Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fear is the Bush Foundation

What with the holy days approaching, I was browsing through some old chestnuts and noted this compelling piece from Mr. Russell. To make it more entertaining, mentally change every mention of Religion to Bush and/or his administration.

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a better place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.

What We Must Do

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world -- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

I think the saddest thing about the Bush era (aside from the mangled and broken bodies and minds) is that the constant fearmongering is destructive to our tradition as a proud and free people, as he encourages us to quake in fear of the "bad men" who "hate our freedom." Al Queda's leadership are men. They are actually fairly rational (just their premise that they must fight a war against America to defend the purity of their faith leads to violent and destructive choices). They wanted a lesser American influence in the mid-east, especially in Saudi Arabia. They think the Saudi kings are corrupt, and want a more strict, fundamentalist control over Mecca. And yes, they operate out of caves and safe houses. This aint the Warsaw pact with thousands of tanks, planes, and nukes. In Iraq, the forces can't defeat the US conventionally except in an ambush at the lowest level of foot patrol; they can't take a US base, they can't lay siege to our forces. But you can't stop them from suicide bombing or sniping.

We need a fearless outlook and free intelligence to discern the way out, and we need to put the Iraqis in the forefront in finding the solutions. Because once we leave (and we will, even if not until a new President is in charge), the Iraqis will have to enforce the new order.

Good Food for thought, even if my rambling Iraq musings don't have much to do with Russell's dictums.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sadly, Bush is actually the Decider

We had an ISG. There have been innumerable pundit plans, exit strategies, new plans for fortifications, troop rotations, and governmental permutations. But it matters not whose plan is best, for Bush is the man who outranks the rest.
The Decider continues to decide. And no matter how many ponys are put forth, we are screwed untill he and Cheney are gone from office.
However that eventually happens.

But don't trust me. Listen to Atrios.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fresh Hate in Iraq Creates Conflict, Not Ancient Grudges

Too many out there pontificate on the nature of 1,000 year ancient grudges, and asserrt a sort of hoplessness in stopping bloodshed in Iraq. They conclude that this sort of sectarian conflict is wired into the Arab DNA, so the US is powerless.

But just as all politics are local, so are greivances. Fueds exist because of their intenesly personal nature, because of what has happened in this generation, this year, this month. The people of Iraq lived under a cuel totalitarian dictatorship, wich also exploited racial (Kurd v. Arab) and religious (Sunni v. Shia) differences, so that the state, the bureacracy, favored Sunni Arabs.

Think of all the petty tyrannies that the burecrats of Iraq could inflict on the powerless, the many bribes demanded, the seizures of property, the abuses of the police, the torture inflicted by Saddam's internal intelligence agencies. And this is all before the American invasion. Once we toppled Saddam and disbanded the army and police, there were scores to settle. There were dead brothers, raped sisters, tortured parents to avenge. They did not thirst for payback because of some 1,400 year old schism regarding religious dogma, but for what happened to them personnally, what happened to their friends, family, and loved ones.

Fued begets fued. Now, approaching four years of war and fueds, there are few who do not have a dead or injured relative. There are those who hate the Sunni, the Shia, the police, the military, a tribal chief, a new burecrat, the American Army, or foreign terrorists. And Iraq is awash in guns and old Iraqi army munitions. There is more than enough fresh blood to keep these fueds going.

We stood by as the beast of revenge was set loose in Iraq. It had been chained by Saddam to some extent (in those days it was only the beast of Saddam that plagued the land), but we let it escape. Now it has grown strong. And hungry. And it must be fed. At this point, America's goal should be to ensure it feeds on Americans as little as possible.

The Denunciations of Bush Begin

We know a politician is often a whore for money, but a politician is always a whore for votes. After all, as a wise man once said, "If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner." So if Bush thinks things are bad now, wait till the rest of the war party cheerleaders start dwelling on that election in 08 and the constant dwindling of support for the war and a presidential approval level in the 20s (if that high by the big November). It's already begun...

Senator Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, a Bush rubber-stamp man 'till this point, gives a speech CNN headlines as "GOP senator criticizes Iraq war in emotional speech." Money quote: "[I'm at] the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up the same bombs, day after day.That is absurd...It may even be criminal."

Like rats leaving the sinking ship. While sharks are circling. Some of the rats think they can make it out alive if they pretend to be a shark, especially if the sharks are busy attacking the big, meaty target in the middle.

