War as sporting event

We're starting to get a clearer picture of US strategy and expectations in Iraq as the war looks like it won't end quickly. Doubts are being voiced by military experts and senior officials from the CIA, State Department and the Department of Defense, even though initial predictions by Vice President Dick Cheney and others were that the war would be quick and that "the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy."

Maybe they should send sports reporters to the front lines? It makes sense, given that mounting casualties (37), POWs (7), and MIAs (17) are being reported as if the war were a sporting event. And discussion of Iraqi casualties is scarce or non-existent.

Pro-war rallies are becoming more commonplace, even in San Francisco. Whatever shared sympathy one might have with them - a shared support for the troops, a shared interest in helping the Iraqi people, a shared belief in America - is squandered in the face of ignorant, divisive comments by the likes of Leo Lacayo:

"If you don't support the troops, you are anti-American, you are subversives, you are terrorists," said Leo Lacayo, as the crowd chanted "USA! USA!" and waved American flags.

"It doesn't take a lot of courage to stop traffic," he said. "It doesn't take a lot of intellect to run your mouth. It takes real courage to fight for your country against terrorism."

Bad news from Iraq

"We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land and we will follow the enemy into its land," Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said today at a Baghdad news conference. "This is just the beginning. You'll hear more pleasant news later."

This came after a bomber posing as a taxi driver killed himself and four US soldiers in Iraq. A television reporter went on to comment, "It's the blessed beginning. He wanted to teach the enemy a lesson in the manner used by our Palestinian brothers."

No doubt many Americans will feel oddly vindicated by this. See, these people are subhuman! They don't fight fair, they can't be trusted! This same article makes reference to the bombing of the U.S. Marine base in Beirut that killed 241 American servicemen on Oct. 23, 1983. I remember when I heard that news nearly twenty years ago, and couldn't imagine then why anyone would do such a thing to US. How could they? We're the good guys! My worst fear is that these types of attacks will become more common, but only time will tell.

An article on military pay today ... the columnist seemed genuinely suprised that servicemen and women are paid so little - the base pay for a private with one year of service is $15,480 a year. Maybe if we didn't start wars without provocation, we wouldn't need such a large army, and could then pay our soldiers more? Maybe we could pay a little less money to the crooks at Halliburton and Bechtel, and pay a little more to our soldiers who risk their lives? And for what, corporate profits?

"Hell Week in Eden" is the latest photo gallery of war images at the San Francisco Chronicle's website. I know, I know, its just more propaganda from the "liberal media."

"Our soldier sons and daughters are now immersed in danger, surrounded by fear, targets of hate. They did not come in peace and the world may not be safer when they finish."

More news from the homefront

Its one thing when hippie protestors talk about fear-mongering and condemn the Bush Doctrine, but an entirely other thing when a billionaire financier like George Soros says the same thing:

"Mr. Bush's administration deliberately fosters fear because it helps to keep the nation lined up behind the president. We have come a long way from Franklin D. Roosevelt's dictum that we have nothing to fear but fear itself."

"Removing Mr. Hussein is a good thing, yet the way Mr. Bush is going about it must be condemned. America must play a more constructive role if humanity is to make any progress."

An unapologetic Marine explains, "Why Michael Moore is Right. . .":

"To be blunt, my personal feeling on the invasion of Iraq is that George W. Bush and his colleagues have instigated an environment of violence and as a result my children will have to grow up in a nation where random acts of terrorism are common place. Due to his decision, he has brought a threat of violence into my own household and onto the laps of my children. For that, he will never be forgiven."

Joan Ryan gives right wing media pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity their well-deserved comeuppance:

"Contrary to what the rightist media tell you, it is not anti-American to voice dissent; it is anti-American to suppress it.”

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war. This is no time to be undermining the ideals on which this country was founded and for which so much blood has been spilled. We should be demonstrating our support for democractic rights instead of spitting all over them. Yet these right-wing dolts keep spewing their misguided, anti-democratic garbage on radio and television shows, giving aid and sustenance to Saddam Hussein. What could please this tyrant more than seeing Americans demand that dissent be stifled -- thus making our country more like his?"

And now for something completely different, a video of Tony Blair and George W. Bush singing "Endless Love."

Why activists annoy me

Let me preface my comments by stating that I voted for Gore in the last presidential election. I believe this is where we protest, at the polls. I believe Gore would not have precipitated the current war with Iraq.

