April 18, 2019
Guess Who…

…said this at a dog and pony show in South Carolina for GOP presidential hopefuls:

There’s a strong tradition of being anti-war in the Republican party. It is the constitutional position. It is the advice of the Founders to follow a non-interventionist foreign policy, stay out of entangling alliances, be friends with countries, negotiate and talk with them and trade with them.

Q: Congressman, you don’t think that changed with the 9/11 attacks, sir?

No. Non-intervention was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years.

We don’t understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we’re building an embassy in Iraq that’s bigger than the Vatican. We’re building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us. (Applause.)

Q: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?

I’m suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we’re over there because Osama bin Laden has said, “I am glad you’re over on our sand because we can target you so much easier.” They have already now since that time killed 3,400 of our men, and I don’t think it was necessary.

I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.

They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free.They come and they attack us because we’re over there.

I mean, what would we think if other foreign countries were doing that to us?


This is the only time I can remember that any remotely serious presidential candidate, of either major party, has even posed the basic question that Osama bin Laden once suggested that we ask ourselves: Why didn’t his men attack Stockholm?

Asking it at last was Ron Paul, an obstetrician who at the time — 2007 — was an obscure Texas congressman from Tom DeLay’s old district.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:24 PM
March 06, 2015
Roger, Bibi!

Noting that PM “Netanyahu’s credibility is low”, Roger Cohen quietly but brilliantly dissects the speech that’s been almost as big an internet meme as last week’s black-and-blue dress. Thank goodness nearly every commentator I’ve read points to the obvious, that the only realistic alternative to the sort of agreement now being hashed out among Iran and the P5+1 is military action, which everyone agrees will merely ensure that the Iranian regime attains a nuclear weapon as fast as humanly possible and will never again have reason to consider abiding by the relevant international norms. Which, to be fair, don’t apply to Israel because it’s not a signatory to the pact, so without directly violating any legal commitments it can not-very-secretly stash a couple hundred nukes while calling Iran the hypocritical aggressor.

Given the obvious silliness of Netanyahu’s argument that the powerful, irrational, and suicidally aggressive regime he projects onto Iran will eventually submit completely to economic sanctions and meekly hand over its national security interests to his gentle keeping, it is at least refreshing to see him called out on it in so many varying quarters. But Cohen does more than join the chorus, he pops Bibi’s bubble altogether.

One word did not appear in Netanyahu’s speech: Palestine. The statelessness of the Palestinians is the real long-term threat to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Iran has often been a cleverly manipulated distraction from this fact.

Among foreign leaders, nobody has been invited to address Congress more often than Netanyahu. He now stands equal at the top of the table along with Winston Churchill. Behind Netanyahu trail Nelson Mandela and Yitzhak Rabin. That’s a pretty devastating commentary on the state of contemporary American political culture and the very notion of leadership.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:36 PM
April 07, 2014
Why We Will Never Learn

Thomas Polgar, the last CIA station chief in Vietnam, died in March at the age of 92. His obit is in today’s New York Times. And here’s Polgar himself, remembering the fall of Saigon. As well as, in this brief aside, the war criminal Henry Kissinger.

One day I had an opportunity to ask Mr. Kissinger what he thought of our intelligence. Not speaking of Vietnam, but generally. He was getting this big flow of intelligence from CIA world wide at the time. What did he think of the value of it? And he thought for a moment and then he said, “Well, when it supports my policy, it’s very useful.” And I think we are here at the heart of the problem. It is that American policy is not formulated in response to what the intelligence shows. We first formulate the policy and then we try to find the intelligence to support it.

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if Truman had decided to let the country continue to bumble along, as it had somehow since 1776, without any “intelligence” agency at all. No Shah of Iran, hence no hostage crisis and no Ronald Reagan. No U2, hence no refreezing of the Cold War. No Bay of Pigs, hence no Cuban Missile Crisis. No arming of the Taliban, to teach those Russians a lesson. No Weapons of Mass Destruction, hence no… The list goes on and on. The CIA stands in relation to the White House as the drug dealer stands to the addict.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:37 PM
February 27, 2013
NSFW…

…or for Iran either. Here’s how the Fars news agency cleaned up Michelle Obama’s Academy Awards gown for home viewing:


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:30 PM
December 18, 2011
The Nonexistential Nuclear Nonthreat

In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker writes:

Finally, the nuclear peace theory cannot explain why the wars that did take place often had a nonnuclear force provoking (or failing to surrender to) a nuclear one — exactly the matchup that the nuclear threat ought to have deterred. North Korea, North Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Panama and Yugoslavia defied the United States; Afghan and Chechen insurgents defied the Soviet Union; Egypt defied Britain and France; Egypt and Syria defied Israel; Vietnam defied China; and Argentina defied the United Kingdom. For that matter the Soviet Union established its stranglehold on Eastern Europe during just those years (1945-490) when the United States had nuclear weapons and it did not. They correctly anticipated that for anything but an existential danger, the implicit threat of a nuclear response was a bluff. The Argentinian junta ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands in full confidence that Britain would not retaliate by reducing Buenos Aires to a radioactive crater. Nor could Israel have creditably threatened the amassed Egyptian armies in 1967 or 1973, to say nothing of Cairo.

Pinker’s argument here is a powerful one, and should be taken into account by the dangerous fools who are now trying to lie us into another war, this time to save ourselves from atomic annihilation at the hands of Iran. But that country’s so far imaginary nuclear bomb would not be aimed at us. The Iranians would see it as comforting (although unusable) insurance against Israel’s equally nonthreatening nuclear capability. That capability, we should not forget, was at best unopposed by the United States back in the 60s. At worst, it was encouraged, even facilitated, by Washington.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:34 PM
March 04, 2011
Making America Less Safe

Let’s start by all agreeing that terrorism is a bad thing, okay? But let’s also agree to the indisputable: that it will not and cannot destroy the United States. Here is a very partial list of states that have been visited by terrorism in recent memory: England, France, Spain, Ireland, Canada, India, Pakistan, Bolivia, Nicaragua. On and on. All of them remain in existence. None has assumed the fetal position, whimpering in fear and laying down unaimed fire in every direction. This is to say that only in the United States have the terrorists won.

More on this point from Daniel Larison at Eunomia.

The latest round of interventionist foreign policy over the last ten to thirteen years has focused heavily, though not exclusively, on countering the threat from jihadist terrorism, and everyone would acknowledge that many of the major policy decisions of the last ten years were made politically viable by the 9/11 attacks. Arguments for all of the policies connected to the “war on terror” lean heavily on the idea that terrorism, and specifically jihadist terrorism, represents a major or even an “existential” threat. Any reasonable assessment of the threat shows this to be absurd, and along with those overblown claims goes a large part of the rationale for pretty much every “war on terror” policy.

It seems to me that non-interventionists and realists make blowback arguments to focus on the consequences of current policy, and to point out the flaw in a national security and warfare state that actively makes America less secure by creating enemies where none should exist and provoking attacks that need not happen. It is also a rhetorical move to appeal to public concerns about security without endorsing standard authoritarian and jingoist responses to threats.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but what non-interventionists and realists should be trying to do is to channel the public’s appropriate moral outrage over terrorist atrocities towards reforming the policies that create these unintended, avoidable consequences. To that end, there doesn’t need to be any exaggeration of the nature of the threat or the power of jihadism, but there should be a steady stream of arguments that the threat can be significantly reduced or possibly eliminated by reforming U.S. policies so that they actually minimize the risks to the nation rather than generate new dangers. The threat from terrorism isn’t all that great, but it could be greatly reduced. All that it will cost us is our undesirable pursuit of hegemony.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:51 AM
April 20, 2010
A Nut’s a Nut the World Around

Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazim Sadeghi on CNN:

— Women who dress provocatively and tempt people into promiscuity are to blame for earthquakes, a leading Iranian hard-line cleric has apparently said.

