The Sanders Campaign Goes Drumpf

“Remember, one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counter-puncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first.” —Donald Drumpf

Let’s get something straight about what has been happening. Bernie Sanders, in a Drumpfed-up way, went after Hillary Clinton in a speech in Philadelphia—suggesting she wasn’t qualified to be president—for two reasons (which he stated in a press conference
tbernie in philadelphiahe next day in Philadelphia and which you can see on YouTube starting at around 9:45).

The first reason he gave was because he was pissed off after The Washington Post published a story with the headline, “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president,” a headline that the Post’s own fact-checker (“Sanders’s incorrect claim that Clinton called him ‘not qualified’ for the presidency”) called into question, while giving Bernie three Pinocchios for his false claim that Hillary actually said, in quotes, that he was “not qualified.”

The second reason Bernie got all Drumpfed up was because of a report by CNN’s Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, who began his article (“Clinton plan: Defeat Sanders, then unify Democratic party“) this way:

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is taking new steps to try and disqualify Bernie Sanders in the eyes of Democratic voters, hoping to extinguish the argument that he is an electable alternative for the party’s presidential nomination.

Zeleny  also wrote this in the article:

A Clinton campaign fundraising appeal after the Wisconsin primary offered a glimpse into the new approach. The campaign’s deputy communications director, Christina Reynolds, argued that Sanders is unqualified, sending a full transcript of a New York Daily News editorial board interview of Sanders.

You should note that Zeleny’s lede—“Hillary Clinton’s campaign is taking new steps to try and disqualify Bernie Sanders”—wasn’t something the reporter directly attributed to anyone in Clinton’s campaign, except Christina Reynolds. And you should note that he did not quote Reynolds as saying “Sanders is unqualified.” Much like The Washington Post’s story, this appears to be the case of a reporter interpreting, or misinterpreting, something that was said or distributed by the campaign.

The point, therefore, is that without any hard facts, with only a headline in a newspaper and a report by CNN that did not directly quote anyone in Clinton’s campaign or Hillary herself, Bernie did what Donald Drumpf has done when he has seen something in the news that he thought slighted him: attack without thinking.

In fact, like Drumpf, Bernie didn’t back away, even after it was clear he was wrong. The next day in that press conference in Philadelphia, he continued pushing the notion that the Clinton campaign had actually said it was trying to disqualify him. Then he dropped this Drumpf on us:

If Secretary Clinton thinks that just because I’m from a small state in Vermont and we’re gonna come here to New York and go to Pennsylvania and they’re gonna beat us up and they’re gonna go after us in some kind of really uncalled for way, that we’re not gonna fight back, well we got another — you know, they can guess again because that’s not the case. This campaign will fight back. So, when you have headlines in The Washington Post, quote, Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president, my response is, well, if you want to question my qualifications, let me suggest this: that maybe the American people might wonder about your qualifications, Madame Secretary…

Again, all that was based not on something that was directly attributed to anyone in the Clinton campaign, but only on press reports. If that doesn’t remind you of Drumpf, what does? Oh, I know, this:

weaver on cnn and isisI think if you look at her record and campaign, her campaign is funded by millions and millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests. She’s made a deal with the devil, and we all know the devil wants his money in the end. So that’s the kind of campaign she’s running. She supported the terrible trade deals which have devastated American manufacturing in the country. She supported the war in Iraq. She continues to have a very, very hawkish foreign policy that has led to the rise and expansion of ISIS in the Middle East.

That Republican tripe wasn’t uttered by a Republican. It wasn’t uttered by Rudy Giuliani who said, “She helped create ISIS. I mean, Hillary Clinton could be considered a founding member of ISIS.” No, all that “deal with the devil” stuff was uttered by Jeff Weaver, Bernie’s campaign manager. This morning Weaver doubled down on those disgusting remarks. After having that ridiculous ISIS claim read back to him, he was asked, “Is this a bridge too far?” He responded:

WEAVER: No, I don’t think so. I think a number of experts have pointed out that the vacuum that was created in Iraq after the Iraq War, with the deposing of Saddam Hussein, and the deposing of Qaddafi in Libya, you know, allowed ISIS to rise in Iraq and Syria and then allowed for its expansion into Libya. So, no I don’t think that’s the case. It’s not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of many people who have studied this issue.

CNN: But Hillary Clinton is responsible for the vacuum that arose in Iraq?

WEAVER: Well, look, Hillary Clinton supported the war in Iraq, there’s no doubt about that. And it’s clear from a lot of reporting that she was a key voice in the administration pushing for the war in Libya. I think at one point there was talking about being a 50-50 split almost in the administration and her sort of tipping it over, so, yes, I do think you have to bear responsibility for things like that.

Is it fair to criticize Hillary for her Iraq vote? Absolutely. She has admitted it was a big mistake. Is it fair to blame her, and by extension President Obama, for the rise of ISIS? Absolutely not. And it should be scandalous that Weaver, like so many Republicans have done, did so. But not a peep from the “positive” campaigner, Bernie Sanders, who has every right to brag about his anti-war vote and his predictions about the consequences, but who is wrong to allow his top guy to say such outrageous things about Hillary Clinton.

Jeff Weaver kept mentioning Libya. Why? Because by now people have forgotten just why it was that a reluctant Obama, with Clinton’s urging, intervened there as part of an international coalition, initially led by France and Britain with our vital support. It was a tough decision at the time. Qaddafi had slaughtered many and was about to slaughter more anti-government protesters and rebels, who were asking for the West’s help. So were other Arab countries. Western nations were accused of moving too slowly to stop the bloodshed and violence. Eventually, the West did act. Qaddafi is gone. Conflict still remains. ISIS has a presence there and we are taking action against them. The new head of a UN-backed government is trying to bring enough stability to the country so that other nations can come in and help attack ISIS bases there. It’s all very messy.

