June 27, 2005 | 12:50 PM ET | Permalink

George Bush vs. Just About Everybody in the World, continued (or, “Things I learned reading the Pew Global Attitudes Project Survey of among nearly 17,000 people in the United States and 15 other countries this weekend)
1) Even the Commies are more admired. “Japan, France and Germany are all more highly regarded than the United States among the countries of Europe; even the British and Canadians have a more favorable view of these three nations than they do of America. Strikingly, China now has a better image than the U.S. in most of the European nations surveyed.”
2) If the idea of this war was to get Muslims to hate our guts even more, it’s working. “With the exception of Christian opinion in Lebanon, views of the U.S. in other predominantly Muslim nations are more negative and have changed little. In Turkey, hostility toward the U.S. and the American people has intensified. Nearly half of Turks (46%) say they have a very unfavorable view of Americans, up from just 32% a year ago… The war in Iraq continues to draw broad international opposition, and there is scant optimism that the elections in that country this past January will foster stability.
3) Remember those Iraqi elections that proved how great this war was? (And what a lilly-livered liberal/defeatist/I’m/elitist/Why-do-I-hate-American-kind-of-guy for responding with a wait-and-see attitude.) “Even the American public now has diminished expectations that the January elections held in Iraq will lead to a more stable situation there. The United States and India are the only countries surveyed in which pluralities believe Saddam Hussein's removal from power has made the world a safer place."

3.5) Oh and did I mention that Americans, by a 49 to 44 percent margin, now say that George W. Bush, rather than Saddam Hussein was responsible for the war in Iraq? Why does America hate America, here.
The executive summary of the Pew survey is here.

4) Before we leave our friends there, let us note that for all of the coverage of their weekend-report on Americans’ alleged low opinion of the media, it contains the following revelation. “In fact, the favorable ratings for most categories of news organizations surpass positive ratings for President Bush and major political institutions the Supreme Court, Congress, and the two major political parties.”  That survey is here.

The lesson here, of course, is that the mainstream media is well behind not only the rest of the world but also the US public in their relatively rosy assessments of the respective catastrophes that are the Bush administration and its horrific, counterproductive, and possibly illegal war.
Isn’t it Rich? I was trying decide over the weekend whether to do my Nation column this week on PBS/CBP or Karl Rove, but as is happening with greater frequency recently, Frank Rich made my decision for me with this column.
You can play too: Tomasky catches Ed Klein in another one. This time, Klein uses a Harold Ickes quote from Tomasky's book. Klein footnotes Tomasky--but he changed the quote! Here.

Quote of the Day, Steven Spielberg:
"The image that stands out most in my mind is everybody in Manhattan fleeing across the George Washington Bridge in the shadow of 9/11, a searing image that I've never been able to get out of my head," said Spielberg, here.
Umm .. that would be the Brooklyn Bridge, dude. (New Jersey sure does look a lot like Brooklyn from out there in Outer Space (or Hollywood…)

Alter-review:

Mike Waldman reviews the new film, “The Deal.”
Altercation readers would enjoy a recent film now in theaters – especially readers who grew up watching the great political thrillers of the 1960s and 1970s. "The Deal" is a taut and well acted movie that harkens back to the cynicism and cerebral sex appeal of those films. It was written and co-produced by Ruth Epstein (full disclosure: an old friend), who had a successful career on Wall Street before turning to filmmaking. In the film, oil has spiked to $6 a gallon, due to a long war between the United States and Arab countries.
Christian Slater plays an investment banker who is asked to wok on a merger between an American oil company and a Russian firm, a merger that can only help relieve the U.S.’s oil needs. His suspicions grow, plot complications pile on one another, backs are stabbed, and he will soon have to decide whether to follow his career self-interest, his ethical compass, or his love (lust) interest (Selma Blair).
There are two things of note for Altercation readers. First, the characters move in an ethical fog due to our continued addiction to oil. I think people will look back and see our huge demand for petroleum as the huge, obvious, usually unspoken fact in our politics and economy. In this movie, oil is an invisible character that throws a twist in the ethical dilemmas characters face. Again, it’s hard to think of another mainstream movie where that is the case. Second, what was striking to me was that this thriller existed at all -- a thriller replete with geopolitics, boardroom machinations, and snappy jargon, with only the occasional shot fired in anger. It is hardly an original thought to note that movies are increasingly either superhero-driven blockbusters or quiet independent movies.
The overwhelming majority of quality independent movies focus on personal relationships in some way. This one has them, and they are well acted, but the dramatic high points revolve around due diligence and oil reserves. "The Deal" got me thinking for several days after (and not about Selma Blair)(well, not only about Selma Blair). These days, any film that doesn’t simply leave the viewer asking "how did they get that special effect" is something to be treasured.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jeff Thomas
Hometown: Brighton, MI
Comments:
Eric, As a former Army officer and son of an original Green Beret Vietnam veteran father (two tours of Laos/Vietnam and one in a hostile Korea meant I wouldn't see much of him during my first years of life), I watch the debate between LeBlanc and others and I can't help but focus on one thing: We are not in Iraq for the reasons presented to us.
There were, of course, no WMD and no terrorists. It is not the place of the US Military to settle grudges between leaders and if a soldier is going to die fighting for something, it is only reasonable that s/he should know what that is. As I have heard from many who are defending the war in Iraq, the primary argument rests around "how much good we are doing there". Other than being lead by a brutal dictator (not insignificant), let us remind ourselves that Iraq had functioning universities, power grids,communications, water, schools and, as something of a novelty in the Middle East, was a non-secular state. As we would later find out and should have known to begin with, the policy of containment was working just fine. I would suspect that more Iraqis are dying now than were dying due to a lack of medicines as a result of the embargo. It is the soldier's duty to defend the Constitution of the United States (questionable in this case), and I believe that it is the duty of the citizens of this nation to defend the soldiers fighting for us. Justin will go Iraq when he is told and just about everyone else in this nation should be doing everything they can to prevent it. Justin, read Joseph Wilson's "The Politics of Truth". At least you will have a better understanding of why you and our troops are over there. Going back to the Vietnam era, I can remember Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, Harry Reasoner and others talking about battles and showing stick-figure men representing body counts and casualties. I remember asking my mother, with pride in my heart, if my father was involved in the battle where there were a whole bunch of enemy stick figures and very few American stick figures. There is no reason for our current generation of children to have to ask that question nor for a mother to have to find some way to answer it. If the argument holds that we are doing "good things" for Iraq, does it make sense to pursue it when it has clearly been so bad for America? Good luck to Justin LeBlanc and all the other soldiers rotating through Iraq. The best people I have ever known I met in the Army and the dedication shown by our servicemen and women deserves our highest regard and respect. In my opinion, they are not getting it from our government.

Name: John Loehr
Hometown: Charlottesville, Virginia
Comments:
Lost or ignored in the arguments regarding WMD and the justification for the war in Iraq is the fact that the UN inspection regimen had completely eliminated Saddam Hussein's arsenal of chemical and biologoical weapons. The inspectors were so effective that not even a trace of these weapons or any production facility for them has been found after two years of occupation by almost 200,000 U.S. troops and "contractors" This was accomplished at minimal cost (especially compared to the war), and without any appreciable violence or loss of life and would seem to speak well of an organization that the Bush administration asserts is badly in need of John Bolton's reform. why this obvious and salient fact is not raised in defense of the UN by the MSM is understandable, but I haven’t even heard any liberal pundits make this point.

Name: Jim Wiseman
Hometown: Columbia, Maryland
Comments:
Dear Eric, I just read "Cofessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins, and I'm curious about your take on it as a historian. The details of the story are appalling, but I'm not sure I buy his central premise about how subtle and new the American approach to empire is. Foisting a form of economic dependence on paople , then backing it up by extreme muscle, seems pretty standard fare over the years for both empires and gangsters alike. I'm sure we can all come up with our favorite examples from ancient, medieval, and modern history. Perhaps Mr. Perkins needed to feel the manner was new and subtle to assuage his conscience for the time he participated in it. But he shouldn't feel singularly guilty; as he points out in his epilogue, we're all guilty to some extent. My tax dollars go to fund an imperial war that has been determined (in what must be a near record shattering short period of time) to be based on lies. So we're all part of the system.

Name: James S.
Hometown: SF, CA / NY, NY
Comments:
"Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, ten, twelve years." I wonder where Donny Rumsfeld looked up that precise statistic. Has the defense department commisioned a study on this? Is it too sensitive to be released to the public? I think that instead of providing the public with such a precise timetable that could come back to haunt him later, he should have relied on one of his classic, poetic rants: "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." I think the insurgency would fall under the "known unknowns" category, don't you? Though given his pre-war timetables you'd have to assume that prior to the invasion, at least in his dark cloud of a mind, it was an "unknown unknown". But wouldn't it be great if he just pulled out those kind of classic quotes once in a while? You know, in the middle of an interview, quoting himself verbatim from a previous press conference - like he was doing an impression of himself. It might at least put a smile on your face in spite of the horror you're feeling inside listening to him talk. It's not like it would be any less informative that his new material.

Rosanne Cash
New York, NY
Dear Eric,
Regarding Bruce’s ticket prices, by the time he pays 15% to his manager, 10% to his agent, 5% to his business accountant, 50% in taxes, the salaries of the band and crew, tour insurance and travel expenses, there's about enough left for a nice new leather jacket. 80 bucks sounds reasonable for the nut he's carrying…

Eric Alterman
New York, New York
I. Dear Omar, Have you noticed that you have no go**am relief pitching and haven’t had any all year? What’s the point of spending a gazillion dollars on Pedro and Beltran if you’re just going to turn the game over to a clown who walks the leadoff hitter in front of A-Rod? Really, how can this be so hard to figure out….
II. Dear Ruth and Carl, Happy 50th anniversary. Thanks for raising me. (It’s still all your fault, though)


June 24, 2005 | 11:24 AM ET | Permalink

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: The Big Apple
Eric:
Check out Todd Gitlin giving it to Karl Rove:

Rove's indecency knows no limits.  He parachuted into Manhattan to declare:   "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

They lie and lie.  The lies carry them into the disaster that is Iraq.  They insult, they sneer, and then they lie again.  This isn't an accident--it's an identity.