The prayer leader, Hojatoleslam Kazim Sadeghi, says women and girls who “don’t dress appropriately” spread “promiscuity in society.”

“When promiscuity spreads, earthquakes increase,” he says in a video posted Monday on YouTube, apparently of him leading Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, last week.


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American Pastor John Hagee in Salon:

— The newspaper carried the story in our local area, that was not carried nationally, that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it would was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other gay pride parades.

So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing. I know there are people who demur from that, but I believe that the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, that God brings punishment sometimes before the Day of Judgment, and I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:29 PM
July 23, 2009
It’s for Their Own Good

From today’s New York Times:

PHUKET, Thailand — Stiffening the American line against Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Wednesday that the United States would consider extending a “defense umbrella” over the Middle East if the country continued to defy international demands that it halt work that could lead to nuclear weapons.

Defense umbrella, huh? Way to go, Hillary, about time for a little rebranding. Power for peace, manifest destiny, pénétration paisible, mission civilisatrice, lebensraum, Pax Romana, white man’s burden, etc. (here insert your own favorite euphemism), have all gotten a little old.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:05 AM
June 27, 2009
Khamenei Is Losing Legitimacy

Two good points on the Iranian situation from Gary Sick. He has some experience observing Iran as the principal White House aide for Persian Gulf affairs from 1976 to 1981, and working on the staff of the National Security Council under Ford, Carter, and Reagan. He’s also on the board of directors of Human Rights Watch, and is well known to students of history for his writings about the October Surprise. So he’s got a sense of the longitudinal aspect of the current struggle.

Don’t expect that this will be resolved cleanly with a win or loss in short period of time. The Iranian revolution, which is usually regarded as one of the most accelerated overthrows of a well-entrenched power structure in history, started in about January 1978 and the shah departed in January 1979. During that period, there were long pauses and periods of quiescence that could lead one to believe that the revolt had subsided. This is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Endurance is at least as important as speed.

I like that because it confirms what I’ve been thinking, which is that the show of force by Iranian hardliners is a sign of decreasing control leading to desperation. When you’re forced to assert that the election is the cleanest since 1979, while at the same time admitting there may have been 3 million votes screwed with; when you have to send in militia and riot cops to club peaceful demonstrators; when you have to eject representatives of the press, or keep them under house arrest; that’s when you better be packing your bags and arranging your Swiss bank account.

Sick points out that Iranian politics is a tricky and subtle business. “They prefer chess to football,” he says, a point I’ve also been known to make.

So what should we be doing?

For the United States, the watchword should be Do No Harm. The situation in Iran is being exploited for short term domestic political purposes by those who have been looking for an opening to attack the Obama administration. Wouldn’t it feel good to give full throated expression to American opposition to the existing power structure in Iran? Perhaps so — but it could also be a fatal blow to the demonstrators risking their lives on the streets of Tehran, and it could scotch any chance of eventual negotiations with whatever government emerges from this trial by fire.

The crisis in Iran is an Iranian crisis and it can only be resolved by the Iranian people and their leaders. There is no need to conceal our belief in freedom of speech and assembly and our support for the resolution of political disputes without bloodshed. But we should not be stampeded by domestic political concerns into pretending that our intervention in this crisis could be anything but pernicious.

Can President Obama play chess as well as he plays basketball?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:33 AM
June 23, 2009
Scaring the Crap Out of Congress

Some excellent points have been made in comments about my previous post comparing Iranians and Americans, and I think they deserve a bit of exploration.

First, it’s certainly the case that a huge number of Americans turned out to protest the (most recent) war before it started, and that the TV news largely ignored those protests. To me, this indicates the problem with TV news. In general I think a word is worth a thousand pictures; the former conveys information, the latter feelings and sensations. (How many pictures does it take to tell you how to make beef bourguignon?)

From Iran we get tweets and mobile-phone videos, and I think we probably agree that this democratization of reporting is mainly a good thing. Disintermediation, it was called back in the dot-com boom days. If we had similar public strife here in the US we’d probably get similar tweets and videos.

Which leads to my second point. To my mind a critical lesson is that the struggle won’t be won soon. It won’t be won in this generation, for example. We can certainly hope to make significant strides; we can even dream, and not without reason, of taking bigger steps than those who struggled before us. But it’s not reasonable to expect to finish the fight, because we’re struggling against aspects of the human psyche that are likely to remain with us for some time to come.

That’s not meant as a downer, but as a realization of what’s actually possible. I fear a movement that overestimates its possible impact, because it will dissipate when it fails.

It’s also meant to help us stay grounded in the fact that our problems lie in the human method of thinking. It’s not just a few bad apples, any more than torture is. Humanity in general, and Americans in particular, have some habits of thought that get us in trouble. We need to recognize them in ourselves first, then we can help the community to eliminate them.

So it seems to me that the most recent war against Iraq could not have been stopped, no matter how many Americans took to the streets. Unless we made it impossible to raise an army, the invasion would have happened in the teeth of the strongest protests. But as Chomsky said, never before in history have millions of people protested a war before it started.


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These protests had an effect quite evident to a historically educated eye. True, they had no chance of stopping the war; but they did force it to be short. They did force the Bush administration to forbid coverage of anything war-related, including the return of flag-draped coffins, which in previous wars were used to inflame public distaste for The Enemy, but have now become another reminder of a war the American public would rather switch channels away from.

In short, I think the American economy, what Chomsky calls the Pentagon system, depends on relatively regular wars. Modern manufacturing is so efficient it needs increasingly large markets, of which the modern world has a decreasing number, producing an obvious tension. What’s the best market? A bottomless pit called War, a market that can never be satisfied.

Thus we have to protest war and the ravages of globalization and environmental exploitation just as others have protested racism and slavery and religious intolerance. We have to know, as we do so, that these are long-term struggles. Martin said he might not get there with us; we have to take the same view toward future generations. We’re part of a multi-generational, indeed multi-millennial, struggle. We’re not tasked with winning; what we have to do is our share of the heavy lifting.

As a particular instance of this precept, my feeling is that large demonstrations in a few major cities would make a difference in the health-care debate. Suppose that one day everyone wore white armbands or whatever; wouldn’t that scare the crap out of Congress?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:38 AM
June 21, 2009
Who Teaches Democracy, and Who Learns?

As we wait to see what will follow the latest protests in Iran, I’m struck by similarities and contrasts between our countries.

For instance, in Iran candidates for office are vetted by the religious establishment quite explicitly. Many Americans consider this a violation of the doctrine of separation of church and state, and I agree. As I understand it, Islam has a similar doctrine, and the Islamic Republic is in a way an attempt to finesse that issue.

On the other hand, our American doctrine is looser in theory but not much less so in fact. For example, I identify as a Zen Buddhist when asked in polls and so on. How many public offices in the US would be open to me, assuming I met the residency and other requirements? Suppose I converted to atheism — would that help me as much as converting to Christianity helped Obama? (Would Obama be President if he hadn’t converted?)

Here in San Francisco, neither would be much of a hindrance; I wouldn’t tend to get the Christian vote in any case, and it’s not as influential a block as in other spots. Of course my best shot, hypothetically (I’m not actually thinking of doing this), would be local office; not even in California would a Buddhist be elected to statewide office.

More importantly, national offices are pretty much closed to non-Christians, except for a few Jews. There’s one Muslim in Congress, and no doubt a large number of lapsed thises and unbelieving thats. But I argue that our ideology is as strictly enforced as the Iranian one; it’s just that our enforcement mechanisms are more distributed and less obvious. Which I grant is preferable, as far as it goes. I’m just saying the differences here aren’t as big as they seem.

One contrast in particular strikes me, the active engagement in civic affairs. Watch one of the mobile-phone videos submitted to the BBC (which the Beeb notes it cannot verify); or read the accounts of the crowd size and the silent marching. Can you imagine such actions from Americans?

