2008/02/28

Bush's view on negotiating

Very interesting view that, to me anyway, explains why Bush, in his seventh year, is without any diplomatic successes to his credit:

On Talking to Enemies
Bush also launched into a fascinating disquisition on his view of diplomacy.
Michael Abramowitz of The Washington Post asked about Bush Obama's view "that we would be better off if we talked to our adversaries, in particular Iran and Cuba, you know, without preconditions. And as president you have obviously considered and rejected this approach. And I'm wondering if you can give us a little bit of insight into your thinking about this, and just explain to the American people what is lost by talking with those with when we disagree."
Bush's response: "What's lost by embracing a tyrant who puts his people in prison because of their political beliefs? What's lost is it'll send the wrong message. It'll send a discouraging message to those who wonder whether America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners. It'll give great status to those who have suppressed human rights and human dignity.
"I'm not suggesting there's never a time to talk, but I'm suggesting now is not the time not to talk [sic] with Raul Castro. He's nothing more than the extension of what his brother did, which was to ruin an island and imprison people because of their beliefs. . . .
"And the idea of embracing a leader who has done this without any attempt on his part to, you know, release prisoners and free their society would be counterproductive and send the wrong signal."
Abramowitz: "But no one's saying embrace them. They're just saying talk."
Bush: "Well, talking to is embracing. Excuse me. Let me use another, you know, another word. You're right. Embrace is like big hug, right? . . .
"Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raul Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him. He gains a lot from it by saying, Look at me. I'm now recognized by the president of the United States. . . .
"Now, somebody will say, 'Well, I'm going to tell him -- you know -- to release the prisoners'. Well, it's a theory that all you got to do is embrace and these tyrants act. That's not how they act. That's not what causes them to respond. . . .
"I just remind people that the decisions of the U.S. president to have discussions with certain international figures can be extremely counterproductive. It can send chilling signals and messages to our allies. It can send confusion about our foreign policy. It discourages reformers inside their own country. And, in my judgment, it would be a mistake on the two countries you talked about."
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So, essentially, Bush is saying that before any talking or negotiating begins, the other side has to cave in completely and give the US everything it wants. Well, gotta say, that philosophy sure simplifies things. Makes diplomacy very, very easy.

Update: Atrios has a marvelous reply from Yglesias, followed by Atrios' own comment:

Bad Guys


Yglesias:
Ezra's certainly right to say that it's bizarre for George W. Bush to criticize Barack Obama on the grounds that "it'll send the wrong message" for Obama to hold a meeting with "a tyrant who puts his people in prison because of their political beliefs" considering that Bush does exactly that on a regular basis. Is it a good thing that the people of China and Russia and Saudi Arabia are, like the people of Cuba and Syria and Iran, ruled by dictators? Of course not. And if the lessons of history indicated that some kind of "no meetings ever" policy caused those regimes to melt and transform into wholesome democracies, then we wouldn't be having this debate. But things don't work like that, and in the world as it is it's hardly practical to eschew all meetings with everyone whose political system you don't approve on. The question is, thus, whether or not this posture of creating a mostly arbitrary class of "bad guy" that we're going to take down with our awesome powers of snubbing accomplishes anything meaningful. Obama's contention is "no." Bush's contention is "yes" but he has absolutely nothing to show for it.


The frustrating thing is that the media plays along, designating "bad guys" as whoever the US government is designating a bad guy that week, while perpetuating the notion that the "bad guy" designation is linked to some sort of human rights badness when in fact it's just because they're bastards, but not our bastards.

2008/02/27

Iran and human rights

This post concerning Iran got me to thinking about how to handle Iran's problems with respecting human rights. The post ended with this statement:

The regime in Tehran unfortunately only understands a show of strength and nothing else. The mullahs in Iran know very well which presidential candidate will stand up to them if elected and which candidate will be a softy who literally let's them get away with murder.

