The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


Bush speaks on Obama's Mideast policy

G.W. Bush “at first remarked that the idea of re-entering the political arena was something he didn’t want to do.” His first impulse was the correct one. He really should have stayed quiet.

Bush relied on an old friend, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for advice on how Obama should have dealt with the Iraqi insistence that the US should have stuck to the originally schedule of withdrawal by the end of 2011, as the agreement Bush and the President of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, specified back in 2008. Bush suggests that Obama could have renegotiated that agreement to allow a least a substantial contingent of US troops to remain. But Global Policy cited three works, all from 2006, showing that Iraqis in general had a very negative opinion of seeing permanent US bases in Iraq. It's highly unlikely that Iraqis would have changed their minds by 2011 as US troops had made themselves very unpopular during their stay there and the Iraqi people were given no reason to want to see them staying on. Did the surge have a dramatic effect on convincing Iraqis that Americans were good guys? No, the surge temporarily quited things there, but there were no serious political changes afterwards.

Also, reconstruction was a complete and utter bust. Just a few months after the war of 1991 with the US and a coalition of nations, the evil dictator Saddam Hussein completed “bubble-gum and scotch-tape” repairs to his country's infrastructure, but the American reconstruction effort after the invasion of 2003 was a complete waste.

Virtually every senior Iraqi, in sharp contrast, said the decade-long U.S. occupation was beset by huge misspending and waste and had accomplished little. The biggest footprint Americans left behind, most of these Iraqi officials said, was more corruption and widespread money-laundering. Such a huge investment "could have brought great change in Iraq," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said, but the gains were often "lost."

How reliable is Graham for policy analysis? Well, in November 2014, CNN asked him to respond to the report on Benghazi put out by the Republican House Intelligence Committee. Basically, the report said he was completely wrong on everything he had said about the case. He got very heated about a very secondary issue concerning talking points that were put out later and made stern and angry pronouncements based on that. This is hardly unusual for Graham, as in his public career, Graham has rarely been correct on any matter of substance.

Bush said he views the rise of the Islamic State [IS, ISIL or ISIS] as al-Qaeda’s 'second act' and that they may have changed the name but that murdering innocents is still the favored tactic.

First off, “murdering innocents” is hardly a tactic unique to al Qaeda. That alone does nothing to connect the two groups. As a blogger points out in Informed Comment:

Like Al-Qaeda and other militants, ISIS offers a militant warped and distorted Salafi ideology/religious rationale or rationalization to justify, recruit, legitimate and motivate many of its fighters. Much of what they do violates Islamic law, its unabashed acts of terrorism: slaughter of civilians, savage use of beheadings, killing of innocent Muslims and Christians. While there are similarities between ISIS and other terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in their ideological worldview and tactics, there is also distinctive difference. ISIS seeks to create a state, to occupy and control areas, to govern, not just to dream of or speak of but to create and impose their version of a transnational caliphate, with its harsh version of law and order. At the same time, they are far more ruthless in driving out, suppressing and executing Shiah and Kurds, Sunni imams/religious leaders and others who disagree, as well as minorities such as Christians and Yazidis, demanding conversion to their warped and extraordinarily violent brand of Islam. Having populations forced to publicly pledge their allegiance (baya) to the caliphate in exchange for which they are offered security, a mafia like version of “protection” and social services.

So no, ISIS is a very distinct and separate group from al Qaeda.

Yes, under Bush, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was captured. But,

...where Bush officials brazenly dismissed law as an inconvenient obstacle and sought to deal with suspects outside the law, Obama has said that the struggle with Al Qaeda must adhere to our nation’s first principles. He argues that the rule of law lends our struggle legitimacy and helps to isolate and defeat our enemies.

Obama has fallen short on applying these principles, but he has adhered to them far better than Bush ever even tried to.

Did Bush's policies decrease terrorism around the world? Actually, according to the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law, terrorism increased under Bush sevenfold. Plus, if one is interested in holding back Iran and keeping Iran from territorial expansion, taking out Saddam Hussein of Iraq was a pretty terrible move. For all of Saddam's faults, and he had many, Iraq was a stable state that stood fast against Iran. Now, of course, the need to combat ISIS has opened up room for Iran to operate in Iraq. In a piece about a proposed bill to aid forces in Iraq that are friendly to the US, The Guardian points out that

Those Shia militias, many of which are sponsored by Iran, have played key roles in fighting Isis, to include spearheading the recent monthlong battle to retake the Sunni city of Tikrit.

Here's an interesting comment:

[Bush] said that if you have a military goal and you mean it, “you call in your military and say ‘What’s your plan?’ ” He indirectly touted his own decision to surge troops to Iraq in 2007, by saying, “When the plan wasn’t working in Iraq, we changed.”

So Bush says that leaders should listen to the military, which is all very fine and well, but Bush's military leaders actually disagreed with the surge. As Commander in Chief, Bush insisted on it anyway, as was his right, but this is a case where Bush very clearly departed from his own advice. Reporter Bob Woodward reported that, on “60 Minutes” in September 2008, "The records of the joint chiefs show that the idea of five brigades came from the White House, not from anybody except the White House."