Suppose some color became associated with the idea of universal health care, which we know the vast majority of Americans want now, and have wanted for many years. Maybe the color would be white, or red, or whatever. Suppose further a large march some summer Saturday afternoon, coordinated around the country, a peaceful demonstration with an underlying political threat. I’m betting that Congress would be scared into taking some useful action, and quick.

Thank god we’ve got television and movies and video games to keep that from happening. We haven’t sunk to Iran’s level yet.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:20 PM
May 22, 2009
Ho Chi Minh, Meet George W. Bush…

…you guys have got a lot to talk about. For instance, does this sound familiar?

[Rev. Robert G.] Certain remembers how easily his Vietnamese captors justified crossing the line with him. They said American prisoners weren’t covered by the Geneva Convention.

“They said we were not prisoners of war because there was no legal declaration of war,” Certain says. “Therefore we were air pirates and they could treat us anyway they felt."

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:06 PM
July 11, 2008
Bush’s New War

In today’s mail was a message from Mr. Edwin of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Mr. Edwin is a friend from the old days in Southeast Asia. He spent many years inside the world of black ops and secret war. It takes a lot to frighten him. He is frightened.

Everybody, I would hope, has read Seymour Hersh’s essential article in the last New Yorker: Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran. It is a vital piece, and an alarming one.

But until Mr. Edwin alerted me, I was unaware of Terry Gross’s conversation with Hersh about his article, which was broadcast July 1 on NPR’s Fresh Air. It runs for 45 minutes, but take the time to listen to it. Please.

The interview amounts to the author’s gloss on his own story: an assessment of his sources, his feelings about his discoveries, his astonishment at the cowardice of the Democratic leadership, his fears that the Lone Cheney and his faithful companion, Dubya, will trick us into another of their idiot wars before the 22nd Amendment drives them from office.

It’s fascinating and terrifying stuff.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:31 AM
June 13, 2008
The Purge of the Generals

Go here for a fuller explanation of the real significance behind Bush’s recent shake-ups in the top ranks of the Pentagon. A sample:

Petraeus was also a supporter of Cheney’s proposal for striking Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps targets in Iran, going so far as to hint in an interview with Fox News last September that he had passed on to the White House his desire to do something about alleged Iranian assistance to Shi’ites that would require US forces beyond his control.

At that point, Fallon was in a position to deter any effort to go around DoD and military opposition to such a strike because he controlled all military access to the region as a whole. But Fallon’s forced resignation in March and the subsequent promotion of Petraeus to become Centcom chief later this year gives Cheney a possible option to ignore the position of his opponents in Washington once more in the final months of the administration.

For still more on why Bush and Cheney find Petraeus such a useful tool for locking the next president into their idiot war, see this.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:30 PM
Blood for Oil

I’m ashamed to say it but the first official formulation of war as the continuation of the oil business by other means was by Jimmy Carter in 1980. It came to be called the “Carter Doctrine,” and its first misshapen spawn was a Rapid Deployment Joint Task force to conduct military operations in the Persian Gulf.

Further down the road would come such grotesqueries as Bush War I, the stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia, Clinton’s air war in Iraq, September 11, and Bush War II. And now, coming soon to a station near you, five-dollar gas.

For an intelligent (as opposed to insane) approach that could lead to actual energy security, read the essay by Professor Michael T. Klare of Hampshire College from which the following is excerpted:

Some policymakers who agree on the need to develop alternatives to imported energy insist that such an approach should begin with oil extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and other protected wilderness areas. Even while acknowledging that such drilling would not substantially reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil, they nevertheless insist that it’s essential to make every conceivable effort to substitute domestic oil supplies for imports in the nation’s total energy supply. But this argument ignores the fact that oil’s day is drawing to a close, and that any effort to prolong its duration only complicates the inevitable transition to a post-petroleum economy.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:00 PM
May 03, 2008
The Iran Outside Our Bubble

As the Pigmy President and his warhogs continue to beat the drums for an attack on Iran, the need for Americans to step outside our media’s echo chamber becomes more and more desperate.

Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar gives us a chance to do so, in this analysis from TomDispatch, via The Smirking Chimp. Samples:

Ahmadinejad is relentlessly depicted as an angry, totally irrational, Jew-hating, Holocaust-denying Islamo-fascist who wants to “wipe Israel off the map.” That infamous quote, repeated ad nauseam but out of context, comes from an October 2005 speech at an obscure anti-Zionist student conference. What Ahmadinejad really said, in a literal translation from Farsi, was that “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time.” He was actually quoting the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, who said it first in the early 1980s. Khomeini hoped that a regime so unjust toward the Palestinians would be replaced by another more equitable one. He was not, however, threatening to nuke Israel…

Speculation is rampant in Tehran that Ahmadinejad, the leadership of the Quds Force, an elite division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), plus the hardcore volunteer militia, the Basij (informally known in Iran as “the army of twenty million”) are betting on a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities to strengthen the country’s theocratic regime and their faction of it…

Rafsanjani is, and will always remain, a supporter of the Supreme Leader. As the regime’s de facto number two, his quest is not only to “save” the Islamic Revolution, but also to consolidate Iran’s regional power and reconcile the country with the West. His reasoning is clear: He knows that an anti-Islamic tempest is already brewing among the young in Iran’s major cities, who dream of integrating with the nomad elites of liquid global modernity.

If the Bush administration had any real desire to let its aircraft carriers float out of the Gulf and establish an entente cordiale with Tehran, Rafsanjani would be the man to talk to …


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:40 AM
April 28, 2008
Does the Al Kibar Bombing Mean War With Iran?

Daniel Levy continues to strike me as one of the most intelligent and informed commentators on Middle East issues, and a good writer to boot. (And we sure need informed comment on these subjects.) Levy has another fine piece up, this time at TPM, about revelations, or perhaps “revelations”, at Thursday’s Senate and House intelligence committee briefing on the Israeli bomb strike on Syria last September. Of course the briefing was closed, so what we have is from the press conference that followed.

The whole story of the bombing raid has not, I expect, been told. Probably no one knows it. It’s unlikely that anyone in any country has a complete accounting for the actions and inactions of Israel, Syria, and the US, to begin with. It’s unlikely that Israel or the US know precisely what has happening in Syria, or that the Syrians fully understand Israel’s motivations. Certainly each of the three governments includes contending factions, about which more in a moment.

In such situations my instinct is to look to the most reliable sources. Like Seymour Hersh. He’s not right 100% of the time, and his predictions can be pretty pessimistic. But he understands and practices the art of investigative journalism, and as a result generally knows what he’s talking about. My guess is, therefore, that his February report on the raid is currently the best available.

One argument against things being as they seem is that no one’s explained themselves. Why didn’t Syria respond to what under most circumstances would be considered an act of war? Why didn’t it become a UN issue? And why was Israel so circumspect afterward? When it bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981, says Hersh, “the Israeli government was triumphant, releasing reconnaissance photographs of the strike and permitting the pilots to be widely interviewed.” Not so this time.

Absent such data, inactions are being analyzed. In addition, pressures continue to be applied from multiple sides, thus causing some doubts about credibility of released information.

Whatever happened in Syria, what happened in Washington on Thursday could have been a propaganda effort. I mean, it’s not inconceivable.

…the evidence and photos, if they are to be taken at face value, were certainly impressive and convincing according to those who attended the briefing. Writing in the Washington Post, Robin Wright did add this note of caution: “The sole photograph shared with reporters depicting Syrian and North Korean officials together did not appear to be the Al Kibar reactor site.”

So how convincing is the evidence, really? Or perhaps more accurately, convincing to whom?

Levy proposes to break this problem into four questions. (One of the oddest features of TPM is the combination of high quality information with an apparent disinterest in typographical niceties such as spelling and punctuation, or in this case consistent capitalization.)

