Thursday, November 30, 2006
I believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the big “clash of civilizations” now under way between the Muslim world and the West what the Spanish Civil War was to World War II. It’s Off Broadway to Broadway.
The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, was the theater where Great European powers tested out many weapons and tactics that were later deployed on a larger scale in World War II. Similarly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the small theater where many weapons and tactics get tested out first and then go global. So if you study the evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Off Broadway, you can learn a lot about how the larger war now playing out on Broadway, in Iraq and Afghanistan, might proceed.
For instance, airplane hijacking was perfected in the Israeli-Palestinian context, as a weapon of terrorism, and then was globalized. Suicide bombing was perfected there, and then was globalized. The Oslo peace process, which David Makovsky, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, calls an “attempt by Israel to empower a Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate,” was first tried there and then, in a different way, moved to the big stage with the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. These were a U.S. effort to create Arab and Afghan partners to push a progressive, democratic agenda in the Muslim world.
Unfortunately, Oslo failed Off Broadway, and now Iraq and even Afghanistan seem to be failing on Broadway. So what do we do next? Again, start by looking at what happened in the Israeli-Palestinian theater.
Israel decided to just build a wall.
As a result of the Palestinian intifada of 2000-2004. Israel concluded that partnership at that time was impossible with the Palestinians, whose leaders were too divided and dysfunctional to prevent suicide bombing. So Israel erected a wall, unilaterally pulled out of Gaza and basically said to the Palestinians, “We’ll continue to engage you, but only from a position of strength, only after we’re insulated from the daily threat of suicide bombings or the burden of occupying Gaza.”
What would be the equivalent for the West and the Muslim world? Also build a wall? Some people want to do that by vetoing Turkey’s entry into the European Union, which would be a huge, huge mistake. But how do we insulate ourselves from the madness of the Middle East — if Iraq and Afghanistan can’t be made to work — without giving up on reform there, which is still badly needed?
Build a virtual wall. End our oil addiction.
We need to end our dependence on this part of the world for energy, because it is debilitating for us and for them. It is terrible for us, because addicts never tell the truth to their pushers. We are the oil addicts and they are the oil pushers. The only way we can be brutally honest with them is if we undertake the necessary conservation measures, investments in renewable fuels and a gasoline tax hike that could make us energy independent.
I do not want my girls to live a world where the difference between a good day and bad day is whether Moktada al-Sadr lets Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, meet with the U.S. president or whether certain Arab regimes alter what their textbooks say about non-Muslims. I wish them all well, but I don’t want them impacting my life and I don’t want to be roiling theirs, and the only reason we are so intertwined now is O-I-L.
Not only would ending our oil addiction protect us from the worst in the Arab-Muslim world, it would help us support the best. These regimes will never reform as long as they enjoy windfall oil profits, which allow them to maintain closed societies with archaic education systems and protected industries that can’t compete globally. The small Persian Gulf state of Bahrain just held its second free election, in which women could vote and run. Bahrain is also the first Arab gulf state to start running out of oil. No accident.
Everyone asks what is our “Plan B” for Iraq. Answer: It’s get out as soon as we can, with the least damage possible, just as Israel got out of Gaza. And then build a wall — not a physical wall, but a wall of energy independence that will enable us to continue to engage honestly with the most progressive Arabs and Muslims on a reform agenda, but without being hostage to the most malevolent.
We’re now two-thirds of the way through the fourth quarter of 2006, so you might think we’d already know how the quarter is going. Yet, economists’ assessments of the current state of the U.S. economy, never mind the future, are all over the place.
And here’s the bad news: this kind of confusion about what’s going on is what typically happens when the economy is at a turning point, when an economic expansion is about to turn into a recession (or vice versa). At turning points, the various indicators that usually tell us which way the economic wind is blowing often point in different directions, so that both optimists and pessimists can find data to support their position.
The last time things were this confused was early in 2001, when most economists failed to realize that the United States was sliding into recession. If that sounds ominous, it should: the bond market, which has a pretty good record of forecasting recessions, is pointing toward a serious economic slowdown next year.
Before I explain what the bond market is telling us, let’s talk about why the economy may be at a turning point.
Between mid-2003 and mid-2006, economic growth in the United States was fueled mainly by a huge housing boom, which created jobs directly and made it easy for consumers to spend freely by borrowing against their rising home equity.
That housing boom has now gone bust. But the optimists and pessimists disagree both about how bad the bust will get and about how much damage the housing slump will do to the economy as a whole.
The optimists include Alan Greenspan, whom some accuse of letting the housing bubble get out of hand in the first place. On Tuesday, he told investors at a conference that the worst of the housing slump is over, saying that “it looks as though sales figures have stabilized.”
But the very next day the government released grim data on new home sales for October, and revised its estimates for earlier months downward. Most, though not all, of the other economic numbers that came out this week were also substantially weaker than expected.
Pessimists feel vindicated by the downbeat data. Nouriel Roubini of Roubini Global Economics, who has been forecasting a housing-led recession for some time, now believes that the economy has already stalled: he predicts zero growth for the current quarter. Economists at Deutsche Bank say the same thing.
But that’s still a minority position; most forecasters are still telling us not to worry. So whom should you listen to? And how can you avoid believing what you want to believe?
Maybe the best answer is to look at what the financial markets say. Not the stock market, which is a notoriously bad indicator of the economy’s direction, but the bond market. (Paul Samuelson, the Nobel Prize-winning M.I.T. economist, famously quipped that the stock market had predicted nine of the last five recessions).
Since last summer, when the housing bust became unmistakable, interest rates on long-term bonds have fallen sharply. They’re now yielding much less than short-term bonds. The fact that investors are willing to buy those long-term bonds anyway tells us that these investors expect interest rates to fall. And that will happen only if the economy weakens, forcing the Federal Reserve to cut rates. So bond buyers are, in effect, betting on a future economic slowdown.
How serious a slump is the bond market predicting? Pretty serious. Right now, statistical models based on the historical correlation between interest rates and recessions give roughly even odds that we’re about to experience a formal recession. And since even a slowdown that doesn’t formally qualify as a recession can lead to a sharp rise in unemployment, the odds are very good — maybe 2 to 1 — that 2007 will be a very tough year.
Luckily, we’ve got good leadership for the coming economic storm: the White House is occupied by a man who’s ideologically flexible, listens to a wide variety of views, and understands that policy has to be based on careful analysis, not gut instincts. Oh, wait.
Bloggers on the left and right — including Taylor Marsh, Steven Bennen, Eugene Volokh, Stephen Bainbridge — have torn apart Prager’s argument on constitutional grounds.
But Prager’s column is based on one other glaring error: the swearing-in ceremony for the House of Representatives never includes a religious book. The Office of the House Clerk confirmed to ThinkProgress that the swearing-in ceremony consists only of the Members raising their right hands and swearing to uphold the Constitution. The Clerk spokesperson said neither the Christian Bible, nor any other religious text, had ever been used in an official capacity during the ceremony. (Occassionally, Members pose for symbolic photo-ops with their hand on a Bible.)