How many anti-war activists voted for Nader in the last election? How many didn't vote at all? Let's be reasonable at times and not so idealistic. We live, after all, in the real world and I think its better to view a vote as currency that should be spent WISELY. There is a saying in sports that you have to play good enough to beat the referees as well as your adversaries. We all knew the race would be close, yet still there are some among us who wasted votes on a hopeless cause, perhaps expecting, erroneously, that the Democrats would reclaim the Executive branch. But the Republicans cheated in Florida and now we have a war.

But we probably shouldn't sing the praises of the current Iraqi regime too strongly. Why didn't these protestors that believe so strongly in their idealism go to Iraq and attempt to begin a movement to bring democratic elections to the Iraqi people (it was done in the south in the '60s). I'll tell you why, they would be tortured and then shot. (They usually don't do it the other way 'round.) Political dissent is not tolerated in Iraq as it is in nations with a democracy. Hell, when I don't like a candidate, I vote for the other guy. Hey Bush, how 'bout them apples? I'm sure Bush is alright with that. You can't say such a thing in Iraq, though. It would be suicide. It is much easier to scream and yell in front of an embassy or a McDonald's in your homeland where you can get on TV and be more popular with your activist friends. If you really want to stop the war, go to Iraq and stand in front of a coalition tank. Of course, you will probably be taken in as a POW. Try that with an Iraqi tank. You'll be buzzard food. There is a difference and all of the screaming and yelling in the world can't change that.

The war at home

While the military war rages on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ideological war against democracy, truth and justice heats up here in the US.

§ Henry Norr, a technology reporter and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle was suspended, without pay, for getting arrested last week in war protests. The suspension came down under the pretext that Norr falsified his timecard.

§ They have generally dealt with war protesters in a professional and commendable manner, but last week the San Francisco Police arrested two Bay Guardian reporters who were covering local protests. Isn't the press covered by the First Amendment?

§ Former Pentagon official Richard Perle has resigned as a key adviser to Donald Rumsfeld. I suppose this in some way makes up for Vice President Dick Cheney's conflicts of interest as former CEO of Halliburton?

§ A second worker died of a heart attack after receiving a smallpox vaccination.

And finally, I have been labeled an "extremist" by a family member. I admit that I may be "completely out of step with the American public," but I'm still optimistic that the truth will get out, eventually, as long as I'm not imprisoned for exercising my rights under the Constitution.

-----Mandatory Anti-War Statement-----

Just to get this on the table, I think that the administration has taken a huge risk. Huge risk might in fact be an understatement - imagine if you will a drunk Shriner standing at the edge of the craps table where his monthly salary sits on the felt, in an off-the-strip casino in Vegas, at 3:45 am, tossing one die and screaming "cooome-on boxcars". Now imagine that Shriner is George W. I suppose that analogy may not represent the true threat. We will 'win'. We will do it with relatively small losses. The risk is what happens next.

I for one don't believe that this is all about oil. Oil is a factor, sure. A large factor. But consider the following: Iraq has the most secular government in the region, a first world infrastructure (ok, second world as of Tuesday), natural resources, an educated population, and a huge export relationship with the rest of the Middle East. In my opinion, some idealistic, clueless plonk looked at Iraq and thought, "Hey, what a great place to build a representative democratic and secular government based upon the ideals of capitalism and globalism. All we have to do is get rid of the political system in place..." I think this is seen as a way to 'reform' the Middle East. And therein lies the problem. Choose a classical metaphor (other than Pandora's box - too obvious), and get ready for a case of terrorism that will make Al Qaeda look like the Mickey Mouse Club, circa 1960.

-----End Mandatory Anti-War Statement-----

John McCain made a remark on CNN last night that some of his colleagues had complained that this war might go on for as long as two months. I must admit that I share the same sense of incredulity as Senator McCain. Two months? That's the time required to kick-start a sourdough starter, or brew a batch of beer, or one-twelfth the time it takes to get tickets to The Producers. Listen folks, wars used to be measured in decades. The 100 year war was named that for a reason. Vietnam was the 10,000 day war - you do the math.

This ties into the general acceleration of life, acceleration of history, and acceleration of technology that we have all become acutely aware of in the last 20 years. However, when things move fast it is harder to recognize and correct errors along the way. We have to be more aware, more cognizant of forming trends, and do what we can to shape them before they become accepted or mandated.

