Saturday, December 01, 2007

Boytech and Girltech in Simpsons TiVo Easter Egg

I'm amazed that I find no references anywhere on the web to this one. I just watched last Sunday's episode #408 (KABF01) of Fox's The Simpsons, "Funeral for a Fiend," original air date 2007-11-25. Of course, I watched it on my TiVo, with remote in hand. The main plot centers on the return of Sideshow Bob to make yet another attempt to murder Bart Simpson, but there's a subplot around the Simpsons' acquisition of a TiVo. Lisa teaches Marge how to skip through the commercials — leading a bit later to having Keith Olbermann denounce Marge as "Worst Person in the World!" for denying paid advertisers their due.

As Lisa demonstrates fast-forwarding through the ads at the cliffhanger of an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, we see the Simpsons' TV screen; a series of commercials flash by in the blink of an eye. With the TiVo, though, I can freeze-frame and see what the commercials are for, including the bouncing Homer head advertising something in Japanese. There's a commercial for "Turbo Diary," enhanced with the ability to emit a blinding flash of light if a boy tries to read a girl's innermost thoughts. As you step frame-by-frame forward through the commercial, you see the logo "Girltech" leaping off the product; if you step backwards, though, you see the logo "Boytech" instead. I suppose one reading of it would be to say that pausing live TV is "girltech," but backing it up to see if there's a different image is "boytech." Call me a happy hermaphrotech.

By the way, I did actually watch a few of the real commercials in this episode. The Zune ad was way cool — as in, "Watch out Apple iPod" cool. The ad for the new Terminator series, though, looked cheesier than a daytime soap opera; it reminded me of the death of another fine franchise: The Never-Ending Story, Part III: The Final Chapter.

P.S. Buy Olbermann's book! [unpaid, unsolicited endorsement]

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Read More......

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Happy Anniversary to "Inside Iraq"

Al Jazeera English just passed the one-year mark. It is finally available on a few U.S. cable systems, but not on the big conglomerates like Comcast, nor on the two major satellite mini-dish systems. Fortunately, it's available on the web site, including a YouTube link of this week's anniversary special episode of Inside Iraq with Jassim Azzawi. As we head into the U.S. presidential primaries, it's a good time to take stock of developments of the last year. Check it out.

Read More......

Friday, October 19, 2007

Slowing down

Regular readers may have noticed that I haven't been posting a lot lately, and I regret to inform you that the trend will continue for at least a couple of weeks. I've been getting some nasty pains in my wrist, forearm, shoulder, and hand. In layman's terms, it's "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome," although in proper medical terms it's some other form of Repetitive Stress Injury. The long and the short of it: too much computer. I just saw my primary care physician, who gave me a referral to the Physical Medicine Department, but the next available appointment is more than two weeks from now. In the mean time, I'll be taking lots of ibuprofen and trying to stay off the computer. I tried some voice-recognition software, but its accuracy "weasel out to be desired." (That's supposed to be "leaves a lot to be desired.")

Read More......

Into the Wild

Sean Penn has a new film out, telling the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who graduated from college, gave away his life savings, and hitchhiked across the country, ending up in the Alaskan wilderness, living with little if any human contact. He meets up with a number of people along the way, including a few who act as surrogate parents. The story reminded me of a darker version of the Newberry-Award-winning novel My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, in which Sam Greeley, a high school student, runs away to live on his grandfather's disused farm in upstate New York. Sam Greeley had a penknife, an axe, a ball of cord, fire-making tools, and a small amount of money, but he learns to hunt and fish and harvest wild edible plants. Christopher McCandless had a rifle, some matches, and a few provisions, but was even more on his own, much deeper in the wilderness.

Into the Wild has been in limited release for almost a month, but today it begins its general release. The ads, which you have seen if you watched Daily Show and Colbert Report the last couple of days, focus on the indescribable sense of freedom McCandless feels when he is truly on his own, but the film also chronicles his travels and travails. Emile Hirsch turns in a gripping performance as McCandless, with Jena Malone (Saved!), Vince Vaughn, William Hurt, and the ever-amazing Hal Holbrook supporting. The scenery, from the east coast to the midwest to the southwest to the middle of nowhere, Alaska, is stunning, and the story is compelling. As the TV ads suggest, it's a good way to step out of the pressures and politics of 2007 for 2½ hours; strongly recommended.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Read More......

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yes, Waterboarding is Torture

I am dumbfounded that this could ever in a million years be a controversial issue. I'm not prepared to tell you exactly where the legal line is between "legitimate aggressive interrogation" and "torture," but I can tell you that — wherever in the fog that line may lie — the practice of waterboarding — "the practice of putting somebody in a reclining position, strapping them down, putting cloth over their faces, and pouring water over the cloth to simulate the feeling of drowning" — is miles over the line.

I am referring, of course, to Attorney General nominee Judge Michael Mukasey's refusal to answer the straightforward question asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D–RI): Is waterboarding constitutional? Right now, I'm watching MSNBC Live with Dan Abrams, a show I make a particular point of watching when there is a significant legal controversy. Dan Abrams is a lawyer himself, so he can often speak with considerably greater clarity than us non-lawyer people. Pressed by his right-wing guest Cliff May to give a definition of torture, but then interrupted every time he tried to answer, Dan Abrams cut into the middle of the following commercial break to read a dictionary definition of torture:

The act of inflicting excruciating pain as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty. — Dan Abrams, quoting an unspecified dictionary
The Geneva Conventions don't have a definition of torture, but the reference to it in the Fourth Geneva Convention is couched thusly: it prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture." Protocol II goes on to prohibit, at any time, in any place whatsoever, to any person who has ceased actual combat,
  1. violence to the life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder as well as cruel treatment such as torture, mutilation or any form of corporal punishment;
  2. collective punishments;
  3. taking of hostages;
  4. acts of terrorism;
  5. outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault;
  6. slavery and the slave trade in all their forms;
  7. pillage;
  8. threats to commit any or the foregoing acts.
There's no direct answer in that particular language to the question of whether waterboarding is torture, but it takes an unimaginably twisted definition of torture to exclude simulated drowning. In fact, it takes an unimaginably twisted definition to exclude waterboarding from "violence to the physical and mental well-being of persons."

I've never been waterboarded, but I did once come seriously close to drowning, and it's not an experience I care to repeat. It brought me to a remarkable level of mental and emotional focus: having already exhausted myself to the point that I would have collapsed in any normal situation, I knew that the only thing that mattered to me was that I somehow do whatever was necessary to survive. In my case, it was a matter of swimming a short distance to get myself out of a river current that was stronger than I could handle, but if I were strapped to a plank in a prison cell, I would say absolutely anything I thought my interrogators wanted to hear. That establishes both that it is torture and that it would be unreliable in extracting "actionable intelligence."

Since Cliff May brought it up, let's look at the "Ticking Time Bomb" scenario. You have a terrorist who has been captured, and you have reason to believe (or perhaps he has even said) that he knows details of a plot that will kill a large number of people, just a short time from now. You ask him nicely, pretty please, would he mind awfully much telling us where and how to neutralize the threat, and he demurs. What is the scope of the interrogation tools that are permissible in that situation? Can you torture this guy? Can you ram a steak knife into his thigh? Can you waterboard him? Can you cut off his pinky finger or break his kneecap? Can you slap him upside the head repeatedly? Can you tie him up and tickle him? Can you threaten to hunt down his wife and children? Can you take him over your knee and spank him like a child? Some of those are tougher questions than others, but waterboarding is definitely a gimme.

Setting aside for the moment the obvious ethical and legal considerations, though, let's take a cold and calculating look at the question of effectiveness. One need only look to Jack Bauer and an old episode of 24 for a plausible scenario: the bad guy is being roughed up, so he tells Bauer where the nuclear bomb is. Exactly where the bomb is. Except that the bomb isn't there — it's back at the airport where they started. The point is, what possible incentive is there for this terrorist to tell you the truth, thereby thwarting the plan to which he has committed not only his life, but his immortal soul? Does it even make sense to believe he would do anything other than lie, misdirect, stall for time, or do whatever he could to keep the terror plot on track?

The Attorney General nominee Judge Mukasey should be ashamed of refusing to answer such a straightforward question, and Cliff May should find a new name for his "Foundation for the Defense of Democracies." I would suggest just changing Defense to Destruction, so you don't have to change the abbreviation. Seldom in law will you find a question that is more black-and-white, more inescapably unambiguous, than Is waterboarding torture? Hell yes, and why does anyone even need to ask?

Technorati tags: , , , , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Colbert in, Brownback out

Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert officially announced his candidacy for President of the United States — although he will be entered as a "favorite son" only in the primaries of his native South Carolina, 2008-01-26. Yes, I said "primaries," because Colbert is running both as a Republican and as a Democrat. In today's news, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas announced that he is ending his bid for the Republican nomination. Is it a case of cause and effect, or mere coïncidence?

Here are a couple of excerpts from Colbert's announcement on 2007-10-16:

on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Tonight, I, Stephen Colbert, am officially announcing that I have decided to officially consider whether or not I will announce that I am running for President of the United States [in South Carolina], and I will be making an announcement of that decision very soon — preferably on a more prestigious show.

on The Colbert Report

Well, after nearly 15 minutes of soul-searching, I've heard the call. Nation, I shall seek the office of President of the United States. ...

I am from South Carolina, I am for South Carolina, and I defy any other candidate to pander more to the people of South Carolina — those beautiful, beautiful people.
Brownback is expected to officially announce the withdrawal of his candidacy tomorrow in Topeka, Kansas, the state capital. Brownback is consistently anti-abortion and anti-gay-rights; his position on evolution, though, is somewhat more nuanced. He said in a New York Times op-ed that he believes in "microevolution" — small changes within a species — but rejects any theory of evolution that does not include a divine guiding hand. In other words, a salamander may turn into a somewhat different salamander, but not into a wholly different species; that would require God to zap the new species into existence. Although Brownback's credentials as a religious conservative are solid, he failed to attract major support from the religious right in the Republican Party. His fundraising was so ineffective that he lacks the cash even to compete in Iowa.

It remains to be seen what candidate(s) Colbert will drive out of the Democratic race.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Read More......

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jon Stewart spars with Tony Snow

Last night (2007-10-15), Jon Stewart had a lively discussion with President Bush's former White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow. Before becoming WHPS, Snow worked at Fox News, as well as on radio and in newspaper columns, and was a speechwriter for President George H. Bush. The interview on last night's Daily Show was expansive enough that it took two segments — almost 14 minutes, not including the commercial break.

First off, the video links:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, original air date 2007-10-15, ©2007 Comedy Central
And now the transcript:
Jon Stewart: Welcome back! My guest — until recently, he was the White House Press Secretary. Please welcome back to the program Tony Snow! [applause] Thank you for joining us.

Tony Snow: Good to be here. Thank you.

Stewart: First of all, may I say this: you look great.

Snow: Thank you.

Stewart: You look very healthy, and I'm very glad. How are you feeling?

Snow: I'm feeling great; thank you. Look, I've gotta say: this has been one of these things, having been sick, Democrats and Republicans have both come out and were terrific, so there was at least good bipartisanship there.

