July 21, 2006 | 1:31 PM ET | Permalink

Thanks to Lt. Col. Bob, Siva and Jeralyn for their work this week.  The good people at History News Network have posted the introduction to the H-Diplo Symposium on When Presidents Lie

This week’s “Think Again” column, “Watching the Detectives,” is here.  And there seems to be a video of my last week’s C-Span appearance, here.

Short “Slacker Friday” takes:

It saddens me to see how far Hitchens has fallen.   Media Matters notes that he “baselessly claimed Novak's recent statements ‘dissolved any remaining doubt about the mad theory that the Bush administration 'outed' Ms. Valerie Plame.’"  Read the whole thing.

Here, The Times’ Scott Shane covers a Congressional hearing on Bush’s super secret spying expedition and discovers that Michael S. Greco, president of the American Bar Association, James X. Dempsey, of the Center for Democracy and Technology, among the many people who apparently do not understand the program as well as Joe Klein says he does… or else they hate America, I dunno.

Speaking of the Hate America crowd, O’Reilly doesn’t appreciate us “ Jewish liberals.”  I guess I should hate myself even more now.

Here’s the great Mort Halperin, arguing Bush's systematic and defiant violation of these rules, as well as of the mandates of the Constitution and international law, pose a challenge to our constitutional order and civil liberties that, in the end, constitutes a far greater threat than the lawlessness of Richard Nixon.

We should all read my buddy Damon Linker on Strauss, here, but it being Damon, we will have to take our time.

This story about Lee Daniels is wonderful for the following reason:  I barely know Lee, but the way I got to know him was that I used to listen to his children scream at the top of their lungs for a long time almost every morning.  In my old building on 74th St, I lived off the lobby.  Lee and his partner had these two kids who did little but scream their lungs out for a while and boy was I annoyed. (I was also scared owing to a certain pregnancy in my own home.)  But fortunately I kept my mouth shut.  Eventually I learned that Lee and his partner had adopted children with health difficulties—and yes, I’ve chosen to use a euphemism here—and were raising them and nursing them into the adorable kids they’ve since become, but if you read the story below, you can figure it out.  My admiration for what they did is uncontainable.  And Lee turns out to be a terrific film-maker too: “Monster’s Ball” and “The Woodsman” are two of the bravest and most powerful films of the past decade; maybe longer.  “Shadowboxer” has got to be great too.  Hooray for Lee.  Hooray for the triumph of virtue in this awful world of ours, for once.  And boy, I wish you people who oppose adoption because you disapprove of people’s sexual orientation would rethink your dogmatic disapproval.  What about the children, for God’s sake?  (And Lee, if you see this, I know you tried to warn me about the people who run that building.  You were right.  I should have listened.)

Sullivan Agonistes ( permalink )
I would not have believed it possible, but Andy finally addresses that fact that he stupidly and maliciously accused Susan Sontag and myself of treason in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and actually makes it worse.  Here, the pathetic little poseur writes:

(By the way, one of his commenters again brings up my infamous sentence a few days after 9/11 when I predicted that small enclaves of leftists might blame America for the attack and become what amounts to a "fifth column."  I regret that rhetoric, expressed my regret days after the piece was published, and only ever applied it to those who immediately sympathized with al Qaeda in September 2001.

Got that?  The smug little twerp now says Sontag and I “immediately sympathized with al Qaeda in September 2001."  This is yet another a slanderous and despicable lie.  I never even wrote the words “al Qaeda” as far as I know before September 11.  I supported military action against them from the start.  To imagine that this Jewish liberal “sympathized” with murderous Islamic fundamentalism that killed the friends of my family and family members of my friends, well, a punch in the nose would be too good for this guy.  (Ms. Sontag is obviously no longer around to defend herself but I never saw her say anything remotely supportive of al Qaeda and I’d be shocked if she had.)

Little Roy then adds:

As for my later comments about opponents of the Iraq war being ‘objectively pro-Saddam,’ that seems to me to be indisputable.  If they'd had their way, he'd still be in power.”

Well that helps.  Using the same idiotic logic, Andy is “objectively pro-torture” as well as “objectively pro-rape and family murder,” since the atrocities that have taken place by U.S. forces in Iraq are the direct result of the policies put in place by the politician he so slavishly brown-nosed for so long.  And by the way, it works just as well to call supporters of the war “objectively pro-al Qaeda” since that foolish and counterproductive war has done nothing so much as strengthen Bid Laden and his followers; and only in part because it took so many U.S. forces off the trail.  I hope some other “objectively pro-Saddam” person, say, some third-world dictator who owes General Anthony Zinni or Brent Scowcroft a favor, finds Andy in P-Town and teaches him a lesson about using this kind of McCarthyite logic against those who were right about Bush years back when he was still calling everyone who believes what he now believes, “traitors.”

I also think Time should give his space on their Web site to Ann Coulter; it’d be a lot more honest for everyone concerned.

And speaking of torture, sometimes an image is worth a thousand explanations.  In this case, the image comes from Karen J. Greenberg, the co-editor of The Torture Papers and the Executive Director of the NYU Center on Law and Security.  She has been following closely the many reports on torture, abuse, and the mistreatment of detainees that have come out of the government since Abu Ghraib.  On "reading" the two most recent ones (completed in 2004 but only released now), she noticed a strange thing -- by her estimate, over 50% of each report is redacted (blacked out).  She writes:  "Blackened page followed blackened page; introductory sentences led nowhere; subsection titles introduced nothing; elaborating details were rendered invisible along with most of each report's conclusions. If one were to treat the pages of each report like a flip-book, visually the story line would be a solid mass of black."

She concludes: "It's not surprising then that the more reports appear on the treatment (or mistreatment) of detainees around the world, the less they bother to offer us the light of day; and the more all-black pages that enter the world, the less the public knows -- except about the nature of the Bush administration itself. Shrouded in secrecy and adamant about the right not to reveal, that administration stands defiantly behind its darkened pages. And so here we stand, too, the text of our world becoming increasingly unreadable as words turn into massive inkblots, and black spaces overcome white ones. The dark, it seems, continues to swallow the light."

Altercation Book Club (a day late)

David S. Brown, Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. xxiii+291 pp., notes and index.
by Eric Rauchway

Richard Hofstadter was my role model when I started graduate school, and not only because (as David Brown writes in his engaging and thoughtful biography) Hofstadter "wrote the best books for the best publisher, won the best prizes, and taught at the best city, at the best school, at the best time"(xiii)—though all that certainly appealed to me. Nor was it only because Hofstadter wrote well, or because he wrote with a sense of humor. Nor was it even because Hofstadter was the first, and maybe the only, major American historian to build a career out of noticing that American democracy was not always liberty-loving.

All those things mattered to me, and still do, but they paled beside the really embarrassingly dumb reason I was happy to have Hofstadter for a role model. See, I went to school during one of the great waves of identity politics, when an awful lot of otherwise bright people were too willing to say that to write history you really needed to be in touch with your ethnic (or racial, or gender) identity. And Richard Hofstadter was the only historian I knew of who had the same ethnicity as me—half Eastern European Jew, half German Lutheran. I took some comfort in the idea (I did say that this was embarrassingly dumb) that Hofstadter wrote from an inside-outside position similar to mine, feeling himself neither fish nor fowl.

Now David Brown says maybe this wasn't such an embarrassingly dumb idea after all: that Hofstadter's non-ethnicity might have had something to do with the way he wrote about American politics and history, the way he could be both critically detached and passionately involved at the same time. Hofstadter met with few real obstacles to his career, moving from graduate school at Columbia to the University of Maryland and back, as faculty, to Columbia. Yet he worked in an era when historian John Hicks could write, "would you take pains to see Hofstadter of Columbia and give him the careful once-over? I am not yet quite sure that he is the man we want. His point of view strikes me as rather typical of the New York Jewish intelligentsia, although I do not even know that he is a Jew." (53) At the same time, as not-quite-Jewish, he felt uncomfortably outside his first wife's family. (13) Not really from anywhere, nor really unwelcome anywhere, Hofstadter loved America for its inclusiveness yet wondered at its continuing clannishness, which erupted in strange, and increasingly alarming, political ways.

Hofstadter's most solid contribution to American intellectual life remains The American Political Tradition, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1948. In it Hofstadter uses sketches of American leaders to show how strange and durable is the Jeffersonian tradition holding that a nation of free and equal citizens might display a rugged independence and individualism and thus run a virtuous republic in defiance of the great financial and commercial interests. It was, Hofstadter thought, triple-distilled nonsense from the outset. The American people didn't want virtuous independence from a corrupt system, they wanted a piece of the action.

