The Surge is working [tm] -- but for gay Iraqis who face a murderous new spate of violence by theocrats and militiamen, notsomuch. "More than 430 gay men have been murdered in Iraq since 2003... [but] many officials say they feel that in a country at war, there are more pressing concerns than gay rights."
NewsFilter: Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID - Conn.) strikes a decisive blow against another Islamic terror front group: YouTube.
I am sullied -- no more. Colonel Ted Westhusing was a soldier's soldier -- a multilingual West Point graduate, tough as nails, who was committed to the ancient Greek warrior's ideal of ἀρετή ("arete," excellence). He volunteered to go to Iraq, where he was commanded by another outstanding rising-star officer, counterinsurgency expert David Petraeus. (Westhusing's widow, Michelle, recalls that her husband thought his country was doing "a great thing" there.) After working with one of the shadowy contractors the US has relied on to train Iraqi security forces, USIS, Westhusing became increasingly despondent. In May 2005, investigators say, he put a 9mm bullet in his brain after writing a note that said, "Reevaluate yourselves, cdrs [commanders]. You are not what you think you are and I know it." Westhusing died, as was previously discussed here, and his former "cdr" is now running the war. Lots of new information in this article from the Texas Observer.
Now they tell us. Neocon hindsight is 20/20. War architect Richard Perle on invading Iraq, 2002: "We have no time to lose, and I think the president understands that and it's probably taken too long already, but I don't think it'll be much longer... Support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder.... Now, it isn't going to be over in 24 hours, but it isn't going to be months either." Four years later: "If I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies'... Could we have managed that threat by means other than a direct military intervention? Well, maybe we could have."
"I'm not here for the Iraqis. I'm here for George Bush." How the reconstruction of Iraq was bungled by inexperienced staffers and officials who passed the GOP's loyalty test -- including their views on Roe v. Wade. A WashPost excerpt from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's new exposé Imperial Life in the Emerald City. (Corruption in Iraq previously discussed here.)
The practical future of the country formerly known as Iraq. [NewsFilter, but a significant acknowledgement of something long-in-coming.]
The Smell of War -- the Institute for Creative Technologies preps Quake-happy teens to become first-person shooters in the non-virtual war on terror. Now in Odorama.
"The sky turned orange as the storm approached, until total darkness blanketed the ground." Sandstorms in Iraq -- caused by heating of the desert sand and a northwesterly summer wind known as the shamal -- can kill. (A similiar storm over Interstate 5 in California in 1991 caused a deadly 164-car pileup.) They can also be uncannily beautiful and dream-like when seen from a distance (WMP link).
"I've been silent long enough... My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions--or bury the results." Marine Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, the Pentagon's former top operations officer, becomes the latest military insider to raise his voice against the "zealots" who led the US into war in Iraq. He writes in Time magazine: "Never again, we thought, would our military's senior leaders remain silent as American troops were marched off to an ill-considered engagement. It's 35 years later, and the judgment is in: the Who had it wrong. We have been fooled again... After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq--an unnecessary war." During the Vietnam war, such discontent among soldiers sparked a massive campaign of disobedience and peace activism (as well as, more darkly, fragging) within the ranks, as recounted in a new documentary called Sir! No Sir! Can it happen again? Ask the Soldiers for the Truth.
Hindsight on Iraq is 20/20 -- but views diverge. Reason magazine asks notable libertarians, conservatives, and academics -- from Instapundit Glenn Reynolds (one word: "win") to Illuminatus! author Robert Anton Wilson ("Bush has used [the invasion] as an excuse to destroy the last few tattered remnants of the Bill of Rights") -- if they would have chosen differently in 2003, knowing how the war would develop.
Former GOP senior strategist Kevin Phillips wrote the political Bible of the New Right, The Emerging Republican Majority. He coined the term "Sun Belt." He voted for Reagan twice and still considers himself a staunch Republican. But now Phillips, the author of a new book called American Theocracy, is warning that the party of George Bush and Karl Rove ("W brand Republicans," in the phrase of GOP pollster Jan van Lohuizen) has become "God's own party" -- the champion of a convergence of "petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex." Phillips also cautions that the W-brand party's "sense of how to win elections comes out of a CIA manual, not out of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution." [Phillips was also discussed here.]
"Don't worry Mr. President, we have Kansas surrounded." Warrantless searches: they're not just for wiretaps anymore. U.S. News and World Report probes the Bush administration's covert drive to conduct physical searches of American homes without court approval.
Abu Ghraib, continued. A new cache of disturbing images and videos from the original interrogations, with commentary from Salon. [Definitely NSFW, or for Earth, for that matter.]
"Resolved that the United States Senate does hereby censure George W. Bush, president of the United States, and does condemn his unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans." Invoking "high crimes and misdemeanors," Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold introduces a motion to censure [PDF link] President Bush for his controversial, legally dubious NSA wiretapping program. Feingold declares: "The President must be held accountable for authorizing a program that clearly violates the law." Republican leader Frist retorts: "It's a crazy political move" that sends a "terrible" signal to Iran. Democratic bloggers say: Call your senator. [More legal fallout from the NSA program recently discussed here.]
Newsfilter: Secret arrests, secret renditions, secret interrogations in secret jails, and now, secret rulings from US federal judges. More fallout from the Bush administration's NSA domestic-spying program [recently discussed here].
'The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House," said Jay Rockefeller, vice-president of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after the committee quashed a broad inquiry into the legality of the NSA spying on Americans -- despite an increasing number of legal scholars coming forward and declaring that the program is "blatantly illegal," in the words of Yale Law School dean Harold Koh. Meanwhile, the GOP proposes giving spying on Americans the "force of law" while subjecting it to "rigorous oversight."
Are you a Gulf War veteran still suffering from mysterious symptoms or post-combat trauma? The Veteran's Administration has just the prescription for you: "Obecalp," otherwise known as placebo. (p.s. -- They'd better start working on an Extra-Strength version for Iraq War vets.)
Zeitgeistfilter: Lumpen Leisure and Welcome to Middle-Class Lockdown... Now Shut Up and Buy Something -- two fine rants about our current state of disunion by James Howard Kuntsler, author of The Long Emergency (excerpt), and writer and Vietnam vet Joe Bageant. "All over but the keening for our soon-to-be-lost machine world," Kunstler predicts in The American Conservative, while Bageant taps the inner stream-of-unconsciousness for Dissident Voice: "Things cannot be as bad as the alarmists say. They cannot be as bad as I often suspect they are. If there really were such a thing as global warming they would be starting to do something about it. And besides, even if it were true, science will find a way to fix it. If there really were genocide going on in so many places far more people would be concerned... If the earth were heating up we would surely notice it. If our soldiers and government agencies were torturing people around the world it would make the news. If millions were being exterminated, it would be more obvious, would it not?" (Kunstler's book previously discussed here, Bageant here.)
"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," writes former CIA official Paul Pillar, coordinator of U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until 2005, in an article soon to appear in Foreign Affairs, hardly a radical rag. More confirmation that Seymour Hersh was right about the administration "cherry-picking" intelligence to justify a foregone conclusion to go to war in Iraq.
Evidence of a slippery slope continued: Newsweek reports that White House counsel Steve Bradbury believes President Bush can order killings on US soil as part of the Terrorist-Surveillance ProgramTM. Meanwhile, while Attorney General Gonzales "lashes out" at the media and insists that the TSPTM is "not a dragnet that sucks in all conversation and uses computer searches to pick out calls of interest," the Washington Post reports it's precisely that -- "computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears" -- and has led to very few leads. (See also discussion of Arlen Specter and the legality of the TSPTM here.)
Then: Q - Mr. Secretary, on Iraq, how much money do you think the Department of Defense would need to pay for a war with Iraq? Rumsfeld - Well, the Office of Management and Budget, has come up come up with a number that's something under $50 billion for the cost. How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question. And now: The estimated cost to US taxpayers of the Iraq war to date is $250 billion and rising, or $100,000 per minute. Total cost of the Bush doctrine of spreading "democracy" since September 11th -- half a trillion dollars, or nearly the cost of the 13 years of the Vietnam War, adjusted for inflation. What else could we have done with that kind of money? Also see here.
"I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story..." President Bush really did not want journalists to reveal his NSA spying program against Americans [discussed here.] And in yesterday's rare press conference, the President said: "An open debate about law would say to the enemy, 'Here's what we're going to do.' And this is an enemy which adjusts... Any public hearings on programs will say to the enemy, 'Here's what they do. Adjust.' This is a war." Neocon guru William Kristol argues that talk of Bush being an "imperial" president" is "demagogic" and "irresponsible" since "Congress has the right and the ability to judge whether President Bush has in fact used his executive discretion soundly." What is the role of "open debate" in a war against terror that may last for decades?
[TotalitarianismFilter] Don't be asking your college librarian for a copy of that Little Red Book to do a class assignment, or your parents might get a visit from the good folks at the Department of Homeland Security. More evidence that the Bush administration cannot restrain itself when granted enhanced surveillance powers.
Bush in the Bubble. Newsweek's analysis of the man who is possibly "the most isolated president in modern history."
Osama bin Laden, littérateur and new-media star. A thought-provoking analysis of bin Laden's adept use of Koranic language and the Internet by Bruce B. Lawrence, an Islamic scholar at Duke who edited a new anthology of bin Laden's public statements called Messages to the World. The Western media -- says the millionaire mass-murderer formerly trained as a useful ally by the CIA via Pakistan's ISI -- "implants fear and helplessness in the psyche of the people of Europe and the United States. It means that what the enemies of the United States cannot do, its media are doing!" Know thy enemy. [via Arts and Letters Daily.]
The administration's latest innovation in its effort to export democracy: Soviet-style gulags, a network of secret C.I.A. prisons known as "black sites." [From the Washington Post]. Meanwhile, SecDef Rumsfeld says no thanks to the idea of U.N. inspectors talking to detainees in Guantanamo Bay.
Why outing Plame mattered. If you wonder what's really at stake behind all the media buzz around the Fitzgerald indictments, read this lengthy and cogent analysis by Stratfor's no-nonsense George Friedman. "Rove and Libby had top security clearances and were senior White House officials. It was their sworn duty, undertaken when they accepted their security clearance, to build a 'bodyguard of lies' -- in Churchill's phrase -- around the truth concerning U.S. intelligence capabilities... The minimal story -- that they talked about Plame with a reporter -- is the end of the matter."
In case of emergency, nuke Iran. From the folks who brought you Operation Iraqi Freedom and the "last throes" of the insurgency, the latest strategy for enhancing homeland security and US global standing is to launch a nuclear first-strike against Iran in the event of another 9/11-style attack -- whether Iran has ties to the attackers or not. As Juan Cole points out, turning a Shiite Muslim nation into the next Hiroshima could have disagreeable consequences. (First reported by the American Conservative, not your typical liberal rag, and via DailyKos.)
Estimated civilian casualties in Iraq: 25,000. A new study by the Oxford Research Group and Iraq Body Count estimates that 1 in 1000 Iraqis have been killed since the US invasion began. They further estimate that 37 percent of these deaths were caused by coalition forces, and 9 percent were killed by the insurgents. Estimated civilian wounded: 42,500. Over 1700 US troops have also died, and over 18,000 have been injured.
President Bush pledged in 2003 that "A free Iraq will not be a training ground for terrorists... A free Iraq will not destabilize the Middle East." This past January, the CIA's National Intelligence Council observed that Iraq had become "a training ground, a recruitment ground" for jihadists. Now the senior Marine commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. James Conway -- in a statement that has not yet been picked up by the media -- acknowledges that the war is furnishing a new "a training ground" for foreign fighters trained in urban warfare who will export terror all over the world, saying, "But there's not much we can do about it at this point in time."
Why does the National Council of Churches hate America? The NCC -- a coalition of 36 Christian denominations -- makes a firm statement against the war in Iraq: "This year our nation is at war as we observe the 4th of July, a day that honors those founders who spoke out for independence from tyranny. Today in Iraq a cruel dictator has been deposed, yet the suffering of the Iraqi people continues. Mandated elections have been held, yet the future of Iraq remains as uncertain as ever. Day by day the cost of this war for the United States, for Iraq, for peace grows clearer. No weapons of mass destruction have been found; no link to the attacks on September 11, 2001 has been shown. It has become clear that the rationale for invasion was at best a tragic mistake, at worst a clever deception." Mainstream Christians are starting to take back Christianity from the theocrats.
"One lawyer said that his client... has told him that he was beaten regularly in his early days at Guantánamo, hanged by his wrists for hours at a time and that an interrogator pressed a burning cigarette into his arm." The age of this "client" when he was detained? 14 years old. The reply of the camp's public affairs officer: "They don't come with birth certificates."
Be afraid: The national threat-alert level today is yellow or "elevated," with "significant risk of terrorist attacks," says the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, the alert level has been elevated since December of 2003, when it was raised from orange. During the election season, the Fox News network flashed the terror alert level in their "crawl" as if there was breaking news -- the sort of thing that prompted some liberal wags to ridicule the entire system. Now former DHS secretary Tom Ridge says that the Bush administration was "really aggressive" about raising the threat-alert level during his tenure, even when the agency felt that the intelligence didn't warrant it.
"Expertise is a very good thing, but it is not the same thing as sound judgment regarding strategy and policy. George W. Bush has more insight, because of his knowledge of human beings and his sense of history, about the motive force, the craving for freedom and participation in self-rule, than do many of the language experts and history experts and culture experts." -- From a fascinating profile of Douglas Feith, undersecretary of Defense, and one of the main architects of the war in Iraq. From the New Yorker.
He was fond of reading Proust and Dostoevsky. He studied the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, painted landscapes in oil, and flirted with Marxism. His mannerisms -- such as saying "Gee!" when pondering some scientific marvel -- were contagious. And when the US government decided to incinerate hundreds of thousands of fishermen, housewives, cooks, potters, and Zen monks as a decisive blow for peace in 1945, he told the commanding officers on the mission, "Don't let them detonate it too high . . . or the target won't get as much damage." He was J. Robert Oppenheimer, the mild-mannered destroyer of worlds who led the Manhattan Project, portrayed in a new biography called American Prometheus.
Condi's plan for Iraq: cut and run. Conservative columnist Robert Novak -- the same guy who hung Valerie Plame out to dry -- launches the media campaign to prepare the US electorate for withdrawal even if, as he puts it with exquisite understatement, "what is left behind does not constitute perfection." (I'll say.) US commander Gen. George Casey seems to be on the same page.
Is the aroma of burning flesh putting you off your lunch? An Israeli company called Patus is marketing a new product called Odor Screen to EMTs, soldiers, cops, and medical staff who work at the sites of suicide bombings, combat zones, and other modern catastrophes. The Proustian link between smell and vivid memories is well established, and by displacing traumatic odors with a "calming vanilla aroma," the company hopes to lessen PTSD in first responders, and that's no laughing matter. [via medgadget]
Losing the War, an insightful memoir by writer and journalist Lee Sandlin. Note: It's not about Iraq. Or is it? "A year later, in the second winter of the invasion, as the army inched forward on a final, desperate push into Stalingrad, a daring joke began making the rounds in Germany, a mock dispatch from Stalingrad HQ: 'Today our troops captured a two-room apartment with kitchen, toilet, and bathroom. They have succeeded in retaining two-thirds of it despite fierce counterattacks by the enemy.' Few of the tellers realized just how accurate this description was. John Keegan, in his book The Second World War, quotes a German officer's description of the fighting in the city: 'We have fought for fifteen days for a single house with mortars, grenades, machine-guns and bayonets. Already by the third day fifty-four German corpses are strewn in the cellars, on the landings, and the staircases. The front is a corridor between burnt-out rooms; it is the thin ceiling between two floors.' This was where Hitler's vision of the world finally foundered. After striding like a colossus over a continent, the German army was in the end unable to force its way up a flight of stairs."
Rumsfeld, shmumsfeld. Indiana Jones to the rescue in The Battle for Falluja. "Militarily, the battle of Falluja was an unqualified success," says Bing West, the former assistant defense secretary whose not-yet-published book will be turned into the fast-paced actioner.