But what would have happened if we would have allowed Qaddafi to slaughter so many of his own people? We have no idea. Nobody does. But we do know that people would be criticizing Obama and Clinton for inaction, just like in Syria, where we didn’t get involved in that civil war. This stuff ain’t easy, even if it is easy to criticize after the fact. But I want to note that in all those words he uttered, given all those chances, Jeff Weaver—again, Bernie’s campaign manager—couldn’t bring himself to mention George W. Bush or Dick Cheney or the warmongering neoconservatives who actually made the phony case for the Iraq war and who actually managed its aftermath so poorly that we find ourselves where we are today. All Weaver could do was blame Hillary Clinton, which was mighty Drumpf of him, since Drumpf said sometime back“Hillary Clinton created ISIS with Obama.” 

My, oh, my.

 

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Iraq And The Folly Of Sovereignty

Sovereignty, in political theory, is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.”

Wikipedia

It was inevitable, of course.

John McCain, who still can’t believe voters thwarted his Commander-in-Chief aspirations six years ago, appearing on MSNBC this morning, blamed President Obama for what is happening in Iraq:

What about the fact we had it won?…Gen. Petraeus had the conflict won, thanks to the surge. And if we had left a residual force behind…we would not be facing the crisis we are today. Those are fundamental facts … The fact is, we had the conflict won and we had a stable government…But the president wanted out, and now, we are paying a very heavy price. And I predicted it in 2011.

This blame-Obama-first reaction we all expect from Republicans whenever anything at all goes wrong, but it is utterly and demonstrably false in this case. Republicans forget that the original agreement with the Iraqis to pull out of their country was signed by none other than George W. Bush in 2008, an agreement that specified we would “withdraw from all Iraqi territory, waters, and airspace no later than the 31st of December of 2011.” We did withdraw in December of 2011. So, how all the latest developments are Obama’s fault is beyond me, but not surprising, given the level of hatred for the president among right-wingers.

What seems surprising to me, though, is McCain’s “we had it won” claim, which is beyond ridiculous. George Bush famously thought we had it won when he spoke on board the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 with a “Mission Accomplished” banner behind him, saying,

In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. 

Yeah, well, people should remember that most of the dead and wounded became dead and wounded after those infamous words. Bush also told us in that 2003 speech:

The Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001, and still goes on…The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of al-Qaida, and cut off a source of terrorist funding.

Leave aside that lie about the Iraqis being “an ally of al-Qaida”—former CIA Director George Tenet took care of that by admitting that the Bushies “could never verify there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al-Qaida for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period”—and focus only on the claim of victory, a claim that was not only unsupported by the evidence at the time, but a claim that could never have come true under any circumstances. Obviously, in terms of defeating the Iraqi military and putting ourselves into a position of occupying the country, we were successful. That’s what we are good at. We are the best. The Iraqi army, knowing we are the best, didn’t really fight, and the much-vaunted Republican Guard decided they weren’t going to die, 72 virgins or no 72 virgins, for their fellow tribesman, Saddam Hussein.

But that U.S. military triumph wasn’t the real victory that the Bush and his neo-conservative allies envisioned when they undertook the very stupid and very costly war against Hussein’s Baathist regime. In their heads were “the images of celebrating Iraqis,” as Bush noted in his celebratory speech, grateful folks who would welcome us with open arms for liberating them from “their own enslavement.” But Iraq as we knew it then and Iraq as we know it now was and is never going to be a place where, in Bush’s words on that aircraft carrier eleven years ago, we could “stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people.”

For his part, President Obama, although much more restrained, said some things to Americans in 2011 about the end of the eight-year-long Iraq war that don’t sound so good today:

It’s harder to end a war than begin one.  Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq — all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering — all of it has led to this moment of success.  Now, Iraq is not a perfect place.  It has many challenges ahead.  But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.  

So much for a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq. This morning I heard Iraq’s ambassador to the United States essentially begging for more help from Americans, dismissing the fact that his country’s Shia leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, failed to reach a deal with the Obama administration on a status of forces agreement that would john mccain and iraqhave kept, perhaps unwisely for us, thousands of U.S. troops in his country. But worst than that, Maliki failed to govern the divided country in a way that had any chance of success. He did nothing to make sure the rights of the Sunni minority were protected. In fact, as Vox.com noted, he ordered the mass-arrest of Sunni civilians and the killing of peaceful Sunni protesters. He essentially “built a Shia sectarian state.” All of which allowed a violent Sunni insurgency to grow and strengthen.

As I said, it was the subsequent occupation of Iraq that cost us so much in lives and treasure. And it was during that occupation, if not before, where all of us should have realized that there would never be anything happen in Iraq that we could call a victory and truly claim mission accomplished. Patrick Cockburn, who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 and who has written four books on the contemporary history of Iraq, said of the American occupiers that we “were in a mood of exaggerated imperial arrogance” and failed to see what was coming:

In that first year of the occupation it was easy to tell which way the wind was blowing. Whenever there was an American soldier killed or wounded in Baghdad, I would drive there immediately. Always there were cheering crowds standing by the smoking remains of a Humvee or a dark bloodstain on the road. After one shooting of a soldier, a man told me: “I am a poor man but my family is going to celebrate what happened by cooking chicken.” Yet this was the moment when President Bush and his Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, were saying that the insurgents were “remnants of the old regime” and “dead enders”.

Cockburn also makes an important point that it wasn’t just Americans who were willfully blind about the nature of the Iraqi state: “There was also misconception among Iraqis about the depth of the divisions within their own society.” Objective outsiders should have seen that Iraq is not a real country. Force has held it together since the British (without going into why, but it had a lot to do with oil) first tried to weld into one country the old Ottoman-controlled provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. Keeping these people, the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shias, under one nation-state roof has proved to be impossible without lots and lots of oppression and killing. And the killing continues today, as we see in the news.