As Brown puts it, "The electorate did not fear the expansion of the market.... [They] wanted advantages previously reserved for commercial elites." (58) Only the New Deal had, according to Hofstadter, even slightly undermined these expectations. When FDR announced, "Equality of opportunity as we have known it no longer exists," (62) it sounded a good deal as though Americans might change their thinking. Yet, as it turned out, a politics born of the Depression was only a partial and temporary victory over the old tradition.

Hofstadter's American Political Tradition antagonized devoted leftist scholars who saw genuine radicalism in the American populist tradition; it annoyed presidential scholars who thought Hofstadter had handled their idols a bit roughly; it infuriated professional insiders who wrung their hands over Hofstadter's refusal to take them seriously enough ("superficial", they wrote; also, "supercilious"(63)). It delighted pretty much everybody else, and it still does.

Everybody else, that is, except the sort of person who simply doesn't read serious nonfiction, the sort of person who regards professors—even those who compose readable sentences—with suspicion. Such people increasingly worried Hofstadter through the next decade, as he took up his pen to write on the least American of themes, the hazards of mass democracy.

What Hofstadter began to say should, perhaps, not sound so radical: as Brown puts it, "Popular rule ... offered no guarantee of freedom...." (88) It is hardly a blinding insight. People can, and often do, support movements to take away their liberties. Yet mentioning the flaws of majority opinion—be it enlisted on behalf of astrology, the flat earth, or the inerrancy of the President—offends the American sensibility far more than any random blurt of bodily gases.

Hofstadter gave his suspicion of mass politics its most sophisticated treatment in his 1955 Age of Reform, in which he pointed out that the evidently radical and democratic movements of the Populist and Progressive era arose from some pretty ignoble impulses—fear of immigrants, foreigners, and other kinds of different people, mostly. Hofstadter overstated the argument, there's no question—although he did acknowledge that there were real economic causes for these revolts, he acknowledged it as fleetingly as he possibly could. There was far too much emphasis on the anti-Semitic character of American Populism, which (as two of his students wrote) resulted more from "provincialism & naivete" than from ideological conviction. (107)

But Hofstadter annoyed some of the right people for some of the right reasons. As the livid John Hicks, defender of Populism and of the University against Jews, said with pride, "I ... was a white Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, small-town, middle-class, midwestern American...." Well, exactly: there's nothing wrong with that; my mother's people were that, and so were Hofstadter's mother's people, and I'm proud and so was Hofstadter. But likewise, being that doesn't grant you the right to inveigh, as Hicks did, against the "the New York Jewish intelligentsia." (102) In fact, your being a petit-bourgeois WASP means you maybe have a special burden not to talk trash about "the New York Jewish intelligentsia." At the least, it would be less tacky if you managed not to. And in fairness to Hicks, in public he did not: in print he described Hofstadter's as "a delightfully refreshing book." (111) Although, perhaps there's no need to be so fair. I have, in this modern era, heard a fine Western WASP professor mutter in what he thought was unmixed company that he might have enjoyed a seminar presentation more if the presenter had been less Jewish about making the argument. Private bigotry matters, too. Certain doors stay closed, even while others stand open.

Hofstadter won the Pulitzer Prize in history for Age of Reform. One of the judges who so honored him was the Yale historian and white Southerner C. Vann Woodward, who also offered one of the most penetrating critiques of Hofstadter, noting that in his effort to find the roots of McCarthyism, "the risk is incurred ... of swapping an old stereotype for a new one." (114)

Hofstadter should have spent more time on the enduring contribution of the people he unblushingly called "hayseeds" to what became the New Deal coalition and agenda. Whatever the prejudices agrarian farmers invoked, they proposed serious legislation, born of serious ideas about political economy. But then, Hofstadter's critics spent little time acknowledging that the urbanites they so mistrusted had provided electoral and intellectual support to their beloved agrarians. It remained for future generations of historians to describe the uneasy interaction of these reformist constituencies, each as essentially American as the other.

One notices a similarly frustrating either-orism in the private correspondence between Hofstadter and Woodward, as outlined by Brown. Woodward wrote, "In the McCarthy movement I believe a close study would reveal a considerable element of college-bred, established-wealth, old family industrial support." Hofstadter rejoined, Brown writes, that "the typical McCarthyite was underprivileged and undereducated, lived in a small town, and subscribed to an evangelical brand of Christian worship." (115) Gentlemen, please: it's entirely possible that you're both right—that the scions of coal, steel, and oil families can get, at least electorally, together with the underprivileged and happily hate New Deal high-brows like both of you.

Hofstadter won the Pulitzer again, this time for general nonfiction, for his 1963 Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which plumbed the same antipathetic depths he had been sounding for years. But now the critical reaction was harsher. What, exactly, was anti-intellectualism? Did it play a larger, a more bigoted role in American politics than in, say, the Dreyfus affair, or German romanticism, or any of various totalitarian purges? Finally, was the book much more than an entertaining, inspired, and exceptionally well-informed rant—a pleasure to read, to be sure—against small-minded people of all kinds in various corners of American history? In retrospect, Hofstadter himself answered "no": as Brown writes, Hofstadter "described the book ... as an exercise in self-exposure that failed to turn out as he intended. Anti-Intellectualism, he concluded, had written him more than he had written it." (140)

By this point, though, Hofstadter had succeeded sufficiently in the one realm any anti-intellectual would respect—the marketplace—that he could either ignore these gripes, or treat them as his own private concerns. Scholars sniped at him, as they still do, for being "somewhat out of contact with ... those who for the past ten years or so have been doing the grubby, tedious work of digging up data and turning out monographs." (144) But Hofstadter had gone, as perhaps only one or two academic historians ever really have, beyond the reach of such darts.

Hofstadter became a public figure and a phrasemaking machine aimed at the new right, whom he called "pseudo-conservatives" (i.e., they want to tear down existing institutions, not conserve them). His best such effort, "paranoid style", has been recycled repeatedly. (Though it it not very useful: when a majority of a country entertain a set of thoughts, haven't they gone beyond psychological disorders into the realm of ideology, or culture?) And he became a quipper: "We certainly cannot commit them [modern conservatives] all to mental hospitals ... but we can recognize their agitation as a kind of vocational therapy, without which they might have to be committed." (152) Maybe it was easy to make such cracks in 1964, as Goldwater rode to humiliation: but it seems not too terribly harsh, nor entirely un-Hofstadterian, to note in hindsight that while chuckling at such jokes, the Democratic party laughed itself into the enduring minority status it enjoys today.

And yet, and yet: we should not do to Hofstadter what he is accused of doing to others; indeed, it would be worse for us to do it to Hofstadter than it was for him to do it to "the Populists" or "the pseudo-conservatives". It is bad enough to condemn an abstract social category like that, but it is decidedly evil to condemn a man in like manner. Hofstadter had his flaws, but we too rarely remember that there are actually worse sins than being wrong, and these sins were not his. He did not lie about what he knew. He did not write history to make people comfortable. Above all, he was not boring. As Brown helpfully notes, Hofstadter was not merely popular, unlike some historians who wrote easily digestible prose full of pre-digested ideas. He wrote so that people would read, and find themselves provoked.

The late 1960s found Hofstadter out of his element, as he tried to steer a middle course between the Johnson administration, whose war he opposed, and the student protesters, whose violence looked to him like the worst excesses of American anti-intellectuals. Then he died suddenly and young, of leukemia, in 1970. He never saw the rise of the New Right nor the transformation of the paranoid style into the one-percent doctrine. We are poorer for lacking his insights into how the past might bear on our new present.

Slacker Friday:

Name:  Josh Silver
Hometown:  FreePress.net
Hi Eric,
Three weeks out from the August recess, things are looking good for the net neutrality campaign. The chances of the Stevens Telecommunications bill coming to the floor for a vote in that time appear slim to none. This stalemate is the direct result of a highly contentious Committee mark-up of the bill which saw a vote on the net neutrality amendment fail on a tie vote of 11-11. It was a procedural loss, but a political win for the supporters of an open Internet.

As I explained in earlier dispatches, the heart of the telecom bills in both the House and Senate is a huge gift to phone companies: a “national franchise” to swiftly enter the TV business without negotiating over 15,000 local franchise agreements as the cable industry was forced to do. That gift provides the vehicle to get net neutrality written back into law (it was taken away by the FCC last year), as well as unlicensed spectrum for wireless Internet, “build-out” requirement that ensure service to poor and rural communities, and a handful of other critical issues.

These policy fights are wonky and complex, but at the end of the day, they're all about getting critical journalism and media that informs into living rooms in every state - red and blue. It's about limiting the undue influence and control of the largest media conglomerates, and creating vibrant and fearless noncommercial media that provide a real alternative to commercial media.

Buoyed by the massive grassroots campaign backing a neutral Internet (which now includes over 1 million people, 750 organizations, over 10,000 blog links, and over 16,000 MySpace friends), Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) were once more the champions. Vocal supporters included Senators Kerry, Boxer, Cantwell, and Bill Nelson. The close vote will embolden supporters of net neutrality in the wider Senate and throw a sizeable hurdle in the path of the bill.

Many insiders believe that without a fix on net neutrality, the Senate leadership will not bring the bill to the floor this year and it will die on the vine. Opponents of net neutrality do not have the 60 votes needed to kill it. Supporters do not yet have the 51 votes needed to pass it, and we continue to be concerned about the national franchise language being quietly inserted sans-Net Neutrality into a larger appropriations bill in December.

Meanwhile, Senators will go home to their districts in August and receive an earful — but this time it will not be just from the usual industry suspects, but also ordinary citizens who deeply believe in an open Internet. Free Press is organizing its 300,000 members to participate in in-district/ in-state meetings, and launching a targeted letter to the editor campaign. Several other SaveTheInternet.com partners are also planning similar actions.

If we succeed in killing the bill this year, we must mount a major campaign to broaden our right-left coalition of pro-net neutrality public interest groups and industries, ramp up a louder PR campaign, and increase grassroots pressure before the next Congress begins.

In addition to net neutrality, our activists will be telling their Senators about another big issue that is about to come to the fore — media ownership. As you know, the FCC recently voted to begin reviewing the rules that limit the number of newspapers, television and radio stations one company may own in a single city. Big Media are planning another wave of consolidation, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin appears indifferent to the damage such a move would inflict on localism and diversity in the marketplace for local news and information. As they did three years ago when then-Chairman Michael Powell attempted a similar move, activists from across the political spectrum are gearing up for a fight, but the current timeline has the actual vote happening after the November election.

And this from the LA Times: Less than a year after the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was forced to resign amid charges that he injected partisanship into the agency, President Bush has nominated to the nonprofit’s board a television sitcom producer who has described himself as “thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues.”

Brazen partisanship – on either side of the aisle – has no place in the governance of public broadcasting. In fact, the CPB was established specifically to provide a firewall from political influence. We are gearing up to oppose the new nominee as we did Ken Tomlinson. At the same time, we are meeting with PBS and NPR station managers and national leadership as we build support for long term reform.

Name: CNW
Hometown: Philadelphia
The letter from Abul-Mughayyis Muhajir seems fake to me. The syntax is inconsistent and it appears like someone is trying to sound illiterate. Non-english people that I know do not speak or write this way, except perhaps George W. Bush. Maybe he wrote this letter.

Name: Steve Witten
Hometown: San Jose, CA
I'm glad that the media appears not to be making very much of Bush's veto of the stem-cell research bill. The whole episode was such a sham and appears to have been engineered by Congressional Republicans and Karl Rove to boost Republican prospects in the coming mid-term elections. The Republicans in Congress let this bill come to vote knowing that Bush would veto it. The debate for/against was just political theatre packaged for consumption by each member's respective political base. The issue of federal funding of stem-cell research is a serious one that deserves serious debate -- not election year performance art.

Name: Ken
Hometown: New Jersey
As a followup to the "who won the Cold War" discussion, a thought crosses my mind that would also be quite apt in analyzing our "war on terrorism" today. In the simplest terms, we "won" the cold war because our economy was more powerful for much longer than the Soviets could ever deal with. The final cataclysm that brought down the iron curtain was brought on by, to his credit, Ronald Reagan. For many years (at least from the 60s), we knew that the Soviet Union's shows of military and economic strength were just that, a show. In reality, they were shell ready to crumble even as they were challenging us in the space race or in Cuba or letting us take "secret" pictures of all their awesome military might in the yearly May Day parade. However, what was required to finally knock down this teetering, rusting hulk was brilliantly simplistic. We needed to scare the Russians into spending even more on their military than they could afford, knowing full well that their economy could not handle it and would have to fail. Ronald Reagan with increased military spending, the phony baloney Star Wars Defense Iniative, and, most importantly, the acting chops and patience to convince the Soviets that he was dead serious about taking them on militarily if necessary without actually tipping his hand that, in reality, we were no more ready to fight the Soviets than they were to fight us. The key was they had to think... know... that we were serious. If we committed any blunders, particularly militarily, the jig would be up. That is why, for all the bluster, our military entanglements were limited returning our army to the strength, vigor and bravado of the pre-Vietnam era and to such sure things as Greneda. In the end, the Soviets' efforts to keep up with us did, indeed, cause the Soviet empire to crumble quite spectacularly only 9 years after Reagan took office. The parallel to today is that, perhaps, with a similar show of grit and determination (for the record, saying "bring 'em on" to terrorists does not qualify as grit and determination) and, of course, force, when and as necessary and worthy of the risk, maybe we could have accomplished something similar. Instead, we impatiently, with minimal cause and even less research stumbled into a quagmire. The credo among the terrorists has always been that "all you need to do is kill a few American soldiers and they will go home without accomplishing their mission". Sadly, we stand to prove that point but rather than "few Americans", it will be thousands, not to mention tens of thousands of Iraqis, all to no good end.

July 20, 2006 | 1:46 PM ET | Permalink

Eric has a new Think Again column here called "Watching the Detectives" and there's a five-historian symposium on his book When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences here.

Hi everyone, Jeralyn Merritt here, altercating for Eric again.  I know everyone’s mind is on the Middle East, but I will leave that to the experts and focus on some domestic matters today.

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC)

The New York Times had a puff-piece on Sen. Graham Tuesday, G.O.P. Senator Resisting Bush Over Detainees

The Times reported:

Last year, against the wishes of the Bush administration, he [Graham] was one of the key forces in helping pass a ban on torture….While some other Republicans argue that terrorists do not deserve legal or human rights, Mr. Graham has insisted that only a system grounded in the fundamental rights of the military code and the Geneva conventions will affirm the reputation of the United States abroad and protect American troops when they are captured by enemies.

….when we capture one of them, what we do is about us, not about them. “Do they deserve, the bad ones, all the rights that are afforded? No. But are we required to do it because of what we believe? Yes.”…. “I’m a big fan of the Geneva Conventions,” he declared.

What the Times failed to report, as Media Matters aptly documents, is that it was Graham who moved to amend Sen. John McCain’s anti-torture amendment to strip the Guantanamo detainees of their habeas corpus rights, including the ability to bring a lawsuit in United States courts challenging the conditions of their detention, even torture.

At the time, editorials around the country, from the Boston Globe to the San Francisco Chronicle blasted Graham’s amendment which was nothing more than an end-run around the Supreme Court's decision in Rasul v. Bush which held Guantanamo detainees do have the right to challenge the legality of their detentions in federal court.

350 law professors wrote a joint letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing Graham’s amendment.  Graham’s amendment passed, only to be met with immediate calls for a revote.  Ultimately, a revised Amendment proposed by Senators Graham, John Kyl (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) was passed.  But the revised amendment also substantially weakened the McCain anti-torture amendment and effectively amounted to a license to use coercive techniques, particularly on detainees at Guantanamo.

Shame on the New York Times for not reporting Graham’s role in this. 

White House To Urge Revamped Military Commissions

The Washington Post reports today that the White House is standing firm on using military commissions to try Guantanamo detainees, rather than the Code of Military Justice.  The Supreme Court declared the Administration’s proposed tribunal rules illegal in the Hamdan case a few weeks ago but said Congress had the authority to authorize tribunals.  While many, including Sen. Graham, are urging the trials take place pursuant to the Code of Military Justice, the White House now wants Congress to authorize trials by military tribunals, with only minor changes from the plan invalidated by the Supreme Court.

In other words, if the Administration gets its way, the detainees will be tried mostly by the same unfair rules it originally proposed.  Hopefully, a few Republicans with a conscience will reject the Administration’s new plan.

Joe Lieberman Update:  As the blogosphere continues its assault on Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT),  and for the first time, his challenger Ned Lamont is ahead in one poll of likely Democratic primary voters in Connecticut, the beleaguered Senator has picked up a powerful supporter: Bill Clinton.  Clinton will campaign for Lieberman on July 24 in Waterbury, CT. 

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH)

Ohio Senator Mike DeWine has pulled his campaign ad with a doctored photo of the burning WTC towers on September 11:

The campaign of DeWine, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, acknowledged as much Wednesday night, saying its media consultant used gimmickery to create smoke billowing from the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The commercial shows the North Tower unaffected at that moment — even though it was the first to be struck by a hijacked jetliner.
  
That would make the “footage” impossible, said U.S. News & World Report, which broke the story in its online edition.

Now, here’s the interesting part.  The ad was made by Stevens, Reed, Curcio & Potholm of Washington.  Another one of its campaigns: the swift-boating campaign attacking John Kerry.

