Saturday, March 29, 2003
Both Australia and Britain are saying they want the United Nations to administer Iraq once the conflict is over. The Bush administration (speaking for Halliburton) says it wants a "lower UN profile".
Looks like Bush is again pushing for drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps his big oil campaign supporters are threatening to withdraw donations if he can't push it through?
Several common recriminations are now being heard regarding the attack on Iraq. Unfortunately, the one journalists seem to be talking about the most is the least relevant: "How long will this last?"
Calpundit today addresses that question, remarking that Iraqi resistance is likely to suddenly collapse at some point like it did in Afghanistan, and how soon that comes will either prove Dick Cheney or the doubters correct:
The smoking gun in this debate is Dick Cheney's statement that the war would last "weeks rather than months," but it's too early to say that he's been proven wrong. In fact, anything short of three full months would be close enough for him to claim that he was pretty much right.
The fact that the climactic battle is going to be a siege of Baghdad makes this all the harder to predict. After all, while saturation bombing may not be sapping Iraqi morale, it is destroying infrastructure, which means the ability of the Iraqis to fight back is being steadily eroded even if their morale stays intact. The problem is that their ability to fight back probably won't decline smoothly. Rather, it will stay fairly robust until the day their last bullet runs out, at which point it's all over. This is more or less what happened in Kosovo and Afghanistan, where fighting remained rough all the way until the final few days, when the opposition suddenly collapsed.
Until that day, however, it can easily look like no progress is being made. So if progress is slow, you can take your pick between (a) things are going fine and we're just waiting for the collapse, or (b) we've underestimated the Iraqis and we're now stuck in a king-size version of Mogadishu.
I disagree with this assessment. First of all, a sudden collapse a la Afghanistan may not happen; much of the quick turnaround against the Taliban and al Qaeda there was due to the fact that their fighters dutifully lined themselves up in trench formations of thousands of fighters where B-52 "long-stick" bombing could get them. If the Iraqis persist in urban/guerilla combat, the turning point may not be so easy to define.
Second, the most serious criticisms are not regarding the war's length; rather, they are regarding the danger of unnecessary casualties due to simplistic assumptions and incompetent handling of ernstwhile allies going into this war.
Finally, multiple statements coming from this administration and its advisors have made it abundantly clear that they have underestimated the Iraqis, regardless of how long this conflict runs. There are multiple "smoking guns" to be found besides the statement by Cheney that Kevin quoted.
I agree that the "fog of war" can make it look like things are going worse than they are; this is especially true when journalists are along to document everything. However, I don't think it's a matter of "point-of-view" whether this administration has handled some parts of this war incompetently. Rather, it's a matter of record. Hopefully, it won't become a matter of a drawn-out conflict -- or worse, a matter of large numbers of unnecessary casualties on all sides.
That circular bit of logic is the gist of a poorly-argued piece in Findlaw's Writ today by Victor Williams.
Titled "It's Time to Toughen Up, Unify, and Rally the Home Front", Williams' basic argument (aside from trumpeting the virtues of war and attacking those who criticize Bush) is that the President's Constitutional duty in war is to wield the "common strength" of the American People, and in order to help him fulfill that duty the American People have the duty to give the President their "common strength" (a reference to Alexander Hamilton's statements in Federalist 74). To Williams, this evidently means silencing criticism and providing nothing but unified, overt support.
In this, Williams assumes, of course, that the President's power to wield "common strength" is a one-way thing: he or she calls for it and it comes. In a democracy, though, the President is supposed to be a representative. Thus, the donation of the People's "common strength" involves the President doing the People's will with that strength, or at least making judgements regarding its use that reasonably reflect what's best for the People. Unfortunately, there are reasonable questions regarding whether either of those stipulations are the case in this war.
More damning for Williams, though, is his obvious leap-of-logic: the "common strength" of the People can involve many things; it doesn't have to be "unquestioning support". The simple fact that more than 3.3% of our national GDP currently goes to the military (more than the rest of the world's military spending put together, if I recall correctly), and that the military is available to the President at his or her pleasure (these days, without even the minor inconvenience of that other pesky Constitutional provision, the one about Congress declaring war) is a pretty good fulfillment of the "common strength" stipulation. Furthermore, since we're a democracy, part of our strength comes from the competition between ideas. To silence dissent in a war may very well rob us of the "common strength" that Williams identifies.
As I've said many times, I fully support our troops, as they're doing a necessary job in increasingly difficult circumstances. This war isn't their fault, and if they can overthrow Saddam with a minimum of casualties on all sides, so much the better. But the idea that one must support the President's decisions simply because he or she is the President is foolhardy.
No matter how the right tries to twist things, the fascist notion that dissent is unpatriotic just rings hollow. I don't imagine this will be the last crack at it, though.
By now, word has made the rounds regarding Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA)'s bill to force post-war Iraq to adopt the CDMA cellphone standard. Issa claims this is to prevent the anti-American Europeans from selling GSM-standard systems to Iraq, even though such would be more compatible with the region (to say nothing of GSM's technical superiority). Turns out that the Good Congressman may have a lot of personal stake in the matter:
After checking this patriotic Congressman's contribution and expense reports, we can report that Congressman Issa is very friendly with people in the US communications field, but not with foreign communications providers. Pulling in $58,268 just from phone companies in the last election cycle, Issa must have some sort of secret to success in raising campaign funds - according to our check in FEC records, in two years alone, he increased contributions to his campaign by that particular sector by nearly 500%. He must be a genius! Or perhaps he's become telco's latest lackey?
Aside from the appearance of getting PAID OFF, I'd submit that the war isn't over yet. While soldiers are getting killed, Issa is concerned about cellphone technology. While there are bigger issues to deal with in postwar Iraq, it appears that Issa is content to shake down enterprising companies.
Issa's statements in pushing this bill are clearly intended to play off of patriotic/nationalistic sentiments. "If European GSM technology is deployed in Iraq, much of the equipment used to build the cell phone system would be manufactured in France, Germany, and elsewhere in western and northern Europe. Furthermore, royalties paid on the technology would flow to French and European sources, not U.S. patent holders", he said.
One more prime example of the utter shamelessness and corruption of right-wingers in attempting to make money off of the lieves of American servicemen and servicewomen.
One of the Weasels, Isaac Peterson, made an excellent point today that I simply must pass on. He notes:
With all the UN bashing by the far right since the Security Council wanted clear and convincing proof before authorizing Boy George's Excellent Iraq Adventure/Mid -life Crisis, I wondered why I haven't heard anyone who's calling the UN a failure actually refer to the UN's function. I had a sneaky suspicion that it was there for more than to be pushed around by the United States. I took it on myself to actually download their charter and read through some of it. Here are a few highlighted excerpts from the UN Charter preamble:
WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
>> to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
>> to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
>> to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
>> to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
AND FOR THESE ENDS
>> to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
>> to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
>> to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
>> to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS
By standing up to the Bu$h crowd and maintaining a high burden of proof, the UN did exactly what they were created to do. As Howie posted previously, the UN worked perfectly in this instance. Or maybe I missed the "Bush rubber stamp provision" in the charter.
Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn't it? the UN isn't a military organization; in fact, its purpose is to sow peace and international law, which the United States arguably violated in its attack on Iraq.
Once again, no one's saying Saddam is a good guy. But that doesn't legitimize this war, and it certainly doesn't legitimize circumventing the UN.
It has come to my attention that fully half -- 51% -- of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
People, no one -- not even the administration -- has said Saddam was behind 9/11. It's true that Dubya's been beating the "terrorism" drum pretty loudly when it comes to Iraq, and early on the administration speculated publicly (and perhaps irresponsibly) that Iraq may have had something to do with the attacks. It's also true that Dubya has often mentioned the two in the same breath. But they have never blamed Saddam for it, because we know who was behind 9/11: Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group. The two are not the same thing.
Some have suggested that we need to take out Hussein because al Qaeda may work with him on future attacks. Although that's heavily disputed (bin Laden and his al Qaeda group violently hate non-Islamist arabic leaders like Saddam), we have no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. Some are worried about Hussein because he might give chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to al Qaeda, but not because Hussein had anything to do with the September 11 attacks.
Given this popular (and most likely deliberately seeded) misconception, it's hardly surprising that a) so many people back the attack on Iraq and b) so many people are so hostile to those who disagree with this war.
Please, pass this on!
Friday, March 28, 2003
Looks like the Bush wartime approval boost is already starting to come down...
The American Prospect's Web Log, Tapped, today has an excellent post regarding the culpability of Dubya in lost American lives thanks to his diplomatic failures:
The White House's diplomatic screw-up with regard to Turkey -- and by extension, the administration's arrogance and disdain for international goodwill of which the Turkey debacle was merely the endpoint -- will cost American lives. It's just that simple.
The original plan, as Glenn Kessler and Philip P. Pan discuss in today's Washington Post, was to force Saddam to fight a two-front war, with heavy divisions attacking from the north and south.
. . .
Whose fault is [the lack of a second front]? The wingnuts are already blaming the Turkish government, which, according to them, should have just disregarded overwhelming public opinion against the war to back a U.S. invasion. But don't blame the Turks. And in particular, don't blame the Islamist parties in Turkey -- they weren't the problem. The Bush administration screwed this one up by cajoling and threatening Turkey. And instead of doing the smart thing -- taking up the French offer of a 30-day wait, which would have given us time to at least get another heavy division on the ground in the south, and possibly gotten Turkey to go along with us -- they decided to plunge ahead anyway.
Tapped is absolutely correct, and we take pride in the fact that we first noted this situation last Monday -- or we would take pride in it, if the lives of America's finest weren't at stake. However, Tapped goes more in-depth on the subject, and I urge everyone to read their post and the accompanying articles to which they link.
That most ugly of fascist monsters, hate crimes, appears to be rearing its ugly head once again.
In a way, that could be seen as part and parcel of the fear and paranoia that led to widespread public acceptance (or at least uncertainty) of going to war with Iraq -- a fear encouraged by the Bush administration. But I believe it's also part of a deeper illness in this country, a "patriotic" nationalism being whipped up by right-wing hatemongers.
Folks, Arab-Americans and American Muslims are Americans, too. Taking irrational fears out on them proves what people such as Osama bin Laden have been saying about us. It's racist, it's beneath us, it's wrong and it needs to stop.
At the very least, we need to remember who the enemy is, if we don't want to end up defeating ourselves.
From the AP Wire:
A British man named Eric Bush has taken a dramatic step to protest the U.S.-led war in Iraq - he's changed his name.
Bush, a 72-year-old retiree living in Jonquieres, southern France, says he was "ashamed" to bear the same name as President Bush. He said he had it officially changed Friday to Eric Buisson - the French word for bush.
A quick look at a number of stories we're tracking:
Consumer confidence continued to fall in March, to near-decade lows (about what they were when...well, when the other Bush was in office). The word is that it was actually worse in mid-March than the average, and an uptick at the end of the month might have signified optimism about the war. Whatever. What's pretty clear is that most people rightfully see the economy in a very gloomy light, and since the best Dubya can do is propose ineffective tax cuts for his rich buddies, things aren't likely to improve drastically any time soon. In fact, concern is spreading among economists that we're heading for another recession.
In a still more ominous note, the pessimistic outlook isn't limited to the U.S.
As many of us predicted, dislike of America on the Arab street is increasingly turning into outright hatred thanks to the attack on Iraq, another sign that bodes ominously for the future. We got into the war with Iraq to reduce terrorism, right? I can never remember which rationale was in effect when the war started.
We simply don't need to be giving militants recruitment material.
Evidently, promoting the war and refusing to cover anti-war protesters is big business. For some, it's even fair game for shameful marketing practices -- it's come to the attention of the Weasels that Cox Radio in San Antonio is actively telemarketing Country listeners in the market, telling them that "KAJA plays the Dixie Chicks, which means they don't support war efforts or the troops. Y100 (the Cox station) doesn't play the Dixie Chicks and supports the troops. Switch to Y100."
Remember, folks: when right-wingers complain about the unpatriotic nature of those who don't support the war, chances are it's either about a) political gain or b) money. Nice stuff to piggyback on the lives of America's servicemen and servicewomen, huh?
Donald Rumsfeld claimed during his press conference today that "there is not an Iraqi People -- there are only individuals".
Beyond hard-right ideology that denies the existence of "society", this statement bodes ominously (as so much does, these days) that the top civilian Pentagon authority doesn't understand that nationalism may unite opposition to an American invasion, even if that nationalism is misplaced.
John Dean has an interesting commentary on Findlaw today regarding leadership styles of the Commander-in-Chief. My apologies in advance for the heavy quoting, but this is a very informative article.
Drawing heavily from Eliot Cohen's book Supreme Command, Dean argues that the Commander-in-Chief's job is more than to merely set general goals and turn loose the dogs of war:
Supreme Command shows how the traditional orthodoxy of turning a war over to the generals, with the civilian leader merely setting the goals and defining the general nature of the encounter, only invites failure. But I am not sure every wartime president will be able to follow the command styles that Supreme Command relies upon when it endeavors to show there is a better way.
This is an interesting point-of-view, as it does indeed run counter to the prevailing attitude since Vietnam that too much civilian interference makes for military disasters. Perhaps a better notion is that, in the best of all worlds, the civilian Commander-in-Chief is a wholly competent commander, possessing several critical competencies:
The first skill of supreme command is self-confident intuition. With Henry Adams' acerbic observation in mind - that "in all great emergencies ... everyone is more or less wrong" - Cohen found that his successful civilian supreme commanders had an intuitive sense that others were, at least, more wrong than they themselves were.
