Jan 10, 2005

Just Tell Us Where It Hurts


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(In the Bush/Rove language dictionary, is "election" the translation for democracy?)

Jan 10, 2005 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism, BAGnews/Most Recent | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sep 27, 2004

Making Sausage

As a rule, I don't repost other commentary. However, the recent "Talk of the Town" piece in the September 27th New Yorker ("The Political War") by George Packer not only splits wide the administration's fictionalization of the Iraqi campaign, it does so in a way that also implicates the press and Senator Kerry (on behalf of the Senate, as well as himself, I assume) for the lack of sound.

If I can be excused the liberty (surely, no challenge to Dangermouse), I have "mixed in" a couple of BAGnews editions I created following 9/11 in which I sought (in my humble way) to point out the scorpions.


Earlier this year, the United States Agency for International Development, or U.S.A.I.D. hired a team of independent experts to go to Iraq and evaluate the agency’s programs there The experts came back with a mixed review that included plenty of reason for worry: the reconstruction of Iraq was taking place in an ad-hoc fashion, without a consistent strategy, without the meaningful participation or advice of Iraqis, within paralyzing security constraints and amid unrealistic claims of success. But something happened to the report on the way to publication. U.S.A.I.D. kept sending parts of it back for revision, draft after draft, weeding out criticism, until the agency finally approved a version for internal use which one member of the team called “a whitewash” of his findings Another expert said, “It’s so political everything going on out there. They just didn’t want to hear any bad news.” Pointing out that some of the numbers posted on the agency’ Web site were overly optimistic, he concluded, “They like to make their sausage their way.

(Making Sausage 1/29/03)

This would be a minor footnote in the history of the Iraq war, if only the entire story didn’t read the same. President Bush has been making the sausage his way from the beginning, and his way is to politicize. He forced a congressional vote on the war just before the 2002 midterm elections. He trumpeted selective and misleading intelligence. He displayed intense devotion to classifying government documents, except when there was political advantage in declassifying them. He fired or sidelined government officials and military officers who told the American public what the Administration didn’t want it to hear. He released forecasts of the war’s cost that quickly became obsolete, and then he ignored the need for massive expenditures until a crucial half year in Iraq had been lost. His communications office in Baghdad issued frequently incredible accounts of the progress of the war and the reconstruction. He staffed the occupation with large numbers of political loyalists who turned out to be incompetent. According to Marine officers and American officials in Iraq, he ordered and then called off critical military operations in Falluja against the wishes of his commanders, with no apparent strategic plan. He made sure that blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib settled almost entirely on the shoulders of low-ranking troops. And then, in the middle of the election campaign, he changed the subject.

(Congress Hanging 3/16/03)

No one can now doubt the effectiveness of the President’s political operation. Here’s one measure: between May and September, the number of Iraq stories that made page 1 of the Times and the Washington Post dropped by more than a third. During the same period, the percentage of Americans who support the President’s handling of the war increased. It’s the mark of a truly brilliant reëlection campaign that these trends at home are occurring against a background of ever-increasing violence and despair in Iraq. The latest reports from mainstream think tanks, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, show every indicator of progress moving in the wrong direction. In July, the National Intelligence Council issued a classified and quite gloomy analysis of Iraq which had no effect on the President’s rhetoric or on his policy. After a year and a half of improvising and muddling through, there seems to be no clear way forward and no good way out. But because the President—as his chief of staff, Andrew Card, recently said—regards Americans as ten-year-old children, don’t expect to hear an honest discussion about any of this from the White House. (The President’s party, however, is trying to force congress to vote, just before the election, on a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning—no doubt to bring the country a little closer to victory in Iraq.)

(Press Hanging 3/15/03)

The problem with making sausage the President’s way—other than the fact that it deceives the public, precludes a serious debate, bitterly divides the body politic when war requires unity, exposes American soldiers to greater risk, substitutes half measures for thoroughgoing efforts, and insures that no one will be held accountable for mistakes that will never be corrected—is that it doesn’t work. What determines success in this war is what happens in Iraq and how Iraqis perceive it. If U.S.A.I.D. releases a report that prettifies the truth, officials here might breathe easier for a while, but it won’t speed up the reconstruction of Iraq. Covering up failures only widens the gap in perception between Washington and Baghdad—which, in turn, makes Washington less capable of grasping the reality of Iraq and responding to it. Eventually, the failures announce themselves anyway—in a series of suicide bombings, a slow attrition of Iraqi confidence, a sudden insurrection. War, unlike budget forecasts and campaign coverage, is quite merciless with falsehood.