Alter-Reviews by Sal

Billy Joel's record-breaking run at Madison Square Garden earlier this year has been documented on the recent 2 CD set "12 GARDENS LIVE."  I attended one of those shows much to the chagrin of just about everyone. "Man, you'll go to anything!" And my fave, "You'll pay to see Billy Joel, but not Coldplay."  Uh...yes.  The reason these shows intrigued me, aside from actually liking Billy Joel for many years, were the set lists. Joel was really digging deep. He promised album tracks that had never been performed live before and he did not disappoint.

Of course you get the obvious, "Movin' Out," "You May Be Right," and "Piano Man," all of which work much better in person. And you get the painful, "Scenes From  An Italian Restaurant," and "We Didn't Start The Fire," which are both, to this Billy Joel fan, sick-making. But the highlights of this set are the rarely heard tracks. "Laura," the homage to The Beatles originally found on Side One of "The Nylon Curtain." "The Entertainer," from Joel's sophomore release "Street Life Serenade, " and "The Great Wall Of China," from his last studio release over 13 years ago, "River Of Dreams."

There are plenty of hits as well, all performed by an enthusiastic band, with Joel's voice sounding better than ever. This set serves as fine souvenir for those who witnessed the performances, and while not essential, is a fine listen in its own right.

Two essential live records have been re-mastered and expanded by the good people at Rhino. (They'd be better people if they hadn't already released the pricey 4 CD set that featured the complete performances years before.) Both recorded at the Fillmore West on the same nights, ARETHA FRANKLIN & KING CURTIS shared the stage for these super-hot sets back in 1971. The King Curtis set is a classic! Memphis soul funk that dares you to keep still. And Miss Franklin's set is arguably the greatest performance of her career. Check out the raucous version of "Respect." The band sounds like Metallica on the "SOCKITTOME/SOCKITTOME/SOCKITTOMES!" These are must-haves!

Correspondence corner:

Name: Patricia Paul
Hometown: Birmingham, Mi.

Professor, I have not written previously, due to the fact, many of your readers wrote more eloquently than I on issues that were of concern to me.  But, reading Lt. Col. Bateman's story on his friend and interpreter Mayada totally wrecked me.  I have followed the Colonel's missives in Altercation and found them fascinating as he wrote of his experiences, as a soldier in battle in Iraq. The response from him and your readers was an exercise in respectful political discourse. His eulogy for Mayada brought all of us closer to the truly horrific experience of war; the innocents, the soldiers performing their duty. Whether you realize it or not, Lt. Col. Bateman your respect, admiration and compassion toward this brave woman, mother and patriot to her beautiful, ancient country says more than any activist or politician could espouse. "Blessed are the peacemakers" pertains to you, sir. I would be happy to open my home to not only May's children, but, other families who are caught up in our dreadful mistake. Perhaps that would make a more eloquent stop-the-war protest. As one of your readers eloquently stated, the blood is on our hands. Let us, the civilians, start taking some responsibility for this. What a powerful statement we could convey.

Name: Abul-Mughayyis Muhajir
Hometown: Westwood, CA

Mr. Eric, I am an Iraqi living now in the America. I came to this country 8 years ago after mine mother, father, brother and 2 nephews were the murdered by the henchmen of Sadaam Hussein. I'm still have a brother in Baghdad living with his wife and the 3 child. Mine brother in Iraq and I am so thankful for Mr. George Bush. If you only had to know what Sadaam Hussein did to mine country and killing all the innocent people who many of them just in libraries or at meeting places when his police taken them away and torture and murdering them. Mr. Bush is very good man with some the problems OK, but he try to helping mine people. He am so much better than before please believe me.

Name: David A Snyder
Hometown: Tallahassee, FL

Speaking of "Who won the Cold War", to the extent that we did win it, it would behoove us to remember exactly what kinds of policies propounded by what kinds of people were responsible for our victory. Our political discourse seems to think that the only way to be serious about national defense is to indicate a willingness to send other people's kids to die in ill-conceived wars. Yet, the policies that won the Cold War were not the policies proposed by such hot-heads but rather those propounded by people who were often considered "unserious about the Communist threat". If history is any guide, we would do better in fighting terrorism to follow the strategies laid out by those considered by the conventional wisdom as too dovish to be "serious about fighting terrorism" rather than the hot-heads whose views are somehow considered to be the epitome of seriousness.

Name: Gregor Crockett
Hometown: Inverness, Scotland

Dear Siva/ Eric,
Being tactful of Putin is one thing that I would not criticize President Bush for. If only because his disastrous policies disqualify him from lecturing anyone else. I strongly dislike the Chechen disaster, as do most Russians. However, it is true that Chechen fundamentalists have killed hundreds of Caucasian and Russian civilians, whereas the Iraqis were no practical threat to the USA. The insoluble problem is that no one in the US political system is willing to criticize the IMF policies of Boris Yeltsin, which ruined the majority of Russian people. Francis Fukuyama criticized these policies, so did Joseph Stiglitz, but no Democrat party politician will. I love Altercation because of the methodical, academic approach to political issues, and the sincerity of LTC Bateman's correspondence. However, I feel that the complexities of the Russian issue are often treated in a disappointing fashion.

Name: John
Hometown: Los Angeles
Siva, your analogy to the current times and the days of King George couldn't be more apt. When I read about the actions of this current administration (like the fact that he single-handedly blocked the investigation of the Wiretapping program, or this afternoon's veto of stem-cell funding) it makes me want to scream. I have a feeling the Founding Fathers would look upon us and say "this is PRECISELY what we warned you about." I never thought there would come a day when I would be ashamed of my country. I'm not a flag-waver, yellow-ribbon type, but I have always thought that our democracy, separation of church state, free press, vigorous debate, protection of minority rights etc., etc., truly make this nation one-of-a-kind. And in many ways we have been a moral leader for the rest of the world. But when I read words like yours they hit me twofold. I'm glad that there are others out there whose eyes are open to what's really going on (and strive to change it), but it's also sad that I know SO many people who are ashamed of America's present state. PS My condolences to LTC Bob. Hope you'll keep sharing your invaluable insights with the rest of us.

Name: Cindy Morgan
Hometown: Irvine, CA
This is the best article I have read in a long time.  Siva, you hit it right on the mark. Democracy will not work unless the people want it and work for it. The Russian government has returned to it's old ways and it's amazing how much it looks like the Bush administration. I am one of the few people that think it is wrong to spy on citizens without the approval of the courts. At the court the administration would at least have to show some bits of reasoning to show why they need to wiretap citizens that really have no reason to be checked. Who really cares about the bank records because the government has been doing that for years and the banks show they will release anything to the government over $10,000? I believe this administration has destroyed the credibility of the U.S. and we have no one that can negotiate with Iran and N Korea to get them to stop their plans to blow up the infidels, which is unfortunately includes all U.S. citizens. Condi Rice doesn't have a prayer when it comes to negotiating with the Mid Eastern countries, they are a patriarchal society that has no respect for women and will not even acknowledge she has one of the most powerful jobs in Washington. She is nothing but George Bush's puppet and they would just ignore her no matter what she tried to do, if anything. The Bush War, I would never call it the War on Terror, has destroyed any chance of this country using it's once super power to stop the terrorists in the Mid East. I am just a stay at home mom with 2 teenagers, 2 cats and 2 dogs and I can see the writing on the wall so why can't the administration?

July 19, 2006 | 1:03 PM ET | Permalink

Wait, who won the Cold War?

Good morning.  This is Siva Vaidhyanathan again.

I'm not exactly sure about this.  But I am willing to bet that our current secretary of state is the first in history who claims to be fluent in Russian.  She is certainly an expert in Soviet and Russian history and politics.  So if anyone should be able to exert influence over the increasingly autocratic dictatorship of Russia, Condoleeza Rice should.

Problem is, it turns out she might not be so fluent in Russian after all.  For what it's worth, a friend of mine who used to be Rice's research assistant at Stanford maintains that she is fluent in Russian.  Of course, that's really something only the Russians could judge.

Is this just another one of the pile of lies that the Bush administration tells about itself?  Or does it have greater meaning?  Why does her fluency matter?  Because she claims expertise.  She claims familiarity.  Is it any wonder that Russian leaders have so little respect for her and her boss?

This past week at the G-8 summit Russian diplomats and Putin himself consistently ridiculed and criticized the U.S. contingent.  It was humiliating.  But more importantly, our diplomatic staff failed to negotiate a trade treaty with Russia.  And the meetings yielded no indication that Russia would be more forceful with Iran in the near future.  So what exactly did Bush and Rice get out of the trip to Russia?  German Prime Minister Merkel even shrugged off an unwelcomed back rub from W.