The supreme commander, second, must also have the ability to assimilate and understand information. Quoting Isaiah Berlin, Cohen describes in his protagonists "a capacity for integrating a vast amalgam of constantly changing, multicolored, evanescent, perpetually overlapping data, too many, too swift, too intermingled to be caught and pinned down and labeled like so many butterflies." Following Berlin's thoughts further, Cohen adds the civilian leader must have "the ability to synthesize, to comprehend how a multiplicity of forces and conditions are interacting."
. . .
Another skill of the supreme commander is the talent to probe their generals with relevant questions. Cohen's case studies show that great military leaders not only ask questions, they ask the right questions. They examine not merely the forest, but specific trees in the forest, "integrating details with the grand themes."
Dean's overriding thesis seems to be that it's not civilian control, but incompetent civilian control that makes for military disasters. More, severe military mistakes are also made when the Commander-in-Chief takes a hands-off approach to military matters.
In other words, any difficulties we're currently seeing in Iraq aren't the result of too much civilian control, since the civilians are supposed to be in charge. Rather, the problem would be either incompetence on the part of those civilians -- a much more serious charge -- or a lack of direct involvement on the part of the Commander-in-Chief. Or both. Dean continues:
Finally, a supreme commander, according to Cohen, must be prepared to engage in "unequal dialogue." Indeed, this type of dialogue appears to be one of the most important elements of supreme command as Cohen envisions it.
By definition, dialogue is an exchange of information, a conversation. But Cohen describes such dialogue with a president (prime minister or other civilian leader) as "unequal" because in the end "the final authority of the civilian leader [is] unambiguous and unquestioned."
. . .
Frankly, if all these skills - or even a large subset of them - are essentials to effective supreme command, I think it best that Bush Junior proceed as his father did, and let the military handle the war.
It should be noted that Dean and the author of the book he's reviewing evidently differ somewhat regarding Bush. Nevertheless, it is quite possible for readers to form their own opinions regarding whether Bush possesses the qualities Cohen outlines for effective supreme command, based upon the administration's public statements (for example, the Washington Post ran an article quoting Ari Fleischer as saying Bush's leadership style is very hands-off). Dean notes that Bush does not appear to engage in a dialogue of any kind with his subordinates, as he sees his role as a "provoker" who doesn't explain his own position. More seriously, though, Dean and Cohen agree on one very serious issue: the Commander-in-Chief must be moderate in the positions he takes. An extremist in so many ways, Bush fails to meet this basic qualification -- which once again bodes ominously for the future.
As an Iowa resident, I thought this was kind of cute. Evidently, the Mount Sterling city council is considering making lying a crime. Mount Sterling is a small town (40 residents) in southeast Iowa). The mayor says it's been a long, boring winter.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz implicitly threatened Turkey with reprisals for its democratic decision not to allow US troops to launch an invasion from their territory.
We Weasels are simply ecstatic that such people are our "face to the world". I'm taking dibs on how long it will take to undo the damage this administration has caused. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your bet (no money involved, unfortunately).
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution calling for a national day of "humility, prayer and fasting in a time of war and terrorism".
The resolution, passed 346-49, says Americans should use the day of prayer "to seek guidance from God to achieve a greater understanding of our own failings and to learn how we can do better in our everyday activities, and to gain resolve in meeting the challenges that confront our nation."
Belgium amends law for Bush to avoid lawsuit
BRUSSELS, March 26: The Belgian parliament on Tuesday amended a controversial law to prevent US President George W. Bush being prosecuted for war crimes over the conflict in Iraq.
The law allows Belgian courts to try suspects for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, regardless of where the alleged acts took place or the nationality of the accused.
Under the amendment - which the Belgian Senate must approve before it takes effect - a federal prosecutor will decide in certain cases whether to accept a suit filed under the so-called "universal competence" law.
. . .
Critics of the law, including the United States, have warned Belgium that its role as host to international institutions like NATO and the European Union, would be threatened if a war crimes suit were filed against Bush.
"It's a serious problem," said US Secretary of State Colin Powell, after he was named last week in a lawsuit for alleged crimes during the 1991 Gulf war along with former US president George Bush and current Vice President Dick Cheney.
We Weasels are understandably curious as to who the federal prosecutor will be and what measures will be in place to maintain objectivity and neutrality on his or her part. From the story, it looks like the process has already been compromised by US arm-twisting.
Of course, being the incurable optimistic liberals we are, we hope that isn't the case.
Looks like the administration's blatant conflicts of interest are drawing more attention. We think you'll like this:
With such obvious corruption, let's hope at least SOME of the more conspiracy-minded (on both sides of the aisle) of our elected representatives question this deal heavily. It's not as though Dubya's treated the Congressional GOP very well, and many of them cut their teeth pursuing all sorts of conspiracies during the Clinton years.
Much discussion has been generated as of late regarding complaints by the US government that Iraq is violating the Geneva Convention by displaying POW's on TV broadcasts. Some have rightfully responded by pointing out that Iraqi POW's have been displayed on American TV broadcasts by embedded journalists. The standard response has been that since western media outlets are not state-controlled entities, the Geneva Convention doesn't apply.
Yesterday, Findlaw's Anthony Dwarkin wrote an interesting article on this very topic:
The Geneva Conventions are only binding on states - not private groups. Thus, one might think that in these circumstances, Iraq is bound, and the independent media organizations are not.
However, the question is not so simple. "Embedded" film crews and photographers travelling within U.S. and British military units are undoubtedly subject to the influence of army commanders in their decisions about what to record and broadcast. This could place some obligation on the armies concerned to try to prevent the publication of humiliating or dangerous images of Iraqi prisoners of war.
One could argue that the photos are those of the media organizations, not the military units. But since the military units are in a position at least to try to restrain their broadcasting, they may bear some responsibility for it, too.
Dwarkin also notes that even though the Iraqi POWs being photographed aren't being interrogated, the context may still violate the Geneva Convention, since the act of being taken prisoner is humiliating in and of itself. Further, some prisoners are depicted being searched, forcibly restrained, etc. Thus far, the footage shown on American TV has made little attempt to avoid showing the faces of Iraqi prisoners, which (in addition to humiliation) might put them or their families in danger.
Finally, Dwarkin argues that the broadcast of propaganda is not sufficient reason, under international law, to make a media outlet a legitimate military target. It's no surprise, then, that Pentagon officials claimed Iraqi TV was being used to convey commands to soldiers in the field. Out of curiosity, I would like to know how many soldiers in the field have TV sets along for the ride.