  1. What were the Syrians up to and why?
  2. Why now, and is it all about Matzah?
  3. And If Now, Was It Wise?
  4. Israel-Syria: Peace or War

There are those in the US — Levy mentions John Bolton’s Cheshire-cat smile at the press conference that followed the briefing — who would like, and therefore try to instigate, more conflict in the Middle East. Apparently life there has become boring.

Then there are those of us who fear that any more conflict added to an area with an existing surfeit of it would be unwise, and would create a world even less sane and much more dangerous.

In all three countries there are factions in the current governments ferociously opposing each others’ plans. And then there’s Iran, which may in the end be the real point made by those Israeli bombs.

Here in the US, the question is whether to start another war, to be known as Hopefully the Last Gasp of the Neocons. (The title for the sequel is still being debated.) Our government is by no means free of neocon influence. Despite never having been right, they keep insisting that theirs is the only view that makes sense, and they keep making alliances with people who see a profit to be made if they get their wish, a war on Iran.

Oddly enough, this Congressional briefing comes as Israel and Syria are said to be involved in what might turn out to be the forerunner of truly momentous negotiations. Syrian President Assad has reportedly said:

…direct negotiations need a sponsor and, unfortunately, this sponsor can only be the U.S. This is the reality of the situation. But the current administration has no vision and no will to support a peace process… perhaps with a future administration in the U.S., we would be able to speak of direct negotiations.

Why would he be interested in negotiations beginning January 21 of next year? Because Israel’s Ehud Olmert is said to be offering to withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for a peace agreement based on UN resolutions and on international criteria. Levy thinks this is happening right now in part because the Knesset is dispersed for the Passover holiday, so it’s impossible to offer a no-confidence resolution.

As he says,

So here is a delicious and rare moment of Israeli-Syrian agreement: we both want to talk, the nature of the Syria-Israel issue is that we both need US facilitation, the Bush Administration is not interested and so, we will have to wait.

One can only imagine the depth of the chagrin, verging on despair, such negotiations would produce among the neocons, their compatriots in Israel, and the Left Behind crowd. Anything but peace! How can we stop it? How about pretending there’s a nuclear reactor in Syria we have to bomb, at the same time proving that our technology allows us to evade Syrian, and thus Iranian, air defense?

Apparently Olmert was against the release of any new details on the raid. He’s trying not to provoke a possible future negotiating partner. Says Levy:

This is one more demonstration that the neocons who pushed for this have their own agenda — and to the extent to which it dovetails an Israeli agenda — it is the agenda of the opposition on Israel’s far-right and has nothing to do with actual Israeli security interests (or any logical reading of American interests for that matter).

There is still of course the question of why none of this was taken to the IAEA over the past seven months or before.

Perhaps it wasn’t taken to the IAEA because, according to Hersh, their experts already examined the evidence and concluded it was, in Mohammed ElBaradei’s words, “unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.” It didn’t look like one in a lot of ways; for example, the main building was the right size horizontally but not vertically, and expected support and defense facilities were not nearby.

There are, it appears, factions in the US and in Israel, in both cases on the far right wing, that want war, and will try any trick they can think of to get it. But their time is running out; everyone’s aware of them; and I think the Joint Chiefs know the military can’t handle another war.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:42 AM
April 26, 2008
Onward Christian Soldiers, Onward Yet Once More

The excerpts below come from a disturbing story in today’s Washington Post. What possible reason could Iran have to be “hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons?” Possibly because the warhogs in the White House, having demonstrated that our existing military is either too small or too mismanaged to pacify a hostile nation of 28 million, are now hell-bent on invading a hostile nation of 65 million?

As for Mullen, what is he, nuts? Navy and Air Force reservists are no doubt capable of killing large numbers of Iranian civilians from a safe distance, but not all 65 million of them. Who’s going to keep the survivors subdued once the shock and awe are over? Read the papers, Mullen. Suicides, epidemic stress disorders, revolving door troop rotations, recruiting felons. On and on. Get real, Mullen. Tell our pigmy president the truth for once, and then retire with honor.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a conflict with Iran would be “extremely stressing” but not impossible for U.S. forces, pointing to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force.

“It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability,” he said at a Pentagon news conference. Speaking of Iran’s intentions, Mullen said: “They prefer to see a weak Iraq neighbor. . . . They have expressed long-term goals to be the regional power…”

In a speech Monday, [Defense Secrtary] Gates said Iran “is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.” He said war would be “disastrous” but added that “the military option must be kept on the table, given the destabilizing policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:02 AM
April 10, 2008
Foolspeak

Just finished listening to Bush regurgitating his customary gobbets of misinformation about his -- and unfortunately our -- open-ended military occupation of Iraq against the expressed wish of most Iraqis and most Americans. Same-old, same-old, except for two things.

First off, by now even the talking heads of TV have figured out that it might be part of their professional responsibility to point out, immediately following another presidential eructation, the lies of which it is composed. At least on CNN, they did just that.

Second, at one point Bush said that failure to fund his miscarriage of a war would “lead to massive humanitarian casualties.” Tough times ahead for all you humanitarians, but then of course you already knew that.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:45 AM
March 31, 2008
The Surge is Working! —

thanks to Iran:

BAGHDAD — Iranian officials helped broker a cease-fire agreement Sunday between Iraq’s government and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to Iraqi lawmakers.

The deal could help defuse a wave of violence that had threatened recent security progress in Iraq. It also may signal the growing regional influence of Iran, a country the Bush administration accuses of providing support to terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere.

Al-Sadr ordered his forces off the streets of Iraq on Sunday. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed al-Sadr’s action as “a step in the right direction.” It was unclear whether the deal would completely end six days of clashes between U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and Shiite militias, including al-Sadr’s…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:58 AM
March 26, 2008
Bush’s Folly

Mark Danner is an exceptionally useful citizen who teaches journalism at Bard College and the University of California at Berkeley. What follows are excerpts from a long piece that I hope you’ll be tempted to read in full. Professor Danner has given an explanation as intelligent and convincing as any I’ve seen of why we were dragged into Bush’s Folly in the first place. As to a plan of escape, he has none. No “peace with honor” is by now possible, any more than it was in Kennedy’s, Johnson’s and Nixon’s Folly.

Again, a remarkable statement, as many commentators were quick to point out; for declaring war on “terrorism” — a technique of war, not an identifiable group or target — was simply unprecedented, and, indeed, bewildering in its implications. As one counterinsurgency specialist remarked to me, “Declaring war on terrorism is like declaring war on air power.…”

That broader story comes down to a matter of two strategies and two generals: General Osama bin Laden and General George W. Bush. General bin Laden, from the start, has been waging a campaign of indirection and provocation: that is, bin Laden’s ultimate targets are the so-called apostate regimes of the Muslim world — foremost among them, the Mubarak regime in Egypt and the House of Saud on the Arabian peninsula — which he hopes to overthrow and supplant with a New Caliphate.

For bin Laden, these are the “near enemies,” which rely for their existence on the vital support of the “far enemy,” the United States. By attacking this far enemy, beginning in the mid-1990s, bin Laden hoped both to lead vast numbers of new Muslim recruits to join Al Qaeda and to weaken U.S. support for the Mubarak and Saud regimes. He hoped to succeed, through indirection, in “cutting the strings of the puppets,” eventually leading to the collapse of those regimes…

The latter perception — that terrorism as it struck the United States arose from political factors and that it could only be confronted and defeated with a political response — strikes me as incontestable. The problem the administration faced, or rather didn’t want to face, was that the calcified order that lay at the root of the problem was the very order that, for nearly six decades, had been shaped, shepherded, and sustained by the United States.

We see an explicit acknowledgment of this in the “Bletchley II” report drafted after 9/11 at Defense Department urging by a number of intellectuals close to the administration: “The general analysis,” one of its authors told the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, “was that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers came from, were the key, but the problems there are intractable. Iran is more important ... But Iran was similarly difficult to envision dealing with. But Saddam Hussein was different, weaker, more vulnerable ...”

