Look What’s Hiding Behind the SOFA

For the past year the Iraq and US governments (not really, but we’ll get to that later) have been working on a bilateral agreement regarding the scope and working details of the future US military involvement in Iraq. It has been widely referred to as a SOFA, or a Status Of Forces Agreement.
The effort began on November 26, 2007 when President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki co-signed the Declaration of Principles (pdf)for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America, which set out a number of issues concerning, among other things, a security agreement between the United States and Iraq.
Wow — Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America. A treaty, for sure.
Subsequently the US Administration announced(pdf) that there would be two agreements negotiated, a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) providing the legal basis between the two countries for the continued presence and operation of U.S. armed forces in Iraq once the U.N. Security Council mandate expires on December 31, 2008, and a Strategic Framework Agreement to cover the overall bilateral relationship between the two countries.
The US State Department hasn’t said much about this matter, but the Pentagon spokesman has said: “we are not the lead in either of those negotiations, the status of forces or the strategic framework agreement. The State Department has been in the lead.”

Continue reading “Look What’s Hiding Behind the SOFA”

Congratulations, Tom Perriello!

Tom Perriello’s lead over mean-spirited rightwinger Virgil Goode in our district’s hard fought congressional race now looks unassailable. The Virginia Democrats’ ‘Raising Kaine’ blog now says that Perriello is 646 votes ahead of Goode, at 158,563 – 157,917 votes.
RK quotes a veteran state political hand as saying that Bedford County is the only jurisdiction that still needs to be retabulated. The state board of elections web-page for Bedford shows us that as of 7:33 last night the numbers involved in correction counting there fell far short of the 650-plus Goode needs: It was three votes here or there they were looking at.
Tom and the state Dems are now claiming victory. Goode has not yet conceded.
Tom Perriello will be a huge improvement over Virgil Goode in the House of Representatives. He is a dedicated social activist where Goode had become a mean-spirited, divisive personality who sought to belittle and exclude immigrants and new Americans. It was also from Goode that I first heard a call to “drill, drill, drill” (oil out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) being used as a rallying cry.
In a couple of earlier JWN posts I offered Tom Perriello some constructive criticism about some aspects of his campaign. Basically, I thought he was wrong to be so openly critical of those who came before him in Democratic Party, whether locally or nationally.
But thanks in good measure to Tom’s smart and dedicated campaigning we are now in a very welcome new day in Virginia, as throughout the US. And because of the horrible economic crisis now descending on the heads of all the US’s people– but most harshly on those of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable families– we will need Tom’s attention to social organizing and socio-economic and political inclusiveness more than ever. He’ll be a fabulous force for good in Washington, DC!
Thanks to Tom Perriello and all his hardworking supporters!

R. Emanuel: Repudiate this disgusting racist comment

… that was reportedly made by your father, Benjamin Emanuel, to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv in response to your appointment as Obama’s White House Chief of Staff:

    “Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel… Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.

(HT: B of Moon of Alabama)
In many Jewish-Israeli circles, including apparently the Irgun/Likud circles the elder Emanuel has been associated with for many decades, “Arab work” is associated with doing all the dirty or hard work, very frequently carried out by members of Israel’s substantial ethnically Palestinian (Arab) minority, that allows so many of Jewish Israelis, nowadays, to live lives of relative ease and prosperity.
But Rahm Emanuel is not just a provincial-minded Jewish Israeli. He is also a US citizen. Indeed, he’s about to rise to one of the highest positions in our country.
There is a good question as to whether anyone occupying such a sensitive position in Washington ought to also hold the citizenship of a foreign country– or whether, in the circumstances, Rahm Emanuel should lay down his foreign citizenship.
But there is no question in my mind that Rahm Emanuel needs to distance himself rapidly, completely, and convincingly from the racist sentiment expressed by his father.
Of course we can’t hold any individual responsible for the sins or sentiments of his fathers. But given the many questions that quite legitimately swirl around this controversial appointment of a dual citizen to WH Chief of Staff, the very least we can request of Rahm Emanuel is that he publicly disavow these ugly racist sentiments. And then, that he and more importantly the president-elect whom he serves should ensure that all high-level appointments and policies are quite untainted by the ugly divisiveness of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim discrimination that have marked far too much of US public life for years now.
Being “pro-Israel”, as Rahm Emanuel has always proudly been, does not in any way involve a requirement to be “anti-Arab”– far less to demean Arabs and Muslims in public or to pursue exclusionary or discourse-suppressing policies. Being “pro-Israel” should absolutely not be considered as being in a “zero sum game” relationship with being “pro-Arab.” Wise leaders and peacemakers should seek to be “pro” both sets of people.
President-elect Obama will very soon, I hope, be calling on Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arabs to escape from the long-turning cycles of violence, oppression, and fear they’ve lived in for so long and to build new relationships with each other that are inclusive, generous, and accord equal rights to all persons, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
So the very least he can do at this crucial point is start to model (and if necessary enforce) just such an approach in the makeup and conduct of his own administration.
On a related note: Today’s WaPo carries, on its front page, a very moving profile of Eugene Allen, an African American who worked many years in the kitchens at the White House, starting in 1952 and finally rising to become butler.
The writer, Wil Haygood, traces the appalling history of the discrimination to which African Americans have always, until very recently, been subjected inside the White House.
Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, and our president-elect, Barack Hussein Obama, would both profit a lot by reading and reflecting on this article. Oh, correct that. Obama already knows and understands that history of marginalization, hard work, and belittlement.
But does his new chief of staff?

Wesley Clark, underwhelming

I went to see Gen. Wesley Clark speaking at the New America Foundation today. Given that there are, you know, so many important things happening in the arena of global security these days, I thought it would be really interesting and instructive to hear what he had to say. The guy did used to be the Supreme Allied Commander, NATO, after all. And he’s said some very helpful things about the need to engage diplomatically with Iran, made some good criticisms of the invasion of Iraq, etc etc.
Also, he made a brief run to be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 (for what that’s worth), and was mentioned by some as a possible running mate for Barack Obama this time round.
Quite a disappointment.
This is how his talk was billed: AMERICA NEEDS URGENT ACTION: NO NONSENSE THOUGHTS ON AMERICA’S ECONOMIC CRISIS AND NATIONAL SECURITY DILEMMAS. (Sorry about the caps. They were there in the invitation.)
He made a short-ish opening statement, which seemed like a Milton Friedman-style version of basic Econ 101. Strongly market fundamentalist, with a big dose of US-first boosterism. His main policy recommendation was to freeze homeowners’ mortgage rates in place for five years. But he said nothing concrete about how, precisely, the government should use the powers its has acquired over Bear, AIG, and the GSE’s to restructure them for the good of the citizenry. Or how the obligations the government has acquired with respect to those acquisitions will be financed; or anything else.
Steve Clemons, who was moderating, had a good opening question about the international effects of the US now being seen as “exporting poisoned financial instruments.” But Clark failed to say anything substantial about the serious issues of international credibility and legitimacy that underlay the question.
I was puzzled. Why was this guy, whose whole professional training had been in military affairs, acting as though he had something of value to say on the current big issues of financial management and economic governance (or, mis-governance)? Why didn’t he say a lot more about the massive national-security challenges of the day?
The only explanation I could come up with was that Clark– like so many people in all branches of the US commentatoriat– is currently very concerned indeed about the state of his own, non-trivial investments. (And apparently somewhat less so about the horrendous crisis that NATO now faces in Afghanistan?)
Clark retired from the military as a four-star general in 2000, with a pension of around $85,000. Plenty to get along nicely on, you’d think? Well, I guess he disagreed. He almost immediately went home to Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working for an investment bank called the Stephens Group. A handy chart here shows you how his earnings rocketed up at that point. This article from Fortune tells you about a $1.2 million sweetheart deal he got from Goldman Sachs and a German manufacturer of industrial gases in early 2004. You get the general picture.
Clark’s is an extremely common, “all-American” story of a person who used the the skills and contacts he acquired while in government service to make a ton of money in the private sector as soon as he left the government. That does not, however, make him any kind of an expert on economics. And it is really a pity that it seems to have distracted him from paying the kind of attention to strategic affairs that the country so sorely needs.
(I asked him about Afghanistan. He answered with a handful of meaningless slogans.)
It is possible he might have made a good Vice-presidential candidate? On balance, I think not.

A note on US politics

This past couple of weeks, I’ve felt a little disembodied. All this really interesting stuff has been happening at the level of the US presidential election– but here I have been, at JWN and in most of my reading and thinking, focused overwhelmingly on the big shifts underway in world politics.
So maybe some JWN readers would have liked more posts here on US politics. However, honestly I don’t think that’s my comparative advantage. I think Josh Marshall and his colleagues at TPM, and the folks at Think Progress, including Matt Yglesias, have been doing some excellent blogging on the election. So if you want that depth of thoughtful coverage, that’s where I’d advise you to go.
Here, fwiw, are some of my quick notes on where the election is right now:
1. I think the Democrats’ convention in Denver has been brilliantly organized in all the aspects of it that I’ve seen. That includes the stage management (including at two very different venues there), the handling of the ‘roll-call’ vote issue, the choice of speakers, and the content of just about all of their speeches. Standouts from what I saw included Michelle Obama’s speech, Hillary Clinton’s, Bill Clinton’s, the ‘vox-pop’ people they had speaking last night, and the array of retired generals. The excellent organization of this very complex public event indicates that the Obama people have some real organizational and administrative talent, as well as good discipline. A good augur for the way they would govern.
2. I thought Obama’s speech last night was not– by his extremely high oratorical standards– a standout, as such. But that was possibly by design: to counter McCain’s charges that he is nothing more than a ‘rock star.’ In general, it was a better-than-workmanline speech that contained a lot of policy specifics. Look, I have to confess I fell asleep at one point while watching it on t.v. That says something about me being tired– but also something about the speech not being super-great.
3. On foreign policy, he was trying, obviously, to counter allegations that he is “not ready” to be commander-in-chief. To a degree that worried me somewhat he tried to do that by “talking tough”, which I am certain is what all his campaign advisers have been urging him to do. But he did also speak forthrightly about several ways in which his foreign policy would be different from that of Pres. Bush and John McCain.
4. This morning, McCain just announced the relatively youthful Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running-mate. In choosing a woman he seems to be making a clear bid to pick up anyone, from any party, who was a strong Hillary supporter and still resents the fact that Obama beat her. But Palin is also reported to be strongly anti-abortion, which probably limits her ability to attract the ‘pissed-off-Hillarites’. Also, if McCain’s supporters have been trying to raise concerns that Obama is not ‘ready’ to govern, then what about this woman, who is young and completely untested in national or international politics? Given McCain’s age, the readiness of his running-mate to take over has to be a real concern. Palin looks like a female version of the youthful and untested Dan Quayle, who was picked by George H.W. Bush in 1992 to try to meet concerns about him being old and out of it… Quayle was a total disaster for the ticket.
… Anyway, I need to get back to writing about the global power balance in which Pres. Obama will — I hope!– be operating come January 20th.

Bobby Kennedy, Palestinians, and Israel

Kudos to the Lenny Ben David of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs who has found and republished a series of four articles that the 22-year-old Robert Kennedy wrote for the Boston Post in late May and early June of 1948. (Hat-tip Dion Nissenbaum for that.)
I haven’t read all the Kennedy reporting in detail yet. Nissenbaum picks out some intriguing fragments at the top of his story.
What neither he nor Ben David mentions is that, as the youthful Kennedy walked around Jerusalem he may well have encountered a four-year-old Palestinian Christian child called Sirhan Sirhan, whose family’s life was probably– like that of all of Jerusalem’s Palestinians– deeply affected by the fighting of 1948 and its aftermath.
Almost exactly 40 years later it was Sirhan— by then a resident of Pasadena, California who suffered from sometimes severe psychological problems— who shot Kennedy to death in a hotel in Los Angeles. By some accounts, Sirhan had been enraged by Kennedy’s election-year demoagoguing on the Israel question. President Johnson had apparently been deflecting Israel’s requests that they be sent a batch of highly capable F-4 deep penetration fighter-bomber planes, offering them the less capable A-4’s instead. So in the primary campaign, Kennedy had begun demagoguing on that, criticizing Johnson for trying to enact that restraint.
I am noting this here absolutely not with any intention of excusing or even seeking to “explain” Sirhan’s quite unacceptable use of deadly violence, and not with the intention of raising in the present context the horrendous specter of “the A word” that so many in the Obama camp (actually, including myself) view with quite understandable dread.
I am noting it because– though all Palestinian movements and spokesmen have always been quite clear that Sirhan Sirhan had no connection with them and was absolutely not acting in their name– there still is that “Palestinian” angle to the story of Bobby Kennedy’s killing, which perhaps makes the rediscovery of Kennedy’s youthful writings on the topic even more poignant.
I’ll just close by recalling that in 1957, when John Kennedy was still a senator, he publicly articulated a very principled position of support for the Algerian liberation movement, an Arab liberation movement that was operating at the other (west) end of Mediterranean against that firm US ally, France. So the Kennedys had quite an interesting overall record on Arab liberation movements, as a family.

Hagee, Hitler, & CUFI program

(updates in extension)
Amid revelations (pun intended) that Pastor John Hagee deems the Holocaust to have been divine retribution against the Jews, presidential candidate John McCain belatedly sees the light and has “rejected” John Hagee’s endorsement.
Hagee’s organization, Christians United for Israel, (CUFI) trumpets itself as a Christian version of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee. CUFI’s just released program for its July 21st Washington-Israel Summit reads like an altar call to an “Amen Chorus” to sing John McCain’s favorite Beach Boys tune — “Bomb bomb bomb; Bomb, bomb Iran.”
Ironically, many of the leading CUFI speakers happen to be prominent Jewish neoconservatives, set to rally Hagee’s Christian soldiers to go marching as to yet another war. Will they still appear?
Previously quite useful to the neoconservatives, Hagee from his CUFI pulpit has been shouting for the US to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran, even with nuclear weapons, as part of what Hagee deems “a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation […] and [the] Second Coming of Christ.” (not to mention the suffering of a lot of “left-behind” Jews at the hand of the “anti-Christ.”)
The first two CUFI DC conventions attracted tens of thousands. As I’ve been reminded, CUFI does not necessarily march in lock step with Israel, though when they disagree, it’s usually in the direction of shrill warnings to Israel to not give up occupied/disputed territories. Advance registration for this year’s CUFI event in Washington is down sharply from last year at this time, in part over Hagee’s perceived anti-Catholic remarks
Credit Bruce Wilson for documenting what John Hagee has been saying and writing about the Jews and the Holocaust. Here’s the YouTube audio recording of an especially chilling Hagee sermon, apparently from the late 1990’s. Hagee’s “scriptural text” is Jeremiah 16, verse 15: (emphasis added in passage below)

“Behold I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave unto their fathers” – that would be Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – “Behold I will send for many fishers and after will I send for many hunters. And they the hunters shall hunt them” – that will be the Jews – “from every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.” If that doesn’t describe what Hitler did in the Holocaust… you can’t see that. So think about this – I will send fishers and I will send hunters. A fisher is someone who entices you with a bait. How many of you know who Theodore Hertzel was? How many of you don’t have a clue who he was? WOO… Sweet God! Theodore Hertzel is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew that at the turn of the 19th century said – “this land is our land, God wants us to live there”. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said, “I want you to come and join me in the land of Israel”. So few went, Hertzel went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the Holocaust. Then god sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says – Jeremiah righty? – “they shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and out of the holes of the rocks”, meaning: there’s no place to hide. And that will be offensive to some people. Well, dear heart, be offended: I didn’t write it. Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, “my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come BACK to the land of Israel”. Today Israel is back in the land and they are at Ezekiel 37 and 8. They are physically alive but they’re not spiritually alive.”

As one horrified Israel supporter friend commented to me this morning, Hagee appears to have suggested that “God sanctioned the killing of 6 million Jews in order to get his Jewish State.”
One wonders how Jewish leaders would react if Iran’s President Ahmadinejad would deem Hitler to have been God’s ruthless “hunter” and the holocaust to have been a just punishment by God.
It will be interested to see if distinguished figures like Senator Joseph Lieberman, Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney, and Robert Satloff will still appear on the CUFI platform with Hagee. While Lieberman last week was generally defending Hagee, it will be telling how he responds to this latest Hagee controversy.
We will watch and post anything about CUFI program “updates.”
Personal Note:

Continue reading “Hagee, Hitler, & CUFI program”

Virginia’s Primaries (& Huckabee/Copeland note)

There’s much to mull over concerning Iran’s pending parliamentary elections – the vetting process yet again. Yet for the moment, we have the American political circus to comprehend, and our own “vetting processes” are less than perfect. For our Presidential primary here in Virginia tomorrow, we are pleasantly surprised to contemplate that our votes might still mean something. Alas, (and this is Scott writing) my early favorites (Chuck Hagel, Bill Richardson, or Ron Paul) either chickened out, gave up early, or have been quite marginalized. But there is still a race on; in both parties, it’s not yet certain who will win.
What’s an independent thinker to do? I’m tired of being “embarrassed” every time our current President speaks, smirks, or slurs.
By contrast, Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson Day speech here in Virginia by Barack Obama gives me hope that we might yet have a President by this time next year who won’t cause me to cringe:

[W]hile Washington is consumed with the same drama and division and distraction, another family puts up a For Sale sign in the front yard. Another factory shuts its doors forever. Another mother declares bankruptcy because she cannot pay her child’s medical bills.
And another soldier waves goodbye as he leaves on another tour of duty in a war that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged. It goes on and on and on, year after year after year.
But in this election – at this moment – Americans are standing up all across the country to say, not this time. Not this year. The stakes are too high and the challenges too great to play the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expect a different result.

Many of these themes echo recent Obama stump lines. I especially like this passage:

If I am the nominee of this party, John McCain will not be able to say that I agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq; agreed with him on giving George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; and agree with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don’t like. Because that doesn’t make us look strong, it makes us look arrogant. John F. Kennedy said that you should never negotiate out of fear, but you should never fear to negotiate. And that’s what I will do as President. I don’t just want to end this war in Iraq, I want to end the mindset that got us into war. It is time to turn the page. (emphasis added)

Yes, this primary is personal for me. My son the Army reserves Lieutenant was just activated into the full-time Army, with his unit slotted for “deployment” later this year. So the ole’ “pro-life” card has, shall we say, a different meaning for me.
McCain, Huckabee & Kenneth Copeland!?
As much as I once liked him, voting for McCain, Mr. Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran, or Mr. “stay in Iraq for a 100 years,” would, for me, be the antithesis of “supporting the troops.”
I do realize that many “independent” friends think McCain is one of them — and that may indeed explain much of his success thus far. But for me, McCain gave up the “Maverick” mantle when he went with the imperialists of old, backing the surge and now loose chatter advocating staying in Iraq without end.
Huckabee for a few moments intrigued me. To be sure, he’s the ultimate un-foreign policy candidate, and he’s tried to turn it into a joke. (He’s been staying at a lot of Holiday Inn’s lately). When he wasn’t “boasting” of consulting with John Bolton, his campaign did float some curiously “independent” ideas, such as the notion of serious talking to Iran (what a concept!) in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. He also notably criticized the Bush Administration for its “counterproductive… bunker mentality” towards the world.
I anticipate Huckabee might do better than expected here in Virginia, though more on social issues, as conservative religious “folk” here remember John McCain’s blasts at them eight years ago. It was no accident that Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Guliani – after courting Romney) Huckabee yesterday was “speaking” before Falwell’s mega-church in Lynchburg.
But Virginia’s “conservative Christians” are hardly a monolith; the formulas that worked before are in tatters. Jerry Falwell is gone; Pat Robertson is on the way out, and his once intimidating “Christian Coalition” barely even exists – even what it stands for anymore is a mystery. (A friend yesterday even hinted that the current CC leader is quietly supporting Clinton)

Continue reading “Virginia’s Primaries (& Huckabee/Copeland note)”

Bush and Blair: sufferers from Hubristic Syndrome?

Through an interesting and happy concatenation of events, I ended up at a small-ish lunch yesterday along with former British Foreign Secretary David Owen. He recently released– but only, alas, in the UK book market– a book called The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power.
The first thing to remember is that David Owen was also– long before he became a Labour MP, and even longer before he became Foreign Secretary, or a leader of the SDP breakaway from Labour, or the EU’s chief negotiator on former Yugoslavia– he was a medical doctor. And he seems quite serious about having identified an actual clinical condition that occurs in some leaders in politics or business, called Hubristic Syndrome.
As lunch wound down we had a short conversation about the book, and the whole theory of what, I’m afraid, we will have to call “HS”. He said it’s important to distinguish it from bipolar disorder (which, I gather, he thinks W. Churchill probably suffered from.) He said HS often occurs in individuals who also have some form of adult ADHD or propensity to addictions.
I haven’t gotten ahold of the book yet, but this is from the “Synopsis” published on the Amazon.co.uk website:

    For many politicians, power seems to go to their head, and becomes a heady drug affecting every action they take. The Greeks called it hubris, where the hero wins glory, acclaim and success – but it is often followed by nemesis. David Owen suggests George Bush and Tony Blair developed a Hubristic Syndrome while in power. He provides a powerful analysis, looking at their behaviour, beliefs and governing style, in particular the nature of their hubristic incompetence in handling the Iraq War. Both of them, and in her last year in office, Margaret Thatcher, developed many of the tell-tale and defining symptoms. A statesman, politician and medical doctor, with personal knowledge of the war in the Balkans, David Owen has unique insight into Blair’s premiership, including several meetings and conversations with Blair from 1996-2004. With his long political experience, Owen has written a devastating critique of the way that Bush and Blair manipulated intelligence and failed to plan for the aftermath of taking Baghdad. Their messianic manner, excessive confidence in their own judgement, and unshakeable belief that they will be vindicated by a ‘higher court’, have doomed what the author believes could have been a successful democratic transformation of Iraq.

It seems like an interesting move, to “medicalize” what we might otherwise regard simply as extremely bad behavior in these leaders. To me, at first blush, it doesn’t seem a sufficient explanation of what has gone on with these two men (and Maggie T. in her last year in power.) I guess I’ll need to read the whole book to see whether the concept of HS has any explanatory power, or simply a degree of descriptive power.
Also, if what they’re suffering from is a medical condition, does that– or should that– decrease the degree of actual responsibility we should attribute to them in connection with actions and decisions regarding the war that certainly did seem to involve a high, possibly even criminal, degree of both recklessness and dereliction of duty– including the duty of “due diligence”?
On the other hand, as a Quaker-Buddhist, I do hold fast to the two ideas that (1) There is that of the divine in everyone, regardless of how much I might disapprove of her/his actions; and (2) Harmful behaviors spring from lack of awareness of the truths about the human condition, not from any intrinsic badness in the perpetrator’s personality… And certainly, one of the main symptoms of HS would seem to be a very serious divorce from awareness of reality.
One further note: At the lunch David made the point– as alluded to in the publisher’s synopsis above– that he had supported the original decision to invade Iraq. As longtime JWN readers are aware, I never did. I disagree with David Owen that the outcome of the invasion “could have been a successful democratic transformation of Iraq.” From that point of view, if I were to subscribe to his general diagnosis of Bush’s (and perhaps also Blair’s) condition, I would probably tend to date the onset of HS in both men to a time considerably before March 2003… And yes, in Bush’s case, there is plenty of evidence of that– including many of the conversations described in Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial”, and the materials in the Paul O’Neil/ Ron Susskind book on Bush.
But, as noted above, I really do need to read David’s book before I comment too much more.

Washington’s month in Iraq/Iran

I know I’ve been a bit AWOL from watching Iraq/Iran developments this past month. So this post is intended as a quick September’s-end round-up of all the biggest developments in official Washington’s consideration of the (increasingly closely linked?) challenges regarding Iraq and Iran.
“September” was awaited with considerable advance publicity and anticipation. It was a long-awaited rock star of a month. For it was September that was to bring us… (drum-roll)… The Petraeus Report! The showdown in the Senate! The sight of the two big parties going mano-a-mano over the war, with the prospect that maybe enough GOP senators would switch sides as to cause serious embarrassment!
In the end, though, I think September fizzled. The antiwar movement in this country seems noticeably weaker (well, certainly, in noticeably greater internal uncertainty and disorder) than it was a month ago; and I am still trying to figure out why. Here is my preliminary list of reasons:
1. Bush’s strategy of, essentially, “hiding behind Petraeus” largely succeeded.
Petraeus received a much gentler reception from the Democrats in Congress than any civilian cabinet member would have. The Dems– like the antiwar movement in the country at large– has taken to heart as one of the key “lessons” of the Vietnam-era antiwar movement that it’s wrong to demonize the military, since they are “only carrying out the orders” of the civilian leadership. Well, I certainly agree that no-one should be demonized. But still, I think the present general pandering to the military may have gone quite a lot too far. We should remember, after all, that unlike in the Vietnam era, the people in today’s US military are all volunteers. No-one drafted them. They chose to do this job which involves killing and running the risk of getting killed. And (again, unlike in the Vietnam era), many of them get paid quite decently for doing this job.
I also think that Moveon.org made a really stupid mistake in publicly impugning Petraeus’s patriotism. Their ad was childish and counter-productive. Most importantly, it failed to engage with the content of what Petraeus said in his testimony. How much better if they had waited until after his two appearances and ran an ad drawing attention to the admission he was forced to make, in response to Sen. John Warner’s questioning, that he couldn’t actually clearly state that the campaign in Iraq is making the US any safer! But no, they didn’t want to wait till after his testimony and then respond to it– they insisted on designing their ad before he had even spoken, and used up– presumably– huge amounts of their money on that ill-conceived project… which then itself largely diverted attention from the content of what was discussed in the hearings.
2. Discussion of Iraq/Iran affairs has now been caught up heavily in an intense fundraising phase of the 2008 presidential election.
I guess this one caught me by surprise a bit. But basically, what’s been happening is that (a) in both parties there are extremely hard-fought pre-primary contests going on, and at the same time (b) the calendar for the various states’ primary election has been moving further and further forward (i.e. from February 2008 to very early January 2008– and there is still a possibility that Iowa and New Hampshire might hold their primaries this December!)
Of course this latter development is sheer craziness, and brings us closer and closer to the specter of US politics becoming a single continuous election season with no interlude left for any rational governance. But its effect on poor old September has been devastating. Under US election laws, the campaigns have to file reports at the end of each quarter on how much money they’ve raised to date. These reports are seen as important early indicators of the degree of support each candidate has within his/her party. So right now– Sept. 29– the candidates are all screeching to their supporters to “Write your checks now! Now!”
Compiling these reports and getting them published takes a few days. So what is now increasingly clear is that the end-of-September reports will be the last ones published before the primary voting begins.
Now, during the primary process itself, there’s a certain general dynamic whereby the candidates have to appeal to the slightly more radical and/or committed wings within their own parties. But during this pre-primary, fundraising period, the candidates need to appeal overwhelmingly to the well-organized fundraising organizations… And among the very best of these are lobbies like the pro-gun lobby, the Big Agribusiness lobby… and of course, the pro-Israel lobby.
It is this latter player–well, actually, a widely distributed network of staunchly pro-Israel organizations from within both the Jewish and the evangelical Christian communities– that has probably had the most effect of all on the behavior of candidates regarding Middle East-related questions.
AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is the “information headquarters” for this network, publishing calls to action for its supporters nationwide– like this one, titled “Support Sanctions Against Iran”, and then also publishing detailed lists of which senators and Congressmembers voted for or against AIPAC’s favored legislative initiatives.
… And thus, we had 76 Senators voting this week in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment that expressed the “sense of the Senate” in favor of tightening up the sanctions on Iran. That, despite this eloquent explanation by Virginia’s very own Sen. Jim Webb as to why this was such a reckless act. Sen. Clinton voted FOR the Amendment. Sens. Obama and McCain– who should have voted against it, chose not to vote at all. Biden, to his credit voted “Nay.” (Note: I had gotten that wrong here earlier and am glad to correct it. Sorry about that, Senator.) Only 21 other senators ended up voting against it.
Here by the way is the text of a letter that the Friends Committee on National legislation sent to the 22 bravely dissenting senators. It said,

    We at the Friends Committee on National Legislation thank you for voting yesterday against the Kyl-Lieberman S. Amdt. 3017 expressing the sense of the Senate on Iran.
    Although the modified amendment passed by the Senate omitted a section that could be construed as authorizing military action against Iran, the amendment still increases the likelihood of war and undermines efforts to persuade the Bush administration to pursue diplomacy with Iran.
    The amendment’s call for the administration to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization reinforces administration policy to provoke and threaten Iran instead of engaging in negotiations. The administration could agree to apply the terrorist label and conclude that it had Senate backing to attack the IRGC, which is part of Iran’s army…

Another distinctly unhelpful amendment passed by the Senate this week was the one that Sen. Biden had proposed, which requested the administration to “encourage” Iraqis to find a “federal” (that is, radically decentralized) formula for the governance of their country.
Note to Biden: The US Senate is not the Senate of Classical Rome, which sought to order the governance structures of distant, Roman Army-controlled provinces according to its own whim! Nor is it the Parliament of Empire-ruling Britain! (And pssst: The Iraqis already have a “Constitution”.)
Biden was, as usual, showboating, trying to “prove” he had something distinctive to say regarding Iraq, and was able to pull around half the GOP senators away from the administration’s position on this (which is the rather sensible position that unwarranted interference on this point by showboating US senators is not helpful to anyone in Iraq.)
Anyway, read Reidar Visser’s excellent commentary on this whole issue, here.
And finally, I cannot let this survey of “This month in Washington-by-the-Persian-Gulf” pass without highlighting this really disturbing report from the WaPo’s Tom Ricks about the positions that B. Obama, H. Clinton, and J. Edwards all staked out during a pre-primary debate in New Hampshire– to the effect that they could not promise to have the U.S. military out of Iraq by January 2013 — more than five years from now.
I was gobsmacked when I first read about that.
What has happened to the passion of the antiwar wave that carried the Democratic Party so high during the elections held just over 11 months ago today? Why are these three– the frontrunners in the Democratic primary process– all being so extremely timid regarding the still-urgent need to bring the troops home and end the occupation?
My big guess is two things have been happening: (a) they’ve been talking to their fundraising people much more than, recently, they’ve been talking to their get-out-the-vote people, and (b) they are all three desperate to “look presidential”– without realizing that, in truth, the way to “look presidential” right now is to adopt bold and clear ideas that stand in clear contrast to the failed policies pursued by Pres. Bush.
Well, more on this later, no doubt. But for my part, I just might have to whip out my checkbook and make a donation to Bill Richardson or Dennis Kucinich. They, along with GOP candidate Ron Paul are the only ones calling straighforwardly for a rapid and total troop withdrawal from Iraq.