Stewart: You're a "uniter."

Snow: There you go.

Stewart: It is — I could imagine, too, going through the pressure of that job must be — incredible.

Snow: It actually — I love the job, it was so much fun. You know this — you get people on, you spar, I loved it, so in many ways being Press Secretary is pretty good therapy. It's a whole lot better than sitting around at home feeling sorry for yourself or thinking, "Is it worse today or better? I don't know. God! I don't know!"

Stewart: So, why leave, then? Was it really the thing, you just gotta make some money?

Snow: Got broke, yeah.

Stewart: See, that is admirably honest. Most people would say, all those guys always say, you know, "Geez, I'm gonna go, I really love my family and I want to spend some time with them." Nobody ever says, like, "This thing pays for crap."

Snow: Well, the other thing I figured out is you can actually make out like a bandit once you leave.

Stewart: Crazy.

Snow: It's great. So, I can make more money and spend more time on my family. It's a pretty good deal.

Stewart: See? People don't realize, that's how you should sell government service. Give us a couple of years, and then you can take a bath in gold. Let me show you this, I think you'll find this very interesting. As the Bush Administration's fortunes began to go — what's the direction? — downhill, look at the difference between press secretaries. Look how much better-looking they made them. Okay, [photo of Ari Fleischer] starts there, then things start to go south, but not so south. [photo morphs into Scott McClellan] Then they go, you know what, let's bring in a guy [photo morphs into Tony Snow] Okay, now, that's a nice-looking guy, but it's still tanking. What are we gonna do now? [photo morphs into Dana Perino] Hello, Mommy! You see how that went? And now, from there, [photo morphs into Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) from Star Trek: Voyager] yeah, that's where they go next. I really — here's what I like: you were great at it. Much better — McClellan always felt like it was Chuck Wepner getting into the ring. You know, it was like "The Bayonne Bleeder."

Snow: I know who Chuck Wepner was, yeah.

Stewart: "The Bayonne Bleeder." They'd call him up and go, "Muhammad Ali needs somebody to punch." What makes a good Press Secretary?

Snow: I think, you know, the answer is, I don't know, but one thing that probably helped me: I was in the press for 28 years. I liked reporters — still like 'em — and furthermore, look, there wasn't any trick they tried to pull that I hadn't tried to pull before, so when they were jerkin' me around I'd jerk back, but on the other hand, when they had legitimate needs, you also try to make sure you stand up for 'em.

Stewart: What tricks are they pulling, because, from the outside, watching it, they seem overmatched. [audience laughs] You know, just when I watch them, they seem, literally, like, [nasally] "I got something," and then they say it, and you're like, you know, "That's great, Helen," and then you move on. They seem overmatched, like it's almost vestigial in some [inaudible].

Snow: A lot of times, it's pulling an old quote from a Tony Snow column; well, that's easy enough. Or pull an old quote, try to find something incriminating, or try to set up a fight even where one doesn't exist, so there are a couple of kinds of stories that reporters now do. One is a process story, which is really boring. It's like, what color tie is the President wearing? Whoo-oo. And the second is —

Stewart: What does that mean?

Snow: Exactly. And the second is to try to pick fights. "Nancy Pelosi said this about the President; what does he say?" And it ends up being kind of kindergarten stuff a lot of times, but —

Stewart: That's how it appears to the outside is, it seems to be things that are maybe not as crucial, but on the other side, the President's got a tough time because he's so — their administration is so — uh, irrational.

Snow: How so?

Stewart: To business? We're going to take a commercial break, and we'll come back and we'll talk about — what I just said. We'll have more with Tony Snow in just one second.

[commercial break]

Stewart: Welcome back! We're speaking with Tony Snow. Before we left, I mentioned something about irrationality for the Administration. To some — me — the things that he says, for instance, that he is, seem to be the opposite. Like, he would say, "I don't like the partisanship in Washington. I don't like the tone," and then he would be very — he would politicize the Administration in a way that's unusual or be really dickish.

Snow: I've heard you say — but I defy you to go back and find a time when he's actually been the one throwing the mud or calling the names, because it is his instinct, if you go back to his history [audience groans] — sorry about that, look it up, do your homework, Google it.

Stewart: Remember 2006, so the Democrats taken, and everybody is talking about how the President is going to make sort of an olive-branch speech, and in it, he uses the phrase "the Democrat-controlled Congress," which is a real poke in the side. That seems unnecessary, and would only be used if you were exhibiting — what was the word I used earlier?

Snow: Irrational behavior. It's the way he talks. If you go back and look at the content of the speech, the content of the speech, the State of the Union Address, the President talks about trying to go to probably the most "green" energy policy in American history, going away from oil, going to ethanol, going to biofuels: big deal, that's something the Democrats could get behind. Have they tried to support it? No. No Child Left Behind, something Democrats and Republicans worked together on —

Stewart: See, this is fascinating, what you're doing right now. What I said is, why did he use that phrase?

Snow: What I'm trying to do is put in the context of the speech so I can give you a sense of the tenor of the speech. You're taking one word —

Stewart: But that word is an emotionally loaded word that he is aware of. These gusy are — everything is focus-grouped to within an inch of their lives. The phrasing that they use is really repetitive and rigid. It is a move designed to poke.

Snow: Actually, because we went through this, we went and talked to him and said, "Come on, did you mean to say —" and he said, "No, that's just the way I talk."

Stewart: You did ask him about it?

Snow: You've got the Senate Majority Leader who calls him a liar, you've got people who've been far more direct and personal in their criticism of the President, and suddenly they're howling as if he's been Jack the Ripper because he said Democrat instead of Democratic.

Stewart: What about politicizing, let's say, the Department of Justice? We had Jack Goldsmith on the show, and he said the first question he was asked in his interview was, "What's this campaign contribution to a Democrat? What's that?"

Snow: Well, I guarantee you, first, when you're having political jobs — he was a political appointee — they do ask questions like that, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican —

Stewart: The Department of Justice, though, is traditionally —

Snow: Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican — well, that doesn't mean that he's going to be called upon to try to do political hackery.

Stewart: So, you believe this, in your heart, you believe he's not a partisan guy, and he's not politicizing — has he had one Democrat in his administration, in his Cabinet, in a position of authority?

Snow: Uh, no. But, on the other —

Stewart: What I'm saying is, he says things that are, "I'm a uniter," but all of his actions — the problem that I have with their administration, in terms of credibility, everything that they say they are is what they're not. [audience cheers] Don't you think?

Snow: Here's where I want to come back at ya. First, if you go back to George Bush's history in Texas, the guy he worked with, Bob Bullock, a Democrat, he came to Washington thinking, "Okay, I'll work with Democrats," and he did a lot of outreach, and he said, "Look, let's work together," and basically what he's gotten is the back of the hand.

Stewart: So, this is the Democrats' fault?

Snow: Well, no, I'll tell you what's the Democrats' —

Stewart: They have turned a kind man, a uniter, into a bitter shell of a man. This is not right!

Snow: No! Wrongo, my friend, he's still somebody —

Stewart: All right, here's another one —

Snow: Whoa, whoa, let me just throw in one more, because behind the scenes there are regular meetings with Democratic leaders and he's still trying to reach out to these guys, and what will happen is, they'll have a perfectly pleasant meeting, and then they'll go out to the microphones and say perfectly awful things.

Stewart: But he'll say something to them like — okay, "This is the most important conflict of our lives. This is the fight. This is World War II," but he won't do anything like call for a draft or do anything else. You know, he's got the military on 15-month stop-loss. You know, it doesn't seem to make sense to say, "This is the battle of our lives," and yet, "Just go about your business; we got it covered."

Snow: Well, he's asked for 90,000 additional troops, and they're being built in, so that's happening right now. The other thing is, he understands, if you have a draft, think about Vietnam: a lot of people went unwillingly to a war they didn't support. What you have now is a volunteer military, where people know what they're getting into. They're more motivated, they're far more competent, and as a result you have a professional military force. You're asking for trouble, and you're really asking for political trouble — there is no political consensus for —

Stewart: You're definitely asking for political trouble, but do you understand people's frustration that the person that they see in the sound bites does not live up to the actions of the administration?

Snow: No, I get a different frustration, which is the person —

Stewart: Comedians?

Snow: No, because you guys have — look, you've got a great ability to sort of find points that are funny about people, but the fact is, the President is somebody — it's always frustrating when you've got somebody — I think he's a terrific leader. I think he's a guy who's made tough and courageous decisions.

Stewart: Now, see, that's a great — "He's a terrific leader": how is that?

Snow: Okay, number one —

Stewart: I mean that seriously, because my definition of a leader is to make tough decisions and then convince people to support them actively and follow you, not — you know, he says, "I'm not popular 'cause I make tough decisions." Maybe they're wrong. I mean, I could say, "Everyone should wear coats made out of puppies," and nobody wants to do it, and I say, "What a great leader I am! Look at me! It's unpopular!"

Snow: Coats made out of puppies?? Oh, my god!

Stewart: You know what I'm saying. But he's basically saying — [audience applause] [to the audience:] Settle down — He's basically saying, "Look how unpopular I am! I'm a leader!"

Snow: Well, think of it this way: he has said to Congress, "You need to fund the troops." They say, "No, we're going to pull them out." They come to a vote — guess what! — they do; they end up financing the troops. He says, "We're having success in Iraq." Today's Washington Post editorial indicates — guess what! — they are having success.

Stewart: They're apparently defeating Al Qaeda.

Snow: They're defeating Al Qaeda, and they're also [inaudible] the Shia.

Stewart: Let's leave!

Snow: No! Let's finish the job.

Stewart: How do they know what emboldens the terrorists so well? They seem to always know what emboldens the terrorists. For instance, when we have an argument about his policies, that's very emboldening, apparently, to the terrorists.

Snow: Well, let me put it this way: if you're Al Qaeda, and you think you're going to be able to chase the United States out, when we have clear military superiority, we've got the ability to win on the battlefield, and you end up leaving because of political pressure that in some ways have been fomented by their ability to stick it out, you look at yourself as a winner!

Stewart: But the President says we'll leave when there's an acceptable level of violence. So, if I'm Al Qaeda, and I want the U.S. to leave, don't I just lay low until they leave?

Snow: Yeah, but apparently they're not smart enough to figure that out, because —

Stewart: They're smart enough to watch C–SPAN, and make sure that if the Democratic leader from somewhere says something, they know to make their strategy around that, but not smart enough to do the other?

Snow: No, no, that's not how they build a strategy.

Stewart: You don't think the President and his administration has made it so that to discuss the war plan is to embolden the terrorists?

Snow: No, I mean, look: you gotta have a debate about war plan. You're gonna have it any time. [Jon Stewart laughs] It's true!

Stewart: No, I know, that's what I'm saying.

Snow: Yeah, well, I agree. I'm not fightin' you on this, and I don't think the President would fight you on this. Of course you're going to have a fight about it —

Stewart: Didn't you say yourself, "You gotta look at who's watching this: Iraq — Al Qaeda"? You don't think that has a chilling effect on debate to say to somebody, "Hey, those points you're bringing up, I think they're great points, but just know, Osama bin Laden's jumping up and down happy"? That's very tough!

