Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Two Kinds of Liar

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales routinely appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee to advise, and answer questions. He will get an earful when he next appears on April 17. According to the New York Times (“Time for Answers,” Editorial, March 27, 2007), the Justice Department now says Gonzalez attended a meeting to discuss the firings of seven federal prosecutors, contradicting his claim that he knew nothing of the matter.

We expect politicians to lie; it’s their job. But the Attorney General of all people, should be trustworthy, it would seem. That office stands for truth, justice, and honesty in a republic governed by rule of law, not personality and ego. Or am I na├»ve about that?

There is no evidence that Gonzalez has done anything illegal. It is within his rights (and the President’s) to fire any and all federal prosecutors whenever they feel like it. But there is plenty of evidence to indicate that Gonzalez is not an honest man (See Dan Eggen: “Gonzales TV appearance sheds no light on firings,” Washington Post, 3/28/07 p. A05).

Why is it necessary for politicians to lie? I think there are two reasons, one psychological, one structural.

Psychologically, many people who go into politics do it for personal self-aggrandizement, even though they don’t admit that, even to themselves. They love the adulation expressed by votes, and being “special,” the center of attention. This human frailty stems from a pattern of socialization that emphasizes garnering attention and approval from parents. More deeply, it arises from the basic human instinct to transcend particularity to a sense of transpersonal oneness, basically what Jean-Paul Sartre called “the desire to be God” (Being and Nothingness, 1946). For those who do not have the intellect or the temperament to exercise that transcendent need rationally, the adulation of the crowd is the next best thing.

If that analysis is correct, it explains why politicians love being in office more than life itself. Being the focus of public recognition (if not always adulation) is the definition of psychological life for them. To admit of weakness, uncertainty, or error is tantamount to admission of their life’s folly: that they are not godlike, but only their mother’s child. So they must lie for psychological self-preservation. They do not realize they are lying. In their own minds, they are merely batting gnats to return to the important work of exercising omnipotence and omniscience. They have no remorse about lying, only about being caught out.

The second reason politicians lie is that democracy requires it. The members of the American polity, for example, are enormously diverse, almost to the point of being ungovernable, but if there is going to be a government by the people, there must be some identifiable voice of the people. Alas, most of the electorate is grossly uninformed about government and its complex issues, and even less interested. This is a well-documented historical fact (see, for example, Lau, R. and Redlawsk, D., How Voters Decide, 2007). When some governmentally relevant issue does penetrate the consciousness of the average voter, the response is emotional or stereotypical, not rational (Again, documented by Lau and Redlawsk among others). And if a political issue does somehow rise to the level of rational discourse, the typical voter is simply not prepared to exercise critical thinking.

High literacy in the U.S., good public education and freedom of speech make U.S. democracy one of the most successful examples in the world but that is still not saying much for an educated electorate. To provide leadership, politicians must pitch to the level of emotional, traditional, and cultural values that define the cohesiveness of the electorate, either in general, or in defined constituencies. To speak the truth as one sees it, critically analyzed and rationally conceptualized, would be useless. The electorate cannot hear it; is not prepared to hear it; will not hear it. Instead, it is necessary for the politician to speak in euphemisms and slogans that have a chance of being recognized by voters. It’s not malicious or pathological lying, just prudent circumlocution of the truth.

Back to the Gonzalez affair. It looks like he is lying. If so, which kind of a liar is he? My take is that he is, like the president who appointed him, a psychological liar. It is a mental pathology that the political process selects for. He can’t help it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Does it Really All Come Down to Oil?

"Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won … It will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through." George W. Bush

On the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, the president asked the American people for patience, implicitly acknowledging the polls, large anti-war protests around the country, and Democrats’ move to attach a pullout date to continued war funding.

Are there any reasons to heed the president’s appeal?

Can this war be “won?”

What would that even look like? Unconditional surrender of Osama and all Islamist extremists? Not in our lifetimes.

How about political and ethnic reconciliation in Iraq, leading to peace? If there were any signs of that, we wouldn’t need a troop surge, would we? Can you force people to reconcile by banging their heads together?

Can we kill all, or most of the insurgents, regardless of their political and religious affiliations? That’s not likely, especially since the borders of the country are not sealed.

There is simply no end in sight to the war in Iraq.

So why shouldn’t we pull out the troops, in an orderly way, by a certain date? Because, according to Bush and most republicans, that would amount to failure. FAILURE!

White house spokesman Tony Snow said about a date-certain pullout, "We think that is an approach that is conducive to defeat. It is a recipe for failure, not for victory." FAILURE! DEFEAT!

If there is no definition of winning, there is also no definition of defeat. The White House uses those words for emotional value. By threatening failure, emotion will trump reason, they hope.

But the plain fact is, we made a mistake and we should recognize it. That would be the mature thing to do. It is immoral to perpetuate the hell of war for the sole purpose of preserving egocentric pride.

Snow also said that date-certain withdrawal would "… forfeit the sacrifice that our troops have made in the field." That is a well-documented error in reasoning called the “sunk cost fallacy.” It is very common in business and government. “We can’t cancel the project because we have already spent a lot of money on it.” It’s wrong thinking.

Bush argued that members of congress "have a responsibility to pass a clean bill that does not use funding for our troops as leverage to get special interest spending for their districts.”

What? Everyone knows the issue is to attach a date-certain pullout of troops to the funding bill. That is hardly a special interest. To characterize it as such shows the president’s utter contempt for the intelligence of the voters. We must hope his contempt is undeserved.

Both Bush and John McCain have repeatedly warned of “devastating consequences” if the US were to pull out its troops any time soon. What are these consequences?

According to the Washington Post (Bush warns U.S. security will suffer if troops withdraw from Iraq. William Branigin, 3/19/07; 1:02 pm,, when asked, the president said "a contagion of violence could spill out across the entire country."

Like that hasn’t already happened? What is he talking about?

"The terrorists could emerge from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they had in Afghanistan, which they used to plan the attacks of September 11, 2001. For the safety of the American people, we cannot allow this to happen."

So the threat is that “the terrorists” will have a place in Iraq to plan?

What does the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq have to do with international terrorism anyway? Have terrorist attacks around the world ceased since we have been in Iraq? No. International terrorism and the war in Iraq are completely different problems. The sooner we get out of Iraq, the sooner we can address the real problems of terrorism.

What is more likely is that after the U.S. pulls out, the civil war will intensify as various proxies for Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria, flood the Iraqi battlefield more boldly.

What is America’s interest in that? Access to oil? Does it really all come down to oil? That is pathetic. But it is the only answer that makes sense.

America might emerge a stronger country if it were forced to go cold turkey from its oil addiction. Maybe mid-east regional conflict would be an opportunity.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Observations On A Mass Murderer

Khalid Sheikh Muhammad claims to be the mastermind behind the 9-11 attacks of 2001. He was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and as far as I can tell, the first time he has spoken for the public since capture is in the unclassified portions of the transcript of a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay this week. The transcript was released on March 10, 2007.

As widely reported in the news media, he confesses to being responsible for the planning and/or execution of 31 acts of terror under the supervision of Osama Bin Laden. These range from being the architect of the 9-11 attacks to blowing up the Sears tower in Chicago, Big Ben in London, and even a tiny, obscure bank in my town of Seattle (I think he had bad intelligence on that target. You’d have a hard time finding that bank if even you wanted to make a deposit).

One of the most remarkable things about the transcript is the long list of terrorist plots he takes credit for.

Government analysts reportedly are skeptical of these claims, saying that KSM may have provided only financing, or was simply aware of most of them. Nevertheless, providing terrorist financing, by our own laws, counts as “being responsible,” and you definitely go to jail for that. He was actually behind the 9-11 attacks apparently, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

Another interesting aspect of the transcript is the polite and respectful way he is addressed by the interrogators. The transcript is a political document of course, as all documents released by the government are. I am sure there are entire rooms full of transcripts of KSM interrogations administered since he was captured. These few pages are selected for public consumption for a purpose.

