scatterbrained

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?

February 20, 2006

And now this.

President Bush, who began his second term denying the existence of the sun, has reversed himself. Sunlight, previously viewed by the Administration as an evil, undemocratic, non-oil form of energy, was acknowledged Monday by the administration to (a) be "a friend of liberty," and (b) exist. The reversal, or "reassessment", came after several scientific articles dismissing the sun as merely a "theory", which the administration relied upon and subsequently classified as top secret, were found to have been written not by scientists but rather by a Republican political consulting firm based in Austin, Texas. The group is headed by a former fraternity brother of the president. White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied that the president recalled ever speaking with anyone from the group in a non-fundraising context, and alternatively that the information, though fake, was accurate at the time.

The Department of Justice is investigating the leak of the authorship of the articles, prompting questions from both parties in Congress as to whether the disclosure was as great of a concern as the longstanding reliance on data falsified by the president's associates. Several senators also expressed skepticism that any executive privilege would apply to the discredited articles. Appearing in a Senate hearing addressing these issues, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the investigation, warning that to discuss either the information or the privilege claimed by the president would place the nation at an immediate risk of simultaneous terrorist attacks on its largest cities.

In Monday's speech in Milwaukee, the president took some people aback when he said, "See, you have to understand, that yellow thing in the sky may be far away. But it is vital to our freedom. And our way of life. To bend it to our will."

"Roof makers will one day be able to make a solar roof that protects you from the elements and at the same time, powers your house," Bush said. "The vision is this — that technology will become so efficient that you'll become a little power generator in your home, and if you don't use the energy you generate you'll be able to feed it back into the electricity grid."

He continued, "Some have said that it is not so important to conquer the sun. They would prefer to see America dependent. On the moolahs and others. Who bear us ill. Because they hate our liberty. And because of their nucular ambitions. We must protect our way of life. By acquiring. For the cause of freedom. The single greatest, heh, source, hee, of nucular material, huh, in the, UH, solar system." He then moaned and ground his pelvis against the podium in what appeared to be a throe of ecstasy.

Balance of power strip-tease

According to the WaPo, when Sen. John Rockefeller proposed a broad inquiry into the NSA wiretapping program last week, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card called moderate Republican Senators Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe to urge them against voting for the measure.

The two senators then had a three-way conference call with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman and generally acknowledged White House toadie Pat Roberts. According to the WaPo, they both told Roberts they would vote for Rockefeller's inquiry if it came up. Roberts was then able to pull out an adjournment, on a party-line vote, until March 7.

After their support of the adjournment drew heat, Hagel and Snowe apparently "bridle[d] at suggestions that they buckled under administration heat. The White House must engage "in good-faith negotiations" with Congress, Snowe said in a statement."

So, the White House applied the full-court press and got...an adjournment. On one issue. The Republican-controlled House is starting its hearings soon, and has signalled that it will not take kindly to a fluff session with AG Gonzales like the one before the Senate.

One interesting development is that the White House seems unlikely to get out of this with its "inherent executive authority" argument intact. Under this argument, the wiretapping program, and virtually any other executive action in war, are authorized directly by Article II, and Congressional authority (via FISA) is thus irrelevant. Justice Jackson's sliding scale of executive power puts this power at the lowest point when it conflicts with the express intent of Congress. Under the White House's primary defense of the program, this calculus was defunct as of September 11, 2001.

The administration will thus likely have to seek Congressional approval, and will almost certainly get it. But it will have had to ask. Even Pat Roberts is making noises that Congress will need to legislate the NSA program into legitimacy - it will not give the White House carte blanche for all executive nullification of Congress' decisions. And look at what hasn't even happened yet:

(1) The House hearings where the AG will be warned in advance about the consequences of stonewalling (side note: will he be sworn? I think probably not);

(2) DOJ's release of documents on specific wiretaps that were conducted in response to EPIC's FOIA request;

(3) The Senate voter on whether to launch an inquiry, whether as broad as Rockefeller proposes, or something more restrained.

(4) Possible litigation over the issue. How will the third branch react to the Exec's claim that it never needed to obtain judicial warrants, and that it did so only as a courtesy to the courts, rather than as a constitutional necessity?

Meanwhile, the Democrats debate each other as to whether any of this is worth pursuing. Given the trends, I sense gains for moderate Repubs in the next two elections.

On the legal merits of the executive wiretap issue, Greenwald provides an index of his analyses, categorized by issue.

Neoconservatism: a view from the rubble

Frances Fukuyama's piece in the NYT Mag, "After Neoconservatism", takes account of neoconservatism's origins in the cold war and how the fall of the Soviet Union shrugged off conservative impulses in favor of the same old militarism, on to which was now grafted an ambitious optimism that the U.S. could leverage its dominance into a chain of new democratic regimes. It was this last bit that is the unique hallmark of the neocons, and also the part that evaporated on contact, once we acted upon it in Iraq.

The article gives the kind of perspective that might lead you to see neoconservatism, and the foray into Iraq, as a logical consequence of winning the cold war. There was an assumption that our primary obstacle to spreading democracy through the world through militarism and the awe of other nations was the Soviet Union. Thus, once the stage was "cleared", the world seemed wide open. In actuality, the military was still strong, but unsuited for guerrilla/urban warfare and counterinsurgency, and the rest was residual ambition, and adrenaline, from past victories. Why had we faced down communism, if not for this?

Jumping through the article:

"Four common principles or threads ran through [early neoconservative] thought up through the end of the cold war: a concern with democracy, human rights and, more generally, the internal politics of states; a belief that American power can be used for moral purposes; a skepticism about the ability of international law and institutions to solve serious security problems; and finally, a view that ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and thereby undermines its own ends.