I think Karl Rove should spend more time in New York.  He should talk to my neighbors, check out how these liberals reacted to 3,000 of their friends dying at the hands of Osama Bin Laden.

He should see how New Yorkers still treat fire fighters and police officers with solemn respect unmatched in this city's history.  He should listen to the passion New Yorkers muster when they talk about how we might rebuild downtown Manhattan.

If he hung out here a while longer, I would challenge Rove to find one advocate of "therapy and understanding" among my neighbors.  I bet he would find a whole lot of families with sons and daughters serving in our military overseas, a noble choice that was apparently beneath him and his boss (not to mention his boss's unemployed daughters).

And I would hope Rove would have the courage to stand there as my neighbors take him to task for letting Bin Laden escape unscathed.  Rove should have to explain to the families that lost loved ones that the killer gets to go free so we can launch into an illegal folly that had nothing to do with the attack we suffered.

Karl Rove should hang out long enough to ask my neighbors how they reacted to the attacks of 9/11/2001.  He would find that our blood flowed red.  Our hearts sunk, yet stayed open and loving.  Our eyes teared.  Our muscles ached.  We hugged strangers.  We pulled together and pulled twisted metal off our neighbors.  We prayed and raged and stood strong in our most troubling hour.

All we asked for was our country's support.  All we got was a president who lied about everything, including the dangers we all shared from breathing in the charred dust and smoke of the smoldering wreckage of Ground Zero.  He promised us justice.  Instead we got shame.

New York still stands tall, liberals and conservatives together.  We still talk about those days when we weren't sure everyone we loved had lived through it, when we weren't sure if there would be more coming soon.  All we could be sure of is that we were going to persevere and triumph, that we would stand united and strong.  Today, despite Karl Rove's best efforts, we still stand united and strong.

And we still wonder when we will see justice.

Karl Rove should hang out here long enough to see that.

But, as Rick told Major Strasser in Casablanca, "There are some parts of New York where I wouldn't suggest you go."

Eric adds:  I agree of course, but would like to remind people that what Rove said is not terribly different than what Andrew Sullivan wrote in the London Times about myself and others shortly after 9/11, and worse, but still on the same continuum of what my old friend Christopher Hitchens wrote about “American liberals” in The Atlantic Monthly.  Writing something is worse than saying it because it is presumably more considered.  Rove may be a morally debased chickenhawk, but at least he is a morally debased American chickenhawk; the foreign variety strikes me as even more difficult to stomach.  (Oh and the smart guys at The Note seem to think it was all the Democrats’ fault.  Or at least they asked for it…)  And how many more must die, to pay for their folly?  Well, five so far today, here , but of course the answer is many, many thousands.  And these people have the audacity to come lecture us about 9/11—while they were asleep at the switch and in a helpless panic when it happened.  Really, I am trying to keep my cool….

P.S. from Eric to Siva.  Look who's pitching tonight, comrade.  Who's yer daddy?

Reading Around:

Scientists, just as bad as liberals, here.

Barack Obama, finally, our Great Black Hope.  (I’m not kidding.)  If you haven’t read this speech, do yourself a favor; this guy could slap Karl Rove upside the head in the morning and wax Thucydiad for dinner.  Far more so than Colin Powell, his career has the potential to test our country’s racial tolerance for real.  Anyway, read the speech; it’s the most effective statement of liberal principles since Mario Cuomo’s 1984 convention speech… at least.

Anti-war sentiment is actually helped by the absence of an anti-war movement, argues Harold Meyerson, here, and from the research I did on the anti-war movement for my senior thesis in college, this makes perfect sense to me.

What Dick Durban should have said, here.

ABC caves in to the Chemical industry, here.  Surprise, surprise.

Judy, Judy, Judy.  Is Kofi hiding his WMD in Turtle Bay?  She’s back, here.

Just how bad does a right-wing book have to be before even right-wingers can’t hold their noses and slip into its covers?  This bad.

Jimmy Weinstein, remembered here.

In IPF Friday today, MJ Rosenberg tells the Israelis to stop lecturing the Palestinians and to start negotiating with them.  He also tells the administration that it's put up time.  Bush says he wants Israeli-Palestinian peace as his legacy.  But, so far, it's been the same old, same old.  Hey, Mr. President, you are in your second term and AIPAC is spending all its time avoiding indictment on espionage charges.  Never has any President been this free to pressure both sides for peace.  It would be a nice counterweight to your Iraq disaster. And, I might add, about the most pro-Israel thing you could do.

Correspondents corner

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to invite you into my world: patent law.  I'm surprised how little interest pundits take in our patent system -- it's one of the biggest arsenals in big business' weaponry.  A patent is not only a legal monopoly, it's a court-enforced monopoly.  Don't be fooled by thoughts of part-time inventors in their basements.  In the law, patent infringement litigation is known as the sport of kings.  The legal costs are astronomical and in the face of any plausible infringement claim a small or midsize company will cave rather than fight.  Corporations are constantly lobbying Congress to amend the patent laws and I could go on and on about the current reform bill but I want to return to my theme last week.

It's one thing to redistribute wealth more fairly and another to keep the economy growing.  The latter requires that we remain the world's leader in technology, but alas, we are slipping.  In the past, high-tech immigration was driven by how bad things were in countries like China and India.  Life in those nations is improving, the disparity is shrinking and we need to act NOW while we still enjoy a technological edge. The patent system can be used to accomplish this.  For one thing, many universities, nearly all of whom receive federal funding, obtain patents and license them to private companies.  The federal government should demand a cut and use that revenue to recruit (read: bribe) top technology students from around the world.  I'd also try to attract older/accomplished inventors by guaranteeing U.S. citizens and permanent residents a small royalty from any licensed patent regardless of whether they have a duty to assign their patents to their employers.  We have three choices: do what it takes to keep the best and brightest coming here, make rapid quantum leaps in our math and science education (yeah, right!), or slip into tech equilibrium with the rest of the first (and second) world.

Then there is eminent domain. The federal government has a statutory right to use any patent it wishes as long as it pays fair market value -- no socialism here!  Local governments have a murkier, but similar, right, and this currently has drug companies in a tizzy.  The District of Columbia is considering asserting eminent domain over some patented drugs.  If such a plan passes Constitutional muster, drug companies would have to justify a royalty rate in open court, and thus explain cheaper Canadian prices and how much they really fund research and development (versus marketing).  Obviously lower drug costs would be a benefit here, but more importantly, the open court nature of determining fair market value would force companies to put more resources into R&D.

Name: Bill Adkins
Hometown: Williamstown, KY
"They rewrote everything.  It's a crime," said Erick Campbell.  To what was he referring?  WMD intelligence?  Perhaps editing of a memo about global warming so as to change its result, as was done by a former White House aide who recently resigned and was immediately employed by Exxon/Mobil?  No, Campbell, a former Bureau of Land Management biologist and a 30-year BLM employee who retired this year, was referring to yet another instance of incredible and not credible Bush Administration activity in editing and altering a government document, this time a report pertaining to impacts on wildlife and threatened and endangered species.

The Los Angeles Times clearly illustrates what happened:

The original draft of the environmental analysis warned that the new rules would have a "significant adverse impact" on wildlife, but that phrase was removed. The BLM now concludes that the grazing regulations are "beneficial to animals."

Yeah - and Saddam Hussein had 'nookyooler bombs' and Weapons of Mass Destruction, too. This is a recurring pattern of criminal activity on the part of the Bush Administration, most recently and thoroughly exposed in the revelations of the Downing Street Memo and its progeny.  It's past time to put a stop to it.  Stories about the Downing Street Memo, finally appearing in newspapers and other outlets, were too long in coming but welcome confirmation to those of us who recognized the lies and manipulation of the Bush Administration that ultimately gave us the Iraq Blunder.  The Bush Administration is the most dishonest administration in our nation's history, bar none (not Nixon's, not Grant's).  Lying is a way of business, a tool of the trade for George W. Bush.  It began before he was selected president and it has continued without hesitation since.  Manipulation of public opinion continues unchecked using tools like FAUX News and unethical clergy who promote their agenda through organizations given minimal credibility only by inserting the term "family' into their names, i.e., Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. 

George W. Bush and his administration must be held accountable.  They do not reflect America, Americans or the American Ideal.  Blunder after blunder and lie after lie by the Bush Administration have done nothing to strengthen or protect America and, instead, have done much to weaken America.  Unless something is done to remove Bush and his corrupt cronies from government, either by impeachment or at the ballot box, when history books are written in the very near future, the Bush Administration will be noted as the greatest single factor in the decline of America.

Name: James Goydos
Hometown: New Brunswick, New Jersey
There is one aspect of the Bush administration's past and present budget decisions that has been largely overlooked by the media (and even the bloggers) so far.  Much of the debate surrounding the funding of biomedical research has been concentrating on stem cell research and the lack of federal funds for studies using stem cells.  The conventional wisdom is that if the President lifts the ban on NIH funding, research projects using new stem cell lines can begin and we can regain the ground we have lost to other countries in biomedical research.

This is simply not the case. Funding for all biomedical research has been drastically scaled back in recent NIH budgets to the point that obtaining NIH grant funding has become practically impossible.  The National Institutes of Health is the envy of the scientific world.  Only in America can an obscure researcher in a small university or college compete head-on with everyone else in the research community and if he or she comes up with the best idea, and has good preliminary data, the NIH will award this researcher with world-class funding regardless of political connections or name recognition. This is how the world's best biomedical research is done and has worked well (with some flaws) for decades. The Clinton Administration was committed to the NIH and was on tract to doubling funding available through the NIH every couple of years.  Enter the Bush Administration.  Tax cuts, poor fiscal planning, Iraq, and new funding priorities have lead to major cut backs at the NIH. 

One measure is the awarding of R01 grants.  The R01 is the bedrock of biomedical research; a four to five year grant that provides one hundred thousand to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year to an investigator to carry out cutting edge research.  These grants have been very competitive and only the top 20% of applications have traditionally been funded.  This still added up to thousands of individual grants covering fields as diverse as cancer research, diabetes, heart and lung research, transplantation research, and population sciences.  As funds have been directed elsewhere funding for this research has begun to dry up.  The National Cancer Institute (one branch of the NIH) estimates that 1000 fewer R01 grants will be given out this year alone and no great increases in funding are seen in the near future.  Last year 16% of NCI R01 grants were funded (most at reduced rates) and next year the number is probably going to be 12% or less.  This is a major catastrophe for thousands of the best and the brightest in biomedical research.  If you don't get funding you can't stay in the research field and you move on to industry or other fields.  This is sapping the profession of promising young investigators that will never get funded and so will never contribute to finding cures to our most pressing medical problems.  So if you think that lifting the ban on stem cell research is the answer to all of our problems you are sadly mistaken.  The funding for stem cell research, or any other kind of biomedical research, is simply not there any more.