In refusing to look at Iraq honestly, President Bush has made defeat there more likely. This failing is only the most important repetition of a recurring theme in the war against radical Islam: the distance between Bush’s soaring, often inspiring language and the insufficiency of his actions. When he speaks, as he did at the Republican Convention, about the power of freedom to change the world, he is sounding deep notes in the American political psyche. His opponent comes nowhere close to making such music. But if Iraq looks nothing like the President’s vision—if Iraq is visibly deteriorating, and no one in authority will admit it—the speeches can produce only illusion or cynicism. In what may be an extended case of overcompensation, so much of the President’s conduct in the war has become an assertion of personal will. Bush’s wartime hero, Winston Churchill, offered his countrymen nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Bush offers optimistic forecasts, permanent tax cuts, and his own stirring resolve.

(War as Expression of President's Will -- 13 days after 9/11)

As the campaign moves toward its finish, Senator Kerry seems unable to point any of this out, let alone exploit it. On Iraq, he has said almost everything possible, which makes it difficult for him to say anything. It’s understandable that the war fills him with ambivalence. The President’s actions have led the country into a blind alley; there’s no new strategy for Kerry to propose, and the press should stop insisting that he come up with one when the candidate who started the war feels no such obligation. But the Senator has allowed the public to think that the President, against all the evidence of his record, will fight the war in Iraq and the larger war against radical Islam with more success. If Kerry loses the election, this will be the reason.
— George Packer

Sep 27, 2004 in BAGnews/Misadventures Abroad, BAGnews/Politics:General, BAGnews/War On tErrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

In the Groves of Baal

(Who/What/Where -- Posted one year after 9/11)

A friend of mine, who happens to be a Rabbi, introduced me -- this Yom Kippur week -- to a poet named A.M. Klein.

Reading Klein, you would think that he was alive and well. Instead, the pieces I read -- railing about the current regime-- we're written while Hitler was in power. The illusion of timelessness and the clarity of opposition in Klein's words directly contradicts the more fashionable understanding of that time. As my Rabbi friend points out, people wanted (and, apparently, still want) to believe nobody knew what was going on.

Klein has one piece that speaks directly to the failure of "the knowing" to challenge the prevailing account of things. It is called "A Psalm of Abraham, When He Harkened To a Voice, and There Was None."

I only quote the last two stanzas:

O, these are the days of scorpions and whips
When all the seers have had their eyes put out,
And all the prophets burned upon the lips!

There is noise only in the groves of Baal.
Only the painted heathen dance and sing,
With frenzied clamoring.
Among the holy ones, however, is no sound at all.

These words stir the utter disappointment I've felt in the press (our alleged "seers") and the Congress (supposed "prophets," I guess) over the past three years.

Sep 27, 2004 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism, Visual Language | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sep 08, 2004

Caught Off Guard


Although the milestone of 1000 Iraq War battlefield deaths had been approaching, who would have expected that a sudden one-day 14 person loss, coupled with a next-day 7 person loss would accelerate its arrival.

The NYTimes, which is usually "money in the bank" for trumpeting such things, did mention the event in it's lead story this morning, but in the context of an update about the war, and only in the subhead. The LA Times, perhaps because it prints later, did catch the relevance of the milepost, and featured it in the right column lead. However, the story had only half the width of the one in the far left column, titled: "Cheney Warns of Risk if Rivals Win."

The most telling reaction to the milestone, however, involved the administration. Bush had no reaction -- not officially or unofficially. Left to speak for the government, Rumsfeld made reference only to the number, not the event. The number of deaths, he observed, was actually "relatively small" given the risks.

My first reaction was, if my son or daughter had been one of those thousand, I'm not sure that would have provided much comfort.

Sep 08, 2004 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism, Worthy Links: News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Aug 04, 2004

Latest BAGnews Cartoon: Duct Tape All Over Again

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Aug 04, 2004 in BAGnews/Politics:Campaign 2004, BAGnews/War On tErrorism, BAGnews/Most Recent | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jun 30, 2004

Latest BAGnews Cartoon: Let Freedom Ring!

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If there was a greater distinction between globalization and corporatization, I would probably be happy to call myself a globalist. Unfortunately, the western model of the nation state has become pretty much synonymous with (or, subservient to) the corporate state. This is one of the main reasons for the tension between the western and the Islamic world. In our version, we bow three times a day in the direction of the market.

With these distinctions never very far from my mind, I was somewhat aghast to read the piece in this weekend's NYTimes Week in Review by David Sanger titled: "Looking at the Costs if Iraq Goes Up in Smoke." I have to quote the last two paragraphs:

But over the next five years, the real test of strategic success or failure may not lie in democratic elections; it took the Philippines and South Korea decades to get to that moment, even with American troops based in the country. The real test may be Starbucks.

Will Baghdad - or Falluja or Najaf - be peaceful and prosperous enough one day for Iraqis to sip a cappuccino on the sidewalk without fear of losing a limb or worse? Starbucks thrives in lots of places that do not enjoy American-style freedoms. But it depends on security and a rising middle class that wants a wireless hot spot more than it wants a religious war. There are 10 in Beirut, the Baghdad of the 80's. In the end, the Bush administration would take that outcome, happily.

Wow! Don't you get that the willingness to substitute democracy for cappuccinos and a wireless hot spot is the main reason for the conflict in the first place.

Jun 30, 2004 in BAGnews/CommercialismWatch, BAGnews/War On tErrorism, BAGnews/Most Recent | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Jun 24, 2004

Big Day Approaches

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Jun 24, 2004 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism, BAGnews/Most Recent | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jun 17, 2004

Latest BAGnews Cartoon: (Out Of) Control Tower

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Jun 17, 2004 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism, BAGnews/Most Recent | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 28, 2004

You Break It, You Fix It

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May 28, 2004 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism, BAGnews/Most Recent | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 25, 2004

Tomato Revisited

The only new development in the President's big Iraq speech last night? He finally called it an "occcupation."
...I guess stubbornness can make you a little slow. (The cartoon is from last May.)

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May 25, 2004 in BAGnews/Misadventures Abroad, BAGnews/War On tErrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 19, 2004

The Cambone's Connected To The Scandalbone

What's incredible is not that the Pentagon is denying any high level role in the intelligence scandal, it's that their whole strategy has become so transparent.

Of course, Sy Hersh has been the lead flack catcher. (Sadly, the NPR profile I heard on him today seemed to go out of its way to make him look bad. Even more sadly, the best they could do was play up his personality flaws, highlight an instance when he retracted content just before a deadline, and describe a book he wrote as "dark.")

If you've been off the planet for a week or so, you wouldn't of heard about Steve Cambone, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Hersh has drawn a circle around Cambone and his role in the torture policy by tapping information from CIA and Defense sources. On the other hand, Jason Vest has written a piece in The Nation, along with a follow up piece, which basically exposes Cambone solely through unsuspecting public statements and actions.

What I'm starting to find refreshing is that the Bush Administration is so blatantly arrogant, no one even thinks to try and cover up.

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May 19, 2004 in BAGnews/Politics:General, BAGnews/War On tErrorism, BAGnews/Most Recent | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Apr 25, 2004

Second Skin

Having based their campaign strategy on a quiet transfer of power in Iraq, Rove and Co. have had to make a few adjustments. Showing himself to be a real player, Bush is now gambling on the hope that the public will rally around the Chief if things really deteriorate. With his steady poll numbers of late, there might be something to the strategy.
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Apr 25, 2004 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism, BAGnews/Most Recent, Worthy Links: Protest | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Apr 23, 2004

Head Of His Class

Apparently, the mastermind of U.S. Iraq policy was "too busy" this week to attend a hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Committee has hardly met in the last six months, and is only now starting to ask some hard questions about where we're headed.

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Apr 23, 2004 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism, BAGnews/Most Recent | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Apr 14, 2004

So Condi Can Stop Waiting For Someone To Tell Her What To Do

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Apr 14, 2004 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack