Eric Erickson at Red State:
Below is the actual Levi — no preppy clothes. No polish. Just good old boy who knocked up the Governor’s daughter. Not exactly the image Tyra Banks and he would like you to think about.
What’s even more creepy is that the other person in the picture is his sister. And, as if lifted from the pages of Deliverance, she has his name tattooed on her
backfinger. Think about that one for a minute.
But it’s okay. It keeps the Sarah Palin story alive for people like Tyra Banks to make money off too. Soon Levi will sell his tell all book, delightfully ignoring awkward questions about his relationship with his sister while relishing in the awkward details of his relationship with Sarah Palin.
What? You say it's unfair to smear all of conservatism because of a nutjob or two who doesn't represent the broad mainstream? Sorry. I thought that was operating procedure around here.
I love digital media. I love that, while living in Kansas, the Internet made it possible for me to read the New York Times and Washington Post every day, giving me a deeper understanding of the day's news than could be provided by the heavily chopped-up AP dispatches that my local newspapers carried. (This may not seem like a big deal to you, but in growing up Kansas during the 1980s, it was basically possible only to get the Sunday Times -- and then only a few days later, through the mail, when much of what it contained had become stale.) And the iPhone: Where do I start? I love being able to carry around access to much of the world's knowledge in my pocket. That's nothing short of miraculous, when you think about it.
So I love digital media. And that love, I think, translated to my recent lust for a Kindle. The idea of being able to carry your library with you everywhere has incredible appeal -- especially if, like me, you've recently packed up everything you own and moved it 1,000 miles. (Books are the nastiest thing to move. You either have to move lots of small, heavy boxes or a few big, very heavy boxes. Either way, it's a pain.) The idea of instant gratification is also appealing: "Hey, that book reviewed in the paper sounds good. I'll turn on my Kindle, buy it and start reading it right now!" The recent introduction of the Kindle 2 built my lust to a fever pitch; I knew I had to have the Kindle, and have it soon.
Thanks to some well-timed windfalls, I recently scraped together enough money to buy the Kindle.
And then I hesitated. Because I am a sentimental fool.
You see, I love books. But it's more than books I love: I love the culture of books. I love wandering into a bookstore and finding myself surprised by a recommendation from a clerk whose quirky tastes match (and, yes, guide) my own. I love the readings, and I love the time spent idly browsing. When my wife and I got married, we invited the owner of our favorite bookstore. One of the first things we did upon moving here was figure out where the nearest stores were.
A Kindle would allow me -- even require me -- to bypass that process. I'd get to clear away the thicket of relationships I've built up around reading, but I don't really want that thicket to be cleared. And the truth is, I don't need to carry around an entire of library of books with me -- I can ony read one book at any given moment, and it might as well be the one I put in my bag. Most horrendously, I'd never be able to lend or borrow a book.
Rather than expand my world, as the Internet has done, the Kindle would appear to narrow it. All so I can do the same thing -- read books -- that I was able to do before, only without a machine.
(Admittedly, there's also something in me that resists the notion that you should spend $360 to buy a battery-powered reading device. The old technology works pretty well without adding a cent to my electricity bill.)
Don't get me wrong: After a lot of failed attempts, I suspect that the Kindle is the device that will bring e-reading into the mainstream. And there may be good reasons to go along with the wave. But I can't escape the sense that riding that wave will turn book-reading into a rote transaction of information. Buying a Kindle would change my life ... in ways I don't want it changed. So as far as books are concerned, I'm staying analog for now. The future can wait just a little longer.
Via ThinkProgress, Gen. David Petraeus disavows torture:
I think in fact that there is a good debate going on about the importance of values in all that we do. I think that if one violates the values that we hold so dear, that we jeopardize. … We think for the military, in particular that camp, that’s a line [torture] that can’t be crossed.
The way it's phrased -- "for the military, there's a line that can't be crossed" -- you can argue that Petraeus is leaving the door open for CIA agents to do a little bit of waterboarding. Certainly, his references to the problems "we" had with torture seem limited to Abu Ghraib and a military context. Nonetheless, as one of the big brains behind the Army's counterinsurgency field manual, Petraeus knows that, ultimately, torture makes it harder -- not easier -- to win the kinds of wars we find ourselves in.
In yesterday's L.A. Times, Andrew Klavan issued a challenge that -- on its face -- wasn't all that unreasonable: If you want to criticize Rush Limbaugh, maybe you should listen to a few shows in their entirety. Klavan seems to think all of civilization would convert to conservatism if everybody took the challenge; more likely lots of folks would be somewhat annoyed and somewhat more entertained than they expected.
But honestly, the challenge came in the form of a column that seemed to parody conservatism's worst excesses.
Why are you afraid to spend a couple of hours listening to Limbaugh's show and seriously considering if and why you disagree with him?
Let me guess at your answer. You don't need to listen to him. You've heard enough to know he's a) racist, b) hateful, c) stupid, d) merely an outrageous entertainer not to be taken seriously or e) all of the above.
Now let me tell you the real answer: You're a lowdown, yellow-bellied, lily-livered intellectual coward. You're terrified of finding out he makes more sense than you do.
The mainstream media (a.k.a. the Matrix) don't want you to listen to Limbaugh because they're afraid he'll wake you up and set you free of their worldview. You don't want to listen to him because you're afraid of the same thing.
See: This is coming from somebody trying to make the case that Rush Limbaugh isn't as outrageous as you think, and maybe is even reasonable on issues. But if in making that case, Limbaugh's defender comes across as a bullying, paranoid braggart, why on earth would you even bother with the real thing?
