State of the Union

Muckraking of the Best Kind

I haven’t yet read David Freddoso’s new book The Case Against Barack Obama, but this is one political expose I can endorse sight unseen, since Freddoso, whom I’ve known for a few years, is a thoughtful conservative rather than a Republican hack. I expect his book will be a worthy companion to Matt Welch’s takedown of the Republican nominee, McCain: The Myth of a Maverick.

Now, if only Jim Antle will write a book about Alan Keyes

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The economic “surge” in Haiti…

Kelley Vlahos and Justin Raimondo (among others) have done a great job in pointing to the way the figures measuring the effects of the surge are being exploited by Bush, McCain and other members of the pro-war coalition. As Juan Cole and others have maintained, the relative reduction in violence in Baghdad and some parts of Iraq was achieved thanks to the ad-hoc deals the U.S. has made with leaders of Sunni tribes and ex-Sunni terrorists and the “success” of the process of ethnic cleansing as well as Iran’s diplomatic mediation between Maliki’s government and al-Sadr and the deployment of more U.S. troops.

As I suggested early last year

But what diplomatic or military actions can the Bush administration take in the next 600 days that would reverse the balance of power in favor of the United States and its allies? A U.S. military victory in Iraq is clearly not a realistic option, so one can expect more orchestration of “turning points” as the Bush administration spins the reduction of violence here or the killing of more insurgents there as signs of “progress” that supposedly demonstrate “success” of the surge and therefore require the American public to show even more “patience and resolve.” The standards for measuring success in Iraq have become so low that if Iraq does not break into pieces before a new president comes to Washington, it could be spun by Bush and his aides as a “historic” achievement.

In fact, as I pointed out in another analysis, “The Democrats seemed to have failed to mount a serious challenge to Petraeus and allowed him, and by extension the Bush administration, to set the terms of the current debate on Iraq.” In a way, much of what Bush has been doing since November 2006, in the aftermath of an election whose outcome reflected the support of most Americans to withdrawing the then 130,000 troops in Iraq seemed to be counterintuitive: Add more troops in Iraq. But there has been a logical spin behind the madness. It provided Bush (and McCain) with an opportunity to hail the withdrawal of those additional toops on the eve of the presidential elections as a “success” as it creates a certain sense of relief among Americans. We are withdrawing some troops after all!

But to understand the way the spinning of the Surge has been so successful, we should recall this golden oldie from The Onion (June 23, 2004)

Coalition: Vast Majority Of Iraqis Still Alive

BAGHDAD—As the Coalition Provisional Authority prepares to hand power over to an Iraqi-led interim government on June 30, CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer publicly touted the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“As the Coalition’s rule draws to a close, the numbers show that we have an awful lot to be proud of,” Bremer said Tuesday. “As anyone who’s taken a minute and actually looked at the figures can tell you, the vast majority of Iraqis are still alive—as many as 99 percent. While 10,000 or so Iraqi civilians have been killed, pretty much everyone is not dead.” (Read the rest)

Indeed, it’s in the context of the lowering of the standards to measure success in Iraq that the Bush administration and its supporters plus the “useful idiots” have been able to tout the Surge as a “success,” if not an astounding military victory. Which brings us to the recent glowing report of the IMF about Haiti’s Economic, Political Turnaround. This is a country where 76 percent of the population live on less than US$2 a day. But when you start from very low-point the political and economic scales, even a few minor upward improvements look like a “turnaround” or, indeed, a political and ecomic Surge. It’s as though a parent would be bragging about his kid’s “success” at school: “You should have seen my kid’s report card last year. It was all F’s. So we hired a tutor this year, and we are proud to announce that our son got two D’s.”

The benchmarks to measure success in Iraq should be the ones that Bush, McCain and the other cheer-leaders had provided before Congress authorized Bush to go to war. That should be the context for the debate on Iraq during this election:

1. We would discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
2. We would uncover the ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Ladin.
3. The war in Iraq would be as short and relatively costless in terms of American lives and U.S. dollars as the war in Afghanistan.
4. “Liberated” Iraq would be a unified nation-state and free of ethnic and religious rivalries as well as of foreign occupation.
5. A democratic and secular Iraq would become a political model for the entire Broader Middle East and would create the conditions for a political and economic liberalization in the Arab world.
6. Iraq would not require American economic assistance since it economy would grow and the country would become prosperous thanks to its growing oil revenues.
7. The U.S. military victory in Iraq would strengthen U.S. strategic position in the Middle East
(a) encouraging other global and regional powers to jump on the American bandwagon,
(b) weakening the power of anti-Americans governments (Iran) and terrorist groups,
(c) helping revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process (“The road to Jerusalem leads through Baghdad”),
and (d) putting pressure on North Korea and Iran to end their nuclear military programs.

