer similarly reported:

'People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse,' Ayad Allawi told The Observer. 'It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.'

Someone needs to tell Allawi that he only thinks things are awful in Iraq because the MSM suppresses the stories about U.S. troops handing out sweets to Iraqi children and helping to clean the chalkboards in Kurdish schools. Then again, Allawi is in Iraq and it's doubtful that his view of what is going on there is a by-product of the MSM's propaganda. So maybe what he is saying is accurate and there is no good way to attack his motives or biases no matter how much we want to find a way to disbelieve his report because it contains bad news.

It may very well be the case that, if we stay long enough, spend enough money, and endure enough casualties, we will be able to create a relatively stable, decent Iraq, such that we can at least claim with a straight face that our invasion actually improved the Middle East by replacing a murderous, psychopathic dictator with a reasonably representative, human rights-respecting government in the heart of that region.

But as Allawi's report and so many others conclusively demonstrate, we are far, far away from that point. It is questionable whether we have made any progress at all towards reducing the levels of instability, violence and chaos in that country, and it is unquestionable that if we have made any such progress, it is a small fraction of what is necessary to leave with any confidence that those improvements will be substantial, let alone that they will endure once our 150,000 troops are gone.

Even if one disagrees with their desire for an ongoing military presence in Iraq, one can at least respect the intellectual honesty and principled stand of those pro-war advocates who acknowledge that we are far from ready to leave Iraq right now, and that achieving the original goals will require an ongoing, sustained commitment to a prolonged occupation. Having supported this war and subsequent invasion on the ground that U.S. national security will be improved if we create a stable, democratic government in Iraq, they commendably insist on staying and trying to "finish" what is so clearly an unfinished job, notwithstanding the fact that a prolonged occupation will subject Republicans to serious political difficulties, to put it mildly.

By depressing contrast, the increasingly populous group which supported this war but now wants to pretend that Iraq is ready for us to leave -- all because they want to minimize political damage to Republicans and to Bush -- are really acting reprehensibly. Here is the rationale of one of them, Don Surber, in his candid and illuminating post, entitled "We Won. Let's Go Home":

I listened carefully to the lengthy House debate on the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The idea failed 403-3. Such a withdrawal is a surrender.

But as a supporter of the war, I opined that we have won this war in part. We need to bring the troops home from the secured areas (End The Mission Creep: Bring Them Home). Every day, sites such as Argghhh! and Mudville Gazette say how swell things are going. My argument was in light of all these good-things-MSM-doesn't-report posts from all over, why are they still there? Building schools is not the job of the Army. The idea of trying to win the hearts and minds is ridiculous. We want them independent, not some sort of American protectorate. . . .

America has done what it set out to do: Stopped Saddam from developing more WMD, stopped Saddam's support of terrorism and stopped Saddam. Time to turn Iraq over to Iraqis.

Leave aside the obvious question of why Democratic calls for withdraw constitute "surrender" while GOP calls for the same thing do not. Beyond that, isn't it the case that by Surber's reasoning --that all we ever wanted to do in Iraq was get rid of Saddam -- we could have left Iraq two years ago when we drove Saddam from power and captured or killed the Baathist hierarchy. But there were no calls from the pro-war hawks then to withdraw. Even once we captured Saddam, we were continuously and stridently told that there was so much left for us to do in Iraq.

It is only now that the war has become so unpopular and there are looming mid-term elections are we suddenly hearing that there's nothing left for us to do in Iraq and it's fine if we leave before there is anything resembling a stable society and decent, self-sufficient government there.

This GOP version of the "situational hawk," as those position-shifting Senate Democrats have been derisively called, embodies the worst of both worlds: having insisted upon an invasion and occupation which entailed an expenditure of resources far greater than what was imagined and which has seen one rationale after the next evaporate, they now want to abandon their project and leave Iraq in shambles -- filled with sectarian war, Al Qaeda operatives, human rights abuses on a massive scale, and pervasive, unrelenting violence. Can anyone claim that an Iraq bubbling over with these problems is an improvement to U.S national security?

And there is a dirty little irony plaguing this group as well. They are the ones who have been swarming in attack mode on those unprincipled, cowardly Senate Democrats who originally supported the war when the war was politically popular but have now turned against the war now that public opinion has, too. We are told that these mind-changing Democrats are craven opportunists who care more about political advantage than they do about U.S national security, and that they are willing to surrender to terrorists if doing so can help their domestic political prospects.