The United States has made possible the rise to power in Iraq of a Shiite government which is allied with its major geopolitical antagonist in the region, the Islamic Republic of Iran. And the United States has been fighting with great persistence and distinctly mixed results a Sunni insurgency which is allied with the Saudis, the Jordanians, and its other longtime friends among the traditional Sunni autocracies of the Gulf…

At this moment, the Iraq War is at a stalemate. Confronted with a growing threat from those “enemies allied with its friends in the region,” the Sunni insurgents, the Bush administration has adopted a practical and typically American strategy: it has bought them. The Americans have purchased the insurgency, hiring its foot soldiers at the rate of $300 per month. The Sunni fighters, once called insurgents, we now refer to as “tribesmen” or “concerned citizens.”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:18 PM
March 24, 2008
Outside Agitators Again

General David Petraeus blames Iran for yesterday’s mortaring of our occupation headquarters in the Green Zone. Maybe, but maybe also we should keep in mind the legal principle of cui bono.

Suppose you are the public face of a “surge” which you claim has greatly reduced violence by al-Qaeda in the country your troops occupy. And suppose your own headquarters has just come under heavy bombardment.

Then suppose you run right out and tell the press that al-Qaeda had nothing to do with the attack. No, indeed. Instead, by one of those happy coincidences to which we have become so accustomed since 9/11, it was outside agitators. What’s more they were from Iran which — what are the odds? — your own commander-in-chief happens to be desperate to invade. What a fortunate confluence of God’s own truth and your own self-interest that would be!

And there was more to come, of a surprising nature:

In response to the news that 4,000 US military personnel have now been killed in Iraq, [Petraeus] said it showed how much the mission had cost but added that Americans were realistic about it.

He also said a great deal of progress had been made because of the “flipping” of communities — the decision by Sunni tribes to turn against al-Qaeda militants. The extent of this had surprised even the US military, he said.

Before we let it surprise us, however, we might want to read the full article in Rolling Stone from which this excerpt comes. The author speaks Arabic, which turns out to be handy once you leave the Green Zone. Apparently everybody out there talks funny except the ones who report to General Petraeus.

Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government…

In districts like Dora, the strategy of the surge seems simple: to buy off every Iraqi in sight. All told, the U.S. is now backing more than 600,000 Iraqi men in the security sector — more than half the number Saddam had at the height of his power. With the ISVs in place, the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war. “Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems,” as U.S. strategists like to say. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, calls it “balancing competing armed interest groups…

“Before the war, it was just one party,” Arkan tells me. “Now we have 100,000 parties. I have Sunni officer friends, but nobody lets them get back into service. First they take money, then they ask if you are Sunni or Shiite. If you are Shiite, good.” He dreams of returning to the days when the Iraqi army served the entire country. “In Saddam’s time, nobody knew what is Sunni and what is Shiite,” he says.

The Bush administration based its strategy in Iraq on the mistaken notion that, under Saddam, the Sunni minority ruled the Shiite majority. In fact, Iraq had no history of serious sectarian violence or civil war between the two groups until the Americans invaded. Most Iraqis viewed themselves as Iraqis first, with their religious sects having only personal importance. Intermarriage was widespread, and many Iraqi tribes included both Sunnis and Shiites. Under Saddam, both the ruling Baath Party and the Iraqi army were majority Shiite.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:24 PM
March 11, 2008
Makeshift Patriots in the White House

It appears the struggle to create a war with Iran is in its last throes.

Meanwhile, the uneasy partnership between Karl Rove and Dick Cheney continues. While Rovian operations take out political opponents like Don Siegelman in Alabama and Eliot Spitzer in New York, the Cheneyists struggle against the so-called adult leadership of war criminals like Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice, and the increasingly lonely rational Republicans in Congress. Wikipedia reports that

The final report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, issued on August 4, 1993, said that Gates “was close to many figures who played significant roles in the Iran/contra affair and was in a position to have known of their activities. The evidence developed by Independent Counsel did not warrant indictment…”

When such a person is your adult leadership, the outlook is sub-optimal indeed.

And sure enough, the makeshift patriots on the Dark Side have managed to gain one of their objectives: Admiral William “Fox” Fallon is resigning as Commander in Chief of Central Command, which includes Iran and Iraq. (Check out this map; I knew CentCom covered a lot of ground but I didn’t realize it was this much, basically Kenya to Kazakhstan.) Fallon is said to have called General (soon, presumably, Saint) David Petraeus, who reports to him, an ass-kissing little chickenshit. Evidence available to the public since the revelation of this remark suggests the characterization was not entirely without merit; but it was certainly unwelcome in the White House, and even more unwelcome in the Undisclosed Location. No doubt similar reactions followed the reports of Adm. Fallon responding to a question about a US war against Iran with “…not on my watch.’

Apparently Fallon’s approach was insufficiently aggressive.

The Persian Gulf right now is booming economically, and Fallon wants to harness that power to connect the failed states that pockmark the landscape to the outside world. In this choice, he sees no alternative.

“What I learned in the Pacific is that after a while the tableau of failed, failing, or dysfunctional states becomes a real burden on the functional countries and a problem for their neighborhood, because they breed unrest and insecurities and attract troublemakers very well. They’re like sewers, and they begin to fester. It’s bad for business. And when it’s bad for business, people tend to start restricting their investments, and they restrict their thinking, and it allows more barriers, so we’re back to building walls again instead of breaking them down. If you have to build walls, it means you’re moving backward.”

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Fallon has no illusion about solving the Middle East or Central Asia during his tenure, but he’s also acutely conscious that with globalization’s rapid advance into these regions he may well be the last Centcom commander of his kind. Already Fallon sees the inevitability and utility of having a Chinese military partnership at Centcom, and he’d like to manage that inevitably from the start rather than have to repair damage down the line.

“I’d like to continue to do things that will be useful to the world and its inhabitants,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of good things, and I’ve seen a lot of stupid things.”

He omitted to specify the deciders in the cases of the stupid things he’d seen, or even which side they were on.

Discussing one of the incidents in which Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats showboated around and taunted American warships in the Strait of Hormuz,

Fallon’s eyes narrow and his voice becomes that whisper: “This is not how a country that wants to be a big boy in the neighborhood behaves. How are we supposed to take these guys seriously as players in the region? You’d like to deal with them as big-league players, but when they do this, it’s very tough.”

As before, there is the text and the subtext. Admiral William Fallon shakes his head slowly, and his eyes say, These guys have no idea how much worse it could get for them. I am the reasonable one.

And time will tell whether being reasonable will cost Admiral William Fallon his command.

Well, it has. I’m not one to glorify any part of military life or militarism, so I don’t mean to put Fox on a pedestal. I agree with Gibbon:

…as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters.

Nowadays, as Thorstein Veblen pointed out, we’re more likely to vanquish our enemies with lawyers than soldiers. If you’re a threat to win a governorship we want, we’ll find a way to put you in jail on trivial or even trumped-up charges. If you’re a rising star, we’ll investigate your private life, and tell lies about your name, history, family, and religion. If you get elected President on a platform you copied from us, we’ll impeach you for adultery.

And if you try to stop our war machine, we’ll run over you.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:54 PM
December 28, 2007
If It’s Broke, Don’t Fix It

When there is a bull in a china shop, the intelligent first step is not to leave him there until he mends what he broke. The bull is too big and too clumsy and too dumb for that. The intelligent first thing is to get that bull the hell out of the china shop.

Noam Chomsky makes this point conclusively in an interview with CT Review (no link), the journal of the Connecticut State University System:

Interviewer: While we’re in the game, we can’t quit the game.