Folks, we need to be better than the enemy to claim the moral high ground. For the most part, we have been -- by all accounts the US isn't executing or beating prisoners, using children as human shields, etc. -- but we can do better.
From time to time, we'll post things here from our long history online. Here's a quick question-and-answer exchange regarding taxes and inequality:
QUESTIONER: How, exactly, would you recommend equalizing income under a Democratic system? Raising the minimum wage? Overtaxing the rich? Massive benefits for "charitable donations"?
WEASEL REPLY: There are many possible ways, just as there are many culprits for the large degree of income inequality we're seeing right now.
Given historic tax rates (compared with now) and the tremendous income gains the very richest have enjoyed over the last 20 years in this country, I think it's a little difficult to make the case that the rich are overtaxed or would be at anything like today's levels. I would have no problem with raising taxes on the wealthier people in our society -- and I plan on being one of them very soon.
I believe the minimum wage could be raised without necessarily impacting job creation/employment rates substantially, so yes, I believe that is also a viable option.
I'd throw decent regulatory reform into the mix as pertains to corporate and corporate officer behavior, as well. Of course, we could start by decently enforcing the laws we have now.
Let me make clear that I'm not arguing for "equalizing" incomes -- I'm arguing for making them more equal than they are now.
QUESTIONER RESPONSE: Rather than increase taxes, why not just get rid of certain loopholes? Create a single flat tax with no exceptions?
WEASEL REPLY: Those are, of course, two different things. There's nothing about a progressive marginal tax system that requires loopholes. Generally speaking, those are introduced either deliberately or unintentionally when tax legislation is used to promote some sort of behavior. And I think many people agree that tax shelters and loopholes of the kind that allow giant corporations to pay virtually no taxes on profits are probably worth closing.
The problem I have with a flat-tax system is a pragmatic one, and in one part it boils down to this: a sandwich costs the same no matter how much you make. This of necessity means the poorest in our society must spend a larger percentage of their income on basics (such "discretionary" items as food, shelter and medical care). At some point moving down the income scale, people lose the ability to both pay for basic necessities and pay for taxes.
It is this very problem which motivates most "flat taxers" to introduce a minimum deduction. Of course, the moment you do this, you no longer have a flat-tax system. Instead, you now have a marginal tax system, just like we have today except with different rates and brackets.
The second part of the flat-tax problem I see is one of practical concern for its impact on income inequality. As noted above, poor people of necessity must pay a larger percentage of their income simply providing for day-to-day needs (that's not to say the rich can't blow all their money, but as a matter of statistics the poor spend a much larger percentage of their income on disposables than do the rich). With a flat tax rate, this means that the wealthiest under such a system automatically have a much larger share of income they can devote to building wealth. Without regulation or other mitigating factors, this situation is a sure-fire way to end up with a higher and higher share of total income in the hands of a very few -- a "winner takes all" system.
In other words, I believe a flat tax would be like throwing fuel on the fire, when it comes to income inequality.
The marginal tax system really isn't the problem many flat-taxers make it out to be. It's not difficult to deal with (how long does it take to look up your tax in a table?) and it ensures that people always end up with more money after taxes when income increases.
As you can see from the exchange above, there are many misunderstandings regarding taxes and inequality. We have a marginal tax system instead of a flat tax precisely because it includes many desirable features: the two main ones are that you always take more money home after taxes when you earn more money before taxes (maintaining incentives to improve oneself economically), and you can structure the code such that those who cannot afford to pay taxes pay none, whereas those with large incomes and a greater ability to pay more do so. Of all the tax systems we know, it's among the most fair, most flexible and least-damaging to incentives.
Income inequality is a severe and increasing problem in our society. Marginal taxes are one way in which the effects are somewhat mitigated, but they certainly aren't enough -- especially at current levels.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
It's official: in the final Senate budget bill, the GOP leadership failed to ram Bush's budget-busting tax cut through, and pared the cut back to a still budget-busting amount that was less than half what Dubya wanted.
This is still a very irresponsible GOP budget, but the Dems are to be congratulated for limiting the damage somewhat and dealing Bush a bloody nose.
As the Baltimore Sun's Jules Witcover notes today, the fact that Bush has suddenly been able to come up with an estimate for how much the Iraq war will cost, five days into the conflict, demonstrates the dishonesty of its protestations that it couldn't do so in the run-up to the war:
Only last week, before the shooting started in earnest in Iraq, the White House was insisting its numbers-crunchers couldn't possibly give Congress an estimate of what the long-planned war would cost until it actually began.
Ordinarily, the lawmakers could simply have examined President Bush's latest budget proposal for the figures. But, alas, the administration had included no provision either for fighting the war or for the huge costs for reconstruction of Iraq and Mr. Bush's optimistic vision of replacing Saddam Hussein's dictatorship with a functioning democracy.
. . .
It so happened that at the time Congress was still debating President Bush's call for $726 billion in new tax cuts over the next decade, the bulk of which again would go to the top 1 percent of taxpayers. After all, as he reminded us in the 2000 campaign, they're the ones who pay most of the taxes, so it's only fair.
Obviously, the White House didn't want to put a price tag on the war until Congress had committed itself to the requested tax cuts. But when the Senate prematurely appeared to do so, the administration jumped the gun and reported Monday it had finally managed somehow to calculate the war's cost at $74.7 billion.
One can hardly find an example of this administration behaving honestly. If the American people don't enjoy being suckered (and having it done so blatantly that it insults their intelligence, as well), then it is to be hoped they will demonstrate their displeasure in 2004.
Calpundit has a good post right now regarding Keynesian economics and stimulating the economy. A couple of notes:
The lesson of Keynes is that governments can help economies out of a recession via deficit spending. Essentially, the government is trying to keep overall demand in the economy high by replacing the spending that consumers and businesses aren't doing.
And it has to be deficit spending because it doesn't do any good to simply tax money away from consumers and then spend that same money via the government. Total spending stays the same, and since government expenditures tend to be less efficient than consumer and business expenditures, the overall effect would actually be moderately damaging to the economy.
The above isn't quite correct. Sharp-eyed readers will note that there's a contradiction between the first paragraph and the second: in the first, we acknowledge that one of the biggest problems in recessions is that consumers stop spending and save their money. Because of this, taxing consumers and spending the proceeds, even if the government doesn't run a deficit, can still be stimulative (if the net result is more money spent, all other things being equal, after accounting for the overhead of taxing people and spending it). However, Kevin's right that deficit spending, if done right, generally provides a better stimulus.
He also notes one of the biggest problems with tax cuts vs. spending increases as a way to stimulate the economy: spending increases are much more immediate and responsive, whereas tax cuts often take effect the following year (or years, in the case of Bush's tax cuts) -- long after they'd do any good for the immediate economic problem.