Leaving aside all of the Republican nonsense about blaming Obama for the ongoing disintegration of Iraq, the question, obviously, is what should the U.S. do now? And that, like almost all foreign policy questions, is not John McCain-simple. I have heard some people, including some Democrats, say do nothing. Let the Iraqis handle their own problems. But as President Obama said today, “Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos. The United States will do our part.”

Okay. Let’s start with what might be part of a long-term strategy. It appears to be time to reconsider Joe Biden’s old proposal, which he made while still a U.S. senator in 2007. Biden sponsored an amendment to a defense bill, which passed the Senate 75-23, that James Oliphant, no friend of Democrats or progressives, summarized this way:

The amendment requires the United States to work to support the division of Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions, each governed locally by its dominant ethnic and religious factions, the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. The regions would have dominion over police protection, jobs, utilities and other municipal functions, supported by a weaker federal government in Baghdad. All three regions would share in the country’s oil revenues.

The wisdom of that difficult-to-implement proposal only increases with time. It appears to be the only realistic solution, if there is a solution, to an otherwise insoluble problem. But that is a possible long-term solution. For now, while a rather violent and venomous group of jihadists are capturing Iraqi cities one by one and headed for Baghdad—due to, once again, widespread desertion by the “national” army—we can’t stand by and do nothing. We do have a national interest in making sure, as best we can without engaging in another war, that the utterly brutal Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which, as The Washington Post points out, now “effectively governs a nation-size tract of territory,” does not take over the entire place.

The Post also says the militant Islamic group “has become a far more lethal, effective and powerful force than it was when U.S. forces were present in Iraq,” and quotes a former adviser to both Bush and Obama on Iraq:

This is a force that is ideologically motivated, battle hardened and incredibly well equipped. It also runs the equivalent of a state. It has all the trappings of a state, just not an internationally recognized one.

Just what effective actions the U.S. could take in the short-term isn’t clear to me. But it isn’t clear to war-hawk John McCain either. For all his bluster, he is reduced to saying there are “no good options.” Yeah, well, thanks for that sage advice, Senator. And, thank God or Allah, you are still only a senator.

Sharing intelligence with the Iraqi government, such as it is, is obviously a good place to start. Perhaps drone strikes and other air attacks are in order. Perhaps other forms of aid will do some good. But one thing we know, despite what the logic of John McCain’s criticisms entails,

We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.

Those are the words of, thankfully, the real Commander in Chief.

Syria, Spookhousing, And A Scary Stroll Through The Neoconservative Mind

It was inevitable, of course. No, I’m not talking about the Obama-Kerry agreement with the Russians on what to do with Syria’s chemical weapons. I’m talking about the subsequent criticism and hysteria coming from the shoot-first-negotiate-later crowd.

No matter how things turned out, no matter what decision the President made, no matter whether we dropped bombs or didn’t drop bombs, shot missiles or didn’t shoot missiles, we could have expected this headline:

John McCain, Lindsey Graham Criticize Syria Deal: ‘An Act Of Provocative Weakness’

You have to admit that is a clever phrase: “Provocative weakness.” But what does it mean? McCain and Graham try to explain:

What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement: They see it as an act of provocative weakness on America’s part, We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon.

Let me see here. If seeking and perhaps finding a non-bomb way out of an international dispute, while keeping the threat of bombs on the table, represents a weakness that will provoke our enemies, then it is not hard to fathom what is the right thing to do for McCain and Graham and others today criticizing the President’s attempt to find a peaceful way out of a crisis: bomb the hell out of your enemies even if your enemies are willing to give you what you want! Because, apparently, getting what you want without dropping bombs is not a sign of strength and success but a sign of weakness and failure.

Even though it is sometimes necessary, I don’t like spending much time rummaging around in the spook-filled heads of people who think like that, who refuse to take yes for an answer while there are still plenty of cruise missiles to launch. Trying to figure out what makes people like McCain and Graham tick, what makes them long for and lead cheers for warfare even when, at least right now, it isn’t necessary to accomplish our stated limited goal, is not likely to bear much fruit.

But one thing is very clear: McCain’s and Graham’s goal in Syria is not limited. It is much more ambitious than stopping a dictator from using chemical weapons that the world long ago agreed were too horrendous to countenance. Obviously, these two and others on the right are eager to jump into every fire in the Middle East, no matter how many times we get burned, because, well, otherwise we look weak. It is much, much better to get burned to a crisp, or burn others to a crisp, than to appear weak to some warmongering conservatives. Never mind that we have spent a decade at war in at least two countries in the region and we don’t appear all that strong. In fact, a good case can be made that protracted warfare has genuinely weakened us in the eyes of the world.

As I say, I don’t want to spend much time spookhousing, trying to figure out what makes people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham think and act the way they do. Suffice it to say that today we should all give thanks that the band doesn’t play “Hail To The Chief” when John McCain walks into a room, and that the weight of his opinions on our international dos and don’ts is felt mainly on television talk shows, on which he appears almost daily and on which he is rarely if ever aggressively challenged.

Don Knotts searches for spooks in Ghost ProtocolIn any case, speaking of strange thinking, speaking of spookhouse-minds to explore, perhaps this is a good time to mention one of the craziest things I have read in a major publication in a long time. It comes via the Wall Street Journal and an article authored by Norman Podhoretz, an old neoconservative who is widely respected—and I mean widely respected: George W. Bush handed him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 for being “at the forefront of American intellectual thought for the last half-century.” Keep that in mind as we go on: “intellectual thought.”

There are at least three more things you need to know about Norman Podhoretz before we get to his article:

♦ He suggested in 1980 we might lose the Cold War with the Soviets and even believed Ronald Reagan wasn’t tough enough on the commies, saying in 1984 that the Gipper was “following a strategy of helping the Soviet Union stabilize its empire, rather than a strategy aimed at encouraging the breakup of that empire from within.” A mere five years later the Soviet Union began to dissolve. Yikes, Norman!