Chomsky: That’s another presupposition. The Russians were in the game in Afghanistan in 1986. Did we say, “Well they broke it, so they have to stay there to fix it?” No, we didn’t say that. When the Germans were in France in 1944, we didn’t say, they broke it, so they have to fix it and stay there until they do. We didn’t ever say that.

There’s a deeper presupposition. We own the world, so therefore anything we do is justified . Therefore, unlike the Russians in Afghanistan or the Germans in occupied France, we broke it so we’ve got to fix it. We’re totally different from everyone else because we own the world.

That presupposition is never mentioned. People would be horrified if you brought it out, but the discussions just don’t make any sense unless you assume this. Bush announces the surge in exact opposition to the will of the American population, and of course the Iraqis. Both populations want to reduce the troops or for us to get out. Bush’s response is to send more troops.

Predictably, as they announce the surge, they announce that Iran is interfering in Iraq. This shifts the discussion to, “Is Iran interfering in Iraq?” Suppose that Germany in 1943 had said the allies are interfering in occupied France. People wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The Germans invaded and occupied France. How can anybody be said to be interfering with that?

Well, while the Russians were in Afghanistan, America was proud to support terrorists, incidentally Islamic terrorists, to oppose them. But we didn’t think of ourselves as interfering in Russian-occupied Afghanistan. By the same logic, how can Iran possibly be interfering in American-occupied Iraq?

But the debate rages. Are the serial numbers on the improvised explosive devices traceable to Iran’s revolutionary guards? We have a profound debate about this, all instilling the assumption that we own the world, because if we didn’t own the world then you couldn’t even have such a debate. It wouldn’t make sense.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:14 AM
December 04, 2007
NIE: Diplomatic Signal or Cheney Embarrassment? Or Both?

Steve over at TWN quotes the recently released NIE on Iranian nuclear capabilities, which seems to be exactly what you’d expect: a nuanced attempt to tell the administration something of what it wants to hear without overtly lying or stating confidance where little exists.

E. We do not have sufficient intelligence to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program indefinitely while it weighs its options, or whether it will or already has set specific deadlines or criteria that will prompt it to restart the program.
~ Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might — if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible — prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

~ We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons. In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons — and such a decision is inherently reversible.

But how difficult is it really to specify the basis of a combination of carrots and sticks, backed by credible US statements, that would induce whatever entity runs Iran to bargain in good faith? Seems to me that if we told them we wouldn’t attack them unless they attacked us or our allies, and they believed it, everything else could be worked out. The problem is that the current US “strategic posture”, as announced by the Pentagon, is to exert a certain level of control over all the world, allowing no rivals in military power. This requires us to “take out” — a phrase until recently more associated in the US with food than bombs — any potential threat.

How could any conception of a world community, ordered or otherwise, contain the idea of one globally dominant country, claiming the sole right of intervening at any time, place, or hour, without everyone else feeling threatened? This seems to me an instantiation of the abstract object I call the Mythical Knockout Punch. Truman rode this sucker to the everlasting infamy of two needless massacres, thinking the Russians, little men that they were from Harry’s grand viewpoint, would be quaking in their boots with respect for the Americans, proudly standing tall; possibly they would even concede, like the Japanese.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that then as now the biggest problems were with policy rather than procedure, the politicians rather than the military men. Truman was advised not to the drop the bomb by:

Adm. William D. Leahy, President Truman’s chief of staff[…;] commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry H. “Hap” Arnold; Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet; Adm. William F. Halsey Jr., commander of the U.S. Third Fleet; and the famous “hawk” who commanded the 21st Bomber Command, Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall[…;] [Gen.] Dwight D. Eisenhower [commander-in-chief of Allied forces in Europe…]

He paid as little attention to them as our current Big Man did to active Generals like Shinseki and retired ones like Zinni and Clark. And in order to sell the policy of massacre to the American population, earnestly striving to win but equally sincerely tired of war, Truman fixed the facts around the policy (if you don’t believe this I suggest a dose of Gar Alperovitz).

One thing about Roosevelt’s war, though: it wasn’t naked aggression on our part. It may have been, in fact I expect it was, an intentional oversight at Pearl Harbor, in some ways like that of 9/11. Those who believe in war, like those who believe in tax cuts, have the gift of seeing validation in every event. Every set of ideas is self-reinforcing, as the cognitive psychologists demonstrate.

One idea that, to the philosopher’s surprise, continues to motivate despite its opposition to the real world as it’s experienced is that if you hit your opponent hard enough he’ll give up. Civilization is thus represented by one of its least civil activities, boxing.

But it seems a superficial notion at best. For example, in chess tournaments my threat indicator hits red as soon as I start thinking I’m winning. It’s an easy time to trip up and make an oversight, at exactly the moment the opponent is panicking and buckling down with all available energy. It’s extremely rare to find oneself in a situation of such dominance that resistance is truly futile. The resistance may be, as we call it today, asymmetric. But it’s unlikely to resign the game while breath remains.

Truman hit Stalin with everything he had, calling it the greatest thing in history. It did indeed scare the Russians, so much they instituted a crash program and quickly generated their own bomb. Knockout punches only work in boxing and video games, where the opponent’s anger and shame and need for revenge aren’t relevant because time has expired.

As long as we continue to invade countries and take their resources, or claim the right to kidnap who we will off the streets of allies like Britain at the President’s whim, no one would believe any guarantee of security we made. Nor should they. Friends, in short, will be few and hard to come by.

But perhaps George Friedman, who usually seems to me the most right-wing of the Stratfor folks on Middle East topics, is correct to suggest that the NIE might be a signal of US readiness to consider the possibility of thinking about negotiations with Iran. As long as they wouldn’t deny interest in nukes, it was hard for us to negotiate; but if the intelligence community can say that they’re working on nucular power but not nucular weapons, talking might be possible. After all, we allowed Syria to show up at the Annapolis photo ops, where of course there wasn’t any action to exclude them from, thus preserving their diplomatic feelings.

In any case, it’s looking less and less likely that Cheney will be able to add one more war to the trough before he returns to a few years (all spent in this country, of course) of fabulous wealth and privilege in that part of the private sector that benefits most from the destruction.

Bush, Cheney, and those we would call their henchmen if these disastrous decisions and situations were being reported from Haiti, or even Mexico, have committed crimes against humanity and peace, and war crimes to boot. They should be in the dock at The Hague. It’s our job to send them there if we wish to maintain some international credibility as a nation.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:58 AM
November 19, 2007
Good News Is No News

Hey, did you hear the big news? Iraq doesn’t want Bush and Cheney to go to war with Iran! No matter what our two boss warhogs keep saying, the prime minister of Iraq claims that Iran isn’t helping the insurgents kill American troops after all. Know what? Iran is actually helping the Iraqi government keep weapons away from the terrorists! Says who? The American military, that’s who!

What do you mean you didn’t know that? It’s been all over the news ever since the New York Times broke the story yesterday on page 20. Where have you been hiding yourself?

BAGHDAD, Nov. 17 — The Iraqi government on Saturday credited Iran with helping to rein in Shiite militias and stemming the flow of weapons into Iraq, helping to improve the security situation noticeably …

Speaking about Iran, he said that that government had helped to persuade the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to ask his Mahdi militia to halt attacks. Mr. Sadr ordered his militia to stop using weapons in early September, and officials say that the militia’s relative restraint has helped improve stability. They say it also seems to have helped decrease the frequency of attacks with explosively formed penetrators, a powerful type of bomb that can pierce heavy armor.

Mr. Dabbagh’s comments echoed those of the American military here, who in recent days have gone out of their way to publicly acknowledge Iran’s role in helping to slow the flow of weapons into the country ….

