As Republicans continue to lose their minds over Benghazi, to the detriment of all, The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer puts things in perspective by going back to Beirut ’83. “If you compare the costs of the Reagan Administration’s serial security lapses in Beirut to the costs of Benghazi, it’s clear what has really deteriorated in the intervening three decades. It’s not the security of American government personnel working abroad. It’s the behavior of American congressmen at home.”
See also: the Dubya record on diplomatic attacks — there were over a dozen of ‘em. I know complaining about GOP hypocrisy these days is like complaining about the weather. But honestly, what an egregious waste of time this is.
“When historians look back to the moment when the post-Cold War reign of American power ended, they may well settle on 2010 as a crucial year. Everywhere, it seemed, there were signs that the long-predicted “rise of the rest” had finally occurred, whether in the newfound assertiveness of fast-growing China or the impatient diplomacy of new powers like Brazil and Turkey. Foreign Policy’s second annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers fully reflects that new world.“
As above, Foreign Policy has picked its Top 100 Global Thinkers of the year. And, while there are some really atrocious choices on here (for example, the man at #33, who much more deservingly made the list in the next entry too), the article is worth a perusing regardless. (FWIW, #65, #68, and #80 seem really iffy to me as well.)
I don’t mean to be too harsh — There’s nothing terribly wrong with this edutainment-y attempt to explain de-Baathification, highly dubious detainee procedures, and most notably the faked WMD casus belli to disinterested laypersons by way of action-thriller. And, in a way, I sorta admire the gutsiness of the the attempt. But, if you were already well aware of these grim developments, and I assume most GitM readers are, then it’s hard to escape the sensation that one is mainly just being talked down to for two hours. Wait, there were no WMD in Iraq? You’re kidding me, right? And, while I’m a great fan of Greengrass’ previous output — I said over and over again in this space that I wish he had stuck with Watchmen, and on the Top 100 films of last decade list, Bloody Sunday was #84, his two Bournes were at #49, and the exemplary United 93 was at #6 — The Green Zone feels quite a bit more leaden than usual.
As with the political edutainment project Greengrass aspired to here, I like the idea of fusing his highly visceral action work (the Bournes) with his fly-on-the-wall discursions into recent history (Sunday, ’93)…on paper. But The Green Zone gets lost somewhere in the interstice, and lacks the gripping power of either of these previous Greengrass grooves. Instead, Zone ends up mostly being two grainy hours of watching Matt Damon run around at night, as he tries to uncover an insidious government plot that our nation has been fully aware of for years…and has chosen to greet with a yawn.
More on that depressing problem in a bit, but, first, to bring y’all up to speed: Loosely based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a non-fiction examination of Dubyaite imbecility and excess in post-war Baghdad, Green Zone begins with a brief sequence set amid the original Shock-and-Awe period of the war, followed by, a few weeks later, a tense raid on a possible WMD storehouse by American soldiers. Led by Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon), this crack MW2-ish assault ends up finding, well, bupkis, just like the time before and the time before that.
To Chief Miller, the problem here is obvious — the intel must be rotten. But, when he brings this up at the next briefing for high-level military muckety-mucks, he is basically told to shut up and do his job. Nonetheless, events soon conspire to introduce Miller to the “Jack of Clubs” in the Dubya deck, a Baathist general (Yigal Naor) with a still-clearly extant power base in Baghdad. And, when our hero digs deeper to figure out how this Jack might know “Magellan,” the top-secret source of all this lousy intel, he soon finds himself trapped — along with a very Judith Miller-y reporter (Amy Ryan) — in a power play between a slimy executive branch bureaucrat (Greg Kinnear, stuck no more) and a grizzled CIA hand (Brendan Gleeson), one that might just end up getting Miller fragged by the creepy Special Forces guy (Jason Isaacs, with great accent) who keeps popping up…
Along the way, there’s a digression into a detainee facility with all the makings of an Abu Ghraib waiting to happen, the tearful homecoming of the administration’s hand-picked Iraqi stooge (re: Ahmed Chalabi), some rather pained attempts to make the decision to de-Baathify an action beat…In other words, Green Zone is basically an attempt to dramatize the Iraq war for people who, for whatever reason, weren’t paying much attention the first time ’round. And, to be fair, it’s done with solid acting all around (including several folks recognizable from United 93), quality production values, and a reasonable degree of versimilitude throughout. (Note also the brief Paul Rieckhoff cameo, which should nip any IAVA whining about dramatic license right in the bud.)