In his Washington Post column, David Ignatius asserted that if Sen. Chuck Hagel decides to run for president in 2008, "he can claim to have been right about Iraq and other key issues earlier than almost any national politician, Republican or Democratic." However, Ignatius' claim is undermined by the fact that Hagel voted to authorize military action against Iraq in October 2002, which numerous Democrats vocally opposed at the time. Read more
Hedgecock baselessly compared Baghdad's violent death rate to D.C.'s
On the November 28 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, guest host Roger Hedgecock baselessly claimed that "the murder rate in Baghdad, the people being killed in Baghdad, is lower than the murder rate of Washington, D.C." Based on estimates from the Brookings Institution, Baghdad's violent death rate since January 2006 is about 238 per 100,000 people; by contrast, Washington, D.C., had a homicide rate of 35.4 per 100,000 in 2005. Read more
Bozell suggested vast majority of generals "disagree" with NBC that Iraq is in "civil war," but cited none who have specifically denied it
On Hannity & Colmes, Brent Bozell criticized NBC News' decision to refer to the situation in Iraq as a "civil war," saying that there are "probably 100 generals" in Iraq "who would disagree" with that assessment. Bozell offered no specific examples of any high-ranking military officials who have said Iraq is not in the midst of a civil war. Read more
Time.com headline proclaimed that Bush "Takes Charge on Iraq," but article, and other reporting, suggest otherwise
A Time.com article about the scheduled news conference with President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki carried the headline "The President Takes Charge on Iraq," but the article itself noted only that the White House "is eager to show that the President is focused intently on Iraq." Another Time.com article posted the same day detailed the "five fatal mistakes" in Bush's Middle East policy. Read more
"War on Penguins" rages on in Medved's USA Today op-ed
In a November 29 USA Today op-ed, conservative radio host Michael Medved continued his attacks on the animated children's movie Happy Feet (Warner Bros., November 2006), claiming that the movie, which features tap-dancing penguins, contains "unmistakably alarming, discomfiting and politically potent elements," and that penguins themselves have "become targets and instruments of powerful propaganda." As Media Matters for America noted, in a November 17 weblog post on Townhall.com, Medved referred to the film as "Crappy Feet" and claimed that it was the "darkest, most disturbing feature length animated film ever offered by a major studio." Read more
Olbermann named O'Reilly "Worst Person" for saying imams kicked off plane "wouldn't get handcuffed in Crate & Barrel if they started chanting and stuff"
On the November 28 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann named Fox News host Bill O'Reilly "the winner" in his nightly "Worst Person in the World" segment for his "war on Christmas crap" and, as Media Matters for America documented, "trash[ing] the retailers Crate & Barrel because the spokeswoman was quoted in a newspaper as saying, 'We would definitely not say Merry Christmas.' " Olbermann also pointed out O'Reilly's comment that "the imams who were yanked off the U.S. Air flight last week, quote, 'wouldn't get handcuffed in Crate & Barrel if they started chanting and stuff.' " Olbermann then observed, as Media Matters also noted, that "[t]he spokeswoman was asked if employees there were required to say 'Merry Christmas' to customers," to which "[s]he said no, they weren't required" but "[t]hey could if they wanted to." Read more
Asserting incoming Senate GOP leader's "conciliatory" tone, Wash. Post article left out GOP's dumping of unfinished spending bills on Democrats
The Washington Post reported that incoming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "[s]ound[ed] a conciliatory note" and "vowed ... to work with Democrats" when they take control of Congress next year. But the article made no mention of the Senate Republican leadership's reported decision not to deal with several government spending bills for fiscal year 2007 in the lame-duck session, placing the burden on Democrats to finish them. Read more
Savage: To "save the United States," lawmakers should institute "outright ban on Muslim immigration" and on "the construction of mosques"
On the November 27 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Michael Savage declared that in order to "save the United States," lawmakers should institute "an outright ban on Muslim immigration" into the country. Savage also recommended making "the construction of mosques illegal in America, and the speaking of English only in the streets of the United States the law." Read more
WSJ's Miniter baselessly linked same-sex marriage to rise in out-of-wedlock births
In his November 28 online column, Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com assistant editor Brendan Miniter baselessly asserted that a study indicating an increase in out-of-wedlock births "reveals why" the debate over same-sex marriage "is worth having now." Read more
Fox & Friends interviewed Inhofe again; co-host Doocy seconded his claim that humans are not a cause of global warming
Fox & Friends conducted a one-on-one interview with Sen. James Inhofe for the second time in two weeks, during which he asserted that there is no "relationship between manmade gases and global warming." In fact, the scientific consensus view is that "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming" of the planet. Read more
O'Reilly declared that "secular-progressives" want "out-of-wedlock birth in the USA" to be "at record highs"
On the November 27 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, The Radio Factor, host Bill O'Reilly highlighted an upcoming segment of the program on "wins" and "losses" in the "culture war" by claiming "out-of-wedlock birth in the USA [is] at record highs, which the S-Ps [secular-progressives] want." Read more
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
The decades pass. The stories remain the same. Nathaniel Gaines Jr., a 25-year-old Navy veteran, was shot to death by a cop on a subway platform in the Bronx on the Fourth of July in 1996. The mayor at the time, Rudolph Giuliani, no softy on crime, said of the shooting: “There does not seem to be any reason for it.”
On an April morning in 1973 a veteran cop named Thomas Shea pulled his service revolver and blew away a black kid on a street in Jamaica, Queens. There was no reason on God’s glittering earth for that killing. The kid, Clifford Glover, was 10 years old. The cop shot him in the back.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1976 an officer named Robert Torsney fired a bullet into the head of Randolph Evans, 15, outside a housing project in Brooklyn. No one could explain that killing, either.
Yesterday, under an overcast sky and with a crush of reporters around them, the relatives and fiancée of Sean Bell visited the narrow street in Queens where he was killed in a sudden frantic fusillade of police bullets early last Saturday morning, just a few hours before he was to be married.
Mr. Bell and two friends who had attended his bachelor party at a nearby club were in his car when they were set upon by a group of undercover cops who had been staking out the club. The two friends were seriously wounded in the shooting.
Here is my first quick take on this case: If I was in my car outside a rowdy nightclub in the wee hours of the morning and someone who looked like a club patron came running toward me, screaming and waving a gun, I would immediately slam the gearshift into drive, hit the accelerator and try to get the hell out of there.
This appears to be what happened. The cops, dressed to blend in with the club crowd, were single-mindedly looking for trouble — evidence of prostitution, underage drinking, illegal guns, and so forth. They were looking so hard for criminal behavior that they seem to have imagined it where none was occurring.
One officer is said to have believed that one of Mr. Bell’s companions may have had a gun. No gun was found and there is no evidence that any of the three men were armed at any time.
