Friday, March 31, 2006


Language and the Subtlety of Racism

It's pretty remarkable how differently the House and Senate have approached immigration. While the Senate, with more than 90% concurrence, passed a bill that would open up our country while tightening our borders, the House pushed through a deplorable piece of punitive legislation that looks more like something Turkey would pass to keep Kurds in line. (Liberals who want to get rid of the Senate, which represents people disproportionately, should recall this.)
"It would be like a dinner bell" to immigrants, pronounced Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.). "If you are here illegally and want to fly the Mexican flag, go to Mexico," proposed Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.). "I say let the prisoners pick the fruits," said Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), adding, "I would hope that the American people are smart enough to smell the foul odor that's coming out of the United States Senate."
No one is copping to good, old-fashioned racism. But the fingerprints of bigotry are all over the Capitol. The most common epithet used to describe illegal aliens is "they"--in an emphatic tone that everyone who isn't "we" instantly recognizes. The anti-immigrant crowd has cleaned up their language--you don't hear anyone dropping a "spic" or "wetback" into conversation, but the indiscriminate derision they direct at immigrants--legal, illegal, potential--speaks volumes.

But enough of the overt. One thing that caught my attention was how both sides of the debate readily acknowledge that immigrants should be English speakers. Even the McCain-Kennedy bill calls for this. Why? There's nothing innate about English and American democracy. If the entire country shifted to Spanish over the course of a century, it's hard to see how that would affect our nation's health.

There are a few public policy issues, however small--dual-language agencies have slightly higher overhead. I could imagine that having to hire Spanish and English-speaking employees at the IRS could be more difficult than just English speaking. But come on--no one is seriously making this from a public policy point of view.

Language is a proxy for race. White America is uneasy with the growing ranks of nonwhites. I read the entire immigration debate as a discussion by a majority culture about how to handle the fact that their majority is declining. That's why "they" are different, and why their status--illegal, legal, potential--is beside the point. If making "them" speak English dulls the change, well, it's the least we can ask them to do. Which is why everyone is asking...
[GOP Corruption]

Tom DeLay at War.

"Our faith has always been in direct conflict with the values of the world."
--DeLay, speaking at the "War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006"conference, Tuesday

Tony Rudy, Tom DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, plead guilty to conspiracy in connection to the lobbying fraud case that nabbed Jack Abramoff. These charges, stemming from the period when Rudy was working for DeLay, unambiguously link the majority leader's staff to corruption:
Rudy, 39, stood with his head slightly bowed and his hands clasped in front of him as the judge detailed how he took free trips, tickets, meals and golf games from Abramoff while working for DeLay, who was then House Majority Leader.
Apparently the charges don't link DeLay directly to the corruption, but most semi-modest men would confess to--at the very least--lax oversight when members of their staff start pleading guilty to graft (Rudy's the second). But DeLay? Earlier this week, he not only didn't offer any explanations, he declared himself a victim of the war on Christianity:
"But in a sense, there always has been and always will be [a war on Christianity]. Our faith has always been in direct conflict with the values of the world. We are, after all, a society that provides abortion on demand, has killed millions of innocent children, degrades the institution of marriage and all but treats Christianity like some second-rate superstition."

"we have been chosen to live as Christians at a time when our culture is being poisoned. ... God made us specifically for it. ... Jesus Christ himself made us just so that we could live in this nation at this time."
I know that a large number of Christians will recoil how this man exploits the language of religion to dress up his own obvious subversion of it, and yet few have called him on it. My assumption is that DeLay will ultimately spend time in the hole--either due to a guilty plea or following a trial. But even if he doesn't, his corruption is undeniable, even to his own supporters. I have made too many bad predictions in my blogging career to say that this spells doom for the GOP/Christian connection, so I will hold off. Instead, let me just observe the delicacy with which Machiavelian Republicans, hoping to continue to exploit Christians' sense of morality, must handle Tom DeLay, as he stands both for the party and God.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


George Will and Antonin Scalia

I'm out of gas, blog-wise, so I'll leave you these two items, without comment. First, George Will weighs in on immigration, demonstrating why it's a bad issue for the GOP (aka, nothing appeals to Latinos more than a shrill lecture from a privileged white man):
"[L]arge rallies by immigrants, many of them here illegally, protesting more stringent control of immigration reveal that many immigrants have, alas, assimilated: They have acquired the entitlement mentality created by America's welfare state, asserting an entitlement to exemption from the laws of the society they invited themselves into."
Speaking of privileged white men, here's one Cheneying the press:
Amid a growing national controversy about the gesture U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the freelance photographer who captured the moment has come forward with the picture....

Despite Scalia’s insistence that the Sicilian gesture was not offensive and had been incorrectly characterized by the Herald as obscene, the photographer said the newspaper “got the story right...”

“The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’ ” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.
The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.”
There you have it.
[GOP Corruption]

Crimes and Punishment.

"Casino Jack" Abramoff was sentenced yesterday to six months years in the pokey for part of his misdeeds. And who says crimed doesn't pay? Those were the shortest terms allowed (ironically) by tough-on-crime laws passed by the rabid GOP. There's more time comin', though--yesterday's punishment was for his side-deal actions with casino cruise ships. There's an unresolved murder associated with these crimes, and Jack may whittle down his time some more if he knows anything about it.

It therefore seems like little coincidence that the Senate, in a moment of fiscal chastity, also passed a lobbying bill (by the lopsided tally of 90-8). I don't know that the bill will radically change politics in Washington, but in a take-what-you-can-get mode, it ain't half bad. Among other things, it:
  • Requires advance approval from the ethics committee of any transportation or lodging provided by a private party.
  • Requires senators or staff who travel by private aircraft to file a disclosure report with the Secretary of the Senate identifying the purpose of the trip and the people on board.
  • Requires senators involved in employment negotiations prior to the election of their successors to file a public disclosure statement with the Secretary of the Senate.
  • Bans official contacts between a senator's staff and the senator's spouse or immediate family members registered as lobbyists.
  • Extends from one year to two years the period a member of Congress or a senior executive branch official must wait before lobbying a former place of employment.
  • Bars senators from punishing or rewarding a lobbying firm based on the party affiliations of those they hire (a key K-Street strategy).
  • Allows senators to raise a point of order against earmarks, or special projects, that were not in the original House or Senate version of a bill but later added in the House-Senate conference. Such points of order remove the earmark from the bill unless 60 senators vote to retain it.
  • Ends the practice of secret "holds," whereby senators can single-handedly block action on a bill or nomination without revealing that they are the source of the hold.
The last two items are especially worthwhile. Earmarks have flourished because they hide in the dark spaces of omnibus spending bills. While this bill won't automatically shed light on all earmarks, it gives minority parties the power of the shame--which alone may reduce earmarks substantially.

The "holds" provision comes from our own Ron Wyden (OR-D), and eliminates a practice that is an obvious subversion of the public will. Russ Feingold, bless his heart, was the lone Democrat dissentor, on the grounds that the bill was too weak. In an absolute sense, he's right. But politics rarely get you best-case legislation, and this still has to go to the House, which is the far more corrupt of the two houses. But the timing is perfect, so maybe we'll see some changes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


The Fukuyama-Krauthammer Feud

I am aware that not everyone finds neocon internecine warfare the height of entertainment. Or that they're even aware of who or what the neocons are. But I am and this is my blog, and so away we go.