Let's focus for just a moment on our own eroding liberties. Post September 11, a phase which I fear will define an era, a citizen is either comfortable watching any vestige of civil liberties or political dissent spin in decreasing clockwise circles down the toilet, or they are aiding and abetting terrorists. I know that many feel this is wrong, that there should be a middle ground, or that democratic societies require dissent. Benjamin Franklin has been quoted again of late, and not with that "A penny saved is a penny earned" crap either, 'cause 200 years later and the American consumer has yet to figure that one out. No, the quote that has been showing up lately is "The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either." Once again, a great tag line, but can we demonstrate the inherent truth of this. Well, maybe I can't, but a paper out of MIT has done a great job.

Let's take a current example: The FAA deployed a project called the Computer Aided Passenger Screening system in 1999, and is of course releasing a CAPS-II soon. The goal of these systems is to gather data from passengers and mine that data to try and determine who might be a terrorist. The FAA's limited passenger screening resources are then targeted on these 'suspects'. Sounds reasonable, if invasive. It is a case of trading some freedom, but gaining security - right?

Wrong. Rather than interpreting or re-typing the following paper, check it out yourself. There isn't much math, and it's well referenced. Suffice it to say that Mr. Franklin was right about freedom vs. security (and about the French, and that whole pocket change thing, in fact he has a pretty good track record for being right).

We are not going to get freedoms back once they are taken away. Bureaucrats like to have jobs for life, and getting rid of programs gets rid of bureaucrats, and budgets, and contractors, and systems integrators, ad naseum. We have to be aware that long after the war is over and the Republicans are gone, laws enacted today will still be around. It is easier to make law than to remove law, because laws become programs and programs employ constituents. The key is to influence the process before a law is made. I think the EFF and EPIC might have some strategies for doing just that.

A brilliant article:


The New York Times
March 22, 2003

Why Colin Powell Should Go


The famous hardheaded definition of war is "the continuation of politics by other means." In the real world, though, war is the failure of politics. This war -- undertaken at such cost to America's own interests -- is specifically a failure of Colin Powell's politics.

Even if you believe that this war is justified, the route to it has been an ugly display of American opportunism and bullying, dissembling and dissonance. The administration has neglected other lethal crises around the world, alienated the allies we need for almost everything else on our agenda and abandoned friends working for the kind of values we profess to be exporting.

When the last insincere whimper of diplomacy failed this week, I happened to be in Pakistan, where those who speak up for the values we espouse live with death threats from Islamic zealots. As America moved on Iraq, it was heartbreaking to hear the despair of these beleaguered liberals. They are convinced that their cause -- our cause -- will now be suffocated by anti-Americanism, not because we are going to war but because of the way we are going to war.

Let's hope they are wrong, and let's hope the war is a quick success, and let's hope President Bush can regain the good will that accrued to America after Sept. 11. But on the battleground of ideas -- on the issue of how America uses its power -- Mr. Powell seems to me to have been defeated already. When the war is over, when his departure will not undermine the president during a high crisis, he should concede that defeat, and go.

I can't count the number of times in the past two years I've heard -- occasionally from my own lips -- the observation that the Bush administration would be a much scarier outfit without Colin Powell. Allied diplomats, international businessmen and the American foreign policy mainstream have regarded him as the lone grown-up in an administration with a teenager's twitchy metabolism and self-centered view of the world. He was the one who acknowledged that other countries had legitimate interests, and that in the application of America's unmatched power there was a case for generosity because what goes around comes around. His pragmatic caution offset a moralism that sometimes verged on recklessness. If others, including the president, seemed given to hype and swagger, Mr. Powell's word seemed bankable -- at least until the White House began misspending his credibility in its rush to the war that couldn't wait.

Even if you did not entirely share his soldier's wariness about military intervention -- if, for example, you felt that he bore some of the responsibility for our foot-dragging during the horrors of Bosnia -- you slept better knowing he was there to assess the costs and give the alternatives their due. He was the voice of moderation among the china-smashers. (Lowercase c. At least, so far.)

For a time he managed to keep a lid on the new American exuberance. Our relations with Russia and China weathered the early roughhousing over missile defense and other disputes, in large part because Mr. Powell was such a calming figure. Old-fashioned diplomacy helped line up the world's support for our war in Afghanistan and the broader war on terror. Thanks to Mr. Powell we (belatedly) framed our grievance against Iraq as a United Nations grievance; that 15 to nothing vote on Resolution 1441 was probably the high-water mark of his diplomacy. Mr. Powell also, I am told, helped beat back the idea of fighting the war in Iraq on the cheap -- with fewer troops, more high-tech dazzle, a little experiment with American lives. So he has won some big ones.

