Just Jihad: September 2007: Archives

September 25, 2007

Perlstein On The Impact Of Conservative Rule genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak

FDR

Rick Perlstein has an important posting at Common Sense...one that attempts to examine the transformation of the American mind set in the aftermath of 9/11. In offering some much needed historical context, he seeks to disavow the American citizenry of the behavior that characterized the reaction to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's U.S. visit and his invitation to speak at Columbia University.

Perlstein's piece is premised upon his attempt to answer a series of questions he believes must be answered. In my opinion, he accurately contends that the success of the United States is dependent upon exploring and understanding the answers.

Here's a big question that I want to start addressing in upcoming posts: what is conservative rule doing to our nation's soul? How is it rewiring our hearts and minds? What kind of damage are they doing to the American character? And can we ever recover?

Perlstein astutely describes the current environment as a "conservative Republic of Fear"...a philosophy which has been successfully spun by the current administration. That philosophy is one that views diversity as a detriment, dialogue as an act to legitimize the defined disease, and dissent as an endorsement of defeat.

Sadly, the Bush administration strategy was likely endorsed more as a matter of political calculation than as a function of sound policy...a theory seemingly supported by the events surrounding the failed efforts in Iraq and the willful refusal to reconsider. While nothing prevents any individual or entity from selling a subjective, though suspect product...should that campaign succeed, it has probably ingrained a false construct which will no doubt be difficult to extinguish or expunge.

Perlstein attempts to begin this daunting task by recounting a time in America's history which provides an important contrast to the current construct...one that identifies an alternate approach...an approach which not only succeeded in thwarting a formidable enemy; but one which was conducted with dignity and an undying commitment to maintaining our cherished values. That approach not only made our demise doubtful; it rendered our ill-intentioned enemies impotent.

The following excerpts are the backbone of Perlstein's argument.

Let me put before you an illustrative example: one week in September of 1959, when, much like one week in September of 2007, American soil supported a visit by what many, if not most Americans agreed was the most evil and dangerous man on the planet.

Nikita Khrushchev disembarked from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base to a 21-gun salute and a receiving line of 63 officials and bureaucrats, ending with President Eisenhower. He rode 13 miles with Ike in an open limousine to his guest quarters across from the White House. Then he met for two hours with Ike and his foreign policy team. Then came a white-tie state dinner. (The Soviets then put one on at the embassy for Ike.) He joshed with the CIA chief about pooling their intelligence data, since it probably all came from the same people—then was ushered upstairs to the East Wing for a leisurely gander at the Eisenhowers' family quarters. Visited the Agriculture Department's 12,000 acre research station ("If you didn't give a turkey a passport you couldn't tell the difference between a Communist and capitalist turkey"), spoke to the National Press Club, toured Manhattan, San Francisco (where he debated Walter Reuther on Stalin's crimes before a retinue of AFL-CIO leaders, or in K's words, "capitalist lackeys"), and Los Angeles (there he supped at the 20th Century Box commissary, visited the set of the Frank Sinatra picture Can Can but to his great disappointment the premier did not get to visit Disneyland), and sat down one more with the president, at Camp David. Mrs. K did the ladies-who-lunch circuit, with Pat Nixon as guide. It's not like it was all hearts and flowers. He bellowed that America, as Time magazine reported, "must close down its worldwide deterrent bases and disarm." Reporters asked him what he'd been doing during Stalin's blood purges, and the 1956 invasion of Hungary. A banquet of 27 industrialists tried to impress upon him the merits of capitalism. Eleanor Roosevelt toured him through Hyde Park. Nelson Rockefeller rapped with him about the Bible.

Had America suddenly succumbed to a fever of weak-kneed appeasement? Was the general running the country—the man who had faced down Hitler!—proven himself what the John Birch Society claimed he was: a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy?

No. Nikita Khrushchev simply visited a nation that had character. That was mature, well-adjusted. A nation confident we were great. We had our neuroses, to be sure—plenty of them.

But look now what we have lost. Now when a bad guy crosses our threshhold, America becomes a pants-piddling mess.

When one compares the treatment of Khrushchev with the response to Ahmadinejad's visit, one begins to see Perlstein's point...and the reason for his concern and his criticism. In the Bush administration's rush to co-opt the fear and anger generated by 9/11, they have fueled a level of irrational fear which clearly exceeds any threat posed by the visit of a hostile leader.

In knowing that we can defeat Iran...both militarily and in terms of world opinion...we needn't react with fear...we need only resolve to honor our beliefs and defend them should they or any other enemy act to harm us or our allies. Our strength should be our resolve...fear simply serves to undermine it.

Tagged as: 9/11, Bush administration, Diplomacy, Fear, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nikita Krushchev, Rick Perlstein

Daniel DiRito | September 25, 2007 | 5:36 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 19, 2007

The Surge: What Happens If The Spigot Is Broken? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak

If you want to understand the grim situation in Iraq, you need to read the following excerpt...at least once...maybe twice. Keep in mind that we're talking about the oil produced in the Kurdish region of Iraq...the region that is almost always referred to as the most secure and peaceful region in Iraq. Unfortunately, getting that oil out of the area is a much different dynamic.

From CNN 09/19/07:

Persistent acts of sabotage to that pipeline [Iraq-Turkey] have shut down Iraq's northern oil exports for most of the time barring a few days since the U.S.-led invasion.

So the bottom line is that oil has only flowed through this key pipeline "a few days" in well over four years of American occupation. Now take a look at the rest of the story...it gets even better (and in this instance "better" means much worse).

From CNN (cont.):

AMMAN (Dow Jones) Unknown attackers have blown up part of an Iraqi pipeline that pumps crude oil from Kirkuk oil fields to the Turkish export terminal, Ceyhan, a senior Iraqi oil official and a shipping agent said Wednesday.

"The pipeline was attacked and damaged Tuesday," the official told Dow Jones Newswires by telephone from Baghdad.

The attack took place in the section of the pipeline connecting the oil-rich city of Kirkuk to the Baiji, home to Iraq's largest oil refinery. Iraq usually pumps Kirkuk crude oil to the refinery, 250 kilometers north of Baghdad, which takes what it needs before it pumps the rest to Ceyhan.

The official said the pipeline blast was "catastrophic" as it caused huge quantities of crude oil to spill into the Tigris River.

The latest incident hits Iraq's Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani's bid to resume sustainable exports from Iraq's northern oil fields after adopting new security measures to guard the export pipeline.

Iraqi Pipelines

While I'm no expert on the oil industry in Iraq, some basic thoughts crossed my mind upon reading this article. First, in noting that the exporting of oil from the northern fields has been at a virtual standstill since we invaded Iraq, one has to determine the motivations which may be leading to the repetitive destruction of this pipeline.

To ascertain those reasons, we first have to acknowledge that the bulk of the oil produced in Kirkuk has been sent south to a refinery located north of Baghdad (an area that is heavily Sunni)...apparently supplying the oil needed for internal consumption and then intending to pump any excess oil to Ceyhan from that location.

The truth is that the line to Ceyhan was just made operational less than a month ago...creating the first meaningful pumping of oil to the area in years. With this latest sabotage, hopes to reestablish a dependable flow to this important export point have been dashed. To understand the magnitude of this disaster and its relevance to the revised U.S. strategy, one must review the efforts which went into restoring the pipeline.

The following excerpts are from an article announcing the restoration of oil flow through the pipeline to Ceyhan. The article touts the fact that the pipeline had been tested and was ready to begin sending oil to Ceyhan. More importantly, the article heralds a new security force designed to halt the ongoing incidents of sabotage.

From Qatar's The Peninsula 08/22/07:

DAMASCUS • Iraq is preparing to resume oil exports through Turkey in a few weeks through a new pipeline built in the midst of violence to help handle the flows, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said yesterday.

Crews have finished testing a 500,000-barrel per day pipeline covering a section of the northern export route and a special security force numbering thousands is being deployed to guard the network, Shahristani said.

“We have executed construction in a region practically on fire and we now have a bigger margin for manoeuvre as far as countering sabotage," Shahristani said.

“The tests have been successful and the new security force is a different breed from the corrupt one of old," he said on a visit to Damascus as a member of an Iraqi delegation negotiating improving ties with the Syrian government.

Let's step back even further and look at some of the history since the U.S. invasion and prior to the repair of the pipeline. From the excerpts below, it is clear that sectarian issues have hampered efforts to export oil to the North through this particular pipeline.

Additionally, the refinery from which this pipeline originates is plagued with issues of corruption and theft...all of which serve to hinder efforts to restore export levels necessary to insure the financial stability of Iraq. Absent that revenue stream, it is difficult to imagine a nation which can become self-sustaining.

From Energy Publisher 09/14/07:

Baiji: Iraq’s two largest sister refineries in north-central Iraq (with 310,000 bbl/d capacity) is a point of sectarian contention as the facility currently processes crude from the northern fields, but is located in nominally non-Kurdish territory. In January 2007, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh reported to Parliament that the country is losing $1.5 billion annually from attacks and theft at Baiji. The facility has been subject to repeated disruptions and power loss, and generally operates at around 75 percent capacity. The January 2007 SIGIR report indicated that at least some of the oil storage facilities were under “insurgent control" as of December 2006.

Iraq Ethnic Map

Iraq’s inability to secure crude pipelines in the north has meant that exports are generally routed through the southern port of Basrah.

According to IRMO/ITAO, crude oil exports have fallen from a post-war high of around 2.0 million bbl/d in 2004, to an average of 1.5 million bbl/d in 2006.

However, there is some marginal improvement recently mainly due to the intermittent ability to export crude through a northern pipeline, and improved loading capabilities in Basrah. In June 2007, Iraq issued its first tender in almost six months to sell Kirkuk oil.

In the north, the major international crude oil pipeline is the 1.1 million-bbl/d capacity Kirkurk-Ceyhan (Iraq-Turkey) pipeline. This pipeline and its 480,000-bbl/day sister-installation have been subject to repeated attacks and function intermittently, particularly in the Beyji-Fatha area. The KRG is reportedly considering building another pipeline that avoids unfortified areas. The inability to export oil through this pipeline has severely limited exports from the northern fields.

So all the anticipation (positive spin) which has been disseminated prior to today's "catastrophic" blast seems to have been overly optimistic. At the end of the day, the hopes and efforts to restore this pipeline...and therefore increase oil exports...have been dashed. While too early to determine, the interruption may also limit the ability of Iraq to negotiate further tender offers. The impact must be analyzed and viewed in its proper context.

As one attempts to understand the effectiveness of the latest U.S. troop surge, there are many relevant considerations. What is the likelihood that it can achieve the established benchmarks as well as prevent significant setbacks of this nature? How does one determine if the recent analysis provided by the Bush administration can be trusted to be accurate and impartial? What can be gleaned from catastrophic events similar to this one...especially when seeking to gauge the potential for a political reconciliation capable of extinguishing the unrest and defining a path to viability...both politically and economically?

If the restoration of sufficient oil production and higher exports have been ignored or inadequately safeguarded in order to focus on restoring some level of security in Baghdad, what has actually being achieved? Aren't both of these issues essential priorities? Beyond that, how many other issues may be simmering and on the verge of erupting?

Perhaps I'm far too cynical, but as I read about today's event...and then did some added research...I couldn't help but feel like the American public is being drawn further into a deadly game of paint ball...wearing unusually large blinders and rose colored glasses...in a room where the light has been suspiciously dimmed. Thinking ahead, even if we're able to eventually extricate ourselves from this fiasco, I have no idea how we'll be able to wash away the inevitably messy stains.

Tagged as: Ceyhan, Iraq, Kirkuk, Kurds, Oil Exports, Petraeus Report, Sectarian Conflict, Sunni's, Troop Surge

Daniel DiRito | September 19, 2007 | 5:52 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 18, 2007

Pentagon Drops Stink Bomb On Petraeus Report? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Pentagon

I've decided to tattoo the word "stupid" on my forehead. I've been considering it throughout the last four plus years of being treated as such by the Bush administration. As soon as I get my tattoo, I'm signing up to become one of the live moles in a new carnival game called human whack-a-mole...a game that has grown in popularity since the President spent most of the last five years making it a feature of his strategy in Iraq.

Some have argued that the game's resurgence can be directly traced to the latest troop surge...but there seems to be divergent opinions on that attribution. On the one hand, last week General Petraeus told us the troop surge was succeeding...suggesting that the resurgent insurgency was being abated. Not to be outdone, the Pentagon released its latest quarterly report yesterday...arguing that the insurgency was in fact resurgent...just in different regions of Iraq.

Upon reading about this latest episode of back and forth, my decision to join the carnival was sealed. I just can't continue to sit on the sidelines and let the Bush administration exclude me from the fun they must be having while playing games with the American public. After all, if the insurgents can figure out how to beat the President at his game, I can surely make a go of it in the carnival. I'm convinced the bar just hasn't been set all that high.

Security is deteriorating in southern Iraq as rival Shiite militias vying for power have stepped up their attacks after moving out of Baghdad to avoid U.S.-led military operations, according to the latest quarterly Pentagon report on Iraq released yesterday.

The growing violence in the south is one factor making it unlikely that Iraq's leaders -- hampered by a "zero sum" mentality -- will make headway in the fall on key political resolutions, the report concluded. "In the short term, Iraqi political leaders will likely be less concerned about reconciliation than with consolidating power and posturing for a future power struggle," it said.

Overall, the report detailed both progress and setbacks. It highlighted positive trends such as a recent nationwide drop in sectarian violence, high-profile bombings and total attacks [...] .

But in another trend seen in earlier reports, attacks spread outside the Baghdad area, rising in neighboring Diyala and Salahuddin provinces, where security remains "fragile," as well as in some southern provinces, the report said.

Violence and instability in some southern provinces reflects primarily the growing strength in the region of the Mahdi Army or Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the report said.

Moreover, the Pentagon assessment said the Mahdi Army reasserted itself in Qadisiyah province after coalition forces withdrew, illustrating how areas can revert to violence.

In Basra, the city through which 90 percent of Iraq's oil is exported, the report said that the expected continued reduction of British forces had led to insurgent groups "posturing themselves to control the city, where violence has increased due to the presence of multiple Shi'a militias -- most notably JAM and its splinter groups, the Badr Organization and the Fadilah Organization -- and criminal groups."

Meanwhile, the report stated that Iraqi security forces, though improving and maturing, remain hindered by sectarian infiltration.

Amid uneven trends in security and the Iraqi government's "indecisiveness and inaction" on key political goals, the report found that some segments of the population have lost confidence in the government's ability to improve the situation.

As Bill Maher put it today on CNN, it was logical to expect that adding 30,000 troops in Baghdad would reduce violence...in Baghdad. At the same time, the predictions of many other observers was equally rational...predictions which relied upon past experience and concluded that the violence would simply shift to other areas which were less secure. Hence, more of the same old game of whack-a-mole.

Perhaps the most significant finding in this new Pentagon report involves the shifting strategies being adopted by the Iraqi's...a strategy which now fully understands the limitations of the current U.S. strategy and has led the Iraqi's to be "less concerned about reconciliation than with consolidating power and posturing for a future power struggle". In other words, the Iraqi's realize there is little to be gained in hashing out issues they expect to explode upon the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

They are simply biding their time while we spin our wheels, train and arm them, and pour cash into a system which is arguably being diverted to the various factions in preparation for future battles. For those who doubt this strategy, keep in mind Moqtada al-Sadr's recent announcement to suspend his militia activities for six months...a move I contend is further evidence of this newly emerging paradigm.

One added likelihood needs to be explored...the one which argues that whoever controls the port city of Basra (think oil) will have an inordinate amount of power and influence over Iraq's future. The fact that the British have pulled most of their troops out of the region and the U.S. has been focused on Baghdad may well play into the plans of those groups intent on capturing control of Basra.

Frankly, the longer we have spent in Iraq, the more breathing space we have afforded to those groups with aspirations on obtaining the lions share of power. In fact, our presence likely provides the time each group needs to better organize for the eventual and inevitable battles.

On second thought, maybe its our President that needs to make a visit to the tattoo shop? While I'm thinking about it, does anyone know of a good the carnival he can join? Oh, one last thing...make sure it's one that needs an experienced whack...a-mole.

Tagged as: Basra, David Petraeus, George W. Bush, Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr, Pentagon, Sectarian Conflict, Troop Surge

Daniel DiRito | September 18, 2007 | 6:54 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 17, 2007

The Bloody Red Battles Over Black And White genre: Gaylingual & Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Black & White

Black and white...white and black. America has struggled with these two words for decades. No doubt race is the first thought which comes to mind when one mentions black and white...but the issue is much broader than skin color...it encompasses a way of thinking that struggles to see the many shades of gray which occupy the space between two extremes.

Hence, my thoughts on the subject were triggered by four items in the news...all seemingly unrelated though clearly conjoined by the presence of a simmering sickness...one which has at its core a pitiful propensity to view the world and its inhabitants with the forceful, though false safety found in the embracing of extremes.

For most of my life, I've been a doodler...writing and drawing in school notebooks or in any other blank space I could find on an otherwise white piece of paper. By and large, my doodles were mindless acts intended to fill space...both the space on a piece of paper and the empty mental space that often accompanied my own boredom.

However, not long ago, I stopped to think about my doodling and realized that one particular pattern existed...one that was evidenced by years of writing words that are opposites...most frequently the words "sooner" and "later"...all words that are akin to the concept of black and white.

At the same time, my life has been characterized by an effort to see the many shades of gray that one must navigate in order to move from one extreme to the other...so much so that I've often angered individuals on both ends of the philosophical and political spectrums. I view my choice to do so as a decision to remain conflicted...the place from which I've always sought and found my most significant moments of awareness and insight.

Truth be told, choosing to reside in such a state creates anxiety and frustration...but the payoff has always exceeded the cost...payoff that comes in what I've called my periods of hyper-reality. During those intervals, long standing mental logjams are broken and a comforting clarity suddenly emerges in a cascade of cognition. It's as if pieces of a puzzle fall effortlessly into place to reveal a much needed image.

I make mention of my personal experience because I believe it a worthwhile contemplative construct...one that has the potential to move beyond the banality of black and white...and therefore past the animosity which seems to typify our adoption of an architecture of antagonism.

With that contextual background, let's look at the specific news items. First, the observations of Stanley Kurtz on a Salon.com article titled, So Long, White Boy, in which he points to a new book about the Duke lacrosse rape case, Until Proven Innocent, specifically citing this quote from the book, "Duke’s politically-correct faculty...produced a mirror image of the worst racism of the South in the 1950s....". Kurtz raises the prospect that the Duke case and the university response may provide evidence that reverse discrimination is the ultimate product of affirmative action. He concludes with the following.

First the Democrats alienated many white men by supporting discriminatory preferential treatment policies. When these men refused to accept this discrimination, many of them left the Democratic Party. This, in turn, enraged many Democrats, who began to think "invidiously" about white men. So it would appear that racial discrimination in law and policy breeds racial discrimination in culture. If the Democrats lose a large chunk of the "NASCAR Dad" vote in the upcoming elections, it might have something to do with the fact that the Dems richly deserve to lose it.

The second item is the "censoring" of Sally Fields remarks during the Emmy Awards. While accepting her award, Fields, who plays a mother on the television program "Brothers & Sisters", dedicated her award to all of the mothers in the world and stated, "May they be seen; may their work be valued and raised and especially for the mothers who stand with open hearts and wait. Wait for their children to come home from danger and harm's way and war". As she closed her remarks, Fox cut out the following statement.

From The National Post on Canada.com:

"If mothers ruled the ruled the world, there would be no..."

Snip to wide shot.

What was cut (some people saw it live) from the broadcast: "god-damned wars in the first place"

The blogosphere is abuzz with commentary on Field's remarks and the decision by Fox to edit the latter portion. The situation is being characterized differently by those on opposite sides of the political spectrum. One side suggests it is an issue of censorship by right leaning Fox Network and the other side argues that Field's was simply using the Emmy's as a platform for an anti-war tirade.

Consistent with the argument I intend to make, I choose to focus on the dialogue rather than the merits of either position. The following are some of the comments found on the internet.

someone should’ve thrown her off the stage, forget using a cane.

G*****n you, Rupert Murdoch! All Sally was doing was trying to offer the progressive counterpoint to that war-glorifying, Bush-loving, neoconservative medley of talk show one-liners earlier in the broadcast.

Well, if mothers ruled the world in the way Sally meant (i.e. mothers wouldn’t send their own or other people’s children to die in wars, so there wouldn’t be any wars)–what would happen in reality is that a great many Western mothers would indeed keep their children from fighting. However, the Islamist moms around the world would be busily strapping bombs to their babies themselves and shoving them out the door to kill Jews and Americans. Result? We’d lose our culture and our lives. Miserably and quickly.

As any straight man can attest, if women ruled the world there’d still be plenty of wars. They’d just cease to be for discernible reasons. I’ll go hide now.

Confirms that the right-wing corporate establishment cannot survive without war. A threat to war is a threat to their very existence. Manifestly, the anti-war movement is their biggest fear, greater even than an adverse puritanical FCC ruling. Shocking (but predictable).

The third item involves Chris Crocker, the gay man who defended Britney Spears in a tearful YouTube video. Crocker has become the latest celeb of the moment and as so often happens, he has become the focus of mean spirited and malicious comments...comments which clearly seek to use the Crocker situation to push a variety of ideological beliefs.

Most recently, Crocker took issue with a Fox News segment...one which he felt was nothing more than a personal attack by the group of reporters. There are those who defend Fox News, stating that Crocker sought the attention and therefore needs to deal with the consequences...and there are those who feel the Fox segment was homophobic. The following are an example of some of the most heinous comments in response to this latest Crocker video clip.

Clearly ur the most gay and stupid person in the world, why do u wear make-up? Are u a guy who think he's a girl, Or are just a dumb dumb, + UR SO F****D UP! Put a dildo in ur ass a gun in ur mouth and shoot urself!

what a friggin weirdo! I swear if i ever see this person face to face i will kick his/her ass!

hahaha your are sick!!! please do us a favor die soon before someone kill you for good!!!

BTW, If you WERE MORE A WOMAN you wouldnt cry like the little bitch that you are. people get made fun of, deal with it, thats what drives the world.

The final item involves the immigration debate and the belief that the GOP stands to see the gains they made with Hispanic voters under George Bush evaporate in response to perceived prejudice against Mexicans. The two poles of the immigration argument are miles apart. On the one hand, there are those who favor the deportation of all illegal's and the sealing of our border with Mexico. Then there are those who take the opposite view...the one which views the issue as a matter of basic rights and proposes that all illegal's be granted amnesty and that the U.S. make it much easier for Mexicans to immigrate.

Sept. 24, 2007 issue - Lionel Sosa has long been one of the Republicans' most potent weapons come election time. A Hispanic marketing guru, he's crafted successful ad campaigns for presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush aimed at drawing more Latinos into the GOP fold.

But Sosa, who last worked for Bush in 2004, has also been dismayed by the way many GOP candidates have handled the illegal-immigration issue, advocating policies like building a border wall and employing rhetoric that he says is venomous and xenophobic: "It's just an exaggerated, unfriendly position that needlessly turns away Latinos."

Unlike the Democrats, all the Republican presidential candidates, except Sen. John McCain, declined to participate in a debate on the Spanish-language channel Univision, possibly to avoid hostile immigration questioning (the network says it's trying to reschedule). They also ditched conventions earlier this year held by high-profile groups like the National Council of La Raza and NALEO.

Among Latino evangelicals, the portrait's just as bleak. They make up a growing portion of the Hispanic electorate and are twice as likely as Latino Catholics to identify with the GOP, according to Pew Research Center surveys. Yet "right now, the nativist and xenophobic constituency is in charge of the Republican Party," says the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the evangelical National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "That's a party the Hispanic-American voter cannot support."

Quite frankly, all of these stories are related...related in their evidence of a growing climate of black and white...the need to view all situations and issues with a certainty which cannot be justified or sustained...a certainty born of bias but doggedly disguised as unencumbered eRudytion.

It's a need to determine which race has suffered more from discrimination such that we seemingly need to conclude whether one race has been more aggrieved. What can be achieved in arguing that the white male is the new black male? What is the goal and where and when does it end?

It's the need to prove that the war in Iraq is about the freedom and liberty promised by democracy such that success must and will include the transformation of the world into an image of our liking.

It's the need to characterize civility and a commitment to peace as a gender driven dynamic such that the world cannot function appropriately if one gender holds more power than the other.

It's the need to refute the potential of women of Islam as advocates for peace by defining their religion as evil and thereby associating them with acts of terrorism...all designed to lead one to the tortured conclusion that their annihilation may well be justified.

It's the need to report the news through ideological filters such that news is little more than packaged rhetoric meant to bolster network ratings and define reality. Its a public which seems all too receptive to believing that the news is either black or white...happily stepping over our own responsibility to demand that all news be factual...and doing so with an ill-conceived notion that all will be well if we can only succeed in painting a map of the United States red or blue.

It's the need to identify sexual orientation as the defining moral issue confronting the nation such that individuals like Chris Crocker become lightning rods for the bias and prejudice which seeks to unleash its ugliness by finding its way to the much sought after path of least resistance.

It's the need to vilify Mexicans as a force for the undermining of our cultural identity...all the while ignoring our history as an agglomeration of countless cultural influences...influences which were once thought to be a noble trait and a defining part of our charmed legacy.

It's the willingness of politicians to close their eyes to those walking in the back door because they long ago opened the front door to all those willing to foster and fund their political aspirations.

It's embracing all that is wrong with the construct which posits that the absence of love must be accompanied by the emergence of hate...both in our personal lives and universally in all things that we deem to defy the lazy and illogical labels of black or white.

In a world where proponents of a higher being...a divine creator...prevail...and willfully espouse the inability of science to extricate the intricacies of god's grand design...we willingly bear witness to the audacity which so arrogantly and arbitrarily seeks to attach our own vituperate views to that which we deem to be unacceptably different.

Either we accept the infinite grayness that permeates our perceptive proclivities or we continue down the path of painting ourselves into the dark corners and blinding back rooms which come with an insistence upon the advancement of ideation that is little more than two dimensional delusion.

Unless the battle for black and white gives way to judicious gradations, the red blood which gives each of us life will undoubtedly be the last vague vestige upon the canvas which was intended to represent the enduring achievements of our shared humanity. That's a legacy we can preclude...that's a legacy to lament.

Tagged as: Affirmative Action, Border Security, Chris Crocker, Duke Lacrosse, Emmy Awards, FCC, Fox Network, Homophobia, Immigration, Islam, LGBT, Sally Fields, Stanley Kurtz

Daniel DiRito | September 17, 2007 | 10:32 AM | link | Comments (1)
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September 15, 2007

Real Time With Bill Maher: Chuck Hagel genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Video-Philes

Bill Maher spoke with Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska last night. During the appearance, Hagel offered perhaps his most open criticism of the Bush administration, the Republican party, and the failed war in Iraq.

Hagel's remarks were a refreshing deviation from the standard GOP talking points and some may feel Hagel is still considering a rumored run as the vice presidential candidate with Mayor Mike Bloomberg. While that seems doubtful, Hagel certainly has positioned himself for a break with the party.

Hagel closes by calling the war in Iraq the biggest foreign policy blunder in history...stating that the U.S. has and will pay a high price for the terrible mistake.

Tagged as: Bill Maher, Bush administration, Chuck Hagel, GOP, Iraq

Daniel DiRito | September 15, 2007 | 10:02 AM | link | Comments (0)
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September 12, 2007

Queens, Christ, & Constitutions: An Existential Elegy genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Polispeak

Existential Angst

Not long ago Miss South Carolina botched her answer to a question in the Miss Teen USA pageant...a move that sent millions of viewers racing to watch her tortured response on YouTube and made her the unfortunate butt of numerous jokes offered by countless comedians. The question referred to the fact that some 20 percent of Americans cannot find the United States on a map...a rather staggering statistic.

A new survey points to another area of deficiency in the knowledge base of the American public; this one with regard to our understanding of the Constitution. Some may contend it is simply a reflection of differing interpretations...a seemingly valid, though problematic possibility which I will endeavor to address.

The survey results lead one to ask if a trend is emerging and if we can identify the factors precipitating this apparent lapse in acuity. Before exploring the possibilities, or lack thereof, take a look at the following excerpts from the survey.

From The First Amendment Center:

WASHINGTON — Sixty-five percent of Americans believe that the nation's founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the “State of the First Amendment 2007" national survey released today by the First Amendment Center.

Just 56% believe that the freedom to worship as one chooses extends to all religious groups, regardless of how extreme — down 16 points from 72% in 2000.

58% of Americans would prevent protests during a funeral procession, even on public streets and sidewalks; and 74% would prevent public school students from wearing a T-shirt with a slogan that might offend others.

25% said “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees," well below the 49% recorded in the 2002 survey that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but up from 18% in 2006.

“Americans clearly have mixed views of what First Amendment freedoms are and to whom they should fully apply," said Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. “To me the results of this year’s survey endorse the idea of more and better education for young people — our nation’s future leaders — about our basic freedoms."

The right to practice one’s own religion was deemed “essential" or “important" by nearly all Americans (97%); as was the right to “speak freely about whatever you want" (98%) and to “assemble, march, protest or petition the government (94%)," Policinski said. “Still, Americans are hard pressed to name the five freedoms included in the First Amendment," he said. Speech is the only one named by a majority of respondents (64%), followed by religion (19%), press and assembly (each 16%) and petition (3%).

First Amendment Center Senior Scholar Charles Haynes: “While the survey shows Americans highly value religious freedom, a significant number support privileging the religion of the majority, especially in public schools. Four decades after the Supreme Court declared state-sponsored religious practices unconstitutional in public schools, 58% of respondents support teacher-led prayers and 43% favor school holiday programs that are entirely Christian. Moreover, 50% would allow schools to teach the Bible as a factual text in a history class.

“The strong support for official recognition of the majority faith appears to be grounded in a belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, in spite of the fact that the Constitution nowhere mentions God or Christianity. Of course, people define "Christian nation" in various ways — ranging from a nation that reflects Christian values to a nation where the government favors the Christian faith. But almost one-third of respondents appear to believe that the religious views of the majority should rule: 28% would deny freedom to worship to any group that the majority considers ‘extreme or on the fringe.’"

A third think the press has too much freedom and 60-plus percent believe the press is biased in its reporting or, worse, falsifies or makes up stories.

The data tend to mirror the recent rise in the rhetoric and the rancor surrounding religion in the political sphere and the expanded focus upon social issues...a focus which has frequently been derived from religious doctrine (primarily the Bible).

Unfortunately, this has led to an erroneous belief that legislation ought to be predicated upon that premise. The fact the Karl Rove and the GOP have sought to exploit this gaffe has only exacerbated the misconception and the divisive vitriol it promotes.

Let me be clear...people have the right to support the legislation they favor...which is as it should be. However, said legislation mustn't impinge upon constitutionally granted rights; otherwise our judicial system exists and is intended to intervene to prevent such overreach (a function which has all too often been falsely defined as judicial activism). Beyond this fundamental legislative construct, voters can also attempt to alter the constitution.

Sadly, the political premise of laissez-faire has been circumvented by those who would seek to impose one set of theological beliefs above all others...an action undoubtedly in conflict with the intent of the Constitution. Clearly, the document seeks to remain neutral in this regard so as to allow for the desired freedoms our forefathers sought...including the freedom to hold one's chosen religious beliefs without interference or imposition from the state. That delicately nuanced balance appears to be in jeopardy...and the survey seems to affirm an expanding threat.

At first blush, one might be inclined to scratch one's head at the inaccuracies found in the respondent opinions; however, when one considers that a fifth of Americans can't even identify their nation on a map, the lack of constitutional proficiency seems a logical extension of an unsettling trend.

As America seeks to install democratic values in the Middle East, the erosion taking place on the home front seems a stark contradiction, as well as a tacit endorsement of similar actions on the part of those we view to be adversaries. The fact that others embrace a theological bent we may justifiably find to be fully unacceptable points out the precarious nature of our dilemma.

Understanding the degree to which we should act to address the unsavory aspects of these conflicting ideologies is a complex predicament. We would be well advised to avoid the wholesale negation of other non-threatening beliefs which reside under the same basic theological umbrella of our antagonists...beliefs we may not affirm but cannot in good conscience...and in keeping with our constitutional values...seek to extinguish. It is difficult to imagine we can succeed in discerning this fine line of distinction if we can't do as well with regards to our own actions here at home.

When one imagines a large number of constitutionally illiterate Americans attentively watching a beauty pageant finalist failing to speak coherently about basic issues of geography and education in a country where 20 percent of us can't identify our nation on a map, the concept of engaging in an effort to export our democratic values seems an epic existential exercise. Consequently, I have my suspicions that the current ideological conflicts we face at home and abroad may represent mankind's sempiternal challenge.

Tagged as: Bible, Christianity, Existentialism, First Amendment Center, Iraq, Islam, Miss Teen USA, Religion, U.S. Constitution

Daniel DiRito | September 12, 2007 | 2:18 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Does Pakistan Instruct Us In The War On Terror? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Pakistan

The United States, in it's efforts to combat terrorism under the Bush administration, has chosen military intervention as its preferred approach...an approach which successfully toppled anti-American regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. In my opinion, the larger objective remains elusive...that being changing the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of those nations which have the potential to foster further terrorist activities.

Prior to 9/11, Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden was a welcome inhabitant who freely organized and ran terrorist camps which espoused the rejection of the West and in particular, the United States. Today, many believe that bin Laden has set up shop in Pakistan despite the fact that the country is under the control of U.S. ally, Pervez Musharraf. Notwithstanding, his pro-western stance has made him an unpopular figure...so much so that recent polling shows him trailing Osama bin Laden by a significant margin.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf -- a key U.S. ally -- is less popular in his own country than al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a poll of Pakistanis conducted last month by an anti-terrorism organization.

Additionally, nearly three-fourths of poll respondents said they oppose U.S. military action against al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, according to results from the poll conducted by the independent polling organization Terror Free Tomorrow.

"We have conducted 23 polls all over the Muslim world, and this is the most disturbing one we have conducted," said Ken Ballen, the group's head. "Pakistan is the one Muslim nation that has nuclear weapons, and the people who want to use them against us -- like the Taliban and al Qaeda -- are more popular there than our allies like Musharraf."

According to poll results, bin Laden has a 46 percent approval rating. Musharraf's support is 38 percent. U.S. President George W. Bush's approval: 9 percent.

Asked their opinion on the real purpose of the U.S.-led war on terror, 66 percent of poll respondents said they believe the United States is acting against Islam or has anti-Muslim motivation. Others refused to answer the question or said they did not know.

"We failed in winning hearts and minds in Pakistan," Ballen told CNN. "In fact, only 4 percent said we had a good motivation in the war on terrorism."

After American relief efforts following the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan's Kashmir region, 46 percent of Pakistanis had a positive opinion of the United States, according to the poll. But as of last month, only 19 percent reported a favorable opinion.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda has a 43 percent approval rate; the Taliban has a 38 percent approval rate; and local radical extremist groups had an approval rating between 37 percent to 49 percent.

There were a few bright spots in the poll results, however. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto -- a relatively moderate and progressive figure, as well as a woman -- had a 63 percent approval rating.

Seventy-five percent of poll respondents said suicide bombings are rarely or never justified.

The comfort the United States garners from Musharraf's hold on power in Pakistan is understandable. However, his ability to keep the lid on extremists and maintain his position are both in question...a reality which leads one to wonder if our current strategy to combat terrorism can succeed. The fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons only exacerbates our need to get it right. How that is accomplished should be a policy priority.

What we should do in Pakistan cannot be determined absent a review of the lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, our experience in those nations reveals a frightening pattern which cannot be ignored. With Afghanistan and Iraq, the forces for extremism continue to undermine our efforts to reconstitute regimes friendly to the United States.

At the same time, the goal of democratizing these nations may well enable the election of governments hostile to the United States. Were that to happen, one would have to question the strategy and the means to achieving our objective...that being an end to anti-American extremism which is intent upon executing terrorist strikes in the United States.

No where is this dilemma more evident than in Pakistan...and given its nuclear capacity...no where is the outcome more critical. In addition to gleaning lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq, history tells us of the risks of supporting unpopular regimes. Our experience in Iran during the 1970's offers a clear example...as well as an ominous warning. At the time, the United States backed the Shah of Iran and his pro-western objectives. Unfortunately, he was eventually unseated and replaced with a radical Islamic regime hostile towards the West and particularly the United States.

Musharraf's tenuous grip on Pakistan is frighteningly familiar...and it highlights the potential for a similar foreign policy gaffe. A number of foreign policy experts see a silver lining in the Musharraf situation...one which rests in the fact that those in the best position to challenge the existing regime politically are generally viewed as moderates. While I accept that assessment, I see time as our enemy.

Here's the equation. The longer Musharraf holds power against the will of the populace (meaning he continues to postpone democratic elections), the more likely extremist groups will gain strength. The optimism resulting from Musharraf's discussions to share power with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto may seem valid on the surface but there is a possibility that it will push more Pakistani's into extremist camps as the compromise may well be viewed as unacceptable and an indication that Musharraf's opponents have also sold out to U.S. pressure and Western interests.

Further tempering this optimism is Musharraf's recent deportation of his foe, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif...a move made in opposition to the ruling of the Supreme Court to lift his exile...and a move which may only heighten the emerging skepticism and lead to a strengthening of radical extremists and their anti-American rhetoric.

The bottom line is that there is great risk attached to our ongoing support of Musharraf...despite his apparent cooperation in combating terrorism and the hopes that a shared power arrangement will put an end to his sliding popularity. If the Pakistani's determine that their government (either the one that currently exists or one which results from an apparent compromise) is nothing more than a fabrication intended to further American objectives, they may well be pushed into the open arms of extremists just as we witnessed in Iran.

While the United States may possess the military might to continue to confront hostile regimes, at some point the ground swell of animosity and radical ideology aimed at vilifying the West and the United States may well push us into a position similar to Israel...one that describes us as a mortal enemy to a majority of the nations of the Middle East and one that ends our still salvageable role as an honest broker for peace in the region. If this happens, I fear we can expect to see terrorism becoming a common and chronic occurrence in the homeland.

Lastly, the current strategic divide in the United States may well be a battle of straw man arguments. There is little reason to believe that our Iraq dilemma and the larger war on terror can or will be solved by the current interventionist strategy or the proposed alternative of full withdrawal. While a case can and should be made to discontinue the status quo, an alternative which will address the core issue of anti-American sentiment has yet to be identified. Those who seek to argue otherwise would be well advised to look at the realities found in Pakistan.

Whether it be hands on in Afghanistan and Iraq or hands off in Pakistan, the tide towards extremism has yet to be abated. Perhaps its time to set aside the rhetoric and refocus?

Tagged as: Afghanistan, Benazir Bhutto, George W. Bush, Iraq, Nawaz Sharif, Neoconservatism, Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, Terrorism, War On Terror

Daniel DiRito | September 12, 2007 | 9:48 AM | link | Comments (0)
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September 11, 2007

Understanding The Bush Failures: Ask Colin Powell genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Colin Powell

Before George Bush was elected in 2,000, my Republican friends were touting the potential of Colin Powell joining the Bush team...a move they felt overwhelmingly amplified their desire to support George Bush. After the election and the Cabinet appointments, there was talk of a "Dream Team"...citing Powell, Rumsfeld, and Rice as the best available athletes...a combination of experience, wisdom, and raw talent.

Nearly seven years later, only Rice remains...and while some still embrace her star potential, many feel she exemplifies the flickering remnants of a light that never reached its potential and the growing shadow that has been cast over what remains of the Bush administration.

For those who so hopefully championed the Bush presidency, there are few answers to explain the twists and turns that brought many of them to this disappointing juncture. For those interested in a candid assessment, Colin Powell, in the latest GQ Magazine, provides some much needed insight.

On affirmative action:

Affirmative action is a concept that is probably not a growth industry. I'm glad it will eventually go away. But when I go to these inner-city neighborhoods, including across the street here in the Washington area, you can’t tell me these kids have the same opportunity that other kids have or that my kids have. Is it because they're black that these kids are at a disadvantage? To some extent no, to some extent yes. We can't deny it. Therefore, to the extent that we still believe it appropriate to provide some way of balancing the legacy of the past, I think we have an obligation to do so.

Powell's view is one I would actually equate with the notion of compassionate conservatism...a practical analysis of the realities on the ground and a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to effecting the necessary change to assure that opportunity is available to all Americans.

On the threat of terrorism:

What is the greatest threat facing us now? People will say it's terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the great threat we are facing?

I would approach this differently, in almost Marshall-like terms. What are the great opportunities out there—ones that we can take advantage of? It should not be just about creating alliances to deal with a guy in a cave in Pakistan. It should be about how do we create institutions that keep the world moving down a path of wealth creation, of increasing respect for human rights, creating democratic institutions, and increasing the efficiency and power of market economies? This is perhaps the most effective way to go after terrorists.

The only thing that can really destroy us is us. We shouldn't do it to ourselves, and we shouldn't use fear for political purposes—scaring people to death so they will vote for you, or scaring people to death so that we create a terror-industrial complex.

Simply stated, Powell rejects the notion of cowboy diplomacy in favor of measured diplomatic and economic efforts to remove the underlying motivations that lead to extremist thoughts and organizations. In essence, give people a dream that can exceed and overcome the desperation which creates fanaticism...hope must exist for terrorism to lose its appeal.

More importantly, Powell recognizes the dangers of a leadership which fosters and foments the fears of voters for political gain. My own experience traveling around the world just after the 2004 election was enlightening. Many Europeans, prior to the 2004 election, had viewed the actions of George Bush as indicative of a zealous president out of touch with his well intentioned constituents.

Following the Bush reelection, the world began to wonder if they no longer understood the American public...wondering if the events of 9/11 had led the inhabitants of the world's only superpower to shed their image as a force for reason and rationality in an already volatile world...electing instead to allow their fears to lead them to the adoption of an aggressive and arbitrary foreign policy.

On closing Guantanamo:

Let's show the world a face of openness and what a democratic system can do. That’s why I want to see Guantánamo closed. It's so harmful to what we stand for. We literally bang ourselves in the head by having that place. What are we doing this to ourselves for? Because we’re worried about the 380 guys there? Bring them here! Give them lawyers and habeas corpus. We can deal with them. We are paying a price when the rest of the world sees an America that seems to be afraid and is not the America they remember.

Powell's views on Guantanamo are simply a further call for the United States to uphold its long established values in the face of challenges to our way of life. If our defense of freedom is to include the denial of the very principles which denote a free society, how can the world embrace our efforts and how can they trust our intentions? Truth be told, our greatest defense has always been our commitment to upholding our way of life...even in the face of adversity.

On the failed Iraq strategy:

I went to the White House and had a private session with him. I told him that we could knock over Saddam’s regime but he needed to understand what we would be faced with once we had done that. It was my “When you break it, you own it" speech. I said that this invasion would tie up the better part of 40 percent of our army for an indefinite period of time. It will be hugely expensive. You will be dealing with this for a long time to come. I said, “Take it to the U.N. See if we can get something from the U.N. that might allow us to avoid this war."

The military presented its plans, and I was secretary of state, so it wasn’t really my role, but I said it didn’t seem to me that the plans called for enough force to impose our will or enough troops to deal with the problems that might come up.

They were right for the first part, the capture of Baghdad. And I never really had any question about the force needed for that. My question had been, “Have you guys really thought through the aftermath?" That's what we hadn't done. That was the big mistake. Don had written a list of the worst things that could happen, but we didn't do the contingency planning on what we would do about it. So we watched those buildings get burned down, and nobody told the divisions, “Hey, go in there and declare martial law and whack a few people and it will stop."

On the troop surge:

You can surge all of the American troops you want, but they can't stop this. Suppose I'm a battalion commander. My troops ask, “What do I do today, boss?" “Let's go fight the Shia militias!" “What do I do tomorrow?" “Let's go fight the Sunni insurgents!" “What do I do the day after tomorrow?" “Let's go chase Al Qaeda!" “What do we do the day after that?" “We're going to guard streets!" Our kids are fantastic. But this is not sustainable. Our surge can work only with an Iraqi political and military surge.

On nation building and exporting democracy:

Yes. I can give you a lesson on Jeffersonian democracy that will bring tears to your eyes, but when I was doing business as the secretary of state, the word I used was reform, less so than democracy. When I dealt with the Arab world, we had several conferences on reform. The word democracy frightened them. As a Saudi leader said to me, “Colin, please, give us a break. Do you really want to see Jeffersonian democracy in Saudi Arabia? Do you know what would happen? Fundamentalists would win, and there wouldn't be any more elections." President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt would say the same thing. They all were saying, “Take a look at our history and where we are. You can talk to us about reform, but don't tell us to become Jeffersonian democracies tomorrow. It's not possible."

We have a tendency to lecture and perhaps not think things through. We have to be careful what we wish for. Are we happy with the democracy that Hamas gave us? There are some places that are not ready for the kind of democracy we find so attractive for ourselves. They are not culturally ready for it, they are not historically ready for it, and they don't have the needed institutions.

On salvaging America's image:

We should remember what that image was, back after World War II. It was the image of a generous country that sought not to impose its will on other countries or even to impose its values. But it showed the way, and it helped other countries, and it opened its doors to people—visitors and refugees and immigrants.

That's the image we have to portray to the rest of the world: kind, generous, a nation of nations, touched by every nation, and we touch every nation in return. That's what people still want to believe about us. They still want to come here. We've lost a bit of the image, but we haven't lost the reality yet. And we can fix the image by reflecting a welcoming attitude—and by not taking counsel of our fears and scaring ourselves to death that everybody coming in is going to blow up something. It ain't the case.

Suffice it to say that the Iraq war and our foreign policy strategy were undoubtedly the primary reason for Powell's exit from the administration. The Bush administration saw the 2004 election as evidence of a new voter mentality...one fully aligned with the neocon view that we cease massaging the world towards democratic values and begin the work of muscling those who refuse to embrace it.

Clearly, Powell understands that power can mimic persuasion but it cannot transform despair or dissent into democracy. In reality, persuasion is the most effective means to power...and the one which requires the least effort to maintain.

Conversely, power obtained with the barrel of a gun is only persuasive so long as the gun remains in place. Diplomatic and economic persuasion, on the other hand, are eventually self-perpetuating and they effect change at the key level...the general population...and the effort needed will therefore diminish over time. In the end, power wains; but persuasion sustains.

Our efforts to end terrorism must not only involve a strong defense and a thoughtful pursuit of the perpetrators; it must include the removal of the conditions which enhance its appeal. Further, it is an uninformed oversimplification to equate terrorism with Islam. Islam isn't inherently evil; those who seek to use it as the vehicle with which to promote their agenda are evil. Therefore, it is essential that we use caution and avoid generalizations which could lead others to embrace radicalized interpretations.

In fact, history tells us that all religions can be hijacked to further radical agendas. Halting that process is rarely achieved by condemning the religion; rather it is imperative that the evildoers be isolated from their religion and those who practice it appropriately, that those who embrace the legitimate precepts of said religion receive assurances that they are not at risk and subject to condemnation, and that the evil interlopers be identified, exposed, and extinguished. Its a divide and conquer equation; not the Bush administration's singular view that conquest connotes capitulation.

In the final analysis, it has taken the Bush administration nearly three years to realize that most of the warnings offered by Colin Powell were accurate assessments. Unfortunately, that will never be voiced, and in the interim the American public has received a litany of revised justifications and shifting strategic objectives too disjointed to rationalize and too married to partisan politics to prevail.

Worse yet, during that time, the image of the United States has been unnecessarily tarnished, extremists have been emboldened by our actions, and we have yet to achieve an ideological turning point in those regions which foster terrorism. The battle is not yet lost, but precious talent, time, trust, and troops have been lost in the Bush administration's languor of lordliness.

Tagged as: Colin Powell, Democracy, Diplomacy, George W. Bush, GQ, Guantanamo, Iraq, Islamic extremism, Nation Building, Terrorism

Daniel DiRito | September 11, 2007 | 10:08 AM | link | Comments (0)
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September 10, 2007

Is The President's Message In The Petraeus Report? genre: Just Jihad & Snapshot Thoughts & Tongue-In-Cheek

There are countless takes on the Petraeus report and the degree to which the Bush administration may have influenced or manipulated the content.

Generally speaking, it appears that the President, through the report and its proposed troop reductions, may have succeeded in buying the support of enough Republican Senators to insure that the Democrats cannot or will not attempt to impose a deadline for troop withdrawals.

It certainly appears that the President intends to hand off the mess in Iraq...and therefore force his successor to bring the war to a conclusion. Presumably, the President has come to two conclusions. One, the war cannot be won before the end of his term...and two, he will not be the one to concede that the effort is futile and seek an exit strategy.

One cannot underestimate the strategic acumen of the Bush administration...regardless of one's chosen ideological alignment. Unfortunately, I can't help but wonder whether this latest effort is anything more than a last ditch effort to rescue, or at least sufficiently blur the certainty by which historians will be able to characterize the Bush legacy.

If the President's apologists are able to argue that his successor shifted strategies before his "bold" vision was able to come to fruition, they may be able to deflect some of the negative evaluations and attributions which appear to be headed his way.

Given the abundance of analysis that has already been disseminated today, I decided to provide the following graphic in an attempt to offer my own sarcastic summarization of the closing strategy and the parting message of the President. Feel free to let me know if you see an alternate message or if it reads the same to you.

Inside The Numbers title=

Tagged as: David Petraeus, George W. Bush, Iraq, Legacy, Nation Building, Troop Surge

Daniel DiRito | September 10, 2007 | 8:09 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 8, 2007

Bush To Lay Out Vision: U.S. To Relive Nightmare? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak

Iraq And Vietnam

Never let it be said that George Bush isn't a man of vision...unfortunately his visions have become a virtual nightmare for a majority of Americans. The similarities between Iraq and Vietnam are eerily highlighted by the overlay of one nations map upon the other. Regardless, the President intends to offer a national address in the coming week to provide his latest vision for Iraq...a new segment in a never ending saga of disjointed vignettes designed to buy the next installment of time in a war without end.

With each new address, the horizon for success is reported to lie just around the corner...a calculation that requesting much more than a six month increment is simply untenable.

SYDNEY (Reuters) - President George W. Bush will address a war-weary American public next week to "lay out a vision" for the U.S. role in Iraq as he tries to sell his strategy in the wake of a crucial report to Congress.

"I will discuss the changes our strategy has brought to Iraq. I will lay out a vision for future involvement in Iraq -- one that I believe the American people and their elected leaders of both parties can support."

But he is unlikely to unveil a major shift in strategy any time soon in a war that has dragged on for more than four years, claiming the lives of more than 3,700 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

A simple review of prior addresses, prior strategies, and prior assessments should give the viewer little reason for encouragement. Frankly, just looking at the statements offered about the training of Iraqi security forces would lead one to conclude that the Iraqi forces have been trained and retrained at least three or four times. Unfortunately, following each report of combat ready brigades comes the news that they weren't actually...well...combat ready. In fact, one of the most recent assessments suggested that it may be necessary to dismantle the entire Iraqi police force and begin from scratch.

Frustrating as it may be, one must give the President credit for succeeding in buying more time from a skeptical public and a Democratically controlled Congress. I've argued previously that this success comes primarily from a natural voter resistance to admitting one's efforts may have failed...the "we lost" aversion, if you will. While I understand the instinct, Americans ought to review the costs of embracing the notion of victory in the face of ongoing failure.

Time and again, the Vietnam experience is referenced...often serving as justification for each side of what seems to be a perpetually circular argument. In reality, as the war in Vietnam wore on, then President Richard Nixon also offered his evolving visions...visions that first offered the American public "victory with honor" only to be followed by the revised mantra of "peace with honor". In the time it took to craft palatable words for withdrawal, thousands more gave their lives. Reality should tell us that the price for that foolish pride was far greater than the psychic return.

The recent remarks of one Vietnam veteran attest to the hollowness of the rhetoric which was utilized at the end of our far too lengthy involvement. In explaining his experience at the conclusion of the Vietnam war to my father, he recalls two important realities. One, the American public received the contrived and manufactured "honorable" out they needed to put the war behind them...and two, many of our Vietnam veterans spent years living as virtual pariahs since they served to remind the American public of the actual reality.

In fact, his view on the end of the Vietnam war is rather poignant...everyone got what they needed...except those who had the misfortune to have lived the hell of Vietnam. In sweeping the war under the proverbially rug, those who served had to be pushed away as well. Strange as it may sound, he felt that many Americans...in a classic case of transference...blamed those who fought in the war for its failure.

As the President ponders his legacy and hopes it will include a favorable view of his quixotic efforts to democratize the Middle East, there is a greater likelihood that history will see it as little more than a repetition of the quagmire known as the Vietnam era...a legacy littered with the damaged lives of honorable and valiant soldiers who did their part while those at home indulged their appalling propensity for false pride.

American's must decide if the President's vision is a dream or a nightmare. Perhaps that task can be hastened if we take the time to ponder the differences between vision and bravado...as well as the distinctions between valor and vanity?

Tagged as: George W. Bush, Iraq, Middle East, Nation Building, Richard Nixon, Troop Surge, Vietnam

Daniel DiRito | September 8, 2007 | 9:29 AM | link | Comments (0)
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September 7, 2007

Two Holes In The Head Count As One Per The Bush genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Snapshot Thoughts & Tongue-In-Cheek

As we wait with bated breath for the Petraeus report on the troop surge and progress in Iraq, the Bush administration appears to be busy redefining the manner in which the facts are gathered. If it weren't so clearly true, it may well be unfathomable...but then when it comes to George Bush...anything seems to be possible.

From The New York Times (Paul Krugman):

Here's what will definitely happen when Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress next week: he'll assert that the surge has reduced violence in Iraq — as long as you don’t count Sunnis killed by Sunnis, Shiites killed by Shiites, Iraqis killed by car bombs and people shot in the front of the head.

Apparently, the Pentagon has a double super secret formula that it uses to distinguish sectarian killings (bad) from other deaths (not important); according to press reports, all deaths from car bombs are excluded, and one intelligence analyst told The Washington Post that “if a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian. If it went through the front, it's criminal." So the number of dead is down, as long as you only count certain kinds of dead people.

And six or seven months from now it will be the same thing all over again. Mr. Bush will stage another photo op at Camp Cupcake, the Marine nickname for the giant air base he never left on his recent visit to Iraq. The administration will move the goal posts again, and the military will come up with new ways to cook the books and claim success.

___________________________________________________

I'm not sure how a civilized country viewed as the singular superpower in the world has become a banana republic...but I have my suspicions (*cough-Bush-cough*). When confronted with inane absurdity, I often turn to silly humor...it seems to take the sting out of the virtual vivisection of rationality.

The following graphic is my effort to employ a comedic break to soothe this latest assault on our basic American sensibilities...the ones which used to be evidenced in our elected officials...the ones which George Bush seems to find irrelevant.

Come to think of it...we need this new casualty calculation like we need a hole in the head.

Two Holes In The Head

Tagged as: Casualty Counts, David Petraeus, George W. Bush, Iraq, Sectarian Violence, Troop Surge

Daniel DiRito | September 7, 2007 | 2:01 PM | link | Comments (5)
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September 4, 2007

Keith Olbermann Special Comment On Bush & Iraq genre: Just Jihad & Video-Philes

Another scathing indictment of the President and his failed policy in Iraq. Olbermann uses words taken directly from the President's latest biography to point out the deceit, the contradictions, and the degree to which being right has completely overwhelmed this President's ability to facilitate the best interests of the country.

Olbermann notes that those who are valiantly serving in the military are being used as pawns in the President's manipulations to force his misguided will upon his successor and the American people.

Olbermann again calls for the resignation or impeachment of the President...suggesting that the country can ill-afford to allow the President to "play out" his remaining 500 days in office.

H/T to Hoffmania for the video

Tagged as: George W. Bush, Impeachment, Iraq, Keith Olbermann, Special Comment, U.S. Military

Daniel DiRito | September 4, 2007 | 11:38 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 3, 2007

Iraq: The Fine Line Between Casualty And Suicide genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Defining Suicide

Recently, there has been a significant amount of debate as to the meaning of U.S. troop casualties in Iraq. The premise behind this dialogue is an attempt to gauge the success or failure of the Bush administration's troop surge as well as the overall success or failure of our efforts to bring stability and security to Iraq.

The discussion has included not only the total number of U.S. fatalities, but also an understanding of the circumstances which have led to those casualties. Casualties that cannot be attributed to combat have been removed from the lists of some who have commented on the topic. Specifically, troops killed in helicopter crashes which were not the result of combat have been removed from some of the lists of U.S. casualties. Therefore, the inclusion of the high number of dead which often result from such crashes can significantly alter the interpretation.

As I read and sifted through this information looking for answers, it occurred to me that before I offered any hypothesis, I should objectively explore the validity of the many arguments being brought forward. Clearly, it is only natural for Americans to look for ways to gauge the success of the war. At the same time, one has to wonder what can actually be gleaned from this troop death data...and what other data might be equally relevant to drawing any meaningful conclusions.

If the war were taking place on U.S. soil, I'm certain that our civilian casualties would merit the same attention as our troop fatalities. I believe this to be true in light of the fact that this war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan...as well as the war on terror...all resulted from the civilian casualties of the 9/11 terror attacks. It's important to realize that the deaths of just under 3,000 civilians led to these three wars. One can't help but wonder how many deaths we should accept in order to address these wrongful deaths. Further, which deaths warrant consideration...those of U.S. troops...those of Iraqi civilians...or simply each and every one?

It's always dangerous to attempt to place a value on human life...and while my thoughts are not intended to do so; that will happen nonetheless. Whether that is fair will need to be determined by each reader. The following is a snapshot of some of the relevant numbers:

Total U.S. Troop deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq: 4,000+ (From antiwar.com)

Total Iraqi civilian deaths: 70,000+ (From IBC)

Total Iraqi civilian deaths: 650,000+ (From Lancet as of June 2006)

U.S. Troop combat casualties in August: 57 (From McClatchy News)

Iraqi civilian casualties in August: 1,750+ (From newsday.com)

Much of the recent news in the United States has focused upon the declining number of U.S. troop casualties...which of course leads the pundits to offer their own assessments of the surge and it's success or failure. While there is no contesting that the numbers show a reduction in American troop deaths since the surge began, the essential question is how to interpret these numbers...and what other numbers should matter?

The following two graphs are from two different articles and they demonstrate different approaches to the meaning of the numbers. The top graph is from McClatchy and it seems to focus upon the fact that troop deaths have significantly declined since the insertion of the added troops. The lower graph is from The Washington Monthly and it seems to be focused upon drawing comparisons between troop casualties in 2006 versus 2007.

The written excerpts which follow the graphs are from the McClatchy article and they offer insight into the many ways in which the data is being interpreted.

McClatchy vs. The Washington Monthly

WASHINGTON — American combat deaths in Iraq have dropped by half in the three months since the buildup of 28,000 additional U.S. troops reached full strength, surprising analysts and dividing them as to why.

Military officials and observers are wondering whether the lower U.S. casualties are a sign of success or an indication that insurgents and militiamen simply chose a different battlefield when the Americans mounted their offensive in Iraq's capital.

"Nobody here is doing cartwheels yet," said one senior military official at the Pentagon, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.

One British analyst, using the example of the British drawdown of forces in southern Iraq, suggested that the lower numbers may mean that American troops are irrelevant to the many conflicts racking Iraq: ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad, massive bombings of religious minorities by Sunni Muslim extremists in northern Iraq and Shiite-on-Shiite-Muslim violence in southern Iraq.

Instead, he suggested, Iraq’s armed factions and politicians already are thinking beyond the troop buildup.

Supporters of the troop increase say the lower casualty figures show that the larger number of troops and the counterinsurgency approach of Gen. David Petraeus, the latest U.S. commander in Iraq, have turned Iraqi citizens against armed groups, putting them on the run and fracturing them.

"The population is progressively turning to coalition and Iraqi forces and making a positive difference in bringing security to their towns, villages and neighborhoods. They are pointing out extremist leaders, identifying caches and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and asking to be a part of the legitimate Iraqi security force," Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 commander, said last month.

Others, however, noted that while U.S. combat deaths have dropped, deaths among Iraqi civilians have remained constant and the "ethnic cleansing" — the street-by-street homogenization — of Baghdad's neighborhoods has continued almost unabated.

As readers can see from the graphs and the excerpts, it is possible to spin the numbers in many ways depending upon one's particular bias. Notwithstanding, I believe some solid conclusions can be drawn.

First, adding troops to specific regions has been proven to be successful...so long as those troops remain. The problem is that we have shifted troops from hot spot to hot spot in what Senator McCain has called a failed game of "whack-a-mole"...a process of chasing the insurgents and the sectarian violence from area to area but never actually bringing it to an end.

To fully understand this phenomenon, one must look at the inability of the Iraqi security forces to step in and hold those areas where the United States has been able to increase security and reduce violence. By most accounts, not only are the Iraqi forces inferior and unable to assume responsibility, there are valid concerns that these forces have been infiltrated by sectarian groups and militias which have their own goals and objectives...many times not consistent with the U.S. plan. In fact, some are suggesting that the Iraqi police force is so dysfunctional that it should be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up. That offers little hope for a timely solution.

Beyond this, when attempting to project the future, one must look at the historical data. During the Hussein regime, the Sunni controlled government was viewed by many to be heavy handed and brutal in policing the country...but they did succeed in maintaining a civil society (many Iraqi's affirm this reality while excepting the well documented sectarian abuses that existed).

In looking at this data, one can argue that there are only a limited number of options which can control the long standing sectarian differences. First, one of the sectarian group could achieve dominance over the others...a process which would likely involve a further escalation of the already existing civil war. Another would be a much larger U.S. presence...a presence which shifted from a military endeavor into a police operation during this latest troop surge and which would need to do so on an even more accelerated basis.

The last...and the most unlikely...would be for the combatants to reach some peaceful arrangement which would put an end to the centuries old animosities. This would not only require political compromise which has yet to be demonstrated; it would have to overcome internal sectarian, tribal, and militia power struggles as well as the outside influences of regional players who believe they have a stake in these sectarian struggles.

What this points out is that the troop surge isn't a military undertaking; rather it is the utilizing of American troops to police a nation which has failed to develop a security force that can serve such a purpose. In essence, the United States has logically been forced to assume the role previously held by those security forces who were loyal to Saddam Hussein. How that function can ever be transferred to the Iraqis remains uncertain...because there is no unified Iraq and no indication that one can be achieved.

This brings us back to casualties and how to understand their meaning. First, the graph provided by The Washington Monthly likely reflects the shifting from a military strategy to one which can be equated with police enforcement (troops remain stationed in communities as opposed to conducting military strikes from the safety of fortified bases)...a shift which one would expect to result in higher troop deaths in 2007 than those in 2006.

Second, the McClatchy graph likely reflects the fact that the troop surge was focused upon Baghdad...the largest population center in Iraq...which no doubt pushed insurgents to the lesser populated areas and limited their ability to target the heaviest area of U.S. troop traffic and activity. This makes sense when one understands the nature of the enemy we face.

Let me explain. Since the inception of the war on terror, it has been clear that our enemy hasn't functioned as a convention military operation...hence the constant reference to our difficulty in confronting urban guerilla warfare. Until we adopted this new police strategy, we approached the enemy with a military mentality...which allowed the opposition to target U.S. troop activities from clandestine locations within the neighborhoods. Not only did it allow them to be effective (more U.S. troop deaths), it kept the citizenry afraid to speak out since the insurgents controlled the streets. By taking over the streets of Baghdad, we undercut the effectiveness of the enemy....effectively transitioning U.S. troops into a force similar to what the enemy has been since the outset.

Therefore, while the reduced U.S. casualties are a welcomed change, it says little about the overall success and even less about sustaining it into the future. This is best understood by looking at the ongoing Iraqi casualties...numbers which tell us that the sectarian conflict continues and is likely unabated by the new strategy. Again, an explanation is warranted. The following excerpt provides some important data.

From The Seattle Times:

BAGHDAD — Newly released statistics for Iraqi civilian deaths in August reflect the strikingly mixed security picture that has emerged from a gradual six-month increase in U.S. troop strength here: the number of deaths across the country rose by about 20 percent since July, but in the capital itself, the number dropped sharply.

Figures provided by an Interior Ministry official indicated that 2,318 civilians died violently in the country in August, compared with 1,980 in July.

Statistics compiled from Iraqi government sources by Reuters and The Associated Press also showed significant increases, although the precise figures varied. But the figures provided by the Interior Ministry official show a drop in deaths within Baghdad, to 656 in August from 896 in July.

The national rise in mortality is partly a result of the enormous death toll in a truck-bomb attack in August north of Baghdad, outside the areas directly affected by the additional troops. More than 500 members of a small religious minority called the Yazidis died in the Aug. 14 bombing in the north, according to figures collected by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.

As one can see, our new strategy in Baghdad has been effective; reducing the number of civilian deaths in that city. Unfortunately, those reductions were offset by deaths in other regions...regions where insurgents likely relocated upon the increase of troops in Baghdad. If the ultimate solution to the Iraqi dilemma must involve a political solution (which the Bush administration acknowledges; citing the surge as providing breathing room for political resolution), the troop surge cannot be judged effective in that regard in light of the ongoing civilian deaths. Truth be told, the surge did not and cannot address the required political compromises; it can only provide a police presence in the regions it is employed.

Given this information, one comes back to the argument that nationwide security will only be achievable with an even larger U.S. troop force employed as a police presence. Taking that hypothetical forward, there are a number of considerations. At what point in the future could the U.S. police presence cease...at what point would the Iraqi's be prepared to assume that role...and what would have to happen politically to allow that to happen...and what is going to break the centuries old cycle of mistrust and hatred in order to facilitate the dialogue necessary to even make political resolution a reasonably expected possibility?

In the end, the death tolls mount...whether they be U.S. casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties, or casualties in Baghdad and/or the outlying regions. Spin them as you like, but the dynamics needed to bring a halt to all of these deaths doesn't seem to be present in any of the existing strategies. Imagining a strategy which will end the killing of one Iraqi by another Iraqi seems doubtful without having significantly more troops. Imagining those troops can come from within Iraq seems all the more doubtful. That suggests that success in Iraq is only achievable with more U.S. troops...and of course that means more U.S. troop deaths. If that is the only means to a peaceful Iraq, then success for both countries seems to be little more than the perpetration of a semantic sham. That's not fatal; its suicidal.

Tagged as: Baghdad, Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Sectarian Conflict, Troop Deaths, Troop Surge, War Casualties, Whack-a-mole

Daniel DiRito | September 3, 2007 | 12:01 PM | link | Comments (0)
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