Francis Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer is a'feudin'. Fukuyama is an intellectual and sometime neocon whose major contribution to foreign policy thought was 1989's The End of History. He was among the coterie of neocons involved in The Project for a New American Century--which in the 90s advocated for Saddam Hussein's overthrow.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post, one of Bush's foremost apologists (err, loyalists), a fellow neocon, and one of the most active proponents and defenders of the Iraq war. He is also a neocon.

Both men were admirers once upon a time. On the cover of Fukuyama's End of Time is Krauthammer's appraisal: “scandalously brilliant." But things started to break apart after Iraq. I will not regale you with a blow by blow, but the thumbnail goes like this: Fukuyama jumped ship on the Bush doctrine and earlier this year declared neoconservatism a dead theory. It was a fairly scathing indictment of the war and it's intellectual failure.

Krauthammer, who stands as one of the indicted, slammed back with a column he called "Fukuyama's Fantasy" in the WaPo yesterday. (It must be doubly painful to have a pretty theory demolished by ugly reality, but all the more to suffer at the hands of erstwhile allies.)
Fukuyama now says that he had secretly opposed the Iraq war before it was launched. An unusual and convenient reticence, notes Irwin Stelzer, editor of "The Neocon Reader," for such an inveterate pamphleteer, letter writer and essayist. After public opinion had turned against the war, Fukuyama then courageously came out against it. He has every right to change his mind at his convenience.

There is a New Yorker review of Fukuyama's current book, which sheds light into the spat, should you wish to delve further. It's pretty fascinating.
[Immigration, Security]

Border Defense.

The US is a vast country. We have over 12,000 miles of coastline and borders with Mexico (1,900 miles) and Canada (5,500 miles--including Alaska). A wrinkle in the immigration discussion is securing our borders from terrorist threats. For serious security hawks, this is a completely distinct discussion from what to do about illegal immigrants coming here to work. (Racists may conceal their concerns behind the language of security, but real hawks care little about whether workers are sneaking in for higher wages.)

It's reasonable to ask the question of how secure our borders are and what we can do to make them secure. I'm far from a hawk, and yet it seems pretty obvious that it's possible to walk undocumented into the country from a number of locations. It's also clear, given the size of the country, that shutting down the border physically just isn't reasonable. Most of the solutions I've heard about seem to ignore these mathematical realities, and offer the usual ineffective efforts to stop entry: more border patrol agents, larger detention halls, technology solutions like unmanned vehicles, even the suggestion of a great wall of immigrant repelling.

Before we embark on that folly, though, we need to ask what our real intention is. Are we going to actually secure the borders, or just do a good job of looking like it so illegals can scamper in to do the work we've carefully held open for them? We have a schitzophrenic relationship to illegal immigrants, and as long as that exists, we'll never have a secure border.

Second, we have to have far better systems in place to deal with immigrants who do manage to arrive illegally (if that's the intention). Suggestions here include serious workplace enforcement, better systems of tracking individuals across local, state, and federal jurisdictions, and coherent laws to deal with violations.

I would like to question the notion that we can secure our borders, though. We can't. We will always be subject to attacks through borders more porous than we'd like (I haven't even bothered to mention our ports, for example). We must find a way to balance reasonable security measures with a mature understanding that the US is a target for terrorists. Invading other countries, torture, secret rendition--these things make us an even bigger target. A militaristic solution won't work and, worse, it undermines safety by giving a false sense of security.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

[Immigration, Bush]

A Trip Down Immigration's Memory Lane

I vaguely recalled having addressed immigration at Notes and managed to find the post (from Jan 8, 2004). It appears pretty relevant, so I'll repost it here:

I spent yesterday pondering Bush's proposal to grant illegal workers legal status. While I saw the obvious benefit to the workers themselves (however marginal), I wondered what Bush's angle was. So I did what I always do; I asked myself, "How does corporate America benefit?" That's the calculation Bush always uses, and it's the key that unlocks the mysteries of his legislation.

It's an ingenious proposal, because most of the benefit appears to go to workers. A closer look, though, and it appears mainly designed to protect employers--illegals get almost nothing new. They get to stay in America--but only so long as they stay employed. Working and living here for 6 years doesn't put them any closer to citizenship, nor give them any of the rights of citizens. They become, in effect, workers who the law regards as having no legal rights. It cleans up a messy problem with illegal immigration without actually changing anything.

[Big] business, on the other hand, gets huge benefits. Now they have a vast, replenishable pool of workers not subject to the usual rules of American law. No more fear of INS raids, no more transient workforce--just a clean system of cheap labor. It accomplishes everything business loves with regard to labor: drives costs down, bypasses ugly human rights, environmental, and health concerns, breaks up organization. Another trifecta!

Of course, it may also give Bush an election-year issue, adding to his "compassion" platform. This is what the newspapers have picked up on thus far. I don't think that's particularly significant--Americans haven't cared about illegals heretofore, and I doubt they will now. Recent legal immigrants--particularly Latino ones--are also unlikely to see this as great news: their own employment position can't be strengthened by millions of new, unregulated workers flooding into the workforce.

No, the big benefit isn't a political one. The beneficiary is the same as in all of Bush's proposals--big business. When will we learn?
[Immigration, Labor]

Immigration's Effect on American Labor.
I run and work on a small residential construction crew, my people make about 50% what I made as a crew member 20 years ago, while there are other factors at work, the biggest and most addressable one is cheap illegal labor. Neither my crew, nor I can afford much sympathy that doesn't address our plight. If that sounds hard, try making a living doing this.
--Chuck Butcher, Democratic Candidate for Oregon District 2

"Finally, comprehensive immigration reform requires a temporary worker program that will relieve pressure on our borders. This program would create a legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans will not do."
--GW Bush, Saturday
With regard to immigrant labor, two views depend on very different realities about what it's like in the labor market. Dubya hews the popular bidnez line, in which cheap labor is great for Latin Americans and US citizens because the former get better jobs than can be found in their home country, while the latter enjoy cheaper prices and competitive businesses. But folks like Chuck have seen an entirely different reality: because illegal aliens have no protection and must work at exploitative wages, employers are less willing to pay fair salaries, and worker salaries across the board are driven down. And, in the marketplace, businesses that pay fair wages put themselves at a fatal disadvantage.

So which is it?

According to the nonpartisan but mostly anti-immigrant think tank The Center for Immigration Studies, Chuck's view is the clear winner:
  • Of the 900,000 net increase in jobs between March 2003 and 2004, two-thirds went to immigrant workers, even though they account for only 15 percent of all adult workers.
  • In just the last year, 1.2 million working-age natives left the labor force, and say that they are not even trying to find a job.
  • The decline in native employment was most pronounced in states where immigrants increased their share of workers the most.
Ah, but will Chuck's view hold up to more Neutral scrutiny? Yes, as two Harvard economists, George Borjas and Alexander Katz, demonstrate. They find the volume and effect of Mexican labor (to which their recent study was confined) to be a serious effect on American labor. The following is from a Robert Samuelson article on their research:
Among men, about one in 20 U.S. workers is now a Mexican immigrant; in 1970, that was less than one in 100. The vast majority of Mexican workers lacked a high-school diploma in 2000 (63 percent for men, 57 percent for women). Only a tiny share had college degrees (3 percent for men, 5 percent for women). By contrast, only 7 percent of native-born U.S. workers were high-school dropouts and 28 percent were college graduates in 2000. Mexican workers are inevitably crammed into low-wage jobs: food workers, janitors, gardeners, laborers, farm workers. In 2000, their average wages were 41 percent lower than average U.S. wages for men and 33 percent lower for women....