And how, exactly, does that now-reviled group of spineless, politically-motivated Senate Democrats differ any from the previously zealous Iraq warriors who -- now that public opinion has turned so decisively against their war -- are hyping the transparent charade that Iraq is, in any sense, sufficiently improved to have made our invasion worthwhile, let alone ready for us to abandon it? Aren't they guilty of exactly the crimes of which they accuse these shifting, soul-less Senate Democrats -- namely, having supported a war when it was easy to do so but now wanting to prematurely withdraw because the political winds have shifted?

It seems as though the accusations which the pro-war Right has been so viciously launching against anti-war critics are starting to fit quite comfortably on them. If we leave Iraq now, haven't our troops died in vain? Don't we owe it to them to complete our mission and not cut and run in time for November, 2006? And won't our patently premature withdraw be seen as the exact type of surrender which we have been hearing is what emboldens terrorists and weakens our country? These previously chest-beating hawks, who are transforming into meek little doves right before our eyes, are willing to endure all of that just in order to protect some GOP Congressional candidates from having to defend an increasingly unpopular war?

If the only difference between anti-war Democrats and softening pro-war Republicans is that the former wants to leave and say the whole thing was a mistake, while the latter wants to leave and pretend that we won, that isn't much of a difference to crow about. And if all we did in Iraq was get rid of Saddam in order to replace him with a new dictator, one whose human rights abuses are comparable or, worse, who will be a reliable ally of the U.S.-hating Iranian mullahs, it's hard to imagine anyone claiming that this war has been worthwhile. Nothing will have been improved -- not U.S. national security, not our image around the world, and not the plight of the Iraqi people.

The propaganda pretending that "we won" will be loud and relentless if we do leave prematurely, but the reality of what is happening in Iraq is almost sure to render it ineffective. If we leave now, it will be clear to most everyone that we were driven out by a combination of the insurgency and growing domestic opposition to the occupation, and that we did not "win" anything. If we truly want to have a chance to "win" in Iraq in any meaningful sense, the 2006 elections cannot be a factor, let alone the driving factor, in determining when we leave.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Pro-War Right v. 2006 Elections

There is much discussion today of The Los Angeles Times article detailing the multiple signs that the Bush Administration is laying the groundwork for a significant troop reduction from Iraq. This article has again triggered speculation that the Administration is committing itself to a substantial withdraw from Iraq, regardless of the conditions there, in time to save GOP candidates in the November, 2006 elections from being saddled with an increasingly unpopular war.

But as I documented last week, the Administration will not be able to prematurely withdraw from Iraq without provoking a huge backlash from the formidable segment of the pro-war Right which cares more about their ideological goals and beliefs than they do about the short-term political considerations of either the Republican Party or George Bush.

With the Harriet Miers triumph, the Right convincingly demonstrated that it will no longer blindly fall into line behind George Bush’s decrees if they perceive that their ideological principles are being abandoned. And, as Bush becomes more unpopular and gets even closer to full-on "lame duck" status, the Right will not hesitate to wage war on him again – particularly if they think that he is selling out the chance for glorious U.S. victory in Iraq merely in order to preserve some GOP Congressional seats in a garden-variety mid-term election.

One of the leaders of the anti-withdraw charge is sure to be Bill Kristol, who, as I noted last week, clearly expects U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for a long, long time to come. Here is Kristol, along with Robert Kagan, in their Weekly Standard article last week revealingly entitled "Abandoning Iraq":

Victory is in fact possible, though it will require a longer war than anyone would like, but not so long a war as to be intolerable. What would be intolerable would be to lose to the terrorists in Iraq.

I think it's safe to say that Bill Kristol isn't on board with this oh-so-clever November, 2006 withdraw idea.

A preview of the war from the Right which is sure to waged if premature withdraw from Iraq is attempted, is found in this well-reasoned and anticipatorily angry objection from the intellectually honest, pro-war conservative blogger John Cole:

While drawing down 40k of 160k troops over the next year is certainly not cutting and running, I think it is pretty clear this decision is being based on domestic political considerations rather than facts on the ground.

Which, of course, makes this administration no better than the cynical Democrats who have been using this issue for their own political reasons. Worse, some might argue, since this administration led us into this war, and now seems unwilling to win it.

This is exactly the kind of thing we’re going to hear more of – with a lot more intensity and aggression – if the pro-war Right perceives that Bush is attempting premature troop reductions based on craven political calculations centering on the November, 2006 elections.

