scatterbrained

October 25, 2006

You know what "stay the course" is?

I mean as a strategy, now - not on a merely rhetorical or tactical level. As a strategy it is better than cut and run, but it is on the same, wrong side of the continuum - it is far from good enough. This war is not being accorded the commitment it needs. Pretty much everyone in politics, ass or elephant, is guilty of being distracted from the true situation.

Virtually anyone who holds elected office is terrified to publically acknowledge this war for what it is and must be. The only leadership shown by the administration is in its effort to suppress the true nature of this conflict and what it will require of us to win. We'll see who steps up after the election.

After reading dozens of opinions this week on Iraq, each of which chimed into one of three or four stock takes (none with an actual prescription) on the war, I read this report to WSJ from an Army sergeant in Iraq. It’s a nice, brutal little orientation to the situation.

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BEST OF THE WEB TODAY

BY JAMES TARANTO
Wednesday, October 25, 2006 12:41 p.m. EDT

A View From Iraq
Our item yesterday in which we reaffirmed our support for the liberation of Iraq brought some very interesting reader comments. This is from an American there who asks not to be named:

There's been a lot of discussion back home about the course of the war, the righteousness of our involvement, the clarity of our execution, and what to do about the predicament in which we currently find ourselves. I just wanted to send you my firsthand account of what's happening here.

First, a little bit about me: I'm stationed slightly northwest of Baghdad in a mixed Sunni/Shia area. I'm a sergeant in the U.S. Army on a human intelligence collection team. I interact with Iraqis on a daily basis and I help put together the intel picture for our area of operations. I have contacts with friends, who are also in my job, in every area of operations in the Fourth Infantry Division footprint, and through our crosstalk I'd say I have a pretty damn good idea of what's going on in and around Baghdad on a micro and intermediary level.

I wrote heavily in favor of this war before I enlisted myself, and I still maintain that going into Iraq was not only the necessary thing to do, but the right thing to do as well.

There have been distinct failures of policy in Iraq. The vast majority of them fall under the category "failure to adapt." Basically U.S. policies have been several steps behind the changing conditions ever since we came into the country. I believe this is (in part) due to our plainly obvious desire to extricate ourselves from Iraq. I know President Bush is preaching "stay the course," but we came over here with a goal of handing over our battlespace to the Iraqis by the end of our tour here.

This breakneck pace with which we're trying to push the responsibility for governing and securing Iraq is irresponsible and suicidal. It's like throwing a brick on a house of cards and hoping it holds up. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)--a joint term referring to Iraqi army and Iraqi police--are so rife with corruption, insurgent sympathies and Shia militia members that they have zero effectiveness. Two Iraqi police brigades in Baghdad have been disbanded recently, and the general sentiment in our field is "Why stop there?" I can't tell you how many roadside bombs have been detonated against American forces within sight of ISF checkpoints. Faith in the Iraqi army is only slightly more justified than faith in the police--but even there, the problems of tribal loyalties, desertion, insufficient training, low morale and a failure to properly indoctrinate their soldiers results in a substandard, ineffective military. A lot of the problems are directly related to Arab culture, which traditionally doesn't see nepotism and graft as serious sins. Changing that is going to require a lot more than "benchmarks."

In Shia areas, the militias hold the real control of the city. They have infiltrated, co-opted or intimidated into submission the local police. They are expanding their territories, restricting freedom of movement for Sunnis, forcing mass migrations, spiking ethnic tensions, not to mention the murderous checkpoints, all while U.S. forces do . . . nothing.

For the first six months I was in country, sectarian violence was classified as an "Iraqi on Iraqi" crime. Division didn't want to hear about it. And, in a sense I can understand why. Because division realized that which the Iraqi people have come to realize: The American forces cannot protect them. We are too few in number and our mission is "stability and support." The problem is that there's nothing to give stability and support to. We hollowed out the Baathist regime, and we hastily set up this provisional government, thrusting political responsibility on a host of unknowns, each with his own political agenda, most funded by Iran, and we're seeing the results.

In Germany after World War II, we controlled our sector with approximately 500,000 troops, directly administering the area for 10 years while we rebuilt the country and rebuilt the social and political infrastructure needed to run it. In Iraq, we've got one-third that number of troops dealing with three times the population on a much faster timetable, and we're attempting to unify three distinct ethnic groups with no national interest and at least three outside influences (Saudi Arabian Wahhabists, Iranian mullahs and Syrian Baathists) each eagerly funding various groups in an attempt to see us fail. And we are.