Now…based on these high standards set-up by the Bush Administration, it has failed in achieving all these seven goals (and related others). Seven F’s. Time to switch that kid to another school.

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Hope for Alaska?

The indictment of crooked, pork-barreling Senate Republican eminence grise Ted Stevens, of “Bridge to Nowhere” fame, is grounds for much rejoicing. But even better, Stevens’s top opponent in the six-candidate Republican primary set for Aug. 26 , Dave Cuddy, is a limited-government conservative who wants to bring the troops home from Iraq, not keep them there for a hundred years. A friend of mine who’s following the race closely thinks that Cuddy is a real hope for the right. I’m skeptical — Cuddy’s answers to foreign-policy questions in this interview with the Six Meat Buffet blog are wishy-washy, to say the least. But he’s better than Stevens, no question, and judging from his campaign website, he seems to be against the Patriot Act and Real ID. (You have to look under “Real ID” to find his opposition to both — his Patriot Act page actually leads to an evasive national defense statement.)

Here are a few excerpts from the Six Meat Buffet interview:

I more authentically represent the Republican philosophy of reform, limited government, and personal responsibility and have done so throughout my 28 years of public service. In the general election, I should better be able to attract the Libertarians, Alaska Independence Party, and Pro Life votes which will gravitate to the Third Party Candidate (AIP) Bob Bird if Stevens is the Rep candidate, and I’ll keep non partisans and Independents, which is where this election will be decided

You would have opposed sending troops to Iraq. Please explain why you would be opposed and how you feel about the current occupation/rebuilding efforts there. Is there a compelling reason to maintain, even minimally, a presence there?

It is easy to play “Monday morning quarterback” and see that our invasion of Iraq was a bad move for America. I would like to think I would have seen this as a bad move, but given the information at the time, I can’t be sure I would have seen through the faulty assumptions and bad information. Looking back, there is no question that the war is causing major trauma to our economy, our dollar, the price of oil, loss of life, and loss of image worldwide. But now that we are there, we can’t withdraw overnight. We have supporters within Iraq we must consider. We have made some progress in delivering Iraq to be a more democratic nation, and, having spent so much; it would be a shame to withdraw and lose everything we have done. I believe that “partition” is a possible method to speed our withdrawal.

Cuddy’s no Ron Paul or Walter Jones. But he’s no Ted Stevens, either.

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Ich Bin Ein Clueless

There has been clearly a huge gap between the MSM’s glowing reviews of Barack Obama’s world tour and its impact voters who seem to be more inclined to vote for John McCain now. My explanation of the apparent paradox — the candidate’s great media visuals that slowdown his electoral momentum: Obama fell into the trap set-up by the the same MSM and the McCain camp that highlighted results of polls showing that McCain beats Obama in commander in chief “test” and that the public is supposedly “divided” over their respective plans for Iraq. Hence the trip was meant to demonstrate Obama’s ability to perform on the world stage as potential commander in chief and his success in marketing his Iraq agenda. In that context, Obama was also stressing that America needs shift resources from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to win the “good war” there.

The fact is that a majority of American have concluded that the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq and that as two researchers put it for most voters the “matter’s closed.” Obama’s comparative advantage has always lied in his earlier opposition to the Iraq war and his support for withdrawal of troops from that country — two positions that he should have continued to contrast with McCain’s cheer-leading for that war and his commitment to mainain U.S. presence there as part of a hegemonic U.S. strategy in the Middle East, including a possible war with Iran. Obama should have stressed that in his campaign instead of trying to turn it into a debate over his and McCain’s “withdrawal plans” while promising to draw the U.S. into a wider war in Afghanistan as well as to embrace a tough approach towards Iran.

But if both candidates seem to differ only on the timeline for withdrawal from Iraq and are both committed to more wars in Afghanistan and possibly with Iran, why shouldn’t voters be more inclined to support McCain who unlike Obama (and Bush) is a tough military guy? Ironically, if there was any presidential election in which a “peace candidate” could win, this is the one.

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Losing the Army To Win The White House

John McCain slid into Rush Limbaugh territory this week when he said “Obama would rather lose a war to win a political campaign.” But when will someone ask McCain publicly if he’s willing to lose the Army to win a politicial campaign?