Snow: I haven't noticed a lot of Democrats skittering frightened into the bushes because we [inaudible] the argument.

Stewart: Really?? Which Democratic Congress are you watching? Because to me, they look like giant pussies to me! They don't do anything! Don't you think? A non-binding resolution about the possibility of maybe saying something.

Snow: Exactly — which is why they lost an argument to a leader!

Stewart: You turned it around! Son of a bitch! Listen, that was fun!

Snow: That was fun.

Stewart: And I really do appreciate your coming on. You know, you were on before, and I really respect you as a person and I like what you bring. I really appreciate it.

Snow: The feeling is mutual; congratulations.

Stewart: Thank you very much, I appreciate it. Tony Snow, everybody!
Tony Snow does have a point that Bush has succeeded in getting the Democrat Party — um, I mean the Democratic Party — to cheerfully follow him down the road to Hell, not just on funding the Iraq War and Occupation, but on other misbegotten projects as well. However, I just can't bring myself to call that "leadership" on Bush's part. In particular, the key element of Jon Stewart's definition that Bush lacks is the part about "convinc[ing] people to support [your decisions] actively and follow you." Bullying the milquetoast Democrats into grudging capitulation is not "convincing them to actively support your decisions." Indeed, the qualities that makes someone a bully — we know that Dubya was a schoolyard bully as a child, and the trait seems to have stuck — are antithetical to leadership.

Avenging Angel over at DailyKos — crossposted at Perrspectives — listed a few of the dozens upon dozens of times that Bush has said Democrat Party. Sure, it's a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly does get to personality and temperament, as well as lack of leadership. When Dubya repeatedly uses a term he knows is insulting and offensive, it is impossible to pass it off as "just the way I talk." He claims to be reaching out across the aisle, and Tony Snow makes it sound like it was entirely the Democratic Party that was rebuffing Bush's efforts at bipartisanship, but the record is clear, and it is not favorable to the President. His lack of leadership also shows in the way that prominent members of his administration have systematically attacked the patriotism, courage, intellect, and morality of anyone who disagrees with their program of unconstitutional surveillance, unconstitutional detention, and unconscionable treatment of detainees.

Tony Snow mostly ducked the point about "emboldening the terrorists," but the Bush Administration has systematically chilled debate about important issues of how best to protect the United States from the threat of international terrorism. To even discuss the notion that there are some forms of interrogation that are so uncivilized as to be anathema under even the worst circumstances is "emboldening the terrorists." To suggest that there should be some judicial oversight over the Executive's exercise of powers expressly denied it by the Constitution is "emboldening the terrorists." No, Mr. President, invading an Arab nation without provocation has emboldened the terrorists in ways that will harm our nation for a generation or more.

Tony also talked about concepts like "clear military superiority" and "the ability to win on the battlefield," but in order to win on the battlefield, you first have to get the enemy to engage you there. Given our overwhelming military superiority, the terrorists, insurgents, and other assorted Enemies of Freedom choose instead to engage us where "clear military superiority" doesn't work for us. Think about it: the Redcoats had "clear military superiority" over the Continental Army, the ARVN had "clear military superiority" over the Vietcong, the French had "clear military superiority" over the Algerians, and yet the underdog prevailed time and time again, because the superior military power lacked the agility and adaptiveness to fight an unconventional opponent. Our clear military superiority won't win the War on Terror — not in a decade, not in a generation, not even in a century — because we're on the wrong battlefield. We need to shut down Al Qaeda not by picking away at its extremities, the small fry we're going after in Iraq, but by going directly for its jugular vein and its aorta: the financing and the pool of new recruits. Military superiority acts against us in both, because the war in Iraq has been a magnet for recruits and contributions.

The Republicans succeeded in 2004 in tarring John Kerry with the idea that he would address the War on Terror as primarily a law-enforcement problem, rather than a military problem. Well, guess what! It is primarily a law-enforcement problem. We need more of Charlie and Don Eppes on Numb3rs and less Jack Bauer on 24.

I also take issue with Tony Snow's dismissive remark about "process" stories. Yes, sure, a story about what color necktie Bush is wearing is inane drivel, but that's not what a "process" story is. The American people need — and want — to know more about the ways the Bush Administration has subverted the fundamental processes of government, and especially the ways it has arrogated unprecedented powers to the Executive Branch. It isn't enough merely to fix Bush's insanely misguided policies, we must also fix the broken processes that allowed them to ever see the light of day.

On the subject of Bush's personally slinging mud, no, he doesn't call anyone "Poopy Pants," but here's an illustrative quote from just last week:
Congress must make a choice: Will they keep the intelligence gap closed by making [Bush's evisceration of the FISA law] permanent? Or will they limit our ability to collect this intelligence and keep us safe, staying a step ahead of the terrorists who want to attack us? — George W. Bush, 2007-10-10
So, anyone who opposes Bush's watering down of the protections of the FISA law — a law that was enacted precisely because the Executive Branch had, under orders from President Nixon, routinely eavesdropped on Americans in direct contravention of the Fourth Amendment — wants to hinder the ability of the government to protect America from terrorists. In other words, "You support my legislation, or you are a traitor and a fool."

Tony Snow chides the Democrats for partisanship because they didn't leap on board Bush's new "greenest ever" energy policy. Let's see: he still wants to drill in ANWR, last I checked, and his program for corn ethanol isn't an energy policy, it's a corn farmer subsidy program. His insistence that all emissions reductions be entirely voluntary undermines his entire "green" position. Likewise with No Child Left Behind, many Democrats oppose it because they believe it to be fundamentally misguided policy. That's not partisanship for the sake of partisanship, it's a legitimate policy disagreement. But Bush and his backers consistently paint any disagreement as nothing more than petty partisan squabbling.

There is one respect in which Bush's policies cannot be described as irrational. Viewed through the lens of what is best for the United States of America, they are insane, counterproductive, and downright frightening. Viewed, however, through the lens of what is best for the Imperial Presidency, the wealthiest Americans, the big corporations, and the narrow circle of his close political contributors and ideological backers, Bush's policies make complete sense. The Iraq War is welfare for Halliburton and Blackwater. Ignoring the hurricane bearing down on New Orleans and taking no measures to coordinate the evacuation and relief efforts is fostering distrust of government as a tool for helping ordinary people. The Energy Task Force is a way of funneling money from the public purse into oil company profits. Politicizing the Department of Justice and the courts is a way of pushing an ideological agenda through activist conservative judges and prosecutors who take a hands-off attitude on crimes by Republicans.

Note: Click where you see "Labels: transcript" below to see other transcripts of politically enlightening interviews.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

Video links and transcript below the fold...

Read More......

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why Shawn Hornbeck didn't run

Back in January, I posted an entry about the case of Shawn Hornbeck, the Missouri boy who was kidnaped and held for four years by Michael Devlin, a pizzeria manager. One of the burning questions at the time was, why didn't Shawn run away? He appeared to have had ample opportunity to escape — he was often left unsupervised, and had at least some access to telephone and Internet. Bill O'Reilly and some others took the position that "obviously" Shawn must've been enjoying himself, or he would've made some attempt at escape. To this day, the most disturbing comments that have ever been posted by the readers here at The Third Path were in that thread. One of the comments suggested that Shawn "enjoyed his private and independent life with his pal [Devlin]," and callously ignored his parents' distress because he was having a good time playing hooky, and perhaps even actively participated in the abduction of the second boy.

Today we learned the truth, and all the people like Billo and "Therran" are shown for the insensitive idiots they truly are. It is they — not Shawn — who are Michael Devlin's accessories in crime.

Shawn Hornbeck didn't try to run away because Michael Devlin had already tried to kill him at least once. Any unsuccessful escape attempt could have been fatal. Shawn made a deal with the devil — rather more literally than the phrase is usually used — that he would do whatever Devlin asked, if only Devlin would let him live. He made that deal as Devlin's hands were around his neck, trying to kill him. We know that Shawn was not only sexually abused, but also tortured, because Devlin kept the video he made. We know that Shawn was kept tied to a bed for weeks at a time, with duct tape on his mouth. How many adults do you know who could go through that sort of horror with their faculties intact? But Shawn wasn't an adult. He wasn't even in junior high yet when he was kidnaped at gunpoint.

I said it nine months ago, and I'll say it again: just because you don't see the reason for someone's apparently "irrational" behavior, doesn't mean that there isn't a reason.

Technorati tags: , ,

Read More......

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Seymour Hersch on Inside Iraq

On this week's Inside Iraq on Al Jazeera English, the first half of the program was a one-on-one interview with Seymour Hersch of The New Yorker magazine. The second half was a discussion with Dr. Seyed Mohammad Marandi, professor of North American Studies at Tehran University, and John Alterman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The topic was the possibility of a U.S. military attack against Iran at some time before the end of George W. Bush's term as President [2009-01-20].

Here is the transcript of the first half of the program, the interview with Seymour Hersch. ©2007, Al Jazeera English, original air date 2007-10-05.

Jasim Azzawi: Hello and welcome to Inside Iraq. I'm Jasim Azzawi. Reports indicate the Pentagon's growing plans to attack Iran. A routine procedure, or an indication of a regional war before President Bush ends his term? If Iran's nuclear dream goes up in smoke, will U.S. soldiers in Iraq become Iran's favorite target, and will the Iraqi government and militias side with the mullahs in Tehran or the Great Satan? Raoui Raggeh reports.
All options are on the table. — Bush
All options are still on the table. — Cheney
If you're in Iraq and trying to kill our troops, then you should consider yourself a target. — [U.S. official]
[correspondent]: If there's one thing the US Administration has made clear in its policy towards Iran, it is: the US has the option of carrying out a military strike on Iran. Recent reports indicate that if the attack were to take place, it's not about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Rather, it's about its alleged role in backing Iraqi fighters and providing weapons that end up killing American soldiers. But can the country currently embroiled in the Iraq war, and the source of so much resentment across the world, carry out another military strike.

[analyst]: Iran is not Iraq. They are different. Iran is not Afghanistan. And at the same time, I really believe the American people [are] fed up with the corpses of their girls and boys coming back from Iraq.

[correspondent]: Reports suggest there's internal dissent within the Bush White House over what course of action the Administration should take against Iran. On one side, proponents of a more aggressive approach, led by Dick Cheney, have recently been able to get the State Department to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. But what would a strike on Iran mean on America's endeavors in Iraq and the broader Middle East in general?

[analyst]: Iran will attack not only Israel, but the American administration in the Gulf. That means Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, all the countries.

[correspondent]: It's highly unlikely that a US strike on Iran could encourage the Iranian regime, or the Revolutionary Guards, to change their ways. In fact, it's likely to cause a surge in sympathy towards Iran around the Arab world, and from Iraqi politicians and clerics. A possible influx of Arab fighters could be expected. If the United States has learned anything from its endeavor in Iraq, there'd better be an idea this time around about what's to follow a possible strike on Iran. Raoui Raggeh on Inside Iraq.
Azzawi: To examine whether a U.S. military strike against Iran is a rumor or hard fact, I am joined from Washington by New Yorker magazine reporter Seymour Hersch. Welcome to Inside Iraq. Mr. Hersch, in your article you said that plans by the Pentagon are being redrawn, perhaps selecting the specific targets for the US military to strike. Is this part of a regular, routine procedure, or is this driven by political consideration in Washington, D.C., as well as hard facts on the ground in Iraq?

