Monday, February 26, 2007

The Christian Right, in detail

EXCELLENT piece by Frederick Clarkson (http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v19n3/clarkson_dominionism.html) defining the political aims of the Christian Right as "dominionism," defining the term, and analysing how various members of the Christian Right attempt to put them into play. One of the first and best attempts I have seen to discuss, analyse, and understand the motivation and strategy of the phenomenon of the Christian Right as a political movement.

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When Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court, installed a two-and-one-half-ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama state courthouse in Montgomery in June of 2001, he knew it was a deeply symbolic act. He was saying that God's laws are the foundation of the nation; and of all our laws. Or at least, they ought to be.1 The monument (wags call it "Roy's rock") was installed under cover of night – but Moore had a camera crew from Rev. D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries on hand to record the historic event. Kennedy then sold videos of the installation as a fundraiser for Moore's legal defense.
They knew he would need it.

The story of Roy's rock epitomizes the rise of what many are calling "dominionism." It is a story of how notions of "Biblical law" as an alternative to traditional, secular ideas of constitutional law are edging into mainstream American politics.

As readers of The Public Eye know, dominionism—in its "softest" form the belief that "America is a Christian Nation," and that Christians need to re-assert control over political and cultural institutions—has been on the rise for a long time. Since The Public Eye first began writing about dominionism ten years ago, the movement, broadly defined, has gained considerable power. Recently however, the term has become fashionable with some lumping every form of evangelical Christianity and every faction in the Bush White House into one big, single-minded imperial dominionist plot. Dominionism is narrower and more profound than that. It is the driving ideology of the Christian Right.

It comes in "hard" and "soft" varieties, with the "hard" or theocratic dominionists "a religious trend that arose in the 1970s as a series of small Christian movements that seek to establish a theocratic form of government," according Political Research Associates Senior Analyst Chip Berlet. The seminal form of Hard Dominionism is Christian Reconstructionism, which seeks to replace secular governance, and subsequently the U.S. Constitution, with a political and judicial system based on Old Testament Law, or Mosaic Law (see box). Not all dominionists embrace this view, though most dominionists look back to the early years of the American colonies to argue that before the Constitution, "the United States was originally envisioned as a society based on Biblical law."2

Berlet's distinction between hard and soft dominionists is clear and broad enough to describe the two main wings of the movement. But these viewpoints, like the terms "theocrat" and "theocracy," are openly embraced by few. They are terms used by outside observers to understand a complex yet vitally important trend. So for people trying to figure out if a conservative politician, organization, or religious leader is "dominionist," I notice three characteristics that bridge both the hard and the soft kind.

Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.
Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or "biblical law," should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.
Pieces of dominionism spill out in the day-to-day words and activities of our nation's leaders all the time. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) routinely hosts tours of the Capitol for constituents, Congressmembers and their staffs by Christian nationalist propagandist David Barton. President George W. Bush claimed during one of his presidential campaign debates with John Kerry that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has said the United States should be governed under Biblical law.

And a dominionist— Sen. Sam Brownback (RKS) —is a hopeful for the Republican presidential nomination for 2008, while other dominionists are challenging the GOP through the Constitution Party, the third largest party in the nation. Moore himself is challenging a business-oriented incumbent in the GOP gubernatorial primary in Alabama for 2006.

Hard dominionists like Moore take these ideas to their extremes. They want to rewrite or replace or supplement the Constitution and Bill of Rights to codify specific elements of Biblical law. This would create a society that would be a theocracy. Soft dominionists like Brownback, on the other hand, propose a form of Christian nationalism that stops short of a codified legal theocracy. They may embrace a flat tax of 10% whose origins they place in the Bible. They are comfortable with little or no separation of church and state, seeing the secular state as eroding the place of the church in society.

Dominionism is therefore a broad political tendency—consisting of both hard and soft branches—organized through religiously based social movements that seeks power primarily through the electoral system. Dominionists work in coalitions with other religious and secular groups that primarily are active inside the Republican Party. They seek to build the kingdom of God in the here and now.

The three-shared Dominionist characteristics of religious supremacy, Christian nationalism, and theocratic visions are on vivid display in the politics of Moore's ally, Rev. D. James Kennedy, the prominent televangelist. In early 2005, Kennedy displayed Roy's rock at his annual political conference, "Reclaiming America for Christ" in Ft. Lauderdale. "For more than 900 other Christians from across the United States," reported the Christian Science Monitor, "the monument stood as a potent symbol of their hopes for changing the course of the nation."

"In material given to conference attendees, [Kennedy] wrote: ‘As the viceregents of God, we are to bring His truth and His will to bear on every sphere of our world and our society. We are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government ... our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors—in short, over every aspect and institution of human society."

Kennedy, the Monitor noted, "regularly calls the United States a Christian nation that should be governed by Christians. He has created a Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington that seeks to evangelize members of Congress and their staffs, and to counsel conservative Christian officeholders."

The Monitor story shows Kennedy manifesting all three characteristic of a dominionist: he is a Christian nationalist; he is a religious supremacist; and his politics are decidedly theocratic.3 But of the three characteristics, Kennedy would embrace the first, but deny the second and third.

Moore and the Separation of Church and State
The notion we often hear in public these days—of the supposed suppression of Christian expression by an alleged secular humanist conspiracy—stems largely from the works of Reconstructionist R.J. Rushdoony and those of the Reconstructionist- influenced writer, Francis Schaefer. Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson also echo these claims.

The charge can be heard across the decades in Christian Right claims that "secular humanism" is being taught in the public schools and that Christians are "persecuted" in America. A recent variation of this claim was made by soft dominionist, Dr. Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention. "The greatest threat to religious freedom in America," Land declared, "are secular fundamentalists who want to ghetto-ize religious faith and make the wall of separation between church and state a prison wall keeping religious voices out of political discourse."4

Virginia Reconstructionist Rev. Byron Snapp maintains, "religious pluralism is a myth. At no point in Scripture do we read that God teaches, supports, or condones pluralism. To support pluralism is to recognize all religions as equal."5 This is, of course, exactly what the U.S. Constitution requires.6 It is because this is so, in part, that there is such a desperate push for what Rushdoony called "Christian revisionism" of history.

Arguably, Moore is emerging as the leading Christian Reconstructionist politician in America. So let's return to the story of Roy's rock.

A few years ago, Moore was an obscure Alabama county judge. He gained notoriety when the American Civil Liberties Union sued because he insisted on hanging a hand-carved Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom and opening the proceedings with a prayer. While the case was ultimately dismissed because the plaintiff lacked standing to sue, Roy Moore became a nationally known as the "Ten Commandments Judge." Moore, 58, turned his notoriety into election as chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court in November 2000. Six months after his inauguration, he installed the now-famous monument. The ruling by Federal District Court Judge Myron H. Thompson in the inevitable lawsuit declared that the display constituted "a religious sanctuary, within the walls of a courthouse." He ordered Moore to remove it; Moore refused, and he was ultimately removed from the bench.

What is Christian Reconstructionism?
While Rev. D. James Kennedy of the Coral Ridge teleministry appears to represent "soft dominionism," he is a borderline case. Some of the political agenda he, Moore and their allies pursue strikes me as hard dominionist. And by this I mean rooted in Christian Reconstructionism, a theology that arose out of conservative Presbyterianism in the 1970's. It asserts that contemporary application of the laws of Old Testament Israel should be the basis for reconstructing society towards the Kingdom of God on earth.

Led by the movement's seminal thinker, the late Rev. R. J. Rushdoony, Reconstructionism argues that the Bible is to be the governing text for all areas of life, art, education, health care, government, family life, law and so on. They have formulated a "biblical worldview" and "biblical principles" to inform and govern their lives and their politics. Reconstructionist theologian David Chilton succinctly described this view: "The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God's Law."13

It has been difficult for many Americans to accept the idea that a theocratic movement could be afoot, let along gain much influence in 20th century America, but Robert Billings, one of the founders of the Moral Majority once said, "if it weren't for [Rushdoony's] books, none of us would be here." This does not, of course, mean that everyone influenced by Rushdoony's work is a Reconstructionist. Rather, as Billings indicated, it provided a catalyst and an ideological center of gravity for the wider movement of ideas that have percolated throughout evangelical Christianity, and parts of mainline Protestantism and Catholicism for the past three decades.

The original and defining text of Reconstructionism, is Rushdoony's 1973 opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law – an 800-page explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Biblical "case law" that derives from them and their application today. "The only true order," he wrote, "is founded on Biblical Law. All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion." In brief, he continues, "every law-order is a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare."14

The Chalcedon Foundation, a Reconstructionist think tank under whose auspices Rushdoony did most of his writing, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a conference on the life and work of Rushdoony.

Interestingly, the Chalcedon Report, the journal of the Chalcedon Foundation, recently reported that Roy Moore's Foundation for Moral Law is preparing "to hold seminars that will teach judges, lawyers, and law students about Biblical Law as the basis of America's laws and Constitution." "There is a lot more being written and said about this than there was a few years ago," Moore told Chalcedon Report. "The truth that's been cut off for so long is being brought out into the open, and it will prevail."15

Judge Thompson was additionally troubled by Moore's partnership with Rev. Kennedy. He wrote that it "can be viewed as a joint venture between the Chief Justice and Coral Ridge, as both parties have a direct interest in its continued presence in the rotunda.... In a very real way, then, it could be argued that Coral Ridge's religious activity is being sponsored and financially supported by the Chief Justice's installation of the monument as a government official."

