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September 30, 2005


Bush Official of the Week
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Michael Signer takes me gently to task below for having been too kind to Karen Hughes -- and I acknowledge that the publicity coming out of her initial trip is rather worse than I would have given her credit for.   Who the heck is staffing her?  Are the folks who understand Arab and Muslim public opinion at State just ignoring her and hoping she'll go away?

But, with golden fall sunlight bathing my little Michigan town on a Friday afternoon, I'd like to say something nice about Donald Rumsfeld -- he appears to be trying to squash the idea of amending or eliminating the posse comitatus act to allow the military to take a bigger role in disasters.

In fact, reading this piece suggests to me that everybody relevant -- the military, its civilian leadership, the military "cardinals" of the Senate like John Warner, civil liberties and states' rights experts -- is against such a move.  Everybody except George W. Bush and a few chickenhawks?

State Dept.

Karen Hughes, Stateswoman (Gulp)
Posted by Michael Signer

On Karen Hughes' recent ascension from Texas-based media hack to an actual stateswoman, I find myself holding onto the tabletop to try and keep this dizzy event in some perspective.

After all, it's long been apparent that the Bush Administration pursues political victories with such single-minded ruthlessness that spin has become not a means to an end, but the game itself.  The consequence of this is severe; it means that governance becomes about spinning and winning -- not about achieving objective goals.  Which is why Karl Rove is running the government.  (Recently reported:  "Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort." )

But, still.  Karen Hughes as an Undersecretary of State?

OK, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Our own Heather, after all, has suggested that we take her role seriously, and give her advice -- which implies (I think reasonably) that Hughes' new job promoting a better American face to the world (particularly the Middle East) is too important to dismiss out of hand.

But then we find out what she's actually saying, now that she's in the job.  WaPo reports today a couple of wince-worthy moments from Hughes' recent visits overseas:

Explaining U.S. goals for Palestinians, Hughes said it was "to have the experience of having children and families."

In Egypt, another clunker:

[I]n Ankara, the Turkish capital, she gushed: "I love all kids. And I understand that is something I have in common with the Turkish people -- that they love children."

I don't mind so much that our own President's bias for touchy-feely, inept diplomacy (remember how he swooned over our Russian proto-tyrant's soul?) has translated into Hughes' own sillinesses.  What does bother me is my concern that Hughes utterly lacks the depth of local knowledge, and the intellectual seriousness, that makes diplomats stateswomen. 

When she complained thusly about Palestinians:

Hughes told reporters traveling with her that she was surprised Bush didn't get more credit in the region for calling for a Palestinian state.

I worried that she just, really and truly, will have no idea what she's doing over there.

I mean, you think we'd get used to it -- but, really, you never do.

September 29, 2005


International Freedom Center: RIP
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

As predicted, the International Freedom Center planned for Ground Zero got booted from the site by NY Governor George Pataki.  Organizers say no other location will do (underscoring some of the comments in our debate here a few days ago.  For DA analysis and reaction to what went wrong with this effort by a group of high-minded progressive New Yorkers, read here.


no ANSWER and a Real Hero
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

My cranky comments on ANSWER instigated a nice rumpus in the comments section. Just to pile-on a little more, my conversations with people involved in the stage portion of the march and rally on Saturday confirmed what others have observed. An activist friend even called them the "Operation Rescue" of the left. Apparently, they hogged the stage out of order and stalled the march to benefit themselves, sabotaging the efforts of their partner, United for Peace and Justice (who look all the better for organizing the real anti-war march) What might not have been evident on the television were the catcalls and boos coming from the mall audience. Not that it would have mattered. Like their intellectual compadres in the White House, this gang does not make decisions based on self reflection or consequences for the efforts of the greater good. --in this case the real American grass roots peace movement. This is not activism, it is what Utne Reader calls "activist-ism" or protesting just for the sake of it.

Activist-ism is like a combination of self indulgent-left maladies: a twelve step program for an inner child with a bad case of the martyr syndrome.

I guess we should just be glad that the Starbucks on New Jersey Avenue still has its windows intact.