Bill Sasser has a powerful piece up on Salon today about how the Army is rushing to promote sergeants — qualified or not — in an apparently desperate race to fill the holes left by an exodus of officers and the demands of a deployment cycle that has yet to afford men and women anything better than an average 1 year in, one year out dwell time ratio:

After six years of war, with multiple tours of duty commonplace, the Army continues struggling to retain and recruit quality soldiers. After failing to meet its recruitment goals in 2005, the Army undertook measures to boost its numbers, with some success. That included stop-loss orders (compulsory postponement of retirements), bonuses of up to $50,000 for re-enlisting, and the loosening of standards on criminal backgrounds, education and age. It also began automatically promoting enlisted personnel with the rank of E-4 to sergeant, or E-5 in the Army’s hierarchy of service ranks, based on a soldier’s time in service, while waiving a requirement that candidates for E-5 appear before a promotions board.

Under the current policy, after 48 months of service E-4s serving in military specialties with shortages are automatically placed on a promotions list. Although a soldier’s name can be removed by his or her commander, each month that soldier’s name is placed back on the list. This was termed “automatic list integration” by the Army (or what the soldiers call “paper boarding”). This April, the policy was expanded to include promotions to staff sergeant, or E-6.

Sgt. Selena Coppa, a communications specialist in the 105th Military Intelligence Battalion, said she has noted a marked lowering of standards for E-4s being promoted to sergeant. “The doctrine now is that you just need to be trainable, and people who are not competent and not good leadership material are being promoted,” said Coppa, who has expressed her concerns through unit performance surveys and spoken directly to her superiors. “A sergeant major told me, ‘Yes, you’re right, but there’s nothing I can do about it.'”

It would seem to me that as a “military man,” McCain would be best qualified to articulate this problem and gain some serious credibility with voters if he stopped ignoring it and offered some solutions. But he cannot. His marriage to “more boots on the ground” might as well have been signed in blood five years ago, and for better or for worse, he cannot waver, much less draw attention to anything that might suggest his ideological compact might be hurting the Army’s ability to effectively put “more boots on the ground” anywhere else in the world in the foreseeable future. Ironically, they call him Mr. Straight Talk, but we have gotten more of that from active duty officers, who have testified that if something isn’t done to ease the strain on the forces, they just won’t be able to respond on other fronts.

One thinks they risked more in telling the truth than McCain, who has but “a political campaign” to lose.

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El Rushbore

Limbaugh endorses China’s fuel subsidies:

Folks, I don’t know what the price of gasoline is in China and I don’t know to what extent, if any, it is subsidized — okay, it is subsidized. See, the ChiComs need their economy growing. They need people driving around, moving around. They need people to be able to afford fuel, so they’re subsidizing fuel. They’re not bailing people out of stupid home mortgage messes. They’re buying their gasoline for them, because they need an economy. Know what energy means to this, the whole subject of economic growth. So meanwhile, the ChiComs, a country certainly growing, certainly on the rise, but it ain’t the United States of America. How does it make you feel that Zhang Linsen has a big Hummer with nine speakers blaring as he pulls out into a four-lane road with so much smog he basically can’t see the car in front of him, and you are trading in all of your cars and trying to go out and find basically a lawn mower. (emphasis added)

It’s amazing what passes for conservatism these days. The market is currently dictating that Americans become more fuel efficient, which Limbaugh apparently disapproves of. Imagine the uproar if Obama or Clinton said that the U.S. should become more like China.

If rightwingers should ever wonder how they got into their current predicament, they should start by looking at their AM radio dials.

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What We Get For Capitol Hill ‘Experience’

While John McCain continues to stoke the narrative that Barack Obama’s youth and inexperience on Capitol Hill could be a danger to the country, some of the seeds of his own decades-long tenure in Washington — his “judgment” and “leadership” — are starting to bloom stink weeds. $4 billion dollars worth. Seems that while McCain, the pork busting maverick, was “out in front” in criticizing former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, when, let’s be honest, it wasn’t really politically risky to do so, he played no outstanding role in making sure billions of taxpayer dollars weren’t dropped down a sinkhole in the desert, even when there was evidence that private contractors were ripping off Uncle Sam since the beginning of the war.

From the The Associated Press today:

In the flatlands north of Baghdad sits a prison with no prisoners.

It holds something else: a chronicle of U.S. government waste, misguided planning and construction shortcuts costing $40 million and stretching back to the U.S. overseers who replaced Saddam Hussein.

“It’s a bit of a monument in the desert right now because it’s not going to be used as a prison,” said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, whose office plans to release a report today detailing the problems at the vacant detention center in Khan Bani Saad.

The pages also add another narrative to the wider probes into the billions lost on scrubbed or substandard projects and one of the main contractors accused of failing to deliver, the Parsons construction group of Pasadena, Calif.