Bush, and Rove, may very well want to effectuate this withdraw, or at least make it look like we’re withdrawing, to avoid having the Iraq occupation be a fatal albatross around the necks of the GOP 2006 candidates. But as they found out with the Harriet Miers nomination, this isn’t 2002 any more, and they can’t have whatever they want.

Particularly since it will almost certainly risk infuriating -- again -- the only friends they have left, the Administration may not be able to stage this politically-motivated troop reduction even if, as increasingly appears to be the case, they are eager to do so.

The irrational attacks on ex-supporters of the war

The Seattle Times reports this morning on another “Defense Hawk,” Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wa.), who has turned against the war in Iraq. Dicks voted for the 2002 war resolution and vocally supported the war effort, but:

Dicks now says it was all a mistake -- his vote, the invasion, and the way the United States is waging the war.

While he disagrees with Murtha's conclusion that U.S. troops should be withdrawn within six months, Dicks said, "He may well be right if this insurgency goes much further."

"The insurgency has gotten worse and worse," he said. "That's where Murtha's rationale is pretty strong — we're talking a lot of casualties with no success in sight. The American people obviously know that this war is a mistake."

Usually, nobody much cares about a particular Congressman’s views on anything. There are 435 of them, and outside of the very few who comprise the House leadership, the influence any one of them singularly wields is minuscule.

But there is a reason why the conversions of the previously pro-war Rep. John Murtha, and now Rep. Dicks, have resonated so strongly, both among war critics who are quick to embrace them, and among war proponents who feel compelled to attack and discredit them.

The reason is this: Guys like Jack Murtha and Norm Dicks cannot be caricatured as anti-American hippy socialist cowards, and they thus give the lie -- viscerally and undeniably -- to the recently intensified attacks on not just the judgment, but the motives and patriotism, of anyone who is a critic of the war and/or a critic of the Bush Administration’s pre-war advocacy.

There is a growing tendency on the part of pro-war advocates to ascribe qualities of weakness, spinelessness, cowardice, hysteria, and anti-American subversiveness -- not to mention being “small hollow men [who] are the equivalent of those grubby little Nazis” -- to anyone who is against the war in Iraq or who favors an end to our occupation there sooner rather than later.

The new and improved line of attack is to dichotomize war opponents by, first, issuing the most back-handed of compliments to those who were anti-war all along – the unthreatening, marginalized “Michael Moore crowd.” They, we are told, are at least “principled” and "consistent" (though horribly misguided and dangerous in their consistent, principled stance).

The real villains now are those who have changed their minds about the war – the ones who went from being war supporters to war opponents. It is not just their judgment which is deficient, but their character, bravery and patriotism. It is this group that war supporters are now targeting as cowardly, unprincipled, implicit enemies of the United States who subversively care more about politically undermining the Commander-in-Chief than they do about winning the war. As they so often do, the Powerline boys most accurately illustrate this irrational rhetorical excess: "The only war the Democrats really have their heart in is the war to undermine the Bush administration."

There are, to be sure, a group of quite unprincipled U.S. Senators who originally supported the war simply because they were too afraid not to, and now that it is safe to do so, they want to change their minds and blame others, particularly the White House, for their vote. And there is also a small, marginalized segment of the anti-war contingent which is simply pacifistic and/or which believes that the U.S. is inherently evil, and that all measures taken to project American power should be opposed as a reflection and promotion of this evil. They would oppose any war, or almost any other action initiated by the U.S., and certainly those favored by George Bush.

But there is also a crowd in the pro-war camp comprised of people who favor the war because they believe we should eradicate and/or conquer Muslims, or who want to battle against Islam itself by spreading Christianity or simply killing or subjugating adherents of Islam. They would favor any U.S. war, or almost any other hostile action, initiated by the U.S. against Muslim countries, especially those favored by George Bush.

But just as the pro-war position can’t be reasonably attacked by citing the fact that some who subscribe to it do so for venal or intellectually corrupt reasons, the anti-war position cannot be attacked by pointing to the subset of anti-war critics who are motivated by less than noble objectives. Large numbers of war supporters– likely the vast majority – do not favor the war because they want to invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity, just as the vast majority of war opponents do not believe that the U.S. is an imperialistic, blood-thirsty force of evil which ought to "surrender to terrorists" and turn to pacifism.

That’s what Jack Murtha and Norm Dicks prove so conclusively – that there is an honorable, patriotic, good faith ground for converting from supporter of the war to an opponent. And Murtha, in particular, has become such a lighting rod for intense emotion and debate precisely because war opponents are so eager to demonstrate the existence of such an honorable anti-war conversion, while war supporters are equally eager to deny that such a thing is even possible.