Name: Rakesh
Hometown:  Charleston, WV
Mr. Le Blanc makes a very valid point.  The unfortunate fact is that the civil society is very ill equipped to deal with Rwanda, Darfur etc.  The outrage we feel at the dictators oppressing their people (Mynamar, Iran, China) is very hard to translate into action.  We can support organizations like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, etc., but these dictators are not easily shamed.  UN is very poorly equipped to deal with these problems.  We need to work on establishing some international coercive force to ensure basic human rights.  This may not necessarily be a military force.  We need to devise some condign force to achieve these ends.  Writing letters may not be enough.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Dear Eric,
A brief comment on Justin LeBlanc's "final word."  He has now interjected the canard that those who disagree with his assertion that Saddam Hussein is the equivalent of Stalin are therefore "defending" Saddam Hussein.  This is a right-wing tactic which goes back at least to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when those of us who argued that Clinton's offenses did not rise to the level required for impeachment were attacked as "defenders" of his actions.  Then, when we opposed the war in Iraq, they accused us of "wanting" Saddam Hussein to remain in power.  Mr. LeBlanc, rest assured there are no Altercators who are "defending" Saddam Hussein. 

As to the treatment of Vietnam vets, I can only add my personal experience. I served in the Navy for four years and earned the Vietnam Service Ribbon (with three campaign stars).  When in the United States I frequently traveled while in uniform, and I never encountered any hostility from anyone.  After I was separated from active duty in 1970 I enrolled in college, and I never encountered any negativity there, either (the vets in college were easy to spot because we were several years older than our classmates).  I never detected any prejudice from potential employers, either.  If anything, most of them seemed to consider my military experience a plus.  Yes, there were no parades or celebrations, but then again we just wanted to get back to being civilians.

Name: Michael
Hometown: Anchorage, AK
Glad to see that the discussion on the Iraq debate continues here on your blog.  To me, it has thusfar represented the kind of civil, reason based discussion of the war that is all too lacking from the debate these days.  It would be nice if our elected officials and political commentators (on both sides) could leave out the fear mongering, strawman arguments, and heated, hateful language that has to this point dominated the Iraq war debate. 

Justin makes a series of key observations justifying the war and why he still stands by it.  I respect that opinion, but find fault in the logic behind it.  He catalogs the series of UN violations, attacks on coalition forces, and past weapons use that in the minds of many made Saddam a danger before the war.  This is a valid point, but we must ask if Bush's assertion that war was the only course of action is correct.  Hussein had dome similar things for years, faced missile strikes, and backed down.  Why would that have been insufficient here?  Sure, he probably would have continued after a year or two, but wouldn't that temporary reprieve have allowed us to destroy Al Qa'eda in Afghanistan and get a better idea what would be required for the war in Iraq? 

The answer, as is clear from the Downing Street Memos, is that this was never the objective of the Administration.  The timing was key as they needed to capitalize on 9-11 to get their war in 2003.  Ignore for now the whole debate over fixing intelligence for a moment, look at the memos that outline the acceleration of the air war in late 2002 and how that affected negotiations with the UN.  The goal was to provoke a hostile response by Hussein to cause the UN to vote for war, not merely to continue to enforce current UN resolutions.  Beyond that, Justin has done what many people who still support the war have done, look at each charge against the cause for war individually and discount it by saying the removal of Saddam made it worth it.  Besides the moral flaw of arguing that the ends justify the means, this fails in that it weighs individual arguments against the removal of Hussein as opposed to the mass of problems (Even if the Intel was bad, it was worth it because we got rid of Hussein; even if we misjudged how the Iraqis would greet us, it was worth it because we got Hussein; even if we underestimated the sustained commitment, it was worth it because we got Hussein.). 

You must weight the whole argument at once.  We were told that the war would be cheap, that it wouldn't cost many lives, that it wouldn't require a sustained commitment, that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators, and that it would all be worth it because Saddam was an emerging threat to the security of the United States.  Had any one of those conditions not been believed to be the case before the war, the people would never have supported it (as numerous polls before hand demonstrated).  The truth is, none of that was true.  Today, we have spent millions of dollars on this war, committed 100,000 US troops to a prolonged war in Iraq with an ill-defined mission, lost over 1,700 service members, found no WMD or signs of an emerging threat to the US, lost our focus in the war on terror (if not militarily, politically at least), weakened our deterrence against other emerging threats, and divided our nation.

If you think all that was worth getting rid of Saddam Hussein, let me ask you one more question. If our current experiment with democracy there fails and we end up with a situation that is more dangerous than pre-war Iraq (civil war, the rise of mullahs, or a new strongman like Hussein), would it still have been worth it?  This is why the Stalin analogy doesn't fly.  Saddam Hussein was a terribly brutal dictator, but there are much worse (even in power today), and worse can still emerge from the rubble of the Iraq war.  This doesn't excuse politicians from Santorum to Durbin using the analogies for political gain, just in terms of the real world implications for what was and remains at stake in Iraq. 

The truth is that our military has done the best job possible in this war and should be applauded, but at the same time the War on Terror, and the rebuilding of Iraq, are more political than military struggles, and that requires a much different strategy. Sure, we need to hunt down and kill the bad guys when we can, but we must at the same time prevent the next generation of Al Qa'eda from signing up to begin with.  This doesn't mean abandoning the war or that by criticizing the strategy we are supporting the insurgency (as Karl Rove wants to imply these days), it means fighting a smarter war with a better strategy across the spectrum of confrontation (economic, military, diplomatic, etc).  Iraq may have eliminated a despot, but it hurt us in the broader and more important war on terrorism, and for that reason alone it was a mistake, excluding all the other problems we have experienced as a result of this war.

Name: John R.
Hometown: Philadelphia (suburbs), PA
In regards to the Mother Jones article posted, of course the electoral college is past its sell-by date.  Apart from having the same weakness as the Senate (grossly disproportionate representation, although not quite to the same extent), it also leaves each state voting system prone to varying levels of corruption.  In regards to the Senate, I would probably rather see a legislative house that would have the same number of people as in the House of Representatives (well, the same number plus one for D.C.). Each state would send as many people to this house as they would to the House, but instead of "winner-take-all" district battles, the proportions would be based on the percentages of votes in the state as a whole.  Also, this may shake up the current two-party system; as time-honored as it may be, it seems a little silly to have institutionalized "black and white" factions in a landscape with more grays than the number of greens (no pun intended) in a given Crayola box.

Name: Jerry James
Hometown: New York, NY
"All Shook Up" is not playing at the Paris Theatre, but at the Palace.  My old friend Leah Hocking is in the cast, and I'm sure she'd want me to make this correction, especially in such a positive review!

Name: R.L. Kirtley
Hometown: Louisville, KY
Hey Doc...A heads-up to let you know that there is a new Allman Brothers DVD out.  It's called From Macon to Burbank.  I rented it last night and will buy one.  It's not great, but with so little out there we have to take what we can find.....  Keep up your great work and I too still miss Dickey.

June 23, 2005 | 1:04 PM ET | Permalink

The system's fixed

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column on the Patriot Act here.  (Patriot Act students go here for extra credit.)

I’m borrowing the following from Mother Jones so do me a favor and go to their site and subscribe to their magazine or buy stuff from their advertisers so they don’t come after me.  Anyway, it’s an extremely provocative essay and one that should be read while remembering the following:

a)  More Americans voted for Democratic congressional candidates in 2004 than Republicans.

b)  With all the shenanigans of which we’ve now learned in Ohio, it’s become impossible to say that Republicans won that state—or the election—in a clear and unarguable fashion.

Anyway, take a look at what Mr. Hill has to say and let’s have a discussion about what if anything, is to be done…

There is a fundamental anti-urban (and thus anti-Democratic) bias with single-seat districts.  The urban vote is more concentrated, and so it's easier to pack Democratic voters into fewer districts.  As Democratic redistricting strategist Sam Hirsch has noted, nice square districts are in effect a Republican gerrymander because they "combine a decade-old (but previously unnoticed) Republican bias" that along with a newly heightened degree of incumbent protection "has brought us one step closer to government under a United States House of Unrepresentatives."

Here's the best-known recent example of this dynamic.  Even though Al Gore won a half million more votes nationwide than George Bush in 2000, Bush beat Gore in 47 more of the 2002 congressional districts. And that's up from a previous 19-seat edge, showing that trends are tilting Republican. The winner-take-all system distorts representation and the edge clearly gives Republicans an advantage, allowing them to win more than their fair share of seats. So the current Republican margin in the House of 232 to 203 -- only 29 seats -- actually is a decent showing for the Democrats.

The disproportionality is even worse in the United States Senate. Bush carried 31 of 50 states in 2004, showing Democrats' near impossible battle to win a majority in the malapportioned Senate where each state, regardless of population size, has two U.S. Senators.

Yet the Democrats consistently win more votes for Senate than Republicans.  The current 100 senators have been elected over the past three election cycles, dating back to the year 2000. According to Professor Matthew Shugart from University of California-San Diego, in those elections, over 200 million votes were cast in races choosing each of the fifty states' two senators. The Republicans won 46.8% of the votes in these elections -- not even close to a majority. The Democrats won 48.4% of the votes, more than the Republicans -- yet the GOP currently holds a lopsided 55 to 44 majority.  In 2004, over 51% of votes cast were for Democratic senatorial candidates, yet Republicans elected 19 of the 34 contested seats.

What about the presidency? Unfortunately our Electoral College method also gives an advantage to Republicans, largely for the same reason as the Senate -- low population states, which tend today to be conservative Red states, have more electoral votes per capita than the rest of the nation. That's why Al Gore could win a half million more votes for president in 2000 yet lose the presidency. George W. Bush won more of the low population states with 3, 4 or 5 electoral votes and benefited from their representation subsidy. In 2004, of the least populous 25 states, Bush won 17 and Kerry won 8. And these small states are so solidly Red that a Republican candidate does not need to make any effort to win, Kerry won 40% or less in 13 states, and less than 30% in Wyoming and Utah. So that freed Bush to concentrate on a handful of battleground states, much more so than Kerry.

