Saturday, July 22, 2006

Status quo

By Creature

Condi Rice:

“I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do,” she said Friday. “I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante.”

And that's the bottom line for the Bush administration. Any circumstance (civil war), any consequence (unbridled terrorist recruitment), and all deaths (ours, theirs, and all in between) are justified, so long as the "status quo" is shattered. But the irony is that they may have shaken the quo now, wether it be the overthrow of Saddam or their refusal to reign in Israel, it is later, when another U.S. adverse government is entrenched in Iraq and Hezbollah returns bigger and better (mind you, due a fully anticipated recruiting boom), that tomorrow's status quo will look a hell of a lot like today's.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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James Inhofe is a dangerous idiot

How do I know this? Because he recently said this about global warming: "[A]ll of the recent science... it confirms that I was right on this thing. This thing is a hoax." (He also said that Al Gore, who puts him to shame in this matter as in all matters, is "full of crap".)

No, it's not a hoax. In fact, the vast majority of scientific research on global warming concludes that it's a serious problem, potentially a cataclysmic one.

See here, here, here, here, here. (Not that people like Inhofe care much about the facts.)

Here's how I've put it before: Too many of those in positions to do anything about the problem, including those at the very top, don't take it seriously, if they even recognize it at all. In the end, we may all suffer for their neglect of what is perhaps the most far-reaching crisis of our time.

Senator Inhofe is in a position to do something about global warming, but obviously he prefers fantasy over reality, ignorance over truth.

He is an embarrassment to the Senate. He is an embarrassment period. Given his power and influence, however, he is a truly dangerous idiot.

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Dividing Baghdad

This isn't good:

Iraq's politicians were reported yesterday to be drawing up provisional plans to divide Baghdad into Sunni and Shia halves after a week of bloodshed that has left the government's security plan to pacify the capital in tatters.

The proposal would mean an acceptance that the country could not be held together and would mark a dramatic failure for the American policy of fostering national unity.

The Tigris river, which would become the dividing line between the predominately Sunni districts of west Baghdad and the majority Shia in the east.

The partition of post-Saddam Iraq may be inevitable, just as the partition of post-Tito Yugoslavia was, but what we're talking about here is the partition of a single city (and the country's most important city), a city "close to anarchy". It might seem as if partition could reduce the sectarian violence, given the recent "dramatic rise in the number of killings and lawlessness" -- what other viable options are there? -- but look how partition worked out for Northern Ireland, Cyprus, India/Pakistan, etc.

Baghdad could prove that rule wrong, but... no, it won't. The violence would continue regardless.

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Is Israel preparing to launch a major ground offensive?

From the BBC:

Israel has called up thousands of reserve troops and told civilians to quit southern Lebanon immediately, amid threats of a large-scale incursion.

Israeli troops are already fighting Hezbollah inside Lebanon and have been heavily shelling the border area...

Correspondents in Jerusalem say it is understood the Israeli reservists being called up could fill in for troops in the West Bank and Gaza, releasing other soldiers to go up to the northern front.

The move has widened speculation that Israel is preparing for a large ground offensive.

I predicted the other day that "Israel will roll back its offensive before the conflict expands into some sort of international conflagration". I'll stick with that prediction, but I won't rule out an escalation of the ground war in southern Lebanon. One thing Israel knows is that it can't effectively dismantle Hezbollah's infrastructure solely through the air. Ultimately, ground forces will be needed -- if Israel's goal is indeed to do serious damage to Hezbollah (which has attacked Haifa with rockets again).

The BBC is reporting that "Israel [has] dropped leaflets on southern Lebanon warning residents to immediately evacuate an area approximately 32km (20 miles) wide".

But it may not just be Hezbollah that the Israelis would confront on the ground: "Senior Lebanese officials said the country's army would go into battle if Israel invaded Lebanon."


UPDATE: In a more recent article, the BBC is reporting that "Israel has massed soldiers and tanks on the border with Lebanon".

See also the The Jerusalem Post and The New York Times.

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Scenes of Beirut

I've expressed my support for Israel, however conditional, as well as my frustration with the irresponsibility of some of the foreign evacuees, but these are some awfully powerful photos of Beirut under attack. Even if Israel has a right to defend itself and has thus far done so proportionately (which is arguable, I admit), and even if Hezbollah is to blame for hiding behind civilian shields, these images (which I found at the BBC) fill me with a profound sadness:

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Friday, July 21, 2006

The dupe of Tehran

You've heard of the Manchurian Candidate? Well, as Edward Copeland asks: "Could George W. Bush be the Iranian Candidate?" Consider:

Like Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, who spouted anti-communist rhetoric while secretly working for their agenda in the U.S., could Dubya really be an Iranian plant? Can you imagine anyone else who has done as much for Iran than he has? Before his Axis of Evil speech, young reformers in Iran were gaining strength. Afterward, the Iranian religious leaders cracked down and used nationalism to gain support for launching a nuclear program and elected a lunatic as president. Meanwhile, the folly of the Iraq invasion have removed the buffer of Saddam Hussein, who himself was contained, as a safeguard against Iranian influence as a Shiite-dominated government took charge in Iraq and began spouting similar anti-Israeli rhetoric. Meanwhile, a fledgling democratic effort in Lebanon falls by the wayside as Iranian-backed Hezbollah baits Israel into military action while increasing the Shiite influence there as well. Dubya's urging of democratic reforms throughout the region has also led to a growing influence of radical Shiites in the Egyptian government as well. If you want to take the conspiracy further -- how did Iran and North Korea get their hands on nuke technology? From the Pakistani scientist who used UAE ports as a conduit -- ports run by the Dubai company Dubya fought to put in control of U.S. ports. Personally, I can't see King Idiot being clever enough to be an agent for Iran -- but he could certainly be their dupe.