But that is exactly the problem. His formidable skills have been too much engaged in a kind of guerrilla war for the soul of the president, and it has shown. Critics in the administration and colleagues on this page have unfavorably compared his performance in the buildup to war with James Baker's whirlwind of global coalition-building before the gulf war in 1991. But Mr. Baker was operating as his president's right arm; Mr. Powell was busy protecting his right flank.

At least if the president had a secretary of state he fully trusted, the State Department might be allowed to attend to the other grave problems it has given short shrift: the flammable dispute between nuclear India and nuclear Pakistan, the dangerously slow rebuilding of Afghanistan, the multiple woes of South America and the toxic problem of North Korea's nuclear program. But Mr. Powell and his department seem to operate always under a cloud of suspicion. Even Mr. Powell's friend and deputy, Richard Armitage, a man with impeccable Reaganite credentials, is sometimes treated as if he had morphed into Ramsey Clark. (He had the audacity to say we would talk directly to North Korea.) Despite Mr. Powell's efforts, the trove of expertise that resides in his department has been marginalized. The State Department is apparently, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, "old America."

Let us pray the combat is better planned and executed than the diplomacy of the past few weeks, which managed to make the U.S. seem simultaneously inflated and very small. The first U.N. resolution was coyly general in its wording, but the second -- in all its misbegotten versions -- was simply fraudulent, designed to cover up its real meaning, which was not disarmament but regime change. As Mr. Powell was deployed time and again to dispense credulity-straining information about our intelligence, about our purpose, I kept thinking of the wised-up passages in his autobiography, when he deplored the way Vietnam had eroded America's national conviction with "euphemism, lies and self-deception."

Then there was that silly tete a tete a tete in the Azores -- an hourlong, pointless photo op that Mr. Powell, with a straight face, insisted on calling "the Atlantic summit," as if it were Yalta.

Perhaps the single saddest moment of the whole cynical prelude to war was Mr. Bush's abrupt promise to take on the issue of Israel and Palestine, a paramount and long-awaited commitment that was demeaned by the crassness of timing. (Just in case anyone believed he was serious, the word quickly went out from the White House that it was all intended to buy Tony Blair some peace at home.)

And much as I respect Estonia and El Salvador, there is something ridiculous about the list of our "partners" -- a coalition of the anonymous, the dependent, the halfhearted and the uninvolved, whose lukewarm support supposedly confers some moral authority. This is like -- oh, I don't know, wresting a dubious election victory in Florida and claiming a mandate. It lacks a certain verisimilitude.

Mr. Powell is not, of course, entirely to blame for the mess of the past few months. If you're apportioning fault, you can cast plenty at the French for demonstrating to the president that Mr. Powell's patient diplomacy was pointless. We can blame Mr. Rumsfeld, the anti-diplomat, who dispensed insults to uppity allies as if they were corporate subordinates. (Getting the president a more compatible secretary of state might allow Mr. Rumsfeld to get out of the business of undermining foreign policy and back to the business of reforming the military.) We can blame the White House national security staff, which is supposed to choreograph something resembling a coherent strategy. We can, of course, blame the man at the desk where the buck stops.

The most important reason the secretary of state should go is that the president has chosen a course that repudiates much of what Mr. Powell has stood for -- notably his deep suspicion of arrogant idealism. I don't mean that Mr. Bush is bent on a series of pre-emptive wars -- surely the president would like to take the country into the election year at peace -- but this is about how we throw our weight around in peacetime, too.

Critics of the Bush administration talk about the breach in the Atlantic alliance and the division at the United Nations as "collateral damage," as if, in the rush to get Iraq, the administration has blundered. That assumes it was an accident. It seems more plausible that this was not an attempt to put spine in the United Nations and NATO, but to discredit them. The global engineers talk with such contempt of these organizations, it is difficult to believe they want to salvage them as anything but appendages of American power.

The U.N. is indeed exasperating, and some of the international treaties concocted during the cold war are indeed outdated. Surely the president is right to conclude that if we see a genuine danger to our country, we are not obliged to wait for the blessing of the Security Council to act. And even granting the paradox that we made Saddam a bigger and more imminent danger by broadcasting our determination to remove him, by the end we were trapped in the reality that, left alone, he was a menace to us. Godspeed to the Third Infantry, and good riddance to Saddam.

If you are going to demolish the old order, though, you should have something in mind to replace it -- and so far, the replacement seems to be an endless series of pickup games with America as owner of the football and, thus, eternal quarterback.