I responded to a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer in the following manner:

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I completely agree with Trita Parsi that Iran is neither a complete democracy nor is it a full tyranny. It has instead a system which has elements of both. The US has not worn the mantle of human rights hero for many years. The Arab suspicion from the beginning was that the Iraq War was all about oil, a suspicion that has long since hardened over there into conventional wisdom. The recent retirement announcement of General Counsel of the Department of Defense William J. Haynes II confirms suspicion in many quarters that the US will not treat Guantanamo detainees fairly in their upcoming trials and that the US was simply eliminating an embarrassing symbol of its determination to conduct Soviet-style show trials that are certain to reach unanimously guilty verdicts.

Currently, the US posture of hostility to Iran's government looks to the Iranian people like the posture of a self-interested superpower that cares nothing for the human rights of Iranians. Pumping money into Iranian opposition groups has the effect of discrediting those groups as it allies them with a power that appears to be intent only upon getting ahold of Iran's oil. The US could probably rescue itself from that image by making a clear connection between Iran's respect for human rights and the resulting US posture towards Iran, but it must pursue that policy consistently and must reward good behavior on their part.

If Iranians select better politicians at their polls (Iran has some democratic elements, some pro-human rights politicians have gained office) and the US rewards that behavior by reducing its saber-rattling, then both sides will win and respect for human rights will end up being the winner.
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Now, a reasonable person might ask: "The US demonstrated hostility towards the Apartheid regime of South Africa back in the 1980s. What's the difference? Why was saber-rattling hostility good for South Africa then and not good for Iran today?"

The difference, I think, is contained in the old Texas saying "I don't have a dog in that fight." With South Africa, the US didn't have an obvious economic self-interest in having either side prevail. The US could credibly present itself as a disinterested champion of human rights without people accusing it of pursuing policies that would benefit it economically. With Iran today unfortunately, the US simply cannot take the same posture. The US has a very strong economic self-interest in Iran's oil and no amount of speechifying about human rights in Iran will camouflage that.

The only credible policy for the US to take concerning Iran's human rights situation is what I've outlined above. I strongly recommend that the US immediately cease and desist from covertly financing Iranian opposition groups and to work wholly from the outside. Let's not work harder. Let's work smarter. Let's work in a more effective manner.

2008/02/26

Bush Administration on warrantless wiretapping

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino responded to a WaPo op-ed written by Democrats:

"There is an old rhetorical tactic in Washington: you repeat something often enough, regardless of whether it's true, and hope people will start to believe it."
As [the WaPo's Dan Froomkin has] often noted, this tactic is one of the White House's signature approaches to communication. But Perino wasn't talking about her boss.
"This has been the preferred tactic of many Democrats involved in the FISA debate," she said, "and the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees employ it again in an op-ed published today in the Washington Post. . . .
"The President has listened to the judgment of these same professionals that the absence of long-term legislation creates uncertainty that poses a risk to those tools and could lead to the loss of intelligence information and that further short-term extensions of the PAA do not solve the problem. Stating that fact is not a scare tactic -- it reflects the considered judgment of the intelligence community, whose principal concern is not politics, but doing their jobs."

Well, it may very well indeed be the "considered judgment of the intelligence community" that the Constitution has to be stomped on with muddy, hobnailed boots in order for them to do their jobs the way they'd like to do them, but that doesn't mean we American citizens have to consider their judgment to be the final word. What Bush doesn't want to include in any surveillance program is any measure that prevents him from listening in on or rifling through any communications that he gosh-darn jolly well wants to listen in on or rifle through.

The problem with Perino's statement is that there's simply no room for the considerations of American citizens who would like to not have their communications placed under the Bush Administration's baleful glare. We don't know what the Bush Administration is surveilling and it's certainly not necessary for regular citizens such as myself to know. What IS necessary is for non-administration figures, both for Democratic partisans and for professional non-partisans, to keep a careful eye on just what communications are being read or listened to. As an American citizen, I very proudly do not trust my government. We've always been a "Show me the books" nation, where the government is responsible to the people and needs to be kept on a leash. As a democracy, we've never blindly trusted our government in the past and there's no compelling reason to do so now.