I haven't said much about President Obama's great reliance on teleprompters because, well, what was there to say? The man uses teleprompters.
That said, I thought Michael Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter who is now a Washington Post columnist, had some intriguing and gracious points to make about the matter today:
Governing is a craft, not merely a talent. It involves the careful sorting of ideas and priorities. And the discipline of writing -- expressing ideas clearly and putting them in proper order -- is essential to governing. For this reason, the greatest leaders have taken great pains with rhetoric. Lincoln continually edited and revised his speeches. Churchill practiced to the point of memorization. Such leaders would not have been improved by being "unplugged." When it comes to rhetoric, winging it is often shoddy and self-indulgent -- practiced by politicians who hear Mozart in their own voices while others perceive random cymbals and kazoos. Leaders who prefer to speak from the top of their heads are not more authentic, they are often more shallow -- not more "real," but more undisciplined.
Granted, there's some typically Gersonian self-indulgence here -- presidential speechwriters really, really matter! But I think he's essentially correct. On the other hand, it's good the world has this.
I don't think I completely buy what Glenn Greenwald is selling today, but it's an interesting point nonetheless.
Whenever I would speak at events over the last couple of years and criticize the Bush administration’s expansions of government power, extreme secrecy and other forms of corruption, one of the most frequent questions I would be asked was whether "the Left" -- meaning liberals and progressives -- would continue to embrace these principles with a Democrat in the White House, or whether they would instead replicate the behavior of the Right and uncritically support whatever the Democratic President decided. Though I could only speculate, I always answered -- because I believed -- that the events of the last eight years had so powerfully demonstrated and ingrained the dangers of uncritical support for political leaders that most liberals would be critical of and oppositional to a Democratic President when that President undertook actions in tension with progressive views.
Two months into Obama’s presidency, one can clearly conclude that this is true. Even though Obama unsurprisingly and understandably remains generally popular with Democrats and liberals alike, there is ample progressive criticism of Obama in a way that is quite healthy and that reflects a meaningful difference between the “conservative movement” and many progressives.
Greenwald goes on to make a number of caveats -- yes, there were conservatives who dissented from the Bush regime, and yes there are Obama lickspittles -- but his point is that generally speaking, folks on the left are more likely to challenge their own leadership than folks on the right. That's comforting to those of us on the left, if true, but I'm not sure how you actually quantify it, and I'm skeptical to believe it. That just a little too convenient, and in any case, conservatives pretty forcefully pushed back against President Bush when they really, really disagreed with him. The problem is that they didn't generally disagree with him in ways that liberals favored: For the most part, they really did support the invasion of Iraq, they really did support torture and they really did support creating massive deficits through tax cuts that disproportionately favored the rich.
That said, it's certainly true that conservatives have been pretty delighted to see liberal criticism of the president. But I've said it before and I'll say it again: I might disagree, even strenuously, with some of President Obama's decisions. But I still think we're better off with him, instead of John McCain or any of the GOP's 2008 contenders, as president.
Zaius, on Thursday, anticipating that liberals will mindlessly defend Barack Obama's "Special Olympics" joke:
It's going to be especially rich to see some of the lefty defenders of Obama who got down in the muck about Sarah Palin deciding to keep her Down Syndrome baby defend him now.
I guess that's to be expected.
When he's right, he's right. Why here's just one such defense today:
Furthermore, none of this ginned-up controversy is really the point. The fundamental right of freedom of speech in this country applies to presidents as much as anyone. Obama is allowed as to say impolitic things as long as they don't hurt the country. It also lent humanity to Mr. Obama, something rarely displayed by presidents in public and that certainly would not have been on display had he stuck with the canned responses he surely discussed with his White House handlers in advance.
Most importantly, the President has real problems to address beside hurt feelings.
This dastardliness brought to you by those noted liberals at The Washington Times.
There's a saying in the legal profession that makes a lot of sense to me: "Bad cases make bad law." The idea is that you shouldn't make a system of rules based on your response to one very bad event, because that law will have unintended consequences beyond that single event.
Let's be honest here: AIG's handing out of bonuses to executives -- while it's still at the teat of the federal government -- is a bad thing. But it's still relatively minor in the grand scheme of bailout efforts, a distraction I think threatens to swamp the very needed work of righting our financial institutions.
I mention all of this, because the House passed a bill taxing the AIG bonuses at 90 percent. This certainly feels good. And certainly, I'd prefer the AIG executives not have received money in the first place. But the speed at which the House responded to the story -- just a few days after it broke, while it's still a hot topic on talk radio -- suggests to me that the need for political posturing is a key motivator of the action.
Weirdly, it reminds me of one of the great moments of self-destruction in recent political history: The Republican efforts to save Terri Schiavo, which featured the Senate majority leader making diagnoses via videotape, a Congressional effort to write a law that were focused only on Schiavo's case and a president who cut short a vacation to rush back to Washington to sign that law. Then as now, a lot of politicians thought they were responding to a populist uprising. But the quick response to that uprising revealed the politicians -- Republicans in that case -- to be panderers who were better at trying to ride the outrage over single bad cases than they were at trying to fix what was wrong with America.
And that's the danger Democrats find themselves in now, frankly. Maybe not today; there's a lot of rage in the land about those bonuses. If they fix the AIG thing but fail to revive the economy, however, then this moment is going to look in retrospect like the point where they took their eye off the ball. And the voters will make them pay.