I don't know what I feel more strongly about this utter failure of a diplomatic mission: shame or anger.  I know one thing.  I am sick of being humiliated by my own country's incompetence and irrelevance.

Consider what has happened between the United States and Russia since W took office:

  • W looked into Putin's eyes and declared that he was a good guy.
  • Russia's brutal incursions into Chechnya have not ceased.
  • Chechen terrorism in Russia has not only increased, it has shifted from a purely nationalistic movement to one fueled by Islamic fundamentalism.
  • Putin has silenced opposition parties and jailed his most fervent critics.
  • The dissenting press in Russia is effectively silenced.
  • Russia has proven itself incapable of accounting for and guarding nuclear materials and technology.
  • Russia has made its interest in building Iranian nuclear facilities its primary issue, thus limiting W's ability to work with Russia on Iran.
  • Many of the post-Soviet republics like Georgia and Ukraine remain fragile and corrupt democracies.  Many more are horrible dictatorships with no immediate hope of democracy or stability.
  • Russia has returned to a political economy best described as kleptocracy, with political friends making a killing from Putin's corrupt leadership and all other potential competitors locked out of the flow of cash.
  • Both Bush and Cheney have clumsily and publicly called for Putin to restore democratic principles to Russia.  But they have no influence.  They have no credibility.  So Putin laughed at them.

Wait. Who won the Cold War?

The sad thing about this whole affair is that what Putin has accomplished in Russia is not so far from what W wants to accomplish in our country.  He would love it if he could quiet dissent, monitor opponents, solidify power in a strong executive office, limit the power of the legislature to cheerleading, and rule beyond judicial oversight while making his friends and supporters rich through obscene no-bid government contracts.

Foreign Policy 101

Way back in 1985 I took a foreign policy course from Professor Robert Hardgrave at the University of Texas.  It was a really cool class in which we read history, theory, policy analyses, and played a role-playing game in which we posed as leaders of India, Pakistan, the United States, China, and the Soviet Union.  We imagined a conflict in Kashmir between India and Pakistan, complete with terrorist bombings and the like.  The two lessons we took out of that course were:

  1. You better have credibility to play an effective role in any international conflict.  That means you not only should not make threats or speeches you can't back up with action, but you better not lie or bluff once or no one will take you seriously ever again.  There are two kinds of credibility: meaning what you say and saying what you mean.

  2. Every action has a dozen unequal and opposite reactions.  Every state is a butterfly flapping its wings in a world crowded with butterflies.  Chaos is the default.  It takes energy, wisdom, vision, and patience to hold off chaos.  Newtonian physics don't work in international affairs, especially when you mix in non-state actors.

Remember, this was 1985, back when the Cold War was supposed to be everything and no one really talked about non-state actors.  Well, those of us paying attention to India and Pakistan did.  We knew that the Pakistani intelligence service was beholden to Islamic radicals and wedded to the Mujahadin in Afghanistan.  We knew that India was threatened by terrorist groups both foreign and domestic.  In fact, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had just been assassinated by a domestic terrorist group.  You have to consider whether your actions bolster or undermine non-state actors while you consider their potential long-term effects on the states in question.  It ain't easy.  That's why so many smart people make so many mistakes over the years and everyone keeps trying to learn from the recent and distant past.

Now look at where we are, more than 20 years later.  What if W had actually taken such a course and oh, read a book or something?  Maybe he would have shown just a little bit of competence in foreign affairs.  That's not to say that college and book learnin' is all that.  Rice was a professor and provost at Stanford, for heaven's sake.  And look how clueless she is?  No, we professors should not be running stuff.  But occasionally we have some wisdom to impart.

Wait.  Who won the Korean War?

Here is something I wrote recently for an academic journal.  I thought y'all might dig a bit of it:

North Korea tested a long-range ballistic missile that was supposed to be able to be able to deliver a nuclear warhead as far as Alaska.  After five years of tense showdowns, sporadic negotiation, and much bluster, the U.S. government had succeeded in providing North Korea with no incentive to refrain from developing and testing nuclear weapons and the systems that would deliver them. Instead, President George W. Bush had elevated tensions, disengaged from Clinton-era talks that had suspended North Korea’s weapons programs, and, by virtue of committing vast military resources to the Middle East, had rendered all potential deterrents against North Korean military actions incredible.

The missile test did not go well for North Korea. The long-range missile fell into the sea just minutes after launch.[i] President Bush’s reaction to the news of the test was to boast that the freshly deployed (albeit limited) U.S. missile defense system would most likely have been able to protect the Western Continental United States from such a missile fired by North Korea. “Yes, I think we had a reasonable chance of shooting [the North Korean missile] down,” Bush said at a news conference in Chicago two days after the failed Korean test. “At least that's what the military commanders told me.”[ii] Just the day before, Bush had reinforced his commitment to a missile defense system. “Because I think it's in -- I know it's in our interests to make sure that we're never in a position where somebody can blackmail us,” Bush said at a news conference in Washington, D.C., after meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “And so we'll continue to invest and spend. And since this issue first came up, we've made a lot of progress on how to -- toward having an effective system. And it's in our interest that we continue to work along these lines.”[iii]

Bush expressed a dangerous level of faith in an unproven technology. Since it first emerged as a vision of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the U.S. government has spent from $2 billion to $10 billion dollars per year on various systems that would track intercontinental ballistic missiles through the stratosphere and send small intercepting vehicles up to disable or destroy the incoming warhead. This plan gathered enough enthusiasm among defense experts to justify development and experimentation for more than a decade, despite the ease with which any potential attacker could simply evade even the best system (overwhelming the defense with “dummy” or multiple warheads; shifting warheads to low-flying cruise missiles; relying instead on human carriers to deliver warheads in luggage; etc.). Every test of every part of every prototype of missile defense has failed.[iv] After repeated embarrassing failures and the news accounts of them, the United States merely opted in 2002 to cease testing the system. Despite the ceasing tests, the Bush administration activated elements of a system over Alaska and California in response to tensions with North Korea in June of 2006.[v]

Clearly, it does not matter to Bush that the technology is neither empirically viable nor theoretically effective. He just believes. Such faith in technology in the absence of critical analysis or empirical support is an example of “techno-fundamentalism,” the belief that we can, should, and will invent a machine that will fix the problems the last machine caused. It’s an extreme form of technological optimism or Whiggishness. Techno-fundamentalism assumes not only the means and will to triumph over adversity through gadgets and schemes, but the sense that invention is the best of all possible methods of confronting problems. Any dissent on the matter betrays a suspicious lack of faith, an infidelity of the gravest kind.

In the United States at the beginning of the 21st century we pay a heavy price for techno-fundamentalism. We build new and wider highways under the mistaken belief that they will ease congestion and speed traffic on its way.[vi] We rush to ingest pharmaceuticals that might alleviate our ills with no more effectiveness than a placebo would.[vii] We make investment and policy decisions based on self-fulfilling (and misleading) phenomena such as “Moore’s Law,” which falsely predicts that computer processing power will double every 18 months, as if computer speed had the force of nature above and beyond specific decisions by firms and engineers.[viii] Perhaps most dangerously, we maliciously neglect real problems with the structures and devices we depend on to preserve our lives, as we did for decades with the levees that failed to protect the poorest residents of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.[ix] And now, it seems techno-fundamentalism stands as the operative ideology in national security policy. We need not depend on messy diplomacy or credible military threats to curb the activities of hostile states. We have “Star Wars.”[x]

____________________________

[i] Dana Priest, "North Korea Tests Long-Range Missile: Controversial Rocket Fails as Other Types Are Fired; U.N. Session Set after U.S., Japan Condemn Action," Washington Post, July 5 2006.

[ii] George W. Bush, Transcript: President Bush Holds a News Conference in Chicago [Web page] (July 7 2006 [cited July 8 2006]); available from [ Link].

[iii] George W. Bush, Transcript: President Bush Meets with the Canadian Prime Minister [Web page] (Washington Post, July 6 2006 [cited July 8 2006]); available from [ Link].

[iv] BBC, Missile Defence Shield Test Fails [Web page] (BBC, December 15 2004 [cited July 8 2006]); available from [ Link]. For a comprehensive analysis of the problems with missile defense in general, including the ease with which an aggressor might evade or fool even an effective system, see Steven Weinberg, "Can Missile Defense Work?," The New York Review of Books, February 14 2002. For an analysis of the steady degradation of the standards of testing elements of the missile defense systems, see Andrew M. Sessler, "Countermeasures: A Technical Evaluation of the Operational Effectiveness of the Planned Us National Missile Defense System,"  (Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2000).

[v] Bill Gertz, "N. Korean Threat Activates Shield," The Washington Times, June 20 2006.

