March 2004 Archives

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Clarke's Impact. It's too early to tell yet, but I think that anyone who paid attention to how events unfolded in the last week would have to say that Clarke acquitted himself well. If your perceptions are formed by listening to Fox News rather than to what Clarke actually said, well then, that's another matter.

But I am somewhat surprised that as far as the campaign goes, Bush's attacks on Kerry's lack of consistency seems to have had a bigger impact on the polling this week than Clarke's focusing so much attention on the administration's lack of urgency about the kind of threat that al Qaeda poses.

What's remarkable about it is that there is very little that is all that controvesrsial about what Clarke is saying. And I'm confident that as the dust settle very little of what he has said will be proven wrong. But the substance of what he has to say won't be remembered. It seems as though the American public has become incapable of dealing with the substance; everything is framed in partisan terms.

From the point of view of Bush partisans, if you attack Bush, the only thing that is noteworthy about it is not what you say, but that you have aligned yourself with the Bush haters for obvious political or financial motives. Therefore everything you say can be dismissed as politically motivated b.s. That's the only way that I can explain why Clarke's very credible testimony and the administrations's hysterical response to it doesn't seem to have damaged Bush's poll numbers vis a vis Kerry.

People, it would seem, have made up their minds already, and it's hard to imagine what could shake Bush support if a week like the one he just had could not shake it. Maybe the impact of Clarke's testimony will take a while to soak in, but I have to admit that what I have thought should be a blow-out defeat for Bush might be something that goes right down to the wire.


The Fourth Republic. I'm finally getting around to reading Michael Lind's and Ted Haltead's The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics. It's refreshing for its offering some fresh thinking about where we are and where we need to go. Also because it connects very neatly with much of what I've been trying to present on this site. Basic premise is that American society has been so dynamic because it has met three enormous challenges created by changes in technology, and it has successfully adapted by reinventing itself each time. We have had three different republics, each one formed by its adaptation to technological change.

The first was the Jeffersonian Agrarian Republic whose imagination of itself was based on over 90% of Americans living on farms. The first American Republic came into existence just as the agrarian age was going out of existence and the Industrial Age was dawning. The second was Lincoln's steam-powered Industrial Age Reconstruction Republic. It preserved the union essentially by breaking up the inordinate power held by the South and its continued feudal, agrarian vision about what the country should be.The third was Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal Republic which successfully adapted to the challenges posed by electricity and the internal combustion engine. It provided a safety net to insure a basic level of security for a population suffering a dramatic dislocation from the farms to the factories, and laid the infrastructure for the electrical grid and road system.

The Fourth Republic hasn't come into existence yet. Information and biotechnologies present the challenges to which the nation has yet to adapt. The Third Republic model is no longer adequate to the task, but we have an administration that seems bent on returning the country to the 19th Century Industrial Age Reconstruction model. And if successful, this administration would eventually turn the country into an oligarchical banana republic. On the other hand is Kerry going to be the next Jefferson, Lincoln, or Roosevelt? I doubt it. But the one thing we don't need is another Rutherford B. Hayes.


Daddy, I can't go into that room all by myself. Does it strike anyone else as odd that Bush and Cheney will be appearing before the 9/11 Commission together? John Dean in today's Salon on the relationship between Bush and Cheney:

. . . it is Cheney, not Rove, who is Bush's backroom brain. He is actually a co-president. Bush doesn't enjoy studying and devising policy. Cheney does. While Cheney has tutored Bush for almost four years, and Bush is better prepared today than when he entered the job, Cheney is quietly guiding this administration. Cheney knows how to play Bush so that Cheney is absolutely no threat to him, makes him feel he is president, but Bush can't function without a script, or without Cheney. Bush is head of state; Cheney is head of government.

Dean doesn't think that Bush is stupid, he's just not into policy. Later he describes Bush as being very shrewd politically:

As I discovered in talking to people about Bush, he is a highly sophisticated political operator. I've noted in the book that Rove gets the credit for being Bush's political brain. It's an arrangement both men like, because it raises Rove's importance as a political operator, and lowers Bush's exposure. In truth, Bush is probably more politically savvy than Rove. Both men learned their politics from Lee Atwater, who ran Bush senior's 1988 campaign. Atwater made dirty politics into an art form, by which I mean he provided those for whom dirty deeds were done deniability while Atwater's people tore up an opponent's pea-patch and everything else. I expect the 2004 presidential campaign to make Richard Nixon look like a high-road campaigner.


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Iraq Update. This from a conservative legal scholar Bruce Fein in the pro-War Washington Times.

 The United States should declare its post-Saddam nation-building enterprise a failure. It should begin immediately to arrange the partition of Iraq by regional self-determination plebiscites. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it would be the worst imaginable last chapter of Operation Enduring Freedom, except for all the plausible alternative scripts.

Read the whole piece. You don't have to be an anti-Bush partisan to think the situation in Iraq has been disastrously bungled. Read the whole piece if you need someone to paint a picture for you about how huge are the difficulties that the US faces there.

The idea of partitioning Iraq is being supported by Leslie Gelb, and Henry Kissinger, according to Bob Dreyfus. Here's his take on what it would mean.

Let's be clear. The breakup of Iraq would be a bloody, genocidal catastrophe. Anyone who proposes it is a war criminal-in-waiting. Given the nearly unbelievable Bush administration bungling of its Iraq policy, it could happen.

Don't mince your words, Bob.


Daschle Gets a Backbone. Next time David Brooks complains about how nasty, hateful, and partisan the Democrats are, we should all forward him this speech to remind him who the world-class haters and character assassins are.


The Drift toward Plutocracy. I think this interview with David Cay Johnston about the need to reform the American tax code is a must read. This guy is no left- wing ideologue. He's just talking sense. These grafs should give you a feeling for where he's coming from:

A good tax system greases the wheels of commerce. It rewards responsible conduct. It rewards strivers. It encourages investments in the most valuable asset we have, which is the human mind. Whereas now, we put huge economic obstacles in front of intellectual development in this country. A good tax system promotes political stability, without which there is no great wealth. And we can come up with a tax system that will do those things.

Now we are going to have to come up with that tax system, or a new tax system, because the economic order has changed. Tax systems must flow from the economic order. If you live in a pirate society, the tax is what the chief pirate takes as his share of the booty. If you live in an agrarian culture, the tax is that share of the crops taken by the king to support the operation of the government. We have a tax system designed for a national industrial wage economy. It worked real well for a long time because we basically were an industrial national economy, with mostly wage earners. We are moving into a global services, assets-based world in which capital in the punch of a button moves across borders, and labor cannot, even if it wanted to -- you're not going to take a job in India, in all likelihood.

So we have to have a tax system that recognizes those things and adapts to it, and that promotes the economic order instead of getting in the way of it. But what we're getting instead is a big, huge moat being put around the incomes and fortunes of those who are already rich. Of the super-wealthy in America, some of the super-high-income people don't want to pay taxes, but that's not all of those people. Many people in that group are very responsible and understand what's going on. But the narrow segment within that group that hates taxes -- that group is having enormous success in putting a moat around its money and its finances, and saying: We got ours. That's not America. That's not American.

Warren Buffet the other day said that if class warfare is being waged in America, his class is very clearly winning. And he did not mean that as a good thing. I'm in favor of higher incomes, more wealth. But what we need to have is a system that creates higher incomes and more wealth, not protects those who already got theirs.

I have said on a couple of occasions that the way Americans politics has shifted over the last twenty years to favor the interests of big money is the single most important problem that this republic faces. I see no greater threat to the idea of America than this drift toward plutocracy, and I make no apologies for sounding alarmist about it. The stakes are very, very high.

Tax reform is an abstract, complex issue and it can be easily spun to keep people in a state confusion about it. But nothing is more important, and assuming that a Democratic administration is in office this time next year, it will become then one of my main focus points. Significant tax reform and significant campaign finance reform, which severely limits special-interest access to policy makers, is essential for the flourishing of the American Republic.


Monday, March 29, 2004

Being Smart about Fighting Terror. Jay Bookman this morning makes much the same point I've been making in the last week about how the real issue for Clarke is not what the administration failed to do before 9/11, but what it did do after it:

In the weeks and months that followed, the anger inspired in the American people by the attacks of Sept. 11 was cleverly hijacked by the administration to justify an invasion of Iraq that had nothing to do with the threat posed by terrorism. For Clarke, that was unforgivable.

By invading Iraq, Clarke believes, "the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism." The more than 580 U.S. troops who have given their lives so far "died for the president's own agenda, which had nothing to do with the war on terrorism." As others have, Clarke suggests that by withholding troops and resources from the invasion of Afghanistan because they would be needed later in Iraq, the United States may have allowed al-Qaida leadership to escape, permitting the organization to morph into a less centralized, more dangerous movement.

" There have been more major al-Qaida-related attacks globally in the 30 months since 9/11 than there were in the 30 months preceding it," Clarke told the commission. "Hostility toward the U.S. in the Islamic world has increased since 9/11, largely as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq."

Clarke's primary concern is not that the administration didn't do enough before 9/11, but that it did the wrong thing after it. Why? Not because it doesn't care about defeating terror, but because it has an obsolete model about how to deal with it based on cold-war thinking. The administration is mistaken in assuming that networks like al-Qaeda are state sponsored. It would be so much easier if they were and there were clear battle lines, but they are not. It's not about being any less aggressive about the war on terror; it's about being smarter.