Sure, it's an amusing conspiracy theory, one not meant to be taken too seriously, but it's certainly true that Bush, intentionally or otherwise, has done a lot for Iran. Where would Ahmadinejad be without him?

(Check out the rest of Edward's post for a helpful round-up of today's news.)

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Nasrallah speaks out as Israel plans expansion of ground offensive in Lebanon

It's all about escalation (or at least the signs of escalation). Here's the AP with the news:

Pitched battles raged between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters on the border Thursday, and Israel warned hundreds of thousands of people to flee southern Lebanon "immediately," preparing for a likely ground offensive to set up a buffer zone...

On a day that saw U.S. Marines return to Lebanon for the first time in 22 years, the war looked ready to expand dramatically. Neither side showed any sign of backing down. Hezbollah refused to release its two Israeli soldiers without a prisoner exchange, Israel was aiming to create a new buffer zone in a region that saw 18 years of Israeli presence ending in 2000...

Israel has decided air power alone will not be enough to drive Hezbollah back from the Israeli-Lebanon border and that a ground force will be needed to establish a zone that is at least 20 miles deep, senior military officials said Thursday.

Condi Rice will head to the region in the coming days, "the first U.S. diplomatic effort on the ground" since the conflict broke out.

Meanwhile, Kofi Annan, who blames both sides, "warned of a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and called for an immediate cease-fire, even as he admitted 'serious obstacles' stand in the way of even easing the violence". The humanitarian toll:

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora put the death toll at more than 330 — at least 11 of them killed Thursday — with 1,100 wounded. At least 31 Israelis have been killed, including 16 soldiers — two of them killed in Thursday's fighting.

The U.N. estimated that about a half-million people have been displaced in Lebanon, with 130,000 fleeing to Syria and about 45,000 believed to be in need of assistance.

Not to mention all the foreign evacuees, of course.


According to The Jerusalem Post, Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, "spoke on Thursday for the first time since the beginning of the week, saying Hizbullah's entire infrastructure and leadership hierarchy were still intact and functional".

In his words: "I can confirm without exaggerating or using psychological warfare, that we have not been harmed."

And: "Hizbullah has so far stood fast, absorbed the strike and has retaken the initiative and made the surprises that it had promised, and there are more surprises."

Surprises? One wonders how bloody they'll be once they materialize. Given Hezbollah's history, whatever it has planned could be extraordinarily ruthless. At least, if not much else, Nasrallah opened the door to the possibility of negotiations to secure the release of the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers. (Whether Israel would or should negotiate with such a ruthless terrorist organization, one that targets civilians as well as military personnel, is another matter.)

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Evacuating the irresponsible

Alright. In my last post, which you find either by scrolling down or by clicking here, I wrote about Canada's efforts to evacuate thousands of Canadians from Lebanon.

Well, as the Globe reports, Prime Minister Harper, who had been in Cyprus "to help in the evacuation effort," took about 63 evacuees back to Canada with him on his prime ministerial plane yesterday, and, overall, "[m]ore than 1,200 Canadians are expected to arrive in Turkey on several ships over the next day or two".

This is what our government is doing at great cost and great risk to help our citizens -- even if they have dual citizenship, even if most of them were likely in Lebanon voluntarily. And yet some of these evacuees are ungrateful: "The CBC has reported that many who arrived added more complaints about the rescue operations: citing lack of water and food, and that there was no one on board who spoke French, English or Arabic."

You'll have to forgive my apparent insensitivity, but: BOO-HOO! What were they expecting? A luxurious cruise out of Beirut -- perhaps fine dining and dancing? This is supposedly a rescue operation. A rescue operation to extract civilians who happen to be lucky enough to have Canadian citizenship from a war zone. A war zone? Yes, in a way, but it's not as if Beirut is like, say, Phnom Penh in 1975 (nor even like Baghdad today). There is bombing, yes, but presumably life goes on as it normally does in much of Lebanon. Normally? Yes. This is Lebanon, not Oregon. An Israeli offensive may not be normal, but it's not as if that country hasn't experienced more than its share of violent hardship in the recent past.

Am I insensitive? Maybe. I'm sure these people want out and even at great expense perhaps our government should do what it can to help them, just as other governments are helping their own citizens. (It would look bad not to help them.) But shouldn't the evacuees and would-be evacuees be held responsible for being there in the first place? TNR's Martin Peretz puts it well at The Plank:

I have just read the five Lebanon Travel Warnings issued by the Department of State from November 18, 2004 through today, July 19. OK, forget about the last one. It came too late for those trapped in Lebanon now. But people who still don't take its advice have only themselves to blame. Or they don't watch television. But the four statements of foreboding that came before -- I haven't gone further back than November 2004 -- don't make Lebanon seem at all inviting, and the insistent travelers -- come to think of it -- also have only themselves to blame.

In fact, each of the warnings tells you that U.S. air carriers are not permitted to use Beirut International Airport and that the Lebanese carrier, Middle East Airlines, is not allowed to operate in the United States. (Sort of like the warning at Logan Airport warning travelers not to go to Lagos.) The warnings also caution you about suicide bombs, terrorist activities, land mines, unexploded ordnance, and a general atmosphere of violence, predictable and unpredictable. The reader is especially warned against visiting the southern neighborhoods of Beirut, southern Lebanon (especially Sidon), Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley, etc.

Why families would take their kids for long summer vacations into this environment is beyond me. But many have, and a lot of them have been whining on television about how the U.S. government didn't rescue them promptly (and comfortably) from the touristic mayhem they put themselves in on their own volition and despite the feds' detailed descriptions of general and specific menace in the country. Many of those who bitched for the cameras seem to me to be especially petulant, even those who have already arrived in Cyprus. They complained about accommodations and the shortage of food, as if they were on a Greek Island cruise boat suddenly deserted by the chef. No sense of individual responsibility either for having put themselves in harm's way despite State's effort to keep them at home... or maybe go to Venice instead.

Responsibility. There's a novel concept.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Too late

By Creature

After years of hope (magical thinking) the GOP has finally taken the leap (fallen on their faces) from the force fed GWB optimism (lies) to increasing pessimism (covering their asses in an election year) regarding the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Rep. Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), once a strong supporter of the war, returned from Iraq this week declaring that conditions in Baghdad were far worse "than we'd been led to believe" and urging that troop withdrawals begin immediately. [...]

And freshman Sen. John Thune (S.D.) told reporters at the National Press Club that if he were running for reelection this year, "you obviously don't embrace the president and his agenda."

"The first thing I'd do is acknowledge that there have been mistakes made," Thune said. [...]

"It's like after Katrina, when the secretary of homeland security was saying all those people weren't really stranded when we were all watching it on TV," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.). "I still hear about that. We can't look like we won't face reality."

Their backs must be up against the political wall. The Washington Post has more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Reality bites

By Creature

When you try to create your own reality, reality has a way of intervening...

It has been the Americans' hope that Iraq would become President Bush's staunchest ally among Arab nations.

How has that neo-con hope worked out? Well, not so good.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush's position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East.

Oh well. Maybe next time.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Israeli targets Hezbollah leadership as foreigners continue to evacuate Lebanon

The latest update from the AP:

Israeli troops punched into south Lebanon on Wednesday as warplanes flattened houses and buildings including one thought to hold Hezbollah's top leaders, intensifying an offensive despite mounting international pressure and a Lebanese appeal to spare the country further death and devastation.

The attempt to wipe out the Hezbollah leadership was the most dramatic action on a day that saw Israelis clash with the guerrillas and the Lebanese prime minister say about 300 people in his country had died in the eight-day offensive. Israel's broadcast warnings into south Lebanon telling civilians to leave the region, a possible prelude to a larger Israeli ground operation.

Meanwhile, "Hezbollah, undeterred, fired rockets into the Israeli Arab town of Nazareth" and "[t]housands of foreigners fled Lebanon in one of the largest evacuation operations since World War II".


On the latter, thousands of Canadians are among those trying to get out, as The Globe and Mail reports. The first ship with about 250 Canadian evacuees on board is on its way to Cyprus, but six other ships commissioned by Ottawa have "not [yet]been guaranteed safe passage by the Israelis".

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has "assured [Prime Minister Harper] that Israeli forces will do what they can to accommodate Canada's efforts to remove its citizens from Lebanon".

Let's hope so.

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A veto of darkness

President Bush tends to "veto" legislation through the backhanded use of so-called "signing statements" (which I recently addressed here). But now we have his first real veto:

President Bush issued the first veto of his five-year-old administration yesterday, rejecting Congress's bid to lift funding restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research and underscoring his party's split on an emotional issue in this fall's elections.

No surprise here. Karl Rove indicated some time ago that this was coming. As I put it then:

The first veto will say a lot about this president and his priorities. If he vetos this stem-cell legislation, he should go before the American people and tell them why he doesn't support this bipartisan effort. And he should explain to those who could benefit from stem-cell research, as well as to their loved ones, just why he refuses to help them.

Well, Mr. President? You talk about "a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect," which must sound nice to your base, but all you prove with this veto is that you are closed off -- politically and morally -- to the possibilities of science and to a beneficial (and hopefully benevolent) technology that will save the lives of the living.

A truly decent society would respect those lives. Your veto only threatens to keep your society in darkness.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Krazy Kristol

According to Think Progress, which has the video, neocon extraordinaire Bill Kristol asserted on Fox News this morning that the U.S. should "be ready to use force" against Iran and that the Iranian people might even support "the right use of targeted military force".

I agree with Kristol's contention that many Iranians "dislike their regime" and that some "moderates" may be "nervous about Ahmadinejad’s recklessness". However, Kristol seems to discount Iranian nationalism entirely. Iranians may look favourably on the West, but they certainly don't want Americans to be their liberators.

First Iraq and now Iran. Kristol is at it again with his enthusiastic support for U.S. military intervention and regime change. But look how that worked out in Iraq. Does Kristol -- do any of his neocon ilk -- have any credibility left at all?

If you needed any more proof that he's jumped the shark, here you go.

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Sign of the Renaissance #5: The defeat of Ralph Reed

Fundamental hypocrite Ralph Reed will not be the next lieutenant governor of Georgia. He lost yesterday's Republican primary to Casey Cagle.

"Stay in the fight, don’t retreat, and our values will win in November," he said.

In case you've forgotten, those values are evidently the values of such moral luminaries as Jack Abramoff and the recently departed Ken Lay. And, looking back over Reed's career, those so-called values must somehow make room for plagiarism, election fraud, gambling, harrassment, and bribery, not to mention all the other humiliating details of a sordid political life.

He'll be back, I'm sure, but at least we can take some pleasure in his defeat in Georgia.