And also take a look at this:  The U.S.'s Gift To Al-Qaeda By Pepe Escobar

05/20/05 "Asia Times" - - Al-Qaeda and all the other components of the Salafi-jihadi (or Islamist) front are on the verge of scoring a major double blow.  Unlike September 11, now their fight not only is being recognized by top Islamic scholars as legitimate, but they have also managed to capitalize on major blunders in the "war on terror" to strengthen the anti-imperialist, anti-US impulse among global, moderate Muslims.  How did that happen?

More here.

Wow, The Note reports that "Ben Stein, the comedian/actor/former Nixon speechwriter and all around snarky guy, will be joining the President at his Conversation on Strengthening Social Security today."  I hope an enterprising reporter reads the recent American Spectator essay by Mr. Stein and asks for a presidential opinion.  Here are your crib notes:

He condemned a whole subcontinent to genocide and slavery and poverty to please his own wounded vanity. (Maybe his nickname should be "sour grapes" and not "deep throat" because he has as much in common with that fox as with a porn star.)  And, blood will tell, as the old saying goes: his posterity is now dragging out his old body and putting it on display to make money.  (Have you noticed how Mark Felt looks like one of those old Nazi war criminals they find in Bolivia or Paraguay?  That same, haunted, hunted look combined with a glee at what he has managed to get away with so far?)

And it gets worse: it's been reported that Mark Felt is at least part Jewish.  The reason this is worse is that at the same time that Mark Felt was betraying Richard Nixon, Nixon was saving Eretz Israel. It is a terrifying chapter in betrayal and ingratitude. If he even knows what shame is, I wonder if he felt a moment's shame as he tortured the man who brought security and salvation to the land of so many of his and my fellow Jews. Somehow, as I look at his demented face, I doubt it.

“Yelling 'lesbian' at powerful heterosexual women has always been the pathetic male
projection of the hamster-hung.”  I don’t know if I’m more impressed by Tina Brown’s stylish prose or the fact that she managed to get (MSNBC.com editorial partner) The Washington Post to print that.  You go girl…

Wait, this just in: The Post wimps out.  Tina’s assistant e-mailed the version above to me, but look at The Post.  They insisted on the following, um, emasculated version: “Yelling 'lesbian' at powerful heterosexual women has always been the pathetic projection of the menaced male,…”  Dart, to the Washington Post editorial page, for hamster-hung editing, here.

And while I’m, um, “borrowing” stuff, today take a look at last week’s Dictionary.com Word of the Day for Friday, last week:

altercation \awl-tuhr-KAY-shuhn\, noun:

A heated, noisy, or angry dispute; noisy controversy or argument.

Like Epaminondas, he fought continuously with his fellow generals and was nearly court-martialed for his altercations with his superiors -- like Epaminondas he was relieved of command after his greatest victories.  --Victor Davis Hanson, [1]The Soul Of Battle

He indulged in a heated altercation with his fellow-townsmen over some land which they thought theirs, though it was certainly his. --Carl Van Doren, The American Novel

The professor had had a trifling altercation in the morning with that young gentleman, owing to a difference about the introduction of crackers in school-time. --William Makepeace Thackeray, [2]Vanity Fair
____________________

Altercation comes from Latin altercatio, altercation-, from altercari, "to dispute (with another)," from alter, "other."

The verb form is altercate.

Dictionary.com Entry and Pronunciation

We are just as smart as dogs, dammit, here.  Thanks for nothing, Powerline.  (Anybody check with Boston Globe editorial page Jewish sages, Nick King and Cynthia Young on this?)

Alter-review
I caught a matinee performance of “All Shook Up” at the beautiful Palace Theater on Broadway yesterday afternoon.  At first I feared it would be too hokey for me to make it through to the end.  (The audience was filled with school groups and also Temple Emanuel of Spring Valley, somewhere.)  It didn’t get much less hokey as it went on, but it did get more and more clever, and fun, and outrageous in its staging.  The music is just fine—though more Broadway than Elvis—and the staging, choreography and acting are good too.  And the sets are terrific, fun and inventive and so cheesy you can’t help but like the damn thing.  I ended up feeling that you’d have to be an even bigger curmudgeon than I am not to enjoy it, so long as you go in with appropriate expectations.  It’s a terrific show for kids, by the way, too.

Correspondence Corner:

Dear Eric,
The House is scheduled to vote today on drastic funding cuts for PBS, NPR and other public media. The cuts are part of the partisan campaign to both defang and defund public broadcasting.

Your calls and letters to Congress are making a difference. We need your help now to support two amendments that would put the money back IN public broadcasting while taking the politics OUT of the funding process.

Call your representative now to save public broadcasting.

Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is engaged in a deliberate campaign to bully programmers to produce shows that echo the White House line. His cronies in Congress are slashing funding for the news, children's and cultural programming Americans trust.

Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and Diane Watson (D-Calif.) have introduced an amendment that would block Tomlinson from meddling in noncommercial programming. And Reps. David Obey (D-Wis.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and James Leach (R-Iowa) have offered an amendment that would restore $100 million in funding stripped out by the Appropriations Committee.

Call now and urge your representative to support both amendments.

In the past two weeks, millions of Americans have spoken out against efforts to gag and starve public broadcasting. You can help us further by forwarding this e-mail and telling five friends to join the campaign.

Together, we can put the public back in public broadcasting and wrest control of our media from the hands of Washington politicians and partisans.

Onward,
Timothy Karr
Campaign Director
Free Press

P.S. To learn more about the Free Press campaign to save public broadcasting, visit here.

Name: Peter Sagal
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Eric -- A heads up for you and Altercation fans.  Because, in part, of his postings on your site, we've invited Maj. Robert Bateman to be our special guest on this week's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.  We'll talk to him about his daily life and service in Iraq, and ask him to answer some silly questions... my guess is, he'll handle those obstacles with aplomb, as well.  Extra-special Altercation fan bonus: on our panel this week, the immortal, still scabrous and funny, Charlie Pierce.  The show will be broadcast nationwide this weekend.  Stations and broadcast time are available at our website, waitwait.npr.org, or via your local public radio station.
Best,
Peter Sagal

Name: Alex DeLarge
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
The war in Afghanistan left, as its legacy, al Qaeda.  But as dangerous as that legacy proved, in many ways it was not well adapted to the purpose of attacking the West and its urban centers.  The combatants were trained in rural irregular combat against military forces, whereas in Iraq, the training and experience being accumulated by terrorists is focused on the execution of urban, terrorist attacks.  The tactics used by the insurgents also emphasize the use of explosives, which are remarkably well adapted for employment in urban terrorist attacks.  From the NYTimes:

"American casualties from bomb attacks in Iraq have reached new heights in the last two months as insurgents have begun to deploy devices that leave armored vehicles increasingly vulnerable, according to military records. Last month there were about 700 attacks against American forces using so-called improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.'s, the highest number since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the American military command in Iraq and a senior Pentagon military official."

700 attacks, using increasingly destructive devices, indicates a massive proliferation of bomb-making expertise, both in terms of technique and the numbers of terrorists trained to employ them.  So while Bush and the accompanying neocon dullards and apologist lackwits talk about "fighting the terrorists overseas," bear in mind that what this unnecessary war is really doing, in addition to fighting terrorists overseas, is recruiting and providing advanced training for even more terrorists.  No matter how many times Bush says this makes us safer, it is still a lie.

Name: Justin LeBlanc
Hometown: Seoul, Korea
Dear Dr. Alterman,
I've really enjoyed the correspondence.  We can make ourselves dizzy, though, continuing to go around in circles like this.  This will be my final word on the subject regardless of the responses.  As someone who accepts the differences of others, I can honestly say this has been a worthwhile experience.  I'll just rest by mentioning a couple of things to set the record straight on where I stand.  First, I do think that if we left Saddam in power he would only continue to violate sanctions.  I think he would have continued to oppress his people and attempt to reclaim the status he once held.  I do think he was attempting to gain WMD.  If he wasn't, however, in my opinion, it was only a matter of time before he did.  The Joint Resolution passed by both Houses giving the President the right to use military force in Iraq had several conditions.  Primarily, though, the conditions for war were met if we felt threatened by Iraq's WMD program, if we felt continued diplomatic actions wouldn't prevent him from continuing to break UN sanctions, or in the pursuit of preventing international terrorism.  In the broader scope of the resolution, the criteria supporting military actions was met in a number of cases.  The consistent violations of the cease-fire agreement, the shooting at coalition troops on thousands of occasions, the thwarting of UN inspections, and the continued oppression of his people, are just a few of the many reasons the House and Senate by supermajority (Democrats and Republicans alike) supported military action.

Sure, WMD was a big part of it.  It was also publicized, more or less, as the only reason.  However, let's not make the mistake of believing this was the single reason and thereby the war isn't justified.  Nevertheless, if Saddam didn't continue to spit in the face of UN sanctions and allowed thorough inspections of his weapons program from the beginning, we might not be involved in this war to begin with.  Of course, I still think either now or later we were going to end up fighting this thing and he needed to be removed.  I don't think he, nor his sons after his death, were ever just going to hand over the keys to their palaces or stop committing these atrocities. 

Sure, the VP and Secretary Rumsfeld shouldn't have made those ill-conceived estimates.  It makes them look silly, today.  Unfortunately, our President and Congress, nor ourselves, possess the power of foresight. If we did, we would all be filling out our lottery tickets right now (my favorite numbers are 4, 15, and 33, by the way - don't ask me why).  But, how many times in military history have leaders thought the war would be over within a few days or weeks and instead it dragged on for years?  By history's standards, this conflict is comparatively short.  I do hope it ends as soon as possible. 

Second, a response was made that I shouldn't compare Saddam to Stalin.  I find it surprising how so many people are defending Saddam Hussein but don't denounce our soldiers being called, or indirectly referred to, as "Nazis".  Perhaps I'm not making my points clear enough.  As for me referring to Saddam as Stalin, I'm not the first.  I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that distinction belongs to Mrs. Albright.  Please correct me if I'm wrong.  Still, I find it upsetting that people want so quickly to defend this guy and not our own. 

