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Archive for April of 2006
April 30, 2006
April 26, 2006
on't believe the blogosphere hype about Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Dinner/High School Talent Show last nite. It was a flop. We TiVo'd it on CSPAN hoping that Stephen Colbert would live up to expectations. When we heard he was hosting, the news promised entertainment almost as good as if Lewis Black had been invited.
Instead, we winced. For Colbert. He was mostly unfunny, awkward and proof that Comedy Central talent works best on . . . Comedy Central. The ratio of dead air or silence to gentle guffaws was about 8-1. And this from someone rooting for Colbert. For a live stand up performer, that means a dead room. His political agenda is not the issue — the question is whether he succeeded in being funny. He didn't. Not by a mile.
If the Emperor gave Colbert a thumbs down, the Stiftung would be forced to agree. Unfortunately.
He was blown out of the water by a deeply unpopular President's schtick. A deeply unpopular President recycling the same tired and worn jokes about his lexicon and regular folks 'tude.
It is not enough, in the Stiftung's view, to take jabs at the President while he sits there. Surely one gets points for just the act of showing up and reading the script. But in a forum like that, with the build up like that, one must deliver the comedic goods. A successful comedic riff with the President sitting there could enter the political discourse and potentially even be a defining moment. After last nite, people will want to forget about the awkward effort.
We have sympathy. Colbert (and Stewart) on Comedy Central offer every night hit or miss entertainment. Which is fine. Performing at a high level every nite is an unbelievable creative drain. Comedy is hard. And in a 30 minute timeframe, one can afford to strike out now and then.
But a one time gig like the WHCD or the Oscars is a different game from a cable show. The pacing is different, the build ups are different and the payoffs have to be there. In fairness, Colbert is not a “classically trained” stand up performer — he hasn't lived the tawdry club circuit and honed the instincts that a Black or Carlin have. He is a product of studio scripted comedy — much like a BBC comedy. And he should take this opportunity to re-appraise his many strengths and some weaknesses in his skill set and either set about working on his deficiencies or delve into his niche role all the more assiduously. For his sake. And ours.
We give Colbert barely 2 Leos out of 5.
April 22, 2006
he other day, sitting in the StiftungMobile idling in gridlock, we began to flip through the Talk Radio dial. (We tucked away the XM player for the thought experiment).
And so we stumbled across
Bablyon 5 security chief Michael Garibaldi Jerry Doyle's call in show
. Doyle's Imperial City AM channel is also the home of blowhards like Savage and that anorexic harpie, Laura Ingraham. We rarely tune in to that channel but the Stiftung enjoyed meeting with Doyle on the Hill a few years ago. Then he was running for Congress as a Republican. So we paused to give a listen.
oyle had Andrew Bacevich on
. Bacevich was discussing his concerns about the 'Generals' Revolt' against Rummy. The revolt was just given a freshener by an 8th general joining the piling on — Marine Lt. general Paul Van Riper. For those who may not recall, Van Riper is a balls-to-the-wall no b.s. non-political general type. The Stiftung always held out a soft spot for him, remembering his achievment as OPFOR commander during a Millenium Challenge wargame. Van Riper famously disregarded the polite formality of playing to lose as the notional 'enemy'. Van Riper as OPFOR commander threw out the rules, kicked American ass, and created profound embarrassment. An enemy playing to win causing an American defeat was unacceptable. Van Riper thus forced a “re-do” of the wargame to ensure a game in which America wins, as per the script. (Our wargames can be as politically engineered as the Japanese re-dos prior to Midway or the German December 1940 wargames of Barbarossa).
Bacevich made the case that the Generals' revolt — now eight generals strong — created an uncomfortable precedent for the principle of civilian command and control. Bacevich noted that the generals' criticism created a precedent for challenging decisions made by duly appointed civilians. Both a career military man and a talented academic, one usually benefits by giving Bacevich a close listen. But here, the Stiftung must disagree.
We think the Mary McCarthy witchhunt, the Generals' Revolt, AIPAC, Fitzpatrick, all are of a piece. The Administration since 2001 functioned largely as a punitive and monolithic political edifice, imposing an authoritarian and unrelenting conformity. The Stiftung saw and experienced this first hand, not just by media reports. Loyalty and compliance were demanded and enforced. For that reason, comparing the generals' criticisms today with previous norms of American governance is inappropriate. The Administration's ruthlessly imposed conformity 2001-2005 within the Executive and across both houses of Congress had no real American historical parallel.
Accordingly, Bacevich should have noted that the real undermining of civilian command and control lies not with the generals but with Congress. The Admistration is entitled to pursue its policies, however irrational, misguided or incompetent they may seem. But Congress as a co-equal branch failed its constitutional duties. Congress failed hold meaningful hearings, failed to ask the tough questions, failed to ensure diverse opinions were presented, and most importantly, failed to act. Without a functioning co-equal branch, voices of dissent or different ideas had no recourse within the Administration or in Congress. Congress failed the American people, not the generals.
Now SASC is contemplating a hearing with the dissenting retired generals. While welcome, the Stiftung notes that even now, Warner and SASC hide behind the generals rather than stand up as an independent branch of government on their own. Party loyalty and residual compliance with the tottering Administration still leave them suppine. Congress keeps redefining 'craven' down.
We do not lightly disagree with Bacevich's concerns. Moreover, one must recognize that the military as an institution is playing CYA to avoid historical blame for the CF in Iraq. Almost none of the generals spoke up at the time,most famously Tommy Franks. Nor do we think making analogies to the British imperial tradition like Max Hastings does is useful or appropriate for the American political context.
Acknowledging all that, one must still ask, given the breakdown in governance with Congress' abdication of constitutional duties, what is the alternative? Would Bacevich rather have silence when the Administration lied that it was only following the military's advice? Would Bacevich rather not know that torture is going on? Or renditions to torture done in the name of the American people? Would Bacevich rather not know that the President is violating the Constitution and statutes in pursuit of warrantless wiretapping?
That is the true uncomfortable precedent being set here. The Administration's authoritarian impulse and disdain for truth and liberal democracy. And Congress' willing embrace of their own impotence, at least 2001-2005. In the scheme of things, the generals' revolt is far down the list. Under normal circumstances, Bacevich's concerns would carry greater weight. But first, we must restore our political institutions to normal.
April 20, 2006
ick Gvodsev, editor of the National Interest, has an interesting item on his blog “The Washington Realist”
about Reul Marc Gerecht's latest on Iran
Nick notes that the piece is “much more sober in assessing risks and costs” than the Iraq song and dance. And he adds that the focus is on the purpose of U.S. action should primarily be to remove the nuclear threat rather than democracy and “grand transformation.” All true, perhaps. But not enough.
The Gerecht piece is flawed on so many other levels. To be fair, Nick does concede that Gerecht battles a strawman of 'realists' — creating a cartoon depiction of people who in his words want to do “nothing”. But here is where Gerecht leads us:
So we will all have to wait for President Bush to decide whether nuclear weapons in the hands of Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards Corps are something we can live with. Given the Islamic Republic's dark history, the burden of proof ought to be on those who favor accommodating a nuclear Iran. Those who are unwilling to accommodate it, however, need to be honest and admit that diplomacy and sanctions and covert operations probably won't succeed, and that we may have to fight a war--perhaps sooner rather than later--to stop such evil men from obtaining the worst weapons we know.
Gerecht tries the well worn debating trick of painting lurid scenarios of nuclear holocaust at the hands of the Iranians — at their hands or through imagined link ups with Al Qaeda. (Rice's mushroom cloud 2006-style). No one is going to indulge his tawdry claim that those skeptical of a military solution need to knock down his feverish imagination.
The uncomfortable truth for both Nick and Gerecht is that Gerecht's strawmen and elaborate knock downs are beside the point. What is missing is the first and most important question: what is the end state of 'victory' or 'success' sought? And is it an operational success or a true strategic success? Gerecht says the victory is Iran which renounces nuclear weapons. But the solution he proposes is an operational-level military operation to solve a strategic problem. No better than the Iraq fiasco.
As with most neocons, Gerecht does not stop to explain precisely what this 'war' means. Against 65 million people. And what it will mean within the larger Islamic ecumenae of 1 billion people. A war waged by what Army? The one nearly broken in Iraq? Airstrikes might degrade the Iranian program, but like Cuba in 1962 no one can give any prediction of reaching all or even most of the dispersed infrastructure. And how is victory achieved in this larger war?
The Stiftung also notes that for all of Gerecht's feverish warnings about nukes from Iran somewhow winding up in the hands of Al Qaeda, every factor he sets out applies even more so to Pakistan. Presumably, Gerecht's logic would lead the 3rd ID into Lahore as well, etc.
Sorry, Nick. This article does not advance the debate, nor is it, as you suggest, the sort of article that should have appeared in 2002 re Iraq. The problem is not 'disillusionment' with Iraq because expectations were too high — that is an affliction and hangover among the Kool Aid set. The problem with Iraq was and is the conceptual flaws at the outset — an operational-level plan with only a hope as an outcome substituting for a true strategic end state. And you are making the same mistake again here. To quote the “War President”, 'Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice . . we. . . um. . . we wont get fooled again."
April 17, 2006
ur Chinese Creditors arrived today for the non-State-State Visit, replete with 21 gun salute. Chinese President Hu visited the White House amidst all the ceremonial pomp of a State Visit but sans
the formal State Dinner. In addition to this culinary slight, Hu also suffered a minor protest at the ceremonies. This outburst will tarnish the carefully choreographed imagery Hu's handlers wanted for his domestic audience.
But what will be accomplished during the visit? Not much. Mostly atmospherics. And for that, the Stiftung believes, we should be grateful.
First, let's get rid of the litany that talking heads will say are the 'substantive' issues between the countries:
China's military spending? Hu is not going to budge.
Intellectual property? China will do nothing of significance.
Energy policy? We don't have one of our own. To ask the Chinese to accomodate us is a joke.
Human rights? Right.
Iran? North Korea? Nothing happening.
Which leaves the tectonic issues of economics and finance. Here, the U.S. lacks leverage to do more than raise the issues. The Chinese hold the cards. Hu knows that China merely has to wait until the U.S. cedes its super power status. Moreover, even if we were able to engage the Chinese, the U.S. national leadership doesn't understand economics.
Proof for that? Free Market ideologues in the U.S. continue to place all blame for economic imbalances on the Chinese undervaluation of the yuan, their currency. According to this argument, if the Chinese re-evaluated their yuan, it would raise the cost of goods imported from China and thereby lower the trade imbalance. This would revive U.S. manufacturing.
Except, unfortunately, that it won't. But because the concept is easily explained and sold as a political meme, it continues to assume front and center status in the chatter about U.S.-China relations.
Alan Greenspan has warned about the undervalued Chinese currency. Senators as diverse as Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Dole and Lindsay Graham all blame yuan valuation for threatening U.S. manufacturing. Their solution? “Convince” the Chinese to raise the yuan's valuation against the dollar.
The Plaza Accords
emember that the the same arguments were advanced in 1984 with respect to a surging Japan. Then as now, the claim was that the Japanese had to accept a re-evaluation of the Yen and if accepted, it would eliminate the trade imbalance. U.S. manufacuring would be revived. (This was when the U.S. actually had a manufacturing center worth protecting). The result? The 1985 Plaza Accords brokered by James Baker. The Japanese accepted the higher exchange rate — a 50 % increase of the yen.
But what happened? Instead of protecting the U.S. manufacturing base, which continued to atrophy, or reducing the trade imbalance, which continued to mushroom, the Japanese discovered the yen's appreciation turned Japan and Japanese banks instantly into the world's leading creditor, supplanting the U.S. And the Japanese used their capital leverage and technology to integrate the other economies in the ASEAN and related areas into what amounted to as an economic reconstruction of the prosperity sphere they sought to impose for military and racial reasons 40 years earlier.
If the U.S. understood economics beyond a cable shout fest sound byte, the U.S. would examine the entire matrix of policies and trends before the two countries, including education, tax, consumer consumption over investment, as well as the exchange rate. Adjusting the latter without a simultaneous adjustment of the other factors will replicate the Plaza Accords by a factor of 2. And will accelerate China's rise as the World's Banker by a decade or more. The reasons for U.S. abandonment of manufacturing are not a simple matter of exchange rates. Broader social and economic policies are involved.
There is no indication that the Administration understands the complexities of the issues before it, nor has it prepared even the faintest package of economic programs designed to address this most pressing of issues.
Quite frankly, we are lucky that nothing will happen at this meeting. The best thing for the U.S. will be muddling through until this Administration deservedly expires. This crowd has neither the economic/financial expertise nor inclination for calculated policy based on empirical facts and economics. As the staff changes indicate, the addiction to atmospherics over reality remains. As does the commitment to irrational Belief over empirical evidence, and force over dialogue.
Given the Administration's ineptitude, no deal is better than a half assed one. Two and a half years may seem like an awful long time for muddle and drift. But that is the price we pay for this team.
April 15, 2006
e don't often get visits by world famous bands here at the Stiftung, so we were surprised when the NetCentrics rolled into town and laid down a blistering set for an appreciative audience.
We recorded just for you, Dear Reader, their new single they debuted. We think “Transformation Blues” has all the hallmarks of a classic. Check out the live show. Let us know if you agree with us.
April 14, 2006
t is hard to believe, but the Stiftung actually feels for Donald Rumsfeld. His culpability for the fiasco in Iraq is undeniable and the judgment of history will be even more damning.
The “revolt of the generals” is less interesting to the Stiftung. First, most of them said nothing when the issue was in planning (with the exception of Shinseki) and even execution. The worst of them, like Tommy Franks, saluted, carried out their orders without protest and then simply retired and left the men and women in the field in a mess.
Moreover, the calibration of power within the Pentagon between the civilians and the unformed military called out for adjustment by 2000. The military by that date had effectively removed many “windows” into their activities by civilians and practiced policy affirmatively by foreclosing options without advising their civilian leadership. Rumsfeld's initial efforts to restore civilian command and control in 2001, while deeply unpopular with the uniformed military, were not wholly without merit.
Removing Rumsfeld now might offer some tactical political satisfaction. And it certainly could not hurt. But the Stiftung also thinks it is too late in the day to switch him out and expect anything meaningful.
There is also some poetic justice in keeping him on. His stewardship has not only delivered us into Iraq, but there is a looming scissors crisis with procurement and other fiscal realities that should explode in policy circles like the 700 ton Las Vegas TNT test detonation. Quite simply, we are trying to buy far more weapons and far more sophisticated version of weapons than we can afford. It is fitting perhaps that Rumsfeld be sitting there when those ducks begin to come home to roost in the next 2 years.
And quite frankly, the prospect of Joementum or some such bleating from the lecturn over there is simply too grim to think about.
April 13, 2006
ew things are as depressing in the Washington Post as the editorial page. The Post is now largely a mainstream organ support the Neocon project in general and the Administration in particular. And a driver of this sad state of affairs is the estimable Fred Hiatt, chair of the Editorial Board.
This week in the Imperial City, the alternative weekly, “The City Paper”
continued to pound Hiatt on his latest foul embrace of the Administration — Hiatt wrote an unsigned editorial praising the President for leaking the Natioanal Intelligence Estimate now at the heart of the Scooter Libby case.
The City Paper picked up on the blogosphere outrage, noting:
The critics had a nice time with the [Hiatt] editorial. Huffingtonpost.com, thinkprogress.org, and Editor & Publisher each savaged the celebration of Bush administration press relations. Jane Hamsher of huffingtonpost.com called the piece “an enormous turd that editorial page editor Fred Hiatt is no doubt behind…an unmitigated piece of BushCo. propaganda, such a giant bag of bs it deserves to be taken apart, piece by piece and beaten into the ground."
Pretty tough stuff. At the time the Stiftung watched the other commentary unfolding and did not add to the chorus. These other voices had it about right. But in this item, the City Paper takes the issue to the proper next level:
The Post's editorialists bought the White House line in full, yet they haven't gone the mea culpa route. They flirted with accountability in an October 2003 editorial, which reads in part: “Were we wrong? The honest answer is: We don't yet know.”
Well, that was two and a half years ago. Do we know enough now to admit the mistake? When asked that question, Hiatt responded, “I'm not getting into that subject...I guess what we have to say about that I would say in an editorial.”
Hiatt, like the Administration, can not concede error. It would be satisfying to see the Post concede its war cheerleading was a colassal blunder. More satisfying still would be to see Hiatt step down. But the Stiftung will settle for the next best thing: clear and convincing evidence that the Post will not repeat the fear mongering AgitProp in any attempted run-up to conflict with Iran. Once was an error and mistake. Twice is a crime.
Bill Arkin writes in the WaPo today about a Marine Corps wargame against the 'fictional' country of Karona, a thinly disguised stand in for Iran.