If we continue on as is in Iraq, we will leave here (sooner or later) with a fractured state, a Rwanda-waiting-to-happen. "Stay the course" and refusing to admit that we're screwing things up is already killing a lot of people needlessly. Following through with such inane nonstrategy is going to be the death knell for hundreds of thousands of Sunnis.

We need to backtrack. We need to publicly admit we're backtracking. This is the opening battle of the ideological struggle of the 21st century. We cannot afford to lose it because of political inconveniences. Reassert direct administration, put 400,000 to 500,000 American troops on the ground, disband most of the current Iraqi police and retrain and reindoctrinate the Iraqi army until it becomes a military that's fighting for a nation, not simply some sect or faction. Reassure the Iraqi people that we're going to provide them security and then follow through. Disarm the nation: Sunnis, Shias, militia groups, everyone. Issue national ID cards to everyone and control the movement of the population.

If these three things are done, you can actually start the Iraqi economy again. Once people have a sense of security, they'll be able to leave their houses to go to work. Tell your American commanders that it's OK to pass up bad news--because part of the problem is that these issues are not reaching above the battalion or brigade level due to the can-do, make-it-happen culture indoctrinated into our U.S. officers. While the attitude is admirable, it also creates barriers to recognizing and dealing with on-the-ground realities.

James, there's a lot more to this than I've written here. The short of it is, the situation is salvageable, but not with "stay the course" and certainly not with cut and run. However, the commitment required to save it is something I doubt the American public is willing to swallow. I just don't see the current administration with the political capital remaining in order to properly motivate and convince the American public (or the West in general) of the necessity of these actions.

At the same time, failure in Iraq would be worse than a dozen Somalias, and would render us as impotent and emasculated as we were in the days after Vietnam. There is a global cultural-ideological struggle being waged, and abdication from Iraq is tantamount to concession.

August 24, 2006

Election-year war anyone?

An interesting little article about dot-connecting versus analysis.

Dammit, why can't they all just be on the same team? Fire the eggheads!

Bonus: can you spot the White House leak on classified national security matters?

August 15, 2006

Irony for the day

...courtesy of the WaPo.

George Will points out the aptness of the intelligence-first, law-enforcement approach to counterterrorism, AND that Kerry was a proponent of this in '04, AND the White House's contorted, delusional, strawman-reliant response to such an America-hating approach.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fold, E.J. Dionne wrings his hands about the Democrats' "self-image" and lack of a position on security.

So the choice is: do they resurrect an effective and specific method of shoring up American security that will attract bipartisan, nonpartisan, and military support while laying the groundwork for future operations, or do they cower over a few schoolyard jibes, turn around and get therapy and self-visualization sessions?

Don't answer that.

April 01, 2006

The psychology of impeachment.

Jungian, that is...

Feingold's bid to censure the president has irreversibly altered the way the public sees our national situation. But while Feingold showed heart, in the end he is just a bit player in a primal and indomitable drama. Just as to say Rumpelstiltskin's name was to strip him of his magic powers, for the public to weave the facts together, however gradually, is to permanently and retroactively revoke the admin's spin license, and speed us into the downstroke, the swiftest and least subtle phase of mass decision-making. To wit, heads must roll.

To appreciate this quasi-seismic movement, don't look too closely at each week's litany of bluster and posturing. Rather, notice the confluence of developments that, when viewed as a process, seem downright gravitational in their progression toward the discarding of this administration:

First, impeachment is now a legitimate topic, being debated in Congress, reported as a topic itself on the national news, and bandied about daily on the editorial pages. Notice how a call to censure was really about impeachment - quite regardless of whether Feingold himself had intended it that way.

Second, there is a connection - subtle and almost subconscious at first, and increasingly aware - to Watergate, the benchmark of impeachable offenses by the Executive. And the comparisons are holding up, so much more closely than in Iran-Contra or Monica, in fact, that the parallels are eerie. John Dean's testimony this week was devastating, not only for what Dean said, but for the fact of Dean testifying. These two aspects of Dean's role have created the association in an absolutely spin- and bluster-proof way.