In the same month, presidential candidate Barack Obama admitted that the surge was indeed succeeding. What was clear was that a reduction in violence was occurring. But why that reduction was occurring had to do with the Sunni Awakening (Al Qaeda was overdoing the violence and alienating Sunni Iraqis), Muqtada al-Sadr decided that his Mahdi army should cease operations and the US was paying many groups of guerrillas to fight on the side of the US. Unfortunately, the whole political purpose of the surge was never carried out and no political transformation ever took place during the “breathing room” that the addition of five brigades were supposed to have secured for Iraq's leadership. Thus was set the stage for the rise of ISIS.

Putin’s domestic popularity comes from his control of Russian media, according to Bush. "Hell, I'd be popular, too, if I owned NBC news," he said.

Actually, Bush claimed in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had kicked out UN arms inspectors in 1998. What actually happened was that Clinton wanted to bomb Iraq, told the UN inspectors to leave for their own safety and, when the bombing was over, Saddam refused to let inspectors back in. Pretty much the entire US media dutifully repeated Bush's lie that Saddam had kicked out the inspectors, which of course, had the added advantage of making Clinton look weak and helpless in retrospect. Bush may not have formally controlled the media, but he had virtual, de facto control anyway.

After it became clear that Iraq didn't have any weapons of mass destruction, Bush claimed several times that Saddam Hussein was given a choice prior to the invasion of 2003, to let in weapons inspectors or to be invaded. Bush maintained several times that Saddam refused to let the inspectors in and so sealed his fate. But everyone knew that wasn't true. Inspectors came into Iraq and inspected everything they wanted to. But the press corps permitted Bush to lie unchallenged.

So I'm really not sure what Bush's problem with the press corps is. They permitted many lies to go unchallenged. Their discipline did break a few times, notably in the case of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, but by and large, they maintained a rigid, lock-step discipline and didn't permit themselves too much independence.

No, if Bush became unpopular, that was due to his staggering ineptitude and horrible policies, not because the press was biased against him. I remember reading back in early 2009 that several Bush Administration members got together and talked over old times. They identified four disasters, 9-11, the invasion of Iraq, New Orleans/Katrina and the collapse of the housing bubble that resulted in the Great Recession. Problem is, in all four cases, Bush and his people had a great deal to do with either initiating the disaster or in not responding properly. In none of the cases could they plausibly claim to have been innocently taken by surprise. No, if Bush is regarded today as something you'd scrape off of the bottom of your shoes, his own actions had everything to do with that.


PA Senator on nuclear deal with Iran

In "Have a vote on Iran deal," Senator Toomey states: "President Obama wants to remove American economic sanctions from Iran in exchange for Iran's promises to delay its pursuit of nuclear weapons."

Incorrect. The outline of the deal so far calls upon Iran to freeze their development of a nuclear weapon, not to simply delay it. Yes, the deal is for "only" ten years, but the deal can easily be renewed or extended. It is highly premature to state that development will pick up where it left off upon the expiration of the ten-year period.  

"Can Iran be trusted to keep any deal?" Negotiations on a basic framework took as long as they did precisely because both sides mistrust each other and both sides wanted to make verification as foolproof and as airtight as possible. 

Let's consider the list of charges that Toomey makes: that allegedly demonstrate that we're settling for far too little: 1. That Obama previously said he wouldn't anything less than complete dismantlement of Iran's nuclear program, 2. That the US and UN both previously insisted that Iran must surrender all of its centrifuges, 3. That Iran must ship all of its enriched uranium out of the country, and 4. That the facility at Fordham was supposed to be destroyed.

Why would the US and its negotiating partners have decided to not press for any of these? Obviously, because these objectives were going much too far for the leverage we had and pushing for complete victory would have left us with fists holding empty air.

Yes, sanctions got Iran to the table, but other nations are perfectly happy to cancel those sanctions, deal or no. Senate interference that insists on going for maximalist objectives will simply give Europe and China and Russia an excuse to discard sanctions and resume trade. Sanctions have limited effectiveness and we have a limited time period in which to use them. 

What Senator Toomey appears to want to do is to use a limited tool that's only of so much use as though it was an unlimited tool that will effortlessly achieve everything we want. Failing that, Toomey seems perfectly willing to discard the deal framework that Obama has so painstakingly built and to simply go back to square #1, with absolutely nothing having been achieved.


Cleopatra – Vivien Leigh

So, having watched the Claudette Colbert 1934 version of Cleopatra and the Elizabeth Taylor 1963 version, I saw that TCM was showing the Vivien Leigh 1945 version, so I went ahead and taped it. At first, having listened to the book-on-tape Cleopatra: A Life, I griped about historical inaccuracies, but then I found a source that gave me a quickie biography and realized that, actually, none of the movies were all that fussy about precise historical details.

Each era takes from the story what's important to them. In 1936, Cleopatra was a wily and shrewd manipulator; in 1963, the film focused on Mark Antony's (Richard Burton's) obsessive love for Cleopatra; in 1945, the film focused on Cleopatra's childlike nature (She was after all, 21 years old to Caesar's 52) and Caesar's wise, fatherly affection for her (In reality, she had been the effective ruler of Egypt since the age of 18 and she had a son with Caesar nine months after meeting him) calls to mind the shows Father Knows Best (before my time) and My Three Sons (I remember watching this).

Apparently, there's a Cleopatra film in development today and Angelina Jolie is scheduled to star in it. What would a film about her be like today? My guess is that it would focus on her executive abilities (which were considerable, she'd spend a few hours each morning hearing cases and issuing decisions) and she'd probably be portrayed as quite determined to pursue whatever goal she had in mind that day.