But, for all its edutainmenty truths to tell, Green Zone still ends up feeling rather fake and film-ish to me, perhaps in part because — unlike Greengrass’ other recent histories — it seems to subscribe to a very movie-like All the President’s Men view of things, where, once word of misdeed gets out, justice will be done tho’ the heavens fall. Not to get all Debbie Downer up in here, but that’s not really the way the world works anymore, is it? One of the saddest and scariest moments in the recent and very worthwhile Daniel Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man in America is when Ellsberg explains how he thought everything would change once the Pentagon Papers got out…and then he finds that, in the face of clear and irrefutable evidence of government wrongdoing, most people just shrugged.
This is the uncomfortable horror that Green Zone almost seems willfully designed not to recognize. The whole premise of the movie seems to be that, if We the People knew what really went down in Iraq (or could just be taught via action-movie), we would be totally livid about the corruption involved. But, is the problem really that the American people don’t know what happened in the build-up to Iraq? Or is it that we know pretty well what happened and don’t much seem to care?
Just as with our indefensible dabbling in torture and indefinite detention in recent years, we have known about the lies and incompetence that fueled the Iraq fiasco for awhile now. And, alas, nothing ever happened. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the whole awful, lying lot are still deemed Serious People with Serious Opinions by the nation’s domesticated media watchdogs, who, by the way, have also been studiously ignoring the Blair hearings overseas. Our current president, elected with the largest mandate for change in a generation, has deemed all of this just the sins of the past and refused to “look backward” (or worse, made himself complicit in these Dubya-era crimes.) And life continues, much as it has this past age, with no sense of reckoning whatsoever for the Big Lies that were told.
One of the main reasons Bloody Sunday and United 93 work so well is that they offer complex, nuanced portraits of complicated times. But, as Green Zone moves along, it just ended up feeling more and more like a cartoon to me, and one predicated mainly on wishful thinking. Like I said, I guess I admire what Paul Greengrass & co. were trying do here, but Green Zone as an action film feels flat and mostly uninvolving. And Green Zone as a political enterprise — Iraq War: The Movie!, basically — often seems at best condescending and at worst dangerously naive.
z’[W]ith Reagan, the prophecy appreciation part of his brain functioned quite independently of the part that started wars (there’s nothing in the Old Testament about Nicaragua or even Grenada). Bush seems to have taken the threat of Gog and Magog to Israel quite literally, and, if this story can be believed, to have launched a war to stop them.“
One rather frightening story from a few days ago: As if the recent “Onward Christian Soldiers” war reports in GQ weren’t Crusadery enough, it appears that Dubya explictly invoked the End of Days to convince Jacques Chirac to get involved in the Iraq War, making his appeal Christian-to-Christian about the unholy dangers of Gog & Magog. Uh, really? (Apparently, Chirac has confirmed it.)
“This evening, my thoughts return to the first night I addressed you from this house – Sept. 11, 2001.” Now, there‘s a surprise. To be honest, there’s not much to be said about Dubya’s dismal farewell speech last night, which had been touted earlier in the week as potentially something interesting. [Transcript.] Rather than go the statesman route a la Eisenhower, Dubya chose to spend his last few moments with the nation’s ear dispensing trite, self-serving, and patently idiotic bromides about the world that will do nothing to alter his status in history as one of our worst presidents, if not the worst president, to-date.
I hope to spend very little blog-time in the future attempting to parse the immature, inchoate worldview of this soon-to-be ex-president. But, for example: “When people live in freedom, they do not willingly choose leaders who pursue campaigns of terror.” Uh, they don’t? (No, then it’s called regime change. [rimshot].)
By the way, was America not “free” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, or were Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, and other duly-elected architects of ugly institutions like indian removal and slavery all just part of ye old axis of iniquitye? Now, put your keyboards down, crazy right-wing Freeper-types. (How’d you end up here anyway?) I’m not arguing that the U.S. is evil — I love America (I just hate flag pins.) But I am arguing that it’s never been satisfactorily proven by world events that ostensibly freedom-loving people aren’t capable of horrible atrocities from time to time.