Third, the bad news regarding the admin's dictatorial M.O. in the run-up to war is just rolling in. Iraq-related: more evidence from Downing Street in the leaked Manning memo, showing that Bush and Blair were spinning their wheels on how to concoct a pretext for war; more evidence that strong objections were raised (and actively suppressed) within the admin to the characterization of Saddam's aluminum tubes as nuke-related; more on the admin's awareness that the 16 words intel was false, and the VP's primary role in doling out retribution for Joe Wilson's exposure of that fact by outing Valerie Plame. Oh, and Bush secretly authorized leaks of classified intel on Iraq to tow his political line regarding Saddam's weapons, to non-clearanced journalists? On these previously tangled and incomprehensible questions, the truth is beginning to gel in a collective "a-ha" moment for the American public.

Fourth, domestically, the truth that we are up a creek is painfully obvious. We are racking up debt, unspinnably far into the downward slide of good jobs, unable to stem earmarks and corruption, unable to provide medical care for citizens, riven by immigration issues (mainly because the hard questions have continually been tabled for over two decades), distracted (and most of us know it's a distraction) by abortion and same-sex marriage, our schools are adrift, and the Bush tax cuts, though premised on economic theories that were laughed out of legitimacy twenty years ago, are the one legislative priority that seems bulletproof among the crescendo of national fiscal woe.

Fifth, fatalism on Iraq. There's a debate about whether things are "really bad" in Iraq, or if that's a figment of the media's imagination. Again, forget the merits for a sec. This is the kind of debate that cannot hold the public's attention for long. With uncertainty about Iraq, indifference is setting in at a fast creep, just in time to remove the war's importance from the administration's arsenal of generic defenses to any charge of wrongdoing. Even a significant contingent of conservatives are saying, let's get out and let it ride. While the merits of this approach are debatable, it's the mood that's telling. Bush has been pushing the war with a nebulous view of what the payoff will be. Sure, it's oil (not yet, mind you, but sometime after global production peaks, best believe the admin plans to be sitting on a gusher - and again, the idea is not without its very real attractions) - but that's off the table as an open justification - both for its nakedly imperialistic motives and for the necessity of acknowledging the nasty storm front on the energy problem. Anyway, very few people are nodding along with the administration regarding the war, so their attention is dangerously (for the admin) up for grabs.

Finally, and closely related to all of the above, the rule of thumb is that when the collective fortunes are in a downturn, eventually the king must die. Just as this is the law of the corporate shareholder, it is the law, on a longer frequency, of the body politic. In contrast to corporate shareholders, the public does not closely track the various influences on the value of its shares. But the public's awakening, as it occurs, is exciting its ire. Even when the specifics are not debated among most Americans on a daily or weekly basis, even when the bad news becomes a barely-differentiated blur, it taps out a drumbeat - a collective headache and foreboding.

The logical next step is to call someone on the carpet. Who that someone will be will depend on timing and various circumstances, but we have a strong frontrunner in our current president. The American public is a sleeping giant - slow to waken, but once it lazily opens one eye, and contemplates the mess, neither glib lullabies nor well-oiled logic will be enough to soothe it. Only cathartic and compensatory (political) bloodshed will complete the cycle. It may be that in our hearts, we still feel that politics, being so far removed from our discrete control and sensibilities, is in the hands of the gods, for lack of specific reliable information otherwise. And if aroused, we will wend our way to the smoking pyres to make our sacrifice.

March 05, 2006

An aside.

Thanks to the wayward (yet generous) souls who have taken the time to lurk and/or comment in the last week or two. That I haven't been posting recently is not for lack of subject matter or thoughts thereon - as if. Rather, my daughter was born this week and between burping, wiping, rocking, and just adoring the new addition to the family, it's been harder to find the time to attend to basics, like eating and personal hygiene, let alone blogging.

But thanks again, and I'll see you on other people's blogs, at least until things get less hectic.

February 27, 2006

Neoconservatism: A view from the rubble, part 2

In the last week, as a response both to Frank Fukuyama’s piece and to the events in Iraq, many commentators have busied themselves readjusting their sights on the real possibilities in Iraq. Lingering hopes that the insurgency (a) is a definable bloc and (b) will destroy itself with its violent ambitions have found their rightful place in obscurity.

The standard for optimism in Iraq is undergoing an adjustment that strongly resembles back-pedaling on our objectives. The proponents of the U.S.'s involvement are now pointing out, albeit less than sunnily, that civil war has led to many fine societies in the past.