Seymour Hersch: Well, it's beyond just normal. There's of course, always, always contingency planning. In other words, my government's always planning for everything, you know, every contingency possible. But in the case of Iran, it's a little more complicated, and it's gone well beyond the normal contingency planning and what the military would call operational planning. This has been going on, you know, I've been writing the same story now for almost 2½ years. The planning traditionally, until recently, the American planning was targeted mostly, largely at the Iranian nuclear facilities, Natans and other places that were very hard targets. Natans, for example, is 75 feet [22 meters] underground. And that was the planning until what I reported in the New Yorker this week, is that there was a sudden change this summer. For a number of reasons, they decided the American government would no longer target primarily Iran's nuclear facilities, but instead go after the Revolutionary Guards.

Azzawi: Wouldn't that be the same for Iran? I mean, if American fighter-bombers come and bomb targets within Iran, does it make much difference to them whether they are hitting the Revolutionary Guards or the nuclear facilities? Wouldn't the response by Iran be the same regardless?

Hersch: Washington's thinking is that they've been telling the world for the last 2 or 3 months that the Revolutionary Guards are responsible — indirectly — with supplies and ammunitions and guidance responsible for the deaths of American soldiers and British soldiers, coalition soldiers, in Iraq. And that has been a new thesis put out by this President since early summer: Iran is directly involved in the problems we're having in Iraq. The British say the same things about the problems they had in Basra; as you know, they're leaving the south gradually, not so gradually, and they blame the Iranians, too. Of course, the case isn't that clear, so the thinking is that the American public would accept a cross-border raid, a raid on revolutionary camps, and some of our allies, Britain in particular, might even go along with the idea of limited raids. So, from the American point of view, this is a huge change from what we call counter-proliferation.

Azzawi: If that is the case, Mr. Hersch, what would be the spark in order to precipitate this military strike? Would it be some sort of miscalculation by Iran? Would it be an increase in the IPF or IED or even the money or training for the militias? Like you said, you've been writing about this for 2½ years, and the last two articles indicated somehow there might be a military strike against Iran. President Bush leaves office January 20, 2009. He's a lame duck, perhaps next year. Will this be indicated or driven by time or driven by other factors like Cheney, as you suggested in your article?

Hersch: Well, one of the things that would certainly trigger it would be if the Iranians did something across the border, made a serious raid. I quote one American general as saying it would take 10 American — 10 dead soldiers and 4 burned trucks, and that would be enough of a casus belli. That would be a justification. There's no evidence that Iran has done any military action across the border. There's also no evidence — there's a great dispute, as I said — about the extent to which the Iranian arms and et cetera aid is any different than it was over the last 20 years.

Azzawi: They are not that stupid, are they, Mr. Hersch, to give Mr Bush the casus belli as you said, for Cheney and Cole to start, you know, driving the President, as well as the other establishment, to say, "This is it. This is what we've been looking for. Let's go after them"? The Iranians so far have been extremely careful. Their calculus is very meticulous. While it's true they are supporting the militias with military training and arms and money, and yet, even commanders on the ground are saying that it is not very explicit.

Hersch: Well, you know, there is always Ahmadinejad. The Americans can always fall back on him, but I don't think his statements are going to be enough of a driving force. It certainly doesn't help Iran's position in America when he does things like challenge the Holocaust; that's quite foolish in my book, but that isn't a military action. I think you're right: so far, the Iranians have been very, very careful about what they do, and the aid they provide, particularly to their fellow Shi'ites in the South, is essentially the same aid they've been providing since Saddam was in power and putting his foot on the neck of the Shias all the time, so there's always been a tremendous tie, as everybody in your audience knows, between the Shias of Iran and the Shias of Iraq, and there, unfortunately, is America's dilemma.

Azzawi: I don't know whether President Bush is a poker player or not, but when you play poker and pretty much, as the game comes to a close and you lose all your money, oftentimes poker players double down, they put the last chip they have on the table with a view of recouping their earlier losses. Is the President perhaps that kind of a guy? The dominant thinking in this region is, since the President made a huge, calamitous gamble in Iraq and he lost, the only way he can recoup his credibility and perhaps some interest for the United States is by going up to Iran. Does that play in Washington?

Hersch: Well, that's certainly the concern of some of the people with whom I talk. That is, there's a fear that the President — this may not be necessarily a rational act — there's a tremendous opposition, but, you know, I just happened to have breakfast with somebody this morning who knows the Pentagon, who described people there, worried in the military, worried about what they see as a messianic President. I have no idea what George Bush is really thinking on the inside. I can just tell you, I've been watching this President for a long time, and the one thing that's interesting about George Bush is, I do believe him when he says things. He said he was going to go into Iraq, and he's making threats to Iran right now, he's constantly threatening them, and he's saying in private, he's making clear in private, that he would very much like to go. I report some of that in the article in the New Yorker this week.

Azzawi: Political analysts, including Mr Antony Cordesman, have this theory that right now it does not make sense for the US to attack Iran, especially its nuclear facilities, simply because we don't know the extent of that facility, how far advanced it is, perhaps about 5 to 7 years away, as Mr El-Baradei of the IAEA says, so, why attack it now? Why not let the Iranians spend the energy and the money and bring it to almost fruition, to about 90% or 95%, and then the next President has the luxury of attacking it and get Iranians to spend another 20, 30 years in order to bring it back again. What do you think of that theory? Because, simply, the military and strategic assets right now do not exist in the region. Most of the carriers have gone.

Hersch: You know, you can ask me questions, hypothetical questions, all week. What I do in my articles and my basic, when I do interviews, I try to stick — I'm not a theorist, and when it comes to guessing about what's going to happen, I will tell you that I think it's very likely, and from what I understand, this President, George Bush, sees himself as "The Man," and he's not sure that the next President, whether Democrat or Republican, would have the integrity, in his view, or the courage, in his view, in his belief, to do what he can do.

Azzawi: Given the fact that this final act by President Bush might not be played according to some sort of calculus and logic, I was surprised and fascinated by a quote you have in the article, "Shifting Targets," by somebody saying, "Cheney does not give a rat's ass about the Republicans," so this is above and beyond politics right now? This is driven by some sort of a special agenda within a certain group within the White House and the executives?

Hersch: Oh, yes. I don't think there's any question there are many people who believe any rational assessment of the situation would preclude going to Iran. There's just too many things. Iran has too much potential to strike back. I saw some senior — for this article, I saw some senior European intelligence officials, who believe Iran would not strike back at America or Israel, but would strike asymmetrically other targets, perhaps oil targets and gas targets in the Gulf, to drive the price up, perhaps go back to terrorism and even trigger activities against Americans or Europeans in Europe or even Latin America, bring in Hezbollah, perhaps.

Azzawi: Mr. Seymour Hersch of The New Yorker magazine, thank you for being a guest on Inside Iraq.

[voiceover]: No President, at any juncture in history, has ever taken military options off the table. — Dan Bartlett, White House spokesman
I very much agree with Jasim's point that Bush is like a gambler who has been losing big and is ready to go all-in. The problem is, our soldiers and our grandchildren's taxes are the chips. No sane person would order an attack on Iran, but it remains to be seen whether or not George W. Bush will.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Friday, October 05, 2007

New Mexico's new area code

My two key interests are politics and telecommunications. Every once in a while, the two intersect. The state of New Mexico, which has been served by the single area code 505 since area codes were created in 1947, gets a second code on Sunday. Several years ago, there were plans for an area code split. Rural commissioners on the NM-PRC overrode the commissioners from the more urban part of the state; the result was that Albuquerque and Santa Fe would've changed to the new code, leaving most of the state in 505. (There is precedent for such a move. In eastern Kentucky, the urban areas of Lexington and the Cincinnati suburbs changed to 859 while the rural areas kept 606.) However, the issue was kicked down the road a couple of years by number conservation measures.

When the need to split again rose to the surface, the urban commissioners managed to swing the vote their way: Albuquerque and Santa Fe will remain 505, while places like Las Cruces, Roswell, and Tucumcari change to 575. The boundary has a rather odd shape, looking a bit like a dragon in flight, or perhaps a dog crawling out from under a blanket.

If you have friends in New Mexico, specifically in the yellow area of the map above, you have until 2008-10-05 — a year from today — to get used to the new area code.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Read More......

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pat Buchanan comes out as a Leftie!

I'm sitting here on my futon, watching the postgame on MSNBC after the Democratic debate. There was lots of good stuff in the debate, with some distinctions made between the candidates' various positions on issues like Iraq and Social Security and even Iran. On Iraq, Edwards said that, if he is the nominee,

When I am on the stage with the Republican nominee, come the fall of 2008, I'm gonna make it clear that I'm for ending the war, and the debate will be between a Democrat, who wants to bring the war to an end, get all the American combat troops out of Iraq, and a Republican who wants to continue the war.
Well, yeah, actually we have been waiting for somebody higher in the polls than Kwhocinich to say it in that kind of unequivocal language. Hillary clarified that she might continue a combat presence on a strictly anti-terrorism mission against al Qaeda, but would bring home "the vast majority of our combat troops."

But there's a reason my headline names Pat Buchanan instead of one of the actual candidates....

Firstly, a couple of quick references on Pat Buchanan, for those few readers to whom his name is anything less than nauseatingly familiar: his own website and blog, and his Wikipedia entry. In brief, he was a speechwriter for Nixon, ran for President in 1992, 1996, and 2000, and set the Republicans off on the wrong foot in the '92 campaign by giving a speech that introduced the phrase "culture war" into watercooler conversations. He was anti-feminist, anti-gay-rights, anti-abortion, and decidedly pro-religious-Right; chaaaaaarming.

After the debate tonight, Buchanan and Chris Matthews ("Tweety" as many on DailyKos call him, although I think that's unfairly dismissive) were dissecting the statements, the motivations, the who scored a point with what segment of the audience. They specifically addressed a question from the debate about the designation of not just the Iranian Quds Force, but the entire Revolutionary Guard, as a terrorist organization; Buchanan pitched his case that Edwards is running too far to the left, in hopes of catching the support of the Base, but endangering his prospects next fall in the process. It is absolutely beyond me that anyone thinks that Pat Buchanan stands at a good vantage point for assessing the views of the great political Center, the expanding waistline of America's fast-food politics. You'd need somebody to the Left of Lenin to properly "balance" Buchanan. But then, he revealed his dirty little secret: Pat Buchanan is actually a Leftie!
Matthews: But was Edwards right that [the Kyl–Lieberman amendment] was just another version of the Iraqi Liberation Act, another prelude to war?

Buchanan: Look, I agree with Edwards' position.

Matthews: Isn't his main argument that this is setting up an excuse to go to war —

Buchanan: Oh, he's exactly right!

Matthews: — We're declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, which gives a justification to the President to act.