Yes, 9-11 occurred several years back, but even if we set aside the findings of 911Truth.org, even if we put aside all of the conspiracy theories, the fact remains that 9-11 was a one-time, non-repeatable event. Hijacking jet airliners is an operation that requires passengers to remain in their seats and obviously, they will only do that if they are convinced that all will be well if they cooperate with the hijackers. If passengers feel that sitting quietly in their seats means that their aircraft will be flown into a building, they have every reason in the world to jump up and to stop the hijackers at all costs. Even if half a dozen passengers are shot by the hijackers, the rest of them still have every motivation to press their attack. Could terrorists attack a nuclear power plant with equally spectacular results? Yes, but my brother took a tour of a nuclear power plant a few months after 9-11 and reports that such an attack would be next to impossible to carry out successfully.

As to the NSA surveilling all calls and emails, the question remains: Was it absolutely necessary for the NSA to have had unlimited surveillance capability in order to prevent 9-11 from happening? The testimony of the 9-11 Widows or Jersey Girls makes that awfully doubtful. They list ten separate reasons for the Bush Administration to have been aware that an attack was imminent, yet "...post 9/11 reports and commissions found no evidence of any action taken by appropriate officials." Why did the Bush Administration spend August 2001 sitting around, chilling out, their feet up on their desks, clearing brush on the ranch and generally yawning as if nothing required their urgent attention? Well, such a lackadaisical response to an upcoming disaster would not be unprecedented.

Hitler’s original plan called for the invasion of Russia to begin on May 15, but logistical problems and the need to rescue Mussolini’s forces in Africa and the Mediterranean forced a postponement. When the Blitzkrieg finally came, the Russian people were surprised; however, Stalin had ample warning of the German attack.
A variety of intelligence sources relayed information to Stalin that an invasion was imminent. Richard Sorge, his spy in Tokyo, who had access to the German ambassador’s messages, sent word of the date of the invasion. Both the British and Americans passed on a variety of warnings and details about German troop movements. However, Stalin could not be persuaded that Hitler would turn on him and did not want to provide an excuse for him to do so. He continued to ship strategic materials as agreed in his economic treaty with Germany up until the moment Wehrmacht troops crossed into Russia.

The Bush Administration's actions prior to 9-11 could be chalked up to simple negligence, incompetence and dereliction of duty. The fact of the matter is that if the NSA's apparent lack of capability to intercept and read all conceivable messages was a factor in 9-11, it was only one of many factors.
Froomkin then cites a radio address given by Bush where Bush does indeed acknowledge the issue of the government grabbing an excessive amount of information on citizens, but he doesn't acknowledge it as a civil rights or Constitutional issue. Bush identifies it purely as a method of enriching trial lawyers. He cites the patriotism of those intelligence agents and cooperating telecommunications companies, saying that they are simply trying their best to "protect America," but views the issue as an entirely one-sided problem, with the Constitution's historically-justified restraints on government snooping counting for nothing. Bush then gave a speech to governors of various states in which he movingly cited the problems of those agents and companies who trusted their government to give them sound legal advice and who were now in jeopardy of being held accountable for violating the rights of citizens.
Well, sorry if I'm kinda hard-hearted about that issue, but as a sailor (PN3(Ret), USN) I was taught the distinction between lawful and unlawful orders. I was expected to know the difference and the first kind of order you needed to obey, the second, not so much. Telecommunications companies have large legal staffs with decades of experience in FISA. They know full well the difference between lawful and unlawful government requests.
Bush wants to "go forward." Well, that sounds like a marvelous thing to do, but many millions of US citizens would like to go forward with our Constitutional rights being respected in the process.

2008/02/22

The "Maverick" John McCain

There's a very real danger that folks consider "Maverick" John McCain to be, at heart, a liberal. He isn't.