...

If there was a single overarching theme to the domestic social policy critiques [of] Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell in 1965, it was the limits of social engineering. Writers like Glazer, Moynihan and, later, Glenn Loury argued that ambitious efforts to seek social justice often left societies worse off than before because they either required massive state intervention that disrupted pre-existing social relations (for example, forced busing) or else produced unanticipated consequences (like an increase in single-parent families as a result of welfare). A major theme running through James Q. Wilson's extensive writings on crime was the idea that you could not lower crime rates by trying to solve deep underlying problems like poverty and racism; effective policies needed to focus on shorter-term measures that went after symptoms of social distress (like subway graffiti or panhandling) rather than root causes.

...

The way the cold war ended shaped the thinking of supporters of the Iraq war, including younger neoconservatives like William Kristol and Robert Kagan, in two ways. First, it seems to have created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from outside.

...

[Second,]the war's supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform.

...

After the fall of the Soviet Union, various neoconservative authors like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol and Robert Kagan suggested that the United States would use its margin of power to exert a kind of "benevolent hegemony" over the rest of the world, fixing problems like rogue states with W.M.D., human rights abuses and terrorist threats as they came up. Writing before the Iraq war, Kristol and Kagan considered whether this posture would provoke resistance from the rest of the world, and concluded, "It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power."

...

This overoptimism about postwar transitions to democracy helps explain the Bush administration's incomprehensible failure to plan adequately for the insurgency that subsequently emerged in Iraq. The war's supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform. While they now assert that they knew all along that the democratic transformation of Iraq would be long and hard, they were clearly taken by surprise. According to George Packer's recent book on Iraq, "The Assassins' Gate," the Pentagon planned a drawdown of American forces to some 25,000 troops by the end of the summer following the invasion.

...

Meeting the jihadist challenge is more of a "long, twilight struggle" whose core is not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world. As recent events in France and Denmark suggest, Europe will be a central battleground in this fight.

The United States needs to come up with something better than "coalitions of the willing" to legitimate its dealings with other countries.

...

The conservative critique of the United Nations is all too cogent: while useful for certain peacekeeping and nation-building operations, the United Nations lacks both democratic legitimacy and effectiveness in dealing with serious security issues. The solution is not to strengthen a single global body, but rather to promote what has been emerging in any event, a "multi-multilateral world" of overlapping and occasionally competing international institutions that are organized on regional or functional lines. Kosovo in 1999 was a model: when the Russian veto prevented the Security Council from acting, the United States and its NATO allies simply shifted the venue to NATO, where the Russians could not block action.

...

The final area that needs rethinking, and the one that will be the most contested in the coming months and years, is the place of democracy promotion in American foreign policy. The worst legacy that could come from the Iraq war would be an anti-neoconservative backlash that coupled a sharp turn toward isolation with a cynical realist policy aligning the United States with friendly authoritarians. Good governance, which involves not just democracy but also the rule of law and economic development, is critical to a host of outcomes we desire, from alleviating poverty to dealing with pandemics to controlling violent conflicts. A Wilsonian policy that pays attention to how rulers treat their citizens is therefore right, but it needs to be informed by a certain realism that was missing from the thinking of the Bush administration in its first term and of its neoconservative allies."

February 17, 2006

"The administration has obviously gotten the message that they need to be more forthcoming."

That's how Olympia Snowe explained on Wednesday why she was ceasing her call for a full inquiry into the NSA wiretapping program. Back on December 20, she, along with Chuck Hagel and some Democratic senators, signed on to a letter calling for such an inquiry:

"It is critical that Congress determine, as quickly as possible, exactly what collection activities were authorized, what were actually undertaken, how many names and numbers were involved over what period, and what was the asserted legal authority for such activities."

Gonzales' stonewalling before the Senate last week didn't yield any of the answers they demanded in the December letter. So wouldn't it have been a little more credible if she has said that she had simply changed her mind based on the evidence? Because as little evidence as has been produced toward forming a legal basis for the wiretapping program, there's even less evidence that any "message" has been "gotten" by the administration.

Hagel's explanation for his reversal:

"If some kind of inquiry would be beneficial to getting a resolution to this issue, then sure, we should look at it. But if the inquiry is just some kind of a punitive inquiry that really is not focused on finding a way out of this, then I'm not so sure that I would support that."

Check.

But there are more brushfires on this issue than the White House has wet blankets. The House Intelligence Committee is forging ahead with an inquiry, and yesterday the federal district court for D.C. issued a preliminary injunction ordering DOJ to comply with a FOIA request made by Electronic Privacy Information Center. The deadline for the DOJ to pony up is March 8.

Back in December, BHM predicted in an email (now lost in Gmail purgatory) that the NSA scandal would fall in line, undistinguished, among the liberal litany of grievances against the administration. Maybe - but it is still alive and seemingly kicking, despite Democratic preoccupation with other matters, like scuttling the campaigns of its most promising new blood. The traditional conservative establishment has found themselves compelled by principle to break ranks with Bush. The famed White House damage control team has got to be approaching cognitive meltdown.

As always, Glenn Greenwald is on it.

Tundra Sweet Tundra

Man it's effing cold and windy.

Windchill: -36 °F / -38 °C
-9 °F / -23 °C
Clear

February 16, 2006

Punctuality in the Government

What punctuation mark describes today for you? Mine would be successive periods. A whole buch of points with nothing behind them but other points. Yes.

Nugget of wisdom for freshly minted lawyers

The asinine things you say can and will be used against you.

Then again, it makes typos on the resume seem like not such a big deal.