"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Shame and the Sorrow

Andrew Sullivan and the Bourbon Mentality

Like the Bourbons, famously described by Talleyrand as having learned nothing and forgotten nothing, the neocons have few regrets over the widening debacle in Iraq. Oh, some have published limited mea culpas, but these are merely extended exercises in excuse-making, and don't really confront the intrinsic folly of the policy that guided our actions. The policy wasn't carried out consistently, they complain: the problem, says Bill Kristol, the little Lenin of the War Party, was not in the principle of global interventionism, but in its implementation in Iraq. William F. Buckley, Jr., similarly admits no error in principle, but tries to pass the blame to the Iraqis, who, it seems, are insufficiently grateful that their country has been "liberated" into a pile of bloodstained rubble. This pass-the-buck approach to the question of what went wrong is shared by Richard Perle, who opines:

"The military campaign and its political aftermath were both passionately debated within the Bush administration. It got the war right and the aftermath wrong. We should have understood that we needed Iraqi partners."

Meaning we should have invaded and immediately handed power over to Ahmed Chalabi – no doubt as a reward for supplying the administration with so many lies about Iraq's fabled "weapons of mass destruction" that, by the time anyone got around to debunking them all, we were already waist-deep in the Iraqi quagmire.

As the most brazenly unapologetic of the neocons, Perle really takes the cake: his idea of the great lesson of the Iraq invasion and the phony "intelligence" that served as a pretext is that we can't wait around too long before we attack Iran. Reuters reports his latest pronouncement:

"Richard Perle, a key architect of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, said on Saturday the West should not make the mistake of waiting too long to use military force if Iran comes close to getting an atomic weapon.

"'If you want to try to wait until the very last minute, you'd better be very confident of your intelligence because if you're not, you won't know when the last minute is,' Perle told Reuters on the sidelines of an annual security conference in Munich. 'And so, ironically, one of the lessons of the inadequate intelligence of Iraq is you'd better be careful how long you choose to wait.'

"Perle said Israel had chosen not to wait until it was too late to destroy the key facility Saddam Hussein's secret nuclear weapons programme in Osirak, Iraq in 1981. The Israelis decided to bomb the Osirak reactor before it was loaded up with nuclear fuel to prevent widespread radioactive contamination. 'I can't tell you when we may face a similar choice with Iran. But it's either take action now or lose the option of taking action.'"

Since all intelligence is unreliable, it is better to act than to refrain from attacking – because, as Perle and his fellow snakes constantly hiss, in the post-9/11 era we can't afford to make mistakes. In the Bizarro World of the neocons, where morality as well as logic is inverted, uncertainty is precisely the reason we need a policy of preemption. In the world of the rest of us, however, it is precisely this uncertainty that makes the Bush Doctrine morally suspect and practically unworkable. What we might term the Perle principle is a recipe for perpetual war – and that just about sums up the entire neoconservative program, now doesn't it?

Others of this tribe, however, are a bit more contrite. Here we have Andrew Sullivan, who rallied the War Party in the run-up to the invasion with accusations that Iraq was behind the post-9/11 anthrax scare, beating his breast:

"The world has learnt a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis … than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response is not more spin but a sense of shame and sorrow."

This comes close to a real apology, but, read in context with the rest of his Time essay, still doesn't quite make the grade as a full-fledged act of contrition. Because, as he makes all too clear, he still doesn't understand why he was wrong – nor does he clearly admit he was wrong to begin with. According to Sullivan, he and his fellow neocons made three major errors:

"The first was to overestimate the competence of government, especially in very tricky areas like WMD intelligence. The shock of 9/11 provoked an overestimation of the risks we faced. And our fear forced errors into a deeply fallible system. When doubts were raised, they were far too swiftly dismissed. The result was the WMD intelligence debacle, something that did far more damage to the war's legitimacy and fate than many have yet absorbed."

Overestimating the competence of government seems an awfully odd mistake for an ostensible "conservative" to make, and one can't help wondering if some factor that goes unmentioned by Sullivan had a hand in making him and his ilk especially prone to the pitfalls of "a deeply fallible system." Nor can one help but speculate as to what the introduction of outright forgeries into the U.S. intelligence stream tells us about how deeply compromised our intelligence-gathering system was (and no doubt still is). Yes, we are all of us fallible: but, as it turns out, some of us are liars – and worse.