For today's Mexican immigrants (legal or illegal), the closest competitors are tomorrow's Mexican immigrants (legal or illegal). The more who arrive, the harder it will be for existing low-skilled workers to advance. Despite the recession, immigration did not much slow after 2000, says Camarota. Not surprisingly, a study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that inflation-adjusted weekly earnings for all Hispanics (foreign and American-born) dropped by 2.2 percent in 2003 and 2.6 percent in 2004. (Pdf of the original study here.)
When Borjas and Katz dig directly into the question of whether low-paid immigrants lower the wages of native laborers, they uncovered an interesting quirk in the data. They begin with past studies, which have tended to support the Bush thesis, that immigration is good for Americans and has no effect on native laborers:
There is a great deal of dispersion in the findings reported by the various studies in thisempirical literature. Nevertheless, there is a tendency for the estimated cross-city correlations to cluster around zero, helping to create the conventional wisdom that immigrants have little impact on the labor market opportunities of native workers, perhaps because “immigrants do jobs that natives do not want to do.” It would seem, therefore, that a fundamental implication of the standard textbook model of the labor market—that an increase in supply lowers wages—is soundly rejected by the data.
But Borjas and Katz find troubles with the way these statistics were measured (averaging national data), and Borjas has a developed a new measure. His findings? Not only did immigration lower low-skill native wages, but it didn't improve high-skill native wages, either, as promised by Bush and Co.
The second column of Table 11 shows the predicted labor market effects when the supply shocks are given by equation (1). Mexican immigration, which is predominantly low-skill, accounts for all of the adverse impact of immigration on low-skill native workers. It is also worth noting that the earnings of college graduates would have fallen by 3.9 percent if there had been no Mexican immigration, as compared to the 3.8 percent decline that occurred with the actual flow. In other words, the influx of low-skill Mexican immigrants barely improves the wage of high-skill workers.
There are a number of other reasons why illegal laborers damage native laborers. As Chuck mentioned in his comments to yesterday's posts, immigrants disproportionately use social services and education while contributing little to the tax base. Because low-wage American workers depend on those social services, this is a double whammy--wages are falling, and so are available services.

The guest-worker program is good for large business owners, who can cut costs and achieve a competitive advantage with low-wage labor. But for American workers, there's no upside. Bush is wrong about immigrants taking only jobs no one will do; worse, because they're willing to do that work so cheaply, American workers have seen their own wages fall, just as Chuck predicted.

This post is getting long, so I'll defer thoughts about what can be done until later.

Monday, March 27, 2006


The Bogus "Illegal" Argument

Mucking around the nasty right wing blogs yesterday, I found a common theme that united the anti-immigration crowd: it's against the law.
"I don't discriminate based on skin color or ethnicity, a criminal alien is a criminal alien is a criminal alien. Deport them."
This is a no-worries catchall that hides a multitude of sins. It's a safe retreat for isolationists and racists and garden variety jingoists. But it's also obvious misdirection. The same people who try to shout down their foes also oppose legislation like the joint Kennedy/McCain proposal that would change the law so these folks wouldn't be breaking the law. The moment that legislation passes, so does the cover.

More to the point, the notion that the immigration is illegal is even itself rather convenient, given that our economy depends on both the immigrants and their status. And no one is more in favor of getting illegals to do scut work on the cheap than the same GOP who also howl about keeping immigrants out. You can't have it both ways.

This is perhaps one of the main reasons the right are so exercised by the immigration issue. As long as no legislation is on the table, it's a great issue--it unites everyone behind an opaque, fuzzy issue. But it emerges instantly as a wedge for the right when any legislation comes out because either the security hawks, the business lobby, or the isolationist/racist wing loses.

Take Kennedy/McCain plan. It would create guest-worker visas for laborers willing to sign up; they'd pay taxes and become visible to our intelligence community and must pass background checks. They would have to wait five years before having a chance to become citizens. That's good for security hawks, good for business, but flushes out the isolationist/racist crowd.

For Dems, though, it's not particularly thorny. The Kennedy/McCain plan gets Dems everything they want except further protections for workers. Even there, it's better than the current system, in which illegal immigrants are completely unprotected and fully exploited. But there's not much of a wedge.

For conservatives, rife throughout the righty blogosphere, this is an untenable plan precisely because the issue is not one of legal status. If Kennedy's plan passes, you'll find almost as much opposition to immigration as before, and all of a sudden the legal issue won't seem to matter quite so much.
[Theme of the Week]


If you're a liberal, immigration is a weird issue. Yeah, it's a security risk, but no where near as serious as the ports. There are a host of social and economic justice issues, trade issues, and environmental issues, but they're relatively slow-burning. A liberal can turn her mind to the issue, but it doesn't seem particularly juicy. Righties? Immigration is the issue. I was watching it emerge through the labyrinth of conservative talking points until it seemed like a real issue (issues on the right often seem to flare violently from nowhere--remember Terri Schiavo?--before vanishing into the ether), but I didn't really understand it until this week that immigration had ascended.

On my other blog, BlueOregon, the Oregon Secretary of State's communication director, Anne Martens, posted her thoughts on immigration--"Brown is the New Black."
There has been more and more anti-immigrant sentiment lately. And by anti-immigrant, I mean anti-Mexican. I'm sick of it. It's time to call this what it is: racism.
She posted it on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 21, and it got 21 comments that day--robust but unextraordinary. The next day, another 35 comments came in (again, unextraordinary). Somewhere along the line, the righties got a hold of it (Victoria Taft, a local screecher, other nuts, also here, and apparently a mention by local--and national--Limbaugh wannabe, Lars Larson), which ultimately led to a state Rep (Linda Flores--R, Clackamas) holding a rally at the state Capitol to rail against illegal immigration. This created a nuclear explosion on the thread, which has at this writing 151 comments--a record for BlueOregon.

Intelligent responses to Anne's critique included the usual misogyny:
"Where did they find this little small-minded left-wing bitch?"

"Can you believe she lives alone with her cat?"
And also beyond-the-pale jingoism.
"She is an arrogant fool. That you haven't been fired for your anti-AMERICAN statements is no surprise. It confirms that Oregon law and U.S. law mean nothing to liberals."
Clearly, there's something going on here among the righty crowd. This week, in coordination with the Senate's consideration, I'll look into immigration, including the right-wing fascination with it and why Anne was right about one element of the debate being deeply racist. Even for liberals, it should be an interesting topic.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Good Dionne

This is lazy blogging, but EJ Dionne's column this morning is so good, I just had to mention it.

Is President Bush the leader of our government, or is he just a right-wing talk-show host?

The question comes to mind after Bush's news conference this week in which he sounded like someone who has no control over the government he is in charge of. His words were those of a pundit inveighing against the evils of bureaucrats.

"Obviously," said the critic in chief, "there are some times when government bureaucracies haven't responded the way we wanted them to, and like citizens, you know, I don't like that at all." Yes, and if you can't do something about it, who can?
The rest is here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Iraq and the Next President.

Iraq's situation, unfortunately, does not exist in a vacuum. The next three years of the young republic's future will be linked to the woeful policies of the White House, which means real independence, experiments in regional autonomy, or international cooperation and support for security will all be absent. Instead, an unpopular President will incompetently manage his incompetent experiment, all the while support in the US dwindles. And, thanks to Bush's press conference, we know that the official plan is to linger at least through this administration. (Whether it was supposed to be the public plan is another, academic question--the cat has left the bag.) Timely of him to make the announcement during Hog's "Iraq's Future" week, wasn't it?