See Fareed Zakaria's column in Newsweek in which he makes the same point about the nature of the enemy that the Bushies don't seem to understand. Key grafs:

The Bush administration came to office with different concerns. During the 1990s conservative intellectuals and policy wonks sounded the alarm about China, North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Iraq, but not about terror. Real men dealt with states.

Even after 9/11, many in the administration wanted to focus on states. Bush spoke out against countries that "harbor" terrorists. Two days after the attacks, Paul Wolfowitz proposed "ending states that sponsor terrorism." Beyond Iraq, conservative intellectuals like Richard Perle and Michael Ledeen insist that the real source of terror remains the "terror masters," meaning states like Iran and Syria.

I asked an American official closely involved with counterterrorism about state sponsorship. He replied, "Well, all that's left is Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, and it's mostly directed against Israel. States have been getting out of the terror business since the late 1980s. We have kept many governments on the list of state sponsors for political reasons. The reality is that the terror we face is mostly unconnected to states." Today's terrorists are harbored in countries like Spain and Germany—entirely unintentionally. They draw on support not from states but private individuals—Saudi millionaires, Egyptian radicals, Yemenite preachers.

Afghanistan housed Al Qaeda, and thus it was crucial to attack the country. But that was less a case of a state's sponsoring a terror group and more one of a terror group's sponsoring a state. Consider the situation today. Al Qaeda has lost its base in Afghanistan, two thirds of its leaders have been captured or killed, its funds are being frozen. And yet terror attacks mount from Indonesia to Casablanca to Spain. "These attacks are not being directed by Al Qaeda. They are being inspired by it," the official told me. "I'm not even sure it makes sense to speak of Al Qaeda because it conveys the image of a single, if decentralized, group. In fact, these are all different, local groups that have in common only ideology and enemies."

This is why Clarke and lots of others have been so distressed at this Iraq misadventure. It's aggravating and reinforcing Muslim grievances against the West. It's playing right into their psychodrama about the Western invader, and it's the best recruiting tool a terrorist organizer could dream of. And let's not even go into the price we're paying for this foolishness.


Saturday, March 27, 2004

Epigraph for Column 18.

The growing rush and the disappearance of contemplation and simplicity from modern life [are] the symptoms of a complete uprooting of culture. The waters of religion retreat and leave behind pools and bogs. The sciences . . . atomize old beliefs. The civilized classes and nations are swept away by the grand rush for contemptible wealth. Never was the world worldlier, never was it emptier of love and goodness. . . . Everything, modern art and science included, prepares us for the coming barbarism. . . .Everything on earth will be decided by the crudest and most evil powers, by the selfishness of grasping men and military dictators.

Nietzsche, Thoughts out of Season, 1873-76


The Two Clarke's. I have always been an admirer of David Brooks' perceptive and often humorous observations about American manners and mores. But when it comes to politics he's as partisan as they come, and that would be ok if it were not for this pretense that he's above it all and just wants to be reasonable, fair and balanced. Once again this pretense is evident in his column today about Richard Clarke, whom he describes as someone who though once balanced and subtle Dick Clarke has become transformed overnight it would seem into a "mendacious glory-hound whose claims are contradictory."

And so once again it's about the two Clarke's and which one of them is to be believed, but one way or another, he's a liar. Isn't it amazing how GOP critics are always flip-flopping models of prevarication and inconsistency and GOP folk are steady as Gibraltar. They showed this marvelous unflappable poise all week, didn't they--as they desperately flopped about like fish on the dock saying whatever they could to undermine Clarke's credibility.

What seems impossible for GOP partisans to believe is that Clarke's attitudes toward the administration could have evolved in response to events as they unfolded. And that the critical difference between Clarke I and Clarke II is that the first Clarke stands on one side of the Iraq invasion and the second stands on the other side of it. Iraq is the real issue here. I think that this got lost in all the brouhaha this week that focused mostly on the months before 9/11.

There is ample and mounting evidence that the Bush administration did not give counter-terror the same urgent priority it was given in the Clinton administration. That doesn't mean that the Clinton administration did everything it could or that the Bush administration did nothing. It just means that the Bush people looked at the threat posed by al-Qaeda through a different lens, namely its grand Middle East strategy, which eclipsed all other concerns.

Iraq is the real issue here, and the way that the administration deceptively pursued its Iraq agenda as if it were something developed as a response to 9/11. That someone like Brooks cannot understand Clarke's outrage and the outrage of so many Americans about how this policy was deceptively foisted on the American people--who never had a chance to debate it-- just shows how blinkered are his own perceptions.

Isn't it possible that it is not a question of inconsistency between the two Clarkes at all, but rather the difference in his perception and understanding about the administration before and after Iraq? It shouldn't be too hard hard to comprehend that whatever difference there might be in his tone or emphasis has more to do with his speaking freely as a private citizen and from his speaking and writing from the perspective of the summer of 2003 when Iraq had proven itself to be the disaster he and so many others feared it would become.

It's Iraq and all the manipulation and distortion of intelligence by the administration that led up to our involvement there that has outraged him, and it understandably has colored, in retrospect, his understanding of the significance of what happened in the months leading up to 9/11. If there are two Clarkes, the difference between them has more to do with how things looked to him before Iraq and how things looked after.


Clarke's Credibility. The White House has done as much as it can to impugn it, and yet their own NSA Condi Rice is clearly afraid of testifying under oath. Bill Frist wants to go on a fishing expedition, GOP style, to see if he can catch Clarke in perjuring himself. It's likely to be as successful as all the attempts the GOP hatchet men when they went after Clinton. All these sanctimonious prigs could come up with then was to catch Clinonton in the world-historically momentous fib in response to a question about a private matter that should never been asked him in the first place.

They'll probably find some minor inconsistencies here and there about what Clarke has said over the years, take them out of context, and blow them up into something that will be sufficient to shore up up the credulity of the faithful so that everyone can go back to sleep again. That way the faithful won't have to pay attention to the growing pile of evidence that just speaks for itself.

Frist and other GOP hatchet men in their desperation this week repeatedly make accusations and then we find either there is no basis for them or that they have to retract them. See Josh Marshall's 3/26 posts for his dissection of the bad faith, false or unsupported accusations, and blatant hypocrisy of Frist, Hadley, and the other GOP bad boys.

So you can count on these GOP hatchet men to shake the trees to see what will fall out. So let them do so, but if they declassify information about Clarke, as Marshall says, let them declassify information across the board. Let the truth come out, all of it. I doubt Clarke will be as hurt by it as Condi Rice and others in the White House gang will be.


From today's Misleader:

A previously forgotten report from April 2001 (four months before 9/11) shows that the Bush Administration officially declared it "a mistake" to focus "so much energy on Osama bin Laden." The report directly contradicts the White House's continued assertion that fighting terrorism was its "top priority" before the 9/11 attacks1.

Specifically, on April 30, 2001, CNN reported that the Bush Administration's release of the government's annual terrorism report contained a serious change: "there was no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden" as there had been in previous years. When asked why the Administration had reduced the focus, "a senior Bush State Department official told CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden."2.

The move to downgrade the fight against Al Qaeda before 9/11 was not the only instance where the Administration ignored repeated warnings that an Al Qaeda attack was imminent3. Specifically, the Associated Press reported in 2002 that "President Bush's national security leadership met formally nearly 100 times in the months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks yet terrorism was the topic during only two of those sessions"4. Meanwhile, Newsweek has reported that internal government documents show that the Bush Administration moved to "de-emphasize" counter terrorism prior to 9/115. When "FBI officials sought to add hundreds more counterintelligence agents" to deal with the problem, "they got shot down" by the White House.

1. Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, 03/22/2004.
2. CNN, 04/30/2001.
3. Bush Was Warned of Hijackings Before 9/11; Lawmakers Want Public Inquiry, ABC News, 05/16/2002.
4. "Top security advisers met just twice on terrorism before Sept. 11 attacks", Detroit News, 07/01/2002.
5. Freedom of Information Center, 05/27/2002.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

Clarke in 2001. Here's the picture I see coming into focus. The Bush team takes over in January 2001. It brings in mostly new people, many of whom are from the Reagan/Bush41 days. It keeps some career government types on like Tenet and Clarke. Tenet remains cabinet level, but as we've learned since, the CIA was never really trusted by the neocons, who were the real drivers of foreign policy in the Pentagon. For this reason they created their own intelligence agency within the Pentagon called the Office of Special Plans, headed by Douglas Feith.

They kept Richard Clarke on as the counter-terrorism expert, but they demoted him so that he no longer had access to cabinet-level people. He had instead to deal with their deputies. This is probably what Cheney means when he says that Clarke was out of the loop. But why was he out of the loop? Should he have been? Isn't this a pretty strong indicator of the less-than-urgent priority the new administration gave to counter-terror?

Had they seen terrorism as an urgent concern, they would not have demoted him. As a result, he did not have the access he needed to convey the sense of urgency that he felt, and the administration remained largely oblivious to the many warnings that were surfacing.

It's become clear that in the months preceding 9/11 there was a sustained spike in the chatter that the intelligence community was picking up that something bad was going to happen. Enough of a spike to "set you hair on fire," says 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick. But the Bush administration didn't pay much attention to it, partly because it had nothing to compare it with, since it had been in office for such a short time. But isn't that what people like Clarke and Tenet were there for? To provide some context to help the new administration understand the meaning of things like this spike? But Clarke was physically out of the loop and Tenet was virtually out of the loop.