“It sounds to me like excessive force was used,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who characterized the 50-shot barrage as “unacceptable” and “inexplicable.” Referring to Mr. Bell and his two friends, the mayor said, “There is no evidence that they were doing anything wrong.”
The thing that is most unacceptable about this case is not the total number of shots fired, but the fact that five New York City cops were so willing to begin firing at all — willing to take the life of another human being, and maybe a number of human beings — without ever establishing that there was a good reason for doing so.
Under Mayor Bloomberg, there is a much better tone in the city with regard to police-community relations, and race relations in general. But when it comes to the Police Department, an improved tone won’t count for much if policies and procedures aren’t changed to prevent cops from blowing away innocent individuals with impunity.
This has gone on for far too many decades. Yet there is still no sense among public officials that big changes are necessary. The cops who killed Sean Bell and wounded his two friends haven’t even been questioned yet by the police or investigators from the Queens district attorney’s office. The D.A., Richard Brown, is preparing a grand jury investigation but he told me it could still be weeks before the cops are questioned.
Meanwhile, the community, which is sick of these killings, is simmering. Along with the candles and flower arrangements that have been placed at the site of the shooting were bitter signs denouncing “police murder” and, in some instances, calling for violence.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who represents the Bell family, has publicly called for patience and calm. But he added, and I agree, that the mayor and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have an obligation to develop effective new strategies for reining in reckless police behavior.
The crucial first step, in my opinion, is to insist that police officers, including those who are black, recognize the essential humanity of all the people they are supposed to be protecting and serving. Not everyone with dark skin is a perp.
It was one of the more outrageous moments in the story of the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping. Almost a year ago, Congressional Democrats called for a review of the Justice Department’s role in the program. But the department investigators assigned to do the job were unable to proceed because the White House, at President Bush’s personal direction, refused to give them the necessary security clearance.
Now the president, for reasons we can’t help thinking might have something to do with this month’s elections, has changed his mind. The White House will give Justice Department inspectors the required clearance, and a review will go forward.
That’s all to the good, as long as the investigation is not intended to pre-empt any efforts by the new Democratic majority to conduct its own Congressional review of the wiretap program. The Justice Department inquiry will hardly do the full job.
The department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, has already said that the question of whether the program was legal is beyond his jurisdiction. Instead, he will investigate whether department employees followed the rules governing the program — rules that were established in a secret executive order signed by the president in October 2001.
Whether or not Justice Department employees followed the rules they were given may have bearing on their individual performance evaluations, but it will tell us very little else. Since the rules Mr. Bush established under his secret order will presumably stay secret, the investigation will not even help us to understand just how far from established legal standards he strayed when he authorized the government to eavesdrop on Americans’ international calls and e-mail without a court-issued warrant.
The Justice Department inquiry also will do nothing to fix the biggest problem with Mr. Bush’s eavesdropping program, which is that — once again — he ignored existing law and instead tried to create a system outside the law, resting on his dangerously expansive claims of executive power.
If Mr. Bush had wanted to conduct the wiretapping within the law, he could have quite easily done so, using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That law, written after the Watergate scandal and the eavesdropping abuses of the Vietnam era, created a special court to approve applications for domestic surveillance. The court operates in secret, and has rarely denied the authorities’ requests. Even in the post-9/11 era, it should have met the administration’s needs. And if there was a problem, Congress had shown itself ready and willing to amend the law.
Mr. Fine, who has proved himself willing to criticize administration operations before, could still provide an important — if limited — service. He says, for instance, that he will examine how information gleaned from the wiretaps was used to pursue criminal cases. That inquiry should be useful for those who have been wondering whether the enormous amount of information collected significantly helped antiterrorism efforts, or simply complicated them with a flood of unmanageable data.
The investigation might also help Congress understand whether FISA needs updating — something the administration has been loath to discuss as long as it has been able to end-run the court. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has introduced a bill aimed at making it easy for the government to get quick court approval of wiretaps on those suspected of terrorism or spying, has already said that nothing she has heard in secret briefings suggests that anything the administration needed could not have been conducted under FISA.
The question of the wiretap program’s constitutionality is now making its way through the courts and should ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court. Congress should not be satisfied with Mr. Fine’s very limited investigation. It should mount its own independent inquiry into how the war on terror, and American civil liberties, are being affected by an eavesdropping program about which we have been told so little.
It’s like being the belle of the ball, because the Republicans really need to woo back people like me. I hope they won’t mind if I offer a little advice on how to do it.
First, don’t listen to your consultants. Over the next few months, pollsters are going to pick out the key demographic groups (left-handed Catholic orthopedists) and offer advice on how to kiss up to those people. Majorities are never built that way. You end up proposing inconsequential micropolicies and selling your soul.
Don’t focus on groups, focus on problems. If you have persuasive proposals to address big problems, the majority coalition will build itself.
Second, be policy-centric, not philosophy-centric. American conservatism grew up out of power and has always placed great emphasis on doctrine. Today, in the wake of this month’s defeat, Republicans are firing up the old debate among social conservatives, free-market conservatives and others about the proper role of the state. This stale, abstract debate will never lead anywhere and only inhibits creative thinking.
The Republican weakness is not a lack of grand principles, it’s a lack of concrete policies commensurate with the size of 21st-century problems. If they would shelve the doctrinal debate for a second, Republicans — while not doing violence to their belief in the market, traditional values or anything else — could find plenty of policy ideas to deal with China and India, the entitlement crisis and so on.
Third, create a Republican Leadership Council. In the realm of ideas, Democrats own the center. Moderate Democrats have the Democratic Leadership Council, the Third Way and various cells within the Brookings Institution, such as the Hamilton Project. Republican moderates are intellectual weaklings. They have no independent identity, so it’s no wonder centrist voters prefer Democrats on one domestic issue after another.
Fourth, support stem cell research. This has become a symbolic issue denoting fundamental attitudes about science and progress. Moderates can understand why somebody is anti-abortion. But opposing stem cell work seems to close off research that could alleviate human suffering for the sake of a theoretical abstraction.
Fifth, support free trade, while responding to the downside of globalization. When the industrial age kicked in, many European nations built an elaborate welfare state, but didn’t aggressively expand educational opportunity. Americans didn’t build as big a welfare system, but, as the blogger Reihan Salam pointed out recently, we spent a lot on schools to foster social mobility.
The American way is to help people compete, not shield them from competition. Today that means nurturing stable families in which children can develop the social and cultural capital they need to thrive. (A significant expansion of the child tax credit would ease the burden on young parents.) It means publicly funded, though not necessarily publicly run, preschool programs in which children from disorganized homes can learn how to learn. It means radical school reform: performance pay for teachers, an end to the stupid certification rules, urban boarding schools where educators can set up local cultures of achievement, locally run neighborhood child centers to service an array of health and day-care needs.
Sixth, spread assets. Every citizen, from birth, should have an I.R.A.-type savings account. The tax code should encourage personal and employer contributions. These accounts would enhance savings and encourage an investor mentality, and once Americans became comfortable with them, they could be used as tools to reform Social Security and health care funding.