Do you think [McCain]'s a conservative?
Absolutely. Liberals attracted to him would like to believe that he's not, but that's a mistake, and that's why so many in the national media love him. But this idea that once he's president he'll become more liberal, it's wishful thinking. If you look at his record, he's a conservative. But that gets skewed by this obsession with character. In 2000 we were assured that Al Gore was the dishonest one, that George Bush might not be bright, but he's honest. Clearly, Bush has told some pretty heinous lies. So often the press gets it wrong.

I fact, McCain's not even very honest. His statement:

I’m the only one the special interests don’t give any money to.

Actually, McCain has received about $400,000 from special interests.
As to his judgment and his hanging around with Vicki Iseman? I hate to paraphrase conservatives from the late 90s, but it's not the sex, it's the inability to learn from past mistakes. The blogs don't see much evidence that McCain actually slept with Iseman, but McCain very clearly did many, many favors for lobbyists and that's a problem that the Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky affair didn't have. Their affair was just that, a strictly sexual encounter. With McCain and Iseman, there was lots of lobbying and cash and Senatorial favors for corporate clients involved.

Howard Dean's statement is perfect and should be the template for all Democratic comments on McCain/Iseman.

2008/02/11

Dimwitted political strategy

I'm in complete agreement with GG here. This has got to be the most idiotic, dimwitted political strategy I've seen for at least, oh heck, in at least the past week:

MATTHEWS: "Let me ask you again about what you're facing now, John McCain -- he's even joked about bombing Iran. I know it was a joke -- let's not overplay it -- but he's certainly a very strong hawk. Is he too hawkish for the American people as our next president?"
MCAULIFFE: "Well, listen it's going to be quite a debate as we head into the fall. I think Sen. McCain's biggest problems are going to be dealing with the issues on the economy. That is not considered his strong suit. It is considered the strong suit for Hillary, as you know -- on the housing crisis, she's been the first one to get out in front on that, called for moratorium on home foreclosures, called for a freeze on interest rates for the next five years, she's been dealing with the credit crisis. So I think as it relates to Sen. McCain, he knows that he can't really deal with these economic issues -- he's been all over the map -- supporting the Bush tax cuts, against the Bush tax cuts. Hillary has been very consistent out there on these economic issues.
So he's going to try, I think, Chris, to continue to show that he's the most hawkish, he will be the toughest on national security -- that's going to be their fall campaign. As you know, they did it to us in 2004 with the Swift Boating of Sen. Kerry. They're going to do that same type of campaign again this time. They're not going to Swift Boat Hillary Clinton. They have no ability to do that. We're going to run a strong campaign because we know we're out there fighting for millions of Americans who want health care, want their homes to be preserved, and want to keep us safe. [emphases in original] 

This is not smart strategy. Trying to change the subject when talk turns to one's opponents main political appeal is just kinda dumb. I'm not sure what people are supposed to assume, but what they're going to assume is obvious, that Democrats are conceding that McCain has a better, more intelligent strategy than the Democrats do. Karl Rove has demonstrated that he knows better than that:

Very early on, Karl Rove did something that many other political operatives don't do, and it's really an element of why he's a unique figure in American political life: He understands that while other people look for the weakness in an opponent and exploit that, Rove has long looked at the strength of an opponent. In the case of Ann Richards running for governor, it was that she was tolerant and appealed to many constituents, so you attack her as an advocate for the homosexuals' agenda. In the case of John McCain, it was that he was a POW in Vietnam, and so you raise questions about his service in Vietnam through surrogate groups.
In 2004, the number one thing that John Kerry offered was his heroic service in Vietnam, and so what Rove did was attack the strength of Kerry, not his weakness. What you had to do was confront Kerry's strength in Vietnam by raising doubts about whether or not he was a hero and whether or not his service was really all that noble. And you do that in part with a surrogate group, raising questions about whether his medals were truly warranted, and beyond that, pressing the case of John Kerry, who came back from the war as an opponent of the war.