It seems that any attempts that Clarke made to sound the alarm were met with a polite: "Thank you for your concern, but the grownups are back in power now. You don't have to worry. We know the world is a dangerous place. We'll do what we can about the terrorist threat, but we have other more important priorities, the scope and grandeur of which you Clinton holdovers couldn't understand."

Clarke is so believable because his testimony is another piece of evidence in a pile that has been mounting for the last year that clearly indicts this administration as one that only hears and sees what it wants to hear and see. It has a rigid template that it has imposed on the world. It was shaped by habits of mind developed during the Reagan phase of the Cold War years, a mentality that Clarke apprantly shared at that time, but which he now believes is no longer well adapted to the new realities and new threats that the post-1989 world poses.

I don't know whether Clarke addresses this in the book or not, but my guess is that had the Bush administration learned its lesson from 9/11 and adjusted its policy, he would not have resigned and he would not have come out with guns blazing in this book that he has written. He understands that the administration's "other priorities" that had more importance than counter-terror were primarily its designs on Iraq. And I think that what really astonished Clarke was that after 9/11, instead of learning from it and making the necessary adjustments, the neocons instead just used it as a pretext to promote their preexisting agenda.

So as late as August 2002 Clarke was still defending administration's policy like a good soldier, but he quit shortly after that. And in the ensuing months he wrote his book as the country went to war in Iraq, and his outrage must have grown with each passing month as he saw the lies and the distortions and exaggerations which led to the ensuing debacle.


Rice in over Her Head. Is there any question about it? She's a Sovietologist with little policiy experience and little knowledge of the Middle East. She's someone who might have made sense as a Reagan appointee. But as Salon points out today, she's being caught up now in one lie or another as she tries to wriggle out of the pile of mounting evidence that she hasn't a clue.

...on Wednesday, commissioner Jamie Gorelick, the former deputy attorney general, asked Clarke, "When Dr. Rice writes in the Washington Post, 'No al-Qaida plan was turned over to the new administration [by the Clinton team when it left office],' is that true?"

Clarke again replied with a devastating single-word answer. This time it was: "No."

And he had the chapter and verse to prove it.

" I think what is true is what your staff found by going through the documents ... Early in the administration, within days of the Bush administration coming into office, we gave them two documents ... In fact, I briefed Dr. Rice on this even before they came into office," he told the commission. . . .

In her Washington Post article, Rice also acknowledges that "according to the FBI, by June 2001, 16 of the 19 hijackers were already here" -- that is, within the United States. She argues that even if the United States had moved more forcefully to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan during 2001, it still would not have averted the hijack plot within the United States.

That part is obviously true, but of course it neatly sidesteps the real issues. For its full first eight months in office, the Bush administration never took seriously the threat of any kind of al-Qaida terrorist attack, let alone a mega one within the continental United States.

This complacent blindness toward the threat of al-Qaida continued right down to the wire. On Sept. 9, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told senators on Capitol Hill that the president was prepared, with his approval, to veto their efforts to shift $600 million from his precious anti-ballistic missile development to counterterrorism security precautions. Rice did not object.

That last paragraph should be a pretty strong indicator of where the administrations's head was at regarding the threat posed by terrorists.


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

9/11 and 11/2. The administration understands that its only hope for re-election is the country's continued perception of GWB as a strong, war-time leader. That image took a serious blow Sunday night with Richard Clarke's accusations that he has done a terrible job in the war on terrorism, and that he is outraged that Bush is running on the job he's done as if it was something to be proud of. So given this administration's history of defamation and threat toward whistle blowers, it's to be expected that it would go after Clarke with a vengeance.

One has to believe, though, that someone with his thirty years of service in Republican and Democratic administrations has enough credibility ballast to weather the storm. There are a lot of places on the web that have been trying to keep track of and evaluate the charges the administration is making about Clarke. Josh Marshall has been good. And check this well-documented page on the Center for American Progress site that shows how the administration's main charges are either fabrications or self-contradictory.

I think that it's likely, though, that in the coming months more and more people hired by this administration will, as Richard Clarke, Richard Foster, Paul O'Neill, David Kay, Joe Wilson, Gen. Anthony Zinni, General Eric Shinseki, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, and Larry Lindsey have done, continue to come out to tell the truths that the administration doesn't want the rest of us to hear. And maybe, just maybe, this overwehlming flood of data will begin to break through the denial barriers of the 45% of Americans who continue to take this administration at its word. My hope, fanciful as it might be, is that this administration will be thoroughly repudiated by the American people.

Update: See Richard Clarke's defense of himself in Joe Coanson's interview of him in Salon today. (P.S. If you don't have a subscription to Salon, get one. It's worth it.) A couple of the Q&As:

The vice president commented that there was "no great success in dealing with terrorists" during the 1990s, when you were serving under President Clinton. He asked, "What were they doing?"

It's possible that the vice president has spent so little time studying the terrorist phenomenon that he doesn't know about the successes in the 1990s. There were many. The Clinton administration stopped Iraqi terrorism against the United States, through military intervention. It stopped Iranian terrorism against the United States, through covert action. It stopped the al-Qaida attempt to have a dominant influence in Bosnia. It stopped the terrorist attacks at the millennium. It stopped many other terrorist attacks, including on the U.S. embassy in Albania. And it began a lethal covert action program against al-Qaida; it also launched military strikes against al-Qaida. Maybe the vice president was so busy running Halliburton at the time that he didn't notice.

Why do you think Cheney -- and the Bush administration in general -- ignored the warnings that were put to them by [former national security advisor] Sandy Berger, by you, by George Tenet, who is apparently somebody they hold in great esteem?

They had a preconceived set of national security priorities: Star Wars, Iraq, Russia. And they were not going to change those preconceived notions based on people from the Clinton administration telling them that was the wrong set of priorities. They also looked at the statistics and saw that during eight years of the Clinton administration, al-Qaida killed fewer than 50 Americans. And that's relatively few, compared to the 300 dead during the Reagan administration at the hands of terrorists in Beirut -- and by the way, there was no military retaliation for that from Reagan. It was relatively few compared to the 259 dead on Pan Am 103 in the first Bush administration, and there was no military retaliation for that. So looking at the low number of American fatalities at the hands of al-Qaida, they might have thought that it wasn't a big threat.

Dr. Rice now says that your plans to "roll back" al-Qaida were not aggressive enough for the Bush administration. How do you answer that, in light of what we know about what they did and didn't do?

I just think it's funny that they can engage in this sort of "big lie" approach to things. The plan that they adopted after Sept. 11 was the plan that I had proposed in January [2001}. If my plan wasn't aggressive enough, I suppose theirs wasn't either.

Were you concerned about your friendship with Rand Beers being used, as it is now, to suggest that you did this in order to help John Kerry in his presidential campaign?

This is the most interesting charge against me -- that I am a friend of Rand Beers, as if that's some terrible thing. Who is Rand Beers? Until a year ago, he was someone who was working for George Bush in the White House. He worked for George Bush's father in the White House. He worked for Ronald Reagan in the White House. But now it's a terrible thing to be a friend of Rand Beers? He and I have been friends for 25 years. I'm not going to disown him because he's working for John Kerry. He's my friend, he's going to stay my friend, we teach a course together [at Harvard]. He works for John Kerry. I don't.


Monday, March 22, 2004

Clarke on 60 Minutes. How many hits will this administration have to take before the American public sees it for what it is? The time is long past when any sensible person can extend the benefit of the doubt to these audacious liars. They are going way beyond whatever might be considered legitimate spin. Once again, check this video clip of Rumsfeld on Face the Nation if you need graphic evidence of someone whose causal disregard for the truth and the historical record should be a front-page scandal.

Until recently people like Rumsfeld have assumed that they can say can say up is down and the press will give them a pass. I hope that this Face the Nation episode and Sixty Minutes decision to give Richard Clarke some air time is a sign of a shift in the media's deferential attitude toward this administration. It has clearly forfeited any claim to the trust and good faith of the American people, and in my opinion anyone who still extends it to them is in a serious state of denial.

Clinton lied about a private matter that was no else's business. This administration lies blatantly in the spirit of Orwell's Big Lie about policies that have caused the deaths of hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis, and anybody who has been paying any attention and has any nose for the truth has sniffed this out by now. And even if they haven't, when people like O'Neill, Clarke, Kwiatkowski and others who have worked for this administration come out and tell the stories that they tell, all of which confirm what the others have said, how much longer can they avoid facing the truth about the fraud that this administration is perpetrating?


Blue and Red America. Yesterday I wrote about how the neocon imperial psychodrama fits hand in glove with the terrorists' repel-the-invader psychodrama. Pro-war Americans see their country in the most idealistic terms as bringing liberation from oppression and the promise of a better future to the Iraqi people. Problem is that Islamists see America as the Great Satan which is bent on destroying their traditional way of life and everything they hold sacred. And since 9/11 ordinary Americans, with a little help from the GOP propaganda machine, have come to see Islamist terrorists the way ordinary Muslims see Americans, as invaders who seek to destroy everything they hold dear.

