Saturday, May 15, 2004

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3 Spikes and You're Out
and looking for the floor

Kevin Drum has posted an interesting graph that captures data from all the major polls since the start of the Shrub presidency.

It shows how Bush started with a base approval rating right around 50 percent (remember, more than half the country voted against Bush in 2000). His approval numbers jumped to 90 following 9/11. Then started sinking toward 50 again. There was another spike, this one to only 70, at the start of the Iraq war. Then they started to slide again. The third spike came with the capture of Saddam. But that only got Bush to 60, and in just 2 months his approval has slipped below 50.

Not only was each successive spike less than the one before, but the return flight to 50 got steeper (meaning faster) each time. If this trend holds, Bush is unlikely to get any bump at all from the next stunt, even if it involves Osama.

Polling news on Saturday has Bush hitting the lowest numbers of his presidency.
A Newsweek poll released Saturday put Bush's overall job approval at 42 percent, the lowest yet in that poll. Other recent survey have rated Bush in the mid-40s.


Bush's approval on how he has handled Iraq has dipped to 35 percent in the Newsweek poll, compared with 44 percent in April. Some 57 percent of respondents said they disapprove.
Bush has had his 3 spikes. Now he's falling, an looking for the floor.


Friday, May 14, 2004

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No Exit Strategy:
How will U.S. know when
it's time to leave the inferno?

Overlooked in Tom Ricks' report in the Sunday WaPo about the doubts that senior military leaders are starting to have about the war in Iraq was the comment about there being no clear exit strategy. (emphasis added)
A senior general at the Pentagon said he believes the United States is already on the road to defeat. "It is doubtful we can go on much longer like this," he said. "The American people may not stand for it -- and they should not."

Asked who was to blame, this general pointed directly at Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. "I do not believe we had a clearly defined war strategy, end state and exit strategy before we commenced our invasion," he said. "Had someone like Colin Powell been the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], he would not have agreed to send troops without a clear exit strategy. The current OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] refused to listen or adhere to military advice."
The concept of Exit Strategy was an integral part of the Powell Doctrine.
After the end of Persian Gulf War in 1991, Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined his vision for efficient and decisive military action. His plan is now referred to as the Powell Doctrine, although there is not an actual formal document named as such. Powell, currently the U.S. secretary of state, has recently invoked the Doctrine in articulating the justifications for the Bush administration's preparations for war in Iraq. Essentially, the Doctrine expresses that military action should be used only as a last resort and only if there is a clear risk to national security by the intended target; the force, when used, should be overwhelming and disproportionate to the force used by the enemy; there must be strong support for the campaign by the general public; and there must be a clear exit strategy from the conflict in which the military is engaged.

Powell based this strategy for warfare in part on the views held by his former boss in the Reagan administration, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and also on his own experience as a major in Vietnam. That protracted campaign, in Powell's view, was representative of a war in which public support was flimsy, the military objectives were not clear, overwhelming force was not used consistently, and an exit strategy was ill defined.
Like the rest of the Powell Doctine, the notion of a clear exit strategy has been thrown out the window by the Bush administration. Recent testimony by administration officials indicates a large amount of confusion about how much soveriegnty the new Iraqi government will actually have, and whether the U.S. forces would leave Iraq if asked to by the Iraqis.

Four weeks ago, I noted a New York Times article in which Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman said that the Bush administration would place significant limits on the sovereignty of a new Iraqi government (See: Depends on what your definition of sovereignty is).
According to the New York Times:
The Bush administration's plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws, administration officials said Thursday.


Asked whether the new Iraqi government would have a chance to approve military operations led by American commanders, who would be in charge of both foreign and Iraqi forces, a senior official said Americans would have the final say.

"The arrangement would be, I think as we are doing today, that we would do our very best to consult with that interim government and take their views into account," said Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs. But he added that American commanders will "have the right, and the power, and the obligation" to decide.
Now it looks like Grossman isn't so sure. (Thanks to Kevin Drum) According to this UPI report:
U.S. will leave Iraq if asked

WASHINGTON, May 13 (UPI) -- U.S. and coalition forces will leave Iraq if asked to do so by an interim Iraqi government, a State Department official told the House Thursday.

During occasionally combative questioning by bipartisan members of the International Relations Committee, the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman said that the United States would respect the wishes of a newly sovereign Iraq even if it meant withdrawing troops before Iraqi general elections are held in 2005. The sovereignty handover is scheduled for June 30.

Grossman repeatedly insisted that he did not believe such a request would be made by the new Iraqi body.
The Pentagon, however, doesn't seem to be on the same page as the State Department. According to the same UPI report:
The notion that coalition forces would take marching orders from Iraqis was challenged by a military representative testifying before the committee. Lt. General Walter L. Sharp of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that U.S.-led multinational forces were authorized under U.N. resolutions to operate in Iraq at least until a permanent constitutional government was elected.
Those words "at least until" are the real tip-off that there is no clear plan for when the U.S. forces will leave Iraq. That means that Karl Rove will decide, based on how he thinks it will play with the voters in November. Everybody who wears a U.S. military uniform, and everyone who ever did, should be outraged.

The failure to have a clear exit strategy will lead to more people getting killed in Iraq. Someone should be held accountable for that.


Thursday, May 13, 2004

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There's Hope for Slow Learners
Friedman finally gets it
But I was wrong. There is something even more important to the Bush crowd than getting Iraq right, and that's getting re-elected and staying loyal to the conservative base to do so. It has always been more important for the Bush folks to defeat liberals at home than Baathists abroad. That's why they spent more time studying U.S. polls than Iraqi history. That is why, I'll bet, Karl Rove has had more sway over this war than Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Bill Burns. Mr. Burns knew only what would play in the Middle East. Mr. Rove knew what would play in the Middle West.
Perhaps there's hope for the rest of the columnist corps, as well. We'll see.

Thanks to DD.


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

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3 Months and 5,000 Visits

On Wednesday Rain Storm is three months old. We've had 5,000 visits and 6,500 page views during these first 90 days. That calls for a modest celebration, so I suppose later today we'll pour something celebratory into some glasses and raise them in a salute to you readers who have stopped by for a visit from time to time. Without some actual readers, most of us wouldn't find much cause to actually write anything. As someone who fancies himself as a writer, I'm always gratified and inspired by the thought that someone is actually reading this blog. So thank you.

It's also appropriate to say a word of thanks to the other bloggers, whose words I have often quoted here (and hopefully to whom we have give appropriate credit). Also, my sincere appreciation to those who have linked to Rain Storm.

The blogosphere is really a marvelous place where we not only share ideas, but link them together in meaningful streams, as we find bits and pieces that fit together to form a more or less coherent picture of the moment. This provides for a wonderful synergy. It would take forever to do that using print media. So I'm grateful that the internet nicely facilitates this new form of journalism (or whatever it is that we decide blogging actual is). I plan to write some more on this soon. In the mean time, Kevin Drum has a few more interesting thoughts on the topic here.

Well, the kids are waking up and duty calls. Thanks again for stopping by.


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

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Pseudo-Journalism and the Sins
of Barbara Bradley Hagerty

In a timely juxtaposition of writing on journalism and ethics, we have these two entries.

First, Orcinus takes on pseudo-journalism:
The media industry has been infested by the rise of pseudo-journalists who go against journalism's long tradition to serve the public with accurate information, Los Angeles Times Editor John S. Carroll told a packed room in the Gerlinger Lounge on Thursday.

Carroll delivered the annual Ruhl Lecture, titled "The Wolf in Reporter's Clothing: The Rise of Pseudo-Journalism in America." The lecture was sponsored by the School of Journalism and Communication.

"All over the country there are offices that look like newsrooms and there are people in those offices that look for all the world just like journalists, but they are not practicing journalism," he said. "They regard the audience with a cold cynicism. They are practicing something I call a pseudo-journalism, and they view their audience as something to be manipulated."
Carroll cites research to back up his claims, and lays waste to the myth of liberal journalism.

Then Atrios, who a few weeks ago examined the dubious objectivity of NPR's religion reporter, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, now points to the Better Angles blog that demonstrates pretty clearly that Hagerty is in violation of NPR's own ethics policy.
People began taking a closer look at Hagerty's work, especially her recent report on John Kerry's Eucharistic Issues. Alert Eschaton readers pointed out that the seemingly "random" parishioners Hagerty spoke to were in fact conservative Catholic movers and shakers Hagerty most likely already knew.
Better Angles goes on to chronicle Hagerty's association with right-wing political/religious groups that push strong anti-gay, anti-evolution agendas and seek to create a "Biblically-based government for the U.S." (I always find the notion of theocracy in America just a little bit scary. Don't you?)

As these are the very issues on which Hagerty regularly reports for NPR, it certainly damages NPR's credibility in terms of objective journalism. One wonders why her editor isn't catching the obvious conflict of interest and ethics violations.

Perhaps the National Corporate Radio management is too busy trying to find that "critical mix" of on-air radio personalities to pay any attention to a small issue like credibility.

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Understanding Politics

I haven't published any internet humor for a few weeks. This is worth a chuckle:

A little boy goes to his dad and asks, "What is Politics?"

"His Dad says, "Well son, let me try to explain it this way: I am the head of the family, so call me The President. Your mother is the administrator of the money, so we call her the Government. We are here to take care of your needs, so we will call you the People. The nanny, we will consider her the Working Class. And your baby brother, we will call him the Future. Now think about that and see if it makes sense."

So the little boy goes off to bed thinking about what Dad has said.

Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him. He finds that the baby has severely soiled his diaper.

So the little boy goes to his parent's room and finds his mother sound asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny's room. Finding the door locked, he peeks in the keyhole and sees his father in bed with the nanny. He gives up and goes back to bed.

The next morning, the little boy says to his father, "Dad, I think I understand the concept of politics now."

The father says, "Good, son, tell me in your own words what you think politics is all about."

The little boy replies, "The President is screwing the Working Class while the Government is sound asleep. The People are being ignored and the Future is in deep shit."
Thanks to HM.

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Can't Fire Rummy
until the other shoes drop

Not an original thought. Read it somewhere yesterday. Can't recall where now. Monday in the blogosphere. If anyone can cite the source, please comment so I can give appropriate credit.

The gist of this argument is that Bush can't fire Rumsfeld this week. There are more, likely many more, photos and even video footage showing horrible abuses of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. Congress is seeing some of them now. The internet being what it is, we will all see them eventually, if we choose to do so.

So the president has to stand firm behind his Secretary of Defense this week. Otherwise, he'd have nobody to fire next week or the week after, whenever the public outcry over the new round of evidence of American atrocities becomes so overwhelming that Bush has to do something.

One pictures Karl Rove, sweating intensely, watching the clock ticking down the seconds, minutes, hours, days until the election in November, trying to decide if flightsuit boy needs to offer up a sacrifice to appease the angry voters.

For nearly three years Rove had everybody in Washington by the balls. Now it is all unraveling, turning to shit in a major way, spinning out of control at an alarming rate.

It's an incredibly hard decision for an administration that never admits it made a mistake. If Rumsfeld goes, wouldn't Wolfowitz and Feith have to go, too? A Saturday night massacre at the Pentagon?

But the war has become a disaster for the "War President." He has nothing else to run on. So Rove sweats as he watches the clock, wondering how much more bad news the white house can take before they have to make a change, before the polls go so far south that even the capture of Osama won't bring them back, before the voters send them all packing in shame. Tick tick tick.


Sunday, May 09, 2004

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Secrecy and Wishful Thinking:
Rumsfeld's Trademark

A few days ago I speculated on why President Bush found out about the Abu Ghraib photographs from news reports instead of from his Secretary of Defense (What did the president not know and when did he not know it and why?). This was my speculation at the time:
Rumsfeld was hoping that maybe there was some way that he could keep a lid on it, knowing that if it did get out, there would be all these investigations and handwringing in Congress, not to mention a shit-load of bad press. And all that would really get in the way of his war which wasn't really going all that well anyway.

So he figured he'd just try to handle it himself, and not give flightsuit boy the chance to really muck things up.
The latest article by Sy Hersh in The New Yorker provides a clearer picture.
Secrecy and wishful thinking, the Pentagon official said, are defining characteristics of Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, and shaped its response to the reports from Abu Ghraib. "They always want to delay the release of bad news -- in the hope that something good will break," he said.
There's more. Read the whole thing.

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Sins Committed in Our Name
and done for our sake

I don't read Brad DeLong as often as I should. He's a very smart guy who writes about economics. And while I know that economics is very important -- well, I can't keep up with everything, so I tend to let that one slide.

But Brad writes about other things, too. I found his recent piece on the Abu Ghraib atrocities to be especially poignant.

In particular, he quotes Ogged of Unfogged:
Do you really think it's alarmist to point out that Americans can be put away indefinitely on nothing more than one man's whim; that we have a collection of legal black holes: at Guantanamo, on ships around the world, in Iraq; that our soldiers blithely torture detainees; and that fully half the country still thinks the President is doing a good job? Do you wonder how totalitarian regimes come about? This is how: with the consent of the governed.

Look, I, and my friends and family, all live in urban areas, assuming our share of the risk of terrorist attacks. If this is being protected, I'll take my chances. I don't want to live like this, and I don't want these things done in my name. What happened to death before dishonor? Or is it already too late for that?
I don't want these things done in my name either. Neither does Brad. Read the whole piece. It's not very long. And it serves to remind me that we, as the voting public in a democracy, are all accomplices to this evil as long as we remain silent and assume that the evil was necessary to protect us from some other evil.

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What Leaders Do
and these guys don't

Via Mark Kleiman:
A reader reports:

I missed the part where Rumsfeld said, "And here are the steps that I have taken to make sure that this never happens again..."

Also: "And I give you and the American people my word, as I gave the President this morning, that it never will..."

Must've been out of the room at the time, or something.
Ah, yes. As were we all.

I've written about the failure of anyone in this administration to actually exercise some real leadership (here and here, for instance) so many times that I'm tired of it. They love power. The concept of responsibility eludes them. The comment above captures it all so well that there is really nothing else to say.

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Off the Reservation:
senior military starting to speak out
"You know you never defeated us on the battlefield," said the American colonel.

The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. "That may be so," he replied, "but it is also irrelevant."

-- Conversation in Hanoi, April 1975

quoted from On Strategy:
a critical analysis of the Vietnam War

by Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr.
The above quote frames today's discussion because On Strategy was required reading for all of our senior army leaders as they were coming up through the system. They are familiar with the lessons learned from the Vietnam War, especially how superior fire power and tactical proficiency do not guarantee a favorable strategic outcome.

With the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff virtually abdicating his role as the president's senior uniformed military advisor

(Matt Yglesias says it so well:
General Myers, whose main qualification for JCS Chair is a willingness to let Rumsfeld walk all over him),
some senior army leaders are beginning to express well-informed observations. These are guys who live in the real world and have to deal with reality every day.

Tom Ricks, writing in the Sunday WaPo, gives us this:
Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq.

Their major worry is that the United States is prevailing militarily but failing to win the support of the Iraqi people. That view is far from universal, but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time.

Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are."


In addition to trimming the U.S. troop presence, a young Army general said, the United States also should curtail its ambitions in Iraq. "That strategic objective, of a free, democratic, de-Baathified Iraq, is grandiose and unattainable," he said. "It's just a matter of time before we revise downward . . . and abandon these ridiculous objectives."

Instead, he predicted that if the Bush administration wins reelection, it simply will settle for a stable Iraq, probably run by former Iraqi generals. This is more or less, he said, what the Marines Corps did in Fallujah -- which he described as a glimpse of future U.S. policy.

Wolfowitz sharply rejected that conclusion about Fallujah. "Let's be clear, Fallujah has always been an outlier since the liberation of Baghdad," he said in the interview. "It's where the trouble began. . . . It really isn't a model for anything for the rest of the country."

But a senior military intelligence officer experienced in Middle Eastern affairs said he thinks the administration needs to rethink its approach to Iraq and to the region. "The idea that Iraq can be miraculously and quickly turned into a shining example of democracy that will 'transform' the Middle East requires way too much fairy dust and cultural arrogance to believe," he said.
I love the line about fairy dust. It implies magical thinking. Magical thinking is frequently inherent in the dogma of religious cults. Why should political cults like the neocons be any different?

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, as the Bush administration was reviewing hundreds of additional photographs of abuse of prisoners in Iraq, which a Pentagon official was quoted as calling "horrible," Deputy Premier Dick Cheney was busy defending his old bureaucratic buddy, Donald Rumsfeld.
"Don Rumsfeld is the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had," Cheney said in a statement from his office late on Saturday. The statement appeared to signal a White House push to rally Republicans behind the embattled Rumsfeld.

"People ought to get off his case and let him do his job," said Cheney, a Republican.
Perhaps Cheney would like to share his fairy dust with the rest of us. I'm having a little trouble with the magical thinking these days. Fareed Zakaria does a good job putting all the magic into perspective:
Leave process aside: the results are plain. On almost every issue involving postwar Iraq -- troop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali Sistani -- Washington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world.
I think we've lost the magic. Time to get this political/religious cult out of the government and start dealing with reality again.


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