This is the same ridiculous note Dubya struck constantly in his second inaugural (“Freedom, yeah!”), and it still rings false. When people live in freedom, they can willingly choose anything they want, including paths and policies deeply at odds with the direction we — or even common humanity — might want them to go. News flash: Dubya’s windbreaker-clad nemesis, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is — along with being a certifiable, Holocaust-denying nutjob — the freely-elected president of Iran. So let’s stop pretending that the introduction (or imposition by force) of a western-style democracy to a region is a sudden and immediate cure-all for that area’s problems. Even after eight years in the world’s most powerful office, Dubya once again showed us last night that he harbors the black-and-white, absolutist worldview of a child…or an ex-alcoholic. Good riddance.
Update: See also DYFL on this Dubya chestnut last night: “Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Um, yeah.
Given what little I know about what’s going on, that’s basically my view of it as well. On the one hand, Israel is responding to an untenable security situation — Hamas rockets being fired into neighborhoods and cities — that we wouldn’t tolerate for a second. (In fact, we invaded Iraq on a much flimsier security pretext.) Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Israel is trying to run the table right here right now, in the twilight moments of the Dubya presidency, because they know they have carte blanche from 43 to do what they will. And I suspect this particular neocon-run advance, like all the rest of ‘em in recent years, is doomed to failure — if anything, I’d wager, it’s just swelling the ranks (and the coffers) of Hamas.
Regardless, the Obama administration and Secretary of State Clinton are going to have their work cut out for them. I’m not one who believes particularly that conflicts with roots in millennia-long religious strife can get “solved” in one or two US presidential terms. But let’s at least hope, under their watch, we can start to achieve the type of broader range of discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that you can find in…say, Israel. It’s both embarrassing and extremely counterproductive for our nation to be seen — and to continually be used — as a knee-jerk diplomatic dupe that will always blindly support policies initiated by the most conservative factions in Israeli politics.
After eight long years, the end is in sight, and the Idiot Wind is at long last subsiding. For the 43rd president of these United States, George Dubya Bush, gave his final press conference today, during which he finally conceded that “there have been disappointments.” Why, yes, yes, there have. “Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don’t know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were — things didn’t go according to plan, let’s put it that way.” Um, yeah.
At any rate, don’t worry: I’m sure we’ll be getting one last round of 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 before closing time, when Dubya delivers his “farewell address” on Thursday. One can only hope that it turns out to be Eisenhoweresque, and not one more final, futile attempt to rewrite the history books. But I’m not keeping my fingers crossed.
“We hope the new vice president will not reverse his commitment to the Senate’s constitutional authority.” Uh, the new one? What about the old one? First it was Karl Rove discovering the virtues of executive transparency. Now the walrus and the carpenter of Dubya apparachiks, Johns “Bomb Iran” Bolton and “Torture at will” Yoo respectively, actually have the temerity to sing the praises of congressional oversight in foreign policy. “If Mr. Obama were to submit either of these agreements for approval by a simple majority of the House and Senate, his actions would pose a serious challenge to American principles of law and democratic governance.” Oh, a “serious challenge” to law and democracy, eh? These assholes have no shame.
“I didn’t know what the guy said, but I saw his sole.” Say what you will about the 43rd president — and, no doubt, the history books will — the man has cat-like reflexes for his age. The story of the weekend was, of course, the shoe incident in Baghdad, which ended up clearly overshadowing Dubya’s remarks and reason for his visit — the signing of a Status of Forces agreement — and serving as an exclamation point of sorts for the president’s, shall we say, fraught relationship with the nation and people of Iraq. I have to give him credit, tho’ — Bush not only handled the incident with agility, aplomb and a surprising amount of sang-froid, but generally struck the right tone about it afterward. “Okay, everybody calm down for a minute. First of all thank you for apologizing on behalf of the Iraqi people. It doesn’t bother me. And if you want some — if you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw. (Laughter.) Thank you for your concern, do not worry about it.”
In the wake of the biggest shoe-related world incident since Nikita Khrushchev (or perhaps Richard Reid), there’s been some discussion of late about the legitimacy of shoe-throwing as a form of political protest. (Throwing shoes into machines, a.k.a. “sabot-age,” is already generally considered a no-no.) It’s not hard to understand, or even empathize with, the anger that drove Muntadar al-Zaidi to this act of protest. Here’s a journalist who’s been covering airstrikes and Abu Ghraib, who has seen the “collateral damage” of this war-of-choice firsthand, and who himself was briefly arrested by American security forces at one point. That being said, to my mind, any attempted act of physical violence against the president — even something as seemingly innocuous as shoe-throwing — cannot be countenanced. Now, I’m not saying the guy needs to rot in jail for the rest of his life — far from it — but let’s not start pretending that that this form of protest is “ok.” It’s not. End of story.
