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20 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:14 pm

Thought for the Day

The Bush Administration is now suggesting that the $700 billion price tag for bailing out Wall Street may be off because some of the assets purchased could be resold at a profit.

Just remember that this is the same gang of idiots and liars who  told us that the Iraq war would start paying for itself within a few weeks of the invasion.

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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

Some Polite Questions for the Bush Administration

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A long-delayed plan to send dozens of U.S. military advisors to Pakistan to train its army in counterinsurgency could begin in a matter of weeks under a new agreement on a training base, according to the top U.S. military officer.

Excuse me, Bush Administration, sorry for intruding.  I don’t mean to be a pest.  Would you mind if I just asked one little question here?  Great!  How about two?  Three?  No more than that, I promise.  Thanks!

Okay, here it goes.  Again, sorry for the bother.




Okay, thanks.  Yeah, I did mean the caps.  Sorry about that.  You can go back to finding more dangerously nuke-ridden failed states to “advise.”

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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:45 pm

The Decline of American Power, Iraq Edition, Part 356

This morning, The Washington Postdated confirms that yesterday’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was the work of a group known as the Soldiers’ Brigade of Yemen, an affiliate of al Qaeda, using techniques that they may have learned while fighting in Iraq:

[T]he first vehicle exploded near a guard post. Cameras then recorded attackers taking positions nearby, until a second vehicle packed with explosives detonated near a sidewalk. . . . The use of two vehicle bombs — one to breach the perimeter of a compound, a second to drive inside and explode — is a tactic used by the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Matt Duss over at Think Progress demonstrates how this blows away yet another justification for the Iraq war — the “we’re fighting them over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here” idea, also known as the flypaper theory:

Those who have been following the Iraq debate might remember “flypaper theory,” which was one of the earliest exponents of the “incoherent post hoc justifications for the Iraq war” genre. The idea was that there was some limited number of terrorists in the Middle East, and the presence of an occupying U.S. army would lure them to Iraq, whereupon they could all be conveniently killed, presumably as soon as they stepped off the bus.

This plan was prevented from working only by the fact that it was staggeringly dumb. The U.S. occupation radicalized scores of young Muslims, many of whom traveled to Iraq, where they learned terror warfare and were galvanized in the global jihad. And now they’ve begun returning home, to share the tactics and technology developed in a laboratory we provided for them by invading Iraq.

Of course, that doesn’t even take into account the role of torture, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other such obscenities in helping to radicalize Muslims as well.

To put it another way, the Bush Administration have spent  billions upon billions of dollars on the Iraq War, largely based on the bankrupt theory that we are building an island of democracy that will de-radicalize the Middle East.  In reality, we have made things far worse than they would have been had we never invaded, so much so that we have unthinkingly created another generation of terrorists, in the process weakening ourselves to such a degree that we may not be able to fight back the next time the come “over here.”

Imagine how bad things would be if Bush had taken a similar approach to the economy.

Oh.  Wait.

Never mind.

Hat tip:  Obsidian Wings

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 pm

U.S. Embassy in Yemen Attacked

You may not have heard, but the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen was attacked today, apparently by a group known as Islamic Jihad in Yemen.  Reports differ as to whether they are affiliated with al Qaeda.

At least sixteen people — six Yemeni police officers, six of the attackers, and four civilians died as a result of the attack.  None of the Americans or foreign nationals working at the embassy were harmed, but this does represent the second time that the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa has come under attack.  In March, the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda fired mortars, missing the Embassy and instead hitting a nearby girls’ school.

Here’s what the embassy spokesman said after the attack:

The first explosion happened about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday (0615 GMT/2.15 am ET) and was followed by several secondary blasts, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Ryan Gliha. . . . Gliha was at the embassy at the time of the attack and said he felt the compound shake.

“We were all ordered to assume what we call a duck-and-cover position which is a position where we guard ourselves and bodies from potential debris,” Gliha told CNN.  “From that vantage point, I can’t tell you much after that except we did feel several explosions after the main explosion that shook the ground.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said during his daily briefing today that the attack had the goal of breaching the Embassy’s walls.  Jeff Stein at Spy Talk notes that, given the number of people involved, at least one former intelligence agent thinks that the purpose may have been not to kill those working there but to take hostages, along the lines of what happened in Iran in 1979:

It seems like the team was large enough to do more than just blow something up. Tactically it would have been interesting: Think Tehran-like embassy takeover, in the middle of a presidential election, hostages being executed on live TV.  It would have to be a resolved by an assault, which the Yemenis are not trained to do.

As I’ve said before, I have long believed that Americans fail to understand or appreciate the heroism and courage of our foreign service officers.  The same goes for the foreign nationals who serve so ably in every American post.  As McCormack noted in his briefing today,

People understand, as we’ve seen today, that American personnel serving overseas serve in some dangerous places or places that have the potential to be dangerous. We’ve seen that borne out once again today. But we manage that risk. And we’re not going to take any steps or do anything that we think unduly puts any of our personnel or their family at risk.

Unfortunately, attacks like these will only make our diplomats’ jobs even harder.  After every such incident, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security finds ways to make it harder for terrorists to attack.  That’s a good thing — no one wants to endanger unduly our diplomats — but it also creates a new problem:  it cuts off our diplomats even further from the countries they’re covering.  The reality is that nothing will make our embassies completely safe.

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

What You Might Have Missed: Petraeus/Odierno

We’re trying out a new feature here at Undip:  “What You Might Have Missed,” which will highlight stories that other stories have kept off the front page.

BAGHDAD - SEPTEMBER 16:  Outgoing commander Ge...Today, it’s the transfer of authority from Gen. David Petraeus to Gen. Ray Odierno in Baghdad.  Petraeus will now head Central Command, which oversees all U.S. military activity from Egypt to Pakistan, an arc that includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What I find particularly interesting about this story is that Petraeus and Odierno had completely different approaches to the occupation of Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.  When Petraeus led the 101st Airborne, he was praised for applying counterinsurgency doctrine in Mosul in a way that helped keep the region calm — until he left.

In Mosul, a city of nearly two million people, Petraeus and the 101st employed classic counterinsurgency methods to build security and stability, including conducting targeted kinetic operations and using force judiciously, jump-starting the economy, building local security forces, staging elections for the city council within weeks of their arrival, overseeing a program of public works, reinvigorating the political process, and launching 4,500 reconstruction project. . . . [I]n the book Fiasco, Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks wrote that “Mosul was quiet while he (Petraeus) was there, and likely would have remained so had his successor had as many troops as he had–and as much understanding of counterinsurgency techniques.” Ricks went on to note that “the population-oriented approach Petraeus took in Mosul in 2003 would be the one the entire U.S. Army in Iraq was trying to adopt in 2006.”

Contrast that with Odierno’s time commanding the 4th Infranty Division during the same period:

Odierno’s tenure as 4th ID commander in Iraq and his unit’s actions there have subsequently come under criticism from several sources. Many officers from the 1st Marine Division were critical of 4th ID’s belligerent stance during their initial entry into Iraq after the ground war had ceased and the unit’s lack of a ‘hearts and minds’ approach to counter-insurgency. Several authors have echoed similar criticisms shared with them by other military personnel in the theater. In his unit’s defense Odierno strenuously argued that the situation was that such an approach was required and subsequent insurgent activity justified the actions of 4th ID as former insurgents began to join the fight against Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, in 2007.

To this day, Odierno rejects these arguments, saying that the situation then required an aggressive approach.  That said, Odierno did spend the past few years helping Petraeus craft the surge, and it’s doubtful that Petraeus would support the choice of someone he thought could not build on his success.

There’s an old saying in sports that you’re much better off being the guy who replaces the guy who replaced the legend.  Odierno doesn’t have that luxury.  If he fails, he may find that he’s on a short leash, as Petraeus, Gates, and Bush are unlikely to let Iraq to fall back into chaos.

Photo: Outgoing commander Gen. David Petraeus hands over the Multi-National Force Iraq flag to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates as Gen. Ray Odierno looks on during a Change of Command ceremony at Camp Victory on September 16, 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq. David Petraeus, the American general who presided during “The Surge”, the increase in American military presence believed to have been critical to reduced violence in the beleaguered country, handed over his command today to Gen. Ray Odierno. (Getty Images via Daylife)

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:15 pm

Memo to Michael Gerson: WTF?

In today’s Washington Postdated, former Bush flack-hack and occasional thoughtful conservative Michael Gerson goes off the rails again, suggesting that Obama has made three mistakes during his campaign that just might prove to be fatal.

1.  Obama made the mistake of choosing in Joe Biden a thoughtful, experienced, and capable running mate instead of a crazy, inexperienced, and frequently vicious unknown.

He could have reinforced a message of change and moderation with a Democratic governor who wins in a Republican state, or reached for history by selecting Hillary Clinton. But his choice came soon after Russia invaded Georgia, and the conventional wisdom demanded an old hand who knew his way around Tbilisi. When the Georgia crisis faded, Obama was left with a partisan, undisciplined, congressional liberal at his side.

Apparently it is better to score easy points by creating a celebrity while sating your red (moose) meat base than it is to think about what is necessary to govern a large and complex nation.

2.  Obama made the mistake of turning his convention speech into a thoughtful discussion of the issues that matter to the American people instead of a rehash of his inspirational stumps:

In his Denver speech, it seemed that every American home was on the auction block, every car stalled for lack of gasoline, every credit card bill past due, every worker treated like a Russian serf. And John McCain? He was out of touch, with flawed “judgment.” His life devoted to serving oil companies and big corporations. And, by the way, he didn’t have the courage to follow Osama bin Laden “to the cave where he lives.”

Apparently it is better to speak blandishments than talk about the real problems facing this country.  The irony, of course, is that much of the commentariat before the speech — including Republicans — could not stop talking about how Obama needed to talk policy.  After the speech every commentator — even Pat Buchanan, for crying out loud — called the speech one of the finest of his career and an extraordinary challenge to McCain.  All that was forgotten by Gerson and other folks, largely because the next day, John McCain opened up that big ol’ can of crazy known as the Sarahnator.

3.  Obama is now making the mistake of getting tough on McCain for being such a lying liar who lies about his giant sack of lies.

Who is hurt most by this race to the bottom? McCain, by the evidence of his own convention, wants to be a viewed as a fighter — which a fight does little to undermine. Obama was introduced to America as a different and better kind of politician — an image now in tatters.

That’s right — it’s Obama’s fault for challenging the lies, because it makes him look like a typical politician.  Forget the fact that McCain has sullied his honor.  It’s far more relevant that Obama chose to fight back, thus hurting his reputation as a change agent.

If Michael Gerson wants to put on a pair of beer goggles when he looks at John McCain, that’s his prerogative.  But he shouldn’t expect the rest of us to believe him.

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

While You Were Filing for Bankruptcy: Pakistan

Has Bush just gotten us into another war?  According to a number of press reports today, the Pakistani Army has orders to fire on American troops should they cross the border from Afghanistan:

Pakistani troops have been ordered to fire on U.S. forces, if they launch another raid across the Afghan border, an army spokesman tells the Associated Press.

“The orders are clear,” Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas  said in an interview. “In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire.”

And they’re our ally.  Led by the guy we wanted to succeed Pervez Musharraf.

It looks like Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has suddenly decided to vacation in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, Jeff Stein over at SpyTalk suggests some troubling parallels to an earlier American conflict:

Pakistan is beginning to remind me of Cambodia.

Just as Pakistan gives shelter to the Taliban attacking us in Afghanistan, not to mention Osama Bin Laden, Cambodia in the 1960s provided a haven for the North Vietnamese Army, which was killing us across the border.

Just as in Pakistan, we “secretly” bombed Cambodia to get the North Vietnamese, killing innocent peasants.  When Cambodia’s prime minister resisted American pressure to oust the North Vietnamese, he was overthrown by U.S.-backed generals.

When we next sent combat units into Cambodia, there was a quantum leap of death, havoc — and radicalization — in the countryside, just as in Pakistan today.  Cambodia’s communists now found the peasants to eager to sign up, just as Muslim extremist leaders are finding today in Pakistan. . . .

Is something like that in Pakistan’s future? Nobody can be sure.  We do know that the escalation of U.S. (and some Pakistani) military operations there, much ballyhooed here for killing a few al Qaeda captains, is turning more and more Pakistanis against us.  And that’s a quandary for which there are no immediate answers, much less easy ones.

But we do know there’s one big difference between Cambodia and Pakistan.

Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

The analogy isn’t perfect.  We fomented the coup that brought Lon Nol to Cambodia, but in Pakistan, our guy got overthrown.  And there’s a big difference between a massive bombing campaign and a few cross-border incursions.  But it does make you think.

Undip reader Midwest McGarry, who raised similar concerns, also asks why American incursions don’t trigger the War Powers Act.  One reason is that both the U.S. and Pakistan officials are pretending none of this happened:

. . .the Pakistani and United States military publicly denied any such incident on Monday, and a Pakistani intelligence official said that an American helicopter had mistakenly crossed the border briefly, leading Pakistani ground forces to fire into the air. . . . On Tuesday, American officials repeated their denials that such an incident occurred.

If there were no incursions, there is no need to inform Congress as required by the War Powers Act.

But there’s another, more important reason.  Back in 2001, shortly after September 11, Congress passed a S.J. 23, Authorization for Use of Military Force:

[T]he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. . . .

SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.

So you see, Midwest, the President already has the authorization he needs.

Am I the only one not comforted by that?

Maybe the October Surprise came a bit early this year.  So far, no new statements by either campaign.

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Sarah Palin’s Excellent Adventure

In case you missed it yesterday, the Sarahnator and her tannin’ bed are heading to New York City to visit Dr. Joel Fleischman to meet with strange people who talk funny (no, not other Alaskans):

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will meet with foreign leaders next week at the United Nations, a move to boost her foreign-policy credentials, a Republican strategist said.  Republican candidate John McCain plans to introduce the Alaska governor to heads of state at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, although specific names weren’t yet firmed up. “The meetings will give her some exposure and experience with foreign leaders,” the strategist said. “It’s a great idea.”

Oh yeah, a great idea.  Just stu-freaking-pendous.  Maybe McCain advisor John Bolton can take her up in a helicopter and they can try to shoot the top ten stories off the UN building.

Nothing like using foreign governments to score a few political points.  And hey, if Obama can go to Berlin, why can’t Palin go to Turtle Bay?

Uh, because she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about?

I can see it now.

Hi Vladimir and Dmitri, my name is  Sarah.  Vlad, you gotta come to Alaska where we can go huntin’ together.  Shootin’ moose is a lot more fun than that little kitty you killed a few weeks ago.  And have I mentioned that I can see you guys from my house?

Oh, and if you ever mess with Georgia again, this lipstick-wearin’ pitbull is gonna bomb the living crap out of ya.  If you thought messin’ with Texas was a pain, just wait ’til you have a snowshoe shoved where the sun don’t shine.

I’m sure that will go over like a ton of nukes.

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16 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Married to the Mob

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26:   David Addington, C...When the history of the Bush Administration is written, few individuals will be held as responsible for its excesses as David Addington.  He is the G. Gordon Liddy of attorneys, a one man dirty tricks squad — except in his case, he wasn’t working outside the law, he was rewriting the law.

In an excerpt from Angler that ran in yesterday’s Washington Post, author Barton Gelman describes what happened when the Justice Department ruled that the warrantless surveillance program was illegal.  Cheney determined that the program should nonetheless be reauthorized and ordered Addington to get it done.

Addington opened the code-word-classified file on his computer. He had a presidential directive to rewrite.

It has been widely reported that Bush executed the March 11 order with a blank space over the attorney general’s signature line. That is not correct. For reasons both symbolic and practical, the vice president’s lawyer could not tolerate an empty spot where a mutinous subordinate should have signed. Addington typed a substitute signature line: “Alberto R. Gonzales.”

What Addington wrote for Bush that day was more transcendent than that. He drew up new language in which the president relied on his own authority to certify the program as lawful. Bush expressly overrode the Justice Department and any act of Congress or judicial decision that purported to constrain his power as commander in chief. Only Richard M. Nixon, in an interview after leaving the White House in disgrace, claimed authority so nearly unlimited.

The specter of future prosecutions hung over the program, now that Justice had ruled it illegal.  “Pardon was in the air,” said one of the lawyers involved.

It was possible to construct a case, he said, in which those who planned and carried out the program were engaged in a criminal conspiracy. That would be tendentious, this lawyer believed, but with a change of government it could not be ruled out.  “I’m sure when we leave office we’re all going to be hauled up before congressional committees and grand juries,” Addington told one colleague in disgust.

Addington may only be a minion, but particularly effective henchmen often can be as dangerous and destructive as their dark lords.  Cheney made the decisions that led to torture, rendition, indefinite detention, and other such abominations, but Addington gave Cheney the legal cover to justify his actions as within the law.

As Jane Mayer notes in The Dark Side, Addington’s interpretation of the law was, in essence, that there was no law, only executive authority:

The Bush legal team, as former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis observed, spent an extraordinary amount of effort figuring out how to steer top administration officials around criminal conduct.  Their “memos,” Lewis wrote, “read like the advice of a mob lawyer to a Mafia don on how to skirt the law and stay out of prison.  Avoiding prosecution is literally a theory of the memoranda.”  Behind these contortions was the reality that the White House lawyers, like crminial litigators, were using their skills to provide rationales for a path their clients had already taken.

Let’s not mince words here.  What Addington, John Yoo, and other Administration lawyers did was nothing less than criminal behavior.  If a private organization were to act in this way, federal authorities would not hesitate to prosecute it under the Racketeering in Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO):

Under RICO, a person who is a member of an enterprise that has committed any two of 35 crimes—27 federal crimes and 8 state crimes—within a 10-year period can be charged with racketeering. Those found guilty of racketeering can be fined up to $25,000 and/or sentenced to 20 years in prison per racketeering count. . . . Under the law, racketeering activity means:

  • Any violation of state statutes against gambling, murder, kidnapping, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical (as defined in the Controlled Substances Act);
  • Any act of bribery, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, dealing in obscene matter, obstruction of justice, slavery, racketeering, gambling, money laundering, commission of murder-for-hire, and several other offenses covered under the Federal criminal code (Title 18);
  • Embezzlement of union funds;
  • Bankruptcy or securities fraud;
  • Drug trafficking;
  • Money laundering and related offenses;
  • Bringing in, aiding or assisting aliens in illegally entering the country (if the action was for financial gain);
  • Acts of terrorism.

Pattern of racketeering activity requires at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years (excluding any period of imprisonment) after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.

I’m not a lawyer, but I would argue that Cheney and Addington (and others in the Administration) committed at least four such acts:  conspiracy to murder (CIA personnel may have, as a result of their use of “vigorous” interrogations promoted by Cheney and Addington, been responsible for the death of at least six detainees); kidnapping (the rendition program was essentially a federally sanctioned kidnap operation); fraud (inserting the signature of Alberto Gonzales instead of John Ashcroft); and obstruction of justice (as Gellman notes above, Addington, at Cheney’s instruction, attempted to override a Justice Department determination that the warrantless surveillance program was illegal).  That means they’re eligible.

Before you start arguing that the RICO statute cannot be used against government officials, know this:

In June 1984, the Key West Police Department in Monroe County, FL was declared a criminal Enterprise under the Federal RICO statutes after a lengthy United States Department of Justice investigation. Several high-ranking officers of the department, including Deputy Police Chief Raymond Cassamayor, were arrested on federal charges of running a protection racket for illegal cocaine smugglers.  At trial, a witness testified he routinely delivered bags of cocaine to the Deputy Chief’s office at City Hall.

To paraphrase Pogo, we have met the government and it is the mob.

Photo:  Getty Images via Daylife

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:55 pm

While You Were Watching the View. . .

Don’t feel bad — I was too.  But meanwhile, the Administration continues its sightseeing tour of Pakistan’s NWFP.

The US military conducted another airstrike inside Pakistan’s lawless tribal agencies. The target of the strike was an al Qaeda-linked group called Al Badar, which is run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Unmanned Predator aircraft launched several missiles in the early morning at a target in the village of Tol Khel on the outskirts of Miramshah, the administrative seat of North Waziristan. Twelve members of Al Badar (or Al Badr) were reported killed and 14 were reported wounded in the attack, according to AFP. . . .

Hekmatyar runs the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, a radical Taliban-linked faction fighting US forces in Afghanistan. He has close links to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, as well as the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.

The US targeted a Hekmatyar compound in South Waziristan on Aug. 13. Taliban commanders Abdul Rehman and Islam Wazir, three Turkmen, and “several Arab fighters” were reported in the strike. Reports indicated up to 25 terrorists were killed in the attack.

The US has conducted eight airstrikes and raids in North and neighboring South Waziristan since Aug. 31. Five of the strikes have been aimed at compounds in North Waziristan. Four of them were operated by the Haqqani Network. . . .

The Haqqanis are closely allied with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and have close links with the Inter-Services Intelligence. The Haqqanis run a parallel government in North Waziristan and conduct military and suicide operations in eastern Afghanistan. Siraj Haqqani, Jalaluddin’s son, has close ties to Osama bin Laden and is one of the most wanted terrorist commanders in Afghanistan.

Holy Bush Doctrine, Batman!

Looks like Bush is taking Obama’s advice.  Too bad it’s seven freaking years after he first should have done it.

Call me a cynic, but I can’t help believe that the Bush Administration (and the McCain campaign, for that matter) and trying as hard as they can to find and kill Osama before the election.

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

John McCain Must Be at the Beach. . .

. . .because I sure do hear the sound of flip flops.  More from the View:

The man is either delusional, high, suffering from memory loss, or a flat-out liar.  Think Progress has a list of forty-two issues where he has changed course.  Here are three off the list, all concerning the Bush Administration’s pursuit of the War on Terror at home and abroad:

Detention of Detainees

McCain Flips:

In 2003, McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote a letter to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld urging him to resolve the issue of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The letter6/19/05] said that “a serious process must be established in the very near term either to formally treat and process the detainees as war criminals or to return them to their countries for appropriate judicial action.” In 2005, he told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that “I know that some of these guys are terrible, terrible killers and the worst kind of scum of humanity. But, one, they deserve to have some adjudication of their cases.” [Meet the Press,

McCain Flops:

In 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo are required to receive habeas corpus rights. McCain called the Court’s ruling “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” “Senator Graham, and Senator Lieberman, and I…made it very clear that these are enemy combatants, these are people who are not citizens. They do not and never have been given the rights that citizens of this country have,” he said. [Newark Star-Ledger, 6/14/08]


McCain Flips:

In 2005, McCain pushed President Bush to sign a bill that would, among other provisions, prohibit “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone in U.S. government custody. McCain authored the torture ban himself. “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists,” McCain said. McCain was also against waterboarding, saying during presidential primary campaigning “all I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today…It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture.” [MSNBC, 12/15/05 & New York Times, 10/26/07]

McCain Flops:

In 2008, McCain voted against the Intelligence Authorization Bill, which requires the intelligence community to abide by the same standards as articulated in the Army Field Manual and bans waterboarding. [New York Times, 2/17/08]

Illegal Wiretapping

McCain Flips:

In an interview with the Boston Globe in December 2007, McCain was asked if, as President, he would ever authorize illegal wiretapping. “I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is,” he said. “I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law.” [Boston Globe, 12/20/07]

McCain Flops

The New York Times reported that a letter from top McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said that McCain believes that the Constitution gave President Bush the authority to wiretap Americans “without warrants.” The letter says that “neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.” [New York Times, 6/6/08]

Kudos to Think Progress for their work on this.

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:15 pm

Deer in the Headlines

My friends over at the National Security Nework have a new ad out on Palin’s failure to answer Charlie Gibson’s question on the Bush Doctrine:

You know, maybe Obama doesn’t have to hit back right away.  The netroots are doing just fine on their own, the MSM is picking up the McCain is lying and will do anything to win meme, and both McCain and Palin are looking like deer in the headlines, to coin a phrase.

Hat tip:  Democracy Arsenal

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:15 pm

Joy Behar and Baba Wawa are teh Awesome

So “The View” of all places goes where no media outlet has dared go and busts McCain for the sex ed and lipstick on a pig controversies:

I don’t know if I agree with Sullivan that this interview “just destroyed McCain’s candidacy,” but the momentum clearly has reversed, with the media starting to hit back — and call what he said, as Joy Behar did here, lies. Add into that Palin’s performance last night, and the fact that Obama has started to punch back, and you’ve got some serious problems for the campaign.

People aren’t taking him at face value anymore.  That means that when the McCain campaign hits back — and you can be assured that they will hit back soon in order to try to reassert control over the news cycle — people are going to be less credulous then they were before everyone started talking about pigs, lipstick, sex ed, and wars with Russia.  That’s going to make it all the harder for the next negative ad to stick — not only will the media and the public wonder whether it’s true, but another harshly negative ad will reinforce the emerging meme that McCain will do anything to win.

Last but not least, how lame was McCain’s defense?  “[Obama] chooses his words carefully.”  As if that’s a bad thing?  As if someone who just pops off is what we want in a President?  And did you hear the contempt in his voice?

Good for Behar, and for Barbara Walters, who, just for a moment, reminded people that she used to be a pretty good journalist in her own right.

So between this and the Gibson interview, how long will it take for the McCain campaign to start whining about how ABC doesn’t show proper respect towards the ticket?

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:23 pm

Guess Who Thinks Mayors & Governors Don’t Have What It Takes to Be President?

Check this out:  In one of the Republican debates earlier this year, McCain implies that Mayors and Governors don’t have the experience to be President.  Oh, and he states flat out that he needs no “on-the-job training.”  Say, I don’t know, like Sarah “Bombs Away” Palin?

New Obama ad:  show Sarah Palin promising to go to war with Russia and not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is, then show this.  Then say that John McCain doesn’t has the judgment to be President. Oh, and point out that he wasn’t emphasizing change back then, he was bragging about 26 years in Washington.  So much for the outsider gambit.

Framing, framing, framing.

It’s right in front of your face, guys.

If anyone has the link to the full debate, please put it in the comments below.

Hat tip:  Undip reader Aric

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

I just watched the Palin interview again.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is in its entirety.  For the purposes of this post, please pay particular attention to the section on Russia, which begins at 3:25 and ends at 4:50:

Here’s the key part:

GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?

PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.

GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.

PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.

Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but…

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help.

But NATO, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely, at this point and I think that we need to — especially with new leadership coming in on January 20, being sworn on, on either ticket, we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those NATO members.

We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to defend one another in a very dangerous world today.

GIBSON: And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States to go to war if Russia were to invade.

PALIN: What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.

And we have got to be vigilant. We have got to show the support, in this case, for Georgia. The support that we can show is economic sanctions perhaps against Russia, if this is what it leads to.

It doesn’t have to lead to war and it doesn’t have to lead, as I said, to a Cold War, but economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, again, counting on our allies to help us do that in this mission of keeping our eye on Russia and Putin and some of his desire to control and to control much more than smaller democratic countries.

If I and everyone else heard/read her correctly, she just suggested that a) Georgia should be part of NATO, and b) were Russia to invade again, other NATO members should go to war with Russia.

To say that those comments are staggeringly naive and dangerous would be a vast understatement.

First of all, let’s put her comments into historical perspective.  Here is a list of countries that the Soviet Union and its primary successor, Russia, have invaded since 1920, excluding the “Great Patriotic War” (Russia’s name for World War II between the June 1941 German invasion and 1945):

  • Poland (1920)
  • Poland  (1939)
  • Finland (1939)
  • Estonia (1940)
  • Latvia (1940)
  • Lithuania (1940)
  • Hungary (1956)
  • Czechoslovakia (1968)
  • Afghanistan (1979)
  • Georgia (2008)

In addition, the Soviet Union annexed parts of a number of countries during or after World War II:

  • Moldova (from Romania)
  • Eastern Poland (first taken in 1939 and then ratified at Yalta as part of the decision to shift Poland westwards)
  • Subcarpathian Ruthenia (Czechoslovakia)
  • Konigsberg (Germany — later renamed Kaliningrad Oblast)

After the Second World War, Soviet troops occupied a number of countries, most of which became part of the Comintern and later Warsaw Pact.  The exceptions were northern Iran, Austria, and (after 1948) Yugoslavia.

Now here’s a list of American Presidents who threatened war with the Soviet Union and/or Russia as a result of these invasions, all of which violated international law.

There aren’t any.

Not Roosevelt or Truman.

Not JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Not Reagan.

Not even Dubya.

Palin has moved into territory that no President or Presidential candidate (not even Goldwater in 1964) has ever ventured.  The only time anyone has said something this bad is in 1968, when Curtis LeMay, upon being named George Wallace’s VP candidate, said that he would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons.

I don’t think that comparisons to “Bombs Away” LeMay — who was the model for Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove — were what John McCain was hoping for in selecting the Sarahnator.

Let’s draw a flowchart showing where Sarah Palin’s policy could lead us.

Georgia joins NATO → Russia attacks Georgia → Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which says an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members → NATO declares war on Russia → nuclear war.

Ilan Goldenberg over at Democracy Arsenal highlights just how dangerous this kind of talk is:

No sane American or European leader would ever ever ever give an answer like that.  You do not get into hypotheticals about nuclear war.  You just don’t.

Palin references the Cold War.  The only reason the Cold War stayed cold is because our leaders understood the stakes of getting things wrong and saying things that could lead to catastrophic nuclear war.  During the Cuban Missile Crisis every word, every public statement, and any message that the Kennedy administration sent to the Soviets was checked, double checked, and triple checked to make sure it was sending precisely the right signal.

This is what you are forced to do when you have thousands of nuclear weapons and so does your opponent. The stakes are simply too high.  And yet there is a nominee for the Vice Presidency of the United States who may one day have her hand on the button and she is casually talking about potential catastrophic nuclear war.

To be fair, both Obama and McCain believe that Georgia should join NATO.  But neither of them — not even John McCain — has ever said, suggested, or even hinted that the United States would go to war with Russia over Georgia.

Let me be clear here.  The problem isn’t that Sarah Palin is crazy.  She’s not.  The problem is that she is in no way prepared to answer basic questions on foreign policy in a way that doesn’t make her look crazy.  And that means she is not prepared to be Vice President or President.  She might be someday, but not right now.

To put this all in perspective, let me contrast the process the McCain campaign used to prepare Sarah Palin for these interviews and the process used by the State Department to prepare its officials for Congressional testimony.

Assistant Secretaries of State are usually people who have spent years (if not decades) becoming experts on the particular area or subject matter that they now oversee on behalf of the State Department.  They usually know their stuff.  But when they go to testify before Congress on one small part of their portfolio, they get a two inch-thick briefing book with every possible question they might get, along with answers consistent with U.S. Government policy.  Those answers have been vetted by everyone in the building who plays a role in determining policy.  The Assistant Secretaries also spend hours in what are known as “murder boards,” where their staffmembers pepper them with the questions and then critique their answers until they get it right.

Assistant Secretaries of State:  weeks and hours of intensive, hands-on preparation for a narrow topic, undertaken by someone who already is an expert on a topic.

Sarah Palin:  At most two weeks of probably not very intensive preparation (given all the speeches and appearances since she was announced, it didn’t leave much study time) to prepare answers to every possible question on every possible subject under the sun, by someone with little or no foreign policy experience.  She was expected to come out of this less-than-rigorous process prepared to provide short, simple answers to easy questions on topics about which she had never thought.

And people wonder why she did so badly?

It turned out that Charlie Gibson, the McCain’s first choice for a first interview, wasn’t prepared to roll over like they expected.  So when Gibson pursued a line of questioning in any depth, Palin ran out of sound bites. When that happened, she  had to improvise.  She had to make stuff up when she doesn’t have the experience or background to do so knowledgeably.

A more experienced politician would have had the wisdom in such a situation to avoid talking about war.  But Palin is not experienced.  She doesn’t understand the consequences of straying from the playbook.  As a result, she committed a McCain Administration to a course that could lead directly to nuclear war.  And chances are, given the McCain campaign’s recent refusal to backtrack on anything, it’s highly unlikely that the Senator would do the smart thing, which would be to issue a clarification.

In the end, however, we should judge not Sarah Palin, but John McCain.  His choice of her was thoughtless, reckless, and fundamentally unwise.   Such lapses in judgment demonstrate his manifest unsuitability to be President.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:53 pm

Palin and War

I’m still trying to get my mind around Palin’s comments on Russia, Georgia, NATO and war.  I promise more in the morning, but right now I’m too fried to think straight.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:03 pm

Those We Remember

At CNN.com, a memorial to those who lost their lives seven years ago.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:03 pm

Seven Years Later: From Tragedy to Denial

Given everything going on around the election — lipstick, pigs, sex, wolves, seals and all sorts of other so very important matters — you might have missed this little gem, from yesterday’s White House press briefing:

Perino’s claim that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, not Osama bin Laden, was the “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks is so staggeringly and blatantly a lie that it’s hard to know where to start.  For the Administration to cover up its failure to capture bin Laden by arguing the detention of KSM somehow matters more, is akin to suggesting that Radovan Karadzic’s arrest absovled Soblodan Milosevic of any responsibility for what happened in Bosnia.

Whenever any leader makes a decision, there are two levels of responsibility:  strategic and tactical.  The person who identifies the direction that an organization or country or business is going to take determines the strategy.  The person who designs and implements the actions necesssary to implement the strategy  determines the tactics.

In this case, Osama bin Laden chose the strategy — attacking the United States.  Khaled Sheikh Mohammed decided the tactics — how and where to make the attack a reality.  It is just mind-boggling that the Bush Administration doesn’t understand — or is pretending not to understand — the difference.

Just in case it’s the former, permit me to remind Ms. Perino and her boss what Osama bin Laden said in his first interview (with Taysir Alluni, al-Jazeera’s Afghanistan bureau chief)  after the September 11 attacks.  The transcript is from Messages to the World:  The Statements of Osama bin Laden:

As far as concerns [America's] description of these attacks as terrorist acts, that description is wrong.  These young men, for whom God has created a path, have shifted the battle to the heart of the United States, and they have destroyed its most oustanding landmarks, its economic and military landmarks, by the grace of God.  And they have done this because of our words — and we have previously incited and roused them to action. . . . And if inciting for these reasons is terrorism, and if killing those that kill our sons is terrorism, then let history witness that we are terrorists. . . .

Making connections is easy.  If this implies that we have incited these attacks, then yes, we’ve been inciting for years, and we have released decrees and documents concerning this issue, and other incitements which were published and broadcast in the media.  So if they mean, or if you mean, that there is a connection as a result of our incitement, then that is true.  So we incite, and incitement is a duty. . . .

I say that the events that happened on Tuesday September 11 in New York and Washington are truly great events by any measure, and their repercussions are not yet over. . . .These repercussions cannot be calculated by anyone due to their very large — and increasing — scale, multitude and complexity, so watch as the amount reaches no less than $1 trillion by the lowest estimate, due to thise successful and blessed attacks.  We implore God to accept those brothers within the ranks of the martyrs and to admit them to the highest levels of Paradise.

Now I know that Ms. Perino is not a lawyer, neither is President Bush.  I’m not either.  But unlike me, they’re surrounded by some of the top legal minds in the country.  One of them just might want to explain to Bush and Perino the concepts of conspiracy and incitement.  It just might clarify things a little.

Then again, those are the same lawyers who told Bush that torture was okay.  So maybe not.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:03 pm

9/11: Democratic Martyrs and the American Idea

About a year ago, The Atlantic asked a number of prominent thinkers to write, in 300 words or less, what they thought was “The Future of the American Idea.”

This is what novelist David Foster Wallace had to say in response.

Just Asking

Are some things still worth dying for?

Is the American idea one such thing?

Are you up for a thought experiment?

What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?

In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price?

Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin’s time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?

In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Patriot Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it?

Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?

Links added.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:03 am

September 11, 2001

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in New York City to interview some job candidates at my then-employer, Amnesty International USA.  As I walked from my hotel to the AIUSA office, I came upon  dozens of New Yorkers standing on the sidewalk outside a McDonald’s on the corner of 28th Street and 6th Avenue, staring at something going on downtown.

When I looked up, I saw that the North Tower of the World Trade Center was on fire.  Nobody around me knew what had happened.  I pulled out my cell phone and called a friend to tell her to turn on CNN.  As we were chatting, I started yelling into the phone — “Oh shit oh shit oh God oh no no no. . . .”  As I and all those around me watched in horror, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower.

Before the day was out, I saw first the South Tower and then the North Tower collapse.  I watched as a convoy of dozens of ambulances raced down 8th Avenue.  I stood in the door of a neighborhood delicatessen as hundreds of soot-covered residents trudged past.  I consoled friends and colleagues who lost loved ones in the collapse. I saw a city I loved turn into a silent ghostly shell of itself.

I also had spent much of the day desperately trying to reach friends in Washington to make sure they were okay.  When the attacks had just taken place, there were dozens of what later turned out to be false alarms.  CNN reported was that a car bomb had destroyed the northwestern corner of the State Department — which was where my office had been and where many of my friends still worked.

That night, as a result of a tip from a friend still in government, I managed to get on one of the few trains leaving New York for Washington.  Sitting across from me for the first two stops was a firefighter who had lost over half of the members of his company.  The trip took a lot longer than it normally did — we must have stopped at least a half-dozen times while engineers checked the tracks to make sure nothing was wrong.

That train felt like a refugee convoy – except these refugees wore suits, carried suitcases, and kept trying to use their non-functioning cell phones.  The trip turned into a discordant symphony of repeated “call failed” signals.

I returned home to a city under siege, with military police in armored personnel carriers patrolling the streets around the Union Station.  Although that worried me, my main emotion was relief that I made it home.  But when I got there, I couldn’t go to sleep.  Instead I stayed up almost all night, watching CNN replay the days’ events over and over and over again.

I am not a “survivor” of September 11.  My life was never at risk, and none of those I love died.  I have no right to speak on behalf of those who lost their lives or loved ones on that sad day.

For the next few months, that’s what I kept telling myself:  what happened to me wasn’t that bad.  But then I started to have trouble sleeping.  When I did manage to get to sleep, I dreamed of planes crashing into my apartment building.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but these were symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.”  Those suffering from PTSD often have flashbacks in which they believe the traumatic incident is happening again, as well as other symptoms.

That’s what happened to me.  That’s what the dreams were about: planes I could see coming but couldn’t stop.  I had no trouble getting on a plane or flying, but the sight of planes in the air freaked me out.  Living near the Potomac River, which is the approach path used by commercial airlines flying into Washington National, became a nightmare.  Planes come in low and fast, and often look as if they’re veering towards the city.  Every time I saw one, I would panic.  A couple of times, I had to pull off the road.

There were also other symptoms, ones that weren’t as obvious but which often manifested themselves in unexpected ways. I got angry a lot — irrationally and blindly angry — often for no reason.  I became moody.  I snapped at people –- no, I yelled at people.  Folks didn’t want to be around me.  I withdrew from the world.

The good news is that I got better.  Thanks to a wonderful therapist and caring friends (especially my future wife), I was able to understand what I was going through and start taking the necessary steps to get better.  After some bumps in the road, including one significant relapse triggered by a completely unrelated incident (also not uncommon among those with PTSD), I no longer have the dreams, get angry for no reason, or panic at the sight of planes over the Potomac.

What I wonder is whether my country — our country — also has gotten better.

There’s another moment that day that I still remember.  After I got off my cell phone that morning, when I and all those around me were still not sure what had happened, a woman next to me noticed the Amnesty pin on the lapel of my jacket.  She asked me if I worked for Amnesty and when I said yes, she said “Good luck.  You’re going to need it.  We’re all going to need it.”

I had no idea how right she was.

We have, over the past seven years, suffered from a collective form of PTSD, one from which we have yet to recover fully.  It manifests itself in many ways:  the fear of the other, the blanket hatred of Muslims and Arabs (and, for a brief period of deep insanity, even Sikhs), the irrational anger, the use of torture and other heretofore unspeakable acts.

Is it too soon to suggest that we need to move on?

We must find a way to continue mourning those who lost their lives but stop trying to revenge their deaths.  We must remember that we were wronged but stop using it as an excuse to inflict harm on innocents.  We must recognize that what happened that day, horrible though it was, cannot justify moral relativism or situational ethics.  We must accept that we do not honor the dead by undermining our values or abrogating our freedoms.

I believe that we as a nation can do these things.  I believe that we can get beyond the symptoms of our collective stress disorder and start living our lives again — without fear, without anger, and with acceptance.

But we’re not there yet.

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