To try and sidestep or finesse McCain's insane warmongering (Q: "President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years -- " (cut off by McCain) McCain: "Make it a hundred.") is an utter loser of a strategy that will do nothing but continue the pathetic losing streak established by the DLC (The DLC was caught flatfooted and "whacked upside the head" by Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution of 1994 and spent the next decade trying ever more futile and useless strategies until they were simply pushed aside by the netroots). Yes, there are serious questions about the 2004 vote, especially in Ohio, but the primary problem was that incompetent strategy on Kerry's part allowed Bush to get within lunging distance where cheating could then make the difference. Terry McAuliffe is a figure of the past and someone who needs to remain there. He obviously hasn't adapted to the Republican Party of Karl Rove and the new way of doing things.

The thing the Democratic Party has to remember is that when Republicans talk about a fear-based strategy, a strategy of saying "Ooh! Osama bin Laden's gonna gitcha! If we don't continue to wage war without end in the Mideast and continue dumping lives and money down into that endless hole, bin Laden will establish a caliphate and take over THE WORLD!!1@!!"

Remember!!! They already tried this for the 2006 midterm elections! It didn't work then. It won't work in the future, but it will only remain futile if the Democrats respond forthrightly and answer their arguments directly. I had a conversation with conservatives in the comments section of a newspaper article recently. He commented on how terrible things were under the evil dictator Saddam Hussein. I replied "Yes, he was an evil dictator, but..." and proceeded to detail how bad things became after the US invasion. The other guy continued the argument, but we moved onto different aspects.

2008/02/08

A story in Michael Yon's blog

Danger Close - Chapter One is a story that begins with a confrontation between two young and polite soldiers and a very large and very unreasonably hostile anti-war protester. The confrontation goes on for several pages, with the two young soldiers just trying to enjoy themselves by doing what young men do everywhere, trying to hook up with the ladies in the bar, and the soldiers display the absolute best of manners by trying to avoid a fight with the belligerent, hostile protester. But the protester persists in making himself more and more obnoxious. Curiously, the reader has no idea what the protesters motivation is. The protester doesn't even go to the extent of revealing his ignorance by making wild accusations against the soldiers. The bouncer in the bar doesn't remove the hostile person or tell him to go home, but intervenes just enough to show that he is there.

I of course cannot claim to know whether or not the story was true, but I most certainly was bothered by these elements of the story. First of all because I took part in a fairly large march/demonstration just a few weeks back and I'd say that we were about half and half male and female. A large percentage of the males were much too old to go around picking fights in bars and quite a few were veterans. So it seems to me that the percentage of the peace movement that's going to go around being belligerent towards soldiers in bars would be vanishingly small.

Besides, we're fully aware that former soldiers from the Vietnam era felt very hurt and abandoned and shafted when they got back home. Their fathers from World War II and Korea were greeted with parades and celebrations and when they had settled in, picked up good jobs without difficulty. When the Vietnam vets got home, they were greeted with indifference and then unemployment. In fact, according to some vets, they were actually spat upon by war protesters. The movie Sir, No Sir! features the author of the above-referenced study spending a fair amount of time examining this myth. As with many urban legends, spitting was always reported to have occurred in the next town over or at the other airport or to a friend of a friend. The researcher in the movie was unable to locate any returning veterans who reported a first-hand experience with having been spat upon.

Having taken part in protests against the Iraq War from the very beginning (Sept 2002), I can testify that as a military veteran myself (PN3(Ret), USN, 1991-2001), I've run into absolutely zero prejudice against the military. Peaceniks have, from the very beginning, sought out veterans to be their allies. The very names of the organizations Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War testify eloquently to that fact. The VFP and IVAW have sought from the very beginning of the peace movement to be in the forefront of each protest, precisely to tell Americans that the peace movement is not anti-military.

As I said, I didn't read past the first few pages of this book, but on the theory that the first story in the book is meant to provide foreshadowing to the rest, I'm guessing that the peace movement as a whole is consistently represented here as a hostile, implacable and utterly inexplicable force that seeks to repeat history with a reprise of the "Dolchstosslegende" (Stab in the back legend) that der Fuhrer made so popular.