Plus, keep in mind that a horrible situation was averted by Bush here just by his underreacting estimably to the incident. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that al-Zaidi may have put his life in danger by making a threatening lunge at the president. The Secret Service are — and have to be — a hair-trigger bunch. Ok, al-Zaidi was only armed with a shoe…anybody ever heard of Amadou Diallo? All too often, tragedy results from a simple misunderstanding of intentions. Mr. al-Zaidi made his point, no doubt…but it was still a stupid and dangerous stunt, by any reckoning.
And besides, It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.
So, here we are at last. After the interminable Democratic primary, the mile-high heights of Denver, the RNC’s sputtering lows, all the ignominious Palin follies, and the ugly throes of conservative crack-up we’ve witnessed over the past month or so, it’s at long last decision time.
Not that it’s going to be any big surprise to you, but I myself will be voting for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, for the reasons I listed back in January and for many others, and I strongly encourage you to do the same.
Of course, voting for Obama tomorrow is a much easier call than choosing among the Democratic field a year ago. If any undecided voters actually swing by GitM (a proposition I highly doubt), well, all you really need to know right now is this:
That’s it. End of story. If you think Dubya was right 90% of the time, that everything from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown to national embarrassments such as Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were handled smoothly — heck, even competently — by this administration, then John McCain is your man. If you don’t, then you should vote Obama.
Similarly, if you think Congress should spend more time pursuing the interests of immensely wealthy corporations and K-street lobbyists rather than representing the American people, that criminals like Duke Cunningham, Boss DeLay, and “Casino Jack” Abramoff should be allowed to plunder the nation’s coffers for personal gain, and that the House and Senate should really be devoting their time to such all-consuming issues as flag burning and the fate of poor Terri Schiavo, then you should vote Republican. If, on the other hand, you want to finally move past all that, and help see real change enacted in this country under a President Obama, then you should vote for your Democratic House and Senate candidates, as I plan to.
Now, of course, I myself would take it farther than that. Y’see, I personally don’t believe that conservatism works as a governing philosophy — it never has, and it never will. You wouldn’t ask a vegetarian to prepare you a steak, and you don’t hire someone who despises government and/or sees it only as his personal bankroll to run a country for you. Unlike the faith-based arguments of all too many Republicans out there, I’d submit that we’ve got almost two decades of data now to back this assertion up. But, you don’t have to take it that far, if you don’t want to — Just look at the record of the last eight years, and that should help clarify who to vote for tomorrow.
As for McCain himself, well, I confess, I’m disappointed in the man. If we’d seen the candidate who ran in 2000, the one who deplored all the right-wing pettiness, racism, and wingnuttery he’s now wallowing in, we might’ve had the first win-win choice for president since…I dunno, Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes in 1916? (Update: Upon more reflection, I’ll say since Ike and Adlai in ’56.) But, the Saruman analogy holds here too. In pursuit of power, McCain turned from that path a long time ago — he enabled the Dubya administration in its idiocies, he began to coddle the hardcore right-wing fundies rather than stand up to them, he sold out his own campaign finance reform stance, and he even started to traffick in the same lowest-common-denominator, Rovian filth that was used to bring him low in South Carolina eight years ago. His choice of Sarah Palin for veep, so pathetically craven in its attempt to appease the stark raving fundies and grab disgruntled Clinton voters, was merely the cherry on top.
In short, when the worst impulses of right-wing gutter politics came a-knockin’ at his door, John McCain — for whatever reason — blinked, and completely caved to their onslaught. In this election campaign, he has put His Own Ambition First, and in so doing, he has sold his soul. For the choices he’s made during this election season alone, John McCain has lost any credibility he might’ve had to serve as our nation’s commander-in-chief.
Fortunately, I firmly believe that, after tomorrow, John McCain and the sad, tired remnants of his cause will be old news. We have an exemplary, once-in-a-generation-type candidate in Barack Obama, and I refuse to believe I live in a country that would squander the amazing opportunity before us to elect him our president.
But, you never know… So, yes, the polls look great, but they looked good in 2004 as well (even the exit polls did, in fact), and we all know how that story turned out. So, let’s handle our business tomorrow, get out to vote, and get to work on rebuilding this country. We have so much work to do.
Vote Obama, 2008.