Say this for the Iraq War: It has forced journalists to earn their pre-eminence the old-fashioned way -- deep reporting of stuff that matters -- instead of by breaking scoops about presidential blowjobs. The New York Times' John Burns, the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Anthony Shadid and the New Yorker's George Packer and Jon Lee Anderson (among many others) were all respected before the U.S. invasion in 2003, but the onset of war pushed their good work to the notice and respect of a wider audience.
No reporter has seen his profile grow quite as much as Thomas Ricks, however. The longtime military correspondent for the Washington Post in 2006 released Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, a meticulously reported book that made the case that the United States was losing in Iraq -- and also the case that the loss was attributable not just to the incompetence of the Bush Administration, but also to arrogant missteps by the uniformed leadership of the American military (with Gen. Tommy Franks coming in for particular criticism). The latter charge was one that American liberals -- forever fearful of being painted as anti-troop -- would never have made. But Ricks, with his deep knowledge of and respect for the military, avoided severe criticism. Instead, 2006 became the year that leading conservative hawks -- people like National Review's Rich Lowry -- stopped blaming the "liberal media" for failing to report the good news in Iraq and instead began acknowledging the possibility of defeat.
Few observers anticipated what happened next, however. Instead of laying the foundation for a troop withdrawal -- which was being advocated by nearly everybody in senior U.S. military leadership -- President Bush doubled down, announcing a "surge" of troops, and putting Gens. David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno in charge of the war effort. Two years later, Iraq is still a violent place -- but not nearly as violent as it was. Conservatives are claiming that victory is in reach. And Democrats like Sen. Harry Reid who once proclaimed the war "lost" now appear to have a little bit of egg on their faces. Still, it appears that patience with the war has run out. The American people elected a president who promised to get us out of Iraq; they and the American media appear ready to pay attention to other things.
That hasn't deterred Ricks, who is is back with a new book: The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure In Iraq documents how the surge (and various other developments) did improve security in Iraq, but also carries this stark message -- the war there isn't going nearly as well as you think it is. American troops could be fighting and dying in Baghdad for years, maybe even decades to come.
"The events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened," Ricks says in the final sentence of the book. He said much the same thing during an appearance last month at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The audience gasped.
Ricks gives credit for the surge to three men:
• Jack Keane, a retired Army general who got fed up watching the war being lost on television.
• Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, an unlikely hero. In Fiasco, Ricks depicted him as contributing to the rise of the insurgency because of the brusque tactics used by troops under his command. (Indeed, Ricks' depiction of Odierno in Fiasco is so unflattering, one wonders how Ricks got the general to give interviews for this book.) By the time Odierno arrived back in Iraq in late 2006 as the No. 2 commander, however, his ideas about how to fight the war had changed. Rather than killing bad guys, he wanted to shift the mission to protecting civilians in populated areas. To do that, he would have to expose soldiers to danger by moving them out of big, well-fortified bases into smaller, more vulnerable posts around Baghdad where -- instead of "commuting to the war" -- they would live among the people they were fighting to defend. To be effective with that approach, though, Odierno would need more troops than he had.
• Gen. David Petraeus, who prior to taking command of the Iraq War oversaw the writing of the Army's counterinsurgency field manual at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas -- the tenets of which squared pretty well with Odierno's efforts.
More than a military history, Gamble depicts the political and bureaucratic fighting the trio accomplished to shift American policy to support the surge. Nobody on the Joint Chiefs of Staff favored the idea, preferring to turn control of Iraq over to a clearly unready Iraqi Army. And the results of the 2006 elections -- where Democrats regained control of the Senate and House of Representatives -- indicated the American people were ready to be done with the war. But President Bush wasn't ready to lose the war, and the surge offered the only chance at turning it around. With his support, Keane, Odierno and Petraeus were able to defeat their bosses at the Pentagon -- and withdrawal-minded Democrats in Congress. This raises a couple of concerns, about the politicization of America's military leadership and the fragility of the military chain of command, concerns that strike at the very heart of a civilian-led democratic government. But Ricks doesn't explore these questions too deeply.
To a great extent, the surge succeeded -- but, Ricks says, only well enough to ensure that America is stuck in Iraq on a semi-permanent basis. Moving through the book, one gets a sense of three themes that will have a bearing on future political debates about Iraq and the broader (though this term is now little-used) "war on terror":
• THE IMPORTANCE OF CARROTS OVER STICKS: There's been a tendency among conservatives to see "killing the bad guys" as the only proper focus of a military at war. But Iraq began to turn the corner, security-wise, only after the Army began to adopt counterinsurgency methods that (in what amounts to a peace-leaning liberal's fantasy about how to fight a war and conduct foreign policy) emphasized protecting and persuading the population -- even to the point of eschewing easy shots at killing bad guys. Even to the point of having friendly meetings with the bad guys. That's not an accident: Where there were successes in pre-surge Iraq, it was generally the result of commanders like Colonels Sean McFarland and H.R. McMaster applying counterinsurgency-type principles to their areas of command. And once those commanders left at the end of their tours -- prior to the surge -- the success often went with them. "Hearts and minds" -- despite the unfortunate Vietnam-era connotations of the phrase -- really are the keys to effectively waging a counterinsurgency.
• THE IMPORTANCE OF THE OPPOSITION: There were lots of suggestions from the right during the pre-surge era of the war that liberals and the media (not the same thing) were poor-mouthing a successful effort in Iraq. In fact, the liberals and the media were the ones who were getting it right, and it was only the shedding of triumphalist rhetoric and worldview that allowed the change in strategy that created security gains. And some key advisers to Petraeus and Odierno in Iraq were, in fact, pacifists who brought a radically different point of view to the table. (A key scene in the book has Odierno telling Emma Sky, his anti-war aide, that he would never again go to war without somebody representing her viewpoint at his side.) This should be an example to any administration that (like the Bush Administration during the early years of the war) considers dispensing with expertise and out-of-the-box thinking in favor of selecting American occupation officials based on their abortion views and loyalty to the president.