Seventh, raise taxes on carbon emissions and use the revenue to make the tax cuts on capital gains and dividends permanent. This would spur energy innovation and encourage investment more generally.
Over the past few years, the G.O.P. has become like a company with a great mission statement, but no domestic policy products to sell. Now’s the time to get granular. And the thing to remember is, we disaffected voters are easy. We want to go home with you if you’ll give us a reason.
The delicate workings at the heart of a 2000-year-old analogue computer have been revealed by scientists.
The Antikythera Mechanism, discovered more than 100 years ago in a Roman shipwreck, was used by ancient Greeks to display astronomical cycles.
Using advanced imaging techniques, an Anglo-Greek team probed the remaining fragments of the complex geared device.
The results, published in the journal Nature, show it could have been used to predict solar and lunar eclipses.
The elaborate arrangement of bronze gears may also have displayed planetary information.
"This is as important for technology as the Acropolis is for architecture," said Professor John Seiradakis of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, and one of the team. "It is a unique device."
However, not all experts agree with the team's interpretation of the mechanism....
US President George W Bush's meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has been delayed, hours after a leaked memo raised US doubts about Mr Maliki.
The two men are in Jordan and were supposed to be having evening talks with King Abdullah to discuss how to contain the growing violence in Iraq.
President Bush will still be meeting the king, but he will not see Mr Maliki until Thursday, the White House said.
The US denied the move was a snub by Mr Maliki or related to the leaked memo.
The New York Times newspaper has published details of a memo in which Mr Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, raised doubts about Mr Maliki's ability to control sectarian violence.
According to the Times, the 8 November memo said that while Mr Maliki's intentions seemed good, his capabilities were "not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into actions".
The Amman summit follows one of the bloodiest weeks in Iraq since the American-led invasion in 2003.
In protest against the planned meeting, the Iraqi political group loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr suspended its participation in the government.
The group, which has 30 MPs and a handful of ministers, said the meeting was a provocation to the Iraqi people.
The group had been making the threat for some days and had called for Mr Maliki to call off the Jordan meeting.
President Bush, who arrived from the Nato summit in Latvia, is expected to give public support to Mr Maliki, but privately will be renewing pressure on him to take action against Shia militias, our correspondent says.
When the two leaders do meet, they will also discuss moves to transfer more responsibility to Iraq's security forces.
Meanwhile Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who has been holding talks with Iranian leaders in Tehran, has urged Iran to back the elected Iraqi government, not Shia militia groups.
'Whirlpool of violence'
Jordan's King Abdullah met Mr Maliki shortly after the Iraqi prime minister's arrival. He told him that "national reconciliation among all the Iraqi factions" was the only solution to the crisis in Iraq, a statement from the Royal Palace said.
On Tuesday, King Abdullah told the BBC Arabic Service he was very concerned about increasing violence in Iraq.
"We [urge] our brothers in Iraq, the Iraqi political and religious leadership - be they Shia or Sunni - to realise the seriousness of the situation and not to allow any conspiracy to pass aimed at dividing or destroying Iraq in a whirlpool of violence and chaos," he said.
White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said the decision to delay talks between Mr Bush and Mr Maliki was "absolutely not" linked to the leaked memo.
Earllier, White House spokesman Tony Snow, travelling with Mr Bush, said the chief aim of the memo was "to support Maliki and enhance his capabilities".
Mr Bush is facing growing political pressure over the lack of progress in Iraq and the rising tide of violence, says the BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington.
Even the White House acknowledges the violence has reached a new phase, though it still dismisses talk of a civil war, he says.
Mr Bush is also under pressure to redouble US efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our correspondent says, and will be told by King Abdullah that it is the most pressing crisis in the region.
Even Washington's strongest Arab allies are showing signs of frustration at US policies in the Middle East, he adds.
Iraq's president said Wednesday he had reached a security agreement with Iran, which the United States accuses of fueling the chaos in the war-torn country. Iran's president called on countries to stop backing "terrorists" in Iraq and for the Americans to withdraw.
Tehran is believed to back some of the Shiite militias blamed in the vicious sectarian killings that have thrown the country into chaos. The United States has said the Iraqi government should press Iran to stop interfering in its affairs in a bid to calm the violence.
Presidents Jalal Talabani of Iraq and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran held talks Wednesday hours before U.S. President George W. Bush was due to meet with the Iraqi prime minister in Jordan in talks aimed at finding a solution to Iraq's spiraling bloodshed.
Talabani gave no details on the security agreement with Iran, and Ahmadinejad made no mention of any deal at a joint press conference in Tehran.
"We discussed in the fields of security, economy, oil and industry. Our agreement was complete," Talabani told reporters. "This visit was 100 percent successful. Its result will appear soon."
It was not clear if Talabani's comments reflected an agreement by Tehran to try to rein in Shiite militias. Most of the militias are run by political parties that are a powerful part of the coalition government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He has resisted U.S. pressure to crack down on the militias.
Ahmadinejad repeated his calls for the United States to withdraw its forces from Iraq.
"I advise you to leave Iraq," he said, addressing the Americans. "Based on a timetable, transfer the responsibilities to Iraqi government. This will agree to your interests, too."
He urged countries to stop backing militants in Iraq, saying, "supporting terrorists is the ugliest act that they can do." He did not specify which countries he was referring to.
Ahmadinejad said "extremists should be dismissed (from the Iraqi government) no matter to which group and ethnicity they belong to. This is the only way to salvation."
"Enemies of Iraq are trying to create differences and extend hostility among the Iraqi people," he said.
The United States accuses Iran and its ally Syria of stirring up violence in Iraq. Tehran denies this, saying it seeks calm in its neighbor and that an end to the bloodshed can only come when U.S. forces withdraw.
Al-Maliki and Talabani both have longtime ties with Iran. The Iraqi president has been in Iran the past three days, meeting Ahmadinejad and the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Talabani and Ahmadinejad attended a ceremony for the signing of two memorandums of understanding for cooperation in education and industry.
Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran "will stand by its Iraqi brothers," saying "no one can divide nations of Iran and Iraq."