In the pecking order of corruption in Iraq, the dead-end prison project at Khan Bani Saad is nowhere near the biggest or most tangled.

Bowen estimated up to 20 percent “waste” — or more than $4 billion — from the $21 billion spent so far in the U.S.-bankrolled Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. It’s just one piece of a recovery effort that swelled beyond $112 billion in U.S., Iraqi and international contributions.(Emphasis mine)

According to The Washington Post this morning, the inspector general reiterates in his most recent report familiar admonishments from past reviews to congress: “widespread problems of contractors doing poor work, being late and overspending on projects. Those issues combined with bad record-keeping, lack of oversight by overworked government managers, and high personnel turnover for both the government and contractors in an unstable war zone have created millions of dollars in waste.”

Not only is it a gross waste of taxpayer money at a time when we could use it for so many other things back home (including keeping it in our own damn pockets!), but it underscores with a razor’s touch the failure of our promise to rebuild Iraq as a lasting testament of our “good intentions” in invading in the first place.

McCain’s support of that invasion, his blind eye to the public-private corruption fueled by the ongoing occupation — don’t bode well for the “experience” factor Obama is supposedly lacking. Reporters, in their zeal to ensure they aren’t too so soft on Obama, need to ask why a senior member of the Armed Services Committee did not do more to make sure Iraq didn’t become the Middle East capital of Waste, Fraud and Abuse over the last five years.

UPDATE: The story seems even more perverse when taking into account the $482 billion deficit the Bush Administration is expected to leave the next president. My favorite line from today’s reports:

The administration actually underestimates the deficit, however, since it leaves out about $80 billion in war costs. In a break from tradition — and in violation of new mandates from Congress — the White House did not include its full estimate of war costs.

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A Mysterious Explosion

A mysterious blast that may or may not have taken place a week ago in a suburb of Tehran is producing more questions than answers.  The explosion, which has not been reported in Iranian sources even though the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph stated that it could be heard all over the city of Tehran, allegedly involved a munitions convoy carrying weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon by way of Turkey and Syria.  The article, which appeared on July 25th, reports that at least fifteen people were killed.  The Telegraph article, based on information provided by “Western officials,” was written by Con Coughlin, who often is a conduit for British government sources.  He frequently posts stories that turn out to be inaccurate but which were apparently placed either as propaganda or as disinformation.  Complicating the issue is an independent report that some Israeli journalists knew in advance that there would be an attack on an Iranian weapons convoy on July 19th, the day on which the alleged incident reportedly took place.   

There are a number of possibilities.  The story itself could be a complete fabrication intended only to substantiate US and Israeli claims that Tehran is supplying weapons to Hezbollah in contravention of UN agreements.  That is has appeared in both the Israeli and British media could be an attempt to confirm the allegations being made, a classic technique used to establish the bona fides of disinformation.  Alternatively, the story could be true, but the result of an accident that the Israeli, American, and the British governments are seeking to exploit to make it look like they might have had a hand in it, making the Iranians uncertain about the intentions and capabilities of their enemies.  Or it could be an actual covert operation by the US, Israel, or Britain to disrupt Iranian supplying Hezbollah with weapons.  If that is what it is, it would be a significant escalation of the covert war being waged against Iran and it would also mean that the US and its friends have the capability to carry out a major operation in Tehran itself.  If that is true, it will strenghten the position of the hardliners inside Iran and will almost certainly force the Iranians to react, possibly by carrying out an operation of their own inside Iraq. 

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Surge: The New Loyalty Test

It’s no secret that the Republican Party has put a high tactical premium on loyalty over the last eight years, engaging it as a key political tool (and bludgeon) to keep party soldiers marching in-step, and to bleed its enemies of legitimacy in the arena of public opinion. While there are obvious doubts that such manipulations will work on the electorate this Nov. 4, they’ve been quite effective in the past.

goose stepYou can’t stop the Party from trying. It demanded loyalty for President Bush after 9/11 – who could deny the man with the megaphone atop the smoldering debris of the American dream? For Gen. David Petraeus, when it was critical that the Republicans throw water on the post-midterm cry to end the war. Today, the new litmus test is loyalty to an idea. The unflinching, unreflective loyalty to The Surge.

Will it work? Not sure, but it is a fascinating study in GOP mind-meld to watch the tactic employed once again. Not only are party surrogates demanding The Surge be recognized as a success, they are daring Sen. Obama to admit he was wrong for opposing it, suggesting he hasn’t admitted error already out of pride, that he doesn’t have the political nerve or yet, integrity, to say, “hey I made a mistake.”

