B After The Fact

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

I did not see the entire Bush speech last night, although I read it late last night. Bush avoided specific time tables as to when American troops would leave Iraq. He left the impression that it would be sooner rather than later, without actually saying so. Bush, therefore, met my minimum standards, and I am sure is happy to hear me say so.

When you say that the third of the five steps needed to rebuild a free Iraq is "rebuilding the infrastructure" and then you say the fifth step is free, national elections in 2005, you are leaving the impression that the entire nation is going to be rebuilt by the end of the year. Lots of money to be made quickly. I wonder which company with ties to the administration is most up to the task.

When you talk about elections being "free" and "orderly" and "accurate" and "national," I just cringe. That is harder to do than having Halliburton rebuild the country by the end of the year. Words that Bush wisely did not use are "fair" or "peaceful". Bush knows that it is unlikely that there will be fair or peaceful elections, but Bush intends to stand by the results of whatever election there might be. I don't know how there can be a fair election without an accurate census, or even a minimal sense of who is actually living in Iraq, as opposed to all those nice people just passing through to fire weapons.

In the first American elections, the voters were a very limited number of white, male, landowners. Those elections may not have been reflective of true will of all the people, but at least they were easier to pull off, and resulted in a little track record of success to build on. I am not saying that Iraq should limit its voters to white, male, landowners. I am not saying that Iraqi elections are doomed to failure. I am saying that we expect Iraq, right out of the box, to do something that we were unable to do until 1920, after almost 150 years of existence, or, if you would rather, until after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, after almost 200 years of existence. We are asking Iraq to have an election where the entire adult population is allowed to participate. Hope they start planning NOW.

There is an extremely good argument to be made that the benefits of establishing a beach-head of freedom in the Middle East is worth the sacrifices we are making to accomplish it. I tried to say something of it yesterday, and I will return to it. I was hoping that maybe I could quote something George Bush said last night --- but he didn't say anything about it. Maybe in next week's speech.

I know he thought he said something. He spoke about tyranny and murder, and mind-control, and the mistreatement of women, and dramatic acts of murder to shock, frighten and demoralize. He could have been talking about the people who bombed the Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City.

He talked about the horrible prison in Abu Gharib, and tearing it down after the United States builds a more state-of-the-art horrible prison in Abu Gharib. That's kind of like when Tony Soprano told Carmela, well not that he would stop cheating, but that he would be more discrete about it.

He talked about going to the United Nations as a fourth step (In criticizing the speech, Joe Biden thought that holding an international summit should be the first step). I think the United Nations is important in its place. However, I think asking a room full of dictators and tyrants to help establish freedom in the Middle East is ludicrous.

He said that we are guided by a "vision" (nice choice of words. Dad didn't have a vision thing, you know). "We believe that freedom can advance and change lives in the greater Middle East, as it has advanced and changed lives in Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe and Africa." THAT IS NOT SELF-EXPLANATORY. THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE FIRST SENTENCE OF THE SPEECH, NOT THE LAST. THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE TOPIC OF THE SPEECH EVERY SINGLE WEEK.

People I speak to are for the war, or they're against the war, but when I ask them who they know who is actually in Iraq or in Afghanistan, their faces turn blank. Bush is able to sell this war in the way he sells this war because it is not a war at all, it is a television show.

This war is worthy of the efforts and the sacrifices of EVERYBODY. Bush could not give a speech like that. Even he couldn't get the words out of his mouth.

I have eluded (sic)to this in other blog entries, I implied it in several of the recent entries below ---

A great tragedy of American history is that Bill Clinton could be fighting this war, but chose not to.

In response to my comments that Republicans did not show support for Bill Clinton when he tried to go after Osama bin Laden during the impeachment struggles (Wag The Dog), I received this response from John Podhoretz of the New York Post:

"An interesting blog -- One caveat, though -- if you look back, you will find that the Weekly Standard, the New York Post, and other supposed Republican mouthpieces were firmly in support of the Clinton administration's actions in Kosovo, and that Newt Gingrich (for one) offered firm backing to the administration."