Captain Ian Fishback--who has gone to our elected leaders with his observations of prisoner abuse in Iraq-- is my hero. Soldiers like him, heretics among the ranks, are what will ultimately save the US Army. He is throwing a wrench in the maw of an institution that will--perforce of its bureaucracy and inertia--not necessarily learn the lessons of Abu Ghraib. Please chime in if I'm goofing up here, but isn't it true that the abuse perpetuated at Abu Ghraib was picked up from TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) that claimed to have "worked" in Afghanistan?

Here's why Captain Fishback's actions are important far beyond his personal drama. TTP are the reports back from individual units deployed in wartime--and can include everything along the spectrum of activities in the life of a soldier, from setting up a roadblock to working with humanitarian groups to interrogating prisoners. Like raw data for a dissertation, these reports are gathered up in a continual feedback loop to inform military doctrine...which is the documented institutional memory of the vast bureaucracy of the American military....and which provide guidelines for the institution to change and grow. What ends up in TTP, therefore affects training and leader development and everything about the future of the armed forces. One day the Bush administration will be history and we will all gasp in relief. But when prisoner abuse gets into the very gears of bureaucracy and memory, we doom ourselves and our American ideals. Captain Fishback's protests may well save us from this fate.

Captain Fishback is a Christian. He likely values stories of kindness from the Bible, like the Good Samaritan, he doubtless believes in the Golden Rule and wants his nation to uphold its worthy standards. As a soldier, he likely knows the strategic value of reciprocity, as international law standards may one day save his life if he is taken prisoner. The Bush Administration is incompetent in this regard. They do not value reciprocity for they see themselves as unrivaled.

Post 9/11, Katrina, Kyoto and record deficits I guess I'd think we'd be used to it. The buck is always passed within the Bush Administration. Witness a real leader: The buck does stop, appparently, with Captain Fishback. We should all praise and admire him.

p.s. sorry no hyperlinks. My Apple will not accept them. Will try to fix.

September 28, 2005

Defense, Human Rights

Talk of the Blogs: Ian Fishback, 82nd Airborne
Posted by The Editors

By now you've probably heard of Captain Ian Fishback.  A member of the famed 82nd Airborne, he alleges that members of his battalion routinely beat and abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004.  Along with two other soldiers, Fishback recounted his story to Human Rights Watch after spending 17 months trying to use the proper channels, but it's his poignant letter to Senator John McCain which has the blogosphere talking:

We are America.  Our actions should be held to a higher standard.  I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is 'America.'
(Balkinization has the full text of the letter.)

Laura Rozen highlights portions of the HRW report.

Finally, Andrew Sullivan has really picked up on Fishback's story (here and here).

September 27, 2005


Commander in Chief
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Yep, so I watched it.  If you want a snapshot of how much America has changed, consider this:  West Wing was on the air for years before the show featured a national security adviser or much intimation that a president deals with issues outside the US.  In 2005, what's VP Geena Davis's first move when the president is incapacitated by a stroke?  She moves carrier groups around.  In fact, there was scarcely a domestic policy issue mentioned the entire hour.  We got "would Islamic leaders respect a woman president?" and "would a woman president allow the sharia-law based execution of a woman convicted of adultery" as issues. 

The teaser for next week promises a wholly domestic agenda, don't worry.  But the underlying frame here is interesting, and not reassuring.  One entire segment was a long joke at Hillary Clinton's expense ("Mrs. Clinton did X.  It didn't work out...")  And what does ABC think a woman president would do first?  Send in the Marines to rescue said Nigerian woman convicted of adultery under sharia law.  A weird scene in which a male American general (and the audience) gets way too much pleasure out of telling the Nigerian ambassador how effectively we can violate his sovereignty.

So we alternate the "Presidency-as-naked-exercise-of-power" fantasy with tender family scenes in which the new prez deals with a recalcitrant daughter and demotes her husband from chief of staff to first lady.  I'd say this show qualifies as the stuff of moderate Republican fantasy.  Yeah, like Governor Huckabee is gonna pick a woman university chancellor (Condi??) as his VP, run, win and die, clearing the way for slightly "hormonal" yet reassuringly tough moderation.