"The second error was narcissism. America's power blinded many of us to the resentments that hegemony always provokes. Those resentments are often as deep among our global friends as among our enemies – and make alliances as hard as they are important. That is not to say we should never act unilaterally. Sometimes the right thing to do will spawn backlash, and we should do it anyway. But that makes it all the more imperative that when we do go out on a limb, we get things right. In those instances, we need to make our margin of error as small as humanly possible. Too many in the Bush Administration, alas, did the opposite. They sent far too few troops, were reckless in postinvasion planning and turned a deaf ear to constructive criticism, even from within their own ranks. Their abdication of the moral high ground, by allowing the abuse and torture of military detainees, is repellent. Their incompetence and misjudgments might be forgiven. Their arrogance and obstinacy remain inexcusable."

Sullivan denouncing arrogance, obstinacy, and narcissism – it's like the Devil detailing the wages of sin. Are we to be spared nothing? He gets up on his high horse and reels off examples of the Bush administration's incompetence, but on the subject of his own misjudgments he is strangely silent. Or, perhaps, not so strangely: of all the public intellectuals now polluting the "mainstream" media with their extravagant self-regard, perhaps only a few – Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol come immediately to mind – surpass Sullivan in the hubris department.

Sullivan's appeal to the "incompetence" angle shows that there is no shame, no real remorse, for having led us all down the garden path: according to his lights, he was right, in principle – it was only in the execution that the administration got it all wrong. Instead of regretting that we ever sent our troops into the Iraqi maelstrom, Andrew opines that we sent too few. This is a reiteration of the current Democratic Party talking point, one that the pro-war Hillary Clinton has given voice to along with Joe Biden and the other DLC clones. Sullivan, who came out for Kerry in '04, demonstrates here the free-floating opportunism that characterizes the neoconservative personality. Party loyalty – or, indeed, loyalty of any sort – doesn't enter into it.

Sullivan is to be commended for his vocal and persistent criticism of an administration that believes it has the right to torture in the name of "freedom," yet he fails to confront the rather obvious fact that such odious practices flow logically from the scale and very nature of the military project we've undertaken. Some of us foresaw that the occupation of Iraq would mirror the Israeli occupation of Palestine, albeit on a grand scale – and, in this light, one can hardly have been surprised by Abu Ghraib. Suicide bombers, growing-sectarian strife, and the entry of al-Qaeda on the Iraqi stage – all of it was predictable, and, indeed, all of those consequences of the invasion were predicted by opponents of intervention. In admitting that he was wrong, Sullivan, you'll note, nowhere acknowledges that war critics were in any way right: I suppose he is sticking by his contention, made early in the Iraq debate, that opponents of this war were part of a pro-terrorist "fifth column." About that, you can bet your bottom dollar he feels not one iota of "shame and sorrow."

The shame and the sorrow of Andrew Sullivan is rooted in an overwhelming conceit, a sense of entitlement combined with a hubris that knows no earthly bounds – characteristics that are part of the shared values of our elites, in journalism as well as government. These people believe they are fated to rule the world, and that they have every right to decide the fate of entire peoples: they treat the world like a kind of global sandbox. As the young American giant plays at empire-building, the rest of the world must suffer through his mistakes, while it is the role of Sullivan and his fellow Deep Thinkers to solemnly list their regrets and shift the blame to others – without, of course, ever saying "sorry." They are incapable of a simple apology, and it would never occur to them that a tactful silence on matters of foreign policy might be in order for the immediate future. A big problem for people like Sullivan and his ilk is that they just don't know when to shut up: as they chatter away, they reveal too much, and, in doing so, lose whatever credibility they once had.

Sullivan mentions the growing conservative disenchantment with Bush's Iraqi adventure, naming William F. Buckley, Francis Fukuyama, and George Will – but ungraciously fails to note those conservatives, like Pat Buchanan, who opposed the war from the start. That's because Sullivan would rather die than admit a social conservative could ever be right about anything, never mind regarding an issue on which he has been so spectacularly wrong.