Buchanan: They're moving incrementally to give the President a blank check to attack Iran, correct. Politically she's still helping herself in the center, and Edwards is helping himself on the Left.
So, let's recap the recap. John Edwards is going too far to the left for the broader American public. He's chasing after that Liberal, Leftie, MoveOn, DailyKos kind of voter, but thereby hurting his chances with Joe Average. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is putting forward the right balance of hawk and dove, politically speaking, to get her elected President. However, Pat Buchanan, who clearly thinks he is Mr. Right in more ways than one, not only agrees with Edwards, but believes that the alternative — the bizarre marriage of convenience between the neocons and the more timid Democrats, cheerfully giving Dubya yet more power — is a threat to our national security.

In short, by his very own logic, Pat Buchanan is a part of that Leftie base to whom John Edwards is pitching. (Either that, or it's further proof that the Left and the Right have ganged up to crush the Center.)

P.S. The answer I was waiting to hear to the last question of the night (Sox or Yankees?): "I honestly don't have a horse in that race. They're both fine teams, but one lesson from the Iraq War is, Don't go running into the middle of some historic rivalry. I'll let the score of the game settle the question of which team is better."

...obligatory plug for my own blog, "The Third Path"

Technorati tags: , , , , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York City to give a speech before the United Nations General Assembly. However, while he is in town, he has a few other items on his itinerary. He has asked to be allowed to visit Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers stood, but officials refused, saying that it would have been a "travesty" to give him such a propaganda coup. Never mind that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Iran was firmly on the U.S. side against the al Qaeda terrorists; in particular, the Shia theocracy in Iran is not on friendly terms with the Sunni Wahhabbis of al Qaeda. They are in fact mortal enemies, just as Saddam and al Qaeda were mortal enemies. Not all enemies of the United States are friends with each other. (Duh!)

Bucking strong criticism, though, Columbia University invited Ahmadinejad to speak at a forum including questions submitted by students. If Ahmadinejad had any illusions of being warmly received by a sympathetic audience, he was disabused from the very start, beginning with his introduction by the president of the university. Ahmadinejad further shamed himself by spouting a series of delusional claims.

In the introduction for Ahmadinejad, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said, "Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." He went on to confront Ahmadinejad over his "doubts" that the Holocaust — "the most documented event in human history" — actually happened, and over his treatment of dissidents, women, and homosexuals.

On the question of the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad said that we need to question history (an entirely valid point) and that "further research" is necessary (a fatuous lie). He said, "If the Holocaust is a reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?" And what, exactly, might those "different perspectives" be, Mr. Ahmadinejad? The "perspective" that the Jews deserved to be exterminated? The "perspective" that every bad thing in the Middle East, or perhaps even in the world, is caused by a vast Jewish conspiracy? The "perspective" that we should consider the possible role of space aliens in the disappearance of 6 million Jews? Or that it was all just smoke and mirrors to cover up something else?

The Iranian régime's record regarding political dissidents is also well documented. For starters, Abdollah Momeni, Mansour Osanlou, Haleh Esfandari, Kian Tajbakhsh, Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Akbar Ganji, Mohammad Mohammadi-Gorgani, Ali Mohammadi-Gorgani, Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, Nezameddin Ghahari, Mohammad Mohammadi Ardehali, Ali Reza Rajaei, Massoud Pedram, Nasser Hashemi-Rad, Dr. Reza Reiss-Toussi, Dr. Hossein Rafei, Dr. Mohammad Malekei, Dr. Habibollah Peiman, Marzeih Mortazi, Morteza Kazemian, Mohammad Basteh-Negar, Taghi Rahmani, Saeid Madani, Mahmoud Omarani, Fatemeh Govaraei, Bahman Rezakhani, Shapour Bakhtiar, Mehdi Ebrahimzadeh, Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, and Amir Abbas Fakhravar came up in just a quick Google search. All of those people have been killed, imprisoned, or forced into exile for their political views. Applicants to university graduate programs must pass an ideological screening to ensure that they are loyal to the government. Any sort of activism, whether for women's rights, gay rights, secular government, free press, or human rights in general, is brutally repressed.

On the topic of homosexuality, though, Ahmadinejad said that in Iran, "In Iran we do don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you we have it." The often-quoted figure of 10% of the population is in truth nothing more than a guesstimate; however, it is unmistakably clear that there have been homosexuals (as we now understand the term) in every culture, in every corner of the earth, in every era and epoch of human history back to the dawn of our species — and there will always be. On the specific case of present-day Iran, though, if there are no homosexuals in Iran, why are there such specific and detailed laws against gay sex? There are no laws pertaining to unicorns, dragons, or the Tooth Fairy, but Articles 108 to 134 of the Iranian penal code prescribe which acts are punished with mere whipping and which are punished by death. A man can be executed on conviction for sodomy, or on a fourth conviction for frottage; a woman can be executed on a fourth conviction for consensual sex with another woman.

Ahmadinejad is eternally full of self-confidence, but I think it's fair to say he got more than he bargained for at Columbia University this afternoon.

Technorati tags: , , , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Why I watch Al Jazeera

Tuesday night, I finally saw the film Control Room, a documentary about Al Jazeera and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It got me thinking about the real lessons of 9/11, and the ways in which American policy has gone horribly wrong in the 1,644 days since the invasion began. Bush and his crew think that our security depends on a macho display of military might and unwavering determination to kill rather than be killed. They also view news coverage of the war and its casualties to be at best a nuisance to be corralled and managed, but all too often as part and parcel of the enemy. In the invasion of Baghdad, the US Army and Air Force intentionally targeted the offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi television, and the hotel used by Reuters and many other international journalists. The official military reports claim that hostile fire originated from exactly those specific buildings, but it's difficult to see targeted strikes on three media outlets, all of whose precise GPS coordinates had been given in advance to the military, as anything other than an assault on the concept of a free press. The saddest part is that a free and open world press is our best hope in bringing global terrorism to an end.

President Bush chose to make the so-called war on terror a shooting war when he invaded Iraq, but he has neglected the media war, much to the detriment of US interests. There's no way around it: the United States is losing the media war in the Middle East, and losing it badly. We need to make a compelling narrative for the rest of the Muslim world — the 99.9% of Muslims on earth who are not part of al Qaeda — that they should, individually and collectively, actively oppose the methods of al Qaeda, even if they have sympathy with some of its grievances against the West. That's how we get the "human intelligence" on the terrorist operations: someone with inside knowledge turns in the cell that's planning a car bomb or a suitcase nuke or anything in between. It's also how we dry up the supply of new recruits. We've got to make it un-cool for young Muslim men to go off and join al Qaeda. We live in the nation that raised advertising to its pinnacle, persuading millions of people that their lives will be incomplete unless they get the latest gadget, gizmo, antiperspirant, or penis pill, but we are getting clocked in a P.R. battle by a bunch of guys in a cave.

Right now, the America™ and Al Qaeda™ brand names are competing for popularity in a key demographic: Muslim men, age mid-teens to thirtysomething, devoutly religious, alienated, and deeply resentful of something or someone. The Iraq War was George W. Bush's effort at making Uncle Sam the new pin-up poster for angry Muslim youth. Trouble is, that poster is adorned with a bullseye instead of hearts and flowers. Our military operations in Iraq have been abyssmally unsuccessful in convincing the pool of potential future terrorists, not to mention the majority of the Iraqi people, that America is more their friend than Osama is. The question of whether the US-led invasion of Iraq was justified will be has already been decided in the court of global public opinion, not domestic, and that verdict includes the continuation of the occupation.

To regain any credibility whatsoever in Iraq, and in the broader Muslim world, the United States needs to deal honestly with the effects of the war on the Iraqi people. Hundreds of thousands are dead, millions have fled into exile in neighboring countries, millions more are in exile within Iraq, millions have been wounded, and the economic infrastructure has been devastated. So long as the occupation continues, and especially so long as the occupation continues with such evident disregard for the suffering of the Iraqis, those wounds will not heal. Donald Rumsfeld put it well: "It seems to me that it's up to all of us to try to tell the truth, to say what we know, to say what we don't know, and realize that we're dealing with people that are perfectly willing to lie to the world to attempt to further their case. And to the extent people lie, ultimately, they are caught lying and they lose their credibility, and one would think it wouldn't take long for that to happen, dealing with people like this." As much as the Bush Administration has lied to the American people about the war, it has lied far more egregiously to the people of the world, and it has been caught out.

Captain Josh Rushing, a CENTCOM spokesperson, says in Control Room: "I really think the big thing for my generation is for these two perspectives — my perspective, the Western perspective, and the Arab perspective — to understand each other better. It's our responsibility to reach out and try to understand their perspective, and I hope they feel the same way, that they need to reach out and understand our perspective. Because, truly, the two worlds are colliding at a rapid rate right now." Josh Rushing put that sentiment to work when he signed on with the new English-language Al Jazeera channel. I share the sentiment, and that's why I watch Al Jazeera English, to see, in the words of their taglines, "Every angle, every side. ... If it's newsworthy, it gets on air, whether it's Bush or Bin Laden." The most important program in my TV week, even above Colbert and Bill Maher, is Inside Iraq, the only source I trust for a perspective on the war unfiltered by the Bushies. It airs at 10:30 A.M. on Fridays, with reruns through the weekend.

Dedicated to the memory of Tareq Ayyoub, a correspondent killed by a U.S. air strike targeting Al Jazeera's Baghdad office.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Monday, September 17, 2007

Federal prosecutor, child predator?

What happens if you cross the U.S. Attorneys scandal with Dateline: To Catch a Predator? WDIV–TV in Detroit, Michigan, is reporting that John David R. Atchison, an assistant U.S. attorney for the northern district of Florida (roughly, the Florida panhandle), was arrested over the weekend and arraigned this afternoon on charges of soliciting sex with a five-year-old girl — a kindergartener. According to detectives, Atchison contacted an undercover officer posing as her mother and arranged to fly to Detroit to have sex with the girl. He also reportedly responded to the "mother's" concern about physically harming the "daughter" with assurances that "I've done this plenty." Yikes.

My mind balks at the very thought of an adult — in this case, a 53-year-old man — having sex with a child who hasn't even started first grade. Dateline mostly shows people pursuing meetings with girls and boys they believe to be in their teens, or occasionally as young as 12, but not anything close to kindergarten. It's not just a whole different ballgame, it's a whole different league. I can understand seeing a sexy teenager and saying to yourself, in the immortal words of Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) in Talladega Nights, "Please be 18! Please be 18! Please be 18!" But the flip side of that coin is that, if the teen turns out to be under the age of consent, (s)he is strictly "don't touch, don't approach, don't even undress with your eyes." On the other hand, if you look at a five-year-old child and think of having sex with that child, run, do not walk, to the nearest psychiatrist. I'm entirely in favor of the freedom of consenting adults in private to do pretty nearly whatever they want, but a five-year-old is nothing close to a consenting adult.

This guy, though, apparently did much more than think about having sex with a child. He planned in advance, and flew 800 miles, allegedly for a weekend tryst with a child much closer to her diaper days than to her first training bra. Not only that, but the alleged perpetrator is not merely a cop, but a prosecutor. Since he crossed state lines, the crime of which he is accused could carry federal charges, leading to the ever-so-slightly awkward situation of being prosecuted by one of his colleagues.