The intent is probably supposed to be inoculatory: “See, we treat our captives humanely and respectfully. We don’t torture or beat people.” This implicit message is designed to fend off inevitable suspicion that KSM was tortured. And of course it prepares the American public for his later trial, the message being: “This military court is no kangaroo court, because as you can see, the man is a self-confessed mass murderer.”

The release of the big list of terrorist projects is also designed to remind the American public how ambitious these terrorists are, and scare us, and by implication, urge us to unquestioningly support the government’s efforts to catch them, no matter what laws or principles are trampled upon in the process.

Despite the cynical, self-serving motives of the U.S. government, they were not alone in that. KSM probably prepared the list for terrorist consumption. He was surely aware that he was speaking to the world, and the big list was designed to wow and encourage the soldiers back home in terrorist land.

But I was most fascinated by KSM’s attempts to win respect, or at least understanding, from an American audience. It seems to me that in some of his statement, he was speaking to Americans, trying to explain that he was a reasonable, thoughtful, religious man, not a devil incarnate.

Because war, sure, there will be victims. When I said I'm not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry even. I don't like to kill children and the kids. Never Islam are, give me green light to kill peoples. Killing, as in the Christianity, Jews, and Islam, are prohibited.

But there are exception of rule when you are killing people in Iraq , You said we have to do it. We don't like Saddam. But this is the way to deal with Saddam. Same thing you are saying. Same language you use, I use. When you are invading two- thirds of Mexican, you call your war manifest destiny. It up to you to call it what you want. But other side are calling you oppressors.

(Transcript, p. 23)

I like the way he refers to “children and the kids.” Calling children “kids” is a particularly American idiom, yet like any idiom, it is difficult for a non-native speaker to get just right. We don’t ever say “children and kids” as if they were different things. We wouldn’t say “kids” at all in the context of mass murder. Yet somebody has told KSM that you can cozy up to Americans by referring to their children as “kids.” They love that.

So he is obviously attempting to win, if not sympathy, at least understanding from Americans. He is not a mindless killer he says. No, he is a religious person, just like Christians and Jews. Killing is of course, prohibited. He knows that. See? We’re all so similar! (The term “infidel” does not come up in this calculated passage.)

But there are obviously exceptions to the rules, he notes. You Americans have done a lot of killing in Iraq because you “didn’t like” Saddam”. You killed a lot of Mexicans and stole their land during the westward expansion of the United States in the 1800’s. You ennobled your theft and slaughter by calling it your manifest destiny, but your victims would call you terrorists.

KSM uses the term “oppressors” rather than “terrorists” since he doesn’t want to remind us that he is in fact the third highest ranking terrorist in the world. No, he’s just a guy caught in a historical moment, the way you Americans have been.

What he says is factually true. We invaded Iraq and killed a lot of people for no good reason. We did steal 2/3 of Mexico and kill a lot of people. He could have mentioned the slaughter of the American Indians and institutionalized slavery of blacks, while he was at it. We certainly have done our share of killing in history. His message seems to be, war happens. When it does, people kill and get killed. It’s not personal.

I don’t think KSM is trying to avoid personal responsibility for what he has done. I think he genuinely does not feel any personal responsibility. Three thousand Americans were killed on 9-11? Sorry about that. Nothing personal. Just war – you know how it is.

What an odd message. What was his motivation for giving it? My hunch is that he was trying to bridge two worlds, his, in which practically nothing is personal, and ours, in which practically everything is personal. In his world view, he is just a puppet of Allah. KSM would kill you as easily as look at you but he wouldn’t mean anything by it. He would just be doing the will of God. Nothing personal.

I think he knows that for Americans (and all of Western civilization), all life is personal. But I don’t think he can really understand what that means, just as we cannot grasp what it would be like to be a mass murderer without hesitation or remorse. So he has no idea that his “explanation” that war and killing are not personal for him, makes our blood run cold, the opposite effect he intended.

Yet I give him credit for at least trying to build that bridge. It needs to be built. We can’t go on with this “clash of civilizations” thing forever. KSM no doubt wanted that bridge so we could view him more sympathetically. Why else would he have even made the effort to put it up? Well, forget that; It didn’t work.