(It seems that here, they’re confusing Obama with Bush, who for the better part of the Iraq War was loath to admit his leadership was ever at fault for all the mistakes – now laboriously itemized by military historians, analysts and the military itself – made in the post-invasion, much less the insertion of US troops into that country in the first place).

No matter. McCain was out on the stump Friday actually taunting the Democratic candidate about his vote against funding for the surge in 2007, saying “[Obama] actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn’t just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it.”

Kathleen Parker, writing for Thursday in a piece called “Pride Clouds Obama’s Vision,” does her best for the team:
(Emphasis mine)

Most Americans would have little trouble forgiving Obama for not believing the surge would be effective. It was a gamble, as are all strategies in war. Even with reports on the ground that locals seemed increasingly willing to rise up, there was reason enough by 2007 to doubt the wisdom of America’s commander in chief.

It is less easy to forgive the kind of wrongheaded stubbornness now on display. As recently as July 14, Obama wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true.” He mentioned the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, money spent in Iraq and said that the surge had failed to produce “political accommodation.”

Fine. But the larger, more important point is that the surge was necessary and successful. Those facts outweigh all other considerations past and present. Moreover, a recent U.S. Embassy report stated that 15 of 18 benchmarks set by Congress for Iraq are being met in a “satisfactory” fashion.

Obama has fallen to pride in part because he has bought his own myth. By staking his future on a past of supernatural vision, he has made it difficult to admit human fault. The magic isn’t working anymore. And Obama, the visionary one, can’t even see what everyone else sees: He was wrong.

All other considerations past and present?
Are we to believe that reducing the violence of an insurgency that our own government and its surrogates were content to deny until it absolutely, positively couldn’t be ignored any longer, down to the level it should have been in Spring 2003 when in military terms, we should have been doing things right already, neutralizes the fact that we blew apart a country, sent 4 million people from their homes, helped to create a brain drain in which there are hardly any doctors or teachers left in the cities and an unemployment rate that could reach 50 percent depending on who one talks to?

Not to mention that if we had done things right in the first place, thousands of US soldiers and Marines would be alive and full-bodied today, their brains not rattled from IED blasts, their dreams not stalked every night by the ghosts of dead Iraqi children and fallen comrades, their homes not broken and their chances for normal livelihoods more hopeful.

That’s even if one swallows whole the idea that The Surge was solely responsible for stabilizing Iraq in the first place. Obama won’t admit a mistake, because he is a smart guy – capable of understanding that foreign policy analysis can’t be popped out of a cereal box like a plastic decoder ring. He gets that the drop in violence resulted from a convergence of events “on the ground” that had as much to do with paying our former enemies to stop fighting us, the so-called “Anbar Awakening” that started before The Surge and the sectarian cleansing, as it did with the insertion of 30,000 more US troops into Iraq. Plus, Maliki found a way to ensure that his own militia – the Iraqi Army, plus an assist from the the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade –won the war of competing Shia factions in Basra and elsewhere, and Sadr’s milita in Baghdad is still lying low in a likely shrewd political calculation: there are elections (supposedly) coming up, and US soldiers wont be in his neighborhood forever. He thinks.

There are many who can breathe life into this analysis more than I, but the bottom line is this: Obama and his supporters, hell, anyone who is sick of the GOP spin cycle, can make the argument against this latest loyalty test without sounding peevish. Read More…

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Here’s to One Right Stands

All professions are conspiracies against the laity.
–George Bernard Shaw

This fear of finding oneself in bad company is not an expression of political purity; it is an expression of a lack of self-confidence.
—Arthur Koestler

Bob Barr has announced his support for the Strangebedfellows/AccountabilityNowPAC coalition and their Aug. 8 money bomb being put together by and modeled on the successful efforts of Ron Paul organizer Trevor Lyman:

A lot of media attention has been focused on our privacy or, more appropriately, the invasion of our privacy by the government. The recent law that allows the government to intercept our phone calls and emails without any legitimate probable cause is the most glaring example. Ultimately we lose some freedom with virtually every new law or government regulation, but this particular law, FISA, is the granddaddy of all invasions of our privacy.For the last several years Bob Barr has been fighting the government’s intrusion into our privacy at every step. There have been other organizations standing shoulder to shoulder with Bob. But, the recent focus on the invasion of our privacy has motivated a whole new group of concerned activists to join together in an effort to stop the government’s encroachment into our lives.

Some of the names of the organizers of this new group, AccountabilityNowPac, may be familiar to you. They come from a large variety of backgrounds and political beliefs joined in the common interest of protecting our privacy.

Here’s Glenn Greenwald’s summary of the effort.

Read More…

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