Diane Sawyer hosted Glenn Beck on Good Morning America for a discussion of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey and the pope's recent comments on Islam. Sawyer identified Beck only as a "television and talk-radio host ... who has said it's time for the world to stop buckling to the pressure of radical Islam." She did not note that Beck is a self-identified conservative who has a history of making derogatory statements about Islam and Muslims. Read more
Fox News' Doocy: "Islam turned violent" and "proved the pope's point" about "Islam and violence"
On the November 28 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy asserted that when "Islam turned violent" after Pope Benedict XVI's controversial comments about the religion, it "essentially proved the pope's point." In a September 12 speech, Pope Benedict quoted "the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus," as the pope described him, saying, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." As The New York Times reported, Pope Benedict said "he was 'very sorry' about the reaction to his remarks," adding: "In no way did I wish to make my own, the words of the medieval emperor. ... I wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and reason, go together." Read more
CNN's Baghdad reporter says Iraq is embroiled in "civil war," but rest of network is still hedging
In several reports from Baghdad, CNN's Michael Ware has stated that Iraq is embroiled in a civil war. However, several other CNN reporters and analysts have continued to avoid the unqualified use of the term "civil war." Read more
Barnes: Voters' "repudiat[ion]" of Bush helped foster violence in the Middle East
On The Beltway Boys, Fred Barnes baselessly asserted that recent violence in the Middle East is the result in part of the voters' "repudiat[ion]" of President Bush in the midterm elections. Later Barnes asserted that "five, 10 years ago," Americans "didn't see dead bodies all over the front page of newspapers, whether it's an accident or an explosion or Iraq or something." By contrast, CNN's John Roberts stated that "the pictures on television are sanitized compared to" the events occurring "on the ground." Read more
Kohn claimed Bill Clinton "didn't have his facts straight" during Fox News Sunday interview, but Kohn was the one misrepresenting the facts
Author Bob Kohn falsely claimed former President Bill Clinton "didn't have his facts straight" when he confronted Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. But Kohn misstated Clinton's assertions to Wallace. Read more
Matthews: Dems "don't want to be policymakers -- that's grown-up stuff"
On the November 27 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews asserted that Democrats would not hasten the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by cutting off funding for the war because "they're not policymakers," and because "[t]hey don't want to be policymakers -- that's grown-up stuff." Matthews added that Democrats would "rather sit in the back seat and complain, 'Mommy, when we getting there?' " Matthews has previously mocked Democrats with this automotive reference. As Media Matters for America noted, on the October 24 edition of Hardball, Matthews claimed that Democrats have not offered a specific plan for Iraq and then asked rhetorically: "Do you know what the difference is between a grown-up and a kid?" He then suggested that to be "grown  up," Democrats would have to "sit in the front seat and drive the car." Read more
O'Reilly: Imams kicked off plane "wouldn't get handcuffed ... if they started chanting stuff" at Crate & Barrel
Bill O'Reilly revived the "war" on Christmas and declared that "[m]aybe the imams who got thrown off the plane [would] shop" at the home furnishings retailer Crate & Barrel because it has a policy of saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." O'Reilly also declared that Christmas is "a secular holiday" that "honors the birth of Jesus. ... And the reason it does is because Jesus was a philosopher," but "you can have a religious connotation to the holiday if you choose to." Read more
On MSNBC's Tucker, radio host Michael Graham suggested only some Dems are "for God"
On the November 27 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, Boston radio host Michael Graham discussed whether Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), a Mormon, could win over evangelical voters in a Republican presidential primary. Graham asserted that Romney's religion was acceptable because "the line here is for God and against God. And anybody who is on God's team, with the possible exception of Islam right now ... will be welcomed by Southern Republican voters." Graham pointed to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish, as an example of someone who "is wildly popular ... probably the most popular Democrat among Southern Republicans." In implying that Lieberman is "on God's team" and "for God," Graham suggested that other Democrats might be "against God." Host Tucker Carlson responded: "That is, I think, a really smart point about Joe Lieberman." Read more
Olbermann named O'Reilly "Worst Person" runner-up for claiming to have "coined the term 'San Francisco values' "
On the November 27 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann awarded Fox News host Bill O'Reilly the "silver" in his nightly "Worst Person in the World" segment for writing, as Media Matters for America documented: "I coined the term 'San Francisco values' and well understand they have little to do with democracy." Olbermann explained that, in fact, "[a] California congressman used it in a campaign as early as 1996," as Media Matters noted. Read more
Print reports portrayed Medicare drug price reform as problematic for Democrats, ignoring internal drug memo laying out industry concerns
The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal all asserted that it may be difficult for congressional Democrats to deliver on their pledge to reform the Medicare drug plan over the opposition of the Bush administration, congressional Republicans, and the pharmaceutical industry, but did not report an internal drug company memo that warned of bills that would allow imported drugs and force price competition. Read more
AP article on new DOJ probe of domestic spying program failed to note that Bush blocked previous one
In reporting on the Justice Department's probe into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, the Associated Press left out the fact that President Bush had effectively shut down a previous probe -- by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility -- by denying investigators the necessary security clearances. Read more
At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.
Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.
"I didn't ask you that, I asked how he's doing," Bush retorted, according to the source.
Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn't. It's safe to say, however, that Bush and Webb won’t be taking any overseas trips together anytime soon.
"Jim did have a conversation with Bush at that dinner," said Webb's spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd. "Basically, he asked about Jim's son, Jim expressed the fact that he wanted to have him home." Todd did not want to escalate matters by commenting on Bush’s response, saying, "It was a private conversation."
There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons — religion, crime, politics — that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable. It was possible to settle Bosnia’s civil war by turning the country into a loose federation, because the main parties to that conflict were reasonably coherent, with leaders who could cut a deal and deliver their faction.
But Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police and the army, that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war — it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.
Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch.
Anyone who tells you that we can just train a few more Iraqi troops and police officers and then slip out in two or three years is either lying or a fool. The minute we would leave, Iraq would collapse. There is nothing we can do by the end of the Bush presidency that would produce a self-sustaining stable Iraq — and “self-sustaining” is the key metric.
In his must-read new book about the impact of culture on politics and economic development, “The Central Liberal Truth,” Lawrence Harrison notes that some cultures are “progress-prone” and others are “progress- resistant.” In the Arab-Muslim world today the progress-resistant cultural forces seem to be just too strong, especially in Iraq, which is why it is so hard to establish durable democratic institutions in that soil, he says.
“Some may hark back to our successful imposition of democracy on West Germany and Japan after World War II,” adds Mr. Harrison. “But the people on whom democracy was imposed in those two countries were highly literate and entrepreneurial members of unified, institutionalized societies with strong traditions of association — what we refer to today as ‘social capital.’ Iraq was social capital-poor to start with and it now verges on bankruptcy.”
On Feb. 12, 2003, before the war, I wrote a column offering what I called my “pottery store” rule for Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” It was not an argument against the war, but rather a cautionary note about the need to do it with allies, because transforming Iraq would be such a huge undertaking. (Colin Powell later picked up on this and used the phrase to try to get President Bush to act with more caution, but Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Powell’s advice.)
But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.
That vacuum was filled by murderous Sunni Baathists and Al Qaeda types, who butchered Iraqi Shiites until they finally wouldn’t take it any longer and started butchering back, which brought us to where we are today. The Sunni Muslim world should hang its head in shame for the barbarism it has tolerated and tacitly supported by the Sunnis of Iraq, whose violence, from the start, has had only one goal: America must fail in its effort to bring progressive politics or democracy to this region. America must fail — no matter how many Iraqis have to be killed, America must fail.