Huge numbers of people who question the war and who oppose the Administration’s fighting of it -- including those who originally supported the war but now have changed their mind -- know that they are not motivated by hostility towards their country, or a cowardly “fear of fighting,” or some subversive pro-terrorist agenda. Like Murtha and Dicks, their conversion to anti-war opponent has been gradual and is a strictly pragmatic conversion: they no longer believe that the project is constructive, but instead, has become counter-productive and destructive, and therefore ought to be terminated.

Assume that one invests in a new business based upon certain optimistic assumptions about the market, the demand for the product to be sold by the business, the ability to contain costs. After pouring substantial capital into the business, the investor realizes that the initial assumptions were wildly inaccurate. He also realizes that the individuals he hired to manage the business made some critical, irreparable mistakes in operating the business at the outset. As a result, the investor has concluded that the business is almost certain to fail, and can never achieve meaningful profitability.

He is thus faced with only two options: (a) accept the fact that the ongoing costs of the business will outweigh the benefits and therefore search for the least harmful way to abandon it, or (b) continue to pour resources into the project simply because he does not want to change his mind and admit error, i.e., the “throwing good money after bad” behavior.

It can hardly be said to be a sign of cowardice or “fecklessness” if, under those circumstances, the investor decides to abandon the project rather than continue to pour money into it until he has no money left. Indeed, the decision, one way or the other, cannot possibly be seen as a function of how courageous or principled he is (unless one wants to argue that it actually requires courage to admit error and change one’s mind as a result). Instead, the decision is a strictly pragmatic one – based on an assessment of the facts of the business as they developed and a recognition of the disparity between the initial predictions and the realities as they evolved.

This is exactly what led Rep. Murtha, Rep. Dicks, and scores and scores of previously pro-war individuals to change their mind about the desirability of our occupation of Iraq. Here is Rep. Murtha explaining the rationale leading to his conversion:

The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We can not continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.

General Casey said in a September 2005 Hearing, “the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency.” General Abizaid said on the same date, “Reducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is a part of our counterinsurgency strategy.”
. . .
I said over a year ago, and now the military and the Administration agrees, Iraq can not be won “militarily.” I said two years ago, the key to progress in Iraq is to Iraqitize, Internationalize and Energize. I believe the same today. But I have concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress.

Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists and foreign jihadists. I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraqi security forces will be incentivized to take control. A poll recently conducted shows that over 80% of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops, and about 45% of the Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified. I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis.

That argument amounts to nothing more than a practical assessment that our continued occupation in Iraq undermines, rather than promotes, the objectives that caused us to begin the war. It is driven by a cost-benefit analysis that the benefits which the U.S. can reasonably expect to derive from ongoing occupation are vastly outweighed by the costs. If a person has come to that conclusion, then his love of his country and his opposition to terrorism would compel, rather than prevent, his conversion from war supporter to war opponent.

That is why whatever else can be said about pro-war and anti-war advocates, for the vast majority of individuals on both sides, their viewpoints are not a function of bravery or cowardice, a desire to fight rather than surrender to terrorists, or a love of the U.S. versus a hatred for it. Favoring a war that you don’t have to fight in does not require courage, and opposing a war that you won’t have to fight in cannot even remotely be construed as a sign of “cowardice.”

For these reasons, these patriotism and "cowardice" attacks on anti-war converters are patent non-sequiturs. They are designed to smear, not to engage or to debate, and they are based on the false assumption that there is something inherently courageous and patriotic about favoring a prolonged U.S. military occupation and something inherently cowardly and unpatriotic about favoring a withdraw.

But changing one's mind about the desirability of this war based upon a rational conclusion that it is producing more harm than good for America is not a sign of cowardice nor evidence of a hatred for the U.S. It is a sign of precisely the opposite.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Iraq Pop Quiz

When you read things like the following report from Edward Wong in today's New York Times, reporting from Baghdad, do you:

(a) marvel at the utter chaos and worsening violence which our invasion has spawned;

(b) find the notion absurd that we are anywhere even remotely near being able to turn over Iraq to Iraqis;

(c) wonder about how Iraq is ever going to be sufficiently peaceful and stable for us to leave without it looking like retreat and defeat; or,

(d) all of the above.

A suicide car bomb exploded Thursday near an American convoy at the entrance to the main hospital in the volatile town of Mahmudiya, killing at least 30 Iraqis and wounding dozens of others in a burst of fire and shrapnel.