But we should try to build such a bridge for the purpose of understanding that other world and people like KSM. We can’t kill them all. We need to know who these people are if we are ever going to get them off our backs.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Give the Commander His Money!

"Republicans will … oppose efforts by Democrats to undermine the ability of General Petraeus and our troops to achieve victory in the Global War on Terror." – House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

[Reported by ]

Boehner was talking about opposition to a generous House military spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan that also sets September 1, 2008 as the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq.

Does setting a withdrawal deadline undermine the ability of the General and his troops to achieve victory in the Global War on Terror, as Boehner says?

1. Is there a Global War on Terror? The phrase lacks any concrete meaning. It is a carte blanche for military adventurism and political and economic aggression anywhere in the world, including within the U.S. It is a specious slogan, but apparently, it continues to fool many Americans.

2. Does the war in Iraq have anything to do with protecting the U.S. from terrorism? Iraqi militants use terrorist tactics against their own civilians and against U.S. troops, so we are fighting terrorism in Iraq. But that could be because we invaded their country and overthrew their government. If we weren’t fighting these terrorists in Iraq, would we be fighting them in New York? That seems pretty far fetched. Militants in Iraq are fighting for control of Iraq. It’s probably true that there are international terrorist elements in Iraq now, drawn there by our invasion. By staying in Iraq we do nothing to dissuade them.

3. Can General Petraeus and his troops achieve victory on the alleged Global War on Terror? Defeat of all terrorists in the world by one general in Iraq is utter nonsense. So Boehner must have meant that Petraeus et al. strive for victory only in the war in Iraq. What would victory look like? The death or capture of every terrorist and potential terrorist in Iraq? That’s unreasonable, especially since the borders are not even sealed. Forget victory.

What about success? Success has to mean, at least,

a) that internecine fighting would cease or be reduced to negligible levels,

b) an Iraqi government would assure a reasonable level of military, economic, social, and political stability, so that

c) U.S. troops would no longer be necessary in Iraq.

I can visualize the kind of journey that the Israelis and Palestinians have followed. Success will not come any time soon. We made a mistake. Why not admit it?

4. Is it really the intention of the House Democrats to undermine the military efforts of U.S. troops? No. The intent is to halt their efforts entirely. The stated goal is to withdraw the troops by a fixed date. Nothing could be more clear.

If the president vetoes the spending bill, (should it reach his desk) as he has promised to do, presumably because of the troop withdrawal deadline, he will have to

a. come up with the money to fight the war from elsewhere, or

b. cease fighting the war and bring the troops home, or

c. continue fighting, on the cheap, with radical cost cutting.

There is no way he would cease the war and bring the troops home. He started the war for self-aggrandizement and he certainly will not sacrifice his ego to end it. That’s out.

Where else could he get the money to fight? If he tried to divert money from education, social security, or almost any domestic program to the war, congress would not allow it. There’s a ton of money in defense, intelligence and space budgets. He could conceivably slash those to finance the war, to the long term detriment of the country.

What about cutting the cost of fighting the war, essentially stretching every dollar? That could work for a little while, until inevitably, the choppers fell from the sky and the armored vehicles no longer started up. Then it would be a disaster for U.S. troops. Would he care, or would he relish disaster, to be blamed on the Democrats after he’s out of office?

The Democrats have some momentum and there is a chance a poison-pill spending bill could pass both houses. I think the stakes are too high if it does.

A lower risk strategy is to let the president continue to bleed the country dry until the ’08 election. It’s his right to do so as the Commander in Chief. The electorate should take notice and then do the right thing in ’08.

Worst case, a new Republican president would see the necessity of ending the war on some pretext or other. It’s not likely the people would elect another extremist.

The Democrats should just give him the money and let him hang himself with it. It will cost many more young lives that way, but that is the option of the Commander and he was freely elected by the people.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Accountability Is Not Wallowing

Michael Tomasky wrote:

“Whenever I hear a Democrat in Congress say something like, "We're not interested in the past; we're focused on the future," I shoot the nearest television. '"

(How deep should the Democrats dig into pre-war intelligence? Deep. The American Prospect online edition, 3/7/07. )

I share that sentiment.