♦ Not only was he a cheerleader for the 2003 Iraq War, he was a cheerleader for attacking Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the 1990s. Yikes again, Norman!

♦ In 2007—in 2007!— he called for and prayed for George W. Bush to bomb the hell out of Iran because time was running out. He answered critics of his scheme, who warned of the dangerous repercussions involved, by citing, who else, John McCain:

Nevertheless, there is a good response to them, and it is the one given by John McCain. The only thing worse than bombing Iran, McCain has declared, is allowing Iran to get the bomb.

Yikes once more, Norm! That’s three yikes! and Podhoretz should be out, but nope, he’s still in the game. His latest article, weirdly but strategically titled, “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” is perhaps this old right-winger’s finest moment in right-wing intellectual nuttery.

Podhoretz believes that not only is the President’s leadership leading to national decline and an “erosion of American power,” it is not happening because Obama is “incompetent,” “bungling,” “feckless,” “amateurish,” and “in over his head.” No, no, no. The President is none of those things, says this respected neocon. You see, Obama means to lead the United States into decline. Obama wants to undermine American strength, but he has to hide his motives:

His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish. The accomplishment would not have been possible if the intention had been too obvious. The skill lies in how effectively he has used rhetorical tricks to disguise it.

Referencing Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and Saul Alinsky—the unholy trinity in the liturgy that informs right-wing conspiracists in the First Church of Obama-Haters—Podhoretz says Obama is a “left-wing radical” who believes “that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs” and, thus, the President wants to fundamentally transform the United States by reducing “the country’s power and influence.”

Obama is so crafty in pursuing this diabolical goal, that all this apparent incompetence, fecklessness and amateurism is just a cover. And the President, Podhoretz tells us, doesn’t really care that people see him that way:

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen.

You see? President Obama is willing to sacrifice his own reputation in order to weaken the country so that we will all live happily ever after as world citizens. Got it? Spooky, ain’t it?

Journeying through the ghoulish mind of Norman Podhoretz—again, a man well-respected as an “intellectual” on the right—makes one long for a respite in the little-less-scary and the lot-less-intellectual noggin of John McCain. Why? Because for all his militaristic bravado and chronic interventionism, I think John McCain really does believe President Obama is merely incompetent, amateurish, and in over his head, as opposed to believing that our Commander-in-Chief is skillfully misleading us all as he purposely engineers the decline of America.

No matter what, though, the neoconservative mind, represented either by John McCain or Norman Podhoretz, should send shivers down your spine.

Obama Lost The War In Iraq, Don’t You Know

On the way to Springfield on Sunday I heard a BBC radio report relating how Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who has previously flirted with joining the Taliban, said:

God forbid, if there is ever a war between Pakistan and America, then we will side with Pakistan.

Then upon returning home I discovered that Lindsey Graham told Fox “News” that President Obama made a “serious mistake” by keeping to the Bush Administration timetable of troop withdrawal from Iraq at the end of this year:

Not being able to close the deal in Iraq is a very serious mistake. Celebrating leaving with no troops behind is a serious mistake… He’s put in question our success in Afghanistan and he ended Iraq poorly. He fumbled the ball inside of the ten. I hope I’m wrong about what happens in Iraq, but they are dancing in the streets in Tehran.

Then I learned that Lindsey Graham’s Siamese twin, John McCain, also criticized—on foreign soil—Obama’s Bush-endorsed decision on ABC’s This Week:

Well, I think it’s a serious mistake. And there was never really serious negotiations between the administration and the Iraqis. They could have clearly made an arrangement for U.S. troops.

Yes, I’m here in the region. And, yes, it is viewed in the region as a victory for the Iranians.

So, clearly the Republican establishment, as represented by Graham and McCain, believe Mr. Obama, who is simply following the plan of his presidential predecessor, is turning over the region to the Iranians. 

Then we have even nuttier charges, like this one from presidential candidate Rick Santorum, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation:

I think that’s reason people are so upset, that, you know, we’ve lost — in many respects, we’ve lost control, lost the war in Iraq because we have Iran having broadened its sphere of influence.

Lost the war?  Obama lost the war?

In the midst of all this insanity, one must ask this rather sane question: Who is it that enhanced Iranian power in the region in the first place? Yep. The neocon philosophy-drunk Bush Administration, who altered the balance of regional power by invading and occupying Iraq, making it possible for the Iranians to potentially team up with the previously oppressed Shiite majority in Iraq and cause regional mischief.

By Republican reasoning, Mr. Bush lost the war just after we fired the first shot.

But was Graham or McCain or Santorum asked about that? Nope. Nor were they asked just how long the United States should stay in Iraq.  Ten more years?  Twenty? They should have been asked how many more Americans should die in Iraq, beyond the 4469 dead to date. Or how many more thousands of American wounded, beyond the 32,213 already suffering, will it take before Messrs. Graham and McCain and Santorum want to call it quits?

Not least, how much more of our treasure should be hauled overseas to flitter in an Iraqi wind?

All of which leads me back to Hamid Karzai.  The Afghanistan leader has given President Obama every reason to send him drone-delivered Christmas greetings from America. Thus, the requisite backtracking:

A spokesman for Karzai, Siamak Herawi, said the president had not intended any slight to the Western governments that have spent billions of dollars shoring up the Afghan administration during the 10-year war that has claimed the lives of at least 1,817 American troops.

“The media misinterpreted [Karzai’s] speech,” he said, adding that the president had been trying to express solidarity with Pakistan for having taken in millions of Afghan refugees during decades of war and the subsequent rule of the Taliban movement.  