2008/02/02

Hah! Called it! and lots of other stuff

Back about a year ago, 24 Feb 07 to be exact, I read a David Broder column which predicted a marvelously bright future for a new group called Unity08. I concluded: "Unity08 will continue to be a very small, extremely marginal party that will accomplish nothing of significance." And now from Crooks & Liars:

Worse, the Unity08 gang folded their tent to create a Draft Bloomberg campaign, which has an online petition that is yet to generate 5,000 signatures — weeks after its launch. Adding insult to injury, Joe Lieberman, an active Bloomberg supporter during the mayor’s re-election campaign, has said publicly that the mayor no longer has a reason to launch a campaign. [emphasis added]

So, not only did the Unity08 group go out of business in order to support the Michael Bloomberg campaign (He's the billionaire Mayor of New York City) for President, they then didn't even succeed in causing a sizable ripple in the waters of the presidential campaign. I'm sure David Broder is crushed.

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Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama raised more money than the four front-runners of the Republican side of the aisle. The two Democrats did $49.6 million to the Republicans' $42.2 million. McCain is the Republican frontrunner at the moment, but raised only $6.8 million, whereas Ron Paul raised $19.7 million, though Paul's doing quite badly in the polls. Paul's advantage is essentially online. Dave Neiwert of Orcinus notes that Paul doesn't seem to be actually spending much of his money and speculates he's saving it for a third-party run.

Oh, and the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama debate on 31 Jan was the most-watched debate in cable history. And gee, surprise, surprise, it was a substantive, serious debate where the candidates got to really burrow in and get really serious and deep with their answers. Juan Cole goes over the section where they discuss Iraq.

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Cole's 1/31 post includes a links to a British Study showing that Iraq has suffered a little over a million excess deaths since the US invasion. "Excess" means that the study includes things like deaths due to breakdowns in law & order, deaths due to lack of medical care, proper sanitation, etc. There's also a study showing that there are one to two million young Iraqi widows who are unable to support themselves due to being in a highly sex-segregated society and who aren't getting much government assistance, either.

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"President Bush conceded to [a Fox News person] that he failed in his goal to be a 'uniter and not a divider.' The president told me, 'I'd say that I worked to be a uniter and it didn't work.' ”

Lincoln Chafee strongly disputes this, pointing out in "
an interesting quotation from Linc Chafee's book:

The book excoriates Mr. Bush and his GOP allies who repeatedly fanned such wedge issues as changing the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, abortion and flag-burning. But he saves some of his harshest words for Democrats who paved the way for Mr. Bush to use the U.S. military to invade Iraq. . . .

"The top Democrats were at their weakest when trying to show how tough they were," writes Chafee. "They were afraid that Republicans would label them soft in the post-September 11 world, and when they acted in political self-interest, they helped the president send thousands of Americans and uncounted innocent Iraqis to their doom."

"Instead of talking tough or meekly raising one's hand to support the tough talk, it is far more muscular, I think, to find out what is really happening in the world and have a debate about what we really need to accomplish," writes Chafee. "That is the hard work of governing, but it was swept aside once the fear, the war rhetoric and the political conniving took over."

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I've been reading Dave Neiwert's careful and thorough dissections of Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism." Neiwert writes lengthy pieces, so I highly recommend that people just do a lot of cutting and pasting into a word processor, print it all out, find a comfortable chair and enjoy. Goldberg forces us liberals to really concentrate on just what fascism is and isn't. An excellent piece in the series focuses on Woodrow Wilson, where the guest writer matches up Wilson's actions in office to 13 criteria for being a fascist. Wilson scores on four out of the 13, a very unimpressive figure. One of the main, essential points made about "Liberal Fascism" is that Goldberg nowhere carefully defines what he means by the term, so one of Goldberg's buddies defines Barack Obama as a fascist because Obama calls for "national unity," which is actually a pretty plain-vanilla, standard, basic appeal used by politicians all over the political spectrum.