There's a case to be made there. Think American civil war, English civil war, Thai Revolution in 1932, Japanese recontruction after WWII (not C.W., but a post-devastation success story). The WSJ editors take a stab at this argument but ignore most of the challenges presented by Iraq, instead recasting it as just another postwar civil reconstruction. One of the more interesting historical analyses of war as a gateway to peace and tolerance comes from Stephen Green at Vodkapundit, with this:

Christianity was a violent religion until the Thirty Years War. That war lasted so long, and killed so many people (the population of Germany was reduced by a third), that Christendom lost its bloodlust. Freedom of conscience was born on the battlefields of central Europe. The Middle East hasn't suffered that kind of loss; they haven't yet had their fill of blood; they haven't yet become disgusted with tyranny. I'd like to think that the Middle East can do what the West did, without all the suffering. But if it takes regional fratricide, then so be it.

But, as Green admits, there are plenty of instances where civil war leads to tyranny, authoritarianism, and continued, albeit quieter, bloodshed. Moreover, his optimism concerning the ultimate fruits of civil war (the rejection of violence and tyranny) fits along a trend of explanatory backfilling each time the empty promises, false predictions, and manichaean rhetoric of the administration fold under the weight of political realities in Iraq.

In the same way that you can't cure cancer with marathon training, it takes a rejuvenation of vital systems, and the absorption of managed stresses, to get a population to the threshold of political autonomy and self-correction. The hubris beneath the neocon ideal takes the form of misguided optimism that democracy is an incentive in and of itself, modeled to the envy of the oppressed everywhere by the U.S. But in reality, it is the security and prosperity that we enjoy in the U.S. that is attractive to Iraqis, and which will remain out of their reach because of the constant attacks and strong tensions, regardless of elections and attempts at a unified government.

Thus security is absolutely necessary to achieve the shared prosperity upon which freedom and stable government depend, but the U.S. did not go to Iraq expecting to have to actually provide that - encourage it perhaps, fund it, reward it, but not to build physical and economic security from scratch under constant attack. Is it safe to say we would never have gone, knowing the role that we were actually taking on?

We entered Iraq knowing generally that democracy cannot take root in chaos, but inexcusably blind to the specific chaos that would result from eliminating Saddam's top-down containment of old ethnic hatreds. Concerns were met with a recitation of the misdeeds of the agent of that top-down containment, Saddam. It would be just like the cold war, they thought. Once we "disappear" the bad, the good (self-government) will rush in to fill the void. In fact, it was chaos in the form of ethnic tensions and violent opportunism from all sides, that was waiting to rush in, and did.

To the neocons, the lesson of the cold war was that democracy was synonymous with liberty, and that any oppressed population would embrace it, as if in a vacuum. There was no need to vet these theories. Iraq would be the vetting, and it would be successful. It was on this point in particular that the administration brooked no dissent, that the intelligence was most aggressively molded to fit the preset decision, and on which Cheney and Rumsfeld were intractable in the face of many gloomy assessments of the mission. It was a long-nurtured faith, and a desire to put this faith to the test, that kept them locked in on the long shot with no contingency plan but the comforting bulk of America's military and economic resources.

James Joyner, in his excellent and more objective expansion of Green’s idea, quotes Barbara Conry at the Cato Institute on the challenges facing foreign intervenors in an internal military conflict, i.e. civil war:

Intervening powers are at a disadvantage because their stake in the outcome is usually far smaller than that of the primary combatants.

In other words, the intervening force will not bring the necessary political will for victory to the project. The challenge is far more than just the political drag created by dissent within the U.S.; it is the whole fact of the detachment of the U.S. population from the site and the stakes of the struggle.

We will soon reach the point where it will be impossible to have any impact as an impartial force. Even assuming that the U.S. knows whose side it will take in the civil conflict, the war between the factions will not be arrested until they have reached exhaustion or one side has achieved dominance. The bad blood will continue, but at that point the opening for the establishment of a civil government will exist. The U.S. has neither the will nor the military means to cut short, or even manage to any significant degree, this conflict.

It may now become fashionable, at least in the political blogosphere, to shrug and point out the inevitability of civil war in Iraq, and indeed to portray it as a cathartic and necessary process. And the facts to support this view will exist. But if it is to be honest, this view must admit that every step up to this point has been built on the false presumption that democracy was not only an intelligible concept to the trampled, mutually suspicious Iraqi people, but an attractive one; not only that a three-way government could be propped up, but that it would sustain itself amidst constant sabotage by neighboring countries, each with its own claims on the allegiances of this or that Iraqi faction.