Mr. Dabbagh said that the turning point came when Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki visited Iran in August and met with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the Shiite shrine city of Mashad. Mr. Maliki told the Iranian leader that “Iran had to choose whether to support the government or any other party, and Iraq will decide according to which they choose,” Mr. Dabbagh said. The Iranians promised to help and have done so, he said.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:33 PM
November 08, 2007
Look Before You Bomb

Avedon points us to a photo album from Iran. Go take a look — first because the pictures are gorgeous, second because most of us are geography idiots and third because that makes us more susceptible to geopolitical idiocy. Before succumbing, we ought at least take a look at the country Cheney and his warhogs are slavering to blow up.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:09 AM
November 04, 2007
Washingtonian Oversimplification

Are you pro-“War on Terror” or anti-?

That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? All the Republicans except Paul are pro-, in fact they’re for all wars, as long as we’re attacking enemies we know are too weak to resist us on the battlefield (thus 4GW). Clinton and Obama have both made it clear that they think the GWOT is a real thing, and that we face a threat from an Islamic Mussolini. To me that makes them excellent examples of the old Chomsky saw that you can’t reach a position of power in our government unless you believe that the US is unique in history in acting purely from altruistic motives. If there’s any conflict that we’re involved in — and there is, always, because it’s the only thing we excel at — we’re the aggrieved party. We may have been the invaders, and we may have invaded for no reason, indeed for less than no reason; but our inherent goodness and altruism prove that if we torture it’s because torture was required, and those who were tortured understand that.

Personally I agree with John Edwards that the GWOT is nothing more than a bumper sticker, a slogan used to concentrate wealth and eliminate civil liberties. Only the foolish and the power-hungry take it seriously. And the oil companies.

Which doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as terrorism. What is a B-2 if not a terror weapon? Bombing Iraqi cities has only one purpose, to terrorize. A case can be made that bombing German cities during World War II was an attempt to destroy the industrial base, thus shortening the war. I don’t personally buy it, but there’s a real argument to be made there. But flattening Fallujah, a war crime by any definition, had nothing to do with removing the insurgency’s industrial base; it was simply an attempt to terrify the population. That’s terrorism, and if we wanted it to stop we could stop doing it.

So am I saying that the US is the leading terrorist country in the world? Yes. Followed by Israel, much of whose terrorism the US funds.

The Bush administration’s double standards are as glaring as meteor impacts. When, in the summer of 2006, Israel used the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah to unleash a pre-programmed devastating war on Lebanon, destroying great swathes of the country, the Bush administration immediately gave the Israelis the green light. When 12 Turkish soldiers are killed and eight captured by PKK guerrillas based in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Bush administration urges Ankara to take it easy.

The “war on terror” is definitely not an equal-opportunity business.

It is a business, though. The current problem for the terrorism industry is the incompetence, indeed the idiocy, of its MBA CEO and his board. Their inability to understand the complexities of the world drives them to shrink the problem to the point where their little minds can wrap around it, the issue being that such grotesque simplification removes their ability to predict the outcome of their actions.

A reasonable view of the world allows its holder to predict results with a non-zero chance of being right. Unfortunately, a view of the world that is one hundred percent wrong can sometimes produce the same results. For instance, if someone doesn’t hate you, but you believe he does, you’ll act hatefully toward him, thus generating in him a strong distaste for you, which you will then interpret as confirmation of what you always thought, thus increasing your confidance in your misapprehension, and eventually changing it to a truism.

An oversimplified view of the world, on the other hand, regularly produces unexpected results.

US plans for Iraqi Kurdistan, stretching back to that 1990 Israeli-devised Turkish plan, are in jeopardy. And once again all because of the enemy within.

Washington played the ethnic card in Afghanistan, pitting Tajiks against Pashtuns; the result, apart from a never-ending war in Afghanistan, was that Pashtuns on both sides of the border united and are now destabilizing even further the US ally, Pakistan.

Washington played the Kurd card to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and as a beachhead for its control of the country after the invasion. Not only Iraq turned into a quagmire, Washington helped to plunge Kurdistan into the line of (Turkish) fire.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:43 PM
September 21, 2007
Don’t Let Ahmadinejad Speak! He’ll Break the Spell

In a recent post, Josh Marshall mentions discussions with his readers about reactions to the President of Iran’s request to visit Ground Zero.

Apparently most readers felt that we shouldn’t allow him the propaganda victory. Josh asks if he’s alone in supporting the idea that we should ignore him, that we’re bigger than that. “Why should we care what he says?” is Josh’s view, and I think there’s a lot to that.

In fact, I’d go beyond that to say that we should escort him there, and give him access to the press. Make sure he gets a good view of our gaping national wound.

If we were strong and proud and sure of ourselves, that’s what we’d do. In fact, we’re a nation scared stiff, not unlike our Congressional representatives, strutting and puffing ourselves up but secretly afraid that we’re about to lose it all. We’ve got an incurious faith-based windshield cowboy at our head, our general’s an ass-kissing little chickenshit, and most of the rest of us watch the soap opera on TV, seemingly unaffected except that our economy is ruined as our liberties disappear and our representatives cower.

Ironically, here’s where the argument against letting Ahmadinejad make a propaganda point holds up best. If we allow him to see our national wound, for which some of us seem to bear him ill will, what’s to keep him from pointing to one of Iran’s most grievous wounds, the destruction of the elected government of Mossadeq and its replacement with the brutal Shah and his secret police? And where did Savak learn its “interrogation” techniques?

A case can be made that the United States has wounded Iran more than Iran has wounded us. And we don’t want to think about that. That’s the propaganda victory that would hurt, because it would break the spell of American exceptionalism, which we’ve tried so hard to re-weave after the revelations of Abu Ghraib.

We used to be brave because we were sure we were good. Lots of times we weren’t, but we were sure we were anyway. Now we know we’re not, and we’re frightened.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:29 PM
April 06, 2007
Democracy in America, Twenty-First Century Style

Noam Chomsky has, as usual, a radical idea: democracy promotion.

After noting the obvious conflict between Bush administration policy and the popular will, as expressed in the last election, he joins the chorus in pointing out that bullying from the US is likely to stiffen Iranian resistance, given our history.

Doubtless Iran’s government merits harsh condemnation, including for its recent actions that have inflamed the crisis. It is, however, useful to ask how we would act if Iran had invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico and was arresting US government representatives there on the grounds that they were resisting the Iranian occupation (called “liberation,” of course). Imagine as well that Iran was deploying massive naval forces in the Caribbean and issuing credible threats to launch a wave of attacks against a vast range of sites — nuclear and otherwise — in the United States, if the US government did not immediately terminate all its nuclear energy programs (and, naturally, dismantle all its nuclear weapons). Suppose that all of this happened after Iran had overthrown the government of the U.S. and installed a vicious tyrant (as the US did to Iran in 1953), then later supported a Russian invasion of the US that killed millions of people (just as the US supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980, killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians, a figure comparable to millions of Americans). Would we watch quietly?

Of course we wouldn’t. But that would be different; that would be us.

The real pisser is that neither the Americans nor the Iranians appear to favor the confrontational approach their governments are taking.

Surely no sane person wants Iran (or any nation) to develop nuclear weapons. A reasonable resolution of the present crisis would permit Iran to develop nuclear energy, in accord with its rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but not nuclear weapons. Is that outcome feasible? It would be, given one condition: that the US and Iran were functioning democratic societies in which public opinion had a significant impact on public policy.

As it happens, this solution has overwhelming support among Iranians and Americans, who generally are in agreement on nuclear issues. The Iranian-American consensus includes the complete elimination of nuclear weapons everywhere (82 percent of Americans); if that cannot yet be achieved because of elite opposition, then at least a “nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East that would include both Islamic countries and Israel” (71 percent of Americans).

Seventy-five percent of Americans prefer building better relations with Iran to threats of force. In brief, if public opinion were to have a significant influence on state policy in the US and Iran, resolution of the crisis might be at hand, along with much more far-reaching solutions to the global nuclear conundrum.