Although it would send Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Rick Santorum into irreversible apoplexy, Mr. Obama should announce that he is stepping up troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, admitting that, like Iraq, a hundred more years in that Allah-forsaken place would at best only marginally advance American interests, which used to be the primary goal of our foreign policy.

The War On Terror And Aid To Joplin

I just want to remind everyone who has a Scroogish opinion about federal disaster aid to Joplin of one thing: The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are costing us at a minimum $3 billion—every week of the year.  To put that in perspective, that’s the reported estimated damage caused by the tornado that hit our city a week ago, destroying or severely damaging almost one-third of it.

Here is a conservative estimate of the total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars—no offsets for them, you know; all have been and are being paid for with borrowed money—as of 8:30pm Central Standard Time:

 

If you follow and buy into the argument by Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, you get a much higher number.  Just in the case of the Iraq War, Stiglitz estimated the cost to be, well, his book (co-authored with Linda Bilmes) was titled, “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict,” so you get the idea.  It’s a lot.

Stiglitz believes that the Iraq war has had particular macroeconomic effects that are not part of the calculation most people make when totaling up the cost of the war.  For instance, he argues that “the war has led to higher oil prices.”  In his book he only conservatively attributed a $5-10 increase to the war, but believes “a reasonable number would be at least $35 and probably much more.”

He also argues that the war spending in Iraq didn’t and doesn’t have much of a stimulative effect on our economy, either in the short or long run:

If we spend money for somebody from Nepal to work in Iraq it does not stimulate the American economy in the same way as building a road in America or hiring a teacher in America. It certainly does not increase long-run productivity in the United States.

The third argument he makes, related to the Joplin emergency funding issue,  is this one:

This war was financed totally by deficit financing, unlike any other war.  Normally when countries go to war they talk about shared sacrifice. As America went to war we lowered the taxes on upper-income Americans. Really very strange behaviour in a context in which we already had a large deficit. The national debt has grown by almost $1 trillion just because of the war and by 2017 we estimate it will rise by another $1 trillion.  That is a lot of money.

He adds:

These three factors have led to a depressing of the U.S. economy today and weakening the U.S. economy in the future.

He also believes that “lax monetary policy” by the Federal Reserve, which was implemented in order to compensate for the decreased purchasing power in the economy resulting from higher oil prices, led to a distortion in the economy that itself contributed to the pre-collapse bubble before the fall of 2008.  How do you calculate that cost?

Finally, Stiglitz points out that the long-term cost of disability payments and health-care costs for wounded soldiers, and the cost for replacing equipment lost or damaged during the war, all add up to his final cost of what he called “a war of choice.” 

And the simple point is that in the case of the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan—both wars of choice that have been deficit-funded—no one in the Republican Party argued that the costs of the wars had to be offset in the budget or else there would be no funding for those wars.

As a commenter on this blog pointed out,

Picking up the pieces of disasters such as the one that hit Joplin is one of the many reasons why we have a government in the first place.

So, before anyone argues with me about “bailing” out Joplin, or argues that the costs of emergency funding for our city should be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget and thus become part of a protracted political fight, please tell me why you weren’t arguing since 2001 for cutting the budget to fund our war efforts.

That’s what I thought.

Tea Party Chickens

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown?            

Bob Dylan

 

The following excerpt from a Jonathan Allen story on Politico is for anyone out there who thought my question for Congressman Billy Long—about the GOP’s expressed reluctance to provide Joplin with federal aid—was irrelevant or a joke:

While much of Joplin, Mo., is still under rubble from a devastating tornado, conservatives in Congress are starting to argue for a tougher approach to disaster aid, demanding that any funding be offset by cutting federal money elsewhere.

Disasters will no longer be considered “emergencies” if conservatives win this battle to redefine the way Congress funds aid packages for states and cities stricken by natural and man-made catastrophes.

Get that? Republicans are “demanding” that what once was considered by all parties to be emergency funding will now be subject to a political fight, if the GOP has its way.  Surely, now everyone can see that asking our congressional representative Billy Long where he stands on that issue might be of some relevance?

Southeast Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson had no trouble making herself clear.  She told Politico:

“I do not believe in offsetting emergency funds, period,” Missouri Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a senior GOP member of the spending panel, said.*

As Politico points out, “more than $1 trillion” was added to the deficit “by designating most spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as ’emergency’ funding.”  Yet, we have the prospect of House Republicans, and who knows about the Senate, of putting Joplin’s aid right in the middle of a protracted political fight. 

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said on the Senate floor:

There is no question that we have to be careful about the way we spend federal money. But with all due respect to Congressman Cantor, I have a hard time believing that if this were in his congressional district, he would be talking about how additional disaster relief would not be available unless we found some other program to take it from…We must be there for them. We all must stand with Joplin; all of America must stand with Joplin, and we will.”

Exactly.

On Morning Joe this morning, Politico‘s chief White House correspondent, Mike Allen, called the House GOP stance a “radical idea“:

This is a basic change in the way Congress does business. This is part of House Republicans effort to say “We’re gonna do things completely differently.”  In the past, when floods, terrorism, hurricanes, tornadoes, came up, and they’re in need of aid, that was considered an emergency and Congress just spent money that it didn’t have, spent money regardless of spending caps that they set for itself.

House Republicans are taking a pretty radical idea and saying if we’re going to spend on these emergencies, we’re gonna take that money from someone else…

It’s coming up with Joplin because there’s gonna be a big, big tab there and Republicans are saying, “We’re not just gonna write Missouri a check. We’re gonna take that money out of somewhere else, and President Obama, if you want to request money for Missouri, we’re gonna find cuts elsewhere.”  This is brand new, in the past it was just spent as free money. That if somebody needed aid, that it was just put out on top of whatever else Congress was doing.