Oh, this is funny.  ABC has built a website which is kind of a fake medialog following Mackenzie/Geena's presidency.

As tv goes, not bad.  But couldn't they do a better job on the West Wing sets?


Iraq Endgame
Posted by Derek Chollet

Last weekend’s protests in Washington (and yesterday’s massive sit-in in front of the White House) proved that the anti-war movement is alive and, as Lorelei describes it, rather festive and even witty. 

But here’s the thing: they are going to get what they asked for.  We’re getting out.

The pundits are starting to see this.  Thomas Friedman had it right when asked about this last weekend on Meet the Press (courtesy of TPM Cafe):

“I think we're in the end game now,” he said. “I don't believe we're going to be in Iraq a year from now in the numbers that we are now because one of two things is going to happen….Either this process that's unfolding there now of first a referendum on the constitution and then a parliamentary election is going to play out in some decent way. And if it does, I think you're going to see not only a new Iraqi government want us to reduce our numbers there but there's going to be a huge domestic push here to do that, or it's not going to play out. In which case, it's going to be obvious that this is a fiasco and we're going have to fight our way out of there. But I think we're in a six-month window here where it's going to become very clear and this is all going to pre-empt I think the next congressional election--that's my own feeling-- let alone the presidential one.”

Even more interesting – and significant -- than the shifting attitudes of the Beltway punditry is that this kind of talk is happening at the military’s highest levels.  In yesterday’s Washington Post, David Ignatius reported on what he heard at a Centcom commanders meeting in Doha.  His piece is worth reading in full, but the first two paragraphs pretty much tell the story:

“Posted on a bulletin board at Centcom headquarters here is a 1918 admonition from T.E. Lawrence explaining what he learned in training Arab soldiers: ‘It is better to let them do it themselves imperfectly than to do it yourself perfectly. It is their country, their way, and our time is short.’”

“That quote sums up an important shift in U.S. military strategy on Iraq that has been emerging over the past year. The commanders who are running the war don't talk about transforming Iraq into an American-style democracy or of imposing U.S. values. They understand that Iraqis dislike American occupation, and for that reason they want fewer American troops in Iraq, not more.”

I know what some will argue: how can we believe that we are getting out when Bush is clearly saying that we are not, as he did last week after a Pentagon briefing?  In many ways, that’s the point.  Bush is not going to give the anti-war movement a victory by standing up and saying: I’m wrong, I’m sorry, we’re failing, and now we are going to come home with our tails between our legs.  And I don’t think this is only because of his arrogance: President’s rarely do that (the last I can think of is Ronald Reagan’s pullout of Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombing). 

What Bush will do is continue what he has been doing: push the imperfect political process along (in the face of criticism from think tankers and experts), slowly begin withdrawing, and talk up the glass-half-full argument.  He can do this because he knows that even as things tailspin downward in Iraq, as long as our troops are leaving his political opposition won’t have the clout or support to offer the alternative -- to keep our troops there.


Referendum and Next Steps in Iraq
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

A very fast airport post recommending this new short piece from the International Crisis Group, laying out what they think would be necessary to avert constitution-related disaster and a slide toward open civil conflict in Iraq:  US-guaranteed negotiations to bring the Sunnis in and make it more difficult for regions (especially the Shiite south) to secede, effectively, from the whole; an end to de-Baathification; and commitments that the parties would take steps after the referendum to remedy some of the elements or absences of the constitution that are most worrisome to Sunnis.

I'm not sure this is truly a realistic option anymore, particularly in the next three weeks, but it does bring the issues into sharp relief.  It also does nothing to answer the question of when the US just needs to get out of the middle of the mess.