• THE IMPORTANCE OF STAYING IN IRAQ TO PREVENT A GENOCIDAL CIVIL WAR: Ricks says the security gains in Iraq are fragile enough that America will have to maintain a significant troop presence in Iraq until 2015. This view doesn't take into account Obama's recent pledge to remove troops by 2011 -- but then again, the book was released about a week before Obama gave his big speech. But Ricks bizarrely ignores the Status of Forces Agreement -- completed by the Bush Administration in October, well before completion of the book -- in which the Iraqi government requires all American troops to exit Iraq by 2011. Given his conclusions about America's long-term responsibilities in Iraq, the omission of any discussion about the SOFA is inexplicable.
Those of us who opposed the invasion of Iraq haven't always known how to properly respond to the achievements of the surge. Some -- like me -- are glad to see the reduction in violence but worry that it allows some hawks to interpret Iraq as a "success," ignoring how ill-conceived the war was in the first place and making it easier to make the case for the next ill-conceived war. Others, like Matt Yglesias, point out that the surge didn't accomplish its key goal -- helping create political reconciliation between Iraq's Shia, Sunnis and Kurds as the foundation for that country's long-term stability. (Ricks agrees with this point, incidentally, and vehemently disagrees with conservatives who suggest the reconciliation is happening, only from the ground up.) And still others, like Salon's Joan Walsh, wrestle with the idea that no satisfactory conclusion to the war may be in reach.
In the end, Ricks says, America must abandon the conservative fantasy of a democratic Iraq that serves as a hearty ally in the war on terror. American military commanders have already given up that idea, he tells us. Instead, Iraq is likely to someday soon be ruled again by an iron-fisted strongman -- only this time he'll be aligned with Iran. (And, I might add, he'll be presiding over a country -- like Soviet-era Afghanistan -- that has been a training ground for thousands of battle-hardened terrorists ready to create problems elsewhere once the fighting is over.) It's nobody's idea of a good outcome.
Liberals, it turns out, might've been wrong about the success of the surge. But they're right to keep asking if it's worth it. Ricks' answer is that continued American military involvement in Iraq is the least bad of a whole host of awful options. That's not reassuring. And it's not victory.
I've noticed a peculiar argument coming from opponents of President Obama's decision to lift restrictions on stem cell research. Larry Kudlow made it the other day at National Review, and this morning it appears in a Washington Post column by Michael Gerson.
There is a common thread running through President Obama's pro-choice agenda: the coercion of those who disagree with it.
It is the incurable itch of pro-choice activists to compel everyone's complicity in their agenda. Somehow, getting "politics out of science" translates into taxpayer funding for embryo experimentation.
The essence of the complaint, as I understand it, is that the Obama Administration isn't just doing something that Gerson and Kudlow find objectionable -- but that it's somehow even more morally objectionable because taxpayer dollars are involved. Which is really a silly argument.
I'll drag out the Iraq War analogy again. George W. Bush launched the invasion even though I and millions of Americans were opposed, often on moral grounds (in addition to national security grounds). By Gerson's logic, Bush made me complicit in his pro-war agenda by using tax dollars to fund the invasion and occupation -- and I should be even more cranky about the war as a result.
But I'm not. The essence of democracy is that the winners of elections* get to run the government more or less as they see fit. There are restrictions on those actions, of course, to protect the rights of people in political and other minorities, but there's no right not to have your tax dollars spent only on stuff you like. That's why elections really, really matter.
I noted in the comments the other day that Kudlow and Gerson have an option if they don't want their taxes to go to stem cell research. It’s called “tax resistance.” Basically, you live in poverty in order to avoid giving your money to the government to use for purposes you find morally objectionable. Some Mennonites have adopted the practice in order to deprive the Defense Department of their funds. If Kudlow and Gerson are serious about their opposition to using tax dollars for stem cell research, they can take a vow of poverty. Or they can win the next election.
* I'm not going to fight the George W. Bush 2000 election battle here. Consider it acknowledged.
Barack Obama’s grandfather was imprisoned and brutally tortured by the British during the violent struggle for Kenyan independence, according to the Kenyan family of the US President-elect.
Hussein Onyango Obama, Mr Obama’s paternal grandfather, became involved in the Kenyan independence movement while working as a cook for a British army officer after the war. He was arrested in 1949 and jailed for two years in a high-security prison where, according to his family, he was subjected to horrific violence to extract information about the growing insurgency.
“The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” said Sarah Onyango, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman Mr Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah”.
At the height of the rebellion, an estimated 71,000 Kenyans were held in prison camps. The vast majority were never convicted. Letters smuggled out of the camps complained of systematic brutality by warders and guards. According to the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her exposé of British atrocities during the Mau Mau uprising, there were reports of sexual violence and mutilation using “castration pliers”. “This was an instrument devised to crush the men’s testicles,” she writes in Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (2005). “Other detainees also described castration pliers, along with other methods of beating and mutilating men’s testicles.”
But, you know, at least they had access to vaccines.
(Hat Tip: Thomas Ricks)
About a year ago, Ben and I spent a few days huddled in the offices of the Rocky Mountain News with Editor John Temple and some other bright, friendly folks, trying to launch a little political website that -- unfortunately for Ben and me -- died before it had been fully birthed.
Tomorrow, the Rocky prints its final edition after nearly 150 years.
I'll dispense with analysis for now -- except to note that this is probably the beginning of a very bloody year for American journalism. When the dust settles, there will be journalism. It will look very different, however. And that's fine, but there's a great deal of pain to endure before we get to that point.
Right now, that pain is being borne by Temple, Linda Sease and Vincent Carroll, among other good people I got the chance to know during my brief time at Scripps. I wish them well. They are in my thoughts.
That's the title of this Wall Street Journal story that, I think, is supposed to get us wringing our hands about the madness of government regulation run amok. Consider:
Methane is among the most potent greenhouse gases, and researchers now believe livestock industries are a major contributor to climate change, responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than cars are, according to the United Nations.
Plenty of people, including farmers, think the problem of sheep burps is so much hot air. But governments are coming under pressure to put a cork in it, and many farmers fear that new livestock regulations could follow. They worry that environmentalists will someday persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to seek to tax bovine belches.
Tax belching? That's crazy!
Well, yes. But.
It's important to consider that the existence of giant herds of cows and sheep roaming around the world is not really a natural phenomenon, but rather the result of human activity -- the industrialization of the food chain, really. Michael Polian documents this phenomenon rather well in The Omnivore's Dilemma; suffice it to say that Western cultures are manufacturing meat in a manner not too different from how we manufacture cars, and with all the attendant environmental effects. This would be one thing if we needed meat to feed the planet, but -- and I say this as a hypocritical carnivore -- meat's actually a hugely inefficient way of producing calories for human consumption.
So considering -- and trying to limit -- the environmental impact of meat manufacturing isn't really all that crazy. Framing it as a "fart tax" is effective, but it misses some important points.
President Barack Obama is expected to announce that most U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by August 2010 – delaying by three months his pledge to remove combat units 16 months after taking office, an administration official said.
I admit, listening to and reading Thomas Ricks' opinions on Iraq -- that there's no moral way to leave and no moral way to stay -- this announcement leaves me less satisfied than I'd like. I do think our continued presence in Iraq has dangerously overextended our military, but I'm not thrilled about the idea of leaving the region to flare up in a bloody war, either. What a mess.*
Eric Martin is right, though, that there's a compelling reason for us to start gathering our things and leave: The sovereign government of Iraq has told us to do so. The Status of Forces Agreement compels the U.S. to withdraw all its troops by 2011. "All" troops, not just "combat" troops. (As Ricks points out: All troops are combat troops.)
Over the past several weeks, Odierno and Petraeus have been waging a rather unseemly media battle against the ostensible Commander in Chief over the future of US policy vis-a-vis Iraq. In Ricks' book, and subsequently, he echoes the Odierno/Petraeus line that we need to maintain 30-40,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2015, and that we can't risk pulling out sooner. Sullivan, for his part, seems resigned to this timeline - and its extension indefinitely into the future - despite the "drain on our wallets."
However, what Petraeus, Odierno, Ricks and (to a lesser degree) Sullivan seem to be ignoring is that certain Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) entered into by the US and Iraqi governments this past summer, which committed the US to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 (with an earlier timeline for removing troops from Iraq's cities).
This notion that we can talk beyond the Iraqi government and Iraqi people, and act as if they are bit players in our drama whose autonomy and sovereignty is to be considered only in passing, were the real "big mistakes" of the Bush administration - to use Ricks' words.
As a final aside, Ricks' new book lauds Gens. Petraeus and Odierno for salvaging the Iraq War by going outside the chain of command -- undermining their superiors -- to build the case for the surge. This might've been satisfying when it was Donald Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense, but that also doesn't make it right. It's still not right now that Barack Obama is president. Our democracy was built upon civilian control of the military, and upon a rigorous chain of command within the military. It's dangerous to have generals thinking they can and should freelance on policy matters. Indeed, more legendary men have been fired for just such efforts.
*It bears repeating: George W. Bush was among the worst presidents we've ever had. This is just one of his disastrous legacies.
Conservatives have spent the last few months claiming victory in Iraq -- probably prematurely -- but any calculation of the worth of the war has to account for the following:
As the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraqi self-sufficiency.
Among Iraqi women aged 15 to 80, 1 in 11 are estimated to be widows, though officials admit that figure is hardly more than a guess, given the continuing violence and the displacement of millions of people. A United Nations report estimated that during the height of sectarian violence here in 2006, 90 to 100 women were widowed each day.
Officials at social service agencies tell of widows coerced into “temporary marriages” — relationships sanctioned by Shiite tradition, often based on sex, which can last from an hour to years — to get financial help from government, religious or tribal leaders.
Other war widows have become prostitutes, and some have joined the insurgency in exchange for steady pay. The Iraqi military estimates that the number of widows who have become suicide bombers may be in the dozens.
The whole story -- particularly the conclusion -- is heartbreaking.
Now it's important to remember that the invasion of Iraq was justified under the rubric of the "War on Terror," which began (more or less) on 9/11. Which, when you think about it, is really weird: The terrorists who knocked down the Twin Towers were stateless actors. Al Qaeda is and was a stateless organization -- taking refuge wherever it can.
But the U.S. "response" in invading Iraq was, well, state-focused. And "victory" in Iraq is these days being defined in terms of the stability of the emerging state. The problem* being, of course, is that terrorists still don't need the backing of a government to commit violence and spread misery. The problem also being that the war has worked to make a lot more individual enemies for the U.S. among the people of Iraq. A lot more potential terrorists. Would they ever be able to mount a 9/11-style attack on America? Probably not. But the odds are increased.
That's just the national security angle. There's also the moral horror of unleashing new levels of violence and misery into the lives of Iraqis, such as the widows. Yes, Saddam Hussein was awful. But so was the sectarian violence and insurgency that followed our invasion. Our good intentions matter not a whit.
I have been gently mocked by a conservative friend for my skepticism of the idea of Iraqi democracy. Very well. But for the widows of Iraq, America's invasion and occupation truly has been a disaster.
*Aside from the facts that A) Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and B) didn't have the WMDs that were the justification for the invasion.
I kid. But Charles Blow, writing in the New York Times this morning, objects heartily to Eric Holder's description of us as a nation of "cowards" -- but then soberly provides some food for thought.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last month, twice as many blacks as whites thought racism was a big problem in this country, while twice as many whites as blacks thought that blacks had achieved racial equality.
Furthermore, according to a 2003 Gallup poll, two in five of blacks said that they felt discriminated against at least once a month, and one in five felt discriminated against every day. But, a CNN poll from last January found that 72 percent of whites thought that blacks overestimated the amount of discrimination against them, while 82 percent of blacks thought that whites underestimated the amount of discrimination against blacks.
Now I think it's worth trying to understand why those perceptions vary so widely instead of merely demanding people become less sensitive. Put another way, if it's offensive to be called a coward by the attorney general, it's probably also offensive to be called an oversensitive race hustler. Both characterizations raise the volume level without providing understanding.
Blow's reason for the discrepancy in perceptions is going to chafe some folks here: It might be a little bit racism. But there are other factors that I think, say, Brad will find intriguing.
First, white people don’t want to be labeled as prejudiced, so they work hard around blacks not to appear so. A study conducted by researchers at Tufts University and Harvard Business School and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that many whites — including those as young as 10 years old — are so worried about appearing prejudiced that they act colorblind around blacks, avoiding “talking about race, or even acknowledging racial difference,” even when race is germane. Interestingly, blacks thought that whites who did this were more prejudiced than those who didn’t.
Second, that work is exhausting. A 2007 study by researchers at Northwestern and Princeton that was published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science found that interracial interactions leave whites both “cognitively and emotionally” drained because they are trying not to be perceived as prejudiced.
Now, as it happens, I think that on balance it's a good thing that many white people want to work hard to avoid appearing prejudiced. Conservatives tend to be advocates of the power of cultural shaming in lieu of legal restrictions in order to achieve socially desirable outcomes, and this seems to be of a piece with that. Avoiding racial conflict with your black co-workers, neighbors and schoolmates generally seems to be a socially desirable outcome. But it is hard, and frustrating work -- and maybe even (I have to admit) sometimes counterproductive.
I won't pretend to have great answers to all of this. But I thought it worth contemplating.
Starbucks is going to start selling instant coffee. Which is a shocker on two counts. First of all, the only person I've ever met who drinks instant coffee with any regularity is my grandfather. Second: The whole idea behind Starbucks originally was to make coffee into a bit of a luxury item. I understand there's a recession on an all, but you gotta think instant coffee -- the opposite of luxury -- going to damage the brand's cachet. Maybe instead of scones, Starbucks can start offering Spam.
(Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan)
As long as we're talking about the federal government taking on significant debt in the stimulus package, we might as well take note of this New York Times story about how New York City is still paying back the debt on a road it built ... in 1868.
For 135 years, New York City has been dutifully paying 7 percent annual interest on the bonds, which financed construction of the road. On March 1, the owner of one of them is entitled to come forward and collect its face value: $1,000.
The other 38 bondholders have notes that will mature sometime between now and 2147, a mere 138 years away.
“It’s not the best example of municipal debt management,” said Jim Lebenthal, a bond specialist. “But 135 years of payment without missing a beat does underscore the safety record of municipal bonds.”
Lebenthal makes a good point. On the other hand, is it really all that smart or wise that generations of New York taxpayers have had to pay -- and will keep paying, for another 138 years -- the debt for the construction of a road to a racetrack that has long since been turned into a reservoir? Probably not. No.
People who let themselves get a little silly with credit cards know how easy it is to spend a lot of money quickly, and how long it can take to pay it all back. The government is no different. It just does it much bigger, and over a much longer period of time.
NYT reports that the Obama Administration will try to harness the power of the markets to rescue the banking system -- getting private investors to buy up the "toxic assets" that are clogging up the credit system:
The officials say they are counting on the profit motive to create a market for those assets. The government would guarantee a floor value, officials say, as a way to overcome investors’ reluctance to buy them.
Details of the new plan, which were still being worked out during the weekend, are sketchy. And they are likely to remain so even after Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner announces the plan on Tuesday. But the aim is to reduce the need for immediate federal financing and relieve fears that taxpayers will pay excessive prices if the government takes over risky securities. The banks created those securities when credit and home prices were booming a few years ago.
The Republicans were right: Barack Obama is clearly a socialist.
Philadelphia Weekly music editor Brian McManus sends along the following. I can't necessarily endorse everything expressed here, but it certainly seems to tap into the zeitgeist, doesn't it?
The Obama administration is expected to impose a cap of $500,000 for top executives at companies that receive large amounts of bailout money, according to people familiar with the plan.
There are some complaints from the usual suspects, but stuff 'em. If a company is in dire enough trouble that it needs taxpayer money, then executives shouldn't be living extremely large -- and $500,000 is plenty large for most people I know -- on the public dime. If a company decides it can't live with the restrictions, then either A) it doesn't need the taxpayer money all that badly, or B) it's being run by people who are more interested in securing their own financial futures than the futures of their company or their employees. In which case: Let 'em fail.