“‘We have a text,’ Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said after a day-long visit Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.” How badly do the Republicans want to keep the White House? Apparently enough that the Dubya administration, contrary to its earlier stance (and to McCain’s promises of “100 years” in Baghdad), seems to be on the verge of signing a withdrawal accord with Iraq that would have all U.S. troops out by the end of 2011. (Not that we have much choice in the matter, given that Baghdad has already made it clear it wants us gone.) Well, however politically influenced, this is clearly a step in the right direction…but it’s way too late in the game to save the GOP now. It’s not like we’re all going to forget who started — and enabled — this disastrous sideshow.
“‘I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia,’ Bush said. ‘We strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia.‘” As Georgian forces pull back from South Ossetia in the face of a full-scale Russian assault, the US, UN, and European Commission increasingly condemn Russian attacks across all of Georgia.
Meanwhile, Medvedev argues that Russian operations are winding down, but that troops will stay in South Ossetia for awhile. “Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a colonel-general on Russia’s General Staff, said at a Moscow news briefing that Russia was not intending ‘to invade Georgia’ and that a ‘key principle’ of the current operation was that troops remain inside South Ossetia — ostensibly to protect a population it said was under assault by the Georgian military, as well as its own peacekeepers stationed there.” Update: Russia pushes into Georgia.
“That it was a forgery can no longer be doubted; that it originated with the White House may be harder to prove. Two former CIA officials — Rob Richer and John Maguire — have gone on record as saying they were personally charged with carrying out the forgery, but their marching orders, if they existed, came directly from Tenet (who has fiercely denied the story). The closest thing Suskind has to a smoking gun is Richer’s memory, five years later, of ‘looking down at the creamy White House stationery on which the assignment was written.'”
In his review of Ron Suskind’s The Way of the World, Salon‘s Louis Bayard tells the tale of the Habbush letter, a forgery fabricated by the CIA to tie Iraq to Al Qaeda (and, thus manufacture a casus belli for the War in Iraq.) In other words, George Tenet — perhaps on higher authority — signed off on an illegal black op aimed against the American people. If this goes up the food chain — and, at this point, who’d be surprised if it didn’t — this is definitely an impeachable offense. Where’s the outrage?
Update: Politico has more.
“Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes…Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business. But it’s the business of Iraqis to say what they want.” While much of the nation watched The Dark Knight, Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki shook up our election considerably, perhaps even decisively, over the weekend by publicly backing Obama’s troop withdrawal plan in the German magazine Der Spiegel.
The Dubya White House immediately tried to lean on Al-Maliki to get him to walk back his remarks, but some hemming and hawing aside, they would seem to stand. In fact, they were reinforced today by Ali al-Dabbagh, Iraq’s government spokesman, upon Sen. Obama’s arrival to the region: “We are hoping that in 2010 that combat troops will withdraw from Iraq.“
In other words, even the Iraqis believe Obama is right and McCain is wrong on our future in Iraq. Which means the McCain campaign has just lost one of their critical tentpole issues, and has no place to go now except scream “surge, surge, surge.” “Via e-mail, a prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said, simply, ‘We’re f**ked.’“
Of course, McCain’s bleeding on the Iraq issue might be better staunched if he didn’t publicly refer to the non-existent Iraq-Pakistan border…
“Just as it had on the day before 9/11, Al Qaeda now has a band of terror camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States…’The United States faces a threat from Al Qaeda today that is comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001,’ said Seth Jones, a Pentagon consultant and a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation.“
In the NYT, Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde explore how, despite all their endless bluster and unconstitutional behavior, the Dubya administration is losing the war against Al Qaeda, and has apparently given up on catching Bin Laden. “By late 2005, many inside the CIA headquarters in Virginia had reached the conclusion that their hunt for Bin Laden had reached a dead end…’You had a very finite number’ of experienced officers, said one former senior intelligence official. ‘Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.’”
“The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. ‘The oversight process has not kept pace — it’s been coöpted’ by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. ‘The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.‘”
In related news, The New Yorker‘s venerable Sy Hersh reports that the Dubya administration has been stepping up covert activities in Iran…and Congress is once again going along for the ride. “In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership…were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.“
“This can be a moment of opportunity for North Korea. If North Korea continues to make the right choices, it can repair its relationship with the international community — much as Libya has done over the past few years. If North Korea makes the wrong choices, the United States and our partners in the six-party talks will respond accordingly.” In a Rose Garden statement yesterday, Dubya announces the lifting of trading sanctions against North Korea, on account of Pyongyang seemingly agreeing to nuclear disarmament as outlined in recent multilateral talks. But don’t get the wrong idea, folks: Talking to our enemies is still an act of horrible, dirty appeasement. Update: Slate‘s Fred Kaplan surveys the deal.
“‘The president and his advisors undertook a relentless public campaign in the aftermath of the (September 11, 2001) attacks to use the war against al Qaeda as a justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein,’ intelligence committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller said in written commentary on the report. ‘Representing to the American people that the two had an operational partnership and posed a single, indistinguishable threat was fundamentally misleading and led the nation to war on false pretenses.‘”
In the stating-the-obvious department, the “Phase II” report by the Senate Intelligence Committee — delayed by the GOP since before the 2004 election — finds once again that the Dubya administration lied us into war. Y’know, back in the day, this would be considered an impeachable offense.
Welcome to the reality-based community, Scott. In the meantime, the White House is claiming McClellan was motivated by “sour grapes” (whatever that means — why would he want to keep a gig he seemed to hate?) while other Dubya stalwarts, blindsided by the tome, have also gone on the attack. (But, don’t fret — of all people, McClellan knew what was coming.)
And, hey, don’t look now, but — at long last — the general election has begun!
A busy day traffic-wise here at GitM: In a speech before the Knesset today, Dubya compared Obama to Sen. William Borah of Idaho (and not in complimentary fashion, although that case could be made too.) Here’s GWB: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is –- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.“
Now, as it turns out, Sen. Borah was the subject of my undergraduate thesis and features prominently in my dissertation. So, notwithstanding the self-serving idiocy and sad invoking of Godwin’s Law in Dubya’s words, I do want to take a moment to defend Sen. Borah, before — just as Philip Roth Cheneyed up Burton Wheeler — he disappears down the memory hole and is reinvented as simply a kneejerk reactionary. (I know Dubya brought him up to bash as a weak-kneed surrender-monkey, but I’ve also read several left-leaning comments out and about today that make note that Borah was a Republican, and thus belongs in Dubya’s camp. He really doesn’t.)
However wrong he was about Hitler in his final years, and obviously he was very, very wrong (although not perhaps as wrong as George Prescott Bush), Sen. Borah is neither the apostle of appeasement nor the GOP stooge that Dubya and folks pushing back would respectively make him out to be today. With La Follette and Johnson, Borah was one of the leading progressives in the Senate for decades, and one of its strongest civil liberties advocates in the years after World War I. In fact, if Dubya wants to ponder aloud the words of Borah, may I suggest the following?
The men who are destroying American institutions and who are a menace to American principles are not the ‘reds,’ nor the anarchistic…but rather the men who, professing like Augustus the Great, to preserve our Constitution, are subtly and with sinister and selfish purposes, undermining them.” — Borah to Frank Morrison, 1921.
But, civil liberties aside, what should we take from Sen. Borah’s unfortunate remarks about Hitler (which he made at the age of 75, less than a year before his death?) Well, to me, it might suggest that age can cloud the judgement of all of us, even long-standing Senate mavericks much-beloved by the media. It’s just a good thing that ancient, venerable lion of the Senate didn’t win the election of 1936, eh?
“The aging Vito Corleone, emblematic of cold-war American power, is struck down suddenly and violently by forces he did not expect and does not understand, much as America was on September 11. Even more intriguingly, each of his three ‘heirs’ embraces a very different vision of how the family should move forward following this wrenching moment. Tom Hagen, Sonny and Michael approximate the three American foreign-policy schools of thought—liberal institutionalism, neoconservatism and realism—vying for control in today’s disarranged world order.” In The National Interest, John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell compare America’s post-9/11 foreign policy to The Godfather. What they neglect to mention is that Dubya diplomacy in practice has been Sonny by way of Fredo.
Do you remember the Iraq War of 2003? Remember those heady days of euphoria when it ended two months later, with only 139 American lives lost? Journey back with me — TIME-LIFE style, if you will — to the scene of our triumph: “Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a ‘hero’ and boomed, ‘He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics.’ PBS’ Gwen Ifill said Bush was ‘part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.’ On NBC, Brian Williams gushed, ‘The pictures were beautiful. It was quite something to see the first-ever American president on a — on a carrier landing. This must be very meaningful to the United States military.’“
Well, today marks the five-year anniversary of our glorious victory, the day that “splendid little war” came to a close. Among those honoring the day, and the remarkable achievement of our Commander-in-Chief:
“Judging from Gen. David Petraeus’ Senate testimony today, our military commitment to Iraq is open-ended and unconditional…Their unwavering stance amounted to this: Further pullouts might trigger defeat; the costs of defeat are too horrible to ponder; therefore, we shouldn’t ponder further pullouts.” Slate‘s Fred Kaplan takes the measure of yesterday’s Petraeus hearings, and the performances of Senators Obama [transcript | video], Clinton and McCain respectively. “Near the end of the afternoon, Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee but a junior member of the foreign relations committee, finally got his turn to ask questions — and he homed in on one of the administration’s key conceptual failures…’I’m trying to get to an end point,’ he said. ‘That’s what all of us are trying to do.’ This is what many critics and thoughtful supporters of the war have been trying to do for five years now. The Bush administration hasn’t addressed the issue. And, ultimately, neither did Petraeus or Crocker today.”
“It’s not a case of good vs. evil. It’s just another crevice in the widening earthquake called Iraq.” As violence flares up in Iraq once more, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan summarizes the current situation: “[I]t is ‘a power struggle’ between rival ‘Shiite party mafias’ for control of the oil-rich south and other Shiite sections of the country. Both sides in this struggle are essentially militias. Both sides have ties to Iran. And as for protecting ‘the Iraqi people,’ the side backed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (and by U.S. air power) has, ironically, less support — at least in many Shiite areas, including Basra — than the side that he (and we) are attacking.“
“President Bush believes that every life is precious, and he spends time every day thinking about those who’ve lost their lives on the battlefield.” And well he should: Following soon after our fifth anniversary in Iraq, a roadside bomb kills four soldiers on Easter Sunday, and the American death toll in Iraq reaches 4000, 3863 of which were killed after Dubya’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in May 2003.
I said when the death toll hit 2,000 in October 2005 that “ [t]wo thousand US men and women have been killed in the line of duty, and this blatantly amateurish administration still has no plan either to win or to disengage from a conflict they orchestrated, other than ‘stay the course.’” Two and half years and 2000 lives later, it’s sadly still true. Worse still, Dubya’s heir apparent, John McCain, now advocates extending this administration’s catastrophic incompetence into another presidential term. This is not a good idea.
“This is an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an Administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years. Our government’s duty is to protect the private information of the American people, not use it for political purposes. This is a serious matter that merits a complete investigation, and we demand to know who looked at Senator Obama’s passport file, for what purpose, and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach.“
Breaking: It seems people at the State Department have been digging around Obama’s passport file, resulting in two firings and a disciplining. But who are they, and what were they looking for? I’m not sure a travel record or a lousy passport photo would add up to much in any case.
“Five years have gone by since that fateful decision. This war has now lasted longer than World War I, World War II, or the Civil War. Nearly four thousand Americans have given their lives. Thousands more have been wounded. Even under the best case scenarios, this war will cost American taxpayers well over a trillion dollars. And where are we for all of this sacrifice? We are less safe and less able to shape events abroad. We are divided at home, and our alliances around the world have been strained. The threats of a new century have roiled the waters of peace and stability, and yet America remains anchored in Iraq.“
“The Wall Street titans have turned into a bunch of welfare clients. They are desperate to be bailed out by government from their own incompetence, and from the deregulatory regime for which they lobbied so hard…It’s just fine to make it harder for the average Joe to file for bankruptcy, as did that wretched bankruptcy bill passed by Congress in 2005 at the request of the credit card industry. But the big guys are ‘too big to fail’ because they could bring us all down with them.” After the Bear Stearns deal and all it would seem to portent about the condition of the Dubya economy, E.J. Dionne reads the riot act to free market fundies.
In related news, WP’s Dan Froomkin’s notes how Dubya’s handling of the economy is now being compared to the aftermath of Katrina. ‘As the storm clouds gathered, was President Bush once again asleep at the wheel? A consistent theme in today’s political and economic coverage is that Bush’s failure to recognize the severity of the ongoing financial crisis and act accordingly is reminiscent of his disastrously slow and inept response to Hurricane Katrina….’As with the war in Afghanistan, the Iraqi war aftermath, the Hurricane Katrina disaster and current efforts at Mideast peace, investors are concerned that the president is responding too late and with inadequate understanding, resources and creativity.'”