Anyone who has serious plans for '08 has better be thinking about this. It seems that the only two possibilities are that Iraq are two versions of civil war: it will limp along like it is, dangerously destabilized but intact(ish), or will fester in full scale war. Neither prospect is enticing, and I suspect the Dems will do their best to clear their plate of Iraq before inheriting it.

But let's just say that the Dems take back the House, start running inquiries into Bush's handling of the war, and eventually force a withdrawal. Even that scenario doesn't remove Iraq from the map--just US troops from Iraq. Then we have a dangerously destabilized country or a nascent autocracy (does the specter of Sadr worry anyone?) over which we have relinquished any control.

I haven't a clue about what we should do given these scenarios. But if a Democrat starts to run on the promise to "clean up" Iraq, we could be in trouble. There's no cleaning up Iraq, just trying to manage the fallout. I pity the fool who inherits the mess.
[Supreme Court]

The Charming Radical.

The New Yorker recently featured an article describing Senate hearings as theater. (I can find no reference of it online, so there's a chance it 1) wasn't actually in the New Yorker, 2) was a particularly vivid dream I had. In the latter case, I should write the article myself; it was really good.) The writer compared the Supreme Court hearings of Justices Alito and Roberts, noting that, while Roberts might have been a radical, it didn't matter: he was so charming that even the Dems didn't seriously consider trying to stop the nomination. Alito, on the other hand, evasive and flat, provoked enough ire that his performance raised the question of whether the Dems might be able to block his nomination.

Well, two decisions in, and the dashing Justice Roberts--who at 52, is likely our Chief for the next 30 years--has proven himself cut from the radical robe. He stood in dissent on the Oregon Death with Dignity case, which challenged Oregon's assisted suicide law (siding with the feds against the state), and yesterday joined the dissent on a case involving police searches. There he sided again with autocratic power and against individual rights.

To add insult to dissent, Roberts, writing for the minority, tried to cast his opinion as a defence of women:

The ruling upholds a 2004 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court but still makes a significant change in the law nationwide, because most other lower federal and state courts had previously said that police could search with the consent of one of two adults living together.

Now, officers must first ask a judicial officer for a warrant in such cases. Quarrels between husbands and wives, or boyfriends and girlfriends, keep police busy around the country; in the District, almost half of the 39,000 violent crime calls officers answered in 2000 involved alleged domestic violence....

"The majority's rule apparently forbids police from entering to assist with a domestic dispute if the abuser whose behavior prompted the request for police assistance objects," he wrote.
"Apparently" is the key word. Justice Souter, writing for the majority, dismissed this disingenuous claim thus:
"[T]his case has no bearing on the capacity of the police to protect domestic victims," Souter wrote. "No question has been raised, or reasonably could be, about the authority of the police to enter a dwelling to protect a resident from domestic violence; so long as they have good reason to believe such a threat exists."
How obvious is Roberts' mendacious reasoning? He was joined, predictably, by Scalia and Thomas (Alito wasn't on the court when the case was heard)--both of whom have regularly been antagonistic to individual liberty generally, and women's libery in particular.

The court has jumped a notch to the right with the addition of Alito and Roberts. Now Anthony Kennedy is the swing vote on decisions that would have, like this one, have had pretty clear 6-3 majority support. The cases that swung 5-4 with Sandra Day O'Connor are now 5-4s to the right, with Kennedy swinging the court.

I wonder if the Dems who voted for Roberts were as charmed by his last two decisions as they were by his clever banter in the Senate hearings?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

[Iraq, PR]

Press Conference Reactions.

I haven't lately surveyed the reactions of particular news stories, but I'll make an exception for Bush's press conference. This morning, I awoke to the headline in my local paper: "Bush: Iraq Pullout is Years Away." Hmm, I thought--I bet that's not exactly what he was hoping for. More the same in other papers:

Troops' departure not likely, Bush says (San Diego Union Trib)
No Iraq exit, W says (NY Daily News)
Bush says future president will pull troops from Iraq (Indy Star)
Exit from Iraq is up to 'future presidents' (Houston Chronicle)

You get the point--of Bush's hour-plus press conference, this was the sound bite people heard. And, one imagines, not the sound bite Karl gave him to recite. Oh, how it sucks to have a 35% approval rating...

We've Already Lost.

The Wall Street Journal features a duplicitous editorial today titled "What if we lose?" In case anyone wonders what losing looks like, the WSJ offers this: "By fail, we mean cut and run before giving Iraqis the time and support to establish a stable, democratic government that can stand on its own." (I'd personally relish their definition of winning more, but that's too much to ask.) When you define loss in red-meat rhetoric, you're obviously not making a serious point; you're shoring up the wandering base.

What's remarkable about this advertisement for Bush is how clearly it lays out not what would happen if we lost, but what has already happened--defining more clearly than their clear definition what losing really means. Behold:
  • "The U.S. would lose all credibility on weapons proliferation."
  • "Broader Mideast instability."
  • "We would lose all credibility with Muslim reformers."
  • "We would invite more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil."
It is a testament to the impenetrability of the GOP echo chamber that these supposed dangers haven't yet been recognized as realities. Of course, the US has lost credibility on weapons proliferation, and Iran and North Korea (not to mention India) prove the point. The Mideast is enormously less stable now than it was in 2002. Muslim reformers should count the US's experiment in Iraq--and the intense interest in radical Islam it fomented--as the greatest barrier to reform in the last two decades. The last point is wholly untestable, but again, fails the smell test: in 1999, President Clinton's activities across the Mideast had gotten him a measure of trust from the Arab street. That's gone--probably for years.

The WSJ represents a strain of thought within the administration and larger GOP--one radically at odds with reality. And they're the ones substantially in control of foreign policy. The future of Iraq, whatever it might be theoretically, is shrouded in the darkness of this sad fact.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


The-Three State Solution (2)

In front of us today, wrapped in attractive gold, is the proposal to split Iraq in three: a country each for Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. But is it, as Juan Cole suggests, fools gold? For me, what seems like an elegant geographical solution seems less so when you consider not just what's above ground, but below. I keep coming back to the question of oil. Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world, with 112-125 million barrels of proven reserves, a potential 200-250 in unproven reserves, and another 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

(More data: Iraq currently produces 2 million barrels a day, compared with 3 million in 1990. Ten percent of the reserves are in Northern Iraq; the majority of the oil is in the South, near Basra. Sixty percent of Iraq's GDP comes from oil. You can click the map at right to enlarge it.)

Oil is a decidedly destabilizing resource; most of the world's richest oil reserves have created political nightmares for the people living above. Here's the top ten: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Canada, Iran, Kuwait, UAE, Venezuela, Russia, Libya, Nigeria. Maple Leafs excepted, not exactly a who's who of democracy. Whatever scenario one imagines, Iraq's oil makes creating stable government(s) more difficult.

(Another compounding factor of the three-state solution are Iraq's neighbors, all of whom have a stake in what Iraq becomes. Let's put that aside for the moment.)

In broad strokes, I tend to disagree with Juan Cole's analysis that culture and ethnicity are fluid enough that they aren't the main barrier; given the bloody history of the country and its current instability, culture and ethnicity do seem unavoidable factors. In the long term, I think he's right--we have many examples of stable, multi-ethnic societies with bloody pasts but healthy democracies.

So we have (bad) blood and oil, and three groups jockeying for control. I am ultimately persuaded that a three-state solution won't work as long as oil and gas are unequally distributed among the groups. I wonder if a form of radical federalism, where the three groups have regions over which they have great autonomy might not be the solution. The oil would be held in trust by a national entity and wealth distributed among the three. It's the only way I can think of to separate groups long enough for the cycle of revenge to abate, but which doesn't create new cycles in a mad dash for oil wealth.