To this, I'll add another consideration: not all tax cuts or spending increases are created equal. For example, if the deficit were run by borrowing a bunch of money and burning it, it would certainly benefit creditors down the road, but it would not result in an economic stimulus. And generating a deficit by cutting taxes for those unlikely to spend the proceeds (as Bush has done and wants to do again) will also be largely devoid of stimulative value.
Looks like the polls thus far are bearing out our prediction that Dubya's approval ratings would top out in the 70-75% range:
This is significantly lower than the approval ratings Bush saw after 9/11, as well as the approval ratings the first President Bush saw at the same point in his presidency thanks to Gulf War I:
And now the long fall begins...
The media are painting yesterday's slashing of Bush's hoped-for tax cut by more than half as a "serious blow" to Bush. This is very good news, but now, Senate leaders are trying to restore the full whack-job tax cut. People, we can't even afford the tax cut that was left after yesterday's slashing, much less everything Dubya's asking for. It's time to keep up the pressure on your Senators.
The hard-right propaganda mill Media Research Center is continuing to press the attack on Tom Daschle, urging their readers (as usual) to harrass the mainstream press into adopting a harder line. Check out this whine:
“There were two Washingtons today: the public one speaking with one voice during wartime and the private one full of doubts and complaints about White House candor as to the many costs of war.” So ABC's Claire Shipman charged before asking, on ABC's Monday night prime time special about Iraq: “Why hasn’t there been more public dissent?” She suggested “it is a tricky business to criticize a President during wartime,” citing how Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle did it recently, but “was practically tarred and feathered.”
In once again painting Daschle as the victim, she naturally failed to tell viewers how Daschle had alleged that President Bush's policies would lead to Americans dying in war unnecessarily. Daschle spewed in his March 17 speech in question: “I'm saddened we have to give up one life because this President couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical to our country.”
Folks, this is one of the ways the right wing "games the refs" -- urging the mainstream media to frame issues most favorably towards their right-wing position and against everyone else. In this case, their political motives are to damage Tom Daschle -- the most powerful Democrat in the Senate. This is part of a continuing effort to smear Mr. Daschle. In this case, Daschle made this statement as part of a larger speech criticizing Bush's diplomatic failures. His statement was hardly extreme: in expressing concerns that diplomacy should have been given greater effort (and thus any American deaths would be the result of rushing to war), his view was solidly in the mainstream of American public opinion at the time, which supported giving the UN more time.
Yes, there is a "right-wing conspiracy". It has multiple well-financed outlets, and they all speak with one unified message. The left must learn to counter this sort of campaign.
CNN is saying the Iraqis are taking heavy advantage of the sandstorms going on now in Iraq, as strongly limits air support. Evidently, a 1000-vehicle Iraqi force is coming south out of Baghdad to meet the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.
Hey, maybe they're coming to surrender.
North Korea has cut off its only contact with the UN Command today, accusing the US of plotting an attack.
The U.N. Command is a US-led agency that monitors the armistace that ended the fighting in the Korean War.
Nothing like cutting off diplomatic ties with a paranoid, starving nuclear power, implicitly threatening them, starting an unprovoked war with another country then refusing to talk to them. We've said it before: This administration's handling of foreign policy doesn't inspire a huge amount of confidence in their handling of the North Korean situation. Hopefully, any further escalation in tensions will hold off until after the 2004 election, when someone competent is in the White House.
Maybe it's the brazenness of the Bush administration that allows it to get away with so many things without mass public outcry. After all, if they were really corrupt, they'd be conducting their corrupt business under-the-table, right?
Milt notes an example of this on our main news page today:
Boy, oh, boy, are Dickie Ticker's buddies making out like bandits or what? Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers gave Brown and Root, a division of Halliburton -- you've heard of them, right? -- the okay to extinguish oil well fires in Iraq and repair the damage. Boots & Coots International Well Control and Wild Well Control, subcontractors for Halliburton, will actually do the firefighting. Have the Bushies ever even HEARD of the concept of "conflict of interest"?? This needs to be investigated, and now! More...
As we've noted here before, the rebuilding of Iraq is being handed off to a select group of American businesses, circumventing the normal bidding process (in the name of "speeding it up"). All of these businesses are big political donors who lean heavily GOP. To make matters worse, the administration personnel have well-documented, direct personal and monetary ties to several of them (including the notorious Halliburton).
Perhaps the administration is getting a free pass on many of its activities because it doesn't seem too clean. Or maybe many of us simply expect politicians to be corrupt in the first place, and like the fact that this administration is so above-board about it. And some of us may even look approvingly at the way its handling itself; as the incomparable Dr. Paul Krugman has written, it seems there's been a fundamental sea change in the way Americans perceive business and social ethics over the last 30 years, away from a sense of duty to community to an "anything goes", "you deserve whatever you can get" attitude:
Some -- by no means all -- economists trying to understand growing inequality have begun to take seriously a hypothesis that would have been considered irredeemably fuzzy-minded not long ago. This view stresses the role of social norms in setting limits to inequality. According to this view, the New Deal had a more profound impact on American society than even its most ardent admirers have suggested: it imposed norms of relative equality in pay that persisted for more than 30 years, creating the broadly middle-class society we came to take for granted. But those norms began to unravel in the 1970's and have done so at an accelerating pace.
Exhibit A for this view is the story of executive compensation. In the 1960's, America's great corporations behaved more like socialist republics than like cutthroat capitalist enterprises, and top executives behaved more like public-spirited bureaucrats than like captains of industry. I'm not exaggerating. Consider the description of executive behavior offered by John Kenneth Galbraith in his 1967 book, ''The New Industrial State'': ''Management does not go out ruthlessly to reward itself -- a sound management is expected to exercise restraint.'' Managerial self-dealing was a thing of the past: ''With the power of decision goes opportunity for making money. . . . Were everyone to seek to do so . . . the corporation would be a chaos of competitive avarice. But these are not the sort of thing that a good company man does; a remarkably effective code bans such behavior. Group decision-making insures, moreover, that almost everyone's actions and even thoughts are known to others. This acts to enforce the code and, more than incidentally, a high standard of personal honesty as well.''
This change in norms is exemplified by the current administration. For the record, I rather doubt most Americans believe what Bush is doing is just fine, though; a feeling of powerlessness and lack of media attention surely play a major role in the lack of popular outcry. Media inattention may even be self-serving, as it wouldn't do for the mega-media corporations to shine too bright a light on the topic of business corruption.
Even if many Americans (and media) will give the Bush administration a free pass on business corruption, I truly doubt they enjoy being treated like suckers, which is probably one major reason for Bush's strong decline in approval ratings (war-time upticks notwithstanding). It seems this administration is constitutionally unable to make a case for a policy without deliberately misleading the public.