The Democrats do plan to investigate, once again, whether pre-war intelligence was manipulated to fool the congress and the American people into agreeing to the Iraq invasion. Time and again I hear conservatives like David Brooks whine that such investigations are unproductive and backward-looking (and therefore presumably not worth doing). The implication is that Democrats need to move forward to ending the war, not dwell on the past.

What’s overlooked in that glib criticism is that when you move forward, you need to know who your traveling partners are. Do you want to move forward with someone who might stab you in the back at any moment? That’s not prudent.

Accountability for past deeds establishes who we can trust and who we cannot trust as we move forward. Investigating pre-war lies, if lies they were, is not neurotic wallowing. It is a necessary exercise to discover who can be trusted.

When the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief tells congress there is grave peril to the nation, should congresspersons, in the absence of first-hand supporting intelligence, take that on trust and vote accordingly? They, and we, need to know, not because of the past, but to guide inter-branch relations in the future.

Every guilty person would like to simply forget about the past and look only to the future, of course. But that doesn’t make sense for the society as a whole, so we don’t do that. We hold people accountable for their words and deeds, for our collective protection against bad actors.

Blame and punishment and can accrue in the process of establishing accountability, human psychology being what it is, but that should not be the point of the exercise. “Forgive and forget” is also a rational policy for dealing with misdeeds, as long as you are fully aware of what you are forgiving and forgetting. If you are not aware, the danger of further betrayal remains hidden.

That’s why it is essential to fully investigate the events that led to the invasion of Iraq. Full investigation has not been possible until the Democrats won the power to acquire the necessary documents and testimony. If we find that the congress and the American people were deceived into a petulant war, that will certainly change future congressional behavior and the way the government operates. It’s worth enduring the grief to find out.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A Democratic Push Poll


I just received an official-looking “survey” from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called The New Directions Survey. Its ostensible purpose is to canvass the party faithful about what agenda the newly elected Democratic majority in Congress should pursue.

I would be surprised if the results from this survey are ever tabulated, and if they were, more surprised if they ever figured into any congressional policy agenda.

The real purposes of the survey are, first and foremost, fund-raising, and secondarily, to energize the reader to support congressional political action. It is a thus a solicitation and a directive, masquerading as a substantive dialog. I’m sure the Republicans are up to the same tricks but I never see that side.

Predictably, the very first item concerns how much money you are prepared to donate to the congressional Democrats. The $35 check box is asterisked and noted, “Gifts at this level are urgently needed!” as if there were something special about a $35 contribution that a $50 gift could not satisfy.

And what would your contribution actually be used for? “To help Democrats move our nation in a positive new direction and strengthen our majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Are those the same thing? The statement implies that they are.

This so-called survey is actually comical in its crudity, or would be, if its implications were not so depressing. The first question about “new directions:”

Please rank the following Democratic priorities in the order of importance.

  • Achieving energy independence
  • Expanding access to affordable health care
  • Setting a new course in Iraq
  • Guaranteeing retirement security for America’s seniors
  • Enacting middle-class tax relief
  • Improved educational opportunities
  • Raising wages and protecting jobs for working Americans
  • Taking swift action to stop global warming
  • Restoring fiscal responsibility in government
  • Strengthening congressional ethics rules
  • Funding promising stem cell research
  • Protecting our nation from the threat of terrorism

What I like about the choices is their diabolical ambiguity.

Energy independence” from what or whom? Exxon-Mobil? Foreign oil, but not domestic oil? All fossil fuels? Do we want a ramp-up in nuclear power? Drilling in Alaska? Any policy could be justified with this choice.

Expanding access” to affordable” health care. The suggestion is not to provide health care to all Americans but only to “expand access.” Why if only three people purchase health insurance next year, we can say that access has expanded. As to “affordable,” that rather depends on one’s income, doesn’t it? What’s affordable to you may not be to me. It’s a weasel word of the highest order.

Setting a new course in Iraq.” Actually, my priority is to end the war in Iraq, but that is not a choice the congressional Democrats are prepared to contemplate. Instead, they prefer change for the sake of change. How courageous.

Guaranteeing retirement security for America’s seniors. It comes as a surprise that it is in fact “America’s seniors” who are retiring. Who knew? The awkward phrasing is designed to call out “You-- yes, we’re talking about you, boomers!” What security do congressional Democrats have in mind? I would guess security means at least ability to pay for housing, food, clothes, medical care, and transportation. Could that be “guaranteed” for everyone who retires? Only in a dream. But by imagining it is possible, you might be induced to support congressional tinkering with Social Security.

Enacting middle-class tax relief. Of course everyone wants “relief.” Relief is what you get when you are suffering a pain or irritation and suddenly it is removed. This choice presumes that the middle class is suffering burdensome taxation, despite the fact that the top (not middle-class, but top) U.S. individual tax rate is about the same as most countries, identical to Pakistan's and Turkey's, and is actually lower than rates in Portugal, Vietnam, Israel, and Belgium. Our top tax bracket, at 35% is higher than Russia’s (13%) or Serbia’s (14%), so one could always move to a lower tax country if one were very unhappy. Do the Democrats promise to eliminate personal taxation? What do you think? But you should support whatever mucking they do with the tax code on the vague hope that it will lead to tax “relief.”

Taking swift action to stop global warming. Who could be against stopping global warming? Except oops, they don’t promise that. They only promise to take swift (ill-considered, extravagantly expensive, ultimately ineffective?) action. Gutsy.

Protecting our nation from the threat of terrorism. What we would like is protection from terrorism, not the threat of terrorism. The threat is anxiety provoking, to be sure, but on a list of priorities, one would hope that protection from terrorism would be high on the Democratic list. But it isn’t.

Other questions on this survey use Likert scaling:

How important is eliminating the Republican culture of corruption in Congress to restoring the public’s faith in Government? (Not very, somewhat, or very important)

Is there a “Republican culture of corruption in congress?” The question says there is, so there must be. What is a culture of corruption? An alliterative slogan. Is it important? The question says it is, so it must be. The only choice is how important it really is. “Not at all” is not a response you may choose.

Should every American be guaranteed access to quality health care? (Yes, No, Not sure.). Would anyone answer “No” to that question? Again, note that only “access” is contemplated, not health care itself. But they should have also asked if every American should be guaranteed a $50,000 a year income. (And a new car every year too.) You know, just to see what people think!

Needless to say, I did not fill out the survey or send in money. I would think that this cynical so-called “survey” would be self-defeating. It is a condescending, slap-in-the-face insult to anyone who can think. But that’s the tragedy.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Plan B for Iraq

"I'm a Marine, and Marines don't talk about failure. They talk about victory."

That was the reply of Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, reported in the Washington Post (Monday, March 5, 2007; Page A01), when asked about the backup plan for the current strategy in Iraq. There are three ways to interpret that statement.

1. The general, and all marines, live in a new-agey, wish-upon-a-star fantasy world in which egocentric “will” can overcome the contingencies of objective reality. That would be a truly frightening possibility, but it cannot be ruled out.

2. The general, and all marines, have their heads stuck deep in the sand, simply refusing to acknowledge the reality of possible outcomes in Iraq. Again, a frightening possibility, but not without precedent.

3. The general has been given “marching orders” by the White House to zip the lips on any public talk about Plan B. That is the most generous interpretation of the remark, but it means there is no point in talking to, or listening to this general, since he is not his own man.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has publicly acknowledged that there is a Plan B in the works, but won’t say or suggest what it is. The pullout of American troops, precipitously or gradually, is not a plan. Rather it is the goal. Or it is the consequence of the goal of achieving an Iraq that no longer needs our troops. What is the plan to reach that goal?

In 2005, I recommended to Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, my senators, that the U.S. use all its troops to seal the Iraqi borders and let the Iraqis figure out what they wanted to do, whether it be kill each other or make a government that works. Senator Murray, who did vote against the war authorization, at least had the decency to send me a tangentially relevant form letter in reply. I’m not sure if there really is a Senator Cantwell. She has not been seen or heard from since elected.

I still like my seal-the-borders plan, but a recent suggestion from Joe Biden to partition the country three ways is interesting. It wouldn’t work, of course. As soon as the U.S. stepped back, the carefully sectioned pie would become a quiche.