Finally, in terms of World War II, I wasn't really drawing parallels as much as I was asking the question - if Germany didn't invade Europe and only decided to commit its own personal holocaust, and we knew it was happening, would we have allowed the genocide to continue?  I do find it sad that we nor the UN did nothing to prevent the genocide that took place in Rwanda and I think we were wrong for allowing it to happen.  Yes, our national interests need to be taken into consideration all the time.  But, what actually defines our national interests?  It might be in our national interests to help those people.
Very Respectively,
Justin LeBlanc

Name: Jay Parker
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Dr., I agree that most of Washington looks good, much better than when I was at GW in the 90s.  However, one part isn't looking great.  The Mall.  I went to the WWII memorial this weekend, and there was actually Algae growing in the pools.  And not small patches of algae, but mounds of it, that will probably stain the marble.  The grassy areas on the mall hadn't been mowed in at least a month, and the look of the area was very shabby.  My mother, visiting me from Florida, was deeply upset at this.  These are places that tourists from other countries go to see our past, and we're treating it like it's not worth the effort to take care of it.  Great way to treat the fallen that came before us, huh?

June 22, 2005 | 12:18 PM ET | Permalink

Why does the CIA hate America?

"A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda's early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat.
...
The officials said it made clear that the war was likely to produce a dangerous legacy by dispersing to other countries Iraqi and foreign combatants more adept and better organized than they were before the conflict."

More evidence, from the CIA, as if any were needed, that Bush’s invasion of Iraq has been a grand gift to Islamic terrorists the world over, here.  And remember, creating terrorists is only one way in which the war has endangered us; there is all the new hatred it has created in the Arab world; not only the undermining of our claims to morality vis-a-vis our condoning of torture; there is the destruction of our military not only by wasting all this weaponry but by making recruitment goals impossible to meet; there is the death and maiming of thousands of our soldiers; and there is the opportunity cost of spending hundreds of billions in this fantastically counterproductive fashion while allowing nuclear, chemical and port facilities to go unguarded.  Twelve million people in the tri-state area could be endangered with a single strike at a nuclear facility and Bush and company are neither taking seriously the kind of investment that would need to ensure their protection nor lifting a proverbial finger to ensure that the private industrial interests that benefit financially from use do anything to ensure their security.  When the attack happens, we’ll know who to blame—if we are still alive.

If you’ve marveled, as I have, at how spruced up downtown Washington looks compared to the 1990s, here is your answer of how it happened.  The corruption this engendered costs the country trillions, and this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Good Jews, here, and bad Jews, here.  We got all kinds of Jews, here, in this great land of ours…. Just give a call to Nick King and Cynthia Young of the Boston Globe Editorial Page of Jewish Judgment to find out which is which.  (P.S.  You can still contribute to the Dafur fund—or complain about honoring Dr. Evil….)

Simone and Jean Paul, they're back.

From Salon today, The Bad and The Beautiful.

Daily Show alert:  Moyers tonight, Dean tomorrow night...

Alter-reviews
I enjoyed, or at least admired The Constant Wife quite a bit more than Charles Isherwood apparently did.  He terms it, “At its best, 'The Constant Wife' suggests a sugar-coated Shaw play.”  He adds that its dialogue “evokes Oscar Wilde, albeit Wilde diluted with lavender water.”  He even complains of the play’s “eventually exhausting triviality.”  Impressive prose, especially in a daily newspaper, but I could hardly disagree more.  (If someone wrote that I was not quite as good as Shaw or Wilde, I’d be pretty happy.)  Anyway, it’s a lovely play—a kind of vacation into another century—with marvelous acting and much better writing than I remember from reading Maugham in high school and college.  I’d say it’s middling Shaw which is just about the highest praise I can offer to a script, save those by Shaw himself.  Watching it offered frisson after frisson both in the acting—Ms. Burton and Ms. Redgrave were wonderful and so was Michael Cumpsty, who was so great in Copenhagen.  And this is not to slight the rest of the fine cast, neither.  Again, it’s old-fashioned good theater, and I don’t see the point of complaining about it.

Correspondence corner:

Name: Timothy Adams
Hometown: Elwood, Nebraska
Today my wife and I had lunch at the senior center in our small Nebraska town.  The people at our table were, by and large, members of the WWII generation.  One man was a veteran of the China Burma India theater, having served with Merrill's Marauders.  Some of the other men at the table may have been veterans as well.  The subject of the war came up and these very patriotic people expressed grave doubts about the war and anger that they had been misled about weapons of mass destruction.  The CBI vet said, "I know that our people over there believe in what they are doing, but does that make them right?"  Bush has lost the Elwood senior center.  If conservative people in this, the reddest of red states, are disillusioned about the war, then he has lost the country.  I begin to see a glimmer of hope.

Name: Michael
Hometown: Anchorage, AK
I applaud Justin Leblanc responding to the ongoing discussion of his first letter and doing so after much thought and in a more rational manner than before.  I believe his views represent a good chunk of the populace and, having myself served, I think it represents the feelings of those in the service who truly still believe in the cause of the war in Iraq.  But I think his argument, and too many of the current discussions surrounding the decision to go to war, misses the point of the debate that took place in late 2002-early 2003 on the rationale for going to war, the objections to it, and what the debate should focus on today and as we proceed into the future.  It IS our duty as soldiers to fight for those who cannot stand for themselves, but that must be put into perspective with our first duty, which is to act in the best interest of this country's security. 

In 1998, when we took down Milosevic's regime, we hadn't just lost 3,000 of our fellow citizens to a major attack on the U.S. homeland nor were we already committed to numerous military operations elsewhere.  Bin Laden was looming on the horizon and his network was committing scattered attacks, but he wouldn't be recognized as a terror mastermind until later in that year.  We saw ongoing genocide, and we had no time to wait to act. 

Iraq, however, was another matter.  In Iraq, we had sanctions in place for 12 years, we were closely monitoring him, and his regime was growing weaker by the day.  He was still doing despicable things, but not on a scale to justify an invasion at that time.  We argued doing so would take valuable resources away from the war effort against Al Qa'eda, had the potential to bog us down and cost us too much money, ran the risk of destabilizing the region, and could become a key recruiting tool for bin Laden and his terror network, and finally, that maybe it would serve to spread democracy throughout the region.  As a response to these concerns, we were generally shouted down as being unpatriotic or living in a pre-911 world, but specifically we received a few answers from administration officials. 

As it turns out, most of the objections have come to pass (with the exception of regional destabilization, but unless we get really lucky from here on out that could still very easily happen if either the Kurds or the Sunnis decide they don't like the way Iraq is progressing), but that doesn't matter to the hawks out there.  They continue to spin the justification for the cause of the war, label all naysayers as unpatriotic and anti-military, and cloud the issue surrounding what happened from August of 2002 thru May of 2003, hoping that all will either be forgotten or dismissed merely as rehashing "old news."  But, the record of what happened is pretty clear.  President Bush, on the reasons for the war resolution, here

On the prospect of conflict to follow the removal of Saddam Hussein, Tim Russert received these responses from Vice President Cheney on March 16, 2003:

VP Cheney: My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators... I think it will go relatively quickly... in weeks rather than months.  To suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don't think is accurate.  I think that's an overstatement.

Russert: If your analysis is not correct, and we're not treated as liberators but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?

VP Cheney: Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.  I've talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House.
...
The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want [is to] get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.

On the U.S. Commitment:

It is unknowable how long that conflict will last.  It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months. -Sec Donald Rumsfeld, 7 Feb 2003

On the budget:

The United States is committed to helping Iraq recover from the conflict, but Iraq will not require sustained aid. - Budget director Mitch Daniels, 28 March 2003

The official line, refusing to answer direct questions about the problems with the invasion, fell back on how Hussein was a threat, how he was working to acquire WMD, how he could pass them to terrorists who could use them against the U.S. and therefore we couldn't wait.  At the same time, they downplayed the real questions surrounding our strategy and reasons for going to war, dismissed those who questioned the intelligence as not being privy to all the relevant information.  (We should trust Bush and our leaders to make these decisions, we don't need to exercise oversight.) 

As the insurgency rages on, and we learn more about how inaccurate the case for war was and how poorly the planning was for sustaining the conflict, the justification continues to shift.  Neocons now claim the goal was regime change to spread democracy, as was in fact the goal of PNAC and other think tanks, but that was always only a minor part of the official justification.  Many Neocons even freely admit that, were that the true justification presented to the American people, they would have rejected it.  The truth is the administration used the fears of Americans after 9-11 as the means to go after someone that President Bush wanted to take out since well before his inauguration and well before 9-11 and thus, 9-11 became an excuse and not the cause of the war, and therein lays the problem.  Even if suddenly everything goes right in Iraq, if tomorrow a strong democracy emerges in Iraq, the insurgents disappear, and we can pull out of Iraq, that would not justify the means for this war.

First off, if we succeed given this strategy, it will be due more to dumb luck than to the strategy we went into the war with.  This is likely why so many Americans don't want to celebrate when we are successful, they are terrified that it will be used to justify the means by which we entered this war, and may be used for justification for a future war on as flimsy of circumstances against another nation such as Iran, North Korea, Cuba, or whatever other threats might emerge in the near future, not because they aren't proud of our soldiers or aren't patriotic Americans.  The war has thusfar resulted in the removal of Saddam Hussein, but at a high cost.  We are budgeted to spend close to $400 billion by next year on the war, we have lost 1,700 service men and women, thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the insurgency, we have not notably damaged the Al Qa'eda network (arguably we have allowed it to become stronger), and our deterrent against other nations such as Iran and North Korea has been diminished both by a weakened and overstretched military and by the global perception that America couldn't stomach another war right now. 

You think the removal of Hussein was worth it?  Fine.  Personally, I think we could have waited five years, finished the job in Afghanistan, built a real democracy there (not just anoint Karzai mayor of Kabul and leave the warlords running most of the show), captured bin Laden and Zawahiri, and then, laid the foundation to fight the right war against Saddam Hussein after a reasonable period of time.  Unfortunately, the timing and planning for this war have compounded our problems, and we are stuck in essentially a no-win situation.  If you're happy with that, that's your call.  Frankly, America and our Armed Forces deserve better.

Name: Stephen Anderson
Hometown: Los Angeles
Dear Eric,
While I'm sure smarter folks than me have responded to Mr. LeBlanc's letters, I feel I have to.

I admire his courage, to enlist and serve in the military is not a decision to be taken lightly.  And while I also admire his clarity of vision, his logic must be called into question.

To conflate WWII Japan, Germany, and 2003 Iraq is at best naive, at worst, stunningly dishonest.  Japan had at the time a world-class military, as did Germany.  Japan had engaged China, Germany had taken Poland, and both seemed clearly working toward some level of greater dominion in the world.

Iraq, on the other hand, while having attacked Kuwait in '91 (a situation that was not black nor white, but very gray), was a third rate tyranny, with a largely nonexistent military.  UN Inspectors had demonstrated that the infamous WMDs were almost certainly gone, and much evidence existed before the war that the administration was hell-bent on attacking, for any reason found credible.  The Downing Street documents further bolster this viewpoint.

For Mr. LeBlanc to assert that Saddam equals Stalin betrays ignorance of history.  Saddam was indeed a ruthless thug, as are many of the leaders the U.S. does business with on a daily basis.  But the peer of Stalin?  Hardly.  Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union while it was a significant world power.  Saddam was clearly not.  Estimates by human rights groups of Saddam's victims during his regime: approx. 100,000.  Estimates of Iraqi's killed since we invaded: approx. 100,000.  Estimates of Stalin's deaths: up to 5,000,000 during the famines of '32-'33; 10's of thousands during the persecution of the Orthodox Church in the '30s.

And from Wikipedia:

About one million people were shot during the periods 1935–38, 1942 and 1945–50 and millions of people were transported to Gulag labour camps. In Georgia about 80,000 people were shot during 1921, 1923–24, 1935–38, 1942 and 1945-50, and more than 100,000 people were transported to Gulag camps.

On March 5, 1940, Stalin himself and other Soviet leaders signed the order to execute 25,700 Polish intelligentsia including 14,700 Polish POWs. It became known as Katyn massacre. See massacre of prisoners.

It is generally agreed by historians that if famines, prison and labour camp mortality, and state terrorism (deportations and political purges) are taken into account, Stalin and his colleagues were directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions. How many millions died under Stalin is greatly disputed. Although no official figures have been released by the Soviet or Russian governments, most estimates put the figure between 8 and 20 million. Comparison of the 1926–37 census results suggests 5–10 million deaths in excess of what would be normal in the period, mostly through famine in 1931–34. The 1926 census shows the population of the Soviet Union at 147 million and in 1937 another census found a population of between 162 and 163 million. This was 14 million less than the projected population value and was suppressed as a "wrecker's census" with the census takers severely punished. A census was taken again in 1939, but its published figure of 170 million has been generally attributed directly to the decision of Stalin (see also Demographics of the Soviet Union). Note that the figure of 14 million does not have to imply 14 million additional deaths, since as many as 3 million may be births that never took place due to reduced fertility and choice.

A quote popularly attributed to Stalin is "The death of one man is a tragedy.  The death of millions is a statistic."  (Possibly said in response to Churchill at the Potsdam Conference in 1945.)

Mr. LeBlanc's moral certitude would be much more praiseworthy if it included legitimate threats to U.S. security, and focused less on straw man enemies engineered by a morally corrupt administration.

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Eric,
I find it interesting that Brad from Arlington is claiming that the distinction between those who support the war in Iraq and those who don't "boils down to emotion versus calculation."  The interesting part is that while I agree with him, I would say he has it completely backwards.  It is because of emotion, not calculation, that we are in Iraq.  It is because of emotion, not calculation, that we were sold a bill of goods that we were under imminent threat.  WMDs ready to go within 45 minutes.  Untold amounts of biological and chemical weapons.  Nuclear ambitions nearly realized.  Connections to Al Qaeda.  We must do something now or else we shall be struck again.  All of those are emotional reactions.  There was no calculation as to what we were going to do when we got there.  No calculation of how we were going to convince the Iraqis that we were on their side.  No calculation of how to handle the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with the justification for why we were invading and how that would affect how the rest of the world treated us.  The logical error is that he extends that to a distinction between optimism and pessimism.  Instead, I would say it is a distinction between emotional, pollyanna wish fulfillment and cold, calculated realism.  For all his talk about "the larger, long-term picture," those people he calls "hopeful" cannot see it.  They can see neither the trees nor the forest due to their political "optimism."  Iraq is not going well.  The electrical grid is worse than it was when we started.  Child mortality is up from when we invaded.  Iraq has become a hotbed for terrorists.  Our allies don't trust us and our enemies have plenty of recruitment fodder given what we have done.  It is naive to ignore these things.  It is counterproductive to claim, "But think of all the good that could come if we succeed!"  Of course we want to succeed.  And the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, yes.  But if you don't watch where you are stepping, if you concentrate so hard on the journey that you ignore the path, you'll find yourself marching confidently and with "hopeful optimism" right over a cliff.

June 21, 2005 | 1:12 PM ET | Permalink

Dishonoring their sacrifice
(and endangering their lives)

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Sivacracy.net
Eric:
This is shameful.  Our draft-dodging liar of a president has ensured that Marines are going into battle unprepared.

WASHINGTON -- Marine Corps units fighting in some of the most dangerous terrain in Iraq don't have enough weapons, communications gear, or properly outfitted vehicles, according to an investigation by the Marine Corps' inspector general provided to Congress yesterday.

As Sen. Chuck Hagel (a real, brave American veteran) says: "Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse.  The White House is completely disconnected from reality," Hagel tells U.S. News.  "It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."

This is how you lose a war.  This is how you lose good, young, brave Americans.

This is why I have thought for years that Gen. Wesley Clark would make a good president.  From Salon.com:

"That flag is our flag," Clark said as applause swelled up and eyes grew teary.  "We served under that flag.  We got up and stood reveille formation, we stood taps, we fought under that flag.  We've seen men die for that flag, and we've seen men buried under that flag.  No Dick Cheney or John Ashcroft or Tom DeLay is going to take that flag away from us."

Earlier than all the rest, Clark called Bush et al a bunch of liars who had trumped up this illegal invasion of Iraq to distract the country from the real dangers of Islamic fundamentalism.  Earlier than the rest, Clark told Democrats they had better have a clear message about defense and security.  Earlier than the rest, Clark understood how far draft-dodging cowards on the right will go to discredit a war hero.

Clark is a brilliant and brave patriot.  This is what our country needs, more than anything, from either party.  The Democrats offered one last time, but he could not stand up the barrage of lies about his record.  Clark might have what it takes.  But he might not be willing to endure what Kerry did.

What a shame.  This country's cowardly press and immoral right wing can't stand the idea of a brave military person standing up for truth and justice.  We are driving the best people (of both parties) away from service.

We Americans are learning the hard way that there is a vast difference between saying, "I support the troops" and respecting valor, service, duty, truth, and dignity.

End Siva

As part of  the mainstream media’s (perhaps unconscious) campaign to devalue the word “liberal” by using it to describe conservatives and therefore make genuine liberals appear crazy and irrelevant, and conservatives sane and wise, Slate, a while back, included the conservative Fareed Zakaria in their “liberal hawks—were we wrong?” debate.  Indeed they were, both about trusting the Bush Administration to conduct any war at all, or indeed anything at all, and about Zakaria, who as a protégé of Sam Huntington and a fundee of the Olin Foundation, is quite properly included in a new collection by Commentary editor Gary Rosen titled, “The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq.”  (It also features Little Roy, who, believe it or not, is attacked as a liberal by Ann Coulter.  My guess is that he’d like to take most of this back….)  Anyway, one difference between conservatives and liberals is that those liberals who were wrong about the war have seen their stock rise in the MSM; being right doesn’t matter, being tough with other peoples’ lives does.  Meanwhile for the conservatives in the Bush administration, it wasn’t enough merely to be wrong about the war, you have to turn a blind eye (at best) to torture, too.  Just ask General Sanchez, who appears in the ready for more rewards.

It seems that insurgents torture too, here.  Too bad our leaders have forfeited the moral authority to raise their voices in protest.  You know, I remember in one of the funniest blog posts of all time, Little Roy said, “You’re welcome” to the people of Iraq for the favor of having helped to liberate them from the comfort of his P-Town, bathroom.  Now that we’ve subjected them to torture, civil war, and general, unending chaos, shouldn’t he apologize?  Or does self-love mean never having to say you’re sorry?

Would that this were real.

Howie writes Fox propaganda, here.

“Christ, You know it ain't easy….”

Richard Cohen has a thoughtful column on Dick Durbin, here.

A friend sent this, which was taken from a transcript of a conversation between Hugh Hewitt and Chris Wallace on the former’s radio program.  It’s um, not as thoughtful.

HH: Do you think he gets out of this by saying, you know, it's an FBI memo, Chris Wallace?
...
CW: Well, he gets out of it in terms of the fact that there's an allegation of mistreatment. But what the FBI memo alleges, and it is an allegation, is, you know, would be considered a day at the beach in the Soviet gulag or Nazi...I mean, what was so horrific in the memo, and I'm not saying, you know, there aren't legitimate questions there, is that someone is chained to a floor and forced to defecate on themselves, and has loud rock music playing. Excuse me? I mean, you know, Auschwitz? Bergen Belsen? The Soviet gulag? I think they would have been very happy to be allowed to defecate on themselves.

What Terri tells us about American politics (from her autopsy, alas).

Why is Rupert Evil?  The first in a continuing series

This is from Ben Scott of Free Press:

He’s the purest incarnation of turning the free press into a commodity (gutting public service for private profit), media control for political manipulation (a la Fox News and the Weekly Standard), and the consolidation of cross-platform media ownership to turn the marketplace of ideas into a cozy monopoly of billionaire plutocrats.

You could throw in that he’s a smut peddler—porn on satellite and the topless Page 3 girls in his UK newspapers…but I don’t really qualify that as “evil.”  It’s only evil if your other media properties are right-wing evangelists trumpeting the moral high ground of the Christian right.

More on what a problem that Jeffrey Rosen NYT Magazine column was:  I received this e-mail this morning from Gallup:

A Gallup Tuesday Briefing Poll, conducted May 23-26, asked Americans to rate their level of confidence in 15 institutions in American society, including the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court ranks in the middle of the list, much lower than the military, police, and organized religion, but higher than HMOs, big business, Congress, and organized labor.

Overall, 4 in 10 Americans say they have a great deal (16%) or quite a lot (25%) of confidence in the court.  This 41% confidence rating is among the lowest Gallup has ever found for this institution, and it perpetuates a gradual decline in the public's confidence over the past three years.

We’d still be happy to print a response from Mr. Rosen or anyone with an interest in the argument.

Jimmy Weinstein was a tireless fighter, a great finagler, and a fine historian.  His writings on the origins of the Progressive movement continue to be debated in graduate seminars as In These Times continues to enlighten and enliven debates on the democratic left.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Justin LeBlanc
Hometown: Seoul, Korea
To all who provided their feedback: Thank You. I respect those dissenting opinions and I would submit to you that there are many of those out there, soldiers and civilians alike, that share my point of view and I hope Dr. Alterman affords me one last opportunity to respond in kind.  However, I do take issue with those who would imply I am a disgrace or question my morals and values.  I love my country and I love my Army.  I have a firm commitment to my God and I respect all others who have different beliefs from my own.  I am a Christian who grew up in Lackawanna, NY.  I had many Muslim friends; three of which, Nabeal, Ahmed and Rasheed, I consider my best.  We found ourselves discussing our religious differences openly and honestly and by doing so we grew in our understanding and respect for each other.  In college, I took Judaism at a small Jesuit Institution, Canisius, in order to better understand others of this faith as well. 

So, do I condone the actions of soldiers mistreating Arab prisoners?  Of course not.  However, I do know that there is a huge difference between Abu Ghraib and the gulag.  I do know that we investigate and prosecute these actions.  I do know that we use Abu Ghraib to protect Americans and not use it as a killing machine for political dissidents.  This, however misconstrued, was the point I was trying to get at.  In addition, what I do know is that not enough is said about the positive actions of our soldiers and not enough is said about the Iraqis who want us over there.  Too much is said about those that are killed and not enough about those that are saved.  Unfortunately, because of this, will our soldiers be perceived as heroes?  Or, as I fear, will they be spit on by our fellow citizens or discriminated against at our jobs or in our colleges like what took place after Vietnam?  Or, will they all be grouped together as "idiots", in Mr. Wright's words, because of so much bad publicity and none of the good?

It is my moral beliefs and values, not bestowed upon me by the Army, but bestowed upon me by my God, family, and friends that led me to be thankful that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.  What if Japan didn't bomb Pearl Harbor?  What if we didn't consider Germany a threat?  What if Germany didn't go to war with other countries and instead only decided to kill all the Jews in its own borders?  Mr. Wright, would you have allowed the genocide to continue if you knew it was happening and could do something about it?  Where are the articles on what Saddam has done to his people?  This was the other point I was trying to make.  It seems like more and more people every day are using casual words like "Nazis" to describe our soldiers.  What impression does that leave on the minds of our citizens and families (especially the families who have soldiers stationed at these locations)? 

My reference to Saddam being the Stalin of our times was an attempt to highlight the atrocities he committed even days out from the war.  I've heard first hand accounts from people about Saddam and his sons' grotesque acts and the thought of what they did makes my stomach turn even now as I write this.  I do not have to read about it in letters or books.  As far as sounding callous about our casualties, I'm sorry if it came off that way.  I was only trying to be realistic about the nature of war and the expectations that coincide with it.  As a Christian, I pray everyday for the families of those that have lost loved ones.  I cannot help but be proud of our actions and think removing Saddam was a good thing and still is.  I don't think their deaths were in vain.  I don't think they died for no cause.  I refuse to believe that.

As far as my education goes, I understand military manuals and the doctrine for war.  I also understand that our President, the Commander-in-Chief, decides that these requirements have been met and makes that decision to go to war.  Nevertheless, as a soldier and a Christian, I believe it is our job to protect those who can't protect themselves.  We do not have the ability to be the world's police officer, but if our policies and our soldiers save the future lives of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people, can I not be proud of that?  If my defending the Iraq war, President Bush, or my fellow soldiers is wrong or unpopular then I'll accept that. 

Finally, as a side note, I know Mr. Stebley asked why I wasn't over in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Unfortunately, I'm not going to discuss my personal reasons for this or air them publicly to the world.  He can imply about me anything he likes.  I fully expected a response like that when I mentioned I was in Korea and did not hide this fact, intentionally.  Thank you Mr. Alterman for airing my previous feelings.  I hope you do me the same service by airing this response.  Thanks to all, once again, for sharing your thoughts.

Eric replies:  I think the discussion with Mr. LeBlanc speaks for itself, but I should like to clarify two points.  I don’t think anyone who wrote to this site expressed anything but gratitude or admiration for his sacrifices.  No one, as far as I could tell, implied that he was a disgrace to anything.  I would not have printed any of them if I thought they had.  Second, according to The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, a careful study by Jerry Lembcke, here, offers a compelling argument that the “spitting image” myth is a creation of a revisionist right-wing seeking to discredit the anti-war movement, including those veterans who made up a key part of it.

Name: Scott Kimball III
Hometown: Victoria, Texas
Eric:
I imagine I am only one of many who are extremely grateful to you for bringing us the weekly observations from Major Bob Bateman.  His letters are not only interesting and informative, but they are uncommonly insightful and thoughtful.  From reading his letters to you, as well as those I have received in response to the few I have sent him, he impresses me as a military professional who is doing his best to do a good job on the task assigned to him, without dwelling on the political underpinnings.  It is obvious that he is proud to be doing what he is where he is, but it is also clear that he wishes he was somewhere else doing something else.  He doesn't whine and complain about it, however.  Reading about what is happening to him and the others in Iraq casts a whole new light on things in my life that I think are a problem and about which I bitch and moan.  In spite of the tragedy and peril he faces on a routine basis, he takes the time to reply to the letters we send.  My first letter to him was to tell him that there are many of us who oppose the war, yet support the troops, and his reply made it clear that he knows that.  In my opinion, for whatever that's worth, the best thing we can do is to write him about good things, things that he's looking forward to coming back to, hopefully providing him with some kind of connection to the rest of the world and letting him escape, if only for a little bit.  While I'm sure he'd be tolerant and courteous, I'm betting that he would prefer swapping stories about good books and discussing military history, rather than debating the sorry state of our current foreign policy.  It's the ultimate cliche, but his is not to reason why.  Our job is to pray for his safety and speedy return to his loved ones and the things he enjoys.  Fortunately for Major Bateman, a time table for his return has been established.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
After reading all the responses to Mr. LeBlanc's letter, I am struck by the pessimism relayed by the writers.  Mr. LeBlanc, if nothing else, feels true hope and optimism for the future of the country and world.  I find more and more that such is the dividing line between those for and against the war in Iraq.  Those that step back and look at the larger, long-term picture are hopeful, while those that dwell on casualties and perceived lies are pessimistic.  The anti-war/anti-Bush folks love to wave around the Downing Street memos (which, after reading, I find no great revelations in) and point their fingers at Gitmo and Abu-Ghraib as examples of why the world hates America.  I, for one, prefer to step back and look at the larger trends and possibilities in the region through the prism of perspective and history.  It essentially boils down to emotion versus calculation.  Unfortunately, emotion often leads to irrational acts (e.g. 99% percent of the post-9/11 legislation passed by Congress).  Calculation, while seemingly cold, needs to rule the day in the current conflict.  There are monumental stakes involved and, to use an overused adage, failure is not an option.  However, the benefits which could flow from success of the bigger plan in the Middle East are tremendous.  If people could somehow drop the political hatred (on both sides) regarding this conflict and take an unjaundiced look at the possibilities (good and bad), rational discourse could possibly ensue.

June 20, 2005 | 11:32 AM ET | Permalink

Soldiers write home
(and we write back)

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

--June 19, 2005

WHUMPH!

It is 14:32. Local.

An explosion somewhere nearby, shakes the building, lightly.  Listening closely for another few seconds, I turn back to my task at-hand.  The new guys are looking around.  I am not exactly an old-hand myself, but the fact is that given the rate of rotations here in Iraq, I am now the most experienced guy in the room.  My non-reaction is the right one for the moment.  Later I explain to them why I did not react beyond a casual tilt of the head.

No immediate second explosion means that it is not mortars.  It was something big, or it was something close, (it is often difficult to tell which from inside) but there was only one explosion.  That means it was either an IED, a Suicide Bomber, or a VBIED of some sort.  Or it could have been a rocket.  In any case, all of those things pose no threat after the first blast if you are not in the immediate area.  Mortars, on the other hand, sometimes come in strings. So a second explosion sends me shuttling to shelter.  But one loud explosion is nothing to get worked up about.

This is sad.  It means that you are shutting out your very human awareness that somewhere quite nearby, people have just died.  It is also necessary.  It is part of the cost everyone pays.  That is a price which I remit for just one year.  My heart goes out to those who live here, who must shut this down even more than I.  The alternative to closing this aspect of your life down is too much awareness...much too much.  More than some can bear.

A minute later I step outside, ostensibly for a cigarette.  It is always good to be aware of your surroundings, especially here.  Right now I want to know if there is a different kind of threat coupled with the explosion.  It was fairly close.

The wail of sirens competes with the bark of AK-47s not too far away.  Range is tough to estimate by ear in a city because of all the echoes.  In an open field I can tell you, “that is 500 meters away,” or, “that is a klick,” just as a byproduct of my life.  But in a city you get all these strange aural bounces.  Still, some smoke orients me and the soundwaves have a fairly straight shot.  The firing is just outside the Green Zone, maybe four hundred meters away.

I take a seat on a bench and let my ears read the language of this fight for me, since aside from the small plume of smoke dissipating in the breeze, I cannot see a thing.  It is somewhere over 100 degrees.  You can feel this heat in your mouth when you breath.

Iraqi Police are converging on the site, and not just a few.  Sirens come in from what sounds like the northwest as well as the north and the east.  The firing lasts for a little while, but from the intermittent nature it seems to me that this is not so much a firefight as a necessary buttress for the morale of the police.  The Iraqi Police as a combatant force is something brand new to Iraq, and they are still finding their feet.  Firing your weapon, when you are scared, can bring some measure of resolve.  Highly disciplined units can avoid that, as it is wasteful.  But the majority of the IPS is not there, yet.