This raises a larger point about optimism in politics that I have been pondering, particularly since reading George Will’s column last Thursday, the topic of which was how conservatives tend to be happier than liberals. Will attributed this discrepancy to the general pessimism of conservatives, particularly to their low expectations of human nature. Under this view, surprises tend to be happy ones, while for the optimistic liberals, with their general presumption of altruism as at least a latent and desirable fact of human existence, life is an embittering procession of letdowns.

Optimism, commonly embraced as evidence of a cheery, can-do mentality, is often a cover for political deficiency, which itself is a precursor to inefficiency and tyranny. Both the American political left and right seem to each be most optimistic about, and take as given, those aspects of their agenda that most lack the substance or the wisdom to make them work.

Among traditional conservatives, such optimism is a sin and the mark of an unsteady, fallen soul (read: liberal). However, among neoconservatives, this particular prophetic, militarily borne optimism is a creed, premised on supposed truths far more esoteric than the human self-interest regarded by traditional conservatives as the foundation of government and social order. The neoconservatism's founding myth was derived from the (real) felling of the behemoth Communism, but its core message might have descended from Beowulf or St. George. And now, went the myth, all that remained was the triumph of mankind.


Links:

Robert Dreyfuss
digby discussing the Bush admin vis a vis Barbara Tuchman's criteria for historical folly

February 24, 2006

Hypocrisy on free press.

Many intriguing questions about freedom of the press have arisen recently, largely through the NSA wiretapping and Mohammed cartoon issues. Glenn Greenwald pulls back the curtain on the contradictory stances of the administration and certain conservative mouthpieces, e.g. Bill Bennett, the Power Line bloggers, and Michelle Malkin.

So, to recap so far: publishing stories which inflame Muslims by reporting on American abuses at Guantanamo is wrong and subversive and ought be suppressed. Anyone who states that Iraq is disintegrating and our war effort is failing is harming the troops and is a traitor who ought to be treated as such. Images which depict grotesque acts by the U.S. military are dangerous and their publication is treasonous. But when it comes to anti-Muslim cartoons which are at least as provocative and inflammatory, consequences be damned; lofty principles of a free press demand that they be published and published widely regardless of the reactions.

These demands by Bush followers that ideas be freely expressed without restraint are extremely selective – they want the ideas they like to be disseminated widely and aggressively but ideas which they dislike to be suppressed. In general, when one espouses standards and principles which one applies only selectively and in a self-interested manner, the result is just garden-variety hypocrisy. But when principles of a free press are applied selectively -- such that one urges some ideas to be vigorously safeguarded while other ideas be aggressively suppressed -- it is not merely hypocritical, but incomparably pernicious, because what is really being sought, by definition, is a system of laws and rules which exist to propagandize.

Greenwald also looks at where we're going from here. Equating the administration's perceived right to break the law with national security, DOJ is using the Espionage Act to go after journalists who report information they get from sources inside the government. It's worth reading.

from the Couldn't Help Noticing Dept.

In each of the two Olympic finals last night (that I saw, anyway), Asian elegance and execution prevailed over American style and passion. Sasha Cohen's skating was characteristically gorgeous, but her two falls set her back. Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, who won gold, was one of the only skaters in medal contention going into the night who pulled off her routine without a fall (the other was Japanese too). Her routine was clean but, I thought, bloodless compared to Cohen's, and she nixed her triple-triples in favor of safer jumps.

In the men's aerials, Xiaopeng Han of China executed two moderate-difficulty jumps cleanly for gold, while Jeret Peterson pulled off his signature quintuple-twist "Hurricane". No one else has ever gone quintuple, but because his hand went down on the landing, he fell short of the medals.

The question isn't, "is it fair?" Clean execution under pressure is extremely hard, in a different way than innovation, style and fearless abandon. And in the women's competition not only Cohen, but most of the field, fell short. After all, the expectations of the judges are laid out for all the competitors to try to meet, and both Arakawa and Hans' victories were well-deserved - and dramatic, in that both were the first medalists ever in their events for their country. But, watching the medal ceremonies, I couldn't help feeling that getting the highest score in a sport and showing the flashes of brilliance that make that sport so enthralling to spectators are two different things.

Who on earth would want to incite the Mahdi Army?

This is where I was going with yesterday's questions about the Golden Dome bombing.