This has left us with two impossible choices. If we’re not ready to do what is necessary to crush the dark forces in Iraq and properly rebuild it, then we need to leave — because to just keep stumbling along as we have been makes no sense. It will only mean throwing more good lives after good lives into a deeper and deeper hole filled with more and more broken pieces.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
The 22-year-old corporal, the oldest son of a dentist, grew up in Northern Virginia in the shadow of the Pentagon. The kid described as being “full of life” died Friday in Anbar Province, the heartless heart of darkness in western Iraq, the hole-in-the-desert stronghold of the Sunni insurgency and Al Qaeda fighters.
His mother told The Washington Post that her son’s squad had approached a gate on patrol, and Nick told his men to “stay back while he went through.” He was shot in the neck by a spectral enemy that melted away, one of 2,874 brave Americans to die fighting in Iraq.
In Latvia, President Bush vowed yesterday that “I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.” But his words about Iraq long ago lost their meaning. Especially the words “mission” and “complete.”
At least in Anbar, the Pentagon may be about to pull troops off the battlefield. In another article yesterday, The Post, reporting on a classified Marine Corps intelligence report, said that “the U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter Al Qaeda’s rising popularity there.”
The Post went on: “The report describes Iraq’s Sunni minority as ‘embroiled in a daily fight for survival,’ fearful of ‘pogroms’ by the Shiite majority and increasingly dependent on Al Qaeda in Iraq as its only hope against growing Iranian dominance across the capital.”
ABC Nightly News went even further last night, reporting that the Pentagon is “writing off” Anbar and will send the 30,000 marines stationed there to Baghdad. “If we are not going to do a better job doing what we are doing out there,” a military official told Jonathan Karl, “what’s the point of having them out there?”
President Bush is still playing games, trying to link the need to stay in Iraq with Al Qaeda. “No question it’s tough,” Mr. Bush said at a news conference. “There’s a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented, in my opinion, because of the attacks by Al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal.”
Never mind that W. dropped the ball on Osama, and that his own commanders have estimated that Al Qaeda forces represent only a fraction of the foe in Iraq. Al Qaeda wasn’t even in Iraq until the Bush invasion.
The administration still won’t admit the obvious, that our soldiers are stuck in the middle of a civil war and that it’s going to take more than Dick Cheney powwowing with the Saudis to get us out of it. Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, gingerly talks of “a new phase” in the conflict.
But reality does break through at moments. As Mr. Bush and Mr. Hadley head to Jordan to try to tell Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki not to go all wobbly, a stunning secret memo from Mr. Hadley has surfaced, expressing severe skepticism about whether our latest puppet can cut it.
Michael Gordon reveals in today’s Times that in a classified assessment, Mr. Hadley wrote that the Iraqi leader, who is getting pushed around by Moktada al-Sadr, was having trouble figuring out how to be strong.
“The memo suggests that if Mr. Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps,” he writes, “it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing ‘monetary support to moderate groups,’ and by sending thousands of additional American troops into Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is current shortage of Iraqi forces.”
Just what the election said Americans want: More kids at risk in Baghdad. (W.’s kids, of course, are running their own risks, partying their way through Argentina.)
Mr. Hadley bluntly mused about Mr. Malaki: “His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shi’a hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”
It’s bad enough to say that about the Iraqi puppet. But what about when the same is true of the American president?
In a syndicated column, Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed to have "coined the term 'San Francisco values.' " In fact, the term "San Francisco values" has been used to attack political opponents since at least the mid-1990s, and Newt Gingrich appears to have popularized the phrase during the 2006 midterm election cycle. Read more
Frank on "fair and balanced" Fox News Sunday: "Chris, you have an odd view of balance"
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked three Democratic members of Congress a series of questions that led to a rebuke from one, Rep. Barney Frank, who accused Wallace of having "an odd view of balance," "looking to pick fights where there aren't," and putting him and the two other guests "in a kind of a bad light." Read more
Fox News' Vogel falsely suggested AARP opposed California's new driver-assessment program
In a report on Fox News Live, correspondent Anita Vogel falsely suggested that the AARP opposes California's new driver-assessment program. In fact, while the AARP does oppose legislation that would require additional driving tests based solely on age, AARP supports legislation requiring driver assessments for all, such as California's program. Read more
Russert lobs softballs at Schwarzenegger
On the November 26 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert lobbed a series of softball questions to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Schwarzenegger's November 7 re-election and his role in the Republican Party, and did not challenge Schwarzenegger on a false statement he made about the economy. Russert ended his 19-minute interview with one question about Iraq, and responded to Schwarzenegger's answer by saying: "Congratulations, and we hope you come back and talk about the issues confronting your state and our country soon." Read more
Wash. Post reported Bush's "opening message since the election has been one of conciliation," ignored partisan maneuvering
Washington Post staff writer Peter Baker wrote that President Bush's "opening message since the election has been one of conciliation." But Baker did not mention Bush's renomination of several controversial candidates for high-ranking offices, nor did he note Bush's push for legislation authorizing warrantless domestic wiretapping. Read more
On Fox News, Barnes and Kondracke failed to note McCain's shifting statements on abortion
While discussing potential candidates for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke mentioned Sen. John McCain's views on abortion rights, but did not note his apparently inconsistent statements. Neither Barnes nor Kondracke mentioned that McCain told reporters in 1999 that he would "not support repeal of Roe v. Wade" or that McCain later issued a "clarification" saying he "would work toward its repeal." Read more
Limbaugh on Middle East: "Fine, just blow the place up"
On the November 27 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, in response to claims made by King Abdullah II of Jordan on the November 26 edition of ABC's This Week that "we could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands," Rush Limbaugh said: "[W]ell, let's just have them. Let's just have the civil wars ... because I'm just fed up with this." Limbaugh then asserted: "Fine, just blow the place up. Just let these natural forces take place over there instead of trying to stop them." Additionally, Limbaugh claimed: "[E]verbody comes to us. ... So we go and try to fix it and our own people, Democrats and the left in our country do their best to sabotage our efforts, and then we get blamed for trying to clean up the messes that these people start." Read more
On NPR, Davis repeated 1992 Democratic convention claim
On the November 25 broadcast of National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis claimed that "Democrats have been intolerant" and repeated the false claim that former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey Sr. was "refused the microphone at the  Democratic National Convention because he was pro-life." As Media Matters for America has noted, several opponents of abortion rights were given speaking slots at the 1992 convention. Read more
AP depicted 9-11 Commission recommendations as either "accomplished" or unfeasible
An Associated Press article asserted that the incoming Democratic Congress will face an uphill battle in its drive to implement all of the 9-11 Commission's recommendations because "[m]uch of what the commission proposed has been accomplished" and "there are no still-lingering proposals that can easily be enacted into law." But there are several "still-lingering" recommendations that members of the commission -- none of whom were quoted in the article -- say could be implemented by the Democratic Congress. Read more
Carlson claimed he was "not defending" people who were "spooked" by Muslims praying in airport; then defended them
Discussing six Muslim men who were removed from an airplane in Minnesota after other passengers saw them praying in the terminal prior to boarding, Tucker Carlson claimed that he was "not defending" the fact that the praying "freaked people out," but then quickly added that "they were doing something other people didn't understand, and it spooked the other people." Read more
Wash. Times editorial falsely claimed that rising CO2 levels "hardly prove the existence of man-made global warming"
A Washington Times editorial claimed that while "[s]cientists on all sides agree" that carbon dioxide levels are increasing, the evidence "hardly proves the existence of man-made global warming." In fact, organizations representing thousands of scientists share the consensus view that "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming" of the planet. Read more
O'Donnell misrepresented Democrats on Iraq withdrawal, falsely claimed no experts support them
On the November 26 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, MSNBC chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell misrepresented a Democratic proposal for the phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq as "essentially a pullout in four to six months." In fact, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced the proposal in June 2006 and called for a phased redeployment to begin by the end of the year, or approximately six months from that time. O'Donnell further asserted that Democrats will "wind up -- even though they were validated somewhat in the message by these elections ... looking weak on national security because ... [t]here is not one military or foreign-policy expert who thinks you could actually feasibly do that, and second, that would be a good idea." However, as Media Matters for America has noted, numerous military and foreign-policy experts support a phased withdrawal, to begin immediately or within a time frame consistent with the Levin-Reed proposal. Read more
Ninety miles to the south, he found a symbol to bolster his belief that unfettered immigration is endangering the United States: Miami, he told a conservative online news site, "has become a Third World country."