For all my Joplin Tea Party friends, for all the Tea Party folks here in Southwest Missouri, this is a test of your radical Tea Party ideas. I have been to three Tea Party rallies here in Joplin and I have heard the same thing each time: Government is the problem and we need to cut, cut, cut. People are taxed too much and Obama is a socialist.

Well, that socialist will soon request emergency funds from Congress** to send to Joplin and apparently a majority of Republicans in the House are willing to play chicken with him, just as they have done on the budget and the debt ceiling increase.

So, what we are witnessing with this Tea Party-radical move by Republicans in Congress to change the rules for emergency spending—after they have spent $1 trillion on “emergency” funding for Iraq and Afghanistan and after they have approved of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans—is Tea Party chickens coming home to roost right here in the middle of Tea Party Nation, here in our beloved city.

How does it feel?

________________________________

* The Huffington Post reported this

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, showed The Huffington Post photos of her district under 12 feet of water as a result of flooding from the storms. She said an emergency aid package shouldn’t need to be paid for with spending cuts but said she has “no doubt” that some of her colleagues on the committee will push for offsets. She guessed that none of them will come from disaster-prone areas.

“It makes me sad” that some Republicans are insisting on offsets for natural disaster of this scale, Emerson said. And in the case of Cantor, “I was disappointed. I need to take him to my district.”

Still, she said she is hopeful that some committee Republicans will side with her in not pushing for offsets, particularly some of the newer members who hail from districts hurt by the storms. People have a change of heart on spending “all of a sudden when it becomes personal,” she said. “My own constituents would be horrified if I didn’t do everything I could” to get aid.

________________________________

** In case you missed it, here is how the President ended his remarks on Tuesday about the storms across the midwest:

I know that a lot of people are wondering how they’ll get through the coming days or months or even years, but I want everybody in Joplin, everybody in Missouri, everybody in Minnesota, everybody across the Midwest to know that we are here for you.  The American people are by your side.  We’re going to stay there until every home is repaired, until every neighborhood is rebuilt, until every business is back on its feet.  That’s my commitment, and that’s the American people’s commitment.

 [Updated Claire McKaskill’s comments at 12:30pm]

The Revisionism Has Begun: George Bush Is The Hero Of Egypt

Charles Krauthammer wrote this incredible paragraph, which is only a part of the Right’s campaign to revise history and resurrect the political carcass of Bush II:

Today, everyone and his cousin supports the “freedom agenda.” Of course, yesterday it was just George W. Bush, Tony Blair and a band of neocons with unusual hypnotic powers who dared challenge the received wisdom of Arab exceptionalism – the notion that Arabs, as opposed to East Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans and Africans, were uniquely allergic to democracy. Indeed, the left spent the better part of the Bush years excoriating the freedom agenda as either fantasy or yet another sordid example of U.S. imperialism.

It’s as if the preemptive invasion and occupation of Iraq never happened.  All that is left is Bush’s and the neocon’s “freedom agenda,” which according to many on the Right is bearing fruit in Egypt today.

Here is what Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser in the W. Bush administration said recently:

The Bush administration pushed hardest on democracy in Egypt in 2004 and 2005 and got some results. 2005 is when Mubarak, for the first time, actually had a presidential election; prior to that he was selected by the parliament without even a fake election… so there was some movement in Egypt in 2004, 2005 when we were pushing hardest.

See there?  The Bushies are taking credit for fake elections!  But here is what the Brookings Institution wrote in 2009 about Bush’s efforts:

Bush’s bombastic rhetoric alienated the Egyptian president, but produced some small gains in political freedom in Egypt that were quickly reversed when Bush’s pressure on democracy let up in 2006.

Abrams also wrote a column about Bush’s “freedom agenda,” extolling Bush for a speech he gave in 2003, which defended the idea of Arab democracy and self-government. Here’s how the Washington Post presented Abrams’ column on January 29:

Egypt protests show George W. Bush was right about freedom in the Arab world

Let me see.  Why did Bush had taken an interest in Arab freedom in 2003?  What happened that year?  Oh, yeah: We invaded Iraq and took over the country and found no WMDs there, thus instead of a whoops! we got the “freedom agenda.”

In fact, here’s how the Washington Post opened its story on the speech on November 6, 2003:

President Bush today portrayed the war in Iraq as the latest front in the “global democratic revolution” led by the United States.

Those were heady days, I suppose.

Maureen Dowd wrote half apologetically last week:

President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East and end the awful hypocrisy of America coddling autocratic rulers.

But the way he went about it was naïve and wrong. “In many ways, you can argue that the Iraq war set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who worked at the State Department during Bush’s first term, told me. “It’s more legitimate in Arab eyes when it happens from within than when it’s externally driven.”

All of this is not to say that efforts to stir up democracy in the region by both Bush and Obama—remember the Cairo speech?—were of no effect.  But no one outside of Egypt can take credit for what has happened there and therefore the main responsibility for what happens in the future is on those inside Egypt.

We can and should do all we peacefully can to aid and abet any forthcoming Egyptian democracy, but William F. Buckley was fond of quoting John Quincy Adams in this regard:

…the American people are friends of liberty everywhere, they are custodians only of their own.

It’s just sort of pathetic that apologists for the last administration are setting the Egyptian uprising in the context of Bush’s “freedom agenda,” and using this opportunity to try to make us forget that his agenda had more to do with justifying his disastrous invasion of Iraq than anything else.

[top image from Huffington Post; bottom from Reuters]

Declaring Rummy

According to the Washington Post, in former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s upcoming book he writes about the failure of the post-invasion strategy in Iraq:

There were far too many hands on the steering wheel, which, in my view, was a formula for running the truck into a ditch.

At least we know now that there was in fact a hand on the steering wheel.  It sure looked like the truck cab was empty at the time.