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Israeli ground troops enter Lebanon

Here's the latest from WaPo:

By helicopter and ship, hundreds of Americans and Europeans fled on Tuesday from Beirut, ending its first week of siege, as casualties mounted in deadly Israeli raids that struck a Lebanese military base, a truck carrying food from Syria and a village near the border. The militant group Hezbollah fired at least 100 rockets into Israel, killing one civilian.

And now there's this from the AP: "The military said early Wednesday it sent some troops into southern Lebanon in search of tunnels and weapons."

The WaPo article elaborates: "Israeli armored forces entered the central Gaza Strip overnight and clashed with Palestinian militants, killing two members of Hamas and wounding five..."

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Israel's window of opportunity to weaken Hezbollah

According to the AP, "Israel declared Tuesday it was ready to fight Hezbollah guerrillas for several more weeks and possibly send ground forces into Lebanon, raising doubts about international efforts to broker an immediate cease-fire in the fighting that has killed more than 260 people and displaced 500,000." Indeed, "Israel is in no hurry to end its offensive, which it sees as a unique opportunity to crush Hezbollah."

According to Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who blames Iran for initiating this conflict (via Hezbollah) in order to deflect attention away from its nuclear program, "is not ruling out negotiating an end to the crisis". However, he has "expressed reservations over a proposal to station a special international force in Lebanon". He says that Israel's offensive in Lebanon will go on "until it is certain that there is no threat of fire against Israel".

Sure, but when will that be? And is it even realistic?

I've expressed support for Israel -- support that has received some determined criticism from some who think I'm wrong -- but I must stress again that my support for Israel, both in this conflict and more generally, is not unconditional. I have been critical of Israel in the past and I am prepared to criticize Israel once again. To this point, I think that Israel's response to the Hezbollah threat, a threat that manifested itself in the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, a threat that we now know includes missiles that can hit Israel's major cities, has been proportionate. Israel must be able to defend itself -- and must defend itself -- when faced with terrorist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism that seek to destroy it.

But enough may soon be enough. Israel ought to destroy as much of Hezbollah's infrastructure in Lebanon as possible, and as carefully as possible. However, there is still the danger that this conflict could spread beyond its current parameters and engulf various other interested parties, including Syria and Iran. Surely Israel's leaders know this. Surely they know that an expanded conflict wouldn't necessarily be in Israel's best interests. Surely they know that much of the support they have would dry up if they went too far.

And perhaps the conflict will soon be coming to an end regardless. Consider this interesting piece at Guardian Unlimited:

The US is giving Israel a window of a week to inflict maximum damage on Hizbullah before weighing in behind international calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, according to British, European and Israeli sources.

The Bush administration, backed by Britain, has blocked efforts for an immediate halt to the fighting initiated at the UN security council, the G8 summit in St Petersburg and the European foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.

"It's clear the Americans have given the Israelis the green light. They [the Israeli attacks] will be allowed to go on longer, perhaps for another week," a senior European official said yesterday. Diplomatic sources said there was a clear time limit, partly dictated by fears that a prolonged conflict could spin out of control.

US strategy in allowing Israel this freedom for a limited period has several objectives, one of which is delivering a slap to Iran and Syria, who Washington claims are directing Hizbullah and Hamas militants from behind the scenes.

Perhaps this American "green light," if there is one, doesn't matter much to Israel. But I would suggest otherwise. Israel will continue to do what it can to weaken Hezbollah while it has the limited opportunity to do so. This may go on for another week or until the two soldiers are returned or even for longer if Hezbollah continues to attack Israel with missiles designed to inflict civilian casualties. But I predict that Israel will roll back its offensive before the conflict expands into some sort of international conflagration.

Extremists on all sides, including Bill Kristol and America's warmongering neocons, may hope to see this limited conflict erupt into World War III, but I suspect that some semblance of sanity will prevail, at least in the short term.

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The sum of Iraq's dead

According to CNN, reporting on a report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, "[m]ore than 14,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq in the first half of this year".

14,000 killed in 6 months. Civilians.

Just take some time to think about that.

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Covering up misconduct: Why did Bush put a stop to the domestic surveillance investigation?

Here's another big story that isn't getting much attention given that so much of our attention is on -- because directed towards by the news media and their single-issue herd mentality -- Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah.

Big? How about huge? In National Journal, Murray Waas reports:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today that President Bush personally halted an internal Justice Department investigation into whether Gonzales and other senior department officials acted within the law in approving and overseeing the administration's domestic surveillance program.

All part of Bush's would-be imperial presidency, I suppose. But if Bush is right all the time, as his imperial proponents contend, if he himself may determine what is right and wrong, what he as president may do, if, that is, he is a law unto himself, then why conspire to prevent the truth from coming out? Surely the only reason to prevent the truth from coming out is to cover something up:

A senior Justice official said that the refusal to grant the clearances [to investigators] was "unprecedented" and questioned whether the clearances were denied because investigators might find "misconduct by those who were attempting to defeat" the probe from being conducted.

In other words, given that it was Bush who made the key decision to put a stop to the investigation, misconduct on the part of Bush himself.

Waas's piece is a must-read. Go check it out.

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Turkey's temptation

Uh-oh. I know that most of our focus the past week has been on the escalating conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, but turn your attention to Iraq for a moment. Not just to the continuing bloodshed in Baghdad and beyond (and there was a good deal more yesterday when, according to WaPo, "[a] suicide bomber killed more than 50 day laborers... in the Shiite shrine city of Kufa") but to the northern border, to the thin line that separates Turkey from Kurdish Iraq.

Britain's Independent is reporting that "[t]he Turkish army may move into northern Iraq if violence by Turkish-Kurdish guerrillas continues". What would be so bad about this? "Such a move could put Turkey on a collision course with the United States, which has repeatedly warned against unilateral action in Iraq."

There are domestic political considerations for the Turkish government, which "is facing increasing domestic pressure to act after 15 soldiers, police and guards were killed in fighting with the guerrillas in the past week," but the possibility that Turkey could move into Iraq, specifically into "one of the few stable areas of the troubled country," suggests that the situation could quickly spiral out of control even beyond the disjointed civil war that is raging in Baghdad and elsewhere.

How would the fragile Iraqi government deal with a Turkish incursion into Kurdish territory? How would the Kurds respond? What would the U.S. do?

If you didn't think the situation on the ground in Iraq could get much worse, well, think again.

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Sam Brownback is a dangerous idiot (on stem-cell research)

Look, I'm not entirely hostile to Senator Brownback. Some of what he does -- on Darfur, for example -- is quite admirable. But the fact is, he's an extremist on abortion and he's an extremist on stem-cell research. And that extremism came out as naked as ever in a recent Senate debate on stem-cell legislation (the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would provide federal funding for stem-cell research -- see here for the details).

As Think Progress reports, "during debate on the bill, [Brownback] held up a picture of an embryo drawn by a 7-year-old girl. Relaying a conversation with the girl’s mother, Brownback said the embryo was asking the Senate, 'Are you going to kill me?'"

Great. Brownback thinks he can influence this debate -- and kill the bill -- by putting words in the "mouth" of an embryo. Or, rather, by exploiting the ignorance of a little girl in an act of pure political showmanship.

Maybe the senator from Kansas isn't dangerous after all. Maybe having to resort to such a low reflects his impotence in the face of reality.

For reality is clear: The bill should pass. Even Senator Frist supports it. The only question will be whether Bush vetoes it -- and then whether there will be enough votes to override what would be Bush's first veto.

I have no doubt that Senator Brownback is sincere in his beliefs. I even hesitate to call him a dangerous idiot. (Though I'll leave the title of this post as is -- just take it for what it is.) He obviously believes that stem-cell research is wrong. Unlike many on his side of the aisle, his morality isn't tainted with cynicism and convenience. And, too, he has a constituency -- a base, if you will -- that is no doubt equally sincere... if terribly wrong on this crucial issue.

As I've put it before, like so many others, stem-cell research will save lives. An embryo is simply not a human being -- yes, to be sure, that's my sincere belief, but I also have science on my side. And an embryo certainly can't talk.

Opponents of this legislation, like Brownback, take what they deem to be the fundamentally moral position. But the truly humanitarian position, what I would call the truly pro-life position, the one that could benefit the lives of those suffering now and of those who will suffer in the future from incurable diseases, is to support (and fund) stem-cell research.

Their lives are worth something, too, are they not, Senator?

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Same-sex marriage survives a majority of insanity in the House

Just over a month ago I wrote about "Senatorial sanity on same-sex marriage" after the proposed Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was voted down in the Senate.

But sanity is relative. 48 Senators voted for the amendment, well short of the required two-thirds majority, but still 48 of 100 Senators. That's an insanity percentage of -- hold on, let me do the calculation -- 48 percent.

Not good.

Well, things are worse in the House of Representatives. As the AP reports, the House today rejected the same-sex marriage ban just as the Senate had done. But the vote was 236-187 for the amendment! That's an insanity percentage of -- hold on, hold on, hold on -- almost 56 percent. In other words, there's a majority of insanity in the House.

That shouldn't surprise anyone. The House is less deliberative than the Senate, which was precisely how the Framers intended it. The House is the people's body, but, as such, it's also a body prone to demagoguery. And, as you know, the Republicans, of late prone to demagoguery, run the House. Call it the DeLay House.

All that may change this coming November, though I doubt it. I think the GOP will hold on to a majority -- a slim one, but a majority nonetheless. And they'll do it in part by using same-sex marriage as a wedge issue alongside all the other factors of fear upon which they regularly campaign.

I congratulate the House for not being quite insane enough to vote with a two-thirds majority for the Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, but that's about all I'll give it.

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The Bush-Blair chit-chat

I'm trying not to make too much of yesterday's brief chat between Bush and Blair in front of an open mic at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. It is what it is, sweaters and all. For your amusement, here's the full transcript.

My view? Who cares if Bush said "shit"? More seriously, isn't he right that Syria is behind Hezbollah? Isn't he right that Kofi Annan's "ceasefire plan" is largely toothless? Isn't Blair right that an "international presence" may be needed?

Anyway, that's about it. See Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice for much more.

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To support Israel or not to support Israel?

My recent posts on the Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah situation (for lack of a better word) suggest that I support Israel, perhaps even unreservedly so. And some readers no doubt object to this.


In one post, I wrote this: "Right. Israel's aggression and Israel's crimes. That's always the spin, isn't it? When groups like Hezbollah and states like Syria make the case that Israel is to blame for their ills, they can justify their ongoing attempts to wipe Israel out entirely."

In response, an anonymous commenter wrote this: "Now, stickings [sic], I know there are many ways to view things. I'm just curious why you choose to focus on one side and not on both sides, in this particular case."

A fair point. Let me try to address it.

It was Syria's ruling Baath Party (Saddam's party in Iraq) that referred to Israel's "aggression" and "crimes". Assad's anti-Israeli spin is predictable, and it's a spin I reject. Israel has in the past been aggressive. Some may even think that Israel has committed crimes. But Israel is not "barbaric". Furthermore, Syria, which until only recently tyrannized Lebanon, supports Hezbollah. That organization wants to obliterate Israel. Ipso facto, Syria wants to obliterate Israel. Whatever Israel may or may not have done in the past, who is the aggressor here? Who has committed a crime?

This brings me to a post by Jonathan Chait at TNR's The Plank:

At Tapped, Matt Yglesias writes that Hezbollah's rocket strikes, as compared with Israel's bombing of Lebanon, are "equally indefensible." Equally? Hezbollah began the crisis with an act of war that included a cross-border incursion and a kidnapping. Israel retaliated by attacking the parts of Lebanon's infrastructure that could be used to spirit the kidnapped soldiers out of the country, and followed it up by trying to destroy Hezbollah's artillery. In so doing they made every effort to minimize civilian casualties, including dropping leaflets warning residents to leave the targetted areas. Hezbollah has been lobbing rockets in the general direction of Israeli cities with no intent other than to kill civilians.

Israel's response seems like a good idea to me, though I'm open to the possibility that it may turn out to have been a bad idea. I don't think we can yet know whether Israel's response will have its intended effect, or if it has been precise enough to justify the inevitable collateral damage. But I don't see how you could morally equate the actions of the two sides.

Which is very much my own view. I, too, am not sure if what Israel has done, is doing, and will do is good. It may be bad. Time will tell. However, I'm not so sure it's "a good idea," in Chait's words, as much as a measured response to a very bad situation. I would prefer that Israel didn't bomb Lebanon, even tactically, given the inevitability of civilian casualties, and it may very well be that Israel has already bombed unnecessarily, but how else should Israel have responded to Hezbollah? How would you respond if someone staying at your next door neighbour's house, and with your neighbour's support, broke into your house in the middle of the night and kidnapped one of your children? What if this someone also wanted to destroy you, your house, and everything in it? Even if you yourself have been guilty in the past of being a bad neighbour, even if you don't like your neighbour and that someone, even if you once one hurt one of that someone's loved ones, wouldn't you respond with force and determination to that someone's blatant act of aggression?

The analogy isn't entirely appropriate, I admit, but it illuminates what life must be like in Israel and why Israel has responded as it has this past week to Hezbollah.

But back to my critics: I acknowledge that the anti-Israeli spin I criticize in that post isn't the only spin. The Israelis have their own spin, as the anonymous commenter argues. And, regardless, I am not unreservedly pro-Israel. As I've mentioned, its use of force here concerns me, or at least the degree concerns me, and, more broadly, I've long been a supporter of the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from disputed lands in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as of a sovereign Palestinian state. Which is to say that I was once much more critical of Israel than I am today. I see its response to Hezbollah as largely defensive, not offensive. In recent years, Israel has in good faith attempted to reach a state of peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, even the ones that don't much like it. After all, it was a hardliner like Ariel Sharon, once anything but a dovish accommodationist, who sent the bulldozers into Gaza and who looked "forward" to a lasting peace.

I would unabashedly call myself a supporter of Israel -- with reservations (as many Israelis themselves have reservations, argue amongst themselves over the best courses of action to take with respect to Hezbollah, and support different political parties with different perspectives). In this case, I think, Hezbollah was (and is) in the wrong. In response, Israel has the right, like any sovereign state, to defend itself. Historical wrongs may be tallied up on both sides, and there may be unresolvable differences over who started this whole mess, over who took the first shot, and when, just there may be disagreement over whether Israel has responded proportionately or not to Hezbollah's aggression, but it seems to me that Israel has done more than enough to warrant our continued friendship.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq X

This really needs no commentary at all:

Dozens of gunmen went on a chaotic rampage through a mostly Shiite market area in the town of Mahmudiya today, killing at least 48 civilians and injuring scores by firing off assault rifles, heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Many of the attackers wore the uniforms of Iraqi security forces.

The daylight sectarian massacre increased fears among Iraqis that the country is sliding into full-scale civil war, and prompted a crucial Shiite bloc to storm out of Parliament over the lack of security. The attack and other violence today brought to nearly 100 the number of people killed in two days, marking one of the deadliest periods of the war since the appointment of the new Iraqi government in May. The latest deaths underscored the government’s failure to tamp down on spiraling cycles of sectarian violence that, more and more, are characterized by execution-style reprisal killings.


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Monday, July 17, 2006

World War III: Good for the GOP, bad for everyone else

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

I was reading
Josh Marshall over at TPM Café yesterday, and he ruminates about the startling silence of the Bush administration during this time of escalating violence in the Middle East as Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon hurl rockets at one another. Marshall thinks it is foreign policy fatigue that is the cause of the silence, but I think it’s far worse than that. I don’t think the Bush administration is at a loss as to what to do about the crisis, I think it plays right into their hands.

Although an unscripted moment between George Bush and Tony Blair that was caught by cameras and an open mic at the G8 Summit does seem to show Bush is simply out of his league when it comes to dealing with a crisis of this magnitude. Watch the video and you will see Bush chewing his food with his mouth open, and between slurping sounds telling Tony Blair, “What [the United Nations] need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit.” Tony Blair’s response betrays a sort of frustration with the simplicity of Bush’s worldview and his lack of understanding of the complexities involved in finding a diplomatic solution to this crisis in the Middle East. Perhaps Josh Marshall is right as far as Bush is concerned, but Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Bolton and the rest of the neo-cons still in government, have ideological reasons for letting this problem fester. War, especially a large scale war in the region, is exactly what they’ve said is needed in order to get control of the oil supplies in the region and to build up the military here at home.

I have little doubt that this situation will escalate further and will eventually draw in Iran and Syria. Perhaps the Bush administration is hoping that Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it might also be the perfect opportunity for the Bush administration to do it themselves. They’ve wanted to cripple Iran for a long time, why would they pass up the chance to do it now? Of course it would be a stupid move and disastrous for America if we did allow the violence to escalate into World War III, but as Newt Gingrich pointed out this weekend, it would be great for the Republicans in the mid-term elections. Gotta love those Republicans, always looking on the bright side, or rather looking out for the bright spot for themselves.

And just imagine all the new war money that will pour into the bank accounts of the contractors that have probably stolen as much as they can while using Iraq as a shield, time for a new war. World War III will give them new cover, new no-bid contracts for new munitions, new fighter jets and maybe even some new nuclear warheads. But the cherry on top will be a new lease on life for the Republicans who will be able to use fear once again to keep their hold on power. Never mind that it was their ridiculous neo-con fantasies that brought us to this point, they will still be able to sell their “tough on terrorism” crap to the American public if they convince us that this is the big one. All they have to say is, “Do you really want wimpy liberals who aid and abet the enemy in charge during a war that could likely threaten the homeland?” Hey, it worked like a charm when we were only talking about rogue terrorists, it will work even better if we’re talking about a World War and nuclear warheads pointed at our cities.

Everything feels so precarious right now. Either the Bush administration doesn’t know what to do to help resolve, or at least mitigate, the situation in the Middle East, or they simply don’t care to stop what could end up being good for them anyway. I hate to be so cynical about my own government, but this administration has given me no reason not to believe the worst. The only thing I struggle with is whether they are evil or inept. Unfortunately, I think it’s a mixture of the two, not a combination that bodes well for this country, or the world.

(Cross-posted at The (liberal)Girl Next Door.)

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Hezbollah attacks Haifa, Israel pounds Lebanon

A round-up of the latest news:

According to The Washington Post, Israel, with U.S. support, intends to resist calls for a cease-fire and continue a longer-term strategy of punishing Hezbollah, which is likely to include several weeks of precision bombing in Lebanon":

For Israel, the goal is to eliminate Hezbollah as a security threat -- or altogether...

For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran...

On the ground, The New York Times reports on "a scene of death and destruction" in Haifa:

Hezbollah has been shooting rockets at northern Israel on and off for some two decades, but [yesterday]’s attack was unprecedented on two counts. It was the deadliest Hezbollah rocket attack to date and the first time the Lebanese Shiite group fired on Israel with a rocket that can carry more than 100 pounds of explosives, capable of inflicting far more damage than the Katyusha rockets that are typically used, according to the Israeli military.

The AP has the latest update after the Haifa attack:

Hezbollah and Israel traded fierce barrages for a sixth day Monday, as the latest eruption of warfare in the Middle East showed no sign of easing. Rockets struck deep inside Israel, killing eight people in Haifa, and Israeli planes bombed Lebanon from north to south.

Israel has "accused Iran and Syria of providing the weaponry used in [the Haifa attack]" and has "warned of massive retaliation"

Guardian Unlimited looks at the situation on the ground in Lebanon:

Israel steeply escalated its military campaign against Hizbollah in Lebanon yesterday with a series of air strikes that left more than 35 civilians dead, including a single strike on a convoy of families fleeing the fighting in a village near Tyre in the south of the country that killed more than 20 people, most of them children.

Reuters reports on the (anti-Hezbollah, moderately pro-Israel) response of the G8 (currently meeting in St. Petersburg): "Group of Eight leaders on Sunday blamed extremists for an upsurge of Middle East violence and while accepting Israel's right to defend itself said the Jewish state should exercise 'utmost restraint.'"


Elsewhere, according to the AP: "Israel bombed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry building in Gaza City early Monday, pushing ahead with its three-week offensive in Gaza as troops clashed with militants in the northern part of the territory."

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How Bush wreaks havoc on American democracy

Not too long ago, I wrote about The Boston Globe's examination of Bush's signing statements, that is, statements that he (or any other president) attaches to legislation. (See here.)

In some cases, and certainly in the most disturbing cases, Bush's signing statements amount to nothing more than admissions of future law-ignoring (and hence lawbreaking). But, overall, he has made the signing statement a key feature of his presidency. According to a good piece in the Chicago Tribune by University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein:

Since he took office, Bush has used this device to object to more than 500 provisions in more than 100 pieces of legislation -- nearly as many as the 575 signing statements issued by all of his predecessors combined. In these statements, the president often has claimed that the new laws violate the Constitution and signaled his intention not to enforce certain provisions, despite having signed them into law.

This is all part of the Cheney-Addington effort to expand presidential power, particularly in the area of national security (and the war on terror), at the expense of the other two branches of government. (For my recent post on Bush's authoritarianism in this regard, see here.) What's the problem? Epstein puts it well:

America's greatness is due in no small measure to our system of government, in which power and authority are deliberately divided. The separation of powers is not a mere "technicality." It is the centerpiece of our Constitution. Our freedoms depend upon it in the future, just as they have in the past.

Bush deliberately wants to un-divide power and authority. His approval ratings may be low, and he may have nothing in the way of a domestic agenda, and Iraq may be going badly, and the situation in Israel and Lebanon may be escalating, and Iran and North Korea may be developing potentially devastating nuclear programs, but Bush still has over two years left in office and he may have many more signing statements to make. More havoc may yet be wreaked on American democracy.

Bush and those advising him evidently view the separation of powers as a "technicality". Which means that they have little regard for the Constitution and little respect for America's freedoms.

In placing himself above the Constitution, Bush has violated his oath of office. He has not preserved, protected, and defended the Constitution, he has to the best of his ability trampled all over it.

(See also Kevin Drum.)

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Dean comes out swinging on national security

In a speech delivered at San Diego State University, DNC Chair Howard Dean "accused President Bush last night of being weak on national defense and absent in the escalating violence between Israel and Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon".

Some of his remarks:

-- You know, people say the Republicans are tough on defense. How can you be tough on defense if five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is still at large, the Iranians are about to get nuclear weapons, North Korea's quadrupled their nuclear weapons stash... Explain to me how it is that this president is tough on defense? I think this president is weak on defense and he's hurt America because he hasn't done the right thing."


-- "This country is in the worst shape since Richard Nixon, and probably before that. We've lost the high moral high ground everywhere in the world. We want to be respected around the world again. We want our moral authority to be restored, because part of defending America is not just well-armed troops; it's having the high moral ground."


-- "If you think what's going on in the Middle East today would be going on if the Democrats were in control, it wouldn't, because we would have worked day after day after day to make sure we didn't get where we are today. We would have had the moral authority that Bill Clinton had when he brought together the Northern Irish and the IRA, when he brought together the Israelis and the Palestinians."

MAYBE RIGHT (Right about Clinton's moral authority, right that a Democratic presidency would still have it, but wrong to think that "what's going on" certainly wouldn't be going on.)

Howard Dean. He's a controversial figure, to be sure, and Republicans love to pick on him the way they've long picked on Hillary, but at least he's passionate and aggressive enough to take the debate over national security right to Bush's doorstep.

Republicans have long claimed -- and it's a claim that's been widely accepted -- that they are the party of national security and that Democrats, particularly after 9/11, would weaken America's defences and leave the homeland, as well as America's interests abroad, exposed to terrorism. But look what Bush has done. And hasn't done. Need I remind you of the Dubai ports debacle? Of how America's reputation in the world, her moral authority, has been severely damaged by such scandals as the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo? Of how Iraq has diverted attention away from the war on terror itself? Of the illegal NSA eavesdropping program and various other efforts to deprive Americans of their liberties?

Republican credentials on national security amount to little more than hollow rhetoric. That was enough to push Bush over the top in '04, with an electorate unwilling to make a change at the top, but '06 isn't '04. It's time for Democrats to take back national security as an issue that can help them reclaim majorities in both houses of Congress and, beyond that, the presidency itself in '08.

Americans, I think, are ready for a change. They want new leadership -- even (or especially) with respect to national security. The failures of the Bush presidency have left Republicans exposed. Howard Dean sees that opening. Here's hoping that other leading Democrats -- particularly those looking ahead to a White House run -- do, too.

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Clinton stands up for Lieberman

Bill Clinton, that is. Here's what he said, via The Boston Globe:

If we allow our differences over what to do now in Iraq to divide us instead of focusing on replacing Republicans in Congress; that's the nuttiest strategy I ever heard in my life.

Also: "Clinton defended Lieberman's Democratic credentials, mentioning how the senator has been endorsed by labor unions, environmental organizations and gay groups."

As I've written before, I'm really neither pro-Lieberman nor anti-Lieberman. What matters to me is that he's a Democrat and that, along the way, he hasn't been such a bad liberal. That doesn't mean I support him, however. Let me quote myself:

Lieberman has done little to win over Democrats in recent years, and, as I mentioned, his cozying up to Bush (as if he's some sort of Zell Miller lite, a tell-it-like-it-is maverick akin to John McCain, a quasi-Democrat who, rhetorically, rises above partisanship and places love of country before love of party -- well, that's how he wants to be seen, it seems, minus the Miller comparison, although cozying up to Bush, a shameless partisan, hardly amounts to rising above partisanship (it just enables it) and working for the national interest (it lets Bush define it) has been quite the revolting spectacle.

The Democratic Party, I would argue, should be big enough to accommodate Joe Lieberman. It should not be ideologically rigid. I'm sure that to many he would be a more acceptable Democrat if he represented a red state, where a liberal can't win, rather than a blue state like Connecticut, where a liberal like Ned Lamont can win, but, Iraq aside -- and that's a huge aside, I know -- has Lieberman really been that bad?

(That's not just a rhetorical question. I still go back and forth on Lieberman and on what Democrats both in Connecticut and throughout the rest of the country should do with Democrats like him. I'm a big-tent Democrat, but just how big should the tent be? I reject efforts to enforce ideological purity within the Democratic Party, but at what point does diversity threaten to tear the party apart? At what point are our values and principles, however we define them, compromised so much that they lose all meaning?)


Update: The Hartford Courant evaluates Lieberman here (read the whole thing). The verdict:

By the numbers, Joe Lieberman is a true, consistent Democrat.

He votes with Democratic colleagues almost all the time. His record gets him high marks from interest groups close to the party, from the AFL-CIO to the NAACP.

But dig beneath the votes and there's plenty of ammunition for critics - including primary challenger Ned Lamont - who say Lieberman has a habit of straying from the party when it suits him.

And consider this (Iraq aside, once again): "The liberal Americans for Democratic Action found him voting its way 80 percent of the time last year. The NAACP gave him an 85 percent mark, the Children's Defense Fund 89 percent, the AFL-CIO 92 percent. Overall, Lieberman voted with Democrats 90 percent of the time last year, close to Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd's 94 percent, according to Congressional Quarterly's study of key votes."

Not too shabby.

But then there's Iraq. And Alito. And Bush's energy bill. And...

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