I'll spare my readers any further analysis of Sullivan's semantic twists and turns, except to note that, in conclusion, we are told:

"War is always, in the end, a matter of flexibility and will. And sometimes the darkest days are inevitable – even necessary – before the sky ultimately clears."

Translation: Tomorrow is another day. Tara may be lost, but the Scarlett O'Hara of the War Party is hopeful that we can pull it all off if only we face the new day with sufficient "will."

Sullivan's will to power will kill us all, if it doesn't bankrupt us first: it has already slaughtered as many as 100,000 Iraqis, as well as 2,300 or so of our own, with the prospect of many more deaths to come. How many more will be sacrificed for the sake of the neocons' monumental conceit?

by Justin Raimondo

Milosevic's Death Casts Shadow on War-Crimes Tribunal

The stock of Slobodan Milosevic had already been rising among Serbs who watched his feisty performances at his war-crimes trial at The Hague.

His death now makes him a martyr -- and brings into serious question Belgrade's future cooperation with the war-crimes tribunal.

A groundswell of emotion in Serbia for the fallen leader known in the West as the "Butcher of Belgrade" would create a political obstacle to handing former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, and five other fugitive suspects, over to the tribunal -- just weeks before the deadline for extradition.

Milosevic's death and the suicide last week in prison of convicted former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic, a star witness in the Milosevic trial, have created the impression in Belgrade of The Hague as a gallows for Serb nationalists -- a place where the West lets them rot away.

"How are they now going to explain to the Serbian public that Milosevic was not severely ill, as he had claimed, and that the Hague jail is safe for the Serbs?" asked political analyst Brace Grubacic.

Milosevic, who suffered from heart problems and high blood pressure, had recently demanded to be temporarily released to go to Moscow for treatment.

But presiding Judge Patrick Robinson refused, ruling that even with Russian guarantees to send him back, the court was "not satisfied ... that the accused, if released, would return for the continuation of his trial".

Ivica Dacic, the caretaker president of Milosevic's Socialist Party, echoed the views of many in Belgrade on Saturday when he said: "Milosevic did not die in The Hague; he was killed in The Hague."

He added that before dying, Milosevic "managed to defend the national and state interests of Serbia and the Serb people, and everybody should be grateful to him for that".

Toma Fila, Milosevic's family lawyer, said: "Milosevic's death will tear to shreds the tribunal's credibility, which has seriously been tarnished already. He is the sixth Serb to die at the hands of this court."

Former Czech foreign minister Jiri Dienstbier, who served as UN special envoy for human rights in Yugoslavia from 1998-2001, said: "I am afraid that his death will be misused by extremists [in Serbia] who will proclaim [Milosevic] a national hero."

Those fears took little time to materialise. The ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, staunch Milosevic's wartime allies, said in a statement that "after Milosevic's death, nothing will be the same in Serbia".

"The Radical Party promises to the citizens of Serbia that it will no longer tolerate the harassment of the Serbian patriots and their families," citing alleged "harassment" by Serbia's pro-Western President Boris Tadic and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic.

Many observers both in Serbia and the West called into question the validity of the Hague war-crimes tribunal for other reasons -- suggesting the chance for a historical reckoning had been lost because the trial was allowed to drag on for years.

Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, who served as the UN special envoy to the Balkans between 1999 and 2001, called Milosevic's death "seriously damaging to The Hague tribunal".

In a written statement to Swedish news agency TT, Bildt said that "despite years of trials we will never have a verdict, and thereby a conclusion regarding important questions of guilt".

Natasa Kandic, a leading human rights activist in Serbia who has provided evidence to the UN war-crimes prosecutors, said Milosevic's death before the end of the trial has caused "historic damage". -- Sapa-AP

Dusan Stojanovic | Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro


Fear Won The Ports Debate

Hostility towards Arabs and Muslims is more widespread than it was the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. This negative animus both provided the tinder for the “Dubai port controversy” and was in turn, fueled by the shameful way this issue was debated.

A recent Washington Post poll shows that the U.S. public now has a net negative view of Islam (43% favorable, 46% unfavorable). These numbers represent a 10-point drop in favorable attitudes and a doubling of negative attitudes when compared with polls taken a few months after 9/11.