I’ve mentioned before that in this country, under Saddam, the police were traditionally fairly low on the social totem pole.  They were corrupt, unsophisticated, and in only a few cases actually involved in what we might think of as ‘law enforcement.’  Sort of like the stereo-typical NYC cop of a century ago.  Indeed, the modern American phenomenon of “Cop-as-Hero” really only started about thirty years ago…in Hollywood.  It took quite a while for us to change not only how we thought of police, but how police thought of themselves.  We’re trying to do that on a much faster pace here, and we don’t have sixty years to do it.  I am encouraged, however, by one indisputable fact.  One fact which might not have been true just a year ago.  One fact that certainly wasn’t possible two years ago.

All of these Iraqi cops are driving towards the sound of the guns.

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:

Two of my three daughters have Iraqi pen-pals.  Morgan and Ryann write to the daughters or nieces of two of our translators.  They could do e-mail, but I won’t allow that yet for the security of everyone involved.  As a result, the handwritten letters in both directions pass through me, and the mother and uncle I work with here.  Soon, I think, I’ll let my daughters interact directly.  I’ve explained to them what they cannot reveal, not just for their own safety, but for their pen-pal’s safety as well.  But this contact between teenagers which I’ve witnessed has convinced me of one thing: Teenage girls, regardless of nationality or religion, are strange creatures capable primarily of effective communication only with others of their own species (that being other teenage girls, regardless of nationality or religion).

My father’s sailing delivery is here.  As much as I kid him, I am just as much in awe.

You can write to Major Bob at Bateman_Maj@hotmail.com.

Name: Mike Wright
Hometown: Nellis AFB, NV
Dr. Alterman,
In response to the e-mail you published from Mr. LeBlanc , I would like to offer the following response: Mr. LeBlanc, you may be a soldier in the U.S. military; I am glad that you are not a disgrace to my own branch of the service. My experiences since I have worn the uniform have led me to believe that we are the best and most professional military force in the world, however your apparent doctrine of the ends justifying the means is doing as much to challenge my beliefs as the idiots at Abu Ghraib.  We are supposed to hold ourselves to the highest standards.  We receive annual training in military standards, the Law of Armed Conflict amongst others, and at all times are supposed to live up to the core values of our profession.  We are not supposed to use the moral character of our opponents as an excuse for behavior that falls outside of those standards.  Your statement trivializing the comments on Guantanamo Bay simply because "Hussein was the 'Stalin' of our times" shows that you have paid little attention to the training and the core values of the U.S. Army.  There is no honor in mistreating prisoners.  There is no integrity in breaking the law, simply because you want information or rationalize it as applying the enemies' rules against them.  There is no courage or selfless service displayed, no duty or loyalty to anything other than the egos of those doing wrong.  Any respect that we might have had in the areas surrounding the prison has been severely, if not irreparably, damaged.  The same flaw runs through the rest of your argument.  If you truly believe that the ends justify the means, then you yourself are no better than Stalin or any other despot that figures he can do no wrong.  I have served in Iraq.  I know the good that we can and have done in the lives of the Iraqi population.  I also know that any good that we do is enhanced or ruined by HOW we accomplish that good.

Name: Jerry Damon Jasperson
Hometown: Temple, NH
In response to Justin LeBlanc:
Dear Justin,
I am a veteran and I understand your dismay at the criticisms leveled at your Commander In Chief.  However, please remember that your oath was not to a man but to an ideal established by our Forefathers and embodied in our Constitution.  Lies and manipulation that result in thousands upon thousands of dead Americans and Iraqis is neither in keeping with your oath nor that of the office of the President.  Regardless of Saddam's atrocities, he had nothing to do with 9-11, and hence represented no threat.  In the time, world political capitol and money that has been spent, we could have truly done something wonderful with the support of the world and laid waste to the causes of terrorism.  Please, Justin, my brother-in-arms, utilize your training, your dedication and courage to stay true to your country, not a man that has never had any skin in this game that you so clearly have staked your life.  Since you have access to e-mail, I would cherish the opportunity to continue a respectful discussion with you.  Stay safe and out of harm's way.
-Jerry Damon Jasperson

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
As a veteran, I understand and respect Justin LeBlanc's point-of-view.  However, I find it strange that he can simply ignore the facts when they don't fit his view of how the world should be.  Has he actually talked any of the Koreans that welcomed him to their country?  If he had, then he would realize the depth of hatred and resentment throughout the world towards the United States.  He may disagree with those feelings, and feel that the U.S. is being treated unfairly, but arguing that that resentment and hatred makes the United States safer is a perfect example of being blinded by ideology.  Safer for whom?  Certainly not for those soldiers like us who have to pay with their lives and limbs for George Bush's blunder.  Because of our mistakes in Iraq, we have over 1700 American soldiers dead and many thousands wounded.  I'm not mad at Bush for going to war.  I'm mad at Bush for going to war based on lies, and for not being prepared for what happens after we captured Iraq.  It is because of him that I thank God every day I'm not grist for the mill.  Perhaps Justin is correct, and 20 years from now the world will be a safer place, with democracies flourishing in the Middle East.  I hope he's right, but my fear is that we will still be fighting the "War On Terrorism" with no end in sight to the bloodshed...all because we chose to go after a man with no links to terrorism instead of focusing on Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Name: Mark Yokomizo
Hometown: Westlake Village, CA
Firstly, I thank Justin LeBalnc for bravely serving our country.  He is one of the reasons that we all can express our own personal opinions.  I also applaud his optimism over the future of Iraq and the Middle East.  However, I do not know if he receives the same information in South Korea as we get here in the USA.  Iraq is not a real democracy...yet.  It is now a breeding ground for terrorists, given the increasing number of terrorist killings recently.  How does LeBlanc reconcile the Iraq invasion with the fact most of the 9-11 terrorists came through Iran and were Saudis?  Also, will LeBlanc be willing to take the heat if Iraq and the Middle East do not undergo sweeping changes as he envisions, instead, becoming a more volatile place than it is now?  I certainly hope LeBlanc is correct in the long run, because if he is wrong, 20 years from now, he (along with all of us) may be fighting the terrorists here on our soil in a worst case scenario.  I hope he's correct, but so far, I believe he is backing the wrong guy.

Name: Rob M
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
To Mr. LeBlanc,
First, thank you for your service to our country.  Secondly, a fundamental problem with the war in Iraq is that it has not made the U.S. any safer (Osama's still at large, the country's nuclear facilities are still unprotected, DPRK, Iran, etc.).  It has only drawn troops and resources away from places that actually do have (or will soon have) nuclear weapons and the capability to launch them against us or our allies.  Further, it has diminished our moral authority to lead.  We say, "X has nuclear weapons...no we mean it this time."  They say, "Are you going to fall for *that* one from the Americans again?"  We are not in a position to act effectively unilaterally again. 

Hussein was a bad man and it's good that he cannot continue to harm people.  He got what he deserved and I enjoyed seeing him get it.  But, that doesn't mean we were right to trump up bogus charges to do it.  If we wanted to go to war because he brutally tortured and killed his own citizens, we should have just said so up front.  It may not matter to you that we did not find the stockpiles of weapons, but it drastically affects our ability to act in the world: instead of talking about the DPRK and its ability to launch the nuclear warheads it has onto Japan and the west coast, we are arguing about Iraq.  Instead of focusing on Pakistan's AQ Khan and his 'helpfulness' or the stability of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal, the President and company are busy trying to cover their asses and justify their actions. 

I could say that one day, you will see, as we have seen in our country's history of foreign interventions, that on the balance we will only reap misery from our actions there (as we got when we helped remove the Shah, then supported Iraq against the regime that replaced the Shah, while Hussein gassed his own people, etc).  But I will not, because neither you nor I know the future and cannot foresee its path.  There will be wars that must be fought, but this wasn't one of them.  I understand that you are afraid, but we cannot allow fear to compromise our sense of Justice.  We cannot allow fear to drive us to ineffective and irrational acts because it feels good or makes us feel in control.  We cannot rely on our fear of the ends to justify unjust means. ---- I have wondered about alternate options that could have been taken with Iraq.  It seemed that even if they were effective, the UN sanctions were increasingly untenable (wrt lack of support in the UN).  We now face similar issues with the DPRK, what's the strategy?  What are the criteria for war?
Regards,
rm

Name:  Suzanne Stephenson
Hometown:  North Stonington, CT
Hi, Just read the letter from Justin LeBlanc, and I have to admit to being baffled.  He doesn't care if there were WMDs or not.  Well, if there weren't, in what way, exactly, did invading Iraq impact his family's future safety?  Iraq was not a threat to the U.S., even our closest allies agree with that.  On the other hand, we have assuredly made generational enemies of thousands of Iraqi citizens, and thousands more Muslims around the world, through our extra-legal torture activities in Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.  And the families of the tens of thousands of innocent civilian casualties in Iraq will certainly never be our friends, either.  And the assertion that we're better than Stalin?  Better than Saddam?  Is that the best we as a country can aspire to be?  Please.  I personally feel much, much less safe today than before we invaded Iraq.  It has become a training ground for the terrorists of tomorrow.  I wish Mr. (he gave no rank) LeBlanc all the best of luck in his upcoming tour in Iraq.  He's gonna need it.

Name: Jay Stebley
Hometown: Emeryville, CA
Dr. A,
I would like to answer Mr. LeBlanc's passionate letter - re: doing the right thing by Iraq - by asking the gentleman why he is not currently stationed in Daufur, Kyrgystan, or Myanmar?  There have been dozens of nations in recent decades whose people have been senselessly slaughtered by their leaders.  The question of WMD in Iraq was the essence of the Bush plan for invasion - he told the American people that Hussein was an imminent threat to this country - make no mistake.  That threat has been shown to be non-existent - and they knew it at the time.  Your next tour of duty in the sandbox is to protect BushCo. interests, not those of the Iraqi people.  Instead of worrying about who's worse - Stalin or Saddam (and the answer is obvious) - read Brent Thompson's letter, below, and think about your future and your country's real future, which at this point, threats from small, fanatical religious groups or no, looks to sink into the dumpster.  And please do not mistake this for a slam against you and your difficult mission in service.  I'd prefer you were home.

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