In South Florida to attend Restoration Weekend, a gathering of conservative activists, the Colorado Republican, whose district includes suburbs of Denver, pointed to Miami as an example of how "the nature of America can be changed by uncontrolled immigration," the story says.
"Look at what has happened to Miami," the WorldNetDaily quotes Tancredo as saying in an interview. "It has become a Third World country. You just pick it up and take it and move it someplace. You would never know you're in the United States of America. You would certainly say you're in a Third World country."
Monday, November 27, 2006
For several years, the White House and its Dobermans helpfully pointed out the real enemy in Iraq: those lazy, wimpish foreign correspondents who were so foolish and unpatriotic that they reported that we faced grave difficulties in Iraq.
To Paul Wolfowitz, the essential problem was that journalists were cowards. “Part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors,” Mr. Wolfowitz said in 2004. He later added, “The story isn’t being described accurately.”
Don Rumsfeld agreed but suggested that the problem was treason: “Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. It isn’t as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.”
As for Dick Cheney, he saw the flaw in journalists as indolence. “The press is, with all due respect — there are exceptions — oftentimes lazy, often simply reports what someone else in the press says without doing their homework.”
Mr. Cheney and the others might have better spent their time reading the coverage of Iraq rather than insulting it, because in retrospect those brave reporters based in Baghdad got the downward spiral right.
“Many correspondents feel a sense of vindication that the administration finally accepts what we were screaming two years ago,” notes Farnaz Fassihi, who provided excellent Iraq coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Now Ms. Fassihi wonders how long it will take for the administration to acknowledge the reality of 2006 that Iraq correspondents are writing about: the incipient civil war.
Dexter Filkins, who covered Iraq brilliantly for this newspaper until his departure this summer to take up a fellowship at Harvard, says he was constantly accused of reporting only the bad news, of being unpatriotic, and of getting Americans killed.
“I don’t think it ever affected our reporting,” he said. “But I did find it demoralizing, the idea that the truth — the reality on the ground that we were seeing every day — did not matter, that these overfed people sitting in TV studios and in their living rooms could just turn up the volume on what they wanted to be happening in Iraq and that that could overwhelm the reality.”
Mr. Filkins added: “I have almost been killed in Iraq 20 or 30 times — really almost killed. “I’ve lost count. Do these people really believe that we were all risking our lives for some political agenda?”
Richard Engel of NBC says he was taken aback when pundits accused him of standing on a balcony in the Green Zone and simply feeding the world bad news. “Like most journalists in Iraq, I have never lived in the Green Zone,” he notes, adding: “To imply from afar we were just lazy was missing the point, and also dangerous. I know several reporters who were so incensed by similar criticism, they took extra risks.”
While it’s the right that led those toxic attacks, the left is also vulnerable to letting ideology trump empiricism. Mr. Filkins notes that while he used to get nasty letters and e-mail primarily from conservatives, much of the fire more recently has come from liberals accusing him of covering up atrocities — all of it from people whose ideological certitude is proportional to their distance from Baghdad.
As we try to extricate ourselves from Iraq, a basic lesson for the administration is that it should deal with bad news in ways more creative than clobbering the messenger. From the beginning of the war, the Pentagon has had an incredibly sophisticated news operation (now including its own news channel, carried on some cable networks), but it has often seemed more concerned with disseminating propaganda than with gathering facts.
Take the Defense Department’s Early Bird news clipping service, which traditionally had been a dispassionate collection of outside articles to keep senior military officers informed. Lately it has been leading with in-house spin. The Early Bird of Nov. 20, for example, began with three separate unpublished letters to the editor by Pentagon officials before getting to the news from around the world.
So how about if the administration devotes itself less to managing the news and more to trying to manage Iraq?
President John F. Kennedy's famous remark that victory has a thousand fathers and that defeat is an orphan couldn't be more apt these days. The intellectual godfathers of the ruinous Iraq war — "neoconservatives" who insisted it would be a breeze to invade Iraq and transform it into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East — are jumping ship and pointing fingers.
Their scurrying defection is a telling measure of how poorly the war is going and how bleak the outlook is. As of today, U.S. involvement in Iraq will have lasted longer than American participation in World War II. The price in American lives is approaching 3,000; the cost in dollars exceeds $300 billion. The Thanksgiving Day massacre in Baghdad, in which bombings killed and wounded hundreds in a Shiite neighborhood, only underscored Iraq's descent into chaos. More
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Lawmakers Criticize Training And Deployment of Iraqi Forces - Report Casts Doubt on Ability to Replace U.S. Troops
....Yesterday's criticisms were expanded upon in the latest study by Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A Pentagon official in the Reagan administration and a specialist in Middle East intelligence and military matters, Cordesman just returned from Iraq, where he received briefings from military and civilian officials.
One of Cordesman's central issues is that public statements by the Defense Department "severely distorted the true nature of Iraqi force development in ways that grossly exaggerate Iraqi readiness and capability to assume security tasks and replace U.S. forces." He also writes that "U.S. official reporting is so misleading that there is no way to determine just how serious the problem is and what resources will be required."
Cordesman says the Pentagon's Aug. 31 status report, which was sent to Congress, lists 312,400 men "trained and equipped" among the Iraqi army and national and regular police. But it adds that "no one knows how many . . . are actually still in service." At the same time, he writes, "all unclassified reporting on unit effectiveness has been cancelled."
Criticizing statements about how many Iraqi army units are "in the lead," Cordesman notes that the Iraqi army "lacks armor, heavy firepower, tactical mobility and an Iraqi Air Force capable of providing combat support" -- the same points McCaffrey made yesterday.