Just a few examples will serve. Consider Dubya's deliberately misleading propaganda regarding tax cuts, which divided the total amount of the tax cut by the total number of taxpayers and trumpeted the result as the amount the "average" family would see. The same technique was used to promote the tax cuts for small businesses. To make matters worse, the administration circulated a "petition" allegedly signed by 250 economists backing its plan. However, close inspection revealed that many signatories to that petition were not economists at all (by contrast, an opposing petition signed by 450 genuine economists raked Dubya's plan over the coals). Some were true crackpots -- not exactly people you'd want on your team. The administration didn't care -- as long as it could confuse the issue in the public eye, it could ram through plans it knew most Americans didn't want.
This trend continues to this day, as the administration parades its list of countries "backing" its incursion into Iraq (many of which are truly inconsequential or dubious in their support), adds up the total population in those countries (which may or may not, in actuality, support the war) and disingenuously claims the coalition "represents about 1.18 billion people".
The bottom line, of course, is that there's so many issues on which this administration is vulnerable, opposing Dubya and the GOP in 2004 should be like shooting fish in a barrel. Most people probably don't like being lied to Heritage-Foundation style, and I have hope that the Bushies' penchant for conflict of interest, combined with their penchant for secrecy, will prove deadly to them. But perhaps we still haven't seen how far a grin, a bunch of mispronounced words and a complete divorce from dreary reality can go.
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Evidently, Bush has decided he can't just spend his presidency playing G.I Joe with real G.I.'s and enriching himself and his buddies. So, now, he's decided to show just how concerned he is about the economy:
Mr. Bush met with Alan Greenspan, the U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, as well as his National Economic Council at the White House to try to get a gauge on the rocky economy as he prepares to ask Congress today for at least US$70-billion to finance the war.
The move comes as the latest U.S. consumer confidence poll, to be released today by the Conference Board of New York, is expected to show Americans are gloomier than they have been about the impact of the war on the economy, especially with businesses holding off on new spending.
An interesting line from this article caught my eye:
Ari Fleischer, a spokesman for the White House, said yesterday Mr. Bush was determined to push ahead with his US$2.2-trillion budget, which includes US$726-billion in tax cuts, that received partial approval last week of both the House of Representatives and Congress.
"This is not the first time the United States has gotten into a military conflict of some type of prolonged nature where a president pushed the Congress to enact tax cuts," he said. "The point being that it's important to push for economic growth and to keep the country strong."
Really, Ari? Perhaps you'd care to name names, since I'm having some trouble finding something that backs up his statement. The closest thing I've found to verifying Fleischer's statement is cuts in capital gains taxes in World War II. At the same time, income tax rates were raised substantially. During every other major conflict, it would appear taxes were raised, not lowered. No word on what other president would have proposed cutting taxes as Ari says (much less proposed cuts on the scale Dubya's pushing), but clearly they weren't successful. I suppose Reagan's a possibility, during the invasion of Grenada (hardly a "conflict of some type of prolonged nature", though).
Can anyone help Ari out? Please email me at Jonathan@lyingsocialistweasels.com if you can provide additional information.
Evidently, Bush's decision to keep government documents up to 25 years old secret for an extra three and a half years is just to look at them extra carefully to prevent "classified" data from being released. Right. And the details of the formation of Cheney's energy plan were kept secret to protect the "rights of those who want to petition their government".
Here's a more likely reason: many of the documents: many of the current administration members were in government then, too, and quite possibly involved in some highly embarrassing activities.
There are some who seem to feel Democrats voting to cut Bush's tax cut in half (!) was a bad move politically, or even means they're no better than Bush himself (a favorite of some ideologically-rigid Greens).
Folks, government is about more than principles. It's about real people, and making their lives better. What would you, as a Democratic senator, have said when your constituents asked you why you didn't stop the GOP from cutting services so deeply? Why didn't you fight for something better, rather than just bow out of the fight and let the GOP have its way?
There are several things to consider, here. Of course, no tax cut would clearly have been better than this, from a services-cutting standpoint. However, I still think this is better than what Bush wanted.
First of all, Dubya hates to compromise. He's very much an all-or-nothing, my-way-or-the-highway sort, which means we can be very sure he wanted the whole tax cut. It also means a compromise looks like a defeat, and this one will serve to further embolden Dems.
Second, there are real services that people depend upon that would have had to have been slashed more deeply had the full tax cut gone through.
Any tax cut at this point is irresponsible, and no doubt some GOP'ers will try to tar Dems with their vote for this one in 2004. But if the Dems grow some cahones, their immediate rejoinder should be "I fought for the best deal I could get for the average Americans, while your party tried your best to screw them over -- and failed. If I had had my way, I would never have voted for a tax cut right now, period. But I wasn't going to let your party get rid of services people depend upon".
Word is now reaching us via the New York Times that the Senate has voted to slash Dubya's hoped-for tax cuts by more than half.
That's still far too much, as far as we're concerned, but halfway insane is certainly better than all-the-way loony.
Calpundit makes an excellent point regarding doomsaying about the war:
Can I just say that the endless news reports and blog postings suggesting that our military strategy is hopelessly screwed up — Rumsfeld obviously thought the entire country would just surrender! — are a bit premature? It's only been six days so far.
He's absolutely correct, and as we've said on this page, it is our fervent hope that the war, however ill-conceived or risky, has the best of all possible outcomes. And things may well work out as planned: a hoped-for popular uprising among Shi-ites against Saddam is showing some signs of beginning in Basra.
There are many things that can go wrong or right in this war (a Shi-ite uprising could easily turn into a bloodbath, for example, if not policed, and an urban war threatens in Baghdad), to say nothing of the aftermath. And we Weasels will be here to document it all...
The Iraq war might really be about preventing real or imagined future terrorism. But this sure makes you wonder:
Our examination shines a new spotlight on the revolving door between Bechtel and the Reagan Administration that drove U.S.-Iraq interactions between 1983 and 1985. The men who courted Saddam while he gassed Iranians are now waging war against him, ostensibly because he holds weapons of mass destruction. To a man, they now deny that oil has anything to do with the conflict. Yet during the Reagan Administration, and in the years leading up to the present conflict, these men shaped and implemented a strategy that has everything to do with securing Iraqi oil exports. All of this documentation suggests that Reagan Administration officials bent many rules to convince Saddam Hussein to open up a pipeline of central interest to the US, from Iraq to Jordan.
This project, the Aqaba pipeline, was critical not only because it would mean more oil flowing to Western markets; crude would also avoid the thorny Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz altogether by passing, instead, through the Red Sea.