This morning on NPR there was a brief interview (audio) with Sunni politician Saleh Mutlaq. After saying the Sunnis were not seeking a civil war, he stated his opinion, cryptically, that the bombing had been committed with the intention of mobilizing the Shiites out of the civil government process and into civil war mode. Who would do that? "Intelligence agents," he said. When pressed to be more specific, he said, almost mumbling, "Iran".

So.

The first question is, why would the Sunnis, who are between a rock and hard place as it is, want to spur a civil war? It can be argued that they are benefitting from the chaos created by the insurgents, some of whom are their own people, but the fact is that they would be whupped by both militant Shiites within Iraq and by foreign fighters, largely from Iran, and would have worn out the patience of the U.S. to help them keep their modest political foothold.

Second, why would they specifically target Sadr, via the Golden Dome, thus infuriating the most militarily and politically dangerous Shiite faction and maximizing the probable lethality of the reaction? Especially when the Golden Dome is in Samarra (Sunni territory), guarded by Sunnis.

Third, why would Sadr react by advocating restraint toward the Sunnis, but redirecting the backlash toward the U.S., who had nothing to do with the bombing? It was Sunnis who were guarding the mosque, but Sadr claimed it was the U.S.'s responsibility, along with the Iraqi government to guard the dome. Of course Sadr is no friend of the U.S., but it's hard to believe he would let the Sunnis slide on the bombing, if he actually thought they had done it.

It seems unlikely that a Sunni group would tempt fate at a moment when they have a moderate amount of political traction. But even if they did, it seems odd for them to pick this target. The bombing galvanized the most dangerous and cohesive group of militant Shiites in Iraq - the Mahdi Army - and, via Sadr, instigated more railing against the U.S. occupation. These are ends sought, more than anyone, by Iran. So if there are whispers that Iranian agents bombed the Golden Dome mosque, they are definitely worth listening to.

If nothing else, they show just how hard it is going to be for the U.S. to craft the unified Iraqi government (inexplicably, by this point) desired by Bush. How deep are we going to get dragged in the futile pursuit of #43's legacy?

February 23, 2006

Holding our fire.

On calling it a civil war, that is. The last 24 hours have been rife with scattered violence, but the militias are not waging an all-out ethnic war - yet.

Spokesmen of the Islamic Party and Muslim Scholars claim more than 120 mosques have been blown up, set ablaze or came under small arms and RPG fire.

There's lots of info on the massive, yet not quite concerted, bloodshed and destruction as enraged Shiites (for the most part) go on a violent tear. Also, the Sunnis have suspended their cooperation in establishing a unified government. To provide perspective, however, Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail lists a number of really bad things that haven't happened yet. Is any degree of optimism, however guarded, justified at this point?

Moktada Al-Sadr has been vilified by the American media due to his outspoken hatred for the U.S. presence, but is he a restraining force in the Shiite impulse for retribution against the Sunnis? It seems that (a) he is to some extent, and (b) he is extremely powerful among the Shiite proles.

WaPo:

The Askariya Shrine, or Golden Mosque,
holds the tombs of two revered 9th-century imams of the Shiite branch of Islam, including Hassan al-Askari, father of the "hidden imam," al-Mahdi. Many Shiites believe that Mahdi is still alive and that his reemergence one day will signal the beginning of the end of the world.

Shiites consider the mosque in Samarra to be a tangible link with the hidden imam, and Sadr's tightly disciplined militia is called the Mahdi Army, reflecting its fealty to the revered figure.

Sadr is right at the center of this. Given the specific significance of the Golden Mosque, its destruction would appear to have been a pointed effort to instigate Sadr's faction. Moreover, the Mahdi Army is no doubt one of the primary militias Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was putting on alert when he issued a statement that "if [the Iraqi national government's] security institutions are unable to provide the necessary security [for Shiite mosques], the faithful are able to do that by the will and blessings of God." The Sunni government of Samarra had claimed responsibility for guarding the Golden Mosque, and prevented Shiites from guarding the mosque, before it was blown up.

The Mahdi Army is large, lethal, and highly obedient to Sadr. Sadr, and Sistani above him, have the power, more than anyone else, to dictate whether Shiite rage can be quelled, snowballs into a civil war, or turns even more strongly against the Americans. Although they may be holding back some of the worst anti-Sunni violence for the moment, that's not necessarily good tidings for the U.S. plan in Iraq.