And Rumsfeld didn’t exactly let the cat out of the bag when he wrote the following about his boss, George W. Bush:

[he] did not always receive, and may not have insisted on, a timely consideration of his options before he made a decision, nor did he always receive effective implementation of the decisions he made.

“A timely consideration of his options before he made a decision”?  Now, why would “the decider” want to do that?  According to the New York Times‘ peak at Rumsfeld’s book, just 15 days after 9/11, Bush “ordered a review and revision of war plans—but not for Afghanistan.”  The Times continues:

“He asked that I take a look at the shape of our military plans on Iraq,” Mr. Rumsfeld writes.

“Two weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, those of us in the Department of Defense were fully occupied,” Mr. Rumsfeld recalls. But the president insisted on new military plans for Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld writes. “He wanted the options to be ‘creative.’ ”

Apparently, “creative” didn’t include, “What the heck do we do with Iraq after we blow it up, Rummy?”

Finally, supposedly Rumsfeld is critical of John McCain in his new book, saying that McCain has a “hair-trigger temper” and “a propensity to shift his positions to appeal to the media.” 

Well, he got something right.

What To Do About Afghanistan? Beats Me

I have previously confessed that I don’t know what is the proper course to follow regarding Afghanistan and the war we launched there in October of 2001. 

Essentially, I have said that at some point—and only to some point—we have to trust that our leaders, civilian and military, have the competence to not only prosecute the war but the wisdom and will to pull back, if or when it becomes a futile exercise.  Surely our leaders have learned something from our Vietnam experience.

I know my position is not popular with many liberals, but having read and heard and thought a lot about the issue, the fact that I dither from day to day—”we should get out” or “we can’t afford to get out“—is an indication that the philosophical counterfactuals of ending the war seem to be impossible to anticipate, not to mention the repercussions of staying and fighting for God knows how long.

And an AP story in today’s Joplin Globe doesn’t make it any easier.

The story was headlined, “Moderate Pakistanis lament radicalization,” and was sub-headed, “Once tolerant, relaxed nation is now embracing fundamentalism.” 

In the story we find quotes from Pakistanis bemoaning the lack of freedom of speech in their country and the fact that the religious fanatics are “out to snatch this country from us.”  Also disturbing was this commentary on the state of Pakistani society:

“The silent majority does not want to take out a gun and shoot anyone, but at the same time they’re not appalled by it when somebody else does,” complained Fasi Zaka, 34, a radio host. “The majority are enablers.”

The story mentions the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who was murdered by a member of his security detail for speaking out against blasphemy laws in Pakistan.  Taseer’s “bodyguards” stood by as the assassin kept firing.

Here was Taseer’s offense against radicalism, as reported by the The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Taseer had become a leading opponent in recent weeks of a court decision in November to sentence a 45-year-old Christian farm laborer, Asia Bibi, to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.

If these kinds of assassinations become commonplace in Pakistan, our war in Afghanistan—which has already crept into Pakistan—will necessarily have to end or expand, as a nuclear-armed Pakistan grows more unstable.

Indeed, recognizing that fact, the Obama administration has moved to help the Pakistanis “combat” the rise of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.  In an expanded story of the AP story above, MSNBC.com added this:

The White House will combat Pakistan’s terrorist groups by offering more military, intelligence and economic support to Pakistan and intensifying efforts to forge a regional peace, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Pakistani officials have complained that the United States has failed to understand their security priorities or provide adequate support, the Post said.

The new efforts will be communicated by Vice President Joe Biden, who plans to travel to Pakistan next week for meetings with military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and top government leaders, the Post said. Biden will challenge the Pakistanis to articulate their long-term strategy for the region and indicate exactly what assistance is needed for them to move against Taliban sanctuaries in areas bordering Afghanistan, the paper reported.

The effort was developed in last month’s White House Afghanistan war review to overcome widespread suspicion and anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and build trust and stability.

The anti-American sentiment is growing in Pakistan.  And the U.S. is looking for ways to provide economic aid to the government so it can “fill the gap” in public services to the poor and counter the  aid given to Pakistanis by the extremists, who, according to the AP,

…provide for people’s needs, such as in education and health care…through their welfare organizations, clinics, mosques, religious seminaries and other networks.  The impoverished masses then support their philosophies and political activities.

All of this just goes to show how difficult it is to determine whether our strategy in the region is the right one, or whether it is just more wind-chasing futility.  There are a lot of variables in play, and we often don’t know what we don’t know.

But something we do know is that after a long war in Iraq—remember that one?—we are left with an unstable nation that has troubling ties to Shiite Iran, which itself has grown stronger because of the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the Sunnis.  

As U.S. troops prepare to leave (note: “prepare”) Iraq at the end of this year, we find that the American-hating “cleric” Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been cooling his jets in Iran for nearly four years, is back in Iraq and he is as fanatical as ever:

Let the whole world hear that we reject America.

He called the U.S., Israel, and Britain, “our common enemies.”  Al-Sadr’s political movement won 40 seats in parliamentary elections held last year and now holds eight leadership positions in the new Iraqi government, which is a coalition of disparate groups, many of whom don’t much like each other.  And they don’t like each other  in ways that make the fights between Democrats and Republicans look like quarrels at church camp.

No one knows how the Iraq situation will turn out—it is often prematurely characterized as a “success”—and the situation in Afghanistan, with its long history of interventionist failure—is exponentially more uncertain.

But I remain unable to figure out whether our present policy regarding Afghanistan-Pakistan is the right one or whether it is a Middle East Vietnam.

I wish I could.

Television And The Iraq “Victory Myth”

What American could forget the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad on that triumphant day— in what seems now like ancient history—April 9, 2003? 

No matter our opinion of the war, the television images made us feel good, proud.  After all, Saddam was a bad man and we were the liberators and the liberated seemed to appreciate their liberation.