But the idea got me thinking. We divided Berlin three ways after WWII, and that held for fifty years, not without some effort and grief. Why couldn’t we do something similar here?

Give the Kurdish section to Turkey, the Shiite south to Iran, and the Sunni regions to Saudi Arabia, as permanent administrators of those respective regions. Dissolve the central government. Iraq becomes a country in name only. The balance of power reaches equilibrium and we’re out of there.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Is Joe Lieberman Dangerous?

Wall Street Journal 26Feb07

“The Choice in Iraq” by Joseph Lieberman

“Will we allow our actions to be driven by the changing conditions on the ground in Iraq – or by the unchanging political and ideological positions long ago staked out in Washington?”

Joe Lieberman asked that rhetorical question in a half-page op-ed piece in the WSJ. One of the perks of being a U.S. senator is apparently that you can command half a page of national newspaper even if you have nothing to say.

His plea is that members of congress should immediately stop all discussion about the war in Iraq. Why? Because he says so. His authoritarianism is becoming frightening. The reasons he gives for his suggestion don’t make any sense. Here I paraphrase his comments and respond.

There is a new U.S. strategy in Iraq, providing security in Baghdad rather than training Iraqi forces or chasing insurgents.

That is the White House party line, that we have a new strategy. But what has changed? Are we no longer training Iraqi forces? Are we no longer pursuing insurgents? There is no information to suggest those activities have ceased. What does it mean to “provide security” to a city of 5 million people with 2,500 troops? I don’t think anybody knows.

Unfortunately, for many congressional opponents of the war, none of this seems to matter. They have already made up their minds and would put an end to the mission before we see if it works.

Perhaps for many members of congress, there is no “this” to matter about. The new strategy is vague, the increased troop levels unconvincing, and having a new commander is irrelevant. None of that suggests why discussion should cease.

Of course congress could cut off funds for the war. Yet this option is not being proposed. Critics of the war instead plan to cripple the current strategy with a thousand conditions, making congress assume the role of commander in chief.

It is mere hyperbole to assert that war critics in congress intend to usurp the executive branch. Lieberman agrees that congress could righteously cut off funding for the war. It is equally legitimate to cut funding for an escalation. However, since the White House does not budget the escalation separately, that is not possible, so indirect measures to obstruct the escalation are recommended by some (such as Congressman Murtha). That seems a reasonable reaction of the legislature, in its constitutional role of providing a check against executive behavior that voters disapprove of.

Many opponents of the war are making a best-case mistake, assuming we can pull back with impunity.

Nobody has suggested impunity. Everyone realizes the consequences of an American pull back. It is a cost-benefit equation. Does continued draining of American blood and treasure serve America’s self-interest? No one has made the case that it does.

A precipitous pullout would leave a security vacuum, probably resulting in large scale ethnic cleansing.

If American left, even gradually, and a Rwanda-type genocide ensued, other governments with conscience could intervene, as they did in Rwanda. At least they would not be fighting “America’s war”.

General Petraeus says he will be able to see whether progress is occurring by the end of the summer, so let us declare a truce in Washington politics until then.

Congressional debate would perhaps be less fierce if members could understand what the strategy is, what its success would look like, and if “progress” could be defined (independently of militants temporarily going underground until November, 2008). Even then, there would still be nothing wrong with fierce debate. What’s wrong with debate?

We are at the beginning of a key battle in a global struggle against the totalitarian ideology of radical Islamism. We should not abandon the cause of freedom.

The battle against radical Islamism began long before September 11, 2001, and it did not begin in Iraq. Lieberman adopts classic White House misdirection to suggest that the war in Iraq is a consequence of a global battle against radical Islam and that it has something to do with the cause of freedom. This war is a direct consequence of our preemptive invasion of the country.

Invoking the “cause of freedom” as a reason to stay in Iraq is jingoistic claptrap and if Senator Lieberman doesn’t know that, he is as dangerous as the president is. Stuffing “the cause of freedom” up the nose of a culture that prefers totalitarian theocracy is not a viable foreign policy or a legitimate rationale for war.