Thanks for looking at the blog, John.

I am curious as to what Bill Clinton's memoirs will say about support for his Osama efforts. I remember the Wag The Dog crowd being much louder than the voices John Podhoretz mentions in his e-mail. Pundits often mistake their comments for pronouncements of official policy. Although a lot of pundits are quite powerful at influencing policy, they are no substitute for the lawmakers themselves.

As for Newt Gingrich, sometimes elected official. Yesterday I mentioned Ulysses Grant. Today, I mention Stephen Douglas. A lot of politicians and thinkers go from left to right in the course of their careers (anyone who is a conservative at 20 has no heart. anyone who is a liberal at 40 has no mind.) Douglas, the great shibboleth to freedom lovers everywhere, cared more about his country (well, his white-man country, at least) and its Constitution and his own integrity than about any particular label that could be placed on him. Of course, integrity is hard to spell. Many thought that Douglas spelled integrity "business interests". Many feel likewise about Gingrich. I expect that Gingrich, like Douglas, will continue to surprise us, and that his greatest work, for good or ill, is still ahead of him. I would not be surprised if Gingrich, who often cites de Tocqueville, is Douglas-conscious -- that Gingrich knows Douglas's story and is either emulating him, or trying to avoid the traps, as the case may be.

I sent some of you my article about Douglas and the Lecompton Compromise last year. Smithsonian Magazine ran an nice little article on the Kansas-Nebraska Act in its March or April ediition. I will get a link when I am less pressed for time.

In speaking of Civil War matters yesterday, I made a technical error in discussing the press bias. I referred to classified advertising as a source of income. What I should have said was that in the absense of government printiing offices, publishers received significant income from government contracts to print official documents, etc. Therefore, when Democrats were in power, certain papers made money, and when Republicans were in power, other papers made money.

Monday, May 24, 2004

In advance of President Bush's speech tonight in defense of the Iraqi War, and laying out his strategy for the future, I would like to say the following:

1. I remain in favor of an aggressive policy towards terrorism, which must be focussed in the Middle East. Destroying Al Qaeda in Pakistan or Afghanistan, while perhaps the main event in avenging September 11, is not the main event in the "War on Terrorism." If we stay in Iraq, there are enemies who will wage war against us in Iraq, because we are in Iraq. If we leave Iraq, there are enemies who will wage war against us in the United States, because we are in the United States. We did not create these enemies because of something we did prior to September 11. We did not create these enemies because we went into Afghanistan. We did not create these enemies because we went into Iraq. These are our enemies because of who we are. Every breathe we take is a capital offense in their eyes. And there are a lot of eyes involved.

2. Virtually everyone I know has a son or daughter who will face the draft. It is very hard to defend an aggressive foreign policy in a conversation with these people. I am rarely up to the task.

3. If George Bush says anything tonight that indicates that the American committment to Iraq, and the presence of American soldiers in Iraq, has an end date, say after the transfer of sovereignty in June or after the election in January, or after the turn of the next century, then we may as well leave tomorrow, before another soldier is in danger.

4. I do not expect him to say anything that speaks to an end date. I expect that even a man who pretends to be as religious as he says he is has some fear of hell.

5. I haven't read either Wooodward book, either the one on September 11 or the current best seller. Those books probably clarify what I am about to say, and I would appreciate it if someone clarified this for me: Bush's speeches are very well written. However, they do not seem to reflect him at all. I am sure he agrees with everything in them, but they rarely reflect his true priorities or his true intensity of feelings. They are television events, and like all television events, immediately disposable, and the subsequent actions do not reflect what is in the speeches.

I mean, in the technical sense they contain the idea seeds of future actions. But the tone they set has nothing to do with was subsequently happens. Best example is all the speeches that Bush gave, all the statements Bush made on WMDs. Now, of course, his people say, no. There were other statements in those speeches about Saddam was a cruel dictator, etc. Those are the clauses you need to look at. Those of us who were paying attention at the time know that there was a different tone set.

6. "McClellan has the slows" --- Twice in recent weeks, in the wake of the Abu Gharib, Rumsfeld has mentioned that he was reading a book about the 40 Days and the Seige of Petersburg. One time he mentioned that like Grant, Rumsfeld had stopped talking to the media.

I don't know much about about current events, but I know everything about Grant:

a. The media accused Grant of being a drunk and a butcher. There is nothing in contemporary journalism --- Drudge, Limbaugh, the National Enquirer, nothing --- that is as vile and unfair as mainstream respectable journalism at the time of the Civil War. Back in those days, most of the newspaper advertising revenue came from the sort of legal notices you see in the back of the paper. You were either a Republican newspaper or a Democratic newspaer, and your ad revenue was very much effected by who was in power.

b. "McClellan has the slows" --- Lincoln spent half a war trying to get McClellan to fight. There was always something he said he needed that he didn't need. Grant was always able to fight with what he had. The Powell Doctrine of "overwhelming force" is similar to McClellan --- There is always something else that you need to do before you fight. No one wants to fight. Military people, who know the costs the most, are the least likely to ever want to fight. There is a lot to be said for an orientation that the military is always blowing smoke up your ass. Unfortunately, it appears that in this one instance, the generals were giving Rumsfeld an honest assessment about troop strength. However, I can also appreciate Rumsfeld saying to himself that if he gives the generals all the troops they said they needed, they would complain that they needed something else, and the fight would never happen. War really is too important to be left for generals. If Rumsfeld is reading about Grant, he most certainly has been taking that lesson to heart. No wonder the generals want Rumsfeld out.

Last weekend (around May 15), B read a little article by David Galentier in THE WEEKLY STANDARD about the need to win the war. He called on Democrats to rally around the country in its time of need, stating that if the country was in an hour of need, Republicans can always be trusted to come to the aid of the country.

He invited "serious" comments on whether or not the Republicans ever abandoned the country in its hour of need. I responsed as below. I have heard no response. Apparently I am not serious.

"It has been difficult to be a pro-war Democrat in this climate. But I haven't thrown in the towel yet.

I do not think Democrats are letting the country down, for the reasons I will cite below. However, granting your argument, you ask if Republicans have ever let the country down as badly as you feel Democrats are now.

I would seriously respond that when Bill Clinton attempted to conduct military strikes against Al Qaeda in the middle of his impeachment troubles, Republicans screamed "Wag The Dog." Clinton, who was a reluctant warrior anyway, backed down quickly. A little more serious look at what Clinton was trying to do, and a little less knee-jerk contempt, a little less concern for impeachment at all costs, might have allowed the United States to mobilize a couple of year sooner, changed the climate a little, maybe save a building or two in the long run.

Democrats owe this Administration NOTHING:

Although there are many good reasons for continuing to fight this war, it seems increasingly clear that the Bush Administration is interested in none of them. The justifications for the war given in the Weekly Standard, ideas I agree with generally, are simply being coopted by the Bush Admnistration to give lip service for the rationales behind the war. It is increasingly clear that the Bush Administration went to war for an entirely different set of reasons.

There is no indication from the Bush Administration itself (as opposed to you and Kristol) that its war goals are foreign policy oriented. Bush is simply using the war to settle old scores, to rewrite the financial arrangement regarding oil in the Middle East, and to little by slowly smear (detain) all those who disagree with their domestic policy. (They are all enemy combattants.)

After the election, when confronted with the need for a draft, the Bush Administration will simply declare victory and go home. They will increase the reign of terror over American dissent (read Democrats), and leave Iraq to its own devices.

A Kerry Administration, concerned about America's place before the world and before the Lord, will most likely stay the course. I expect Kerry will have no assistance from the Republican Party or from people like you."