Is this how the road to impeach begins? It reminds me of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and his comments on another war... "In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success." Sounds like the ISG. As for the American people, Yamamoto said "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

The power of an angry and determined electorate can lead to some important changes in this country. And those that pander or get led by the polls will jump on the bandwagon. Republicans in the House and Senate are going to face the fact that they can toss Bush under the bus and give the Dems a veto proof power to shake things up or they'll go down with the ship. All those fellas teetering in the low 50s are doing the math and reading what's on the wall. If they want to listen? Only time will tell. But the ground is shifting and the tide is turned. Let's see how big this wave gets before it breaks.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Downward Spiral: Bush Stayin' the Course

After everything that's happened since the fall of Baghdad, since Bremer and Bush's CPA in Iraq disbanded the Army and presided over the dismantaling of order and a state monopoly over violence, and the ensuing grinding, bloody decline, Bush still doesn't get it. He still actually believes he's winning and that he will be vindicated by History as some great man, too "enlightened" for his time. The greatest spinner, the man of stock talking points, who's taken America to it's lowest stature in foreign policy in decades, well... on his desk the buck never stops. (see dmsilev's diary for more). Why else is loyalty so built into the system? In the upper echelons of the Bush court, le e'stat, c'est Bush. The state must be defended and protected against all slanders, and can never be wrong, lest the people ask too many questions. And even after the ISG came out, the whole edifice still exists in denial. Maybe Bob "we're not winning" Gates, our new Sec Def, can change some things. Bush is still spouting the same garbage, though. Take a look.

The most striking demonstration that Bush remains totally in denial was his choice of language to respond to the two British reporters. To Nick Robinson, he says "it's bad in Iraq. Does that help?" But the remainder of his long response never says things are going bad, or are regressing, or falling apart. Instead, he just says that it is "tough." Which is the same as saying it's hard (like "it's a hard job being the president"). But how do you deal with toughness? By preservering, by exerting sufficent "will." You don't make massive course corrections because things are falling apart. He says "Make no mistake, I understand how tough it is, sir." But he fails to acknowlege how thoroughly awfully it is and how low its fallen since the bombing of the golden dome mosque.

In response to Neely asking about a change of stragegy, Bush says "I t hought we would succeed quicker than we did, and I am disappointed by the pace of success." It is a denial that Iraq is even failing. Instead, it says that the current stratgey is succeeding, but progress should be faster. As if everything will be fine in Iraq if we stay the course for 10 years, while the original plan called for success in 5 (and we're gettin close to 4 right now).

He should be disappointed by the total absence of success and the rapidly escalating pace of failure. But he still believes that his way leads to "victory" (whatever that is), and that everything would be fine if people accepted his gospel instead of asking why things are so bad. He sees the pace of success as slow but steady, of things getting better, instead of the spreading anarchy that's increased constantly since the fall of Baghdad.

Fun Robert Gates factoid: He twice turned down an offer to work for George Bush the younger (showing remarkable good judgment). The first was when he turned down the offer to head Homeland Security to remain at a (gasp) University. Tom Ridge got to preside over that burecratic horror (color code man), and now its the walking corpse Chertoff (heckuva job). He next declined the new Director of National Intelligence post, and instead John "intel czar" Negroponte took up the job. Gates, now Dean, explained his choice in an email to the students by saying he "had nothing to look forward to in D.C. and plenty to look forward to at A&M." I wonder, has he even talked with Bush about Iraq?

Fun Fact #2 (also from wikipedia): In January 2004, Gates co-chaired a Council on Foreign Relations task force on U.S. relations towards Iran. Among the task force's primary recommendation was to directly engage Iran on a diplomatic level regarding Iranian nuclear technology. Key points included a negotiated position that would allow Iran to develop its nuclear program in exchange for a commitment from Iran to use the program only for peaceful means.

Poor man. I'll be impressed if he lasts a few months in the bizzaro politicized world that is the Bush White House.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Right and the Intelligent debate the Baker Commission

Well, the Baker Commission came out with their report, and the land has been abuzz. Naturally, there's no idea that hasn't actually been discussed already, so there's nothing new. But there the Baker Boys (and one girl) did advocate diplomacy, active intervention to settle the Israel-Palestine dispute, milestones in Iraq, and eventual withdrawl. It recognized that despite the right's attempt to always demonize our foreign "enemies" as implacable madmen and little Hitler's in training, they are all actually fairly rational states with wants and needs like everyone else, and it is possible to negotiate.

Naturally, such an assesment causes the right-wing ideologues to freak out about the empending enslavement of the world if we don't show enough "will" by staying in Iraq until the Earth is destroyed by the sun.

From Hugh Hewitt:

Like I told a reporter buddy of mine: War sucks but a world run by
Islamofacists sucks more.

And therein lies the fatal premise.

The problem with the future is that it is essentially unknowable. So we create logical premises to determine how to act. The opererative premise debated right now?
If we leave Iraq then X will happen. If we stay, Y will happen. If X is worse than Y, we stay, if not, we should go.