Since this guy is presumably a Republican, and a member of the Bush Administration, it is tempting to throw a partisan spin on the scandal. However, John David R. Atchison isn't so much a Republican alleged sicko as a plain old alleged sicko. All the same, I expect that Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig will be relieved to have a bit less of the spotlight as this new scandal unfolds. Who knows — it might even distract people from the latest charges against O.J.

Technorati tags: , ,

My commentary below the fold...

Read More......

Friday, September 14, 2007

Inside Iraq special on the Petraeus report

Al Jazeera English has the definitive "must-see" weekly discussion for anyone interested in the situation in Iraq, Inside Iraq. This week's program was an hour-long special devoted to reactions to this week's testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker to committees of the US Congress. The first half of the show featured four panelists in Washington, discussing the ramifications of the Petraeus report in US politics; the second half featured the Iraqi foreign minister and two policy analysts, one from America and one from Egypt. As important as the US domestic political scene is to the conduct of the Iraq Occupation, we mustn't forget about the effects our policy has on Iraq and its neighbors.

Inside Iraq, special edition, original air date 2007-09-14, ©2007 Al Jazeera English.

NOTE: an audio glitch in my Internet feed caused the loss of a few seconds from the transcript. If I can catch a rebroadcast of the show, I'll try to fill in the gap.Update: the gap has now been filled in, with the text in reddish-brown.

Hoda Abdel-Hamid: Hello, and welcome to a special edition of Inside Iraq. I'm Hoda Abdel-Hamid. General David Petraeus and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, have said that the US troop surge is working, but both men faced tough questions during their testimonies, in particular from the Democrats. President Bush has accepted the advice of Petraeus of a limited troop withdrawal by next July, but the issue of Iraq is fueling tensions within the United States, and is likely to be the key topic in the US Presidential campaign next year. In the first half of this program, we look at the implications of the Petraeus report within the United States, and in the second half, we focus on what the American policy might mean for Iraq and its neighbors. But first, let's take a look at the man who has become so linked to President Bush's surge policy. Raoui Raggeh(sp?) reports.

[correspondent]: He's always tried to be a different kind of soldier. Understanding the local culture, talking to tribal leaders — that's been the policy of General David Petraeus. As commander of the 101st Airborne Division, he became involved in reconstruction and securing local elections. That approach is what enabled him to write what's considered the definitive manual on counterinsurgency. He was also put in charge of training the new Iraqi army. Washington saw him as the man who could save Iraq. He was chosen in January as the public face of President Bush's surge policy. The 54-year-old New Yorker bore all the hallmarks of a PR sell. General Petraeus reached new heights of exposure in recent days, giving his assessment of the situation in Iraq before Congress.

Gen. David Petraeus: As the bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met.

[correspondent]: It was the most anticipated presentation by an army officer since 1967, when General William Westmoreland testified about the Vietnam War. That conflict was the subject of Petraeus' Ph.D. dissertation; his topic had been the lessons the US military could learn from the Vietnam War. Some critics say, all these years later, the general had failed to heed his own advice. In his testimony, Petraeus warned against a quick withdrawal from Iraq, but even before the testimony, as leaks trickled out to the international media, there was uproar about what the general was about to say. An American anti-war group took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, accusing General Petraeus of "cooking the books for the White House." General Petraeus or Betray Us, it asked.

[voiceover]: And his recommendations didn't exactly "fly" on Capitol Hill.

Tom Lantos (D–CA-12): This is not a knock on you, General Petraeus ... but the fact remains, gentlemen, that the Administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand. With all due respect to you, I don't buy it.

Barbara Boxer (D–CA): Please don't what you did in '04, when you painted a rosy scenario in an op-ed piece, turned out to be wrong, like you did in '05, when you told us — and we believed you — that the Iraqis were just about there, they were going to take over their own defense. And please consider that others could be right.

Colin Powell: [before the UN Security Council, 2003-02-05] If concentrated into this dry form....

[correspondent]: In 2003, General Colin Powell managed to win over doubters with his presentation before the United Nations, in the build-up to the war in Iraq. Ultimately, that presentation destroyed Powell's credibility — a risk General Petraeus is facing as he attempts to convince Congress to stay the course. Raoui Raggeh for Inside Iraq.

Abdel-Hamid: So, is General Petraeus under pressure from the politics from the Iraq War, what are the implications of his report in the run-up to the US Presidential elections next year? To discuss these issues, I'm joined by four guests from Washington D.C.: Mr. Edward Walker, former US [Assistant] Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt; Patrick Clawson, Deputy Director for Research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Steve Clemons, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation; and retired Lieutenant General Robert Gard, who today serves as the senior military fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Gentlemen, welcome to Inside Iraq.

Mr. Gard, let me start with you: was the General Petraeus assessment an objective military assessment, or was it a politicized report?

Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (ret.): I believe that General Petraeus is honest. When you give someone in uniform a mission, he's gonna do everything he can to accomplish it, and I think it's part of the human condition that one tends to look at what seems to be working and to capitalize on it. I don't believe that he at least was a political instrument of the President in a direct way, although he certainly was indirectly.

Abdel-Hamid: Well, Patrick Clawson, didn't Petraeus give us a bit of an impression that it was — that the surge was working and actually security was improving?

Patrick Clawson: Well, the surge has been improving security, and that is the area that Petraeus was concentrating on. Now along with him, also Ambassador Crocker testified, and Amb. Crocker said that the political situation, on the other hand, has not improved very much, so we got quite a mixed message from the two presentations. Amb. Crocker's message was really quite a bit more negative than that of Gen. Petraeus, and if I had been one of Pres. Bush's political opponents up there on the Hill, I would've been giving much more attention to Amb. Crocker's presentation, which described a rather difficult political situation rather than Gen. Petraeus' testimony, which described a somewhat improving military situation.

Abdel-Hamid: But, Mr. Walker, this surge had twofold: on one side, the security, and on the other side, the Iraqi government had to meet some essential benchmarks and kick-start this political process that's going nowhere, so how can we really say that the surge is working?

Edward Walker: Well, you can say the surge is working because it has created some stability in small portions of Iraq, typically some Sunni areas that were a mess before. I think Petraeus is right: the situation is better. Whether it's sustainable or not is another question, but on the political side, what Ryan Crocker was pointing out was, we seem to be walking away from the central government, or its control of the situation, and moving much more towards regional agreements among tribal units, in order to provide stability, economic growth, and so on, and not depend on the central government, except for a check occasionally.

Abdel-Hamid: As the surge started, Pres. Bush said that there would be eighteen benchmarks that the Iraqi government had to meet, and that he would be extremely strict about that, but during the entire week, we heard very little about these benchmarks. Is he changing the course; what's happening?

Walker: Of course he's changing the course; those benchmarks are gone. Maybe someday they'll be accepted, but the current strategy is to break the country down into political units and drive for political agreement within each of these units, to reduce the stress and reduce the security problem, and someday maybe we'll get back to those 18 benchmarks.

Abdel-Hamid: So, Steve Clemons, at the moment, can we say in any way, I mean for the outside world, that what we heard the entire week in Washington was actually something trying to salvage Pres. Bush than really actually giving a clear assessment of what's happening in Iraq?

Steve Clemons: Well, I think Gen. Petraeus gave Pres. Bush a really important gift, and that gift was, he seduced Democratic critics and potential Republican defectors from the President's position into a debate about tactics — tactics that really don't address the broad geo-strategic question, and what really got avoided and set aside was the question you're asking, which is the big question about strategy: what are we seeking to achieve? And the President has slipped through, and I think he's done a very good job. His speech last night was very compelling, seemed sincere; the swagger was gone, and he's offered something that was structural, which was to reduce the military component by about 30,000 troops, which we were going to probably need to do next spring anyway, and in doing so, he's probably stemmed the tide of Republican defections and held the coalition supporting his views together, so I think that we've been drawn into a debate about tactics. What was interesting about Petraeus' comments was that, at best, we're talking about nuances. Clearly, Gen. Petraeus is telling the truth about the empirical results as he sees them about levels of violence in Anbar and certain sections of Baghdad, but we're still talking about nuances. If it were clear-as-day success, we would not be having the debate we are.

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Gard, now, Pres. Bush and Petraeus were talking about pulling out troops, but when you pull out these 30,000 "surge" troops, isn't there a risk that the security situation will just deteriorate very quickly, I mean, you take off the lid and what happens next?

Gard: Well, I think that certainly is the case. That is a matter of concern. But the draw-down of this number of troops is inevitable, unless you change your deployment policies and increase deployments from, say, 15 to 18 months, or to call back on duty National Guardsmen and Reservists who have only recently returned from being deployed. Politically, that probably is not doable at this point.

Abdel-Hamid: Patrick Clawson, so, at the end of the day, don't you get the impression that really all these security gains they're talking about actually aren't official, and it's all because there are so many troops and so many joint command centers in the middle of Baghdad, and really nothing has been solved on the ground in Baghdad?

Clawson: One of the greatest security improvements has been in Anbar province, and that has come because of a decision by a significant portion of the Sunni population to work with the Americans in order to get rid of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the surge has helped facilitate that process, but the basic change was a decision by Iraqis, the Sunni community in particular, to work with the Americans, and the Americans correspondingly made a big adjustment in their strategy and decided to work with the local Sunni community and not to insist that that community depend on the national government in Baghdad, but instead the Americans are helping empower those Sunni communities to run their own affairs. So we see a considerable improvement in the security situation related to the surge, but basically because of the actions of Iraqis. That's been, in fact, a bigger change than what's happened in Baghdad, where the Americans have been concentrating their efforts.

Abdel-Hamid: We'll take a short break now, but when we come back, we'll continue with our analysis of the Petraeus report.

[voiceover]: Changing the definition of success to stay the course, with the wrong policy, is the wrong course for our troops and our national security. — Barack Obama, US Senator, Presidential candidate 2008

[commercial break]

[voiceover]: It's good news that he feels we will be able to withdraw some troops. To change the strategy from the surge would be a terrific mistake. — John McCain, US Senator, Presidential candidate 2008

Abdel-Hamid: Welcome back to Inside Iraq. With me are Edward Walker, Robert Gard, Patrick Clawson, and Steve Clemons. Mr. Walker, how much of what happened this entire week was for US domestic consumption, rather than really a fair assessment of the situation in Iraq and how to look forward?

Walker: Actually, I think it was a relatively fair assessment, if you look at what was said and don't pay too much attention to what was not said, because it's some of the things that were not said that have caused the problems. I think that it was very much designed for the American people. It was designed to give the President the running room to run this policy out through the summer, and then on into the end of his administration, and I think he's been successful in that. It was also a guarded message to the Iranians, and to al Qaeda, but not as aggressive as he has been in the past, so there was a nuance there, and particularly when you look at Crocker's testimony about the talks with the Iranians, he clearly has not given up on them.

Abdel-Hamid: Steve Clemons, when we say that what has not been said, we shouldn't focus on, but isn't what has not been said really the most crucial of the entire situation in Iraq, which is, what is the Maliki government doing at this stage?