A final quote from the WaPo:

In Sadr City, representatives of Sadr called for restraint and sought to deflect blame from Iraq's Sunnis. Followers came running late Wednesday when a Sadr preacher took up a bullhorn outside Sadr's offices to give the direction that the armed, angry crowds were waiting for. The mosque attack was the work of "occupiers," or Americans, "and Zionists," said the cleric, Abdul Zara Saidy. In Iran, Shiite leaders echoed the accusation.

Sunnis were guarding the mosque when other Sunnis went in and blew it up. But Sadr is holding his fire for the Americans.

"Has Bush lost his way politically — or at least his touch?"

Should the UAE take charge of Security?..."Not just NO but HELL NO"....from a conservative no less.

February 22, 2006

What now?

What do we do if the feared and anticipated civil war in Iraq has begun?

Let's put that serious and perplexing question aside for a sec, and ask a much easier question.

Will the Bush administration say that this was unforeseeable?

Like the breach of the levees in New Orleans? Like Hamas' electoral coup? Like the lethargic rollout of the prescription drug plan? Like the Iraqi insurgency itself? Like everything else that the administration has undertaken or neglected to undertake, contrary to the predictions of the bulk of disinterested experts? If the polar caps melt tomorrow, the Bush administration will say no one could have anticipated it. Straightfaced.

If the shit goes down, it's not because of dissent in the States, insufficient executive power, questions about Abu Ghraib, or Bush Derangement Syndrome. It's because we could not provide security to Iraq. It's because we inexplicably planned for a brief, hands-off military conflict, to be followed by showers of gratitude and oil, or didn't plan at all. It's because billions of reconstruction dollars disappeared or were wasted. It's because although people saw voting as their "only best option", democracy has no inherent allure to an insecure and oppressed population - at least not enough allure to excuse us of any of the hard work of stepping in and running a country until it can run itself.

No disrespect to the troops. This goes straight to the command. The responsibility for this massive, foreseeable, and foreseen failure does not lie at all with them.

Now, if things break down like they look like they are about to, we will need to commit many more troops, or abandon ship. Because those will be our only choices, not because of Paul Bremer, Senator John Murtha, or anyone else who has sounded the alarm to the ridicule and scorn of the right wing. What we have there is not going to cut it. Get ready for hard choices that would have been significantly less hard had we acted on our best information, instead of political expediency, say, three years ago.

UPDATE:

I forgot to include one unfortunate event that the Bush administration was warned about, but after it occurred, claimed was unforeseeable. Caffeinated beverage to whoever can guess what that was.

Grand scale thuggery

Sunni insurgents dressed as police commandos blew up one of Shiite Islam's most sacred shrines in Samarra early this morning.

The shrine is one of two tombs in Samarra for revered Shia imams, which attract pilgrims from around the world.

It was attacked one day after at least 22 people died when a car bomb exploded in a market in a Shia neighbourhood of southern Baghdad.

Large crowds quickly gathered outside the shrine to vent their anger.

Angry crowds also gathered in Baghdad, while many in the Shia holy city of Najaf called for revenge.

There were reports of disturbances in the Shia-dominated city of Karbala and in the southern city of Basra.

However, Ayatollah Sistani, who has consistently preached a moderate tone throughout the Iraqi conflict, urged Shias not to attack Sunni Muslims or their holy places.


UPDATE:

In the hours after the bombing, more than 60 Sunni mosques were attacked, burned or taken over by Shiites, said the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political group. The attacked mosques were mainly in Baghdad and predominantly Shiite provinces south of the country.

About 500 soldiers were sent to Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad to prevent clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, and a leading A leading Sunni politician, Tariq al-Hashimi, urged clerics and politicians to calm the situation "before it spins out of control."

Other major Sunni groups joined in the condemning the attack. The Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars called the bombing a "criminal act," while the Sunni Endowment, a government organization that cares for Sunni mosques and shrines, said it was sending a delegation to Samarra to investigate what happened.

Al-Sistani — the top Shiite cleric — sent instructions to his followers forbidding attacks on Sunni mosques, especially the major ones in Baghdad. He called for seven days of mourning, his aides said. But he later hinted, as did Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi that religious militias could be given a bigger security role if the government is not capable of protecting holy shrines.

Shiite leaders in surrounding countries, including
Iran's most influential cleric body, the Qom Shiite Seminary, also responded quickly.