Whatever you think of this idea (I think it is unsustainable), it demands a high order of diplomatic dexterity to pull it off. Not much of that finesse has been in evidence as our leaders have cast about desperately for followers, shifting from one rationale to another, bribing and browbeating, citing questionable intelligence and dubious legalisms.

When I put the question of resigning to Mr. Powell yesterday, he was, characteristically, showing no signs of surrender. He has no intention of leaving, he said. He has the president's full confidence. He has been written off before. And Iraq is just Iraq -- not the first in a series of military adventures.

"I think it's a bit of an overstatement to say that now this one's pocketed, on to the next place," Mr. Powell said. The larger question of America's role in the world, he said, "isn't answered yet."

Such a loyal and optimistic man would make some president a great secretary of state. Just not this president.   

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Bias and reporting on the war in Iraq

On Michael Krasny's Forum this morning, Martha Teichner, Aly Colon, Peter Sussman, Jack Smith and Robert Wiener discussed the media's coverage of the war in Iraq. One thing I took from this discussion is that the embedded press is essentially serving as a complicit proxy for the American people. Their reports from the front lines, rather than making the action seem more real, or more horrifying, instead have increased our psychological investment in them. It is impossible for us to watch the war, or for them to report it, with an outsider's critical eye, because we are now on the inside, watching things unfold, right alongside the troops on the ground. Its difficult, if not impossible, for us to be objective observers. This might explain, in part, the dramatic shift in public opinion once the war "started." Before March 19, most Americans supported the war only if we had UN support. Once Mr. Bush announced that the "liberation" of Iraq was underway, most Americans expressed their support for the troops, and thus the war itself.

The Bush administration deserves some credit for consistency. First they embarked on a war with global implications without the world's support. Now it appears that Bush won't seek the UN's involvement in rebuilding a post-war Iraqi. "Unlike Mr Blair, the Bush administration has not been convinced of the need for the UN to be involved in setting up a post-war Iraqi government."

On a related note, Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root Services won the estimated $500 million contract to rebuild the Iraqi oil fields after the end of the war. A report by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, "warns the current administration not to show favoritism for American firms in rebuilding Iraq's oil industry." Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton until his election in 2000.

An open letter to Rep. Jim McDermott, WA, 7th District

Dear Rep. McDermott,

Thank you for bravely speaking out against the dishonest war resolution passed on Friday.

I am stunned that only 11 members of Congress had the courage to oppose this resolution, which just makes your public statements all the more impressive.

As a military veteran, I share your respect and appreciation for our fighting soldiers, sailors and airmen. But as an informed, patriotic citizen, I am disgusted that this administration continues to use its war on terrorism and Iraq as a tool for manipulation and deceit both at home and abroad.

Clearly for Republicans, war is just another tool for cynical partisan politicking.

Despite the vote, President Bush does not have the "unequivocal support" of the majority of Americans, but you have mine.

Watching war coverage with a friend

The US has shot down a RAF aircraft. people are just waking up in London, getting the paper, boiling water for a pot of tea and turning on the telly. Big demonstrations in NYC yesterday. Bigger demonstrations soon to come in the UK.

It appears that 2 Tomahawk missiles fell on Iran. Each Tomahawk missile costs abut $600,000, so that's an expensive fuck-up. We launched 50 yesterday, so we know what we're spending on missiles. How much does it cost to run a war with 300,000 troops in a desert thousands of miles from NYC? Try $80 billion for starters.

There have been casualties each day, and we're now into the fourth day of invasion. No telling how many Iraqis have died, but we're getting news of 22 dead or missing Americans, dead British, and dead Australians. If the Canadians had joined us, as they did in the First Gulf War, they would be dying now, too.

A US soldier may have lost it, and lobbed three grenades on the commander's tent of the 101st Airborne. Some news sources were quick to say that he was an Arab-American. No confirmation of this. Truth is always the first casualty ...

Since when does the world's 4th largest Army use pink Japanese pick-ups with "NYPD" bumper stickers as mobile assault vehicles?

At a cocktail party tonight, someone told the following joke:

"These are strange times. The biggest rapper is white. The best golfer is black. The French are telling the US that we're arrogant. And the Germans have refused to go to war."

The war is now live and on the air

Check out Fareed Zakaria's "The Arrogant Empire" in the latest Newsweek. This strongly-worded criticism of George W. Bush's foreign policy comes from a typically supportive conservative columnist.