In an 8,800-word article for The New Yorker, here is how Peter Maass described the television coverage:

Live television loves suspense, especially if it is paired with great visuals. The networks almost never broke away from Firdos Square. The event lived on in replays, too. A 2005 study of CNN’s and Fox’s coverage, conducted by a research team from George Washington University and titled “As Goes the Statue, So Goes the War,” found that between 11 A.M. and 8 P.M. that day Fox replayed the toppling every 4.4 minutes, and CNN every 7.5 minutes. The networks also showed the toppling in house ads; it became a branding device. They continually used the word “historic” to describe the statue’s demise.

Obviously, bringing down a statue of a much-despised dictator is pregnant with symbolism, and coupled with non-stop television coverage, it would help to solidify public opinion on the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq.  In fact, as Maass points out, the statue idea wasn’t new: 

A few days into the war, British tanks mounted a raid into the heart of Basra, in the south of the country, where they destroyed a statue of Saddam. The Brits hoped the locals, seeing a strike against a symbol of regime power, would rise up against Saddam. As the British military spokesman, Colonel Chris Vernon, told reporters, “The purpose of that is psychological.” The statue was destroyed, but the event wasn’t filmed and drew little attention. Similarly, on April 7th, after Army soldiers seized the Republican Palace in Baghdad, their commander, Colonel David Perkins, asked his men to find a statue that could be destroyed. Once one was found—Saddam on horseback—a nearby tank was ordered to wait until an embedded team from Fox News got there. On cue, the tank fired a shell at the statue, blowing it up, but the event had little drama and did not get a lot of TV coverage. No Iraqis were present, and just a few Americans, and the surrounding landscape was featureless.

By now, you may know where this is going. 

Although it wasn’t exactly a staged event, the Firdos Square moment—which seemed like such a spontaneous and joyous occasion for viewers of television news—was not what it appeared.  As Maass reports: 

The media have been criticized for accepting the Bush Administration’s claims, in the run-up to the invasion, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The W.M.D. myth, and the media’s embrace of it, encouraged public support for war. The media also failed at Firdos Square, but in this case it was the media, rather than the government, that created the victory myth.

Maass writes about the “powerful words” that went with the “powerful pictures” that constituted that victory myth: 

On CNN, the anchor Bill Hemmer said, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history . . . indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” Wolf Blitzer described the toppling as “the image that sums up the day and, in many ways, the war itself.” On Fox, the anchor Brit Hume said, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen. . . . This speaks volumes, and with power that no words can really match.” One of his colleagues said, “The important story of the day is this historic shot you are looking at, a noose around the neck of Saddam, put there by the people of Baghdad.”

Even NPR got caught up in the television-created exuberance: 

Anne Garrels, NPR’s reporter in Baghdad at the time, has said that her editors requested, after her first dispatch about marines rolling into Firdos, that she emphasize the celebratory angle, because the television coverage was more upbeat. In an oral history that was published by the Columbia Journalism Review, Garrels recalled telling her editors that they were getting the story wrong: “There are so few people trying to pull down the statue that they can’t do it themselves. . . . Many people were just sort of standing, hoping for the best, but they weren’t joyous.”

In his article, Maass gives similar examples, but none more egregious than this one:

Robert Collier, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, filed a dispatch that noted a small number of Iraqis at Firdos, many of whom were not enthusiastic. When he woke up the next day, he found that his editors had recast the story. The published version said that “a jubilant crowd roared its approval” as onlookers shouted, “We are free! Thank you, President Bush!”

In many ways, first-class journalism is a lot like science.  It is self-correcting.  A reporter may get something wrong and along comes another one to set the record straight.  Maass reports what really happened at Firdos Square:

Very few Iraqis were there. If you were at the square, or if you watch the footage, you can see, on the rare occasions long shots were used, that the square was mostly empty. You can also see, from photographs as well as video, that much of the crowd was made up of journalists and marines… Closeups filled the screen with the frenzied core of the small crowd and created an illusion of wall-to-wall enthusiasm throughout Baghdad. It was an illusion that reflected only the media’s yearning for exciting visuals… The journalists themselves, meanwhile, were barely photographed at all. The dramatic shots posted on Web sites that day and featured in newspapers the next morning contained almost no hint of the army of journalists at the square and their likely influence on events. One of the most photographed moments occurred when the statue fell and several dozen Iraqis rushed forward to bash the toppled head; there were nearly as many journalists in the melee, and perhaps more, but the framing of photographs all but eliminated them from view.

Maass also discusses the effects of the cameras themselves on the behavior of Iraqis:

At key moments throughout the toppling, the level of Iraqi enthusiasm appeared to ebb and flow according to the number and interest of photographers who had gathered.

Any veteran television viewer understands the dynamics of camera-plus-people.  We’ve all seen how otherwise normal folks act when the television cameras are turned on.  But we expect professional journalists to report not the artificial distortions but the reality of what is going on.  And apparently many journalists tried to do just that regarding the events in Firdos Square in 2003, but were frustrated by the bosses back home, who wanted to be part of the exhilarating historic moment, no matter what the facts on the ground were.

And as it often does, television was framing the story and driving the broader coverage, as its cameras were capturing “history.”

Maass writes:

At the square, I found the reality, whatever it was, hard to grasp. Some Iraqis were cheering, I later learned, not for America but for a slain cleric, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, whose son Moqtada would soon lead a Shia revolt against American occupation… The subsequent years of civil war, which have killed and injured hundreds of thousands of people, have revealed the events at Firdos to be an illusional intermission between invasion and insurgency.

And today it appears we are in an illusional intermission between the so-called success of the counter-insurgency and the long-term stability of an independent, democratic Iraq.  Who knows what the future entails, but one thing we do know: The pictures we see on our televisions—a profit-motivated medium—never tell the whole story and often tell us the wrong story.

Here is a short video summarizing the story:

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