To me it seems clear that the solution begins with the US living up to its own commitments in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and starting to reduce its stockpile of nuclear weapons rather than producing a new generation of them.

No doubt such a solution will be dismissed out of hand by Clinton, Richardson, Biden, Dodd, and all the Responsible Democrats. But it would work, I betcha.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:58 AM
March 03, 2007
Decoding the Warhogs

Still think Bush is just bluffing about Iran? Why not take him at his own words — as well as those of the father he despises and the father-figure he reveres? Lawrence of Cyberia deconstructs the special language of the warhog here.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:26 PM
February 22, 2007
The Real Threat From Iran: Chess vs. Poker, Part II

The first thing I do when I read

New evidence is emerging on the ground of an Iranian hand in growing violence within Iraq.

is check the byline. Is this a Judy Miller/Michael Gordon type, or is it someone whose reporting is at least based on fact? Seeing the names Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily, I continue.

Why Do They Hate Us?

Seems someone’s pissed off as re: the 263 people recently killed in Najaf by a combination of US and Iraqi forces. The dead were from the Hawatim tribe, which opposes both the main Shia parties, SCIRI and Dawa. SCIRI and Dawa not only have control of most of the government of Iraq; they also have what you might cordial relationships with Iran.

All of which is not surprising in a civil-war situation. What makes this incident stand out is that it appears to be a clear instance of Iran playing chess with the US in Iraq. Since the US is playing poker, or perhaps football, rather than chess, it’s losing.

Apparently a confrontation between leaders of the Hawatim tribe and government troops led to the shooting of the tribe’s chief, at which point the rest of the tribe attacked the troops. The desperate troops called in American air support, and the result is being called a massacre.

The Iraqi government claims that the Hawatim are a “messianic cult”. It’s not clear what the Iraqi troops told the Americans when they called for help, but it’s locally believed that the attackers were identified to the Americans either as a messianic cult or as terrorists.

No Problem, We’ll Call Blackwater

The predictable and predicted event of Iraqi troops using American air support to advance their own civil-war aims is bad enough. I consider that more of a blow to the prestige of the United States than most of the other incompetence this war has seen. Transparent manipulation looks bad on the resumé.

What’s worse is the dawning realization that Iran has manipulated the event to put US air power at the disposal of its trusted colleagues in the Iraqi government.

It’s hard to decide which is worse: to get caught in an obvious quagmire, or to be fooled in such a straightforward way. George W. Bush’s United States is seen to be a paper tiger as a military force, and clueless with regard to Great-Game strategy.

What If They Tried to Make a War and Everyone Laughed?

Everyone’s worried about the possibility of the US attacking Iran. It’s good to worry enough to contact your Congressfolks, and do what you can to make your voice heard. (You’ve bookmarked Congressional contact pages, right?)

It still looks to me like our best hope for preventing the war is the military’s recognition that it’s another impossible mission. The Joint Chiefs are said to have already forced the Cheney administration to take nuclear strikes off the list of options for disabling Iran’s nuclear program. If we can’t use nukes, a viable strike against Iran is hard to imagine. The chance of successfully hitting 400 sites, many of them serious underground bunkers, is minimal. Hitting a few of the sites wouldn’t help enough to justify the results. Invasion by ground forces is a physical impossibility: we have no ground force available. Thus the Decider can decide that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, and say so as often as he wants. What he can’t do is make it so.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:03 AM
February 20, 2007
Tactical and Strategic Bluffing: Rice Caught Lying

Who can lay claim to a name with three vowels in succession? Well, John DiIulio has a total of five out of seven. Remember him? He was the first head of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, which later hired David Kuo. He gave Ron Suskind a lot of interesting background on the political machinations in the Cheney/Rove White House. He invented the term Mayberry Machiavellis, and complained about the politicization of policy.

DiIulio defines the Mayberry Machiavellis as political staff, Karl Rove and his people, “who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible. These folks have their predecessors in previous administrations (left and right, Democrat and Republican), but in the Bush administration, they were particularly unfettered.”

I might have preferred something stronger than “unfettered”, but the point is valid.

After the interview with Suskind, DiIulio wrote him a letter that was published in Esquire. In the letter he says this about Rove:

Some are inclined to blame the high political-to-policy ratios of this administration on Karl Rove. Some in the press view Karl as some sort of prince of darkness; actually, he is basically a nice and good-humored man. And some staff members, senior and junior, are awed and cowed by Karl’s real or perceived powers. They self-censor lots for fear of upsetting him, and, in turn, few of the president’s top people routinely tell the president what they really think if they think that Karl will be brought up short in the bargain. Karl is enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political advisor post near the Oval Office. … Little happens on any issue without Karl’s okay, and, often, he supplies such policy substance as the administration puts out. Fortunately, he is not just a largely self-taught, hyper-political guy, but also a very well informed guy when it comes to certain domestic issues. (Whether, as some now assert, he even has such sway in national security, homeland security, and foreign affairs, I cannot say.)

It appears that we can now say. Gareth Porter of IPS has a fascinating story about the Iranian proposal for negotiations in 2003. As it appears to have been a serious offer from a potential negotiating partner who remains skeptical but is willing to talk, it was dealt with in the classical manner: it was ignored. Think what it would do to the economy.

Of course, the Iranians, who were playing chess at universities when the Europeans were living in mud huts and their kings couldn’t read, are capable of strategic bluffing.

Americans, on the other hand, especially politicians and particularly (though not exclusively) right-wing politicians, tend to think in terms of football and poker: either you knock the other guy over or you con him. The important facts are hidden: your physical capabilities and whatever information you’ve managed to conceal about your plans.

In this situation, bluffing is purely tactical: you’re hoping the opponent will fall for the fake. If it fails, you’ll try something else, generally a lesser plan. Strategic bluffing is more like a feint: it attempts to draw the opponent off balance. It does not depend on the opponent’s mistake for success. Simply requiring a response from the opponent proves where the initiative lies, and the side with the initiative is well known in chess to have an edge. Psychologically, it’s much easier to attack than to defend; it’s more fun, and less stressful, to dictate events than to respond to requirements, at least for most people. I suppose Tigran Petrosian is a counterexample.

The point is that if we’re playing poker while they play chess, we’re in deep-dish sheep-dip cherry-stone pie.

Porter reports that Rove received (from Bob Ney, now in prison but at the time the only Farsi-speaking member of Congress) a copy of the Iranian proposal “within days” of its arrival at the State Department, then headed by Colin Powell. Condoleezza Rice denied in Congressional testimony last week that she had seen the offer from Iran in 2003. But if a copy went to State, and another copy was delivered to Rove (and acknowledged two hours later in a phone call), it becomes difficult to believe Condi. Again.

If you happen to be one of those innocents who can’t believe we’d ignore a legitimate peace proposal so we could proceed with a pre-planned war, you wouldn’t want to read The Persian Gulf TV War by Douglas Kellner, professor of philosophy of education at UCLA.

On August 12 [1990], Iraq agreed to withdraw from Kuwait if Syria and Israel withdrew from occupied Arab lands in Lebanon and the occupied territories; although this move was clearly an opening to begin a negotiated settlement, the United States derisively dismissed the initiative. As Noam Chomsky (1990) explained: “Television news that day was featuring a well-staged presentation of George Bush the dynamo, racing his power boat, jogging furiously, playing tennis and golf, and otherwise expending his formidable energies on important pursuits, far too busy ‘recreating’ (as he put it) to waste much time on the occasional fly in Arab garb that he might have to swat. As the TV news clips were careful to stress, the President’s disdain for this irritant was so great that he scarcely even broke his golf stroke to express his contempt for what the anchorperson termed Hussein’s ‘so-called offer,’ not to be regarded as ‘serious.’ The proposal merited one dismissive sentence in a news story on the blockade in the next day’s New York Times”…

Déjà vu all over again.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:22 AM