Moore became a cause celebre and a popular speaker at major gatherings of such organizations as the Christian Coalition and Eagle Forum. He was publicly courted to head the national ticket of the overtly theocratic Constitution Party in 2004 and he appeared at numerous state party conventions while being publicly coy about his intentions.7 (Founded in 1994, it was originally called the U.S. Taxpayers Party.) The GOP was rightfully concerned that Moore might divide Bush's conservative Christian constituency and threaten his reelection.

But he was able to use this leverage to move elements of the GOP in his direction. Moore and his attorney Herb Titus (vice-presidential candidate of the Constitution Party in 1996) drafted the Constitution Restoration Act, which would allow local, state and federal officials to acknowledge "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government" and prevent the U.S. Supreme Court from gagging them. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) signed on as the bill's main sponsors, and announced its introduction at a press conference in Montgomery, Ala., in February 2004.

That same day, a conference sponsored by Moore's Foundation for Moral Law drew a who's who of dominionists and dominionist-influenced Christian rightists, including Howard Philips, Herb Titus, John Eidsmoe, Phyllis Schlafly, Alan Keyes and representatives from such leading Christian Right organization as Coral Ridge Ministries, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and Eagle Forum. One of the featured speakers was Rev. Joseph Morecraft, a leader of the theocratic Christian Reconstructionist movement.8

Both the House and Senate held hearings on the bill in 2004, and Sen. Shelby reintroduced it in 2005 (S.520). As of September, it had eight GOP cosponsors. In the House (H.R.1070) Rep. Aderholt had 43 cosponsors. It is a classic and pioneering "court stripping" bill, stripping the Supreme Court of its power of oversight. The clear presumption of the bill is that God's law is, once was, and should always have been the cornerstone of law and jurisprudence in the United States. While at this writing, the bill has not, and may never progress out of committee, the depth of support for a bill of such profound consequence is one fair measure of how far the most overt dominionist agenda has come.

The rhetoric of Roy Moore, David Barton and other Christian Right leaders not withstanding, the framers of the U.S. Constitution explicitly rejected the idea of a Christian Nation. The framers, seeking to inoculate the new nation against the religious persecution and warfare that had wracked Europe for a millennium, made America the first nation in the history of the world founded without the blessing of an official god, church or religion. They were leaving behind local theocracies that had governed the colonies for the previous 150 years in which only white propertied men who were members of the correct, established sect were able to vote and hold public office. One of the formative experiences of the young James Madison was witnessing the beating and jailing of Baptist preacher who preached—it was against the law in Anglican Virginia.

Madison went on to become the principal author of both the Constitution and the First Amendment. Among the many historical issues faced by dominionists who embrace Christian nationalism and seek to revise history in support of their contemporary political aims, one is so clear and insurmountable that it is routinely ignored: Article 6 of the Constitution bans religious tests for holding public office—no more swearing of Christian oaths. By extension, this meant that one's religious orientation became irrelevant to one's status as a citizen. It was this right to believe differently, that set in motion the disestablishment of the state churches—and set the stage for every advance in civil and human rights that followed.

Granite Rock Begets a Slate of Candidates
Moore has taken his show on the road, speaking about his alternative view of American history at major and minor Christian Right conventions, and displaying the monument. It is typically cordoned off with velvet ropes and viewed with reverence, awe and rubber necking.

Moore leveraged this notoriety beyond the lecture tour into a campaign for governor of Alabama. Not only is he given a (long)shot at winning the June 2006 GOP primary against the incumbent business oriented GOP governor Bob Riley, The Atlantic Monthly reports Moore is assembling "an entire slate of candidates to run under his auspices in the Republican primary… Moore has, in effect established a splinter sect of religious conservatives bent on taking over the Republican Party, and his reach extends to every corner of the state." This has establishment types in both parties worried. "In style in if not in substance," the article concludes, "Moore's religious populism is a lineal descendant of the race-baiting that propelled Wallace to the statehouse a generation ago."9

Moore evidently set out to provoke a confrontation with the federal courts over the Ten Commandments monument—one he was destined to lose, much as Alabama Governor George Wallace lost in his defense of legal segregation 40 years before.

Some GOP strategists fear that if Moore wins, he may set up a confrontation with the federal government by once again installing the Ten Commandments somewhere the federal courts are likely to rule violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.10

Conclusion
The sudden rise of a Christian Right agenda in many states and the federal government has taken many by surprise. It may be tempting to see Roy Moore as an exception, but his rise is reviving old coalitions. In 2004, his former spokesman and legal advisor, Tom Parker, was elected as an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. At Parker's request, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made the trek to Montgomery to swear him in. Exjudge Moore then also swore him in. "The Chief's courage to stand for principle over personal position inspired me and animated voters during my campaign for the Alabama Supreme Court" said Parker. "So, I have been doubly blessed to have been sworn into office by two heroes of the judiciary."11 But Parker's politics has additional roots in the politics of the Wallace era. He has longstanding ties to neoconfederate organizations such as the Council of Conservative Citizens and the white supremacist League of the South and calls his home "Ft. Dixie."12

While Alabama has its distinctive politics, we can also see dominionist politics in the mix of the aggressive efforts to restrict access to abortion and to deny equal rights to gays and lesbians—and in the efforts to teach creationism and its variant "intelligent design" in the public schools.

Naturally, people look for explanations for how it has come to this. There are many factors for this trend, just like any other important trend in history. But many Americans, regardless of their political orientation, seem genuinely baffled and obsessed about one or another factor in the rise to power of the Christian Right: they look to issues of funding, mass media, megachurches, dominionism, and so on. It is all of these and more. However, following the logic of Occam's Razor, that the best explanation is usually the simplest, I offer this: the Christian Right social movement, fueled by the growing influence of dominionist ideology, gained political influence because it was sufficiently well organized and willing to struggle for power. And now they are exercising it.

While most dominionists would say they favor the U.S. Constitution, and merely seek to restore it to the original intentions of the founders, in fact, their views are profoundly anti-democratic. The dominionist worldview is not one based on the rights of the individual as we have come to know them, but on notions of biblical law. Among the political models admired by the likes of D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson and Reconstructionist writer Gary North is the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a government ruled by the intensely Calvinist Protestant sect, Puritanism. In the dominionist worldview, the biblically incorrect (and those of other religious views) are second-class citizens at best. While few would admit to the clear implications of Christian nationalism, dominionism in the short run necessarily means, as a matter of theocratic public policy, reducing or eliminating the legal standing of those who do not share their views.

Indeed the dominionist movement and its allies in Congress are actively seeking to eviscerate the capacity of the federal courts to protect the rights of all citizens. Developing a coherent understanding of the ongoing role of dominionism in the dynamic growth of the Christian Right movement will be integral to any effective counter strategy in this, one of the central struggles of our time.



Frederick Clarkson has researched and written about the religious right for going on 25 years. He is the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, and is a member of The Public Eye editorial board. He blogs at www.FrederickClarkson.com and www.Talk2Action.com.


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Endnotes
1. Frederick Clarkson, “On Ten Commandments bill, Christian Right has it wrong,” Christian Science Monitor, April 21, 2004.
2. Chip Berlet. 2004. "Mapping the Political Right: Gender and Race Oppression in Right-Wing Movements." In Abby Ferber, ed, Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism. New York: Routledge.
3. Jane Lampman, For evangelicals, a bid to ‘reclaim America,' The Christian Science Monitor, March 16, 2005.
4. Brent Thompson, "Baptist idea of religious liberty affirmed at doctrinal conference," Baptist Press, September15, 2005.
5. David Cantor, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America, Anti-Defamation League, 1994.
6. For a detailed discussion, see Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997.
7. Fred Clarkson, "Will Roy Moore Crack the Bush base?" Salon, May 4, 2004.
8. Joe Morecraft III, "Restoring the Foundations," Counsel of Chalcedon, June 2004. This speech is "An Exposition and application of Psalm 11 given at Judge Roy Moore's Foundation for Moral Law conference in Montgomery, Alabama, February 13, 2004."
9. Joshua Green, "Roy and His Rock," The Atlantic Monthly, October 2005.
10. Nina Easton, "Conservative's popularity may be problem for GOP," The Boston Globe, June 14, 2005.
11. Tom Parker for Justice, http://www.parkerforjustice.com
12. Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok, "Honoring the Confederacy: In Alabama, a well-known Supreme Court candidate lauds an antebellum slave trader and appears with hate group leaders," Intelligence Report, Fall 2004.
13. Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997, pg 78.
14. Ibid, pg, 79.
15. Lee Duigon, "Is There Hope for Our Judiciary? Yes, Says Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore," Chalcedon Report, October 6, 2005.

Field Guide to Iraq


Sorry, no citation for this one.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

George W. Bush: al Qaeda's favorite president

Not really much to say to lead into this interesting post from AlterNet by Robert Parry (http://www.alternet.org/stories/48277/), pointing out that the policies of the current President have led to the strengthening of al Qaeda, the isolation of the United States from a position of global moral leadership, and a diminishing of the ability of the United States to affect positive change in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world.

In short, the current President's series of blunders, mis-steps, mistakes, and catastrophies have weakened the United States in a way that Osama bin Laden could only have dreamed. See also this entertaining, if a bit hyperbolic, piece entitled "George Bush as Fifth Columnist:Aiding America's Enemies": (http://www.antiwar.com/bandow/?articleid=10446)

23 months and counting.

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Despite the sacrifices in lives, treasure and liberties, the painful reality is that the United States is losing the "war on terror" -- in large part because too many people in the Middle East and across the globe view George W. Bush as a bully and a hypocrite.