For most rational people, Y = more dead American soldiers, waseted funds, more anti-americanism, and more loss of prestige and foreign policy ineffectiveness. X usually means continued chaos and civil war in Iraq, with maybe a 25% chance that things will improve once the Iraqis realize it's up to them, a maybe 25% chance of a massive blood-bath and a regional conflict, and maybe 50% chance of years of grinding civil war, de-facto partitian, and an eventual uneasy peace like in Lebanon.

For the right-wingers, Y is the same but X (if we leave) = the entire world will be ruled by Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda! So yes, Y sucks, but X is worse than anything in the history of the world.

It's fair to say that the West has dominated the globe since at least the 1850s, once Britan beat down China in the Opium wars. It has generally stood for some form of capitalism in various guises. There was a challenge after WWII from the Communist Block, which dissolved at the start of the 1990s. All the great powers have now adopted this basic style of societal orentation(US, Britan, France, Germany, Japan, China, India, Russia, etc.), with varying degrees of government intervention and support in their economies. There are varying degrees of civil liberties in these countries, but a modern capitalist society requires at least a certain level of free discourse and movement to function properly, and so you are generally all-right as long as you don't criticize the state.

Al-Queda had support in one country: The Taliban dominated Afghanistan from about 1996 to 2001, and had no real commerce or conventional military power to speak of. Members of Al-Queda launched a terroist attack against the United States, and the Taliban government was toppled and scattered shortly thereafter. This 5 year period, in an incredibly impoverished nation that suffered through decades of civil war, was the extent of the actual political control of Al-Queda approved government.

But if we leave in Iraq, somehow Al-Queda will find a way to defeat the EU, Japan, China, India, all of North and South America, Russia, and everywhere else, and impose their strict, fundamentalist Islamic rule.

Could someone please explain how this is remotely possible? Does the Right actually believe this, or do they just say it because it's the only way they feel they can defend the indefensible?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Weight of the War on our President

Been a long while since me last post. Bad blogger...

Anyway, in his first one on one interview since the election, Bush lets it be known how he preserves in the face of adversity to Brit Hume:
Bush: I had a bunch of our buddies from Texas up here this weekend, and they're
kind of -- they look at you, and go, man, how come you're still standing?
It's not so much the presidency on the shoals because of difficult decisions
I made; it's more, the weightiness of this thing must be impossible for
anybody to bear. And I tell them it's just not the case, that I'm inspired
by doing this job. . . .
"I also remind them, Brit, that Laura and I are sustained by the prayers of millions of people. That's hard for some to, you know, I guess, chew on."
Hume: "You sense that."
Bush: "Absolutely."
Hume: "I know they
tell you that, when you see them out on the hustings. But do you sense that?"
Bush: "I feel it."
Hume: "You
feel it."
Bush: "Yeah. Because the load is not heavy, I guess is the best way to describe it. Look, somebody said to me, prove it. I said you can't prove it. All I can tell you is I feel it. And it's a remarkable country when millions pray for me and Laura. So therefore I'm able to say to people, that this is a joyful experience, not a painful
experience. And yeah it's tough, but that's okay. It's tough times.

So, people pray for the president (something I recall everyday in Church, because its natural to want our head of state not to screw things up). And because people are praying for the office of the President, and for Bush himself, he isn't weighted down by all his mismanagement and incompetence. He doesn't feel bad for his mistakes, because someone's praying for him to be forgiven. See, all clean!

The problem with Bush's faith isn't the faith per se. There's nothing that makes religous people intrinsically bad leaders (and indeed history says otherwise). The problem is that the prayers and doctrine of forgiveness and assured assencion into heaven, which his faith tells him is a lock once he was born again, leads to a "what me, worry" attitude. So Iraq is failing badly? Well, people are praying for me, I know Jesus loves me, and I'm going to heaven, so relax. I'm bringng freedom to the Iraqis, which is just part of God's plan!

Maybe this is why Bush is so lazy. This is why he seems like he doesn't care. It's all in the hands of prayer and God to make sure things turn out right. Why, if all Americans prayed for victory in Iraq, especially publicly or in schools, then the insurgents would lay down their arms and we would have a big peace parade from Damascus to Tehran. That's why he's so obbsessed with spin and asserting "will" in the conflict. As long as we believe, it will all turn out all right. (Green lantern theory of war, h/t Yglesias)

Dammnit, man, when things are going to hell in a handbasket and its your doing, it better damn well weigh on you. Every maimed and dead American soldier, every crippled Iraqi child ought to way on your shoulders and your mind, because you have roally screwed the pooch. But just like with Katrina, just like any Bush disaster, he just shrugs it off. Not a big deal. Not when folks are out there prayin, right?

I fear that Bush will go to his grave without any sense of shame for his role in the greatest US foreign policy debacle in the Middle East. Or for the fact that his entire foreign policy was generally a debacle. Or that he fulfilled the goals of Al-Queda in a far better way then it could have ever done so on its own. Two more years of this...I hope it won't get too much worse.