This paper reveals how the White House, through the Department of State and the National Security Council, pressured the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) and U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to approve financing for this deal. Reagan officials ignored all sorts of travesties at the hands of Saddam Hussein while they pursued this goal with single-minded focus. And it notes that the break in US-Iraq relations occurred not after Iraq used chemical weapons on the Iranians, nor after Iraq gassed its own Kurdish people, nor even after Iraq invaded Kuwait, but rather, followed Saddam’s rejection of the Aqaba pipeline deal.
Finally, this paper shows that the main actors in the 1980s drama are now back on center stage, this time justifying military action against Iraq in terms of national security. These men’s conduct during the Reagan administration — when they negotiated a major oil pipeline deal on behalf of Bechtel with Iraq — belies their present insistence that Saddam Hussein must be toppled because he holds weapons of mass destruction and is tied to terrorists.
Calpundit has some interesting material regarding the neo-cons' intentions, as well.
First, we discovered that Bush is wearing the One Evil Ring of Power. And now this.
...the rest of the world goes on. Case in point: the conflict between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan:
Rejecting as "inappropriate" the renewed US call for dialogue with Pakistan, India on Tuesday regreted that the continued sponsorship of terrorism by Islamabad was being "overlooked".
"If dialogue per se is more critical than combating international terrorism with all necessary means, then one can legitimately ask why both in Afghanistan and Iraq military action instead of dialogue has been resorted to," External Affairs Ministry spokesman said when asked about remarks made by US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in Washington.
The number of ways this administration has undermined international peace and security are beyond measure.
As we first noted yesterday, the way this war has been handled (ranging from the diplomatic screw-ups to the actual planning process) is making the Weasels increasingly nervous. Well, we're not the only ones -- Atrios noticed the same thing yesterday, and today, Digby has a more comprehensive analysis.
Remember, you saw it here first, folks.
Paul Krugman, in his latest column, breaks the ClearChannel scandal wide open:
There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear, but a good guess is that we're now seeing the next stage in the evolution of a new American oligarchy. As Jonathan Chait has written in The New Republic, in the Bush administration "government and business have melded into one big `us.' " On almost every aspect of domestic policy, business interests rule: "Scores of midlevel appointees . . . now oversee industries for which they once worked." We should have realized that this is a two-way street: if politicians are busy doing favors for businesses that support them, why shouldn't we expect businesses to reciprocate by doing favors for those politicians — by, for example, organizing "grass roots" rallies on their behalf?
We Weasels are very concerned about ClearChannel's dominance in the media and willingness to use it for explicitly political ends. One thing people can do is contact the FCC regarding their proposed rule changes.
Monday, March 24, 2003
Atrios currently links to a couple of items regarding signs that the US/UK forces in Iraq may be in some trouble. Evidently, the mood on the street in Baghdad is decidedly unfriendly towards "liberation".
Things are looking kinda bad in places other than Baghdad, too. One comment from this article stuck out at me. It was from a British soldier stationed on a road near Basra:
"This is more like Northern Ireland [than a liberated country]."
When the Pentagon briefings sound so out-of-sync with what's being reported from the field, it makes me exceedingly nervous.
Folks, The American Prospect has an article today that's just about the most important thing liberals could read right now:
Susan Bales is not just another spin doctor. As president of the nonprofit FrameWorks Institute, she has synthesized four decades of social-science research into an approach called "strategic frame analysis," which is designed to help progressive groups understand public prejudices and thereby better advance their objectives. Bales has worked with advocacy groups on issues from child development and health care to foreign policy. She and her collaborators -- pollster Meg Bostrom of Public Knowledge LLC, anthropologist Axel Aubrun and linguist Joseph Grady of the firm Cultural Logic, University of California, Los Angeles political scientist Frank D. Gilliam Jr. and numerous others -- have gone beyond merely stressing better messages to advancing a whole new, empirically based communications model. It is one that liberal groups could definitely learn from.
You can find more info about FrameWorks here.
Just to add to what Milt said, below:
The media's coverage of this truly breathtaking phenomenon has been nothing less than shameful. Evidently convinced that their viewers/readership will have nothing less than GOP TV during a war, virtually all the coverage of anti-war demonstrators I've seen have focused on a small minority: the violent, anarchist types, those who give weird or outrageous answers as to why they're protesting, and narcissists who look for protests as a vehicle to do something weird. Yet, when the inevitable focus on pro-war demonstrations takes place, the demonstrators are depicted as wholesome, all-American, red-white-and-blue types in roughly equal numbers (!) to the anti-war demonstrators. To make matters worse, several media outlets early on called the anti-war protesters "dissenters". Perhaps the sheer scale of the growing protests have made that impossible.
There have been some notable exceptions, but for the most part, the media's coverage has been deplorably one-sided. We'd like to urge the media to try to cover this story from a little more reasonable angle. Despite the current "approval" ratings Bush and the war are receiving, polls have also shown that many people thought the war was a bad idea. If the anti-war demonstrations are covered fairly, perhaps the actual pro-troops, anti-war message would be heard.
Looks like the stock market has figured out that War is Hell, and not generally easy, either, even with a Republican for a president (OK, so they probably thought, just like I did, that it was one thing Dubya wouldn't screw up...).
Right now, the DJIA is down more than 290 points.
What happens when the markets figure out that war costs something, too? How about when it notices that Bush's tax cuts don't stimulate anything except certain responses in some very wealthy people? Ooo, we just can't wait.
When the large news organizations discuss war protesters, and they use the term "pro-troops" to describe "pro-war" or "pro-Bush-policy" protesters, they besmirch the names of most who are anti-war. No one is "anti-troop"; we simply disagree on the best way to remove Saddam Hussein.
Imagine you're Michael Waters-Bey, described a couple of days ago in this blog, who lost his only son to this war. He is very specifically antiwar, but is there any way anyone can imply honestly that he is "anti-troop"? And yet, when you call the pro-war side "pro-troop," that is exactly what you're doing.
I am against this war because I fear for all lives lost. I wish for ALL troops to come home safely, and I resent the implication that my antiwar status makes me "anti-troops>" I'm not, and consider the insinuation defamatory...
Our sincerest congratulations go out to Michael Moore. Not just for the Oscar win for his incredible film, "Bowling for Columbine," which demonstrates the idiocy of the gun culture in this country, but also for being one of the few people to actually have the BALLS to speak out against the current "war". Perhaps you're one of those people who thinks such remarks are "inappropriate," but that's just crap. ONE BILLION PEOPLE were watching that, and needed to be told the truth. Liberals MUST stop being so damn cowardly, and afraid of looking "inappropriate." I guarantee two things; one, that everyone will remember that moment for a very long time, and two, that others will be out there researching things, to prove him either right or wrong. THAT is how you educate people; don't TELL them what the truth is, tell them where to find it and let them find it for themselves.
For those of you who missed it, This is what he said:
"We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man who's sending us to war for fictitious reasons, whether it's the fiction of duct tape or the fiction of orange alerts. We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you."