Bush has become the ugly face of America, mouthing pretty words about freedom and democracy while threatening other nations and bludgeoning those who get in his way. Perhaps even worse, Bush has shown himself to be an incompetent commander, especially for a conflict as complicated and nuanced as this one.

Indeed, it is hard to envision how the United States can win the crucial battles for the hearts and minds of key populations if Bush remains President. Arguably, Bush has become a "clear and present danger" to the interests of the American people -- yet he still has almost two years left in his term.

This predicament -- the desperate need for new U.S. leadership and the difficult fact of being stuck with Bush -- was underscored by the Feb. 19 lead article in the New York Times describing the revival of al-Qaeda as a worldwide terror network operating out of new bases in remote sections of Pakistan.

"American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan," the Times reported.

"As recently as 2005, American intelligence assessments described senior leaders of al-Qaeda as cut off from their foot soldiers and able only to provide inspiration for future attacks. But more recent intelligence describes the organization's hierarchy as intact and strengthening," the Times wrote.

The Times quoted one American government official as saying "the chain of command has been reestablished" and that al-Qaeda's "leadership command and control is robust."

In the face of this al-Qaeda comeback, the Bush administration is reportedly debating whether to launch military strikes inside Pakistan. But that would risk destabilizing the dictatorship of Gen. Pervez Musharraf and conceivably provoking the nightmare scenario of Islamic fundamentalists gaining control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

In other words, more than five years into the "war on terror," Bush has overseen a strategy that has simultaneously alienated world public opinion -- with scandals over Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and secret CIA prisons -- while fueling Islamic extremism and giving new life to the 9/11 masterminds.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating." But the same description would fit for the broader strategic position of the United States in the Middle East.

The U.S. military is facing a worsening crisis in Iraq; the Taliban is on the rise again in Afghanistan; Hezbollah is gaining strength in Lebanon; Iran is defying international pressure over its nuclear program; and now al-Qaeda -- having resettled in Pakistan -- is rebuilding its capability to strike targets beyond the Middle East.

Bush's mistakes

Much of today's crisis can be traced to Bush's arrogance and impatience. In 2001, even before the 9/11 attacks, Bush insisted on a "unilateralist" approach toward the world, asserting U.S. global hegemony under a strategy laid out by the neoconservative Project for the New American Century.

At the center of this grandiose scheme was the belief that the oil-rich Middle East could be remade through violent "regime change" in hostile countries like Iraq. Bush later broadened his target list to the "axis of evil," tossing in Iran and North Korea and making clear that other lesser enemies included the likes of Syria, Cuba and Venezuela.

While this neoconservative plan wrapped itself in the noble language of "democracy," the concept was always less about respecting the will of indigenous populations than in restructuring their economies along "free market" lines and ensuring compliant leaders.

In all of this, there was little room for compromise or negotiation with the "bad guys." It was as if the macho rhetoric of AM talk radio and Fox News had swallowed U.S. foreign policy. Real men don't negotiate with people who get in the way; you jail or kill them.

Bush also grew enamored with his "gut" instincts about war, especially after U.S.-backed forces ousted Afghanistan's Taliban leaders more quickly than many expected. Even after he let top al-Qaeda leaders slip away from Tora Bora in late 2001, Bush ignored warnings that he needed to finish the job there before turning America's attention elsewhere.

Instead, Bush redirected U.S. military assets to Iraq, a country that wasn't involved in 9/11 and actually had served as an important bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism, both the strains from Shiite-ruled Iran and Sunni-dominated al-Qaeda.

But Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was something of a Bush family obsession since he defied President George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. In March 2003, Bush launched an invasion of Iraq and toppled Hussein's government in three weeks.

After basking again in public adulation as the victorious "war president," Bush stubbornly refused to acknowledge the growing seriousness of an Iraqi insurgency that rose up to challenge U.S. forces.

The U.S. occupation of Iraq -- combined with abuse scandals at U.S.-run prisons -- also fed popular anger across the Middle East. Thousands of young jihadists rallied to the cause of ousting the Americans from Muslim lands.

As the body counts grew -- thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis -- Bush dug in his heels deeper. When Iraq slid into chaos and then civil war, Bush again refused to acknowledge the facts in a timely fashion.

Bush also encouraged Israel to wage an ill-conceived war in southern Lebanon in summer 2006, further alienating the Muslim world. That was followed by the grisly execution of Hussein in December and new military tensions with Iran in early 2007.

In short, Bush appears determined to stampede the United States into a Middle Eastern box canyon -- after offending most Muslim allies and offering little more than military solutions to essentially political and diplomatic problems.

Al-Qaeda's favorite president

Over the past six years, the wily and ruthless leaders of al-Qaeda also came to understand that Bush was their perfect foil. The more he was viewed as the "big crusader," the more they could present themselves as the "defenders of Islam." The al-Qaeda murderers moved from the fringes of Muslim society closer to the mainstream.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, al-Qaeda's leaders transformed the conflict into both a rallying cry and a training ground. Bin Laden and Zawahiri believed the longer the Iraq War lasted the better it was for al-Qaeda.

So, in fall 2004, with Bush fighting for his political life against Democrat John Kerry, bin Laden took the risk of breaking nearly a year of silence to release a videotape denouncing Bush on the Friday before the U.S. election.

Bush's supporters immediately spun bin Laden's tirade as an "endorsement" of Kerry and pollsters recorded a jump of several percentage points for Bush, from nearly a dead heat to a five- or six-point lead. Four days later, Bush hung on to win a second term by an official margin of less than three percentage points.

The intervention by bin Laden -- essentially urging Americans to reject Bush -- had the predictable effect of driving voters to the President. After the videotape appeared, senior CIA analysts concluded that ensuring a second term for Bush was precisely what bin Laden intended.

"Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President," said deputy CIA director John McLaughlin in opening a meeting to review secret "strategic analysis" after the videotape had dominated the day's news, according to Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, which draws heavily from CIA insiders.

Suskind wrote that CIA analysts had spent years "parsing each expressed word of the al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, Zawahiri. What they'd learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons. ... Today's conclusion: bin Laden's message was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection."

Jami Miscik, CIA deputy associate director for intelligence, expressed the consensus view that bin Laden recognized how Bush's heavy-handed policies were serving al-Qaeda's strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists.

"Certainly," Miscik said, "he would want Bush to keep doing what he's doing for a few more years."

As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA analysts were troubled by the implications of their own conclusions. "An ocean of hard truths before them -- such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected -- remained untouched," Suskind wrote.

Even Bush recognized that his struggling campaign had been helped by bin Laden. "I thought it was going to help," Bush said in a post-election interview about the videotape. "I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn't want Bush to be the President, something must be right with Bush."

Bin Laden, a well-educated Saudi and a keen observer of U.S. politics, appears to have recognized the same point in cleverly tipping the election to Bush.

Prolonging the war

Al-Qaeda's leaders understood that a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq might mean a renewed assault on them as well as the loss of their cause celebre for recruiting new jihadists. With Bush ensconced for a second term, that concern lessened but didn't entirely disappear.

According to a captured July 9, 2005, letter, attributed to Zawahiri, al-Qaeda leaders still fretted over the possibility that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could touch off the disintegration of their operations, as jihadists who had flocked to Iraq to battle the Americans might simply give up the fight and go home.

"The mujahaddin must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal," said the "Zawahiri letter," according to a text released by the office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

In another captured letter, dated Dec. 11, 2005, a senior al-Qaeda operative known as "Atiyah" wrote that "prolonging the war [in Iraq] is in our interest."

Now, it appears al-Qaeda's "Bush-second-term" strategy is paying big dividends. Bush is stretching U.S. forces even thinner by escalating the American troop commitment in Iraq while also deploying military assets to threaten Shiite Iran, another enemy of the Sunni fundamentalists in al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda's Taliban allies are on the offensive against embattled NATO contingents in Afghanistan, and new al-Qaeda units are undergoing training in Pakistan. In Iraq, al-Qaeda still makes up only a small percentage of the armed insurgency -- probably less than five percent -- but it benefits from the arrival of new recruits and the opportunity to test out military tactics against the Americans.

Overall, time and momentum appear to be on al-Qaeda's side. As long as Bush remains America's leader and al-Qaeda's poster boy, there seems little chance for a more effective U.S. counterinsurgency strategy.

Unlike the Iraqi insurgents who are proving to be highly adaptive in the field, Bush can't seem to get beyond his tough-guy rhetoric and his obsession with military force. He remains bin Laden's favorite President.

According to one recent Newsweek poll, 58 percent of Americans wish the Bush administration were over. But there is a long way between wishing for a desperately needed change and the slow process of the electoral calendar.

The trickier questions are: Can the United States afford 23 more months of Bush in the White House? Does his incompetence in the face of today's fast-moving crises demand extraordinary action to remove him from office through impeachment?

If impeachment is impossible, given the sizable Republican minorities in both the House and Senate, is there at least some hope for legislative remedies that can begin to correct Bush's many errors? Could patriotic Republicans confront the President and Vice President about resignations?

Or must the American people wait two more years as today's "clear and present danger" grows only more acute?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Iraq: Where the Living Envy the Dead

Touching post from MSNBC.com's WorldBlog by Jane Arraf, talking about how Iraqis now live their daily lives under the stress and fear of car bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and sectarian violence. It's easy for us to see it on the news and know it's there. It's a totally different thing for it to be your daily life. This piece gives at least a taste of what that must be like. Yet another response to those who would tell you how much better life is for the Iraqis after our invasion.

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Whatever most of us dream of, it isn't normally to die a natural death.

This is a country that's been scarred by the last four years. For many of the families and friends of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been killed since 2003, scarred much more by this war than the years they survived under Saddam Hussein.

"Dying normally has become a fantasy to Iraqis -- a wish we dream of having." These are the words written by one of our talented Iraqi staff. He can't write under his own name for security reasons, but here are some of the things that weigh on his mind.

Unlikely fears
When most of us hesitate before calling a friend it's not because we think they might be dead.

"Every time I want to call someone I think a million times before I decide to make the call," he explained. "Every time I call someone and the recording tells me that the line has been switched off or is out of the coverage area I immediately think that they might have been killed or kidnapped and I hope from the bottom of my heart that I'm wrong."

When most people worry about their children, they don't worry that their children might grow up without them.

"I'm trying not to think of the moment when my wife will try to phone me and the recording will tell her that my phone has either been switched off or is out of the coverage area and it will be because I've been killed. I'm trying not to think of what she might tell my 2-year-old son or the daughter we're expecting about the father they never got a chance to know."

Last week my colleague heard that a friend had lost eight brothers in the bombing in the Sharja market in Baghdad. When most of us mourn friends or relatives who have died, the list doesn't normally stretch into the dozens.

The list grows
"A few days ago our ex-neighbor was shot to death after a lot of threats. He was a Sunni who worked with the Americans. He thought we didn't know he worked with them but everyone knew. I think he was killed for that reason. He has three children. I didn't like him, but you can't ignore that he's a human being. He died in an ugly way. They said they surprised him while he was standing beside his shop - they shot him and he was trying to run up the stairs until they shot and killed him.

"Last month my friend's father who was an honest, modest man was assassinated by al-Qaida terrorists because he is Shiite. He was 63 years old. They had moved out of their house in a Sunni neighborhood but he came back and saw strangers in their house -- he argued with him and they took him away. We searched everywhere, but everyone told us it was al-Qaida -- they don't forgive and even the Sunni insurgents don't dare to confront them.

"The same day another friend's father, who was the nicest person that I ever knew, was assassinated by unknown insurgents. I used to play with his son in his house when we were children. He was Shiite. He was 65 years old.

"The night after Saddam Hussein's execution, a friend's brother who is Sunni -- from the same tribe as Saddam -- was killed in front of his parents because of his family name. He was 18.

"Last year, the Mahdi militia came and took away two sons of one of my neighbors. They were 24 and 26. They did it in front of him and he couldn't even say anything in case they took away his third son. They didn't even tell him why. They killed them and dumped their bodies at the college. He was really upset that I didn't go to his sons' funeral. I thought I would be killed too if we went."

Most of us haven't come that close to death. Most of us don't believe there are things worse than dying.

Worse than dying
"When I think of the people I know who have been killed I keep asking myself, what did they say to the killers? Did they beg them? Did they pray? What did they do? I told all my friends that I'm not afraid to die -- I'm just afraid I'll beg my killers to let me live."

"What does life mean?" asked my 31-year-old colleague. "I don't know, but I can guarantee to you all that I know a lot more about death."

So when we talk endlessly about the impact of this war and whether Iraqis are better off, I think we should ask the Iraqis who have stayed here. Because most of us can't even imagine what that's like.

Details of how the "Surge" will actually work

Fascinating piece talking about how the 21,000+ combat soldiers the current President has deployed to Iraq will actually be used, from the dailyKos (http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/2/13/134429/722). There's some analysis sprinkled in, and the author's skepticism of the success of the plan comes through loud and clear, but this is the first discussion I've seen on how the "surged" troops are actually going to be used.

The executive summary of the author's analysis of the surge: "In short, this 'Surge' plan will expose US soldiers to every weapon the Shiite and Sunni militias have: snipers, mortars, IEDs, car bombs, but most importantly: supply route interruption."

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Possible Disaster in Baghdad
by Olds88
Tue Feb 13, 2007 at 10:44:29 AM PST
The title of this diary may sound vastly understated, even sarcastic. It isn't meant that way. It is meant as an alarm.

The current escalation in Baghdad might not be just more of the same, might not just be worse, it might be a military disaster. From what I have learned, it seems the elements of a large-scale defeat for US forces could be drawing into place in the city. The result could be hundreds of casualties on top of a failed mission.

Below are my observations drawn from current news reports and study of previous operations in Iraq. If my fears are borne out, the current Baghdad security plan leaves our troops vulnerable to almost every weapon at the insurgents' disposal.

Olds88's diary :: ::
"People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory." --1st Lt. Dan Quinn, platoon leader, 1st Infantry Division in eastern Baghdad



THE PLAN SO FAR...
Few specifics about the plan have been released except for the AEI's original map which simply showed Army Brigade Combat Teams sprinkled across the districts of Baghdad. It wasn't clear if the troops would be garrisoned on bases in brigade strength (3,500-4,000 soldiers), battalions (800-1,000), or smaller units. If early operations are any indication, the troop deployments will be modeled on a single house in northeastern Baghdad.

The Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad is the last Sunni enclave on the east side of the Tigris. Despite being only a short car bomb drive from Sadr City, it has stayed Sunni largely because of the presence of US troops. Since August of 2006, an Army company has lived in a house in the neighborhood. They patrol the streets, getting attacked daily from inside the neighborhood by Sunnis or from outside by raiding Shiites. They are a unit of 120 soldiers and they are a long way from friendly forces. When I read about this situation, the first word that popped into my head was, "Alamo." I would never consider using such a cynical term out loud but, hell, that's what the soldiers on the ground are calling it. Its real name is a much more reassuring fort Apache:

[MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT]: We're with Charlie Company, 126th Infantry, based at forward operating base Apache. Although it's not really a base, it's actually a house. A hundred and twenty men in the middle of probably the city's most dangerous area.

HENDRIX: Some guys call it the Alamo, you know. It's just a house in the middle of Adhamiya. Nobody else around. No other units.

HOLMES: They are fired on regularly by insurgents, both Sunni and Shia. The house shows the scars.

A couple of months ago, insurgents attacked her. Charlie Company killed 38 of them. Around here, something as simple as leaving a house after speaking with the owners requires smoke grenades for cover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We unfortunately, you know, learn some hard lessons.

HOLMES: Since arriving here in August, Charlie Company has never left, never stopped patrolling, 24/7. They've lost five men, two dozen wounded, and earned a fistful of medals for bravery.

(on camera): Is there a day here where something doesn't happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No.

Surge author and tin soldier abuser Fred Kagan has bitched that soldiers need to get out of their vehicles and make contact with the residents to quell violence. Since early reports suggest there could be a critical vehicle shortage, that part of the plan seems assured. The situation described above is what they may look forward to.






LITTLE HOUSE ON THE BATTLEFIELD
Another house was recently set up in the ethnically-cleansed Shiite neighborhood of Shaab just northeast of Adhamiya. You may remember the fighting in Shaab and adjacent Ur around February 6th. A Stryker Brigade was clearing an area of insurgents in order to establish a house for a company from the 82nd Airborne. Those soldiers of the 82nd will have a challenging task of winning hearts and minds if this resident's account of the clearing operation is accurate:

A resident of Ur said about 10 U.S. Stryker armored vehicles had snaked through her neighborhood but became stuck on a narrow street. Unable to turn around, she said, the first Stryker rammed down the walls of a school and drove through it, followed by the rest of the convoy.

Is it just me? Does that paragraph depict a crystal-clear, multi-dimensional problem of interfacing troops with a high-density civilian population? In the event of an emergency, it is likely that these Strykers will be coming to the aid of troops under attack. Situations like the one above are going to kill civilians and vehicle occupants alike as insurgents attempt to turn tight alleyways into incinerators.

Getting back to the houses: they are officially known as JSSs, Joint Security Stations-- buildings where US and Iraqi troops will work and live together... at least until they don't. US officers won't have authority over the Iraqis-- who will take orders from a separate chain of command. Given the infiltration of Iraq's Security Forces, having them within the walls could be incredibly dangerous. A cynic might see them as an early warning system-- the day they disappear is probably the same day the Mahdi Army is planning to attack. Of course, when they do disappear, they will be taking knowledge of the building's layout, weak points, schedules, ammunition storage, supply levels, etc.

In short, this "Surge" plan will expose US soldiers to every weapon the Shiite and Sunni militias have: snipers, mortars, IEDs, car bombs, but most importantly: supply route interruption.



SUPPLY ROUTES
Research for this diary keeps circling back to the events of April 2004. That month is most vividly remembered for the image of four mercenaries killed and suspended from a bridge and the subsequent siege of Falluja. But it was also the month Sadr's Mahdi Army joined the fighting and took over large areas of the South. During the first half of April, his militia took over Karbala, Kufa, Najaf, and Kut,. The result was one of the deadliest months of the war. What was far less reported was the simultaneous and extremely effective attack on supply routes:

The south-north highway, over which all the deliveries out of the main supply hub crossed, was marked with more than 300 bridges. The bulk of these bridges are low, culvert-style structures. Insurgents cut as many as they could in any way possible. They punctured oil pipelines under bridges and set them aflame to inspire a collapse. They detonated explosives to punch ragged holes in the roadway. In one instance, insurgents dissembled a tall bridge spanning a river. They also targeted likely alternative routes. “They effectively shut us down,” he said. “When they took out the bridges ... we lost about seven days. In conjunction, they increased the op tempo in the north, especially in the Fallujah area ... I didn’t sleep for eight days.”


DoD map of attacks on April 7, 2004 (Green arrows are Mahdi Army attacks on cities lining supply routes).



While US forces were dealing with critical shortages and resorting to air resupply across the country, Iraq's militias were joining forces. Within days of the uprising, Sadr militia and ex-Baathist-- hated enemies-- were working together in sophisticated attacks as reported at the time:

"The dropping of the bridges was very interesting, because it showed a regional or even a national level of organization," Pittard said in an interview. He said insurgents appeared to be sending information southward, communicating about routes being taken by U.S. forces and then getting sufficient amounts of explosives to key bridges ahead of the convoys.

With occupation forces battling Sadr's Shiite militiamen south and east of Baghdad and Sunni Muslim insurgents to the north and west, the timing of the Iraqis' tactical development is nearly as troubling for U.S. forces as its effect. But the explanation for the change is not yet clear, military commanders said.

Here in southern Iraq, which is overwhelmingly Shiite, U.S. officers say the best guess is that former soldiers who served under President Saddam Hussein have decided to lend their expertise and coordinating abilities to the untrained Shiite militiamen.

"It's a combination of Saddam loyalists and Shiite militias," Maj. Gen. John R. Batiste, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said in a brief interview here at FOB Duke, where he was reviewing combat preparations.

The generally accepted conclusion to this episode was that the US entered a stand off in Falluja while decisively beating concentrations of the Mahdi Army in the south. While those events did occur, the timing suggests other forces were at work beyond the battlefield. Around the middle of the month, it was reported that Sadr was ready to negotiate. Shortly after, attacks on convoys lessened. At the time, Sadr's willingness to deal was depicted as desperation to avoid the destruction of his militia. But just three months later, he was given his own 32-seat faction in the new Iraqi Parliament and the health, agriculture, transport, and education ministries. Negotiations appear to have gone well.

Regardless of the backdoor machinations, US combat support units had a job to do: move supplies. Their immediate response was additional escorts, fast driving, and emergency airlifts for critical items like ammunition. After April, alternate routes were added, trucks were armored, and supply points were decentralized. While these changes might help on the open road, they are not applicable to delivering supplies over the last mile in Baghdad. Resupplying dozens of JSS buildings will mean either many small, lightly defended convoys or fewer, but larger, convoys snaking their way through the crowded streets of Baghdad.



HELICOPTERS
Coordinated attacks on road traffic would leave the forward-deployed companies at the JSS buildings reliant on helicopters for supplies, reinforcements, and evacuations-- medical or otherwise. Helicopters, as widely reported, are facing increased threats themselves. Al Qaeda in Iraq has claimed it has a newer "Strella" type shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles [they may be referring to the Strella-3 (NATO-code SA-14), or Igla-1 (SA-16) or Igla (SA-18) missiles that can attack aircraft from any side, not just from behind like the easily-confused, heat-seeking Strella-2 (SA-7), of which Iraq has many]. Al Qaeda in Iraq is also claiming the weapons are being made available to all groups regardless of affiliation (I presume they mean only other Sunni groups, though). Whether this is true or not, there has obviously been effective coordination against helicopters. Even worse, most of the recent attacks have occurred outside of the cities. A helicopter attempting to land or hover in order to drop supplies to a house in Mansour or Sadr City would be an extremely easy target even to RPGs (remember Black Hawk Down?).

By dividing our forces, the plan not only gives the Sunni and Shiites a chance to attack, it gives them a chance to lay siege.

And most frighteningly, it gives Shia and Sunni an strong incentive to work together again.



CAN THEY WORK TOGETHER AGAIN?
Probably. Despite the ongoing civil war, there are individuals and groups with connections across sectarian lines. On the Shiite side, there is Moqtada al Sadr. His organization provided relief supplies to Falluja during the April 2004 siege-- an act that made him a lot of friends among the Sunnis. His relatively nationalistic outlook and his constant call for Americans to leave Iraq roughly lines up with the priorities of non-al Qaeda groups on the Sunni side. That makes Sadr the man who can determine whether Baghdad waits out the American presence, fights, or lays a trap.

At this stage, Sadr's wisest strategy would still be to wait. Whether we leave in 6 months or two years, we are leaving. Despite the ravings of Bush, the Baghdad meat grinder is going to run out of cash and bodies soon enough. Once we're gone, Sadr can ethnically cleanse Baghdad before destroying SCIRI. At that point, it is just a matter of having a giant statue cast for Firdos Square.

The US seems intent on drawing Sadr out though. As I first mentioned in this diary, many of his lieutenants have been captured or killed and several officials have been arrested from ministries he controls. There have also been several strikes within Sadr City in the last few weeks. Provoking Sadr like this makes a limited amount of sense: if you can take him on individually and crush him now, smaller groups would likely refrain from doing the same. Also, a weakened Sadr may lose the the confidence of other groups.

But the greatest danger comes from a coordinated Sunni/Shia planned uprising. If they lay in wait until JSS houses are spread across the city, they could inflict severe casualties at those outposts while paralyzing movement on the roads and in the sky. Eventually, Abrams tanks and Strykers could reach the houses-- but only by cutting wide swaths of destruction trough dense neighborhoods (much like the Stryker path through the school, just miles longer). The mission in Baghdad would be over in many senses: practically, militarily, and morally.



CONCLUSION
The events described here may or may not come to pass. Like Fred Kagan, I am no expert. All I know is what I have read about the situation and how the participants have acted in the past. Our troops will be spread out in vulnerable positions. The Sunni/Shia factions has stopped convoys in the past. They are shooting down helicopters now. Most importantly, they have cooperated jointly in combat before. These are seemingly the perfect conditions for disaster. If theses dangers haven't been addressed, that negligence would be criminal.

UPDATE: I just want to make clear that I am not predicting a defeat for the entire US Army in Baghdad. A siege of the airport, for instance, is incredibly unlikely. Specifically, I am saying it appears the Joint Security Stations are too small to provide adequate protection for US forces manning them. If the stations are vulnerable, the soldiers will not be able to provide neighborhood security. An attack could result in needless casualties and failure of the operation's goal. The Army would in no way be swept from the city though.

Still, the most likely outcome is that the factions wait until we leave. It's sad that could be considered a good outcome.

Republican hypocrisy, on display again

Sure, in all fairness, Republicans have far from a monopoly on hypocrisy. However, in this recent AlterNet posting by Joshua Holland (), the stark slipperiness of certain Republican legislators comes into sharp focus. Today's contestant is Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex), who passionately argued that the whole debate about the wisdom (or lack thereof) in the current President's war plans was damaging to the morale of our soldiers. He went on to discuss his experiences as a POW in Vietnam, and how he felt criticism of that war and a threat of a cut in funding for the troops was so devastating. Here's the highlights of his speech from the House floor:

"Now it's time to stand up for my friends who did not make it home - and those who fought and died in Iraq - so I can keep my promise that when we got home we would quit griping about the war and do something positive about it…and we must not allow this Congress to leave these troops like the Congress left us.

"Today, let my body serve as a brutal reminder that we must not repeat the mistakes of the past… instead learn from them.

"We must not cut funding for our troops. We must stick by them. We must support them all the way…To our troops we must remain…always faithful."

Powerful stuff. Of course, when he was debating the American deployment in Bosnia in 1995 -- when American soldiers were fighting and dying, although not in the same numbers aw Iraq -- his passion for supporting the troops no matter what you thought of the Commander in Chief was a little different. Here's the juicy stuff:

"Mr. Speaker, this is not about peace and war; it is about war. That is what is going on over there, and they are not going to stop fighting just because we go in there.

"I wholeheartedly support withholding funds from President Clinton's Bosnia mission. Although it is a drastic step and ties the President's hands, I do not feel like we have any other choice. The President has tied our hands, gone against the wishes of the American people, and this is the last best way I know how to show my respect for our American servicemen and women. They are helpless, following orders. But we, we are in a position to stop this terrible mistake before it happens. […]

"Thirty years ago when I was sent to Vietnam in a similar situation, Vietnam started out as a peace type mission, no defined goal, no exit strategy, no idea whose side we were on, and a created incident to gain support of the Congress. A peacekeeping mission? Come on. Does this not sound just like a carbon copy? I think it is."

I'm really amazed that we haven't heard more about the Republican criticism of President Clinton in Bosnia. I would be shocked if there weren't more quotes like Rep. Johnson's sitting in the Congressional Record, just waiting to evicerate the "morale protectors" currently inhabiting Congress.

(Of course, the best morale booster would be to be pulling our troops out of policing a civil war and use them to encourage the political settlement that ultimately got them out of Bosnia, but that's another post for another day, isn't it?)

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Digby did some digging and came up with this rather startling philosophical turnaround by Texas Congressman Sam Johnson.

Here's Johnson last week, during the debate -- I use the word loosely -- over the House's resolution opposing Bush's escalation plan:

"You know, the time will come when they can put the money behind these non-binding resolutions….. and you better believe that we'll be watching them …and calling them on those funding cuts loud and clear.

"America needs to know: cutting funds for our troops in harm's way is not a remedy - it's a ruse. […]

"We POWs were still in Vietnam when Washington cut the funding for Vietnam. I know what it does to morale and mission success. Words can not fully describe the horrendous damage of the anti-American efforts against the war back home to the guys on the ground.

"Our captors would blare nasty recordings over the loud speaker of Americans protesting back home…tales of Americans spitting on Vietnam veterans when they came home… and worse.

"We must never, ever let that happen again.

"The pain inflicted by your country's indifference is tenfold that inflicted by your ruthless captors. […]

"The grim reality is that this House measure is the first step to cutting funding of the troops…Just ask John Murtha about his 'slow-bleed' plan that hamstrings our troops in harm's way.

"Now it's time to stand up for my friends who did not make it home - and those who fought and died in Iraq - so I can keep my promise that when we got home we would quit griping about the war and do something positive about it…and we must not allow this Congress to leave these troops like the Congress left us.

"Today, let my body serve as a brutal reminder that we must not repeat the mistakes of the past… instead learn from them.

"We must not cut funding for our troops. We must stick by them. We must support them all the way…To our troops we must remain…always faithful."

Wow. A real barn-burner, hunh? This guy has some serious principles, principles that were hard-won as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Or maybe not.

Here's Johnson when U.S. troops were in the field in the Balkans, and the president had a 'D' next to his name …

UNITED STATES TROOP DEPLOYMENTS IN BOSNIA (House of Representatives - December 13, 1995)

Mr. SAM JOHNSON of Texas:

"Mr. Speaker, this is not about peace and war; it is about war. That is what is going on over there, and they are not going to stop fighting just because we go in there.

"I wholeheartedly support withholding funds from President Clinton's Bosnia mission. Although it is a drastic step and ties the President's hands, I do not feel like we have any other choice. The President has tied our hands, gone against the wishes of the American people, and this is the last best way I know how to show my respect for our American servicemen and women. They are helpless, following orders. But we, we are in a position to stop this terrible mistake before it happens. […]

"Thirty years ago when I was sent to Vietnam in a similar situation, Vietnam started out as a peace type mission, no defined goal, no exit strategy, no idea whose side we were on, and a created incident to gain support of the Congress. A peacekeeping mission? Come on. Does this not sound just like a carbon copy? I think it is."

Now those are some purely flexible, wholly partisan “principles” in action.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Why war with Iran would be bad

OK, again, probably not real ground-breaking conclusions here. But this is a particularly well-done post, by Gary Brecher (http://www.exile.ru/printer_friendly/2005-January-27/war_nerd.html) with thoughtful analysis of why Iran is such a bigger issue than Iraq, with just enough snarky observations to make it a fun read. Well, at least as much fun as contemplating thousands of deaths and the end of the United States as superpower could be.

Enjoy.

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Everybody's asking me what'll happen if we attack Iran. To get a quick preview, just do what this guy in my eighth-grade class did: put a firecracker in your mouth, hold it between your front teeth, and light the fuse.

Your friends won't believe you'll go through with it. So when it blows up in your face, you'll expect them to be impressed. And you'll be surprised, just like this guy in junior high was surprised, when all you get is a perforated eardrum and a reputation as the biggest dumbass in the school.

Right now, Bush is standing there with a lit match and a big firecracker labeled "Iran" in his mouth. Except it's more like an M-80 or a whole stick of dynamite than a firecracker. Nobody believes he'll be dumb enough to light it, to actually attack Iran. Even the Iranians don't believe it; Khameini, their head Mullah, said last week "America is in no position to invade Iran."

He's right about that. Even the US Army brass admits we're "overstretched." We don't even have enough troops to control Iraq; a war with Iran would mean calling up every National Guard unit we have. Even then, it would take years to get them combat-ready.

And this time the Brits won't come with us. They've been making that clear, on the quiet. If we go in, it'll be as a coalition of one.

So Khameini's right; we can't attack Iran. But that doesn't mean we won't. Khameini was making the same mistake everybody's been making: assuming Bush and his cronies have a lick of sense.

The best way of guessing what Bush will do is asking, what's the worst thing he could do to America? Whatever it is, that's what he'll do. I think he's been possessed by bin Laden, because everything he's done has been exactly what Al Quaeda hoped for. Right now, bin Laden is praying to Allah that we'll be stupid enough to attack Iran. That would be the cherry on his halal sundae, the one thing that could actually finish us off as a Superpower.

In my "Quagmire Bowl" article I said the Iraq war probably wouldn't be fatal. It's definitely hurt us, but it won't mean the downfall of America. Well, if we invade Iran, that bet is off. All bets are off. People don't realize how fast a Superpower can fall. It only takes one invasion too many.

Napoleon was unstoppable before he invaded Russia. So was Hitler. Now France and Germany are "Old Europe."

Invading the wrong country can age you faster than driving a Long Beach bus on the night shift. Invading Iran helped end the win-streak of the best, biggest Empire of all, the Romans. It was in 260 AD, when emperor Valerius headed east to deal with the Persians who were kickin' up a fuss on the eastern border of the Empire. This Valerian would've risen high in Dubya's administration, because he was a real hard charger, a go-getter...and dumb as a half brick. He charged right into Iraq -- they called it Mesopotamia back then -- even though his troops were dying of plague all around him. The Persians sat back, watched Roman troops keeling over, and had a good laugh, eating pistachios in the shade while Valerian tried to figure out what to do.

Naturally, he decided it was time for bold action. That's the only trick these go-getters know. It reminds me of what one of MacArthur's aides said about him: "When it paid to be aggressive, he was aggressive. And when it didn't pay to be aggressive...he was aggressive."

Valerian figured a little proactive salesmanship would settle things, so he demanded a meeting with the Persian emperor, Sapor--who couldn't believe his luck. Sapor ordered the slaves to cook a big banquet, bring out the best silverware -- and had his troops hide in the banquet hall till he gave the signal. Valerian stomped in, Sapor snapped his fingers and Valerian ended up a live trophy, dragged around in chains through every city in the Persian empire till his purple robes were shreds.

There's a moral to this story: Persians are tricky, clever people. They've always had that reputation. You don't want people like that for enemies. Unfortunately, Bush won't be leading the charge the way Valerian did, so we probably won't get to see him dragged through Tehran in chains. But we'll see worse things: casualty lists that will make Iraq look like a beach volleyball game, American armies losing conventional battles, and after a few years, a humiliating exit.

Iran is scarier than Iraq in every way you can name. First of all, it's physically way bigger, three times the size of Iraq. The population is 65 million, nearly three times as many as Iraq. The Iranians are young, too. Their birthrate is way down now, around 2 kids per woman, but back in the Khomeini years it was one of the highest in the world. So right now, the Iranian population has a demographic profile that's a military planner's dream: not too many little kids to take care of, but a huge pool of fighting-age men -- about 18 million.

And it won't be just young, fit men fighting us. Thanks to the invention of the suicide car bomb, guerrilla commanders will have someplace to send 70 year old volunteers: down to the garage to pick up a Plymouth packed full of fertilizer bomb. You don't have to be young to put the pedal to the metal.

The insurgents' DMV test will be real simple: "OK, Grandpa, can you make out the silhouette of a Bradley or Humvee, and aim your car at it?" Do that and you pass. They hand you the keys, and you get a quick, painless martyr's exit. Everybody will want to get in on the fun: Grandpa, Grandma, even the cripples, with specially adapted pedals so they can chin-pilot their car bombs into our patrols.

The suicide car bomb is a good example of why I don't worship hardware like most war fans do. These cars are actually no-tech guided surface-to-surface cruise missiles--and damn effective. We've found that out the hard way. All it takes is a driver who's willing to die for the pleasure of killing the enemy. Put him (or her) in an old jalopy stuffed with fertilizer and detonators and you've got a highly accurate, fire-and-forget missile.

They're especially deadly in urban warfare, because they're perfectly camouflaged till they actually blow up. And all for the price of a used car and a few bags of Miracle Gro.

Our cruise missiles are real showpieces, ultra hi-tech. They can be launched from subs, surface ships, planes and ground launchers. They can guide themselves over hundreds of miles, they cost millions apiece (usually hundreds of times as much as the huts or sheds we aim them at)--but they're useless to us in Iraq, whereas the suicide car-bomb cruise missiles are hurting us every single day.

It's the software inside people's heads that wins wars nowadays. You hardware freaks are going to have to face that fact one of these days. And it's this brain-software that we're hopeless at programming. Iraq has proved pretty clearly we don't have a clue how to use the Middle-Eastern brain OS. In fact, we've actually done the impossible: reprogrammed the miserable, cowardly Iraqis into fierce warriors.

Remember Gulf War I? Remember those pitiful fags crawling up to our soldiers to surrender on their hands and knees, sobbing like babies? Two years of occupation by Bush's morons has turned those cowards into fearless kamikazes in Oldsmobiles.

So just imagine what the Iranians, the original Islamic suicide squads, will do when we invade. There'll be traffic jams, ten-mile backups, outside every US base, thousands of car bombers honking and changing lanes trying to get to the front of the line and make that final commute to Paradise. It'll be like the San Diego freeway on a Monday morning, except the fenderbenders will be a little more serious.

The Iranians, unlike the Iraqis, have always been willing to die for their country. In the Iran-Iraq War (1980-89) thousands of Iranians volunteered to charge across Iraqi minefields, knowing they were going to die. It scared the Hell out of the Iraqis. They threw everything at those crazy Persian suicide charges, even poison gas. And the Iranians just kept coming. If you want a more complete account of that war, read my column, "The War Nobody Watched" in eXile #178. The short version is simple: Iranians are brave, determined people. Don't mess with them.

Of course all the NeoCon crazies are peddling the old story that "once we invade, the people will rally to the cause of freedom."


Yeah. Just like they did in Iraq. If we couldn't get people on our side after deposing a monster like Saddam, what chance do you think we have of winning hearts and minds in Iran? The kids in Iran are pissed off at the way the old Mullahs won't let 'em rock and roll, but the idea that they'll support an American invasion because they're bored is totally insane. It's like imagining that the kids in Footloose would've backed a Soviet invasion of Nebraska because John Lithgow wouldn't let them hold school dances.

The argument between Mullahs and kids in Iran is a classic family fight. And you know what happens when some intruder crashes in on the middle of one of those: the whole family unites in about a millisecond and tears him apart.

The Iranians already hate us. They have since 1953, when the CIA staged a coup to get rid of a popular Lefty Prime Minister, Mossadeq. Way back in the 70s, when most of the world still kinda liked us, crowds in Tehran chanted "Marg bar Amrika," "Death to America."

We're also getting told we'll be able to exploit the ethnic divisions inside Iran. The fact is, Iran's ethnic problems are nowhere near as bad as Iraq's. More than half of the population is ethnically Persian. The next-biggest group is the Azerbaijani, about a quarter of the population. They squabble with the Iranian majority from time to time, but they're fellow Shi'ites, they intermarry all the time- there's no real hatred between them. There are a few Arabs in Western Iran, maybe 3% of the population. But if you're thinking we could bring them over to our side, forget it. Saddam already tried that during the Iran-Iraq War and got nowhere. And if they're not going to rebel for a fellow Arab who lives next door, you better believe they won't rise up to help us Christian Crusaders.

That leaves us with the Kurds, who are about 10% of the Iranian population. There are all kinds of factions in Kurdistan, all of them armed and ready to kill each other, so we might be able to sign up a few of the really crazy gangs to work with us. But they would have zero chance of controlling a country as big, fierce and clever as Iran.


Face it: we have no friends left in Iran. Thanks to Bush, we have no friends left anywhere in the Muslim world, except a few sleazes like Allawi -- and he'd be torn to pieces if he showed himself in the street without Delta Force bodyguards.

If we attack Iran, that'll make three Muslim countries invaded in three years. We may as well dress our soldiers in white tunics with red crosses on them, like they did in the Middle Ages.

We'd be fighting on three fronts: the conventional war against the Iranian armed forces, guerrilla war in the territories we'd conquered, and worldwide terror attacks by every group that sympathizes with Iran.

The third front, international terror attacks, would be the scariest of all. Because unlike Iraq, Iran actually does have terrorist connections. Very good ones, with some very scary people. Iran is the only country where Shia Islam is the state religion, so Shiites all over think of Iran the way old-time Catholics used to think of Rome. Attacking Iran would drive them insanely angry, not that it takes much to get Shiites in a crazy, suicidal mood.

---SIDEBAR---
Would America Do A Thing Like That?
"The possibility of a U.S. attack against Iran is very low. We think America is not in a position to take a lunatic action of attacking Iran,"

Iran President Mohammed Khatami said. January 19, 2005.

"The Americans aren't coming. They wouldn't do a thing like that."

Manuel Noriega, on the eve of the US invasion of Panama, 1989. (Quoted in Commanders by Bob Woodward, page 158).
---SIDEBAR---


I've written before about how Shiites see the world ("Shi'ite! Holy Shi'ite!" eXile #197). They love martyrdom, and don't care whether they win or lose as long as they take a few of the enemy with them. So you can't "shock and awe" them with superior firepower, or discourage them by inflicting a lot of casualties. They're the perfect suicide bombers -- in fact, it was the Shi'ites in Lebanon who perfected the suicide car bomb. The first time it happened, a 16-year-old girl drove a car full of explosives into an Israeli APC. The Israelis were shaken; in 25 years of fighting the Arabs, nobody else had done that to them.

Eventually, the Shi'ite Hizbollah guerrillas in Southern Lebanon drove the Israelis out. They were just more willing to take casualties than the Israelis were, even if the exchange was 20 or 30 dead guerrillas for every Israeli killed.

And guess which guerrilla group is closest to Iran? That's right, Lebanese Hizbollah. Iran is tight with all the Shi'ite militias in Lebanon, in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut as well as the South.

We'll also be pissing off the Iraqi Shi'ites, 60% of the Iraqi population. Right now they're cooperating with us -- not because they like us, but because we're helping them use their majority to take over Iraq.

It's a laugh, the way Bush's people say the Shi'ite enthusiasm for voting proves that "democracy is taking hold" in Iraq. All it proves is that Shi'ites can count. They've got 60% of the vote sewed up, and we're riding shotgun for them, absorbing all the violence the Sunnis can dish out, while the Shia go out and grab power by the ballot box. But if we attack Iran, they'll turn on us like Sadr's boys did in April 2004, and cities like Karbala, Najaf and Basra will be on the front page every day. It'll be a Shi'ite tsunami, with terrorism in places you'd never expect. Lots of excitable Iranian expats are going to wire up their Mercs with HE. They'll be the richest, best-groomed suicide bombers in history -- Armani suits instead of death shrouds, and Ferraris instead of old clunkers. It'll put terrorism in a whole new income bracket.

Meanwhile, what'll happen in the big battle between us and the Iranian forces? Iran's conventional forces are the LEAST scary part of the problem. They're in bad shape: lots of men (400,000, with another 120,000 in the Revolutionary Guards) but starved for materiel. Most of their old stock was destroyed in the war against Iraq, and we've been discouraging suppliers from sending replacements. Russia, China and North Korea have been Iran's suppliers lately--a big switch from the 70s, when the Shah preferred to buy his weapons systems from the US and UK.

They claim to have 1500 tanks, but the bulk of their MBTs are old and rusty. Since 1989, all they've acquired was 500-odd T-72s, with about that many BMP-2 APCs. That's not much armor for such a big force, and the T-72 hasn't exactly covered itself in glory in the two Gulf wars.

Their air force, which used to be the second-best in the Mideast (after Israel, obviously) is in even sorrier shape, with a couple squadrons flying MiG-29s and Su-24 CAS fighter/bombers. The rest is rusting hulks left over from the Shah's buying sprees.

One cool bit of trivia: the Iranian AF used to be the only one outside the US to fly the F-14. Most were grounded when we embargoed Iran, and a few were lost in the Iraq War, but I haven't been able to find out what happened to the rest. Anybody know?

Other items they've been buying should be worrying us much more. For instance, they've invested heavily in Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles, which have been fitted on ten new, fast coastal-attack ships. In a column of mine a couple of years ago ("U Sank My Carrier" eXile #156), I talked about the very scary outcome of a Persian Gulf war game, when USMC General Paul van Ripen, who was playing the part of Iranian commander, managed to sink half our Persian Gulf task force, including a carrier, with simultaneous attacks by small planes and fast attack craft.

Their missile forces are another worry -- not for what they could do to our troops but for the havoc they could start up if the Iranians, under attack, lost their cool and started targeting countries supporting the US. Once again, nobody's really sure exactly what missiles Iran has, or what quantities they've got. They definitely do have plenty of our old friend the Scud -- maybe 250 Scud B (range 285-330 miles depending on warhead; accuracy zero) and another 350 Scud C (range 500-700 miles).

As we found out in two Gulf wars, Scuds are all hype -- unless you have the guts to fit them with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. Saddam never did. (Though he did fire chemical shells against the Iranians and the Kurds.) The Iranians just might. They've got the chemical weapons: mustard gas, cyanide, and the scariest of all, VX, a very potent, hard-to-clean-up nerve gas.


One of the big arguments right now is whether the Iranians can actually field their Shahab-3, a newer better missile designed by North Korea and also supplied to Pakistan (where it's called the Ghauri II). As usual, the warmongers are claiming Iran has 'em and plans to use 'em on us. Cooler heads say that's unlikely; so far there have only been a few failed test flights, with the Shahab-3 blown up mid-flight (which is usually a sign the test failed).

After we all got suckered into believing Saddam could gas London with 45 minutes warmup, I'm not buying the scare stories till I see some proof. We know the Iranians have Scuds; we know they have chemical warheads. That's more than enough to worry about. Because these people aren't cowards like Saddam; I can see them being real sore losers if the US invades and defeats their army. The kind of sore losers who press every Doomsday button they can.

Of course, nobody is claiming the US is going to launch an all-out invasion of Iran. The rumors coming out of the Pentagon say it'll be a mix of air strikes and quick, small special ops raids on nuclear sites and key military installations. The idea is to destroy as much of the military infrastructure as we can, and crush their nuclear program before it can produce working nukes.

The biggest, scariest nuclear site is Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf. It worried the Iraqis so much they bombed it before the two reactors were brought online. The Iranians learned a hard lesson from that raid, and started dispersing the nuke program all over the country. They're working on 15 sites, which they say are going to be used for "peaceful purposes." I love the way nuclear scientists talk about "peace." That was Stalin's favorite word, and the nuclear-science types mean it about as much as he did.

Of course the Iranians want nukes. They're surrounded by traditional enemies, they know the US is itching to attack, and they consider themselves Allah's representatives on earth. If you were in that situation, wouldn't you be going all-out to get some nukes?

The experts all say there's no way Iran could have any nuclear weapons yet. Maybe they're right; even experts have to be right once in a while. So the question is how much time it will take them to develop nukes. Estimates go from a year to six years. The trouble with these estimates is that they're always bent to help somebody's agenda. For instance, the Israelis are the ones saying Iran may go nuke in a year or less. That's because they want us to panic, so we'll do the dirty work of blasting Iran's nuke sites for them.

The six-year estimates are coming out of Europe, because they're such wimps they'll say anything to avoid trouble. Truth is, I have no idea how close the Iranians are to a working nuke, and I don't believe anybody else does either. If the CIA was any good, we'd have a clue, but those poor bastards couldn't infiltrate a public library, let alone an Iranian nuclear plant.

If we do go in with quick commando raids and air strikes, we might get away with it. The Iranians would definitely try to retaliate by proxy, getting Hizbollah and the Iraqi Shi'ites to attack Americans anywhere they go. But we could handle that. The real worry is that these lightning raids are never as simple and quick as they're supposed to be. Remember the all-day firefight in Somalia, where we lost 18 Rangers? That was supposed to be a lightning raid: chopper in, grab Aidid, get out before the locals could react. A few hours later, the whole US force in Somalia was engaged against the whole population of Mogadishu.

Remember the lightning raid by Delta and the Rangers on Mullah Omar's house? That didn't exactly come off according to plan either. Once a raid goes bad, soldiers want to go in to rescue their buddies. Then they're trapped, and more guys go in to rescue them. And without ever meaning to, you've got a conventional battle going on deep in the enemy's homeland. And once that happens, the situation is out of control.

If the Iranian army and revolutionary guards play it smart, they'll harass and retreat, trading land for time the way the Russians did in WW II. In the territory we did control, we'd have a massive insurgency. With the Iraqi Shia all fired up, we'd have garrisons pinned down all over Iraq, and all through whatever chunk of Iran we occupied. And no real guarantee we wiped out all the nuclear sites, because our intelligence is so lousy we might never have heard of the most secret labs (which may well be underground in the Iranian desert).

And we're actually thinking about doing this. Incredible. It's like a man with a pit bull chomping on his leg purposely opening the door to a kennel where there are a dozen rottweilers ready to tear him apart.

In fact, it's such a stupid idea, and it'd be such a total disaster for America, that Bush probably will do it. Anybody else starting to wonder if he and Cheney are actually Al Quaeda moles?

Worst. President. Ever.

No, it doesn't mean George W. Bush, necessarily. But this piece by Nicholas von Hoffman of the Nation, courtesy AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/stories/48008/), provides some nice historical perspective on how bad and how dumb some of the previous inhabitants of the White House has been. Take it as solace, maybe, that this nation has endured fools at the heights of power and survived.

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A question that seems to be on everybody's mind these days turns out to be: Is George Bush the worst President in American history?

But how do you judge? Is he the most morally disgusting? The worst mangler of the English language? Ever since the atom bomb was dropped, we've had a whole string of bozos who cannot pronounce the word "nuclear." How much should that count against them?

Is John Tyler, our tenth President, a candidate for worst President? Some people who have never heard of this guy have heard of the campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." Well, Tippecanoe (William Henry Harrison) lasted about a month in office before he died of a cold contracted while making his inaugural address, and the rest is non-history. Tyler is best remembered, if he is remembered at all, as the President whose entire Cabinet, save one, quit on him. Please do not confuse him with Zachary Taylor, the twelfth President, easily Tyler's equal in forgettability.

Is the most forgettable also the worst? Men like Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Benjamin Harrison (Tippecanoe's grandson) were more politically brain-dead than really bad. But not so with James Buchanan, No. 15, who was President from 1857 to 1861. Aside from being a dull, unimaginative, dray horse of a politician, he was the President whose cowardice in handling the South and slavery ended the remotest possibility that the United States would be spared the horrors of the Civil War.

The consequences of Buchanan's political poltroonery were long-lasting and dire, as contrasted with those of Warren Harding. Harding (No. 29) has won many Worst President contests because he had three or four truly stinky crooks in his administration to go along with an otherwise outstanding Cabinet. He was a slob with a drinking problem, and he was also afflicted with Bill Clinton's zipper disease. Since booze was illegal when he was President (1921-23), getting smashed in the White House made him a not-so-great role model -- not that much of the country was paying attention since all the other adults in America were doing the same thing at the local speakeasy.

There is a great story about Harding in the closet making boom-boom with his girlfriend, and of his wife being restrained by the Secret Service guys from rushing in and exposing the President in the flagrantest of delictos. But worst President? Not so much.

Others proposed for the worst list include Herbert Hoover, James Madison, Ulysses Grant and Richard Nixon.

Hoover, Democratic propaganda to the contrary, did not cause the Great Depression nor was he indifferent to his people's sufferings. A brilliant, decent man, he was absolutely the unluckiest President.

Madison, the fourth President, justly called the Father of the Constitution, fits anyone's description of a great man, but he loused up the presidency by going to war against England in 1812 with no Army and not much more of a Navy. His foreign policies were so hated in New England that the young federal republic he had done so much to start almost blew apart. Worse was to come. Madison could do nothing when the Brits occupied Washington, DC, and burned down the White House. But in the long run the consequences of his mistakes were minor, so he cannot have the "worst prexy" horse collar put around his neck.

Grant was too noble a man to be the worst anything. He had some crooks in his administration, but, like Harding, he had nothing to do with their corruption. On the plus side, he was the last President until Lyndon Johnson who would go to bat for black people.

As for Nixon, it's still too early to tell. Too many people still living hate him or love him. The decision on that strange, baggy-faced man belongs to Gen X and beyond.

Which brings us to Bush II. It's also too early to tell, but if first signs mean anything, he has got a lot to answer for. We know he is responsible for the death of a lot of people who never hurt him or us. We wonder if he has so disturbed the entire Middle East quadrant of the globe that years and years may pass while the people there and the people here suffer for what he has done. Will we get habeas corpus back? Will the thumb screw become standard operating procedure, or will it be returned to the Middle Ages whence George Bush found it?

One of the criteria for being worst is how much lasting damage the President did. Buchanan, for instance, did more than words can convey. With Bush II the reckoning is yet to be made.

Bernstein on Bush: Biggest Liar Ever

The news - that George W. Bush has spent his entire administration deceiving, manipulating, and lying to the American people - isn't really ground-breaking. But to hear it stated so plainly from someone like Carl Bernstein is refreshing ... and may tell a lot about just how bad things have gotten. Courtesy AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/48092/)

------

Below, is the last question from an interview that didn't make it into Frontline's current series, News Wars -- Rory O'Connor writes more about the series here.

When the man who broke the Watergate scandal calls White House lying "something that I have never witnessed before on this scale," you listen...

But first, Juan Cole called bullshit from the start [VIDEO] and John Aravosis notes that CNN's Ed Henry caught Bush in a lie about Iran.

Last week's "anonymous" defense/intel briefing (emphasis added): "At issue was a weekend briefing in Baghdad at which three senior U.S. military officials said that the 'highest levels' of the Iranian government had ordered the smuggling into Iraq of high-tech roadside bombs that have been killing American soldiers."

This week, Bush lets slip that nobody knows if it came from the "highest levels" or not -- echoing what Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace said earlier this week: "We know the Quds Force is part of the Iranian government. I don't think we know who picked up the phone and said 'the Quds Force go do this,' we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government."

Of course, the White House now claims that some wild-eyed "briefer" is responsible for the bad intelligence, but you'd be a fool to think that this wasn't just a lie that didn't work...

And now back to Carl Bernstein's assessment of this administration's predilection for lying:

Finally, I just want to get your reflections on the [famously contentious] relationship of Richard Nixon and the press. ... How does that compare to George W. Bush and the press?

First, Nixon's relationship to the press was consistent with his relationship to many institutions and people. He saw himself as a victim. We now understand the psyche of Richard Nixon, that his was a self-destructive act and presidency.

I think what we're talking about with the Bush administration is a far different matter in which disinformation, misinformation and unwillingness to tell the truth -- a willingness to lie both in the Oval Office, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in the office of the vice president, the vice president himself -- is something that I have never...

... witnessed before on this scale.

The lying in the Nixon White House had most often to do with covering up Watergate, with the Nixon administration's illegal activities. Here, in this presidency, there is an unwillingness to be truthful, both contextually and in terms of basic facts that ought to be of great concern to people of all ideologies. ...

This president has a record of dishonesty and obfuscation that is Nixonian in character in its willingness to manipulate the press, to manipulate the truth. We have gone to war on the basis of misinformation, disinformation and knowing lies from top to bottom. That is an astonishing fact. That's what this story is about: the willingness of the president and the vice president and the people around them to try to undermine people who have effectively opposed them by telling the truth. It happened with [Sen.] John McCain in South Carolina. It happened with [Sen.] John Kerry. It's happened with [Sen.] Max Cleland in Georgia. It's happened with many other people. That's the real story, and that's the story that [the press] should have been writing. ...

It's very difficult, as a reporter, to get across that when you say, "This is a presidency of great dishonesty," that this is not a matter of opinion. This is demonstrable fact. If you go back and look at the president's statements, you look at the statements of the vice president, you look at the statements of Condoleezza Rice, you go through the record, you look at what [counterterrorism expert] Richard Clarke has written, you look at what we know -- it's demonstrable. It's fact. Now, how do you quantify it? That's a different question.

But to me, if there is a great failure by the so-called mainstream press in this presidency, it's the unwillingness to look at the lies and disinformation and misinformation and add them up and say clearly, "Here's what they said; here's what the known facts were," because when that is done, you then see this isn't a partisan matter. This is a matter of the truth, particularly about this war. This is a presidency that is not willing to tell the truth very often if it is contrary to its interests. It's not about ideology from whence I say this. It's about being a reporter and saying: "That's what the story is. Let's see what they said; let's see what the facts are." ...