At least 15 other Iraqis died Thursday, including the police commander of Mahmudiya, while 5 American soldiers were reported killed in three separate incidents over the last two days.

Even by the violent standards of this war, the bombing in Mahmudiya was particularly vicious, taking place outside a hospital as visitors and the sick were coming and going. The blast flung bystanders and body parts through the air and shattered the facades of buildings for blocks around. Policemen and Iraqi Army soldiers quickly sealed off the town's main streets while American helicopters circled the scene of carnage. . . .

Mahmudiya lies in a restive part of the Euphrates River valley south of Baghdad that is commonly called the Triangle of Death, because of the frequency of ambushes by guerrillas and bandits there. The American military has often tried sweeps of towns and villages there, only to find that the residents had cleared out well before the operations began.

Some of the worst sectarian violence of the post-Saddam Hussein era has taken place in the area, as Sunni Arabs and Shiites struggle for control of the towns and of the major arteries leading south from the capital to the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Shiite pilgrims traveling to those cities have often turned up dead alongside the main road, known as the Highway of Death. The executions have incited so much fury that Shiites in the south have announced the creation of vengeance-seeking militias in response to the slayings.

The sectarian nature of Iraq's low-level civil war is evident in virtually every major attack that takes place now. A surge in such assaults has roiled the country in the last week and tested the limits of Shiite patience.

Last Friday, a pair of suicide bombers attacked two Shiite mosques in the Kurdish town of Khanaqin, killing at least 70. A car bombing at a Shiite funeral the next day killed at least 30. By the end of the weekend, at least 155 Iraqis and 8 American and British soldiers had been killed over a three-day period.

In violence elsewhere on Thursday, a car bombing in the southern town of Hilla killed at least 3 people and wounded at least 14, the Interior Ministry official said. Gunmen in southern Baghdad opened fire on a convoy carrying the minister of industry, killing at least three guards and wounding a civilian, and an adviser to Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister and a candidate for Parliament, was shot dead in his car in the evening.

An Iraqi Army major, a police officer and an Iraqi commando were gunned down in separate incidents in Baghdad. A roadside bomb explosion in the Baghdad suburb of Doura killed one policeman and wounded two, while a police colonel and his son were killed when guerrillas sprayed their house with gunfire. A girl was killed when "unknown explosive ordnance" detonated near an engineering convoy in Diwaniya, the American military said.

The American military said a soldier died Wednesday of a gunshot wound in central Baghdad, and two died the same day of gunshot wounds southwest of the capital. Two other soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb explosion on Thursday, also southwest of Baghdad. At least 2,104 American troops have died in the war.

The recent spate of suicide bombings has called into question the American military's assertions that it has effectively clamped down on such attacks. The American command says suicide bombings dipped somewhat from early summer to late summer, and officers attribute the decline to operations in the desert regions of western Anbar Province, near the Syrian border. These operations were aimed at disrupting the flow of foreign fighters and munitions, the officers say.

I choose (d). A country with places of active killing referred as the "Triangle of Death" and "Highway of Death," and plagued with sectarian violence that is increasing in hatred, intensity and slaughter, doesn't sound like a place on its way to stability and prosperity.

The Myth of International Wisdom

In his column this morning, entitled "Replant the American Dream," Washington Post columnist David Ignatius dramatically laments America’s plummeting popularity around the world, and does so with the standard, now-cliched sentiments which are dutifully trotted out whenever this topic is raised. People in other countries no longer like or respect Americans. They think we’re hypocritical war-mongers who preach standards for other countries which we routinely violate. They despise George Bush and disbelieve everything that he says. They no longer see us as exceptional or different. Accordingly, he patronizingly tells us:

When I lived abroad, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. It was a chance to scrounge up a turkey, gather foreign and American friends, and celebrate what America represented to the world. . . .

I don't think Americans realize how much we have tarnished those ideals in the eyes of the rest of the world these past few years. The public opinion polls tell us that America isn't just disliked or feared overseas -- it is reviled. We are seen as hypocrites who boast of our democratic values but who behave lawlessly and with contempt for others. I hate this America-bashing, but when I try to defend the United States and its values in my travels abroad, I find foreigners increasingly are dismissive.

And, as is almost always the case for those who read from this laundry list to demonstrate rising anti-American sentiment among people in other countries, Ignatius’ assumption is that they are right. If people around the world believe that the U.S. has shed its values and has become a dangerous threat to the world, then, so goes this reasoning, that is powerful proof that the U.S. is on the wrong track. And, they reason, both the prevalence and wisdom of these anti-American sentiments around the world compel the U.S. to change its course in order to once again become popular in the world.

This is corrupt and dangerous reasoning. All of Ignatius’ assertions regarding rising American unpopularity may be (and likely are) true, but they are also completely besides the point, if not downright irrelevant, when it comes to debating what measures the U.S. ought to pursue and is justified in pursuing in order to defend its national security and protect its national interests.

That America faces real dangers in the world is beyond dispute for rational people, but -- just as Americans care more about the dangers threatening them than they care about dangers which threaten other countries -- the dangers facing America will naturally be under-appreciated and under-valued by people in countries for whom those dangers pose no threat.

The important corollary to this principle is that measures which Americans believe are appropriate and justified in order to confront these threats will be viewed as excessive and unwarranted by people in other countries, who view those threats as less significant and alarming than Americans do. For that reason, among others, the popularity or lack thereof of America’s foreign policy in other countries should not be used as a metric for determining the rightness of America’s actions.

The country in which I have now lived for a year, Brazil, is by far the largest and most populous country in South America, and Brazilians had, prior to the war in Iraq, an overwhelmingly favorable view of the United States. One would expect that to be the case. The U.S. is Brazil's largest trading partner, more tourists visit Brazil from America than anywhere else, the U.S. provides substantial aid to this country, and Brazil is now a full-fledged, healthy free market democracy which makes it a natural U.S. ally in South America. And all of those factors did, indeed, result in strong pro-U.S. sentiment among Brazilians.

That has all changed, and, beginning with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it changed dramatically. Newspapers are now routinely filled with anti-U.S. diatribes; the population almost universally reviles the Bush Administration; virtually nobody views the U.S. war in Iraq as anything other than oil-motivated, blood-thirsty imperialism; and when asked who the biggest threat is to world peace (as well as environmental sustainability), Brazilians will now almost always point to the Bush-led U.S. rather than to, say, Osama bin Laden, North Korea, or Iranian mullahs.

While such trends may be upsetting to some, they cannot reasonably be used to argue that American foreign policy is misguided. Any nation would be acting foolishly, and self-destructively, if it allowed its foreign policy to be guided by the threat perceptions of people in other countries. When it comes to facing the profound threat posed to American interests by Islamic extremism, it is naturally the case that people in other countries will view the danger posed by that threat as being less serious and important than Americans perceive it to be.

Americans, justifiably and understandably, consider the 9/11 attacks to be a profound and intolerable assault on U.S. national security, an event so threatening and jarring that it justifies measures which would have previously been considered to be too extreme. But here in Brazil, and in most other countries in the world, Islamic terrorism is a virtually non-existent threat, and, for those countries, 9/11 is no different than any other event occurring in any other country which results in lots of tragic deaths -- such as, say, a massive earthquake or an outbreak of a deadly virus.

The population of most every country on the planet does not perceive the threat of radical Islam to be what Americans perceive it to be – and rightfully so, because the threat which this extremism poses to America is far greater and more serious than it is to most other countries. Brazilians wake up worrying about violent crime in their cities or the massive poverty which causes it, but they -- like so many people outside the U.S. -- don’t wake up worrying about Muslim terrorism because it is not a threat to them. But it is a threat to Americans.

This fundamental difference in interests is critical, as it illustrates the utter folly, and irrationality, of using the perceptions of other countries to judge America’s foreign policy. When it comes to the U.S. deciding what it needs to do and should do in response to the threats which gave rise to 9/11 and similar attacks, it is the American perception of the severity and importance of those threats – and not the perception of other countries – which ought to determine America’s response.

There are ample grounds to criticize, and even be horrified by, America’s actions under the Bush Administration. One can quite rationally argue that the U.S.’s systematic polices of torture, or its abducting and detaining people and holding them in secret prisons, or its decision to wage war based on claims concerning the Iraqi threat which were false and inaccurate, are destructive and indefensible. But this is the case not because these actions are unpopular in other countries, but because these actions are harmful to America, because they are contrary to America’s values, and because they undermine the liberties and securities of its citizens. In short, those actions are good or bad on their merits, regardless of what the citizens of other countries think of them.

International unpopularity may be the result of an undesirable or unwarranted foreign policy, but such unpopularity may just as easily flow from the U.S. doing exactly what it ought to do to protect its interests. International public opinion of America’s foreign policy is not evidence, one way or the other, of the merit of those policies.