Monday, March 20, 2006

[Iraq, Veep's Madness]

Cheney, Yesterday.

So one thing we can do about Iraq's future is ignoring Dick Cheney, who has obviously gone insane in his little echo chamber. (Maybe he should have disclosed the location before he went barking mad.) Here he is on Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Vice President, all along the government has been very optimistic. You remain optimistic. But I remember when you were saying we’d be greeted as liberators, you played down the insurgency ten months ago. You said it was in its last throes. Do you believe that these optimistic statements may be one of the reasons that people seem to be more skeptical in this country about whether we ought to be in Iraq?

CHENEY: No, I think it has less to do with the statements we’ve made, which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality, than it does the fact that there is a constant sort of perception, if you will, that’s created because what's newsworthy is the carbomb in Baghdad, it’s not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces in terms of making progress in rebuilding Iraq. The facts are pretty straightforward.

On whom to trust:
CHENEY: And I think we are going to succeed in Iraq. I think the evidence is overwhelming. I think Ted Kennedy has been wrong from the very beginning. He's the last man I'd go to for guidance in terms of how we should conduct U.S. national security policy.
More craziness:
CHENEY: Well, I made sure both in 2000 and 2004 that the president had other options. I mean, I didn't ask for this job. I didn't campaign for it. I got drafted.
(Bush asked Cheney to find him a Veep; Cheney found--I guess "drafted" is the word he prefers--himself.) Apparently Cheney doesn't know there are internets, on which one can locate this kind of distant information.

Finally, this like the Kennedy quote, falls something short of being reassuring:
CHENEY: They fail to give adequate credit to the man himself. This president has very firm ideas. He makes decisions very decisively.
When the Veep feels its important to emphasize that Bush is actually running the show, you know that Bush actually isn't running the show. Whether Cheney is exclusively or as a powerful member of committee is something we won't learn for years. But Bush ain't the man. (Which may also explain why Cheney decisively said "I've now been elected to a second term; I'll serve out my term." Bush, obviously, has nothing to say on the point.)

The Three-State Solution (1)

As Iraq collapses into civil war, the three-state solution seem--if not inevitable--at least more and more plausible. Modern Iraq, a construction of colonial-era Britain, was a cartographical state, one serving the colonialists, not the citizens. The solution offered, most notably by Leslie Gelb, is simple, let it revert to natural lines of culture and race:

The ancestors of today's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have been in Mesopotamia since before modern history. The Shiites there, unlike Shiites elsewhere in the Arab world, are a majority. The Sunnis of the region gravitate toward pan-Arabism. The non-Arab Kurds speak their own language and have always fed their own nationalism....

The first step would be to make the north and south into self-governing regions, with boundaries drawn as closely as possible along ethnic lines. Give the Kurds and Shiites the bulk of the billions of dollars voted by Congress for reconstruction. In return, require democratic elections within each region, and protections for women, minorities and the news media.

Second and at the same time, draw down American troops in the Sunni Triangle and ask the United Nations to oversee the transition to self-government there. This might take six to nine months; without power and money, the Sunnis may cause trouble.

Gelb made this argument in November 2003, so perhaps he would alter some of the details to reflect current realities--but the point is made. Juan Cole, blogger badass and Michigan scholar (who has been critical of the administration's bogus arguments from the start--rather presciently in most cases), doesn't buy it. He thinks it's overly simplistic to reduce the equation to race:
While ethnicity is certainly a burning issue in contemporary Iraq, its importance has been artificially inflated by Baath policies. When the largely Sunni Arab civilian wing of the party came to power in 1968, it distributed the petroleum wealth and other perquisites to Sunni members of the ruling elite, especially those from Saddam's home base in Tikrit. Shiites filled lower-level posts in the south, but Sunnis dominated the top posts and funneled resources to a Sunni Arab sect-class of rentiers.

Shut out of the circle of patronage, non-Sunni Iraqis had to find bases on which to mobilize. They could not form secular parties that might try to appeal across ethnic cleavages on economic issues. The regime's relentless surveillance forced them to turn inward, to family, clan and the mosque. As a result, Shiite movements were able to organize clandestinely in ghettos and among settled tribes in the late Saddam period to make preparations for an Islamic state.

Cole also pointed out in the article (though he may wish to revise his thoughts, now that a year has passed since he wrote the article) that none of the groups want partition. The three-state solution, he argues, "assume[s] that ethnicity (and its political saliency) is a given, rather than something actively fashioned by society."

I don't think even Gelb would argue that the three-state solution is a fix to deeper problems confronting Iraq: generations of political instability, crumbling infrastructure (physical and civic), and widespead poverty. And then there's the looming x-factor: oil.

This post is running long, so I'll end it here and offer speculative thoughts about how a three-state solution might work (in that theoretical world where our country wasn't being run by the GOP). I'm interested in your thoughts on this, too.
[Meta, Iraq]

Loose theme of the week

Having just completed a week on Iraq, I'm slightly reluctant to return to the topic, but given we're celebrating the 3-year anniversary of the invasion, it seems too timely to ignore. Bush will be spending the week talking about his plan for getting Iraqis to "stand up so we can stand down." Dems will probably spend the week highlighting the treachery that led us into the war, but I expect will be thin on solutions. (Which, actually, is a good play: they were bullied into this mess and hold exactly zero power. Their role now is to try to impeach the incompetent liars who committed these war crimes, or, at the very least, find a way to take back the House so they can begin investigations.)

So I'll dabble. I invite my four readers to dabble along with me. We've made a right good botch of Iraq, and pretty much have doomed it to a civil war--soon or sooner. But perhaps it's not theoretically inevitable (if say, we didn't have internationally-despised and mistrusted idiots running the country). It may be fun to consider.

I'll probably also do more traditional blogging than usual--I don't think the topic can support 10-15 posts over the next week.

Oh, and by the way--happy Spring.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Three Years of Shock and Awe.

"He has trained and financed al Qaeda-type organizations before, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations."
--GW Bush, March 2003

Three years ago, we learned that Bush had made good on his promise. Hours earlier, he had, like a movie cowboy, given Saddam Hussein two days to clear out of Iraq. He was the war president, having been given credit for able handling of 9/11 (though he hid in Nebraska) and the invasion of Afghanistan. As a part of his larger argument for the "war on terror," he and the administration had spent the better part of a year quite successfully arguing that Iraq was a major front of the terror offensive. His approval rating stood at 60%. Forty-five percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was "personally involved" in the 9/11 attacks. We were primed for war. When the bombs started falling, we were somber, but confident. We marveled as embedded reporters showed images of bombings "designed part of a psychological warfare campaign to ratchet up the tension among Iraq troops"--yet, our objective media assured us, surgical in their accuracy.

"We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
--Condoleezza Rice, September 2002

Even before the invasion, the administration recognized that Iraq did not pose a threat sufficient to invoke a pre-emptive attack. So the administration issued a new line of thinking (enshrined in the 2002 National Security Strategy). To address the unpredictable nature of terrorism, the US claimed a new right "to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists." It padded this rationale with arguments, gleaned from dubious, doctored, and falsified intelligence, that Iraq possessed nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, along with secret drone airplanes to deliver them.

"Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent."
--Colin Powell, February 2003

The two previous wars had cost the US little--they were backed by international cooperation, including funds and troops, to offset US expenses. Nevertheless, Larry Lindsey, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, suggested the Iraq war would be more expensive; he offered and estimate of $200 million. Excessive cost was one thing that could kill the administration's shaky case. Lindsey was fired. New estimates were offered. Americans were reassurred.

"The Office of Management and Budget has come up come up with a number that's something under $50 billion for the cost. How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question."
--Donald Rumsfeld, January 2003

Following 9/11, Bush repeated as often as anyone would listen, "everything has changed." Emotionally wounded Americans allowed themselves to nurture a gauzy self-image of themselves as great agents of goodness. No one seemed to stop and consider that our bombs might not always be welcomed. It is difficult to recall this now, but the composition of colonially-constructed Iraq--60% Shia, 20% Sunni, 17% Kurd--never seemed to enter into the post-war equation. The post-war equation itself was never much mentioned. Our invasion was itself proof of the success of reconstruction.

"There is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that."
--Dick Cheney, March 2003

Three years ago this weekend, amid the ghostly orange images of destruction, the administration of George W. Bush began a grand experiment.

"Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace."
--GW Bush, November 2003

The intelligence was wrong; Hans Blix (and the French) had been right. Inspections and international sanctions had worked. Hussein managed to convince his citizens and the Bush administration that he was still a threat, but these were fictions of a tin-pot dictator.

Since the invasion, we have learned that most of what comprised the administration's faith-based arguments about Iraq were wrong: there were no weapons; Iraq was not fomenting international terror (though it is now); the oilfields were not ready to begin paying off the cost of the invasion; the Iraqis did not welcome us with flowers; the people's desire for freedom did not obviate their interest in power or revenge; the longings for democracy did not well up innately in all people like simple religious faith. Along the way, the Bushies managed to compound this gross error in judgment by adding torture, secret rendition, "black sites," military tribunals, and secret NSA spying to their cause.

In three short years, we have ceased to be that country who could see all the way past the asterisk of Vietnam to the glory of WWII, when American power could be exercised in the effort to stop tyranny. The Bush administration destroyed that fantasy with the Iraq invasion--when we combined overwhelming might with fear and blindness to invade a country that posed little threat.
I suspect it will take a great deal more time to come to terms with what we have done, or allowed to be done, in the name of American freedom.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Low Blogging Ahead.

I'm pretty much taking the week of March 13-17 off (while reserving the right to post if something catches my eye).


Friday, March 10, 2006

[Iraq War]

American War Crimes

I remember first considering whether America could be culpable for war crimes shortly after I first heard the words "shock and awe." The US had spurned its allies and the UN and invaded a country under the dubious new "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emption. It seemed to flout international laws, though the administration's novel reading thereof made for an interesting discussion.

But since then we've learned that the Bushies have ignored the Geneva Conventions, set up little Gulag-lites in Guantanamo and secret "black sites," engaged in torture, and sent prisioners, via "extraordinary rendition" to countries whose qualms about torture were even less stringent than Al Gonzalez's. I don't for a minute expect anyone from the US to stand trial--or even stand accused--of war crimes, but the 2003 discussion is certainly a lot more interesting now. That Americans will not be tried for war crimes doesn't eliminate the possibility they committed them. So, did they?

The Bush Doctrine
The context for questions about torture et. al. is the legality of the invasion itself. In legitimate wars even lawful countries may commit atrocities on the battlefield and not be accused of war crimes--war is hell and so on. But illegal wars cast atrocities in an entirely different context. Following the invasion, the Crimes of War Project picked up the question, looking at the legal questions, the administration's arguments, and mitigating circumstances.

They noted that pre-emption may be legal according to interenational law only in cases where the attack is "imminent and overwhelming." According to the experts they spoke to,* none thought Iraq met the criteria. However, the potential presence of WMD may have been a mitigating factor--some of the experts argued that this created an unusual circumstance in which it would be difficult to predict when Iraq might attack.

The qualified conclusion (the report was written 5 months before the invasion, in August 2002) was this:
Between these positions, our other experts maintained that some forms of pre-emptive self-defence were legitimate, but all questioned whether an US attack on Iraq would meet the necessary tests. Clearly, the strongest way for the administration to win support for its actions would be to provide convincing evidence that Iraq is working with terrorist groups in a way that threatens the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States or its allies.... Since the September 11 attacks, such claims have often been floated, but so far nothing more substantial has emerged to confirm them.
As we know, the Bushies never gave inspections a chance, were unable to confirm the existence of WMD, cooked the intelligence to "prove" them, and went to war without international agreement. With the knowledge we now have, this really does look like a slam-dunk case: the war was illegal. (Just War theory is another lens to use on the legality of war; here's a post I wrote discussing it a year ago, and a series I wrote on the topic just after the invasion.)

Torture, Rendition, and Secret Detention
Now that the famous "torture memo" from Al Gonzales has come to light, it's difficult to imagine an argument that the administration hasn't sanctioned war crimes--no matter what the broader context of the war was. If we didn't need to have a memo to justify a practice of torturing Nazis, we don't need one to torture 18-year-old Afghanis who have been detained for years.

It is, however, worthwhile to mention that all three of the documented practices--torture, rendition, and secret detention--are illegal according to US and international law. They are just made all the more grave by the illegal invasion that delivered the prisoners to US torturers.

The last nail in this coffin is the degree to which the practices were established US policy--which would make specific individuals culpable for the crimes. Serendipitously, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer helped answer that question last week in her extraordinary article "The Memo." It documents the efforts of the administration to both conduct torture while subverting the knowledge that torture had become official policy--even among relatively high-placed officials in the administration.
When I spoke to[Lawrence Wilkerson] recently, he said, “I saw what was discussed. I saw it in spades. From Addington [a Cheney protege] to the other lawyers at the White House. They said the President of the United States can do what he damn well pleases. People were arguing for a new interpretation of the Constitution. It negates Article One, Section Eight, that lays out all of the powers of Congress, including the right to declare war, raise militias, make laws, and oversee the common defense of the nation.” Cheney’s view, Wilkerson suggested, was fuelled by his desire to achieve a state of “perfect security.” He said, “I can’t fault the man for wanting to keep America safe, but he’ll corrupt the whole country to save it.” (Wilkerson left the State Department with Powell, in January, 2005.)
And of course the country has been corrupted, and we have committed war crimes. Except through the most twisted, ideological explanations and legal rationales, no one can seriously argue otherwise. And on this point it's well to note one more point: members of the House and Senate (particularly, though not exclusively Republicans) who fail to open investigations into the actions of the Bush administration are every bit as complicit in these crimes as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rice, and Bush. This is a national shame.

*Thomas Franck, Director of the Center for International Studies at NYU Law School; Martti Koskenniemi, Director of the Erik Castren Institute of International Law and Human Rights at the University of Helsinki in Finland; Michael Byers, Associate Professor at Duke University School of Law; Eyal Benvenisti, Director of the Minerva Center for Human Rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Terence Taylor, Deputy Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and formerly a Chief Inspector for the UN Special Commission on Iraq.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

[Iraq War]

The Claims - Weapons of Mass Destruction.
"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
--George W. Bush, "get out of Dodge" warning, March 17, 2003
The Bush administration didn't suggest that Iraq may have had WMD in the lead-up to the war, they asserted it beyond doubt and mocked anyone who wasn't convinced. Last November, I catalogued the times Bush cited a link between al Qaida and Iraq; in this post, I'll give some representative quotes of the administration making the WMD claims.

In the post-invasion spin, the administration has claimed 1) that it was only repeating intelligence, and 2) that it was the intelligence that was at fault. Look through these quotes and see what you think.

Conventional Weapons
We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting the United States. And, of course, sophisticated delivery systems aren't required for a chemical or biological attack; all that might be required are a small container and one terrorist or Iraqi intelligence operative to deliver it.
--GWB, October 7, 2002 (the "Cincinnati speech")


"U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them -- despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. "
--GWB, Jan 28, 2003 (SotU)


"The Iraqi regime has acquired and tested the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction. All the world has now seen the footage of an Iraqi Mirage aircraft with a fuel tank modified to spray biological agents over wide areas. Iraq has developed spray devices that could be used on unmanned aerial vehicles with ranges far beyond what is permitted by the Security Council."
--GWB, Feb 6, 2003

Chemical and Biological Weapons
Surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons. Every chemical and biological weapon that Iraq has or makes is a direct violation of the truce that ended the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Yet, Saddam Hussein has chosen to build and keep these weapons despite international sanctions, U.N. demands, and isolation from the civilized world.
--GWB, October 7, 2002


"We have made that clear, that Iraq does possess chemical and biological weapons. And what we are doing is to -- what we are working to do right now with the international community, speaking with one voice, is to disarm Saddam Hussein of those weapons of mass destruction. We know that he possesses chemical and biological weapons. And we know that he seeks to acquire nuclear weapons."
--Scott McClellan, Nov 13, 2002


"It's no secret. We've said many times -- you've heard the President say repeatedly that he has chemical and biological weapons, and he has missiles that can reach an access of 150 kilometers, all three of which are violations of his sworn commitments to the United Nations."
--Ari Fleischer, Dec 2, 2002


"As you know, we have always been explicit on this topic. We have always said that we know that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction of a biological nature. We know they have weapons of mass destruction of a chemical nature."
--Ari Fleischer, Jan 9, 2002


"Indeed, the inspectors think that Iraq has manufactured two to four times the amount of biological agents it has admitted to and has failed to explain the whereabouts of more than two metric tons of raw material for the growth of biological agents. Despite 11 years of inspections and sanctions, containment and military response, Baghdad retains chemical and biological weapons and is producing more. And Saddam’s nuclear scientists are still hard at work."
--Paul Wolfowitz, January 23, 2003


"And Saddam Hussein becomes a prime suspect in that regard because of his past track record and because we know he has, in fact, developed these kinds of capabilities, chemical and biological weapons. We know he’s used chemical weapons. We know he’s reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War."
--Dick Cheney, "Meet the Press," March 16, 2003

Nuclear Weapons
The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his "nuclear mujahideen" -- his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past. Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
--GWB, October 7, 2002

"We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
--Condoleeza Rice, September 2002


"The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.* Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities."
--GWB, Jan 28, 2003 (SotU)


"[W]e found out after the Gulf War that he was within one or two years of having a nuclear weapon because he had a massive effort under way that involved four or five different technologies for enriching uranium to produce fissile material. We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."
--Dick Cheney, "Meet the Press," March 16, 2003
*The famous "16 words" that the administration later recanted as "inaccurate."

[Iraq War]

Was Iraq Any Threat?

On February 5, 2003 Colin Powell made a 10,800-word case to the UN that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It was, more than anything else the administration did in the run-up to the war, the moment that convinced the nation (if not the world). Powell mustered a battalion of convincing looking satellite photos, and then offered what sounded like facts:
"Look at the image on the left. On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says security points to a facility that is the signature item for this kind of bunker. Inside that facility are special guards and special equipment to monitor any leakage that might come out of the bunker." [italics added]
Of course, it was all a scam, as reality has brutally demonstrated. Powell should have been dressed up in a cheap suit: when he waved a vial of white powder at the UN, he was no more reliable than a used-car salesman screaming about overpriced lemons.

Following the invasion, the US found no WMD and the administration kept asserting that "no one could have known." It had been a gamble to invade--the US thought that despite weak evidence, they'd probably turn up enough to justify the invasion. Neocons, having spent the better part of a decade arguing Iraq was bristling with nukes, had also effectively convinced most Americans he probably did. (I was one.)

In the intervening years, we've learned that the administration rigged the intelligence--Richard Clarke reported that in the hours following 9/11, Bush was looking to invade Iraq. The Bushies relied on Ahmed Chalabi, who had his own agenda and supplied bogus informants to the US to provoke an attack. (Chalabi was the dog; Bush his wagging tail.) And of course, there were the neocons within the administration who didn't care what the justification was--they just wanted an invasion so they could (pick one) seize oilfields/spread democracy. Everyone was willing to believe lies.

But then, there was a whole lot of evidence, readily and publicly-available, to suggest that Iraq wasn't a threat, and hadn't been for a decade. It came from Hans Blix's inspection team, which as a part of UN resolution 1441, had been in Iraq for 11 weeks.

So 12 days after Powell, Blix visited the UN himself, and delivered a presentation emphasizing the following points:
  • the inspections were effective and caught Iraqis off guard;
  • inspectors (obviously) had found no WMD;
  • Iraq was prepared to discuss disarmament with a third party (South Africa);
  • Blix felt that Powell's presentation was pretty bogus, and gave examples of cooked intelligence.
Blix was, everyone recalls, roundly mocked for his "unrealistic" view. As the US marched to war, Blix became the symbol of the weak-willed Europeans whom the US had already had to liberate twice. (Bush will henceforth represent a certain symbol in European imagination, thanks to his stupidity and hubris.) But he was, of course, right on every point. There was evidence, even on the eve of the war, of what Iraq really was: a weakened, nonthreatening nation run by an blowhard who was an inveterate liar and couldn't stomach the thought of admitting his country's own weakness.

(As a final parenthetical, this war koan. We don't invade North Korea--obviously a far more evil country and greater threat to the US--because we know they have a kick-ass army and lots of WMD. Yet that was what Bush claimed Saddam had, and yet he wasn't scared of invading Iraq. I ask rhetorically: why?)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

[Iraq Invasion]

The Post Facto Case for War.

I don't know how historians will recall the run-up to the war, but this is what I remember--as early as the summer of 2002, Bush's intention to invade was obvious. The Senate Armed Services Committee met in late July to discuss the matter. By fall of that year, it was obvious that Bush was going to war, and the UN tango was merely an (ultimately futile) ass-covering exercise. I was worried enough about it that in a proto blog post (I didn't start "Notes" blog for three months), I made my own argument against the invasion (archived here).

Yet when I read through stories now that recount the saga, it makes it sound as if it were an open question--Bush was somehow picking his way through a thicket of thorny issues until he--grudgingly--decided he had no choice. In any case, by the time the White House issued its National Security Strategy on September 20, 2002 (provoking my argument, the decision was made. This is the framework for the Bush Doctrine and everything else that Bush used to justify the war must be seen in light of this document (this is the .pdf). The central thesisholds that the US, sufficiently frightened of another country, may invade at its own discretion, without international cooperation or permission. Bush granted the US the power to defend ...
“. . .the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders. While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country.” [Italics added.]
This is a remarkable document, not least because it subverts international law, which clearly holds that pre-emption is only permissible if an attack is imminent. More critically, these arguments are actually the fingerprints left by the administration demonstrating that they didn't have a legitimate case against Iraq: Bush changed official US policy to justify the invasion of a non-threatening agent.