[vi] Martin Wachs, Curbing Gridlock: Peak-Period Fees to Relieve Traffic Congestion (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 1994).

[vii] Bo Carlberg, Ola Samuelsson, and Lars Hjalmar Lindholm, "Atenolol in Hypertension: Is It a Wise Choice?," The Lancet 364, no. 9446 (2004).

[viii] Gordon E. Moore, "Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits," Electronics 38, no. 8 (1965). For a critical analysis of Moore’s law, see Ilkka  Tuomi, "The Lives and Death of Moore's Law," First Monday 7, no. 11 (2002).

[ix] Timothy H. Dixon et al., "Space Geodesy: Subsidence and Flooding in New Orleans," Nature 441, no. 7093 (2006). Also see Ivor  van Heerden, The Storm : What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina--the inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist, ed. Mike Bryan (New York: Viking, 2006).

[x] For an excellent historical account of the follies of missile defense and the ideologies and corruptions that have kept the dream alive through two decades and billions of dollars, see Frances FitzGerald, Way out There in the Blue : Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Correspondence corner:

Name: Lee Steele
Hometown: Mountain View, CA
Colonel Bateman- I'm sorry about your friend, May, and I'm glad someone is finally giving names to the 1,000s of Iraqis who come and go from our lives with "24 people kidnapped and 20 killed at a Bagdad bus stop, now on to a dog caught in a sewer pipe..."  Americans: those deaths are in our names.  May God have mercy on us all.

Name: Darren Franzen
Hometown: Arlington Heights, IL
Dr. Alterman:
I know you'll have many e-mails like this one, please pick one and get us the info... My sincerest condolences to LTC Bateman on the loss of his friend. My sincerest thanks for his eulogy for someone we've never met. And my sincerest desire that he provide us some means of consoling May's children and mother. She helped LTC Bateman and so many Altercation readers aid schools, we can help her. And please let the LTC know that he spurred me...  I should have helped then, but didn't. Next time no one will need to ask twice. Namaste, LTC and May, peace.

Name: Josh Shaine
Hometown: Townsend, MA
Dear Eric,
Thank you for providing LTC Bateman this platform. Dear LTC Bateman, Yes, that removes the veil of anonymity. Yes, that humanizes the victims. Yes, that epitomizes both the struggle and the nature/limitations of power and influence. The anonymity is the tool of any military in conflict, because to know either opponent or victim as people is to make it that much harder to do one's job - to kill. So, too, is anonymity the tool of a regime acting without the support of its people. To allow the public to see the bodies of our soldiers as they come home and to watch the trials of or military is to invite a public uprising against what we are doing. You note that our soldiers are accorded public recognition, but that is only partially true, in spite of the efforts of the press. Please, sir, continue using this forum and whatever other platforms you can find to continue to let us see into the dark corners designed to keep us from looking.

Name: Steve
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
I really appreciate Lt. Col. Bateman sharing the story of Mayada Salihi. People all over the world dream of a better place. She faced brutality that we cannot imagine here even though she would never set foot on American soil. She sacrificed for us and for people all over the world who dream of a better world. I admit that I take my liberty for granted, blissfully bitching about the Phillies, the weather, my job, etc. As Americans we really haven't had to worry about much. We are unaccustomed to fear, so it is easy for others to take advantage of us. The fact that we are a secure people made the 2000 election such a disaster. I don't think anybody believed that George Bush could set us back so far. The saddest impression leftover from the 2000 election fiasco is that Al Gore's supporters acted in good faith for the good of our society, and let stand the Supreme Court's decision, even though everybody knew deep down that it was crap. Sadly, the Republicans did not return that good faith, and would later smear Democrats and whoever disagreed with them as traitors. I personally never trusted Bush or his gang. They had spent the previous 8 years trying to remove a twice legitimately elected president. Their lust for power was obvious to me but most people had just assumed the impeachment was just a law and order issue. As for the Mexicans, they have to consider the behavior of the opposing party. Have they simply been an opposition party or are they a bunch of zealots trying to turn Mexico upside down? One would think in a democratic republic, getting the election right would be paramount. Here in 2000, it was not vital to count the votes, but to make sure the law was followed, whether the votes were counted or not.

Name: James
Hometown: Tampa, FL
To LTC Bateman: Sir... I'm so sorry for your loss. I've read your contributions to this site and been ecstatic to see the U.S. military represented so well, especially when those of our members who make the news lately do so for decidedly more nefarious reasons. As for your friend Mayada? Is there some way to help her family without endangering them? I hope she has peace wherever she is, and I'm sorry we can't save her country from our bungling and its own demons. Peace, sir, and thank you for your continued contribution here.

July 18, 2006 | 11:57 AM ET | Permalink

Anonymous

Name: LTC Robert Bateman
Hometown: Capitol Hill, D.C.
When American humanitarian Marla Ruzicka was killed in Baghdad last year I wrote about her, as did many others, and she was known.  When an American or European journalist is killed, the system works and they are known as well.  Similarly, when a Soldier or Marine is killed, they merit ink and public eulogy once their names are released.  But in this war the news comes in every day, displaying a sameness which confuses.  It is “59 Iraqis killed by bomb” today, and on another day, “fourteen bodies discovered in Baghdad.”  See here or here for example.  Sadly, unless they are high government officials, at most all that is known of these victims is their town and, sometimes, their profession.  They are anonymous, and with their anonymity, easier to deal with.  Few accounts let you know an average Iraqi.

I cannot change this.  I have no magic wand to wave and change the rules of the game of journalism and the market so that the corporations which constitute the news industry forgo some of their (generally double-digit) profit in favor of tripling their coverage in bad places around the world.  I cannot remove Adam Smith’s damned-near-visible hand from this process.  But I can tell you about one Iraqi, just one, and leave it to you to extrapolate.

Mayada Salihi: Red hair, raised in Baghdad, divorced mother of two adorable kids, herself the daughter of a divorced Shia mother and Sunni father. A scrapper. A Baghdadi through and through. Not always factual, but usually a truthteller. Devout fan of cheesy 1980’s American music, particularly Air Supply. Mayada was my translator through much of last year. You knew her too, albeit indirectly.  It was because of May, and through her, that we found the schools which you so generously supplied and supported last year.  Those who sent donations usually received a letter and pictures from me of the deliveries.  May is in some of those photos.  She was my friend.

She was well traveled for an Iraqi, having visited Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan in her 20s, but after her children, and Iraq, there is nothing which May loved more than a country to which she had never been, America.  Her father was a comfortable government functionary and in those days she lived a life of moderate privilege.  She had seen much of the Arab world, but for whatever reason, call it cultural penetration or just internationalism, May grew up fascinated by and adoring America.  She started teaching herself English through that most classic of methods, singing along with American albums. As I recall, she told me that it was the Foreigner 4 album at first, and only a little later did she discover the obscenely sugar-coated songs of Air Supply.  Eventually, in college, she majored in English.

Life in a Middle Eastern nation being what it is, however, she had a lot of pressure to marry. Eventually she settled on the wrong guy. He cheated, a lot, and so in a quintessentially American move, so did she. That ended it. Cuckolding publicly reduced her husband and they divorced. She got the kids.

Then we invaded.

A month after the fall of Baghdad May was volunteering, working as a translator for a succession of US and Iraqi forces…too many it seems. Living in Baghdad she got one warning note, ignored it, and was gunned down and left for dead by masked men in the alley beside her house just two days later.  That was in the Spring of 2004. But May would not die.

Whisked to a hospital where her identity as an American translator was revealed, she was declared dead back in her neighborhood for the safety of her family, while in reality she went into hiding.  Ultimately she recovered in Jordan, but the recovery took months.  She could have stayed in Jordan, but in the end, she found that her heart would not let her. The two nations she loved most were now fused in a death-love struggle, she could not leave them alone. Besides, working for us paid better than just about anything else a divorced woman could legally do in Baghdad, and that allowed her to support “H” (her son), “M” (her daughter) and her mother. So she came back.

Working for the same unit again, we kept her out of the city, doing good work elsewhere in Iraq. But the draw of motherhood, and her city, brought her back to Baghdad. It was at that time that we met, in April of last year.

Living now in another neighborhood, May thought she was safe. But as any New Yorker will tell you, even seven million people can make for a small town in some ways. By late summer they had found her again. A note at her home, I have a copy of it which she gave me, told her to stop working with the Americans or she would be killed. But May would not, and I now think perhaps could not, stop. A few nights later she slipped her mother and kids into the Green Zone, buying off another family who had themselves received an eviction notice from the Iraqi government.

In Iraq, as it is in many other countries, its all about who you know.  May thought that she could work her personal connections…this person knows that person whose second cousin is a deputy minister of agriculture…to pull the right strings and keep the apartment, and her family, together. I had a hand in that, while I was there.  It was a distraction from the work I was supposed to do, but in some ways you could say that it was also the work that needed to be done. I left in February.  Apparently, not long after I left, she was evicted.