Again, Congratulations, Michael Moore and thank you!
Yesterday, the reality of war came home for quite a few people. For most Americans, though, I think that's yet to happen -- and I'm very worried about the way in which it will take place.
I think, to a large degree, the Bush admin has been trying to do the "inevitability" thing with the war, applying psychological pressure on the Iraqis to give up. That's understandable, but I believe the reality is that we're going to lose quite a few people in this little "pre-emption" of theirs -- and for what it's worth I think we can squarely fault the Bush administration for it. Their clumsy, arrogant handling of allies (such as Turkey, which resulted in no northern flank, and others, which resulted in troop deployments solely from us, Britain and Australia), their deliberate choice of something other than the Powell Doctrine, since it doesn't mesh well with pre-emption -- one can even be for this war, yet still be against the administration's handling of it, which could also make things very interesting in 2004.
I really, really hope I'm wrong, but I think we're going to end up with a relatively large number of casualties (to say nothing of the civilian casualties that will be involved). I keep forgetting that this administration is one covered-up screw-up after another, but I must admit that I had hoped war would be the exception. After all, they're Republicans, and war is their specialty, right?
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Looks like the Dixie Chicks aren't suffering from Natalie Maines' comments regarding Bush:
Though Maines released a statement apologizing to President Bush, singer Travis Tritt still encouraged a boycott: “The best way to get an entertainer’s attention is to hit them in their pocketbooks.” Even the South Carolina Legislature called on the ladies to give a free concert for the troops. Still, the outcry has barely hampered sales: the Dixies’ single “Travelin’ Soldier” slipped two notches on the country charts last week, but the album jumped from number 6 to 4 on the pop charts.
Oh, well. Free speech sucks -- and it looks to be profitable, too. What the hell is a right-winger to do? Next thing you know, the masses will start talking about how Dubya's policies aren't really good for them.
As we pondered last Thursday, administration complaints about Iraqi violations of the Geneva convention have met with some criticism, thanks to the propensity of Dubya's people to ignore and shun international laws, conventions and agreements. It didn't have to be that way, and we urge the administration to treat this situation as a learning opportunity: international rules help us as well as others. They don't just "get in the way".
Today's right wing seems to value "freedom" substantially over "responsibility", at least their own (the freedoms of ordinary Americans are another story). Even most of our military operations right now include the word, and virtually every rationale for the administration's actions involve the defense of "freedom". But freedom without rules isn't freedom, and we need to concentrate a little more on the "enlightened" in "enlightened self-interest".
"I was devastated. My only son, my first-born, gone," Michael Waters-Bey said of his son. He then showed a picture of Kendall and his grandson, Kenneth, holding a fish they had caught during a trip to Florida last year. "He loved his son. He went into the Marines right out of high school to be able to provide for his son." Waters-Bey, a "naturalized Muslim," did not support the war against Iraq. "I'm against killing for any reason."
When asked what he would tell President Bush about his son's death he said: "This was not your son or daughter. That chair he sat in at Thanksgiving will be empty forever." The holiday last year was the last the family saw of him, he said.
"It's all for nothing, that war could have been prevented," Michelle Walters said last night in the living room of the family home, tears running down her cheeks. "Now, we're out of a brother. [President] Bush is not out of a brother. We are."
"I think it's sad that we're going to war and we have to lose so many people over nothing ... I can't bring my brother back, but I really miss him," his sister Sharita told a local news crew in Baltimore.
"I'm feeling sad now because my father is gone and I won't see him again," said Kendall's son, Kenneth.
Never, ever forget that behind all of the rhetoric, pro and con, are human beings. Fathers, sons and brothers, mothers, daughters and sisters.
The Daily Weasel sends a heartfelt salute to the Waters-Bey family, as well as all of the families on both sides who have lost or will lose loved ones during this illegal and immoral action.
Thousands of anti-war protesters continue to take to the streets; many liberal writers and pundits are still attacking what they see as an illegitimate war; political strategists continue crafting complaints about a U.S. occupation busting our domestic budget. But meanwhile, American soldiers are putting their lives on the line to crush tyranny, and Iraqi dissidents, diving into the rich history of democratic liberalism, are gearing up to draft a constitution that could become a cornerstone for the eventual transformation of the Arab world. Which is why we suggest that the true liberal posture at this moment should not be one of reflexive dread. It should be one of overwhelming hope.
Although I don't necessarily agree that the protests are essentially useless, we need to be realistic about the situation in which we find ourselves. The more people protest, the more mainstream media paints them as whacko, out-of-touch, anti-American malcontents. The more liberals yell that we shouldn't be in this war, the more "train-wreck-fascinating" footage of cruise missiles nailing Saddam's palaces appear. This battle is already lost.
Protesting and shouting about Bush's many shortcomings are not going to stop this war. Yes, they may make the administration think twice about doing this again -- but I doubt it. The Bush administration is one that has shown a singular willingness to ignore all democratic opinion, and there's a distinct danger that protests now will desensitize the public to their impact when the next war comes around. In other words, I think protesting burns a form of political capital, and when it's done while we have troops in battle, the media's inevitable characterization of the protesters as "anti-troops" only makes the situation worse. In other words, progressives' actions right now are serving to marginalize their position in the future debate.
Like it or not, 75-80% of Americans polled are "rallying around the flag" in support of the war. We can argue that many of them still don't really think the war is a good idea (and I think that would be a correct assessment, based on polling data), but the fact remains that people who think rallying around the flag is the right thing to do are likely to disagree with the basic premise of anti-war protests, and think those protesting are not being supportive of American troops as they put their lives on the line. That's 75-80% of Americans who are automatically biased against the message anti-war protesters are trying to convey.
Instead, progressives should be putting forth ideas for the future. The administration says this is about liberating and rebuilding Iraq; let's hold them to that in ways that they never really intended, and propose loudly ways to do it right (and talk about doing it at home, too...). They say it's about empowering the UN, so let's insist they rebuild our ties to the UN and strengthen that obviously important body (how about doubling our contributions?) -- if they believe the UN is so important that we'll go to war to enforce their resolutions, then clearly we should strengthen it as much as possible. They say this is about saving us from terrorists getting weapons of mass distruction; if we find no chemical biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq, that's a bloody arsenal to bring up when they propose another war; at the same time, we can refocus the debate on al Qaeda.
It is essential that progressives reclaim the high ground; while this battle has been lost, the next one is being ceded to the far right. We need to provide continuous alternatives for future actions, not past ones, that the public will be able to contrast with what the administration actually does. This is how we'll win the election in 2004. No, we won't forget to bring up the administration's blunders, but we'll be able to do it in such a way that we can draw a distinction between their destructive influence on America and our own.