And to anticipate an argument: This isn't interfering with the free market. Once the companies agree to a public bailout, they've already abandoned the "free market."
I think I've established the bona fides of my dislike for Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor turned National Review writer who never met a torture technique or subversion of liberty that he didn't absolutely love. So it's only fair that I note that I don't entirely disagree with his take on a military judge's refusal of an Obama Administration request to suspend tribunals at Gitmo:
As regards whether to continue with the military commissions of the 21 detainees currently charged with war crimes, Obama may make a terrible decision, he may make a good one, or he may do something in between. But in any event, it was entirely reasonable for him to ask for a four-month time-out — which was done in a very respectful manner that did not in any way denigrate the dignity of the military tribunals. He is still getting his national security team in place and getting them the clearances they need to get up to speed on all the relevant facts, many of which are no doubt highly classified. He is, moreover, the President of the United States and the commander-in-chief of our military forces in a time of war. These considerations, by themselves, should have been enough for the judge to indulge his request — I can't think of a single civilian court judge I ever appeared before who would not have respectfully deferred to a reasonable request for delay by the president in similar circumstances.
Now I say I don't entirely disagree because, at the end of McCarthy's posting, we see some of what's motivating his call for deference to the president:
However inadvertently, Col. Pohl is just giving President Obama more reason to think there are better ways to deal with detainees than a system that denies abundantly sensible motions — and in which Osama bin Laden's personal bodyguard, arrested in possession of missiles intended for shooting at U.S. troops, gets sentenced to a grand total of six months on a war crimes conviction (which is what happened in the first commission trial).
Right. Since the military tribunals have ended up not being entirely the kangaroo courts everybody -- including McCarthy -- expected them to be, McCarthy is taking a "the hell with 'em all" approach to matters. It's not that McCarthy wants the judge to be fair to the new president; he was the judge to simply defer to the president's judgement in this (and, based on his record of commentary) in all other matters. In that context, a little defiance doesn't bug me at all.
My friend and conservative colleague Ben Boychuk overnight Tweeted his (brief) thoughts about the role of Rush Limbaugh in our public life;
If liberals didn't have Rush, they would need to invent him.
There's something to that, I suppose. Every political movement loves to have a bogeyman -- somebody who represents all the stereotypically worst impulses of your political opponents. But here's the thing: Liberals don't have to invent this bogeyman: Rush Limbaugh actually exists and -- along with Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly -- does everything he can to make our political discourse dumber and cruder by the moment.
Sometimes people forget this, but Rush Limbaugh exists primarily to sell commercials for radio stations. That he does so successfully, of course, speaks to A) his broadcasting talent and B) the fact that a lot of people buy (more broadly speaking) what he's selling. But part of his shtick is that he's always outraged -- no matter who is in power or what's being done, he's always angry. It's no accident that Limbaugh's opposition to the McCain nomination became most intense once that nomination was virtually assured. Limbaugh guaranteed himself four more years of outrage no matter who became president.
I don't mean to suggest that Limbaugh isn't, at heart, a conservative. I've no reason to doubt it. But he's got a pretty clear financial motive for being so pugnaciously conservative; there's just no percentage in being nice, even when the times might call for it. The problem here is that Limbaugh is thus forever whipping up the passions of his listeners, who in turn make governing more difficult for no other reason than to make it difficult. I'm not going to try to silence Limbaugh, but it makes sense for liberals to point out when he's not helping. And he's usually not.
I was never a huge fan of John Updike. I made a go of reading one of the Rabbit novels when I was much younger, but I've never quite found the whole genre of suburban white guy angst to be all that compelling -- yes, I'm grossly oversimplifying -- even in the hands of a master. So my exposure to Updike was limited mainly to his reviews of books and art in The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, and I found that if I wasn't a fan of Updike's novels, I was certainly a fan of the idea of John Updike: A lifetime spent in ravenous pursuit of the life of the mind.
I remain touched, though, by one of Updike's short stories that appeared in The Atlantic in November 2002. Varieties of Religious Experience was about 9/11 -- seen through the eyes of Dan, a WASPy Ohioan who is in New York on the day of the attacks; "Mohammed," one of the attackers; Jim, a worker in one of the towers; and Caroline, a passenger on Flight 93. It was the first fictional treatment of 9/11 that I had seen, and re-reading it now I find I'm getting a lump in my throat. The opening sentence, though, is what initially caught me:
There is no God: the revelation came to Dan Kellogg in the instant that he saw the World Trade Center South Tower fall.
At the end of the story, Dan Kellogg has turned his back on this atheistic declaration, resettling comfortably into the confines of his Episcopalian congregation. But reading those words and the entire story in 2002 somehow dislodged the growing doubts about my own faith that I'd tried to ignore since 9/11. By the end of 2002, I was out of the church -- not because the story moved me to agnosticism, but because it forced me to confront what I could no longer ignore.
This, no doubt, is not a result that would've pleased Updike, who was a churchgoing man his entire adult life. But such is the power of literature: Authors do not control how it is received, and sometimes readers cannot control how they receive it -- not, at least, if they're approaching with an open mind.
So no, John Updike was not my favorite author. But his writing in some small way changed my life. I am thus grateful for his career and his gifts; may he rest in peace.
... and let me preface this with: I don't mean to be offensive. Really. I don't.
And let me also say that I know that two examples doesn't make a trend.
However: The group of Vatican II haters that were reinstated into the full fellowship of the Catholic Church included a man famous for being a Holocaust denier. Which is icky, but I can't help but notice that Hutton Gibson -- Mel Gibson's father and Vatican II hater -- is also a Holocaust denier.
I understand the pre-V2 folks and Holocaust deniers are both fringe elements. Does there tend to be overlap between the two groups?
Asked in all humility, not trying to start a fight, etc.
Cross-posted from my digs at Philadelphia Weekly.
My political blogging started as a reaction to the Bush Administration. But anger against an ex-president isn’t a good reason to keep talking, and it’s certain to get tedious anyway.
So what’s next?
I hope to provide honest assessments — and even critiques — of where our government goes from here. I believe President Obama is closer to being on the side of angels than his predecessor, but he won’t always be right. His actions should always be evaluated the same way a Republican president would: Are his goals worthy? Are his means worthy? Are there better alternatives?
Conservatives will probably do a better job than liberals at holding President Obama’s feet to the fire on these kinds of questions; I say that as a liberal who recognizes (possibly grudgingly in the next four years) the democratic value of the “loyal opposition.” So the other thing I’m going to continue to do — despite the protests of Steven Wells — is continue to engage and, yes, argue with my conservative friends … often, right here in this cyberspace. I’ll try to engage in a give-and-take where critiques seem honest, and continue to point out when other criticisms seem less than honest, or completely misguided.
If that’s less than the full-throated partisanship you’re looking for, go hang out at Atrios’ place. But one of the reasons I am glad to have Barack Obama as president is that he is unapologetically liberal, yet still willing to hear out the arguments of his political opponents. After 16 years of unremitting shrillness in our discourse, the new president’s attitude is a welcome relief. I hope it can last. And I hope to contribute to helping it last.
Sometimes, in my more charitable moments, I think that Tom Cruise will someday be able to rebound from being openly crazy these last few years and settle down into a nice, respectable post-hearthrob career the way, say, Paul Newman did.
And then he says things like this:
"I've always wanted to kill Hitler. As a child, I used to wonder why someone didn't stand up and kill him," Cruise told reporters in the South Korean capital Sunday.
Kinda ... strange out that Hitler-killing desire is expressed in the present tense, isn't it? Especially since Cruise was born, oh, 17 years after Hitler died. It's always been too late for Tom Cruise to kill Hitler -- though, admittedly, that would be awesome, particularly if the Scientology dudes could hook Cruise up with a time machine -- yet somehow it's been one of Cruise's ambitions.
Maybe I need to trade in my liberal card. Because while I desperately agree with Paul Krugman, Brian Beutler, Not Atrios, Matt Yglesias and a whole bunch of other people that some Bush Administration actions the last eight years were unconstitutional and unlawful -- torture and warrantless wiretapping chief among them -- I part ways with them here: I think the Obama Administration should have no part in investigating its predecessors.
Why? Because it's probably the quickest way to steer Obama's presidency straight onto the rocks.
I'm surprised to find myself so nakedly cynical about this topic, but here goes: More than anger at the Bush Administration, most Americans are simply tired of it and ready for him to go. (As Kevin Drum notes, that's part of the reason Obama's ascension has been greeted with something of an outsized expression of joy.) What they want from the Obama Administration is not to relive the worst parts of the last eight years, but to get started on the hard work of stabilizing the economy and getting the troops out of Iraq. Presidential administrations are not great at walking and chewing gum at the same time; an investigation into the excesses of the Bush Administration will suck the energy out of every other effort Obama needs to succeed if he -- and the country -- are to be successful.
And there's simply no way to pull it off, anyway, without seeming like an exercise in the extreme partisanship Obama has tried to tamp down. Which, incidentally, is one key to him having the support he needs to get stuff done.
If Congress wants to appoint a special prosecutor, let 'em. If the Obama Administration wants to throw open the archives and let the public get a more definitive account of what was done in their names, let 'em. Hell, if Spain wants to send a warning that certain Bush officials should steer clear of European vacations, lest they be arrested, let 'em. But if Obama takes the advice of his liberal allies and goes on the investigative warpath, they'll be wondering in a few years why other progressive aims weren't achieved.
Ben suggested I continue to post the cooking videos I'm doing for Philly Weekly. Here's the one I spent the afternoon editing. Yes, I got to eat the final product.
Bob Woodward interviews Susan J. Crawford, who oversees military commissions for the Defense Department. She won't allow charges to proceed against Mohammed al-Qahtani, accused of being 9/11's "20th hijacker," because the evidence against him was obtained through torture. And she makes a good point I hadn't thought about:
Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health led to her conclusion. "The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge" to call it torture, she said.
The debate over torture ends up looking a lot like Congressional tussles over budget earmarks: It often goes line by line instead of considering the whole. In the case of torture, the back-and-forth ends up being over individual techniques: Is waterboarding torture? Stress positions? Loud music? Sleep deprivation? We discuss these acts separately, to see if individually they meet the definition. But they're not -- in the case of Qahtani, certainly -- used in separately. And so we should consider, as Crawford has, that our debates have been too narrow: Perhaps a series of coercive techniques that are individually "not torture" (although waterboarding is torture, pure and simple) rise to that level when taken together.
It is, of course, difficult to muster much sympathy for Qahtani. If he was indeed the 20th hijacker, then there's no reason to have sympathy for him. But -- aside from the fact that torture grants him the martyrdom he sought, which can be a strategic problem in the "war on terror" -- the debate over torture is not about them. It's about us and who we are.