May couldn’t live outside the Green Zone anymore. To do so would be to invite risk to her kids and her mother. So the kids went to live with her Ex, and her mother went to her sister.  May found a small place for herself, a single room apparently, inside the Green Zone.

Motherhood is a strong pull though. May would leave the Green Zone fairly often, alone in her car, to go see her children for a few precious hours.

At the end of the month of May, just after returning from my pre-wedding honeymoon, I found an e-mail in my inbox from one of my friends back in Baghdad. Nobody had wanted to tell me, at least initially, but now they felt they should. Two weeks earlier, while driving through the city to see her kids, May was intercepted and kidnapped by Ansar Al Sunna. Their standard tools are the AK-47, rape, and the power drill (with which they torture their captives, drilling holes through body parts until finishing them off with a drill-bit to the head).  The day before the e-mail, the police found the husk of my friend’s body in downtown Baghdad. Ansar Al Sunna had taken full credit. Now I understand hate.

Mayada Salihi, 1970-2006. ( Link) Please remember.

DC WITHIN EARSHOT

The story above goes some way towards explaining why I haven’t felt much like writing for a little while.  But another part of it is that I am not sure I have much more to say in this forum. I don’t do politics, and my self-directed role here was merely to provide some insights.

But I think, upon reflection, that I might continue that role here in DC.  I work in the Pentagon and live a few blocks from the dome of the Capitol, both areas about which most of America knows very little.  Understanding, in my opinion, is always better than rhetoric.

You can write to LTC Bob at Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Gregorivs
Hometown: Richmond, VA
The Mexican presidential election situation is interesting.  On the one hand, I wish with every fiber in my being that Al Gore had fought Bush the way López Obrador is fighting Calderón.  Even if it had meant civil disobedience and months of national strikes, we would be far better off having rejected Bush from the start through any means necessary than suffering through his reign of incompetence and enormity.  On the other hand, it seems much less likely that Calderón actually stole this election in Mexico than that Bush stole both elections in which he was given the presidency.  I support a recount in pretty much any election which is close, because errors are always possible.  That said, in a functioning democracy, the country must unite behind the duly elected government when the elections are over.  An election should not cause a civil war or a break down of society, no matter who the victor be.  (Note, however, that this only applies when the elections are properly and fairly executed.  Moreover, both sides must be willing to have the election scrutinized to ensure validity of the outcome.)

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman,
The recent myopic, hypocritical, hyperpolitical nature of the debate surrounding current world events saddens me deeply.  Israel has become the bad guy, America has become an impotent superpower (oxymoron?), the pursuit of self-determination has become perverted and/or discounted, Iraq has morphed from a paper tiger to a much-missed counterbalance to Iranian power, American foreign policy is simultaneously over-aggressive and yet too passive, and every ill in the world can be directly traced to America and/or its malevolent, fundamentalist, stupid, election-stealing leadership.  Might it be possible that some world events are indeed out of the omnipotent control of America?  Politics has corrupted common sense and marginalized long-term views and goals.  Time-intensive, difficult solutions are no longer an option in this era of immediate gratification and political expediency.  The status-quo is not necessarily desirable or sustainable.

Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.
Eric:
I was stunned by my own response in watching the video you hypertexted to on the Nazi/KKK rally. I found my self fluctuating from a sense of comedy to a sense of profound horror, back and forth, all within the span of time of less than a second.

I am not surprised to see this sort of thing. Given the irrational policies pursued by this administration, every Tom, Dick and Hitleresque Harry is sitting at home thinking they could easily do better. I fear this isn't the first time or the only group we'll see staging things like this.

A leopard never changes his spots. Bush is doing to this country and the world, precisely what he did to the companies he ran - ruined them.  That Nazi speech is kind of like a tell tale symptom of things going very wrong.

July 17, 2006 | 2:10 PM ET | Permalink

The new U.S. irrelevance

I wish had had something brilliant to say about Israel and Lebanon, et al.  Ethan Bronner’s piece here is so far the most useful piece I’ve read explaining what the hell is going on and why.  I don’t know if my analysis would be any different, though I’m considerably less sanguine about the likely results of creating so much more hatred among people who can cause your society so much damage so easily.  Actions like Israel's not only cause “disproportionate” suffering, they also strengthen the support of the extremists you’re trying to destroy.  Then again, no government in the world would sit still for missile attacks into its cities, and the Israeli public is probably more hawkish than its current government.  Certainly, given the government we’ve got, we hardly have reason to criticize.

Speaking of which, there are two obvious points that need to be pointed out in the din, though I don’t profess to be original here:

  1. Look how irrelevant Bush has made us.  By backing Israel to the hilt and creating virtually nothing but hatred in the Arab world, we have as much ability to influence events in this conflict as say, Singapore, stupid swaggering aside.

  2. Thanks again, Ralph.  Bush’s invasion of Iraq has given Iran free reign to act as a chaos-causing, peace-threatening Great Power in a way it never had before.  Whatever role they are playing in encouraging the violence, the geopolitical loss of Iraq as a counter-balance has made it worse.  This is just one more reason the American invasion is the worst mistake I think any American president has ever made.

Meanwhile, back in Iraq:  Here are your tax dollars at work:

The speaker of parliament Thursday accused "Jews" of financing acts of violence in Iraq in order to discredit Islamists who control the parliament and government so they can install their "agents" in power.

Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani hinted that the Americans and Israelis did not want to see officials of Sunni and Shiite parties running Iraq because "this is not their agenda."

"They will say that we brought you in a democratic way to the government but you are sectarian people. One of you is killing the other and you don't deserve to become leaders because you are war lords," al-Mashhadani told reporters after a parliament meeting.

Al-Mashhadani is a member of the Sunni Muslim Iraqi Accordance Front while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a member of the Shiite Dawa party.

"Some people say, `We saw you beheading, kidnappings and killing. In the end we even started kidnapping women who are our honor,'" al-Mashhadani said. "These acts are not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew."

"I can tell you about these Jewish, Israelis and Zionists who are using Iraqi money and oil to frustrate the Islamic movement in Iraq and come with the agent and cheap project."

Remember when Richard Perle specifically tried to sell an invasion on the basis of the fact that Chalabi government would immediately recognize Israel?  No really, you can look it up.

And who finally, does this guy remind you of?

Mission Accomplished Update from Today’s Papers:

[A]s the LAT points out, the city has seen a "much-noted deterioration, despite a state of emergency that has throttled commercial and civic life."  For example, the number of people killed in Baghdad in June: 2,020, of which 1,360 were killed by short-range small arms fire.  (The number of homicides in Washington, D.C., during the same month, in case anyone is interested in comparing: 20.)  A suicide bomber killed 26 people in a cafe in northern Iraq.

Al Gore, Democrats, take note.

Robert Wright may be right in this mega-big think piece on foreign policy and the Democrats.  The problem with it however is that he glides over its salability.  It’s not so hard to come up a sensible-sounding foreign policy that makes sense on an op-ed page or in a Council on Foreign Relations presentation—or even one that will make Joe Klein stand up and scream, “The liberal wing of the Democratic Party hates America.”  But it’s damn hard to come up with one about which Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and ultimately, Tim Russert and Chris Matthews will not whine that it's wimpy and does not allow for enough chest-beating and innocent-people-killing.  Wright may be right, which would be great; but if he’s serious, he’s going to have to spend a lot more time figuring out how to sell it.  (And right now, liberals/progressives/Democrats have no bigger problem.)

Did you notice Frank Rich takes a shot at Tom Friedman?  "Last week, the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, allowed that there would be 'adjustments' to the plan and that the next six months (why is it always six months?) would be critical."  — Here.

Quote of the Day, in which the autocrat, Vladimir Putin punctures a big fat hole in the hot air balloon that is George W. Bush.

In the sharpest exchange, Mr. Bush said he had told Mr. Putin during a private dinner here Friday night about “my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq — where there is a free press and free religion — and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope Russia would do the same thing.”

Mr. Putin, standing bolt upright in a dark blue suit, responded dryly, “We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly.”

With the Middle East ablaze, Tom Engelhardt explores who the true fundamentalists on this planet really are.  "Consider the possibility that the most fundamental belief, perhaps in all of history, but specifically in these last catastrophic years, seems to be in the efficacy of force -- and the more of it the merrier.  That deep belief in force above all else is perhaps the monotheism of monotheisms, a faith remarkably accepting of adherents of any other imaginable faith – or of no other faith at all... The Bush administration came to power as a fundamentalist regime; and here I'm not referring to the Christian fundamentalist faith of our President. After all, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and our Vice President seem not to be Christian fundamentalists any more than were Paul Wolfowitz or Douglas Feith. Bush's top officials may not have agreed among themselves on whether End Time would arrive, or even on the domestic social issues of most concern to the Christian religious right in this country, but they were all linked by a singular belief in the efficacy of force -- and by an overwhelming faith in the awesome power of the American military to change history.