Similar to the way that patriotic Islamic fundamentalists see prowar Americans and vice versa, conservative Red America sees liberal Blue America. Blue America in the eyes of traditionalist Reds is effete and morally corrupt in its personal values and weak when it comes to confronting outside threats. Blue America at its best, in Red America’s eyes, is childishly naive about how things work in the “real world” and absurdly simplistic and soft-minded in their clueless jabbering about world peace and international cooperation. And Reds see Blues at their worst in their being morally weak relativists and ditherers who don’t have the rock solid values that will help them to brace against the storm. (The latest attempt by the GOP to paint Kerry as indecisive is rooted in this idea.)

Blue America, of course, does not see itself the way Red America sees it. Most Blues see themselves as open to complexity and diversity, as curious cosmopolitans, interested in ideas, as tolerant, compassionate, idealistic, change and future-oriented, and as having global vision. And while centrist Blues, whose values are still very much shaped by their religious heritage, don't like being painted with the same brush as the extremist elements among them, at the same time they have to admit that the secular left has had a significant influence in shaping the Democratic Party’s agenda in ways they don’t feel completely comfortable with.

But Blues, whether secularist or religious, see Reds on the cultural right as morally rigid, sanctimonious, intolerant, fearful and security obsessed, and as parochial, hate-filled, anti-intellectuals. And they see corporate and elite-class Reds in the country-club set as soul-less, amoral, disloyal, greedy, hypocritical and arrogant. Reds, to be sure, don’t see themselves that way. They see themselves as having character and moral clarity, of being plain-spoken straight shooters who know what they stand for and stand strong when the going gets tough.

They see themselves as the patriotic backbone and the moral ballast that sustains what remains of the American spirit, and when they look at Blues they see hardly anything that is in their minds recognizably American. Blues are gays and feminists, hippies, rock stars and movie stars, pornographers, socialists, left-wing secularists, and they feel that these people, who don’t really understand what America is about, are taking the country away from them.

So what we have here is a deadlock between two competing and very different imaginations about what it means to be an American. The Red America, based on a fairly clear and simple set of values derived from traditional norms passed down from generation to generation. And a Blue America, which is open-ended, diverse, and universalistic.

My own view is that Blue America, because of its embrace of diversity and a multilateral global vision, is in a better position to deal with the complex realities the nation will face in the 21st Century. I see the mind of Red America as still stuck in the 19th Century. Nevertheless, Blue America has to find a way of making it easier for Red America to respect the Blues' more catholic vision. I think that one of the most important ways that Blues can do that is in finding common ground in the religious and spiritual traditions that they both share. They have to make the case that those values and traditions should be a source of moral strength and vision to navigate in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world rather than as a source of bricks to build a wall to block that world out.

I think that religious Blues who understand this have to make a similar case to the secularists to their left who don't. They have to make the case that substantive progressive change in this country isn't going to happen unless the left recognizes the importance of those religious values and traditions and how they can be an essential resource that needs to be retrieved if a progressive politics is to gain a broad consensus among mainstream Americans.

The first goal of such a politics, because of its urgency, should be to preserve the republic, the last remnants of which are withering away as the country trends toward corporate oligarchy. The bottom line is that Red and Blue Americans have to find a way to join forces to take their country back from Big Money which has no loyalties except to itself. This is a huge, huge problem. But we have drifted into it so unconsciously and comfortably that most Americans still don't recognize it for the problem that it is. And it's going to take more than electing John Kerry to solve it.

Update: See Column 18 for more on this theme.


Sunday, March 21, 2004

One Year Later. I’ve been trying to put my finger on just what it is about the American psyche that made it so easy for the US to become embroiled in this fiasco in Iraq. There’s a very real drama going on here—the bombs and bullets are real and real people are getting killed, but there is also a psychodrama going on that in a very real, if mostly unconscious way, influences how the script is being written.

The Islamic terrorist part of the psychodrama is pretty straightforward. They see themselves as defenders of their homeland and their faith against the foreign infidel. They see the West as their traditional enemy which gives lipservice to human rights and democracy, but is interested really only in stealing their oil. They cannot possibly win on the field of battle, so they conduct their warfare by other means. Their goal is simple: to drive the foreign enemy out of their homeland.

Their effort in the long run will likely be a futile one, and it could be argued that their continued resistance will just prolong their suffering. But that is how this psychodrama is framed in their minds, and until someone can suggest a more plausible psychodrama for them to buy into and play their parts in, there's little reason to believe that their minds will change.

But I think the American part of the psychodrama is less easy to understand because it operates on two levels. The first is on the level of the neocon leadership, which I think is very conscious and clear about its goals; the second is on the level of the pro-war American electorate, which is much less conscious and has been deliberately scripted by the neocon leadership group.

I am convinced that the neocon's psychodrama is the age-old dream of empire. This is for them the American moment. They see the U.S. as having a window of opportunity afforded by the collapse of the Soviet Union to expand American power and influence. But this is an opportunity that will be wasted unless seized by bold men with vision and conviction.

That's how the neocons see themselves in this hubristic psychodrama. And so as larger-than-life men like Alexander justified the conquests in Africa and the Middle East as a benefit to these people in bringing them Greek culture. As Napoleon justified his conquests as a benefit to Europeans in bringing them Napoleonic law and the ideals of fraternite, liberte, and egalite. As the British justified the expansion of their empire as their white-man’s-burden obligation to bring the dark peoples of the world into the light of civilization. So now these bold Americans have a similar plan to expand US hegemony to benefit the world with its ideals of democracy, human rights, and a market economy. It’s exhilarating in its boldness of vision. It’s breathtaking for the scope of its ambition. What an ego trip to be making history as the great empire builders of the past have done.

Only thing is that they are about 150 years too late. Empire building is no longer politically correct. Imperialism is out of date.You can’t just openly declare your ambitions for the glory of the fatherland to the huzzahs of the crowd anymore. It used to be that the empire builders were national heroes, but now they have to work more clandestinely. Even though the neocons were pretty clear about their ambitions in articles and speeches they gave during the nineties, once you have power you can’t just announce to the world that you’re going to invade the Middle East to promote US imperial interests. You can’t just blithely announce that the US is essentially going to extend the Monroe Doctrine to include the entire globe. Americans don't want to think of themselves as imperialists.

So you need a pretext, and that was neatly provided by 9/11. And this is where the other psychodrama comes in, the one being played out among the pro-war electorate, a drama that was scripted by the neocon leadership. I think there was a very conscious effort to exploit Americans' fears triggered by this unprecedented invasion of US territory. As I said the other day, that event awakened the deep-seated anxieties about the barbarian horde coming to destroy our civilization and everything we hold dear.

Once these fears are stimulated, they are easy to manipulate. The formula is utterly predictable: Pick a desirable target. Seize on any facts or quasi-facts that help to demonize this target in the collective imagination. Exaggerate the threat this enemy poses. Propose a plan designed to exterminate the threat. Get a quorum of the media punditry to promote the plan as a noble cause. Accuse anyone who challenges this plan of being unpatriotic or soft on “fillintheblank.” Works every time.

And this formula was followed precisely in the runup to the invasion of Iraq. This time the “fillintheblank” was terrorism, even though the target was Saddam. It didn't matter that he had essentially nothing to do with 9/11. There was enough fear and hysteria in the minds of enough Americans that an argument to invade Mexico probably could have been made and applauded. In the neocon psychodrama Iraq had been the easy entry point into the heart of the Middle East. Can anyone sensibly doubt, knowing what we know now, that the invasion of Iraq was really in the minds of its planners a response to 9/11 of that it had anything to do with WMD?

The mess we're in now was not inevitable. I think it's reasonable to speculate about what the Clinton administration have done differently had it been in power for another term. Clinton administration officials will be testifying in the next week or so about what it knew about al Qaeda, and much of what they say will be dismissed as self-serving. But from what we know already, I think it’s pretty obvious that the idea of invading Iraq would have never been seriously entertained.

There would have been no reason to do anything about Iraq except continue to contain Saddam, a strategy that now appears to have worked rather well. It’s also becoming clear that the Clinton administration was very aware of the threat posed by al Qaeda, and there is reason to believe that it would have been more vigilant in anticipating and perhaps preventing 9/11.

And even if it were not possible to prevent 9/11, I think his administration would have developed a more sensible and better funded homeland security strategy at far less cost than the exorbitant expenditures getting drained away into Iraq. There would have been no Orwellian Patriot Acts and Guantanamo affronts to American ideals of justice.

And is there any question that his administration rather than so quickly losing the world’s sympathy and goodwill after 9/11, would have worked in an effective, collaborative effort with European and other allies to develop aggressive anti-terrorist strategies. It’s likely that he would have gone after Osama in Afghanistan, as the Bush administration did, and while it’s impossible to say whether he would have been more successful in capturing him, Osama's apprehension would have received his administration’s undivided attention--unless the GOP would have cooked up another scandal to divert it.

I could be wrong about what either Clinton (or Gore) would have done--we'll never know. But there's no question in my mind that things would be very different today had Bush not been elected, and it's hard to imagine how things could be much worse.

Update: It's not just Democrats who think that the Bush people have done a terrible job in fighting terrorism. Richard Clarke, former terrorism czar for Reagan and Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II thinks so, too. His Sixty Minutes interview tonight is synopsized here. It's bound to generate a lot of chatter this week. Add this to the picture painted by Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski, and it's just so clear what's really going on, and it has little to do with what the administration wants you to think.

Some key grafs from the Clark interview:

" The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

" I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'
" He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

" I have no idea, to this day, if the president saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't-- wouldn't like the answer."

Clarke was the president's chief adviser on terrorism, yet it wasn't until Sept. 11 that he ever got to brief Mr. Bush on the subject. Clarke says that prior to Sept. 11, the administration didn't take the threat seriously.
" We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.

" There's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too. But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on.

" I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War issues when they back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They came back. They wanted to work on the same issues right away: Iraq, Star Wars. Not new issues, the new threats that had developed over the preceding eight years."

The jackals are circling. In case you haven't seen it check out this video in which Rumsfeld is caught outright in one of his lies. Was that Tom Friedman nailing Rumsfeld to the wall? Could it be possible that even he is turning on the administration? The winds, they are a changin'.


Friday, March 19, 2004

The Real World. Charles Krauthammer has made a living off of his hardbitten hawkishness over the years. He's a trained psychiatrist who has evolved into a pundit who has become one of the great preachers for the Western crusade against Islamic terrorism. To read his column this morning, one would think that this war has the same political and historical significance as the war against Hitler. He says:

Today there is no doubting the intentions of Arab-Islamic radicalism. It is not this grievance or that (U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia). It is not this territory or that (Palestine, Andalusia). The intention, endlessly repeated, is the establishment of a primitive, messianic caliphate -- redeeming Islam and dominating the world. They have seen the future: Taliban Afghanistan, writ large.

Now since Krauthammer is a psychiatrist, I'm sure he's familiar with the concept of "projection." And it makes me wonder whether he is deliberately working with it to incite his readers here, or whether he is so overpowered by his own unconscious fears that he is projecting this kind of scenario in all sincerity. But one way or the other, Krauthammer is a fear monger. If he's doing it consciously, he's a demagogue; if he's doing it unconsciously, he's hysterical.

The fear he's stirring up is the age-old fear of the barbarian invader. This is a deep-seated anxiety in the collective psyche of the West, but it has as much basis in reality now as the fear that we have about alien invasions, a fear recently stirred by Mel Gibson's other film, "Signs."

And it's projection because for the last 500 years it's the West which has been the invader and destroyer of traditional cultures, and that's exactly how this invasion into the heartland of Islam is perceived by the people who live there. We assume it's morally justified because we're the good guys. We're bringing freedom and human rights and a market economy that will float everyone's boat. And if these Muslim fools can't see that, well, we'll just have to ram modernity down their throats. Here's the way that people like Krauthammer spin it:

Prodi is right that the war on terror is not resolved by force alone. How is it won apart from hunting down terrorists and destroying terrorist regimes? By reversing the Arab-Islamic world's tragic collapse into oppression, intolerance and destitution, in which popular grievances are cynically deflected by repressive regimes and clergy into the virulent anti-Americanism that exploded upon us on Sept. 11, 2001. Which means trying to give desperate and oppressed people a chance at the kind of freedom and prosperity that we helped construct after World War II in Europe and East Asia.

Where on this planet is this project most engaged? Iraq, where day by day the U.S.-led coalition is trying to build a new civil order characterized by pluralism, the rule of law and constitutional restraints. Even a modicum of success in this enterprise would constitute a monumental strategic advance, a historic change in the very culture of the Middle East.

In other words, forcefully ram modernity down the throats of Muslims who want nothing to do with it. His attempt to present what we're trying to do now in Iraq with America's role in the reconstruction of Europe is so flawed, I don't even know where to start, so I'm not going to. Instead I'll just suggest that you read Juan Cole's piece in Salon today. That's the best way I can suggest that you can get a clearer picture why this neocon fantasy has no basis in the realities on the ground in Iraq. It's hard to imagine a more unrealistic approach to solving the terrorist problem than these so-called neocon realists have devised.

But for me the more significant question is What are Americans so afraid of, anyway? Why is the American psyche so vulnerable to these demagogic fantasies? Why must it see thing only in such black and white terms? Why must there always be this enemy that we project as seeking to destroy everything that we hold most dear? In this history of the world has there been a country safer and more powerful?

That, of course does not mean that we are completely invulnerable. It doesn't mean that there are no dangers about which we need to be concerned. It doesn't mean we just ignore the problem and go work in the garden as CK presents the "soft-on-terrorism" option which is the only alternative to his more "realistic" possibility, which is essentially to depose all anti-modern despots and replace them with enlightened western democrats.

Krauthammer is a very intelligent man, but he is a very primitive and, I think, naive thinker. His is not unlike the kind of naive thinking that conservatives criticized the Great Society liberals of doing in their social engineering projects of the sixties and seventies. But someow this far more ambtious and ultimately more costly social engineering project is something these conservatives now think we are competent to accomplish? It boggles the mind.

And it's exactly that kind of thinking that can make such a mess of things, even when motivated by the best of intentions. But I suspect his intentions are demagogic in his column today, and demogoguery never leads to a good result. It's exactly the kind of fear-mongering that got us into the mess in Iraq in the first place.


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The White Man's Burden. Last week I wrote about how I saw a link between the mentality that developed the strategy for the war in Vietnam and the mentality that developed the strategy for the War on Poverty. I described both approaches as "astonishingly naive about history and human social psychology, and both were absurdly rationalistic in their strategies." It would appear that we've learned little from the mistakes of that era, for our approach to the development of a strategy for the War on Terrorism seems to be cut from the same cloth.

For the policies of the sixties and seventies were shaped by men whose mentality was formed by the thirties and forties, and their minds were not particularly well suited to deal effectively with the unprecedented developments in the culture that confronted them in the sixties and seventies. It's a common problem. Generals tend to fight the current war based on what they've learned from the last war, and more often than not those lessons are inapplicable to the the new situation.

I'll come back to what I think this means regarding the war on terror, but I want to digress for a moment on this idea of learning lessons from our experience in the sixties. It comes down to two basic responses, and whichever is your response, it's a very likely predictor of which political party you're more likely to gravitate toward. The first response is acceptance of the social changes that we underwent in the sixties and the second is to reject them.

It's not for most a black and white thing. Only the extremists on the secular left celebrate those changes with unbridled enthusiasm, and only the most fanatic on the cultural right think of the sixties as the era when America devolved into Sodom and Gomorrah. But if you vote Democratic, you most likely accept that what happened during the sixties had more good in it than bad. And if you're inclined to vote Republican, you probably accept that some changes, like civil rights for African Americans are a good thing, but you're otherwise pretty negative about what happened then, and you were relieved when Reagan came in to get things back to normal in 1980.

My own view is that historians one hundred years from now will look back on the Reagan/Bush years as a period during which the nation felt the need to slow things down in order to give itself some time to regroup and to figure out where it wanted to go. And that would be fine, even in justifying what happened in 2000--maybe we needed four years to get all the idiocy associated with l'affaire Lewinski out of our system.

But the problem is that 9/11 happened, and this group in power is particularly poorly equipped to develop an effective response to the challenges that 9/11 poses. Because this administration is functioning with a mentality that is about as poorly adapted to realities of the twenty-first century as it could possibly be. In George Bush we have a mind that is a fossil of the 19th Century--his religiosity, his economics, his attitude toward foreign affairs. Nostalgia for an older America is really at the root of his popularity, and that nostalgia, while understandable, simply cannot be indulged if the U.S. is to play an effective leadership role at this critical time in global history.

That 19th century mentality is on display today in our justification of this nation-building project in Iraq.Whatever the more sophisticated rationale that pro-invasion people offer, our policy in the Middle East boils down to the old white-man's-burden rationalization for Western imperialism--it's the responsibility of the White West to bring modern civilization to these poor, benighted heathens.

I think it's inevitable that the Islamic world and other traditionalist societies will modernize, but they have to find their own way. And it should be obvious that this 19th-century policy of ramming progress down the throat of traditionalist societies will slow down that process rather than hasten it. This is the point that Ian Buruma makes in today's NYT op ed page. He argues that when you force progress, you're more likely to energize the reactionaries. Here are his closing paragraphs in a piece that is worth reading in its entirety:

The real question for the Western universalists, then, is whether the cause of moderate Muslims is helped by the revolutionary war that has been set off by the American and British armies. For that is what the war in Iraq is: not a clash of civilizations, but a revolution unleashed through outside force.

There seems to be little doubt that most Iraqis were more than happy to see Saddam Hussein go. Most would have remained grateful to the United States and Britain, if only the coalition forces could have somehow gone home quickly, leaving Iraq with a functioning administration, electricity, running water and safe streets. This, of course, would not have been possible even if Britain and America had done everything right. The fact that the coalition got so much spectacularly wrong has made things far worse.

Iraq is so violent and chaotic now that it would be highly irresponsible to pull the troops out. As a result, we may be seeing more and more Huntingtonians [Muslims fighting to preserve Islamic civilization by repelling the Western invaders]. This is especially true of Arabs living outside Iraq, who never felt the lash of Saddam Hussein directly.

In the face of what is seen as continued Western aggression, it is harder for Muslims in any country to take a strong stand against fellow Muslims for fear of being branded as traitors. The Liberal Islamic Network, for example, has done a brave job of promoting a moderate form of Islam in Indonesia, where extremists bombed a Bali nightclub in 2002. These liberal Muslims advocate the separation of church and state, and a non-literal interpretation of the Koran. They were able to fight extremism without being seen as American stooges — until American troops invaded a Muslim country.

" When the Bali bombings occurred, I thought the fundamentalist groups would fade, because people would see that they were wrong," according to one member of the group, Nong Darol Mahmada. "But now the Iraq war becomes a new justification for the fundamentalist attitude toward America or the West. Everything we've been working for — democracy, freedom of thought — all seems in vain." She may be wrong. All might not be lost. But so far, in Iraq and beyond, the neoconservative mission is achieving the opposite of what it intended.

There's an irony here worth noting. The cultural right in this country is outraged by the cultural change it feels the secular left is ramming down its throat, gay marriage being only the most recent instance. And yet the cultural right's leadership in the White House is ramming its secularizing modern values down the throat of conservative Muslims provoking in them same angry response. You think it would take a reactionary to know a reactionary.


Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Al-Qaeda's "Victory" in Spain. Here's Kos's commentary on the absurdity of conservative thinking about the Spanish elections:

. . . Republicans and their apologists have responded in such a shrill manner to the Spanish elections. We get tripe like this:

" I don't think Bush's aim is to lead a coalition. His aim is to defeat terrorism. The loss of Spain as a partner is a substantial loss. But even if we have to fight terrorism alone, we have no choice but to fight," May said.

" The people of Spain had every right to get rid of their government and I also have every right to say that they have made a terrible mistake and handed the terrorists a major victory," he said.

But fact of the matter is that the world community rallied to our side to fight terrorists in Afghanistan. The war on Iraq had nothing to do with the fight against terrorism. Nothing. And nations are well within their rights to opt out of this disaster in slow motion.

To say the "terrorists won" in Spain is like saying the "terrorists won" when Bush pulled US forces out of Saudi Arabia -- a key Al Qaeda demand. Both comments can be justified with tortured logic but are, without a doubt, ridiculous.

But war supporters have nothing but the ridiculous to fall back on. Their claims of the dangers of an unchecked Saddam have all turned up empty. No WMDs. No significant ties to terrorism. But we did stir up a hornets nest, and more and more nations will find the stings aren't worth the while. They didn't wack the nest. Bush did. Let him bear the brunt.

Some 80% of Spaniards opposed the war, so their electoral reaction to this bombing was logical and predictable. I don't think the bombing intimidated them. Rather it enraged them at their government for getting them involved in this mess to begin with. Had they been supporters of the war, I think they would have reacted much the same way Americans would do if such a bombing were to occur in the weeks just before our elections. Is there any doubt that if such a disaster were to occur in the U.S., where 80% of voters supported the war, that it would insure Bush's re-election?


Monday, March 15, 2004

Finding the Battle Lines. I have been amazed how many conservative commentators argue that this disaster in Madrid vindicates the war in Iraq. It's as if in their tunnel vision they think that they're the only ones who take seriously the terrorist threat, and they proved it by supporting the regime change in Iraq. Huh? And double huh?

Many opponents of the war, including myself, have been against the war in Iraq for a host of reasons, but chief among them is because this war and the enormously expensive nation-building effort following it has required a foolish misallocation of resources. If you accept that task one is to deal effectively with clandestine, superempowered terrorists, you need to focus on them first. The war in Iraq has hardly anything to do with al Qaeda. I am also convinced that in the minds of the war's architects, the war on al Qaeda-type terror was a secondary concern. And I suspect that if the 9/11 Commission were allowed to do its job unimpeded by administration stonewalling, that's the picture that would come more clearly into focus.

Anyway, Josh Marshall makes much the same point with his usual clarity in his post today reflecting on the defeat of the pro-war conservative party in Spain:

Just after the bombings there was a rush of commentary and news coverage to the effect that this was Spain's (and Europe's) 9/11 and that, confronted with the reality of what we're up against, they'd get religion, shall we say, on the war on terror. And in this case the war on terror could be loosely read as the Iraq War.

Now, clearly, that doesn't seem to have happened in Spain. But the issue here isn't simply one of predictive accuracy. The whole line of thinking is based on flawed assumptions and, to a degree, on crediting the administration's spin about why our policies have been so unpopular in Europe.

America and Europe never saw eye-to-eye on how to take down the network of terror cells and associated Islamist terror groups we know as al Qaeda. But the disagreements have been greatly overstated. The heart of the matter, the rub, has always been about whether the 'war on terror' in any way included or was in any respect advanced by overthrowing the government of Iraq.

(To frame the matter ungenerously but with real precision, the question came down to whether you fight back against the terrorists by striking back at the terrorists or at someone else.)

Whatever else they thought of the Iraq war, very few people in Europe saw any real logic to the (terror war = Iraq war) equation. Some supported the Iraq war for other reasons. But few saw the two connected as the Bush administration tried to present them. And not a few saw the Iraq adventure as positively counterproductive to stemming the tide of Islamist terror.

Whoever you think is right or wrong in this, that is the nature of the rift over the 'war on terror'.

Now, if that's the war as you see it, that Iraq war was either irrelevant to fighting terror or would itself produce more terrorism, then the apparent response of the Spaniards doesn't seem at all difficult to fathom. Nor is it reducible to facile claims of appeasements.

The pro-war people can make the argument that the Spanish elections are an encouragement to terrorists that their tactics are working. But that's as ridiculous as what Congressman Cole from OK said last week about how a vote next fall against Bush will be a vote for Osama. Such an anti-war vote in Spain or here in the U.S. is not a gesture of appeasement; it's a rejection of a failed strategy in the war on terror in the hopes of electing someone who can develop a more effective one.


Friday, March 12, 2004

Two Americas. Andrew Sullivan recently made the point that there are indeed two Americas, but it has less to do with red and blue and more to do "those who believe we are at war and those who believe we aren't." Sullivan is clearly in the former category, and he went on to say that John Kerry hadn't proven to him yet that he wasn't in the second category. But if we are in a war, what kind of war is it?

The terrorist attack yesterday in Spain should be an occasion to give us pause to consider the real nature of this conflict. At this writing, it's not clear who is responsible--it could be the Basques; it could be al-Qaeda. Maybe it's someone else. But the point is that if we are at war with terrorists, it's a different kind of war, and one that we Americans don't seem to understand very well.

Anybody, anywhere, is as likely to be its victim as anyone else. There are no borders and no clear battle lines. So it isn't a war, at least in any conventional understanding of the word. We're dealing here with something much more like organized crime. And sure we can have a metaphorical war against crime just as we can have one against poverty or whatever, but it's not a real war.

But it would seem that our desire to have a real war against terrorism was the primary rationale behind our real war with Iraq. But do the two things really have anything to do with one another? I am still profoundly perplexed about how our invasion of Iraq advanced the cause against terrorism. It seems to me to have been little more than a blind, rather stupid and ill-conceived lashing out at somebody everybody agreed was a bad guy.

Whether you read Sullivan, Krauthammer, Dennis Miller, or any of the defenders of the war, the rationale seems to boil down to this: they hit us, so we have to hit back--at somebody, anybody--to show that these punks can't push us around. Pretty sophisticated approach.

But even if you grant that this playground logic might be effective in some situations, what practical impact it has in reducing the threat posed by the real terrorists who pose the real threat is beyond my comprehension. If anything, this incredibly costly war has created an enormous distraction from dealing with the threat that terrorism will continue to pose into the indefinite future. It has been an absurdly impractical misallocation of our resources based on a profoundly flawed reading of the situation

Update: Later today I came across Jonathan Schell piece at which assesses what we've accomplished in Iraq as we approach the anniversary of our invasion of it. He makes the same point I do above about Iraq being a major distraction from the real threat, but he goes into a lot more detail about an aspect of that threat that is truly frightening, namely nuclear proliferation. A few grafs from Schell:

The war was a failure in its own terms because weapons of mass destruction were absent in Iraq; the war policy failed because they were present and spreading in Pakistan. For Bush's warning of a mushroom cloud over an American city, though false with respect to Iraq, was indisputably well-founded in regard to Pakistan's nuclear one-stop-shopping: The next warning stemming from this kind of failure could indeed be a mushroom cloud.

The questions that now cry out to be answered are, Why did the United States, standing in the midst of the Pakistani nuclear Wal-Mart, its shelves groaning with, among other things, centrifuge parts, uranium hexafluoride (supplied, we now know, to Libya) and helpful bomb-assembly manuals in a variety of languages, rush out of the premises to vainly ransack the empty warehouse of Iraq? What sort of nonproliferation policy could lead to actions like these? How did the Bush administration, in the name of protecting the country from nuclear danger, wind up leaving it wide open to nuclear danger?

Why did the administration fail to see the real danger? Because it was so blinded by its own ideology. For more on that, if you haven't seen it already, read the piece that originally appeared in Salon by Karen Kwiatkowski, a recently retired Air Force lieutenant colonel posted at the Pentagon who writes about what she observed while working there. This is just one of what I'm sure will be several more reports of people in the military who have been so dismayed by the neocon twisting of our foreign policy. A few paragraphs:

The education I would receive there was like an M. Night Shyamalan movie -- intense, fascinating and frightening. While the people were very much alive, I saw a dead philosophy -- Cold War anti-communism and neo-imperialism -- walking the corridors of the Pentagon. It wore the clothing of counterterrorism and spoke the language of a holy war between good and evil. The evil was recognized by the leadership to be resident mainly in the Middle East and articulated by Islamic clerics and radicals. But there were other enemies within, anyone who dared voice any skepticism about their grand plans, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Gen. Anthony Zinni.

From May 2002 until February 2003, I observed firsthand the formation of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans and watched the latter stages of the neoconservative capture of the policy-intelligence nexus in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. This seizure of the reins of U.S. Middle East policy was directly visible to many of us working in the Near East South Asia policy office, and yet there seemed to be little any of us could do about it.

I saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.

I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president.

While this commandeering of a narrow segment of both intelligence production and American foreign policy matched closely with the well-published desires of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of us in the Pentagon, conservatives and liberals alike, felt that this agenda, whatever its flaws or merits, had never been openly presented to the American people. Instead, the public story line was a fear-peddling and confusing set of messages, designed to take Congress and the country into a war of executive choice, a war based on false pretenses, and a war one year later Americans do not really understand. That is why I have gone public with my account.

She goes into a lot of detail, and it's been getting a lot of play on the web. Salon is subscription only, but you can also read it at truthout. Also check out Sy Hersh's piece in the New Yorker about why we have let Pakistan off so easy.


Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Polling Picture. At this point in the game the polls can tell you only so much. Think about the predictive value of the polls in Howard Dean's case. But they do tell you something. And so from time to time we'll check in with pollmeister Ruy Teixeira to take the country's temperature. Bottom line: Things look bad for Bush. Nader not a factor. Swing states are swinging Kerry's way. From yesterday's post:

In the ABC News poll, Kerry is leading Bush by 9 points (53-44) among registered voters. With Nader thrown in, he still leads by 4 points, with Nader drawing 3 percent. In the Gallup poll, Kerry leads by 8 points (52-44) among likely voters. He also has more "hard" support (those who say they are certain to vote for him) than Bush (45-38). With Nader thrown in Kerry still leads by Bush by 6 points (50-44), with Nader at just 2 percent.

Note that these two polls measure Nader support at 2-3 percent, while the much-publicized Ipsos/AP poll had his support at 6 percent. I suspect the Gallup/ABC News figures are better measures of his current support.

Update: Gallup has issued a report on their new poll. In the report, they break down states into red (Bush won by 5 percent or more), blue (Gore won by 5 percent or more and purple (the margin of victory for Gore or Bush was less than 5 percent; this includes of course almost all the swing states the current campaigns are likely to focus on). In blue states, Kerry is ahead of Bush 55 percent to 42 percent among likely voters. Not unexpected. But in purple, swing states, he is ahead of Bush by even more, 55-39.

And for those fretting perhaps more than they need to about Nader, here are the analagous figures with Darth Nader in the mix: 55-42 in blue states and 52-39 in purple states.

Will things get better for Bush? Eight months to go. Anythng can happen. But here are my ten reasons for thinking that Bush will continue to play from behind.


Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Riding the Tidal Wave. Conservatives understand that culture and tradition matter in a way that Liberals don't. Liberals are more inclined to look at political issues in a more abstract way--in terms of rights or freedoms--while Conservatives look at things according to whether they resonate with what seems right to them according to what they've been taught as children, which in turn was taught to their parents and grandparents and ancestors from time immemorial. There's a bedrock of common sense in that, and I think that too many liberals dismiss it too cavalierly.

This was essentially Edmund Burke's critique of the French Revolution--you just don't overturn the traditional way of life in the name of abstract values. When you do, he argued, you get the kind of social chaos that leads to the Terror. Tradition, if it is alive, grows organically, slowly. The French Revolution and all such revolutionary social projects are are and attempt to manufacture a new society artificially, in a way that defies common sense and common decency. It's like creating a test-tube society rather than an organically grown one. Sure, it's quicker, but is it healthier?

Such projects might be theoretically justifiable, but more often than not there's something forced and alien about them. And so some conservatives are saying that now about the gay marriage issue. You just don't overturn the way marriage has been understood from time immemorial just because a relatively small minority of people think it's their right. Social change, if it's truly necessary, has to work its way more slowly into the hearts and minds of the people. It just can't be imposed by judicial edict.

I understand and respect that point of view, but I also disagree with it. I think it's based in a fundamental misreading of the signs of the times. It's rooted in a desire, as understandable as it might be, to hold back a tidal wave. The real choice now is either to learn to ride it or else be drowned by it. Conservatives, whether they are on the religious right here in the US or whether they are Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East, are building sand walls to hold back what cannot be held back. That's a strategy for getting drowned.

This is a very interesting and critical issue, and the goal of my next column is to begin, at least, to try sorting it out. Because I think the conventional liberal approach is as inadequate to the task as the conventional conservative one. And I am convinced that the now tiresome shouting match between liberals and conservatives is essentially missing the point.

I've been siding more with the liberals than the conservatives in what I've been writing here for the last several months because I believe this administration is run by cynical men who are primarily interested in promoting the interests of their high-income constituencies rather than caring about the good of the country as a whole. I believe they manipulate people's understandable fears about cultural change and justified fears about threats from abroad to distract them from the administration's real agenda, which is to promote and consolidate an oligarchic plutocracy.

That's a very fundamental concern because it goes to the very heart of what it will mean for us to have a genuine and lively democratic society in the decades to come. I think that four more years of this administration in power would be a disaster, and while I am convinced that this administration and the people behind it will do almost anything to manipulate public opinion to insure its reelection, I'm feeling more confident in recent weeks that a majority of the American people will be able to see through all of that.

But assuming the Democrats win, then what? The prospect doesn't particularly excite me. I think that its main value will be simply to slow down the pace with which we are moving toward plutocracy, and as I've said before, the Democrats are more vulnerable to the influence of future-oriented popular movements. Our hope does not lie with politicians, but from impulses that arise from within the cultural sphere, and the best we can hope from our politicians is that they will be capable of responding to such impulses and working with them.


Saturday, March 6, 2004

Mel's Passion III. See Matt Zemek's thoughtful, detailed 3/2 review from a Catholic perspective. According to Matt, too much is being made of the pornographic, sadomasochistic aspect of the making of the film, while the anti-Semitic intent, conscious or unconscious, is quite palpable. I'm still not going.


The Great Society. David Brooks's Tuesday column points to a basic theme that is really at the heart of so much of what I've been writing--culture matters. I think that a fundamental mistake of both the left and the right, for different reasons, is to look at the problems surrounding poverty primarily in economic terms. The economic is obviously a factor, but it's secondary. The primary factor shaping the chronic poverty of the underclass is cultural. I think Brooks is half right in what he says, so let's try to understand that part of it.

The core assumption [held on the left] is that economic forces determine culture and shape behavior. As William Julius Wilson wrote in "The Truly Disadvantaged," "If ghetto underclass minorities have limited aspirations, a hedonistic orientation toward life or lack of plans for the future, such outlooks ultimately are the result of restricted opportunities and feelings of resignation originating from bitter personal experiences and a bleak future."

That's the liberal position, and Brooks contrasts it with his understanding of the conservative position:

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that liberals have it backward. In reality, culture shapes economics. A person's behavior determines his or her economic destiny. If people live in an environment that fosters industriousness, sobriety, fidelity, punctuality and dependability, they will thrive. But the Great Society welfare system encouraged or enabled bad behavior, and popular culture glamorizes irresponsibility.

We've now had a 40-year experiment to determine which side is right, and while both arguments have merit, it's clear the conservatives have a more accurate view of poverty.

For decades welfare programs funneled money to the disadvantaged, but families dissolved and poverty rates remained stubbornly high. Then the nation switched tack in the mid-1990's, embracing policies that demanded work. Many liberals made a series of horrifying predictions about what welfare reform would do to the poor. These predictions, based on the paleoliberal understanding of poverty, were extravagantly wrong.

The part that's half right is that if you don't change the culture of hopelessness that reinforces chronic poverty, it doesn't really matter much what you do programmatically. The part that's wrong is the assumption conservatives make that because the Great Society Programs of sixties didn't work out as hoped, that two conclusions follow: First, that those programs made the situation worse. And second, that it logically follows from those specific disappointments that any governmental attempt to grapple with complex social problems is doomed to failure and that government will never have any competency in dealing with such issues.

[Later addition: I think that Brooks is taking a more nuanced position than to buy wholesale into either of these two conclusions, but his suggestion that Bush's compassionate conservatism offers a more effective approach to the problems of chonic poverty than the populism of Kerry and Edwards is ludicrous. It's the equivalent of saying that nothing is better than something because compassionate conservatism, whatever it might be in theory, has been for this administration nothing more than an empty campaign slogan.]

In my view the problem with the mentality behind the design of many of the social welfare programs of the Great Society era was its similarity to the mentality that conducted the war in Vietnam. Both approaches were astonishingly naive about history and human social psychology, and both were absurdly rationalistic in their strategies. In other words, the overly rationalistic liberal mentality of the sixties era developed sterile, soulless solutions for problems that had mainly to do with the frustrated aspirations of the soul. Go into any city where the HUD high-rise housing projects stand now as bleak monuments to hopelessness for a people who more than anything needed something to hope for and work for.

But while I've never been a big fan of the design of many of these programs, I don't buy the argument that these programs made things worse. Things were going to be bad no matter what. Without those programs there's not telling how bad things could have gotten, as our cities would have devolved into something looking more like the favellas in Latin America.