Friday, May 07, 2004

5/7/2004 8:06 AM

You cannot be surprised that when George Bush finally decided to apologize for the Iraqi prison abuses, that he would apologize to the King of Jordan. Bush seems to feel that people are not his peers, and he does not owe them apologies. Kings, however …

I thought I read everything about it, every obvious point that could be said, but how systematic do the abuses have to be, how upside down does the culture have to be, to have GIs pose for those pictures? I don’t see a lot of Kodak moments of smiling guards at the Gulag or Auschwitz.


This is like that moron juror – with a law degree, natch --- who said that Dennis Kozlowski can not be convicted of a crime because despite the fact that he managed to become the CEO of a major corporation, he did not have the moral compass TO UNDERSTAND THAT TAKING WHAT DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU IS A CRIME.

Interrogating prisoners of war is a core military function. It is not, to paraphrase the other Donald, wussy little social work. If you do not have enough soldiers to do interrogation, then you do not have a military. If you do not have a military. you do not need a Secretary of Defense, and this one should go. The Department of Commerce should take over.

A more paranoid notion would be this: the Military is a function of the United States government of the people, by the people and for the people. The current mess in Iraq is, in large measure, the work of independent contractors, whose only loyalties are to the crown. Rumsfeld probably knows too much to be released before he wants to go.

Krugman makes the point in today’s Times that oil prices are spiking not simply because there is not enough oil coming out of Iraq, but because the demand from East Asia (read: China) is increasing. A more paranoid notion would be this: Bush went into Iraq not to capture the Iraqi oil supply (which I have always said was a good and sufficient reason), but to destroy it so the Saudis could have a windfall.

I expect that if we ever see Michael Moore’s “suppressed” documentary, he will say much the same thing. I hate George Bush as much as the next fellow, but putting any reference to Michael Moore in my brain makes me want to take a shower.

By the way, I expect that this whole business with Michael Moore was written down by Eisner and Weinstein in last year’s marketing plan. Maybe Jeb Bush goes along for the campaign contribution

I have opinions on the communion controversy swirling around Senator Kerry and Governor McGreevey, but it is a family fight, and it’s not my family. I must admit some old fears are bred in the bone, and it makes me highly uncomfortable when I see other members of my family commenting on that fight.

I will make the following very basic points that I am quite sure will appear in someone else’s op-ed pieces within the next few days:

a. Separation of church and state is not a one-way street. The Founding Fathers were far more fearful of what is going on now, the establishment of a powerful cross-denominational religious institution that finds itself obligated to adopt certain political views --- or else --- than they were over whether or not we pledge allegiance to “one nation under God” or pay for the odd crèche here and there.

b. Like you faithful blog readers expect me to say -- we have all been here before. One of the harbingers of the Civil War was the break-up of three of the four most powerful denominations of the era -- Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian -- into its Northern and Southern components. Calhoun, and to a lesser extent, Webster, both felt that once the churches split, then seccession had already taken place in people's minds. Splitting the country apart was a much less important matter. I have never read a scholar say it, but I will say, that when Lincoln, in his first Inaugural Address, referred to the "cords" binding the sections together being strained, but not broken, that Lincoln was responding to Calhoun. (Who did not answer -- having been dead for 10 years by then)

c. Those of you who have heard me rant for decades now know that I feel an underlying agenda of the Conservatives has always been to re-fight the Civil War, and win this time. Although I do not know how a victory would be defined. I do know that in order for the entire episode to play out, two wars have to be fought.

First is the battle between liberalism and conservatism.

If liberalism wins, than the war is between American particularism, certain notions of civic religion and the ways that liberal Protestantism has imbued large segments of the culture versus internationalism, the notion that the American experience has been by and large worse than the European experience, certain notions of the way Roman Catholicism is actually practised in every day life by those who came here from Spanish speaking countries. Having written it out the short way, I realize that it is, at its core, a racial war. My understanding is that Professor Huntington goes through all this in his new book.

If conservatism wins, than the war is easier to understand, and it is the war between taking fundamentalist Protestantism seriously, on the one hand, and those who would only pay it lip service in the worship of their real God -- money --- on the other hand.