"No administration official has presented any plan to properly equip the Iraqi forces to stand on their own or give them the necessary funding to phase out U.S. combat and air support in 12 to 18 months," Cordesman says. He writes that the Iraqi army could need U.S. support through 2010....
Democrats plan to throw out two trade deals with Colombia and Peru due to a lack of tough labor standards. The President was depending on those trade pacts as part of an overall objective to strengthen his bilateral trade agenda with South America. Organized labor, seen as a leading force in the Democrats taken the House and Senate from the Republicans during the Spring Election, has major concerns over Colombia - which is considered one of the world's deadliest country’s for union organizing. More than 1000 union activists have been murdered over the past decade.
The competing television news images on the morning after Thanksgiving were of the unspeakable carnage in Sadr City — where more than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed by a series of coordinated car bombs — and the long lines of cars filled with holiday shopping zealots that jammed the highway approaches to American malls that had opened for business at midnight.
A Wal-Mart in Union, N.J., was besieged by customers even before it opened its doors at 5 a.m. on Friday. “All I can tell you,” said a Wal-Mart employee, “is that they were fired up and ready to spend money.”
There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.
Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressman’s proposal — it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. — but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war.
With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. In an interview last week, Alex Racheotes, a 19-year-old history major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said: “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq. But beyond that, I get the feeling that most people at school don’t even think about the war. They’re more concerned with what grade they got on yesterday’s test.”
His thoughts were echoed by other students, including John Cafarelli, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, who was asked if he had any friends who would be willing to join the Army. “No, definitely not,” he said. “None of my friends even really care about what’s going on in Iraq.”
This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name. While shoppers here are scrambling to put the perfect touch to their holidays with the purchase of a giant flat-screen TV or a PlayStation 3, the news out of Baghdad is of a society in the midst of a meltdown.
According to the United Nations, more than 7,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in September and October. Nearly 5,000 of those killings occurred in Baghdad, a staggering figure.
In a demoralizing reprise of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the U.N. reported that in Iraq: “The situation of women has continued to deteriorate. Increasing numbers of women were recorded to be either victims of religious extremists or ‘honor killings.’ Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”
Journalists in Iraq are being “assassinated with utmost impunity,” the U.N. report said, with 18 murdered in the last two months.
Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore. They warrant maybe one sentence in a long roundup article out of Baghdad, or a passing reference — no longer than a few seconds — in a television news account of the latest political ditherings.
Since the vast majority of Americans do not want anything to do with the military or the war, the burden of fighting has fallen on a small cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been maimed.
The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support.
They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.
US carried out madrasah bombing
THE bombing of a Pakistani madrasah last month, in which 82 students were killed, was carried out by the United States, a Pakistani official has admitted, writes Christina Lamb.
The madrasah in the tribal agency of Bajaur was bombed during a visit to Pakistan by the Prince of Wales amid allegations that it was being used to train suicide bombers.
“We thought it would be less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US,” said a key aide to President Pervez Musharraf. “But there was a lot of collateral damage and we’ve requested the Americans not to do it again.”
The Americans are believed to have attacked after a tip-off that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda, was present. Local people claimed the victims included boys as young as 12 and that the tribal area had been negotiating with the Pakistan government for a peace deal.
King Abdullah of Jordan, who will host a meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this week, said today that the situation in Iraq is quickly disintegrating and dramatic action is needed before the end of the year to unify the country.
The king also said that no serious progress can be made on Iraq's problems until a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issues is found.
"We have to make sure that all the parties in Iraq understand the dangers of the ongoing escalation, and I hope that Prime Minister Maliki will have some ideas . . . bringing all the different sects inside of Iraq together," Abdullah told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week." "And they need to do it now, because, obviously, as we're seeing, things are beginning to spiral out of control."
In what may have been a warning to the Bush administration about waiting too long to hear from a high-ranking, bipartisan panel looking for options on Iraq policy, the king stressed that speed is essential. "I don't think we're in a position where we can come back and revisit the problem in early 2007," he said. "There needs to be a strategy. There needs to be a plan that brings all the parties together, and bring them today and not tomorrow."
Saturday, November 25, 2006
While politicians from both parties spin out their versions of Iraqs that should have been, could have been and just maybe still might be, the Army has taken on a far more useful project: figuring out why the Bush administration’s military plans worked out so badly and drawing lessons for future conflicts.
That effort is a welcome sign that despite six years of ideologically driven dictates from Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, Army leaders remain usefully focused on the real world, where actual soldiers daily put their lives on the line for their country and where the quality of military planning goes a long way toward determining whether their sacrifices help achieve America’s national purposes.
Two hopeful examples are the latest draft of a new Army field manual that will be taught to officers at all levels beginning next year and a series of oral history interviews conducted with Iraqi and American officers involved in the disappointing efforts to establish and train Iraqi security forces. Last week, The Los Angeles Times published details of some of the major changes being incorporated into the new field manual, while The Washington Post reported on some of the lessons learned in the Iraqi training programs.
The field manual, the Army’s basic guidebook for war, peacekeeping and counterinsurgency, quietly jettisons the single most disastrous innovation of the Rumsfeld era. That is the misconceived notion that the size and composition of an American intervention force should be based only on what is needed to defeat the organized armed forces of an enemy government, instead of also taking into account the needs of providing security and stability for the civilian population for which the United States will then be responsible.
Almost every post-invasion problem in Iraq can be directly traced to this one catastrophic planning failure, which left too few troops in Iraq to prevent rampant looting, restore basic services and move decisively against the insurgency before it took root and spread.
Modern innovations in warfare make it possible for America’s technologically proficient forces to vanquish an opposing army quickly and with relatively few troops. But re-establishing order in a defeated, decapitated society demands a much larger force for a much longer time.
The new field manual will rightly call for stabilization efforts to start as soon as American troops arrive. And it will legally require American field commanders to request sufficient forces to successfully carry out these stability operations. That should short-circuit future debates about whether Pentagon policy makers are providing all the troops that the generals on the spot honestly feel they need.
Correcting deficiencies in American military training is also essential, since the biggest reason the United States has not been able to withdraw significant numbers of its own troops over the past three years has been the lack of adequately prepared and reliable Iraqi security forces.
Iraqi officers interviewed for the oral history complained that their American trainers were often junior officers without combat experience. American officers expressed unhappiness about how their own training teams had been selected and prepared. One major tellingly remarked that “I went there with the wrong attitude and I thought I understood Iraq and the history because I had seen PowerPoint slides, but I really didn’t.”
These are useful insights. But they can only go so far when a host government lacks the will to rid its security forces of sectarian militia fighters more intent on waging civil war than achieving national stability. That so far has been the biggest obstacle in Iraq.
Transforming American forces to fight 21st-century conflicts was the ubiquitous but largely empty slogan of the Rumsfeld era. Incorporating the hard lessons learned in Iraq into future military planning and training operations would constitute a far more practical variety of transformation.