Clemons: I think that is one of the key questions, and, you know, one of the major news networks here, CNN, did a profile of the President's prime-time speeches and the way in which the President's own narrative had changed dramatically, and I think that there some questions about benchmarks, but really the political reconciliation — I think Patrick Clawson is exactly right, right on the money, in focusing on what Ryan Crocker put on the table — is that there's been an absence, complete absence of progress in the very important area of political deal-making in that region, but your first question about, was this designed for an American audience: absolutely, because the President's got to try to square with the American people and try to re-rationalize why we're there and why American men and women are dying and why this is all worth it. I think the President largely succeeded. I think he succeeded because, in part, the Democrats don't really want to win. They want the President to bear the burden and responsibility for this war until the election. That may be a mistake, but that's what is in fact taking place, and, you know, I also think it was very interesting that embedded in the President's speech was an embedded critique of anyone who challenged his view of what's happening as "those who would leave Iraq to either al Qaeda or to Iran," and I think it was a very, very powerful message.

Abdel-Hamid: But, Patrick Clawson, the biggest critique of this report were actually the Iraqi people. A recent poll said that 70% of the Iraqis think that the surge is not working, and actually the security in their own area has deteriorated over the past 6 months.

Clawson: That's true, and it is an indication of just how much Iraqis are dissatisfied with the current situation. Iraqis have, on the whole, decided that the Americans aren't being very effective at providing security. However, the good side of this development is that appears that many Iraqis have therefore decided that they have to provide their own security, and they have to be prepared to work with the Americans to do that. So what we're seeing in both the Shia and Sunni community, increasing willingness to work with the Americans by Iraqis, and the Iraqis themselves providing the security in their local areas, and recognizing that the Americans aren't going to do it for them, that the Americans are only going to be a small contributing factor in that security situation which the Iraqis themselves have to take principal responsibility for.

Abdel-Hamid: But, Robert Gard, now what we have is that the Sunnis are cooperating with the Americans, Shias are cooperating with the Americans, they are not cooperating with each other. Are they actually preparing [for] the after-Americans period, arming themselves and preparing themselves for what happens after the Americans pull out.

Gard: Well, I think that is a matter of deep concern. Counterinsurgency strategy and tactics isn't really very well suited to deal with civic violence and a civil war, and I think the Shia are quite suspicious of our arming some of the tribes in Anbar and elsewhere, and I don't see a diminution in the hostility between those two groups, at least not in the near term.

Abdel-Hamid: So, Steve Clemons, I see you nodding there in agreement.

Clemons: Well, I basically think that what is happening and evolving there — and I think it's a big debate — if the United States were not there, and we were not — I'm not sure how much of a buffer we really are, but if you consider us some kind of a buffer — we create kind of a moral hazard problem, if you will, in the region. And the view is that if we were to withdraw tomorrow, that you would have a vicious escalating civil war, and that our buffer status is somehow pre-empting some of that. Now, the alternative is that our removing ourselves may in fact lead tribal leaders to stare into the abyss, see how horrific the situation will be, and to become mature and try and stabilize the situation among themselves. I really don't know which of those are the right scenario; I think that's the kind of debate we need to be having. But I agree with the general that the worry about a no diminution right now being in sight regarding the Shia-and-Sunni competition or Shia-on-Shia competition for resources and power and status, and whatever evolves in the future of Iraq, is probably right and probably the dominant fear among observers here in Washington.

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Walker, isn't the biggest problem for President Bush really this current government in Iraq? Is this a government that's not willing to help other provinces, it's a government who's not willing to bring about national reconciliation, so no matter what he does, he doesn't have the backing back in Baghdad?

Walker: Well, I don't think the people in Baghdad have the ability to do what we would like them to do. I don't see how they can mend the breaches that exist between the various sectors of the country, because they simply don't have the political power. What we're seeing is a move away from the central government, even by our own administration, arming effectively militias, sectarian militias in the region, sectarian police units, walking away from the national institutions, and, all in the name of adding to the security, and for a while it'll work, but the question is, what happens when you start walking away? The other problem is, something we haven't talked about is the role that Iran might play if we did walk out of the Iraqi situation. Most clearly, they have every intention of filling any vacuum, particularly in the south. That's going to create enormous pressures on the Saudis and others; we could see our position in the whole region evaporate. We don't really want to see that.

Abdel-Hamid: Is it a Catch-22 situation with Iran? I mean, the more the US stays, the more they will get involved, and if the US leaves, they will also get involved; how can you solve that one?

Walker: Well, I think you're absolutely right. The fact is that what we have to do is, we have to reassure other countries in the region, particularly in the Gulf States, the Saudis and the other, smaller Gulf States, that we're not going to walk away from their security and their situation, and that we're not going to become an ally of one side or another side in the sectarian battle that takes place. The worst thing that can happen to us is, we become identified either with Sunnis or Shi'ites. That's a very huge risk in this proposition, and I think the administration has to straddle that line.

Abdel-Hamid: Patrick Clawson, if you can't be identified with either Sunnis or Shias, then the US is in the middle, acting as a buffer zone; how long can it do that for?

Clawson: Well, the United States can encourage both communities to accept the principle that they're going to have power in their own areas —

Abdel-Hamid: But hasn't it been doing that for the past three years? Hasn't it been trying to do that for the past three years?

Clawson: No. No. No. For the past three years, what we've concentrated on is saying that they have to reach an agreement about how to run the national government, and what we have changed in the last 6 months is to an approach of now saying, Live and Let Live. You take control in your areas, and let the other people have control in their areas. That's a very different approach from saying that you all have to agree to work together very closely on running a central government in Baghdad. Now the focus is on Live and Let Live. Let the Sunnis have power in Anbar, and let the Shia have powers in Basra and Najaf and Karbala, and the two sides respect the other's right to live —

Abdel-Hamid: But wouldn't that lead to the partition of Iraq, make it quicker?

Clawson: No. No more than the situation in Belgium where you have two regions which each respect the right of the other to run things and then there's a weak federal government. There are many situations around the world. Look at the United Arab Emirates: you have 7 emirates, each of which is quite powerful, and a weak central government. That's the model which it seems will probably work best in Iraq, and which Iraqis look like they're beginning to accept.

Abdel-Hamid: Now, my last question is, how much of this week — to what extent will this week affect the Presidential elections.

Clawson: That's an interesting question. I think that the staging of this week has major impact, because I think the President has prevented many, particularly in the Senate side, many Republicans from further defecting from his position, and that's very, very important. There are 21 Republican seats up in 2008, versus 12 Democratic, and the view was that all of those Republican Senators were going to have to square with their voters over the problems of the Iraq War. I think that's major. I think the Democratic side, though, is also telling, because these Democrats are trying to differentiate themselves from each other in a very crowded marketplace of competition right now. They're all resisting homogenizing their message, and I think the President is using that to his advantage quite well, and so I think we're going to get — as much as I disagree with the President's policy, which is largely a status-quo incrementalism, and we're not going to see any big breakthroughs — I think the President is winning.

Abdel-Hamid: Gentlemen, that's all the time we have for today. Thank you very much, Edward Walker, Robert Gard, Patrick Clawson, and Steve Clemons. When we come back, we'll look at the implications of the Petraeus report for Iraq and the Middle East.

[commercial break]

Abdel-Hamid: Welcome back to this special edition of Inside Iraq. I'm Hoda Abdel-Hamid. Pres. Bush has promised to pull out of Iraq about 5,000 troops by Christmas. Is this token gesture a signal to the al-Maliki government that it has been incompetent and ineffective? How will the US continued military presence in Iraq affect the balance of power in the region? Ayman Moyheldin takes a look at what Iraq and some of its neighbors might make of the testimonies from Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker.

Ayman Moyheldin: It may have been an assessment presented to the US Congress, but many across the Middle East were left wondering what, if any, are its implications for the regions. In several hearings described as anti-climactic by some, Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker did more of the same: blame Iran and Syria for Iraq's troubles.

Amb. Ryan Crocker: Sir, we have seen nothing on the ground that would suggest that the Iranians are altering what they're doing in support of extremist elements that are going after our forces as well as the Iraqis.

Moyheldin: That rhetoric drew sharp criticism from Tehran, where the Secretary of Iran's National Security Council said:

Ali Larijani: We think it's in the interest of Iraq and America that the US leave Iraq.

Moyheldin: The report also cited progress being made in what was once one of Iraq's most restive provinces, al-Anbar, and praised Sunni tribes for now allying themselves with the US. But just days after the report was submitted, one of Iraq's most prominent Sunni tribal leaders and an important US ally, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, was killed by a roadside bomb in the heart of Anbar. From those allied with the US to those fighting the US, all weighed in on Petraeus' and Crocker's assessment. In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, the head of the Islamic Army in Iraq dismissed the report as fabrication.

[Islamic Army in Iraq]: The American troops present a report to the American administration. That helps them in Iraq. Therefore, we don't think this report will help. It's purely for the American domestic consumption, and for the President before the Congress.

Moyheldin: If some of Iraq's neighboring countries were hoping for more clarity on regional issues triggered by the Iraq War, they never got it. In nearly three days of public hearings and statements, neither the ambassador nor the general mentioned how the surge has failed to abate Iraq's growing refugee problem. Nearly 10% of Iraq's population has now fled the war-torn country. Kurdish fighters are using the Iraqi territory in the north to launch attacks on Turkey; there was no mention of that in either of the reports, and there was no mention of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict — an abiding source of anti-Americanism in the region. Perhaps the one headline that did emerge from the report was that the US could begin withdrawing the additional 30,000 troops it added in January, by the summer of next year, leaving the US military exactly where it was almost 9 months ago, and leaving Iraq and its neighbors with more questions than answers. Ayman Moyheldin for Inside Iraq.

Abdel-Hamid: I'm now joined from Paris by Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari; from Washington D.C. by Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project of Defense Alternatives; and from Cairo by Diaa Rashwan, senior researcher at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. Gentlemen, welcome to Inside Iraq. Mr. Zebari, I'm going to start with you. Both Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker came under intense pressure when they were testifying. Now, from an Iraqi point-of-view, how do you perceive what they said over the past week?

Hoshyar Zebari: Well, we welcome their reports, and I think they did a magnificent job in deflecting all this Congressional and public pressure on the surge strategy, on the US commitment in Iraq, and I believe they gave a very accurate, up-to-date assessment of the situation on the ground. Nobody had in his pocket to see any ready-made solutions or any magical solution to the problems and the difficulties we are facing, but they indicated how things are going forward and what needs to be done, and what would be the consequences of an abrupt or sudden withdrawal of US troops, because it would be devastating, I think, to Iraq, to its people, to the region, and to the greater interest of the United States and others in that part of —

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Zebari, you say it was a fair assessment. Amb. Crocker said that the Maliki government was dysfunctional and riddled with corruption; is that a fair assessment?

Zebari: Well, I think we expected, to be honest, a harsher criticism, but I think they were fair to the government, to its performance. Yes, we admit that we have our own shortcomings, definitely. We have to improve the performance of the government. The government is facing a crisis by the withdrawal by a number of ministers. People expect their government to move faster with the legislation that is pending in the parliament. People expect a faster move by the government, by the security forces, by the service sectors, and to those areas that have been cleared from insurgents, from al Qaeda, and so on, so we are not running from our responsibilities, but I believe that this testimony, this hearing, will add new pressure on the government to move faster on the political front, to support those gains that have been achieved on the ground.

Abdel-Hamid: So, Mr. Conetta, when Amb. Ryan Crocker accuses such damning accusations against the Maliki government, what is he trying to say exactly? Are we to interpret something behind this?

Carl Conetta: I think that we can conclude from the testimony by Crocker and by Petraeus that, on the one hand, the United Sates intends to stay, that the withdrawal of some troops at the end of this year actually is an operational matter; it does not indicate frustration. However, what the ambassador has made clear is that there is a level of frustration. My own assessment is, however, with the President supporting so strongly the continued presence of troops there, perhaps indefinitely, that the pressure is off the Iraqi government, in terms of reform measures. One interesting point, though, is that the ambassador did signal in some of his exchanges with Senators the possibility of US support for a vote of no confidence in the Iraqi assembly, so it would be interesting to see if that goes forward.

Abdel-Hamid: But under the current circumstances, wouldn't that be even more disastrous for Iraq, to have a complete change of government, considering it took them 6 months to put one together?

Conetta: Well, it would depend on whether there was someone in the wings acceptable to the United States, someone that we'd prefer to see. And that remains to be seen. This was not a clear statement by the ambassador; it was simply in response to a question, how do you distinguish between a dysfunctional government — which he characterized the Iraqi government as being — and a failed state, and he said, "Well, in a dysfunctional government, you still have a political process, and of course you'll always have the option of pushing for a vote of no confidence." Interesting thing to say in the context of these developments.

Abdel-Hamid: Now, let me bring in Diaa Rashwan. This entire Iraq War and post-war has been extremely unpopular in the Middle East for the past four years; how did the Arab world really perceive the Petraeus and Amb. Crocker's testimony this week?

Diaa Rashwan: I think that, you know, for many Arab world analysts, the testimony of Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker was more political than technical. It means that we are facing two responsibilities: one military and one the diplomat. Trying to justify and to give Pres. Bush's strategy in Iraq more weight and more confidence vis-à-vis, especially, the internal American public opinion. This testimony in the face of the Congress committee was really a part of this battle between Democrats and Republicans about Iraq. In the Arab world, and at least many Egyptian analysts, feel those two American responsibilities in Iraq only tried to give the actual government of Iraq more trust from the part of the American government, and also to give it more trust from the American public opinion, despite the real critiques and the real handicaps of this government, coming not only from Iraq itself, but also from other American politicians. We heard what said the Mr. Tom Lantos, vis-à-vis the behavior of the Maliki government, and then we believe that this was more political than reflecting the realities in Iraq. It's only to justify what Mr. Bush was going to do in Iraq in the rest of his mandate.

Abdel-Hamid: I'm just going to bring in Mr. Zebari again. Did you view this week as something more for US domestic consumption, or was it a testimony that reports that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government took extremely seriously?

Zebari: No, this testimony, this hearing was designed for the American public, primarily, to view, to review where the status of the troops, all this heated debate in the United States about value of this commitment, about the sacrifices, about the need to bring their boys home, I think we fully understand the frustration people feel there, and we understand it. We are frustrated also, at the same time, but I think this testimony have given a clear picture of where are things, what has been achieved, what needs to be done. As for the government, actually, I think any comments by other commentators really would rest finally on the Iraqi people's decision: there are constitutional, legal, parliamentary ways how a government can be changed. This is not up to others to decide or dictate how this country is ruled or by whom it is governed. So I believe the government still has the support of the majority, still has a quorum, still functioning, and working very hard to bring others, let's say, on board, and as we've seen —

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Zebari, I'm sorry to interrupt, but when you say the government is functioning, the government has been completely paralyzed the last few months, it is crumbling apart, and now you have one year, at least, until next summer, to sort of reverse the course; how are you going to do that?

Zebari: Well, I think the government — I'm a member of that government — still has a quorum, and many ministers, despite the view or the position of the leaders of their bloc are still participating in the cabinet and carrying out their duties and function. Yes, you will see soon whether there would be accelerated efforts to bring more ministers, or to reach more consensus, on the need to do a better job, both for the government and in the Council of Representatives. Especially we are facing a number of very important legislations that needs to be passed to reinforce the process of national reconciliation, but the testimony themselves, I think will establish an added pressure on the government to move faster on those areas.

Abdel-Hamid: We'll take a short break now, and when we come back we'll take a further look at the regional implications of the Petraeus report.

[voiceover]: The Iranian involvement has become much clearer to us, and there's no question that Iranian financing is taking place through the Quds Force. — Gen. David Petraeus, US military commander

[commercial break]

[voiceover]: Responsible people should understand this: that Iran is against any sort of insecurity and attacks, and Iraq is able to defend itself. — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian president

Abdel-Hamid: Welcome back to Inside Iraq. So, one of the key recommendations in this report is that the US should remain in Iraq for at least 10 years. I'm going to ask you, Mr. Conetta, how will that affect the balance of power in the Middle East?

Conetta: What it indicates is how important Iraq is viewed in Washington as a piece of strategic real estate. Our eye, of course, is on Iran, principally, and we see Iraq playing a role as a bulwark against Iran, and more generally as a stepping stone for our broader objectives in the area. We are currently engaged in a process of coercive transformation, really trying to accelerate and pressure the entire region to change along lines that are preferred in Washington. In Iraq, we'll play an important role — or at least have been playing an important role, in the Administration's view. Whether, in fact, we can maintain that presence for that period of time, is unclear. Actually, what the Petraeus report does, interestingly, in the slides, it ends with a presence — suggesting a presence of anywhere from 30,- to 60,000 troops, but it's not a timeline. It is an indefinite presence, and that's where things stand today.

Abdel-Hamid: Diaa Rashwan, the US says it wants to change the Middle East, bring about democracy. These 30,- to 60,000 troops, if they stay for an indefinite amount of time, wouldn't it have the reverse effect?

Rashwan: First of all, I'm not sure that United States came here to change the region towards democracy. It's clear, at least in Iraq, that Iraq before the coming of the United States was not a religious state. It was a secular state, nationalist, while under a dictator, a dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, without democracy, it's true, but the nature of the state was not religious. After the coming of the United States, now are facing a constitution of Iraq full of religious articles. We are in the face of a real force, political force, in the country now. The majority of them are religious, and what is so-called democracy of Iraq is already now under tribes, under sects, and not real citizenship.

Abdel-Hamid: Move back to the subject of Iran and Syria, and this question is for Mr. Zebari. Now, we have heard also, of course, this week criticism of both countries. Could you tell us, really, to what extent both countries really are part of what's happening in Iraq, are fueling the violence there right now?

Zebari: Well, we are engaging them in constructive, direct dialogue to be more helpful, to support the effort of the Iraqi government, my government, to stabilize the situation, and to remind them that they won't gain anything out of our immediate difficulties, because, really, if Iraq were to fail, the whole region will fail, and they will be affected directly, so they will gain nothing out of that. If they have difficulties to settle the score with the United States presence, I think there are many other areas they could do so, and that's why we've been very active recently in this regional diplomacy, to engage them, to bring them to Baghdad, to review the words of the three working groups on security, on refugees, on energy. We agreed to have another ministerial meeting of Iraq neighbors plus the P5 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, US, UK, CN, RU, FR], the G8 [CA, FR, DE, IT, JP, RU, UK, US], in Istanbul at the end of October, with the goal, with the aim to engage all the players to help stabilize the situation.

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Zebari, when the US indicates that it might have a long presence in Iraq, for at least a decade, how can you convince them of your argument?

Zebari: Well, Hoda, I think this is an Iraqi desire, an Iraqi idea, really. The current arrangements between Iraq and the multinational force, going every year to the Security Council to renew the mandate, with all the difficulties that we have been facing. We raised the idea recently in the statement of the five leaders. The need for some long-term security partnership arrangement between Iraq and the United States, so the idea is to go to the Security Council at the end of this year, to include some language to that effect, and to start negotiation with the United States and other countries in 2008 to reach some understanding for long-term arrangements, because I believe that Iraq still needs the continued support of the United States to stabilize the situation, to enhance its capability to be able to stand on its own feet and to deflect any regional pressures or interventions.

Abdel-Hamid: But, Mr. Conetta, isn't this again a bit of a Catch-22 situation for the United States, because the longer it stays, because the Iraqi government needs it, the longer it will attract people who want the American project in Iraq to fail?

Conetta: Well, I think that we do have — I mean, an underlying fact, and something we need to contend with, is that the presence in Iraq, at least according to popular opinion polls in Iraq, is not popular in the grass roots, and support for attacks on the coalition is rather high and continues to go up. That means that as long as we are there, there is potential for trouble, and it may be that Iraq has no peace as long as there are large-scale amounts of American troops there. Iraq's situation is unfortunately in the shadow of America's regional policy, which, with regard to Iran, at least hints at the possibility of war. How Iran will then relate to the Iraqi situation, I think it's easy to connect the dots that in fact they see Iraq and our involvement in Iraq as a weak point, and certainly if war is in the offing, they are not going to be very cooperative with regard to the American project there, so as long as we are in the middle and having a perspective that sees us coercing change in the region as a whole, certainly Iraq suffers and we remain vulnerable, but this is a risk that the present administration is willing to take.

Abdel-Hamid: My last question is for Mr. Zebari. Now, with the announcement that the 30,000 surge troops will pull out by next July, is that something that scares the Iraqi government? Does the Iraqi government have to do some certain points to be able to reach that next July somehow in shape?

Zebari: I think we are expecting, actually, this number of troops suggested to be withdrawn or pull out by next summer is the same number of troops who came to support the surge strategy, so practically it won't affect the overall balance of power —

Abdel-Hamid: But Mr. Zebari, the surge —

Zebari: By then, Hoda, let me just finish. By then, I think the Iraqi security and military forces will be able to increase their readiness, to increase their equipment, their arming and their performance, so we have time, I think, until then, and those training and those recruitment are ongoing, so the process is not stalled. By then I think we will be in a better shape and a better position to fill that vacuum that these troops will leave behind.

Abdel-Hamid: Many thanks to my guests. To watch this show online and to send us your comments, please go to [or to the Al Jazeera English YouTube™ page]. We've reached the end of this show; join us next week when we take another look Inside Iraq. Goodbye.
I continue to be dismayed by the false dichotomy between "stay the course" and "precipitous withdrawal." It is manifestly clear that the interests of the United States and Iraq require that U.S. forces make plans for an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, not at some indefinite point a decade or more from now, but as quickly as possible. I, for one, believe, as Carl Conetta suggested, that Iraq will never have peace as long as there are large numbers of US troops there. I also believe that it is fundamentally unfair to inflict chaos on the Iraqi people in the name of America's "broader regional policy." It is clear that, barring an immediate spine replacement for the Democratic Party, U.S. troops are likely to remain in Iraq in numbers over the 100,000 mark at least through 2009-01-20, when Bush leaves office, but we also have to make sure that he doesn't commit US forces to stay there for 10+ years before he skulks home to Crawford.

update: corrected the spelling of the name of the Al Jazeera correspondent, Ayman Moyheldin.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Click below for the full transcript...

Read More......