Contrary to the annoying and childish assumption of so many, other governments and the populations of other countries are judging America’s actions not based upon some universal standard of morality or from some elevated perch of wisdom and goodness, such that their disapproval is proof that America is wrong. Whether they admit it or not, these other populations are judging America’s foreign policy based on their perception of the impact which America’s actions have on their country’s interests.

If the population of Brazil, or the Government of France, or anyone else in the world, believed that America’s invasion of Iraq would have promoted rather than undermined their national interests, they would have supported the invasion. They are opposed to the war and to America’s aggressive foreign policy generally not because they are Good and Virtuous and therefore oppose all Bad things, but because they perceive that the war and America’s actions are harmful to their interests, which are not the same as America’s interests.

Perhaps they perceive that America’s foreign policy harms their interests because it creates an overly-powerful America, or leads to excessive American influence in that region, or causes Middle Eastern instability, or exposes their Government’s sordid dealings with Saddam’s regime, or re-enforces an international order based on military might and the unilateral will of a singular super-power which is not their country. But whatever it is that is driving their views, their desire to promote the interests of their country is the engine.

Americans are entitled to, and ought to, use this same standard for deciding what America should do in the international arena. If Ignatius wants to argue that America is engaged in evil and counter-productive acts, or that it now employs the tools of totalitarian repression which it used to fight against, then he should say so, and should object to the policies which he opposes on their merits. There are lots of substantive grounds for making those arguments.

But advancing the argument that America’s actions are wrong by hiding behind how things look "in the eyes of the rest of the world these past few years" displays both illogic and intellectual cowardice. Contrary to Ignatius’ unstated assumption, an unpopular U.S. foreign policy is not the same as a misguided or evil U.S. foreign policy, and indeed, the former is not even evidence of the latter.

It may be beneficial to U.S. interests to have other countries like what we are doing, but being popular in other countries is not an end in itself. The U.S. can and should pursue whatever measures it deems appropriate to protect its national interests. The fact that the populations or governments of other countries perceive those measures to be excessive or unwarranted is to be expected because those countries have different threat perceptions and divergent interests. And, for exactly that reason, their approval or disapproval cannot be used to assess the rightness of, let alone to dictate, American foreign policy.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The NYT keeps granting anonymity to spinning Administration officials

Why does The New York Times continue to allow the Bush Administration to publicly defend itself while hiding behind a journalistically indefensible and misleading shield of anonymity?

Controversy exists over the proper standards for determining when granting anonymity to sources is justifiable, but it seems that virtually everyone agrees on two propositions:

(i) Reporters rely too much on anonymous sources, particularly where anonymity serves no important journalistic end; and,

(ii) Anonymity should not be granted to government officials who are disseminating pro-government spin.

In a column published just last week, Times Public Editor Byron Calame lambasted the Times for its excessive and unwarranted use of anonymity, and particularly cited the impropriety of anonymity when it is granted to Government sources who want to defend the Government:

While many sources have long sought anonymity to disparage an opponent or enemy, the current White House can be found praising the president's decision-making anonymously. In a July 6 Times article about the year's first Supreme Court vacancy, "a senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because most staff members are not authorized to speak about the vacancy" said that "at the end of the day, the president is going to decide this based on those principles, not from any pressure from the groups."

"What possible reason related to news can justify running this quote?" Jay Ackroyd of New York asked me in an e-mail message. "It's just spin." It also makes me feel uneasy. Puffery with the protection of anonymity can be used in pursuit of ends as devious as those sought through unattributed negative comments.

Calame, in recommending that reporters be required to explain why they affirmatively "granted" anonymity to their sources, made clear that anonymity is justified only in a narrow range of circumstances:

This would help limit confidential sourcing to the kinds of coverage where it's vital: national security, intelligence, investigative articles and classic whistle-blower projects.

This morning, The Times has an important, apparently exclusive article reporting on the reasons why the Bush Administration, in finally indicting Jose Padilla after 3 years of holding him captive in a military prison, failed to indict him for the two crimes which it publicly cited over and over in support of its claim that Padilla was so dangerous and important: namely, that he was an attempted "dirty bomber" who tried to smuggle and detonate a radiological bomb in the U.S., and that he plotted to blow up apartment buildings which have natural gas pipelines. The Times article is comprised almost exclusively of one quote after the next from anonymous Governmental sources.

In one sense, this article provides an outstanding illustration of the narrow circumstances in which anonymous sources play a critically important journalistic role. The article reveals that the two witnesses who provided the incriminating information about Padilla, including the "dirty bomb" allegation, were subject by the CIA to "harsh interrogation," including the torture practice known as "waterboarding." As a result, the Government did not want to and could not bring charges based on information obtained from these sources, because the "harsh treatment" to which they were subjected made whatever information they provided highly suspect.

These revelations are based upon statements by anonymous "officials" as well as internal CIA reviews (it is unclear if the Times reporters read those reports or were told about them). These anonymous sources enabled the Times to report that these CIA reviews "raised questions about the[] treatment and credibility" of the two Padilla accusers.

It is easy to see why anonymity would be granted here in order to obtain this vitally important information. That the Padilla accusers' statements are unreliable because they were obtained by torture is information which the Administration clearly would not want disseminated but which is of obvious public importance. This is information which would almost certainly remain concealed if the sources could not pass it along anonymously, and it is therefore a perfect journalistic use of anonymous sourcing.

Beyond that revelation, however, the article grants anonymity to what appear to be several Administration officials whose statements have no purpose other than to defend the Justice Department's behavior in the Padilla matter. We thus "learn" from anonymous sources the following pro-Administration spin:

(1) Despite refusing to make any public statements about the accusations not charged in the indictment, the Administration still stands behind the "dirty bomb" and apartment bombing allegations:

The officials spoke a day after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales repeatedly refused at to address questions a news conference about why the government had not brought criminal charges related to the most serious accusations. The officials, from several agencies, sought to emphasize that the government was not backing off its initial assertions about the seriousness of Mr. Padilla's actions.

(2) Ample evidence exists to prove Padilla's involvement in terrorist cells:

Officials said they had considered bringing criminal charges against Mr. Padilla in the case and releasing him from military custody as early as last spring, after intercepted communications pointed to his role in the cell. But officials faced time pressures in bringing the criminal case, and when the Florida judge delayed proceedings against the men already charged, the administration decided to hold off charging Mr. Padilla.

(3) There is still reason to fear that Padilla was trying to blow up apartment buildings which use natural gas:

In the interviews on Wednesday, American officials from several agencies said they still regarded those accusations as serious, particularly the one described by Mr. Mohammed. Officials said they were deeply concerned about reports that Mr. Padilla, trained by a Qaeda bomb maker who is at large, might seek to rig an explosive to the natural gas system of an apartment building in New York, officials said.

(4) The Government justifiably didn't indict Padilla for the dirty bomb and natural gas allegations because they were afraid that important classified information would be disclosed at trial:

They said any effort to introduce testimony by Mr. Mohammed and Mr. Zubaydah against Mr. Padilla could have opened the way for defense lawyers to expose details about their detention and interrogation in secret jails that the Central Intelligence Agency has worked hard to keep out of public light.

(5) And, again, the Government still believes Padilla tried to bomb apartment buildings:

A senior American official said, "There has been no reason to doubt that the accusations against Padilla in relation to the bombing plot were genuine."

Transparently, these quotes are being purposely fed to the Times by an Administration which does not want to defend itself publicly. But by being able to advance these defenses anonymously, the Administration can bestow upon them an aura of credibility they don't deserve (since it's often assumed that anonymous sources are whistle-blowers bravely speaking the truth), and worse, it allows the Administration to advance these self-defenses without accountability, since they can't be questioned about them.

There is no journalistic rationale at all for shielding these quotes with the protective armor of anonymity. If the Administration wants to defend its conduct in the Padilla case, it can and should do so on the record. The Times should not grant anonymity to Administration officials who have been so plainly sent not to blow whistles, but to parrot the pro-Administration spin in response to this story.

The rationale provided by the Times for granting this anonymity is nothing short of silly:

"The officials were granted anonymity, saying to be identified by name would subject them to reprisals for addressing questions that Mr. Gonzales had declined to answer."

These anonymous sources are defending the Justice Department by claiming that the evidentiary case against Padilla which was trumpeted all along is still strong, and by denying the central claim of the article, that Padilla was not indicted on these crimes because the primary witnesses for the allegations were tortured. The idea that these officials need to be given protection from their boss, Attorney General Gonzalez, when they are providing uniformly and indisputably pro-Gonazalez spin, is an insult to readers of the article.

It goes without saying that the Times should always endeavor to publish the response of the Administration to any stories it is publishing which reflect poorly on the Administration. But there is absolutely no reason to allow the Administration to provide such a response anonymously, and in doing so, this article simultaneously illustrates the irreplaceable journalistic benefits of anonymity as well as its now-commonplace abuses.

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