Therefore, all the arguments that followed about mushroom clouds and drones and al Qaida connections were all post facto smokescreens to cover up what the US had already admitted: they were going to war against Iraq for reasons other than its imminent threat to the US. This is the critical point, because so much of what followed had the appearance of subjectivity--Saddam may have nukes, he may have contacted al Qaida, he may be a terrorist supporter.

Bush is exonerated still for the invasion because so many of these premises seem subjective, because it's easy to blame "faulty intelligence." As recently as last December the Chicago Tribune (a war cheerleader) dug through the original arguments and acquitted Bush of the most serious crimes because of this subjectivity.* Apologists give Bush the benefit of the doubt now, just like they did in 2002.

But the National Security Strategy document is the evidence that disproves the thesis. Had Iraq been legitimately threatening, Bush wouldn't have seen the need to draft it. To me, this is the most damning evidence against Bush's ambiguity offensive. It suggests to me that rather than give the administration the benefit of the doubt, we should assume the opposite--that Bush knew the arguments were weak and was polishing them to justify the war.

Over the next couple days, I'll go through those arguments and discuss why, with one or two possible exceptions, they were bogus. (And actually, this is probably the last post of the day--things is gettin busy...)
*Most bizarre example the Trib offered, this in defense of the "bringing democracy" argument: "The notion that invading Iraq would provoke political tremors in a region long ruled by despots is the Bush administration's most successful prewar prediction to date. A more muscular U.S. diplomacy has advanced democracy and assisted freedom movements in the sclerotic Middle East." This was written 70 days ago.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

[Propaganda, Iraq]

The War is Going Well, Really It Is.

In the last
segment on the media--ah, propaganda--here is a selection of what the apologists were writing. I'm sure it's unnecessary, but I'll go ahead and say it--these quotes underscore how deeply deluded the right was before, during, and after the war.
Not surprisingly, the New York Times gave Saddam's recent speech more exultant coverage than they did Bush's State of the Union address. Since the first bomb hit Baghdad, everyone at the Times had been itching to use the word "quagmire." Somewhat surprisingly, Saddam beat even Maureen Dowd to the punch, thus allowing the Times to use "quagmire" with abandon the day after his speech. Not only that, but according to Saddam and the Times the invading forces are "in real trouble." The Times isn't afraid we'll do badly in Baghdad; it's afraid we'll do well.
--Ann Coulter, "The Enemy Within," March 28, 2003


Recycling has its place, but reporters who are trying to conserve the English language by bringing back the Vietnam War expression "quagmire" are also premature. (Besides, calling a desert a quagmire would seem to be a literary gaffe.) Thinking of Vietnam, I would like to nominate two early contenders for the Jane Fonda aid-and-comfort-to-the-enemy award. ...

We talk a lot about Iraqi morale, but much depends on what media presentations do to American morale. ...Unsurprisingly, Fox has generally given positive stories about the American war effort, CNN and NPR negative ones, and Arab media lying ones.
--Marvin Olasky, "The Iraq War, Act 1" April 1, 2003


The anti-war grouches, naysayers, and quagmirists in the mainstream media were so, so sure there would be no jubilation at the Iraqi liberation.

When Vice President Dick Cheney promised on NBC's Meet the Press that "We will be greeted as liberators," Newsweek's anonymous "Conventional Wisdom" column writers sneered that Cheney's remark was "An arrogant blunder for the ages. ..."

The surly opponents of Operation Iraqi Freedom can spin, but they can't hide the simple, Kodachrome-colored truth: Tyranny brings only misery. Liberation kindles joy.
--Michelle Malkin, "Persistent Pockets of Liberal Media Resistance," April 11, 2003
Of course, the propagandists didn't make the war, they just sold it. Responsibility lies with the administration, to which I'll turn next.
[Propaganda, Iraq]

The War as Domestic Policy.

Another striking aspect to the language that saturated the propaganda of the right during the lead up to the war were domestic considerations. Writers constantly asserted that the only reason the Dems opposed the war--which was, a priori, a genius move--had to do with domestic politics. That is, agreeing with the war would damage their standing in the polls. This is especially specious given that most Dems already did support the war (they felt they had to in the wake of administration-manufactured panic of Arabs). It is also ironic, given that they were so obviously using Iraq as a way to permanently solidify their hold on American politics.
Ambivalence is not heroic. Neither is it leadership. The president's liberal critics fear he will succeed, win a second term and then name conservative justices to the Supreme Court. They know Saddam Hussein is evil. But they see President Bush as a greater evil because he will deprive them of their 40-year pattern of using the courts to make law and change culture. In their hearts they know he's right about Saddam. But in their heads they know the days of liberal domination of the courts are coming to an end, almost as quickly as Saddam Hussein's despotic regime.
--Cal Thomas, "Losing the Argument Over Iraq," February 27, 2003


For the anti-war left in America, it's really about Bush. The pent-up fury they felt after Florida never found expression or even validation in the wider culture. It was repressed in the first months of a new presidency - and then made irrelevant by 9/11. Finally, they have a chance to demonstrate their hate - which is why so much of the demonstrations' focus has not been on Saddam, Iraq or even war, but on Bush. The anti-Bush left knows that a successful war will only strengthen the president further and marginalize them even more - hence their utter desperation and viciousness today. This is their moment; and the demonstrations are their therapy. Meanwhile, a real and actual problem in global security is being addressed. Thank heavens that for some, this moment really is about Saddam.
--Andrew Sullivan, March 3, 2003


Iraq is an element of, not a "distraction" from, the war on terror. It would have been easier to credit the Democrats all along had they been proposing different, tougher steps to fight the terror war. Instead, they wanted to attack the administration for failing to round up al-Qaida operatives without offering any policy alternative. ... The "distraction" argument might finally get a rest. But it was never a line that Democrats, terminally confused on national-security matters, had carefully thought through -- it was just something, anything, to say. Now they'll come up with something else, probably just as inane.
--Rich Lowry, "Busted: Dems Lose Anti-War Argument," March 4, 2003


At this point, Democrats will rue ever having tried to distract attention from one looming war by implying another war might be necessary elsewhere. They will forget their warnings of the "extremely dangerous," "grave," "tremendous," "imminent" threat of North Korea, and want to talk about something else -- say, Iran or even Nagorno-Karabakh. Today, Daschle says, "The president should stop downplaying this threat." Tomorrow, he will say, "Uh, never mind."
--Rich Lowry, "The Democrats' (Temporary) Warmongering," March 14, 2003


Speaking of indiscriminate chaos, many elements of the Democratic Party, including most of its base and many of its most conspicuous leaders, seem deranged, unhinged by the toxic fumes of hatred and contempt they emit for the president. From what does this arise? It cannot just be Florida, the grievance that Democrats, assiduous cultivators of victimhood, love to nurse. No, many Democrats' problem, which threatens to disqualify their party from presidential responsibilities for a generation, is their incontinent love of snobbery and nostalgia--condescension toward a president they consider ignorant, and a longing for the fun of antiwar days of yore.
--George Will, "The President's Speech," March 19, 2003


CNN's favorite general, Wesley Clark, has also been heard to opine that our troops are getting bogged down in Iraq. His competence to judge American generals is questionable since his command was limited to working for NATO. We prefer to hear from American generals. Clark's contribution to international relations consisted of mistakenly bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.
--Ann Coulter, "The Enemy Within," March 28, 2003
The irony is, of course, that the conservative warmongers had convinced themselves that their own ideological blinders were lenses of pragmatism; looking through them, they were unable to hear credible arguments from those on the left who were, because of their political estrangement, forced to deal pragmatically with the idealogues.