Oops, boarding.  Go read it and think about how anyone can get at these key issues, before or after a referendum

September 26, 2005


Got Democracy?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

The march on Saturday was excellent and hugely gratifying. It looks like 100,000 people showed up (that's a conservative estimate by the DC police chief) I marched with friends from the Community of Celebration, a Christian community outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a mime, a poet and a novelist with her foot in a cast. The marchers were diverse, lots of military families, religious groups and American flags along with assorted anti-globalization activists. Mostly, though, I saw families, parents with their kids from toddlers to teenagers. Here is a list of my favorite signs:

End the Yee Haw Jihad!
Stop Mad Cowboy Disease!
Practice Abstinence, Pull Out Now!
Go Solar, Not Ballistic
Republicans for Impeachment!
Bush: Category 5 Disaster!
The Emporer is Buck Naked
Yee Haw is NOT a Foreign Policy
No Iraqis Left Me on the Roof to Die
Katarina Survivor, FEMA Victim

The anti-anti war protestors lined a good portion of Pennsylvania Avenue. The procession of marchers--as far as I could tell--just waved and gave them the peace sign. The pro-Bush crowd were so outnumbered, many of them looked shell-shocked.

The spirit of the march was so encouraging. What a great weekend. AND to top it all off, the Patriots won their game. Perfect.

September 24, 2005

Progressive Strategy

The Freedom Center, 9/11 and Engaging the Public With Progressive Ideas
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Controversy is coming to a head here in New York City over whether the International Freedom Center (IFC), a planned new museum, will receive the prominent place it has been offered as one of four cultural institutions to occupy a rebuilt Ground Zero.   The debate has ramifications for how September 11 fits into our collective memory, and implications for how progressives put across their policy views.

The story as best as I can make out is this:  Shortly after 9/11, Tom Bernstein, the President of Chelsea Piers and long-time Board Member and Chair of Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights) came up with the idea of building a center devoted to exploring and promoting the ideal of freedom on the site of Ground Zero and worked with 9/11 widow Paula Grant Berry to get the project in motion. 

Several nights ago Bernstein was interviewed on NY1 and explained that the hope of the Freedom Center was to ensure that the 9/11 institutions "stood the test of time" and were put into a broader context.  Plans were developed, and the Center - which attracted the backing of numerous well-heeled and progressive New Yorkers - was chosen from among several hundred cultural institutions vying for space on the site.   The IFC is not to be the primary 9/11 memorial museum on the site, but rather a companion to what will be an underground permanent exhibit devoted solely to the events of that day.

But as plans for the Center shaped up, friction mounted.   In June a 9/11 widow named Debra Burlingame published an op-ed blasting the plans.  She objected to the idea that the 9/11 memorial must somehow transcend the day itself, and voiced fear that the Center would offer a "didactic history lesson":

The public will have come to see 9/11 but will be given a high-tech, multimedia tutorial about man's inhumanity to man, from Native American genocide to the lynchings and cross-burnings of the Jim Crow South, from the Third Reich's Final Solution to the Soviet gulags and beyond. This is a history all should know and learn, but dispensing it over the ashes of Ground Zero is like creating a Museum of Tolerance over the sunken graves of the USS Arizona.

She accused Freedom Center organizers of lining up support with "this arrogant appeal: The memorial to the victims will be the heart of the site, the IFC will be the brain."

Groups of 9/11 family members and fire-fighters have lined up behind Burlingame's critique.   I don't know enough to judge whether this started as an orchestrated attack, but it quickly grew into one.  In this National Review article, the IFC organizers are ridiculed as politically correct, anti-American and sex-crazed. 

Last week the IFC planners issued a last-ditch effort to save the project:  a detailed report aimed to counter claims that the Center might display exhibits that were critical of the US, or that it would sideline the events of 9/11 itself. 

Now Senator Hillary Clinton has come out against the museum, saying that she's troubled by the concerns of the relatives and first-responders.  My sense is that the momentum has swayed in favor of the families and fire-fighters, and that the IFC project could soon collapse.

What happened here?  How, in New York City of all places, did a group of savvy, well-intentioned and thoughtful progressives wind up on the wrong side of a debate over the meaning and legacy of 9/11.  It may be unfair to examine the IFC project through the lens of progressive strategy;  its organizers were focused on building an institution rather than a movement.  But  their rocky journey to engage the public in their project may shed light on progressives' larger struggle to put their ideas across to people.

Continue reading "The Freedom Center, 9/11 and Engaging the Public With Progressive Ideas" »

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