Friday, April 27, 2007

Insiders doubt Bush doomsday scenario

Excellent piece by Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey from Newsweek discussing how administration insiders discount many of the doomsday scenarios put forth by the current President if U.S. troops pull out of Iraq. Piece by piece, they take positions such as "ethnic bloodbath," and "create an al Qaeda stronghold," and demonstrate why there's reasons to believe those scenarios are not likely.

Gee. You mean the current President might stretch the truth or fabricate facts just to scare people into going along with him? I can't possibly imagine him trying such a cold, calculating, and cynical manipulation preying on the ignorance of the American people ...

---

Aide Casts Doubt on Bush's Iraq Scenario
The president is suggesting that a troop withdrawal would turn Iraq into a battleground between regional powers. Not so, says a senior administration official.
WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY
By Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey
Newsweek
Updated: 5:50 p.m. CT April 25, 2007

April 25, 2007 - Republicans are strong; Democrats are weak. Republicans want victory and order; Democrats want defeat and chaos.

Sound familiar? It should; it’s the Bush administration’s winning script from the 2004 campaign. In recent waeeks, President Bush has been going back to the well to describe the Democratic war-funding bill that’s rapidly heading toward a presidential veto. “I strongly believe that the Democrats’ proposal would undermine our troops and threaten the safety of the American people here at home,” he said Tuesday on the South Lawn of the White House.

Bush’s argument is based on a doomsday scenario for Iraq, where troop withdrawals turn the country into a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and a battleground between regional powers. “Precipitous withdrawal from Iraq is not a plan to bring peace to the region or to make our people safer at home,” Bush said. “It could unleash chaos in Iraq that could spread across the entire region. It would be an invitation to the enemy to attack America and our friends around the world.”

But in private, some of Bush’s most senior aides dispute that scenario. One senior administration official with extensive knowledge of the region, who didn’t want to be identified discussing sensitive policy matters, tells NEWSWEEK that the chances of a regional war in Iraq are low in the event of a U.S. withdrawal. When asked if a regional war would break out, the official said: “Possibly, not probably. It’s more likely that other powers would support their favorite militias, as they’re doing already.”

The senior official said the genocidal bloodbath that Sen. John McCain outlined recently was also unlikely, pointing to the militias’ ability to secure their own neighborhoods after the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra in early 2006. (The official’s main concern: the Iraqi government’s failure to unify the nation and address the root cause of sectarian conflict. “Both the Sunni and Shia are too afraid of each other,” the official said.)

Bush’s argument that Al Qaeda will use Iraq as a safe haven to plot new 9/11-style attacks if the United States pulls out is problematic, too. Osama bin Laden already has a safe haven to plot new attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA director, told senators last year that the border area of Pakistan was a “physical safe haven” that Al Qaeda used as a base to attack Afghanistan. That area is also the likely home of bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, General Hayden added.

That Was Then
In January, President Bush sounded almost sympathetic to war critics. In an interview with National Public Radio, he was asked how he felt about the nonresponse from Democrats about his offer to create a bipartisan panel to advise on the war on terror.

“A lot of these folks aren’t happy we’re in Iraq to begin with, and I understand that,” Bush said. “They don’t believe we are going to succeed in Iraq, and I understand that, too. I think what some may be afraid of is, I’m trying to get them into an Iraq-type situation where they are forced to say something they don’t want to say. I don’t know.”

That was then. In the last four months, Bush has moved from understanding the criticism to seeing it as unforgivable.

“People want our troops to come home, and so do I,” he said outside the White House on Tuesday. “But no matter how frustrating the fight can be and no matter how much we wish the war was over, the security of our country depends directly on the outcome in Iraq. The price of giving up there would be paid in American lives for years to come. It would be an unforgivable mistake for leaders in Washington to allow politics and impatience to stand in the way of protecting the American people.”

Why the change?

Republicans and Democrats feel there is good PR to gain by standing up to each other. The Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid, dismissed Vice President Dick Cheney as an attack dog with a 9 percent approval rating. (Cheney’s actual approval rating: 34 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll.)

The White House believes Reid is weak enough to warrant a revival of the “defeatist” attack that failed to work against Democrats in November. The administration thinks Reid is weak because of the Democratic reaction to his comments about the war being “lost.” “The fact that Democrats are distancing themselves from Reid is proof that he is not a good messenger for them,” says a senior Bush aide, who declined to be named while discussing political strategy.

Bush is taking a longer view on Iraq, too—one that moves beyond daily political squabbling. In an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS, Bush admitted that his goal is to hand over Iraq in some manageable form to his successor. “I hope to leave a situation that is stable enough so that this [Iraqi] government can move forward with reconciliation, and the security situation is such that we can have far fewer troops there,” he said.

Bush used to say that he didn’t want to kick problems down the road. Now it’s clear that he wants to leave the biggest challenge of his presidency—how and when to withdraw troops from Iraq—to the 44th president.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18316590/site/newsweek/page/3/

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Religious Right = fascism?

(You like the FOX-news style question mark on the headline to make it look more objective?)

Perhaps a bit apocalyptic, but a generally well-done piece by Chris Hedges of TruthDig (http://www.alternet.org/stories/50366/), discussing how the "Religious Right" is not a faith movement, but in fact a fascistic political movement. When you hear "pastors" delivering "sermons" about how every Muslim in America is a threat to our security, you can see the Orwellian overtones to their thought processes.

(And, of course, you can't miss the comparisons to the criticisms of JFK, how people were afraid if he were elected President that he would take his orders from the Pope and we would be ruled from Rome. But that's OK, most hard-core evangelical Christians don't particularly care for Catholics, either)

------
The Gilead Baptist Church, outside Detroit, is on a four-lane highway called South Telegraph Road. The drive down South Telegraph Road to the church, a warehouse-like structure surrounded by black asphalt parking lots, is a depressing gantlet of boxy, cut-rate motels with names like Melody Lane and Best Value Inn.

The highway is flanked by a flat-roofed Walgreens, a Blockbuster, discount liquor stores, a Taco Bell, a McDonald's, a Bob's Big Boy, Sunoco and Citgo gas stations, a Ford dealership, Nails USA, The Dollar Palace, Pro Quick Lube and U-Haul.

The tawdry display of cheap consumer goods, emblazoned with neon, lines both sides of the road, a dirty brown strip in the middle. It is a sad reminder that something has gone terribly wrong with America, with its inhuman disregard for beauty and balance, its obsession with speed and utilitarianism, its crass commercialism and its oversized SUVs and trucks and greasy junk food. It is part of our numbing assault against community and connectedness.

Ten or fifteen minutes of negotiating the traffic down South Telegraph Road makes the bizarre attraction of the End Times -- the obliteration of this world of alienation, noise and distortion -- comprehensible. The manufacturing jobs in the Detroit auto plants nearby are largely gone, outsourced to nations with cheaper labor. The paint is flaking off the cramped two-story houses that lie in ugly grid patterns off the highway.

The plagues of alcoholism, divorce, drug abuse, poverty and domestic violence make the internal life here as depressing as the external one. And those gathering today in this church wait for the final, welcome relief of the purgative of violence, the vast, bloody cleansing that will lift them up into the heavens and leave the world they despise -- the one that was devastated by corporatism -- to be racked by plagues and flood and fire until it and all those whom they blame for the debacle of their lives are consumed and destroyed by God. It is a theology of despair. And for many, it can't happen soon enough.

The guru of the End Times movement is a small, elderly, gnome-like man with dyed coal-black hair, a battery-powered earpiece and a pedantic, cold demeanor. He is Timothy LaHaye, a Southern Baptist minister and the co-author, along with Jerry Jenkins, of the "Left Behind" series of Christian apocalyptic thrillers that provide the graphic details of raw mayhem and cruelty that God will unleash on all nonbelievers when Christ returns and raptures Christians into heaven. The novels are the best-selling books in America, with over 62 million in print. They have been made into movies, as well as a graphic video game in which teenagers can blow away nonbelievers and the army of the Antichrist on the streets of New York City.

The global nightmare that leads to the end of history is a visceral and disturbing expression of what believers feel about themselves and our world. The horror of apocalyptic violence -- the final aesthetic of the movement -- at once terrifies and thrills followers. It feeds dark fantasies of revenge and empowerment.

This theology of despair is empowered by widespread poverty, violent crime, incurable diseases, global warming, war in the Middle East and the threat of nuclear calamity. All these events presage the longed-for obliteration of the Earth and the glorious moment of Christ's return. But until then believers are told they must battle Satan. And Satan comes in many guises. In churches across the United States believers are being girded for a holy war, one as self-destructive as that preached by radical Islam.

"We are at war with the religion of Islam," Gary Frazier, another popular leader, tells the crowd in the church outside Detroit, "and it is not a handful of radical Islamists who are taking over the religion and hijacking it. The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, today if you read the Koran, and any person who reads their Koran, the holy book of the Muslims, and believes what the book says, over a hundred times it calls for the putting to death of any person that does not embrace the teachings of Mohammed.

"Can you explain to me how in the West that we would understand a person who would strap dynamite upon themselves and blow themselves up along with innocent men and women and children with the promise that they would have 70 brown-haired, I mean blond-haired, blue-eyed virgins for their unlimited sexual pleasure in this place called Paradise? And the parents of that person then throw a party celebrating the destruction of their child. You want to tell me you understand that kind of mentality? Because I don't believe that. There's no one in the Western world that can comprehend that kind of mind-set, but, ladies and gentlemen, that is the mind-set of the religion of Islam around the world.

"Islam," Frazier says dramatically, "is a satanic religion."

He warns of Muslim "sleeper cells" in America waiting to carry out new terrorist attacks.

"You may have a Muslim doctor, and he may be a wonderful person," he says. "He may love his family, but you know what'll happen? One day, they will come to him -- I'm just using this as an illustration -- they will come to him and they'll say, 'We have a mission for you, and you will either do as you're told,' [or,] and they'll whip out the pictures, 'Here are your three children. We'll send their heads to you in a box.' Now, the difference is, is that if somebody told you that, you'd call the FBI or Homeland Security or somebody like that. They're not going to do that. Do you know why? Because they know the Muslim will do just what they say, and when it comes right down to where the rubber meets the road, boys and girls, they're going to save the lives of their own children before they'll save your own. And you most likely would probably do the same thing yourselves."

He pauses and slowly scans the crowd, which sits silently, expectantly awaiting his next sentence.

"I thank God for our men and women who are fighting over there because if they weren't fighting there, we'd be fighting right here in the streets of America. I'm convinced of that," he says, and the sanctuary erupts in loud applause.

America, the crowd is told, is being ruled by evil, clandestine organizations that hide behind the veneer of liberal, democratic groups. These clandestine forces seek to destroy Christians. They spread their demonic, secular humanist ideology through front groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the Trilateral Commission and "the major TV networks, high-profile newspapers and newsmagazines," the U.S. State Department, major foundations (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford), the United Nations, "the left wing of the Democratic Party" and Harvard, Yale "and 2,000 other colleges and universities." All of these groups have joined forces, LaHaye has warned, to "turn America into an amoral, humanist country, ripe for merger into a one-world socialist state."

The radical Christian right has no religious legitimacy. It is a mass political movement. It is interchangeable, in many ways, with other traditional political movements ranging from fascism to communism to the ethnic nationalist parties in the former Yugoslavia. It shares with these movements an inability to cope with ambiguity, doubt and uncertainty. It also embraces a world of miracles and signs and makes war on rational, reality-based thought. It condemns self-criticism and debate as apostasy. It places a premium on action. It dismisses those who do not bow down before its god -- and the leaders who claim to speak for God -- as heretics and traitors.

This movement shares with corporatists, who are busy cannibalizing our society for profit, the belief that there are a chosen few who know the truth and therefore have the right to impose it. The citizen, the individual, no longer has any legitimacy in this new world. All legitimacy is assumed by groups, whether they are corporate groups herding us over the cliff of globalization or religious groups that give popular vent to corporate-generated despair through faith in the Christian utopia. In this paradigm -- corporate and religious -- we become disempowered, afraid, passive and easily manipulated.

Apocalyptic visions like this one have, throughout history, cowed populations and inspired genocidal killers. They have enticed societies into collective suicide. These visions nourished the butchers who led the Inquisition, the Crusades and the conquistadors who swept through the Americas converting and then exterminating the native population.

These visions sustained the SS guards at Auschwitz, the Stalinists who consigned tens of thousands of Ukrainian families to starvation and death, the torturers in the clandestine prisons in Argentina during the Dirty War and the Serbian thugs with heavy machine guns and wraparound sunglasses who stood over the bodies of those they had slain in the smoking ruins of Bosnian villages.

Those who promise to purify the world through violence, to relieve the anxiety of moral pollution and despair, appeal to our noblest sentiments, our highest virtues, our capacity for self-sacrifice and our utopian visions of a cleansed world. It is this coupling of fantastic hope and profound despair, along with visions of peace and light and absolute terror, of selflessness and murder, which frees the consciences of those who call for and carry out the eradication of those they have banished from moral consideration.

When leaders of this movement, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, sanction, as they do, pre-emptive nuclear strikes against our enemies, and therefore the enemies of God, they fuel the passions of terrorists in love with the same apocalyptic nightmares. They march us to our own doom cheered by the delusion that once the dogs of war, even nuclear war, are unleashed, hundreds of millions will die, but because Christians have been blessed and chosen by God they alone will arise in triumph from the ash heap.

In this new world, where those who seek to do us harm will soon have in their hands cruder versions of the apocalyptic weapons we possess, dirty bombs or chemical or biological agents, the vision of those among us who welcome catastrophic warfare, indeed seek to hasten it, who fervently await the apocalypse and the end of time, who believe they will be lifted up into the sky by a returning Christ, forces us all to kneel before the god of death. The prayers these "Christians" near Detroit -- and tens of millions across the nation -- utter for deliverance and apocalyptic glory only hasten our flight from reality and ensure our self-annihilation.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Religious Right and the Federalist Papers

Interesting article from Frank Cocozelli (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/50050/), discussing how the Religious Right fits very neatly into the factionalism that the authors of the Federalist Papers were so rightly concerned about. At the start of the American government, the founders intended to create a system that would force people of different ideas together. That is why the system of checks and balances in the Constitution can be so cumbersome. The basic theory is that a government will be less likely to be harmful to the people as a whole if many people are forced to work together, and the compromises that engenders forces people towards the middle.

The authors of the Federalist Papers saw the greatest danger to this model as factionalism, where small groups of devotedly self-interested people would try to drag the government in directions that would benefit that small group, at the expense of the nation as a whole.

I think it's fair to say that the Religious Right does not have a monopoly of being the "factions" that Publius was concerned about. But they definitely fit the bill, and are a very good example of one. However, I very much appreciate the reminder that the splintering of interests we see currently, along with the death of objectivity in journalism, what we are seeing now is the same problem that the framers of the Constitution saw.
------
In last week's piece I discussed the need to refute the myth of Liberal religious intolerance -- a bit of gasoline that the Religious Right and friendly demagogues in the media like to pour on the fires of the culture war. It certainly makes even the most mundane of skirmishes, real or imagined -- more exciting.

But what is the Religious Right truly after? Simple:

... it is the shameless pursuit of factionalism. Indeed, neoconservatives and their cheering section at the Institute on Religion and Democracy have mastered this technique to great effect. By inflaming religious emotions to a level of faction, they employ a device that has the power to destroy representative democracies such as our own.

By now most of us are familiar with the Institute on Religion and Democracy; who funds, it and who runs it. And it is no small accident that these funders would economically benefit if the mainstream Protestant faiths were to either abandon their historic Social Gospel mission or were rendered unable to advocate for it due to internal dysfunction and schism. The same holds true within the Catholic Church whose principles of distributive justice are being eviscerated from the inside by those wearing the disguise of orthodoxy. The processes are different, but many of the results are the same.

What exactly is factionalism? James Madison, writing in Federalist No. 10, offered this definition:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Further down, Madison expounded on the causes of factionalism:


The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

In his book Passions and Constraint, the author and Liberal law professor Dr. Stephen Holmes has written, "Faction is a third alternative between the private individual and the community as a whole." A bit further on he explains, "Factions are not mere interest groups. They galvanize behavior that is simultaneously selfless and unspeakably vicious towards others."(i)

Contemporary liberals, focused on a dichotomy of self-interest versus altruism often miss the importance of emotional attachements, and too often assume that all those on the Religious Right--followers as well as leaders--are acting primarily out of a sense of self-interest, personal advantage, or pecuniary gain. But we cannot afford to miss the forest of what gives the Religious Right its power as well as how its leadership -- for those trees. Factionalism does not arise out of the Enlightenment ideals of reason or the pursuit of rational self-interest (as opposed to the unfettered laissez-faire self-interest favored by conservatives and those further Right). Instead, it rears its ugly, destructive head when unchecked emotion controls group actions. Hume, noting in his essay Of Parties, in General observed how it is driven by very arbitrary emotions spur of the moment affinities. Once more, Holmes vividly illustrates the critical roles played by affections, the human tendency to copy others and something he describes as "selfless cruelty:"


It is easier to be cruel, on a large scale when you act in the names of others, or in the name of an ideal, or even for the benefit of your victim, than when you act for your own sake. Blood revenge for a humiliation suffered by one's ascriptive group, even at the risk of one's own life, is a glaring example. Think also of those Catholic zealots in medieval France, described by Montesquieu, who rushed onto the scaffold where a Jew was about to be executed for having blasphemed the Virgin Mary: they subdued the public executioner and used their own knives to peel away slowly the sinner's skin, They were not acting from egotistical or mercenary motives, but for the common good-as they saw it. Again, the egoism dichotomy is of no help here; neither bargain hunting nor gentle benevolence was involved, Nonselfish, but nonetheless sickenly murderous behavior abounds in history. It is not marginal, but massively important. This surely the way it appeared to those living in the wake of Europe's religious civil wars."(ii)

Holmes, again observing of David Hume, tells us of the different aims of various factions, all-dependent upon what teach one hopes to accomplish:


On this basis, he (Hume) then distinguishes among factions based on economic interest, factions based on attachment to a person, and factions based on abstract principles such as theological dogma or the divine character of royalty. If we wanted to generalize, we could say that Hume here identifies three independent and mutually irreducible factors that exert casual force upon human: interests, passions and norms.

The potential for faction's divisiveness was such a great cause of concern for classical liberal thinkers such as Hume, Montesquieu, Hamilton, and Madison to express concern over. They fully understood that its spread had brought down governments past--just as it has the power to do with ours. Understanding the danger factions represent, the Founders sought to make our federal system sturdy enough to contain and withstand them. Knowing that it cannot be eliminated, Madison sought to contain it through devices such as Article VI of the U.S. Constitution's ban on religious tests "…as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" as well as the First Amendment's separation of church and state. Why is this important? Because it explains how well-meaning individuals can have their emotions manipulated to achieve goals by those who coolly calculate such affections and responses. As Holmes concludes of Hume, "…within a single group, such as a religious sect or movement, Hume tends to correlate different motives with different roles-so that leaders and elites are ordinarily motivated by calculating interest while followers are usually motivated by non-calculating principle or effect." Thus, the IRD as well as other Religious Right groups and individuals are able to get their followers to work against their own rational self-interest in a way that furthers the interests of elites who both run and finance their organizations. And how they do it is a lesson in factionalism; all done so with the aim of diminishing the Constitutional safeguards for minorities as well as the aggregate majority.

Since being defanged by the New Deal and its successors, the Right has sought to get middle class and working poor Americans to vote against candidates who support fairer wages, better healthcare and a cleaner environment--all policies that would require increased, but still proportionate contribution to the common good from those with superfluous wealth. Over time, perhaps by looking at the past experiences of a William Jennings Bryan, they came to understand that while people can be economically liberal, they can be simultaneously religiously conservative. More importantly, they realized--as the Scopes Monkey Trial revealed, for example-that faith-based emotions can be overwhelming. The key then was to manipulate those passions. As we have seen, the IRD specializes in using schism to weaken the mainline Protestant denominations. Along with other Religious Right organizations, phony wars on Christmas and other greatly exaggerated or completely imaginary Liberal hostilities towards Christianity are conjured up with increasing regularity, simply because it must be diminished in the eyes of ordinary Americas. It is part of a broad effort to demonize Liberalism which, from the New Freedom to the New Deal to the Great Society and beyond -- have stood in the way of powerful interests bent on pursuit of economic and foreign policies of dubious value (at best) to the vast majority. If Liberalism can be defined as ungodly, sinful and of course, unChristian, then certain elites can better have their way. If Liberalism is to refute these hypocrites, we must complete two important tasks. First, those on the Religious Right who shamelessly use faction must be exposed for the charlatans that they truly are. This means pulling the curtain back to expose their ultimate pecuniary interest--interests that in fact work against the aggregate public good. But more importantly we must show the American people that in pursuing factionalism for personal gain, they are they very people our Founders feared and warned us about.