"In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, this administration launched a force party in the Middle East. Now it's in full swing; the club's pilled high with dancers; many of the exits are bolted shut; the bouncers are no longer at the front door; and, on stage, the performers are brandishing blowtorches, while the Earth's last hyperpower and its hyper-commander-in-chief President are watching, helplessly, from the sidelines."

What's up with Showtime series and single-moms-with-vibrators-and-no-battery-scenes? I saw one last season on "Weeds" and this season on "Huff." Will we see one on "Brootherhood" too? It was funny, once...

Happy Tenth Birthday to MSNBC.com.  As I recall, we began on July 15, 1996.  I was here, both on cable and on the net.  I lasted two years on cable, but hey, I’m still here and grateful for the opportunity to make whatever contribution I’ve made, and to offer my views on the news with useful editorial guidance but absolutely no political or commercial censorship.  In fact, the only time I can remember anyone asking me to say anything about anything related to the company, was when an editor—long gone—asked if I’d be willing to write a column criticizing Bill Gates’ gift of computers to libraries.  It’s been a rare opportunity in this media environment that I’ve been given on this site, and I want to go on the record, just this once, to say I’m happy to be here.

My condolences to my friend (and knee doctor) Steve Nicholas, on the death of his father (and here).

And hey, how about you know who?

Alter-reviews:

I saw the most wonderful show last week at Joe’s Pub: Dan Penn warming up the Hacienda Brothers.  I can’t remember ever seeing notice of a Penn performance in NYC, and what a thrill.  Dressed in overalls and playing an acoustic guitar, he just sat there and sang soulful versions of the song that somehow came out of his head forty years ago like “From the Dark End of the Street,” “Do Right Woman,” “Cry Like a Baby,” etc, etc.  Sure I would have liked to have heard Janis, Otis, Aretha, James Carr, Arthur Alexander, etc sing ‘em too, but hearing the old redneck-looking guy sing them and knowing his history, it was unspeakably affecting.  Then came the Hacienda Brothers, who are an alt-country band that plays soul music, produced by Penn.  Terrific musicians, dripping with inventiveness and integrity; I can’t think of another newish band I like so much.  I just love their “Cowboys to Girls,” I couldn’t get over how screwed up the world was that I was sitting there with about seventy people who paid, I think, twenty bucks, while a bit uptown, 20,000 people were jumping up and down to Madonna for $375 a ticket.  Anyway, once again, trust me on the Hacienda Brothers' new CD, here, and also this terrific live acoustic show by Penn and Spooner Oldham, recorded in Dublin.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Patty Wainberg
Hometown: Lula, GA
Eric,
If I am fortunate enough to have this e-mail reach you, then I will be so very grateful.  My name is Patty Wainberg.  I am a small person who lives a simple life. However, I have a big problem, and I need your help. Not for me, but for our soldiers. I watched you on CSPAN today, and was very impressed. I share your thoughts on every word you said, enough said about that. I am proudly the Georgia Representative for Operation Helmet. Our organization is totally charitable, trying to supply helmet pads to all our armed forces. These upgrade pads and straps are vital for their survival. These pads are not issued to our soldiers by our government. All I could say here you will find on the most informative and impressive web site at OperationHelmet.org. We need more press, and I am asking you for help. I myself am non-partisan, but it matters not if one is for or against the war. Operation Helmet is the same - we just simply want to save lives. I have been interviewed by local radio stations and newspapers, been a many time caller on Washington Journal, and talked directly to various governmental representatives (Senators, Congressmen, Lt. Governor, and Governor). I have passed out hundreds of flyers to anyone on the street I encounter from here to Atlanta. I will talk to anyone who will listen, been yelled at, told to "take a hike" (by now I am sure that at times my family and friends wish someone would shoot me with a tranquilizer gun). I, simply stated, will not shut up until every head is covered! So, I now turn to you. Could you please mention Operation Helmet on your web site, articles, to your students - anyone? BTW my husband Rob is also a college professor here in northeast Georgia. Operation Helmet (electronic mail: ophelm@operation-helmet.org) was founded by Dr. Bob Meaders (CAPT, Medical Corps, USN-Reta retired), and is actively supported by not only his son Mark (Major, USAF-Ret) and his wife, but various celebrities such as Cher.  Ignorance of this situation by the American public is our enemy and the enemy of our soldiers as their standard issue helmets turn into weapons themselves if they encounter an IED or large roll over or impact that is characteristic to this war we are involved in. If a soldier is injured, rehabilitation costs run to 2,000,500.00 each as compared to the 71.00-100 dollars needed for protection. I know what you might be thinking if you have read this far. This is madness, it can't be so. Too simple, this woman is nuts! Maddeningly unbelievably true. I know you are very busy with all you do, but I take the chance of asking for some of your valuable time, not much. I implore you to contact Mark Meaders, either by email or by phone. He will talk to you and explain any and all questions you may have.  Please go to the Operation Helmet web site and help us. All across the country we, small groups, work on the grass root level.  Besides the plethora of environmental organizations we belong to, this is the only positive thing we have been able to find to do over the years since this conflict started. When we succeed and finally accomplish our task, then "they" can come take my TV, newspapers and computer away, and I will surrender them and be quiet. Maybe.
Thank you in advance,
Patty Wainberg

Name: R.J. Lebeck
Hometown: Thousand Oaks, CA
Eric,
Caught your appearance on C-SPAN's Washington Journal.  Good showing, but I want to call into question your out of hand dismissal of the possibility of an independent Kurdistan.  I know that the idea of an independent Kurdistan is a no go for the Turks who fear the move would embolden their own large minority population, but to dismiss the possibility is a mistake. Peace and diplomacy must be sought on every front if the political knot that we call the Middle East is to be unraveled. The Kurds have been our most reliable and dependable ally in this mess and while a move to support their independence might tip the apple cart, it is a diplomatic move worth the effort. We have been bogged down now for over 3 and a half years in Iraq with no end in sight. The Turks should have been included in any long-term regional solution from the onset. There is no way to achieve the kind of political solution that will be acceptable to the bozos in the White House because the reality is that by invading Iraq and creating a power vacuum, we have enabled Iran to become an even stronger hand in the region. An independent Kurdistan would at least give them some pause for distraction on their northern border instead of allowing them to pedal their influence unimpeded in the Persian Gulf. Hammer out a non-aggression pact between the Turks and the Kurds, establish the recognition of the present boundary, and some concessions for the repatriotization of Kurdistan and let the Sunnis and Shiites cut each other's throats like they've done for the last 1000 years (Oh yeah, except when Saddam was in charge). If your looking for greater regional stability, allow the Sunnis to align with the Syrians (with some concessions by the Shiites over oil revenue) or better yet encompass the Jordanians and the Palestinian into the confederation and you'd have Saddam having Nassar-like wet dreams in his prison cell. The Shiites in the south are lost, they are the clear majority and there is little or nothing that the U.S. can do to alter their probable course of action, an Islamic-based theocracy allied sympathetically with Iran. The invasion was a mistake. Most of us agree on this point. But it will take a greater willingness to think out of the box and to think beyond the conventional wisdom of the folks that got us into this mess to allow us as a nation to disengage with a minimum of egg on our face and blood on our hands.

Name: Riccard Gingerella
Hometown: Havre De Grace, MD
Dear Eric,
Charles Mitchell is right about taxes being on the rise.  State taxes are rising.  Corporations profits are historically high, and basically should be characterized as private taxation. What's more, those pesky Chinese, Japanese, British, and Germans have had the audacity to NOT tear up the U.S. Treasury Notes that they bought from us.  I guess that means the "tax cuts" of GWB are yet another lie rolling off of his lips... for those notes represent obligations which are even more expensive than what was allegedly cut from the tax rolls (they are taxes PLUS interest).  At best, they are interest-added tax deferments.  I liked your moxy on C-Span this past Friday morning (your command of the facts is amazing, at least compared to the majority of opinion whores out there).  The American Dream.... notice how little that phrase is being used these days.  I think that we need to redefine that wonderful saying for the 21st Century.

Name: Chanda
Comments:
Eric,
I enjoyed your segment on Washington Journal today.  A caller asked you about Halliburton's contract for detention centers to be built in the US, and you said you were unaware of the story but discounted the source.  Here is a link for the story in the NYT.  These will be built "in case" they are needed.  Don't you find this, odd, even somewhat alarming?

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments