July 1, 2007

Kurtz in Circles

So Howie ends his criticism of Ken Silverstein's undercover story on lobbyists by saying:

The reason is that, no matter how good the story, lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects.

And he proceeds to his next subject:

Why do journalists keep making political contributions?

which has this fascinating coda:

The news outlets that don't ban donations seem to regard them as a matter of personal preference, like joining the PTA. But they seriously underestimate the public distrust of journalists, which is only fueled by such practices. Those who work for opinion magazines or are employed as commentators have a stronger case that their views are no secret. But there is still an important distinction between rhetorically supporting a candidate and helping bankroll one.

The scorecard -- 125 of 144 donations to Democrats -- provides fresh ammunition to those who say the press has a liberal tilt. It's hard to argue you don't favor one party when you've just coughed up cash for that party.
So, working undercover to get an accurate news story raises questions. And it's imperative that reporters keep their political positions a secret--that they lie to their readers, by omission, about their political views.

In both cases, not in order to get the readership more information, but to get them less information, all in order to preserve people like Howie in their positions of august authority and cocktail weenie consumption.

June 22, 2007

Occupational Reality

For at least three years, I have been calling attention in comments, and in emails to people who do not have comment sections, that the US is, and has been from the outset, engaged in a policy of permanent occupation in Iraq. This has been clear since the decision was made to build "enduring bases" in Iraq.

As time has past, all the other pretexts have been stripped away by events, and we are left, at this point with nothing more nor less than permanent occupation in support of a puppet government. I have despaired of anybody, in the MSM or in the blogosphere writing clearly about this--or about the severe difficulty involved in ending the US involvement in the occupation because of Iraq's status as a failed state with no national defense capability, surrounded by four states that have reason to have designs on its territory, and who are, in some ways natural enemies.

This is complicated further by the fact that one of those states, Turkey, is a member of NATO, and has legitimate concerns over border security. The positions taken by democratic candidates--the wiggle room in their detailed statements about their plans for Iraq--make it clear that they understand these difficulties, but fear saying so out loud, because of the enormous unpopularity of this catastrophic occupation.

The blathering from the beltway pundits, spouting the FU justification of the week also impedes serious discussion of what is to be done, and is frequently characterized by arm waving that presumes that the US is both sovereign and if not omnipotent, effectively able to impose conditions, like a tripartite division, or the dissolution of the current government or alliance with "good" ex-Baathists. But there is very little written that discusses the reality of the strategic situation.

Last night, over at FDL, swopa outlined these issues in the context of parsing democratic presidential candidates' statements. He describes why these issues pose difficulties for those who want to end the occupation, and what realistically we have to worry about. The US will not be able to withdraw substantial forces without facing these issues, and making clear decisions about what the least horrific outcome is, and how it can be pursued.

This is a debate that is long overdue. I urge people to read that post.

June 19, 2007

It's not just the blogosphere

So everybody reacted to Richard Cohen's ill-reasoned column with derision yesterday. Literally a thousand comments taking him to task for demanding a get out of jail free card for Scooter Libby because, well, because he's part of Sally Quinn's salon. Sure, atrios gave him the WotD award, and Glenn applied his writing scalpel, but it was the hoi polloi in the comments section that tells you just how completely out of touch those Beltway pundits have become.

In a less widely publicized instance, Chris Matthews endured catcalls at the AFSCME event yesterday, when he decided that one of the most pressing issues of the day was Senator Clinton's view on the question of pardoning Libby.

Those dirty effin' hippies are everywhere. And they keep making noise.

June 18, 2007

The latest enabler: Roger Cohen

Unfortunately, this piece by Roger Cohen of the IHT is behind the NYTimes subscription wall.

But I can give you the skinny. It's the first line:

The Iraqi conflict is going to be with us for years if not decades.

This is the latest in a series of breaking-it-to-you-slowly pieces about the plans for permanent occupation in Iraq. The first mention came a couple of Sundays ago, when the NYT quoted anonymous sources that there was the possibility of Iraq being like Korea--with a long term occupation force of about 50,000 troops. I'm gonna pull a few bits out of the piece to demonstrate just how completely out of touch or complicit the media continues to be.

The last military build-up will not be repeated. Americans have no stomach for a further "surge" and the U.S. armed forces have no capacity for one.
When the escalation was first proposed in mid January 2007as Bush's response to the ISG report calling for diplomacy and drawdown, the media spent some time reversing direction from the certainty, expressed by Time and Newsweek, that this would provide political cover for a drawdown. By the time they had finished adjusting their conventional wisdom cocktail weenie goggles, it was March, so the law of the Friedman unit decreed that September was when All Would Be Settled. The Last Chance For Bush, because Republicans Would Turn On Him. There was a brief introduction of a Boehner Interval of 90 days, but that was much too imminent to preserve the fiction that something would be different at the end of the requisite period.

What Cohen says here does not, of course, reflect reality. The decision to escalate came after the 2006 elections, which confirmed what the polls had been saying for some time--that Americans had no stomach for an escalation. And the time it took, and the corners cut in terms of training, equipment readiness and extensions of tours of duty indicated that the armed forces did not have the capacity for the escalation.

In fact, Americans had no stomach for the last escalation, and the US Armed Forces clearly had insufficient capacity for it—training was curtailed, equipment was provided upon arrival in theatre, injured soldiers were sent back into battle, rotation length was increased and any number of other indicators demonstrated this. Whether you read polls, or just talk to people, it is very clear that Americans have turned decisively against this war.. And it is also very clear that this simply does not matter to our policymakers, our elected officials or the Beltway punditocracy. The escalation happened anyway.

I see four core American interests in Iraq that cannot be abandoned. There must be no Afghan-like Al Qaeda takeover of wide areas. There must be no genocide (say a Shiite sweep against Sunnis). There must be no regional conflagration (for example, a Turkish invasion). And there must be no return to the old order (murderous Stalinist dictatorship).

And now let's just tack on one more "must." Everybody gets a pony.

We use the the Friedman Unit not just because it's snarky and derisive. We also use it because it encapsulates, in only two words, a sense of pseudo analysis, wishful thinking and a Mr Micawber-like belief that something will turn up that has characterized MSM coverage of the war from the beginning. It also connotes the unwillingness of advocates of this disaster,especially the “liberal hawks,” to admit that it is a disaster, and to accept the inevitable catastrophic results.

Moreover, those uacceptable conditions that must be avoided are largely happening now. There is genocide going on. There is a regional conflagration taking place, with Saudi, Syrian and Iranian proxy forces doing battle, as well as a very nervous line drawn through the center of would-be Kurdistan. It can be argued that the US has established a murderous dictatorship. The death rate is a lot higher now than it was under Saddam Hussein. People are rousted out of their homes at night, and arrested and held with no due process. People have been tortured. And there is no way to ensure that the end game will not be another strong man.

I'm sure Gorbachev saw four core interests that couldn’t be abandoned when he announced glasnost, too. Sometimes the world is not what you wish it to be.

To ensure this, the United States must keep a military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future. The size of this deterrent force is up for debate, but 50,000 soldiers, or 105,000 less than today, is one talked-about figure. The timing of the drawdown will have to be discussed with Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, but it should begin soon after September.

Oh there is so much here to write about here. Let’s start with the first sentence. The US must keep a military presence in Iraq indefinitely. Let’s think about what that must entail. First, it must entail that the Iraq government not be representative of the popular view of Iraqis. There is no way that an openly nominated, freely elected government of Iraq would support a permanent 50,000 soldier occupation that would be in place, in part, in support of Israel and in opposition to the Palestinians, Iran, and the arab states in the region. Further, this sentence is a declaration of hegemony and denies the existence of a sovereign Iraq. There are no holds barred here in this statement, no pretext that there are Thieu supporters throughout the South. The USmust occupy Iraq for the foreseeable future. The US, and only the US, will decide the nature of the occupation of Iraq.

Now as to the size of the, ahem, proposed “deterrent” force. Shortly after Saddam fell, the administration was talking about a residual force of 30,000 to 50,000 troops (see a contemporary TNR article as an example). Permanent occupation has always been the plan.

The notion that we are slowly coming to the realization that a permanent presence in Iraq will, unfortunately, become necessary is either profoundly dishonest or disturbingly naive and uninformed. The plan for tens of thousands of occupying soldiers has been in place from the outset. The infrastructure to support this occupation has been systematically put into place over the last four years, with the building of hardened “enduring bases” complete with Baskin Robbins and Pizza Huts. The embassy has clearly been built as the quarters for a viceroy and bureaucracy for ruling the country. The idea that there is now “one talked about figure” carries the implication that we have just come to this realization. Not so.

This has been the plan from the outset. And, for some reason, the reporting on this has been very limited. The Chicago Tribune had a piece in 2004 about the plans for enduring bases. George Packer visited ones of the bases for the New Yorker. Fred Kaplan finally did write a column about them in Slate. By and large, though, these very clear plans have not been reported upon, and now columns like yours today are facilitating the myth that these are new plans, a new recognition of reality. In fact, had there been any plan for a real withdrawal, the US would have been working to rebuild the Iraq national defense force, including air power, armor and logistical capability. Instead the US has left the Iraqi defense capability gutted, leaving little option to continued occupation in a country surrounded by armed, potentially hostile both to Iraqi subpopulations and each other . The reference to Korea and Japan is not idle. We’ll leave aside whether this kind of occupation in the face of hostile opposition is actually possible.

And now, in the third sentence of the graf, it turns out that, of course, we have to let the Iraqi Prime Minisiter, former exile and recipient of CIA funds, know what our plans are. The US will, of course, “discuss” how the US plans to dispose of of its troops in his country. Can there be no clearer statement of the nature of this operation that will continue into the foreseeable future? I’m sure Stalin discussed his plans with BolesÅ‚aw Bierut, as well.

The piece ends with this bizarre coda:

That chance will be increased if, as the United States steps down, the United Nations steps up.

Where does the UN charter specify support for an occupying power? And where will the US have the moral authority to move UN delegates in support of this occupation? Especially given his starting point—that the US will occupy the country for the foreseeable future--the idea that the UN will have anything to do with a US satrapy in Iraq is not even worthy of discussion.

But this where the traditional media is. The Beltway is still committed to supporting whatever the latest talking points are, and to grease the skids as much as necessary for a continuation of this occupation, ad infinitum, regardless of what the electorate thinks.