That's what happens when an uneducated people with minimal skills are put out of work in rural areas as agriculture mechanizes. They come into the cities, which are unable to absorb them, and they squat. They are anomic, without a culture. They have neither their traditional rural culture to support them nor any real hope for a brighter future, and the result is profound social dysfunction and the culture of hopelessness that comes with it.

I don't want to hear about how Asians and other ethnic minorities had nothing and yet made something of their lives. It's true, and it's admirable, but they had something that African Americans and Native Americans didn't have--a past and a future. Both had their traditional cultures forcibly taken from them, and both were told that their future was going to be pretty much what white folk told them it was going to be, which is no future at all.

What we went through here in the fifties and sixties is what happens everywhere when premodern societies modernize. The American South maintained in some very important ways a premodern structure and mentality, until it started to come out of it to become the so-called "New South" in the '70s. The mentality of the premodern still lingers powerfully in the culture of that region and for complicated reasons that mentality has an inordinate influence on the rest of American society in this time of transition.

A nostalgia for the loss of the traditional has been the force driving the culture wars we've been suffering through for the last twenty years, but it's really the resurgence of the kind of primitive thinking that was challenged but not defeated at the time of the Scopes trial. I understand that nostalgia, I really do, but nostalgia makes us look in the wrong direction. It's "Lot's Wife Syndrome," and sooner or later we've all got to get over it by finding a way to look forward rather than backward, or we rigidify into pillars of salt.

But here's the point. It's wrong to think that the Great Society programs failed because they didn't achieve what a lot of naive social planners thought they would. They succeeded insofar as they insured a minimal level of physical well being for people who would have had nothing otherwise. There's a lot more that needs to be said about this. It's complicated, and I can hear the objections I'm sure many of you have to that assertion. But enough for now.

But the goal of this website is to explore what it means to have a future. The reason we're in the grip of this nostalgia, this longing for the certainties of a now-destroyed traditional way of life, is because we haven't framed yet a vision of something better. I am not particularly interested in the agenda of the secular left. As I've said elsewhere, I believe that their agenda is in most respects sterile, even though I accept much if not most of its critique of American society. And yet I do believe that it is possible to frame a progressive, humanly fertile, future-oriented social vision and a politics for accomplishing it. If that's something that resonates with you, keep tuning in.


Friday, March 5, 2004

Mel's Passion II. Stephen Prothero, the head of he religion department at Boston University has another angle on the "Passion of the Christ" in a piece he wrote for Slate, and it's a thoughtful counterbalance to my screed about it on Sunday. He humanizes the movie, and makes an important point about it when he says, "So part of me cheers, I must admit, when Gibson gives America's warm and fuzzy Jesus the spiritual equivalent of the middle finger. I can't help applauding Gibson's sincerity, and I must admit that part of me envies his conviction."

He goes on to talk about his mother's reaction to the film:

My mother, as trustworthy a barometer of the American character as I know, saw the movie and liked it. Sitting in the theater was not a religious experience, she told me, adding that she will by no means defer to the Melomaniacs when it comes to understanding the Christian faith. But neither will she ever sit through a Good Friday service the same way.

I would never call my mother ordinary, and I will probably never think of her the same way after walking the Stations of the Cross with Maia Morgenstern, but I suspect that my mother's reaction to the film is widely shared. Virtually every non-academic I know who has seen The Passion has liked it. None, it should be noted, has seen it as the Gospel, the whole Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel; in fact, all have done with the film what Americans have long done with Jesus himself: reinvent it in their own image. But each seems grateful to Gibson not only for goading us into debating the meanings of the cross but also for compelling us to sit, however briefly, with the brute facts of human suffering.

Like you, I am loath to attribute motivations to a man I have never met, but even if there is a sadomasochistic streak in the star of Lethal Weapon, I don't see that same streak in the Americans who are flocking to this film. I see instead people who have grown tired of the happy-face Jesus who has helped Americans feel good about themselves at least since Victorians gave up mourning clothes for flower funerals—people willing to recover some of the hard truths of religion, to grapple with time and eternity, to stare sin and evil in the face, if only for a couple of hours.

Don't get me wrong; I still like the book better than the movie. Following Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I believe it is imperative to read the death of Jesus as part of the broader narrative of his life as an advocate of the poor, an artist in parables, a healer of the sick—something Gibson has refused to do. But with Gibson, Grünewald, and Orozco, I see the virtues too of meditating on the ugly and the grotesque, particularly in a culture (and an industry) so enamored of the beautiful.

Very well said. I have always thought the criticism peculiarly inapt that, echoing Marx, religion is the opiate of the masses--that religion, and Christianity in particular, is so much pie in the sky by and by insofar as its promises of eternal life filter out the harsh truth of our mortality. And whenever I have been in a conversation with someone making such a point, I've (usually) said that it's a pretty hard case to make about Christianity when its primary symbol is of a man dying an ignominious, excruciatingly painful death on a cross. It's an image, if taken seriously, that subverts any possibility of comfort.

I stand by the main thrust of what I wrote on Sunday, and I still don't plan to see the film. But I want to pull back from any blanket condemnation of the worth of the film or the motives of those who go to see it that my piece may have suggested. I'm hardly in a position to make such judgments.


Thursday, March 4, 2004

Fraying Coalition. It's interesting to watch the continuing evolution of former Bush cheerleader Andrew Sullivan. This is from Tuesday's blog:

NOW FLAG BURNING?? It seems clearer and clearer that the religious right amendment to ban civil marriage rights for gays is not really intended to pass any time soon. The point is to use the issue electorally - threaten the civil rights of some Americans to get a few percentage points in a few Senate races and possibly against Kerry. And now, it seems, the Republicans are disinterring another ancient wedge issue - the flag burning constitutional amendment! Here's the Washington Post today:

Republicans also plan a series of votes on judicial appointments and tax cuts this year that could put Kerry in tough political spots, according to a senior GOP leadership aide. Another possible wedge issue, aides in both parties say, is a long-standing proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw burning the American flag.

Flag-burning, fag-burning. Anything for a few votes. And what's really amazing is how cynically these alleged conservatives use the Constitution itself for their partisan ends. One word: sickening.

It's interesting what people see or don’t see, depending on which side they’re on--how one tends to diminish or make excuses for the negatives and enhance the positives. We all do it, of course, and there are plenty of examples of liberals going conservative—that’s, in fact, the definition of being one of the original neocons. Nevertheless I think it’s instructive to watch someone who’s in the process of shifting in the way Sullivan is and how things in his perceptual field begin to take on a different shape.

I doubt Sullivan will change his mind about Iraq and the reasons for going in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts becoming more critical of the administration’s handling of the the whole post-war mess there, because he’ll now see it now without his pro-Bush bias, and then he’ll see that the Democrats aren’t as ridiculous as he thought about the war on terror, and that maybe they should be given a chance, etc.

I think a lot of people are going through that process right now, and not just because of anger over the Federal Marriage Amendment. So he’s interesting to watch as an indicator of the evolving thinking of the more conservatively inclined swing vote.

In fact this theme is discussed in a piece this morning by Sydney Blumenthal in which he talks about how Bush's coalition of secularist hawks, particularly Jewish neocons, and theocrats on the religious right is beginning to disintegrate:

But Bush's instigation of religious wars in America, while it mobilizes the evangelical Protestant faithful, is also unexpectedly thwarting him. The born-again Bush, who reconstructed his presidential self-image after 9/11 as a messianic leader, assumed that the agendas of the neocons and the theocons were one and the same. However, Bush outsourced his foreign policy on the Middle East and Israel to the neocons in part for an electoral purpose, capturing the Jewish vote, which will not be fulfilled because of his anxious devotion to the theocons

The neocons and the theocons were bound together in reaction against the 1960s for different reasons: the neocons on foreign policy, the theocons by their continuing fundamentalist revolt against modernity going back to the early 20th century. Under Ronald Reagan, this coalition was held together in the crusade against godless communism. But George W. Bush is haunted by what happened next to his father.

He goes on to talk about how Bush the elder lost the Jewish vote, and how the younger is now doing the same. He has some interesting things to say about how Gibson's movie is freaking Jews out: "Only in the combustible atmosphere Bush has fostered could Gibson's grand guignol version of an anti-Semitic medieval passion play, "The Passion of the Christ," become the No. 1 box office hit. This is the ultimate "Mad Max" escapade: blowing up the cultural contradictions of American conservatism." And ends with this graph:

The price Bush has paid for the chimera of gaining a segment of the Jewish vote is the greatest price he's paid. But his political miscalculation at home is far outweighed by the disastrous consequences in the Middle East. Desperately he is campaigning on behalf of his various fundamentalisms in a crusade against modernity in America, his greatest war of all.

I don't know that I'd completely sign off on everything Blumenthal has to say in this article, but he's pointing to something interesting. The more it appears that Bush is aligned with the religious right, the more likely he will be to lose the all-important swing vote. Sullivan isn't Jewish; he's a gay Catholic with a neocon sensibility. He's nevertheless representative of a faction of heretofore solid Republicans who might be giving Kerry a serious look now, which is something they would never in the their wildest imaginations have have dreamed they'd be doing even two months ago. They don't want to vote Democratic, but Bush is forcing them to think the unthinkable.

Feburary Posts