What this suggests is that, though dormant at times, the animus remains a vein just below the surface that can either erupt in times of crisis or be tapped into by demagogues seeking to exploit its power.

This is exactly what happened in the recent Dubai ports debate. Playing off of the public’s insecurity and fear, both Democrats and Republicans exploited anti-Arab sentiment. When I made the observation a few weeks ago, I was challenged by emails and responses, many of which were so filled with bigotry and rancor, they actually served to make my point.

Some may deny that this controversy was about preying off of prejudice and ignorance for political gain, but that is exactly what happened, and it is still happening in this sad episode of American politics.

White House advisor Karl Rove fired the opening round, when at a winter meeting of the Republican Party, he made it clear that in November 2006, Republicans would again play the trump card of “national security,” to retain control of the Senate and House.

Democrats, wary of this ploy, which cost them victories in 2002 and 2004, found in the Dubai Ports World (DPW) story an issue which would provide them with a weapon to “out-Rove Rove.” They had tried for years, but failed, to successfully challenge the White House on the issue of port security. DPW provided them with an Arab target to shoot at, and shoot they did. The rhetoric was harsh and false, distorted and exaggerated. But, because it was an Arab country, they found a believing public and no serious debate was required.

For its part, the White House failed to respond early on, and by the time they issued their talking points rebuttals about the “U.S.-UAE relationship,” and the “role of the UAE in the war on terror,” it was too late. The negative stories, though false, had come to be believed and became a part of accepted discourse.

The distortions became fodder for campaign commercials. In one, Democrat Harold Ford (a Tennessee Congressman running for the U.S. Senate) stands in front of the port of Baltimore and says:

President Bush wants to sell this port and five others to the United Arab Emirates—a country that had diplomatic ties with the Taliban; the home of two 9/11 hijackers, whose banks wired money to the terrorists.

I’m running for the Senate because we shouldn’t outsource our national security to anyone. I’ll fight to protect America and keep your family safe.

The actual facts don't seem to matter. Like the fact that President Bush wasn’t selling the port, and DPW was simply purchasing the rights to manage operations. Or that the UAE recognized the Taliban and provided the U.S. with valuable intelligence because we had no intelligence assets of our own in that country. Further, while two of the 9/11 terrorists did come from the UAE, they were recruited and received operational training for terrorism in Germany, not the UAE. And, of course, U.S. banks also wired money and gave credit cards to the terrorists.

Fear trumped reality. The same was true for every other story that was used to discredit DPW and the UAE.

There was a relentless drip-drip-drip of a new allegation a day. Though they were rebutted, they were nevertheless echoed by politicians in both parties and radio and TV talk shows, and they stuck.

Republicans, realizing that their president was too weak to save them, joined the fray. Legislation offered by powerful Republican House leaders spelled the end of DPW’s bid to do business in the U.S.

And so after three weeks, DPW officials agreed to divest themselves of operations. The controversy will not end, and real damage has been done.

Look at the impact. General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, warned late last week, “the bashing of Arabs and Muslims” was “unnecessary,” and could prove detrimental to the U.S.’s ability to function in the region. President Bush also warned about the need to keep allies and the damage that this ill-informed campaign presents to our relationships with countries who work with us.

Until a few weeks ago, the UAE was also unknown to most Americans. Now, this modernizing economic powerhouse has become known in a crude and distorted caricature.

As the Washington Post poll demonstrates, anti-Arab sentiments are up and because of the way Republicans and Democrats played the xenophobia card, America is in danger of going down the very risky path of isolationism and protectionism. Articles are already suggesting that foreign investors are thinking twice about the U.S.—not a good thing.

A final note. It is somewhat ironic to observe that after all the controversy and despite the apparent success of DPW’s opponents, we are still no closer to a needed debate about port security. The Democratic Party, ignored by its Congressional representatives, has valiantly been attempting to issue regular releases about the discussion Americans should be having about increased funding, increased inspections and better security procedures at our ports. But too little attention is being paid to substance, when fear works so well as a substitute.

James Zogby
March 14, 2006

Dr. James J. Zogby is founder and president of the Arab American Institute