Large protests erupted in Shiite parts of Baghdad and in cities throughout the Shiite heartland to the south. In Basra, Shiite militants traded rifle and rocket-propelled grenade fire with guards at the office of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party. Smoke billowed from the building.

Shiite protesters later set fire to a Sunni shrine containing the seventh century tomb of Talha bin Obeid-Allah, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, on the outskirts of the southern city, but there was no immediate word on the extent of the damage or any casualties.

Police found nine bodies of Sunni Muslims, most of them shot in the head, in two neighborhoods of Basra, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of militia reprisals.

Protesters in Najaf, Kut and Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City also marched through the streets by the hundreds and thousands, many shouting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans and burning those nations' flags.

Elsewhere in the capital, about 40 Shiite militiamen sprayed a Sunni mosque in eastern Baghdad with automatic fire.

Will it go through?

Since a jillion people who have considered this issue far more than me are talking about the port deal, I just have one question:

Is there any chance in hell that the government will permit a terrorist-hub nation to take control of major American ports?

Or, put more neutrally:

Will it go through?

What do you think?

Subquestion:

If faced with legislation barring the deal, will Bush veto? Therein lies the entertainment portion of tonight's program.

Killing the deal would be "a dangerous signal to people overseas that America plays favorites."

So said White House counselor Dan Bartlett on the issue of rejecting the United Arab Emirates deal to acquire the security job for 6 ports on the Golf Coasts and Atlantic shore of these United States. Playing favorites is something this administration tends to do in a way that transcends even the acknowledged reality of politics. I find it absurd that the reasoning for Bush to veto this deal is that a veto would give the image of favoritism. What? That we want Americans to run the security of this country and not a Middle East country that is known to have Islamist sympathizers? Can the possibility of an "inside job" to blow up Americans be reasonably denied? All over Iraq we hear of bombings facilitated by some sympathizer who infiltrated the Police force. Do we want to take that risk here? NO!!!

February 21, 2006

Prosecutor analyzes hip-hop and criminal justice

Just noticed an article on Paul Butler, a black federal prosecutor who left his job after catching hip-hop's perspective on the criminal justice system. Would I like to blog about this now? Heck yah.

Maybe later. I'll keep it on the brain.

Gearing up (emotionally) for (watching) the 1500m finals

How do you feel about Shani Davis? Better think it over, or tonight's 1500m speed skating final will be an emotional conundrum. Davis, 23, has come up from Chicago's South Side to be the best 1000m skater in the world, but on the way he's battled with the powers that be and his teammates over sponsorship, teamsmanship, and a lot more. Some of the controversy that has stuck to him seems undeserved, like the questions about Apolo Ohno possibly letting Davis win at the short track qualifiers for Salt Lake in 2000. But although his long track performances render all that controversy moot, in his mind those questions about his right to even be at the Olympics seem to have festered.

Whatever has happened, on Saturday after winning the 1000m, he was too pissed off to relax, accept or give congratulations (laid-back teammate Joey Cheek took the silver), or to even crack a smile.

Quoth the article:

Davis said he wants to be the "Michael Jordan" of speed skating. He said he wants to help inner-city kids, for which he has an affinity because he grew up in Chicago.

"It's sort of like a snowball effect," Davis said. "You take a small snowball, roll it down the hill, and any time it gets down the hill, it can be like an avalanche. Back in Chicago, there's going to be a lot of people trying speed skating now."

But I've got bad news for Davis. When you behave as unprofessionally as he did with NBC supposedly out of anger at critical remarks made by Bob Costas, when speed skating legend Bonnie Blair is afraid to mutter your name because your mother, Cherie, told her not to discuss you, it just kills all your sincere intentions.

Right now, though, the "snowball" seems to be one of anger at a lot of different people and forces. At some level you have to wonder what's holding Davis' pride and happiness hostage: is it the obstacles themselves, or the individual letting those obstacles kill the dream even as he's achieving it? Winning the gold should be a big step toward putting those obstacles to bed.

As for Shani's rival Chad Hedrick, I don't have too much to say. The guy is only mad at Shani because of his own desire to rack up medals, and he was inexcusably bitter about Shani winning the 1000m. I wish them both a good race tonight, but I won't be rooting for Hedrick to win.

Whitey, tightie

Must indict, he

Of the myriad Cheney shotgun verses,
I get my kicks from the very tersest.

such as:

Cheney
sane, he?