April 11, 2006
Here's the premise:
In 2005, a Karonan reformist president is voted out in a fraudulent and hotly contested election. And riots and unrest broke out throughout the country. The conservatives eventually emerged victorious, but Karonan society split. By 2010, the military had been purged of those who supported the earlier reformists. But the military had also suffered under the new government and was not, in the words of the Marine Corps “a truly modern force.”
Read more »
April 10, 2006
f all the lessons the U.S. has paid for in Iraq with blood, treasure and prestige, the Stiftung believes the most important is the American disinclination to define victory in concrete strategic terms. The American fixation on operational level military operations gave us both Baghdad's fall and Tommy Franks' plan for the large scale military bug out soon thereafter.
Tempting as it is to do so, it would be a mistake to attribute all the blame on Feith, his OSP and DoD in general. Our fixation on operational success at the cost of strategic victory has roots in our uniquely American Way of War. Russell Weigley and a host of students of the American military have documented 'The American Way of War'. Under Weigley's famous formulation, “war as total bloodshed”. Until most recent times, the only limits on the American strategy of total destruction of our enemies was money, men, and technology.
he Cold War of course produced a number of limited wars. In which, btw, the U.S. did not do particularly well. And even during the stand off with the Soviets, the American ethos of victory was enshrined in both MAD and even the Counter Force warfighting doctrines. Victorious central system warfare was the goal, whether victory was defined as successful deterrence or war fighting.
Given the cultural prediliction for total destruction and decisive battles, it is no surprise that the ethos for strategic doctrinal analysis of end state victory is largely absent. Much of Rumsfeld's vaunted transformational agenda is focused on these operational issues — the pursuit of battle space domination and techological ascendancy, whether via netcentric warfare concepts, precision strike or operational manuever from strategic depth concepts with light and agile forces, etc.
o now we come to Iran. Alleged discussion as reported by Sy Hersh and others suggests that we may not have learned much from Iraq after all. The desired strategic end state is a non-nuclear Iran. The options before the U.S. at the moment are again focusing on operational questions of air strikes. Airstrikes, for a variety of reasons, are unlikely to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Once again we are discussing operational level solutions to strategic problems. We are bound to be disappointed.
The Stiftung believes that the target sets available can degrade and delay Iranian progress. Depending on the weapons mix, the delay could be significant. (The Stiftung does not believe the United States would be willing to use nuclear weapons for a host of reasons. But as the only power to use them, to do so on yet another non-white populace would present catastrophic backlash to the U.S. beyond immediate comprehension). And the cost of Islamic hostility to the U.S. will be steep. Given our overstretch in Iraq, the size of the Iranian population and American domestic politics, there does not appear to be any military strategic solution.
Read more »
April 08, 2006
ong time Stiftung readers know our contempt for Condi Rice: dishonest, superficial and ineffective. These judgments come from Rice's activities going back into the 1980s.
Then,as now, she enjoyed wholly uncritical media coverage. Her actual work at the national security council under Bush 41, then at Stanford, and in the private sector while a board member of a major American company paints a less flattering portrait. She has always shown the same qualities of a reactive staffer, consumed with appearance over substance. And then, as now, she essentially failed upwards.
According to a board member of this major American company, Condi simply couldn't cut it. Could not synthesize complex data and offer meaningful strategic guidance at the Board Meetings. She undoubtedly radiated 'fabulosity'. But in this unforgiving crucible of results subject to empirical validation, she was in over her head.
As our friends at Global Paradigms note
, Condi is the subject of a bizarre media cult and fawning wonk adoration. Imperial City craven opportunism can explain much. But as important, Condi's policy appeal to many is a deceitful and manufactured artifice. She is a policy Zelig, morphing conveniently into whatever an audience needs: warrior princess, nurturing policy tutor to the infant 43, covert 'Realist' (whatever that term means now in the rather sad and formulaic policy debates), multilateralist, practitioner of coercive diplomacy, etc.
Yet under all the guises, all the photo ops, all the speeches, in the end, Condi is simply vacantly dishonest. Sidney Blumenthal provides a powerful and concise summary of these qualities revealed by her mismanagement of the Middle East Road Map.
Read the whole thing. Sidney closes with this devastating portrait:
The story of the Middle East debacle, like that of the pre-9/11 terrorism fiasco, reveals the inner workings of Bush's White House: the president -aggressive and manipulated, ignorant of his own policies and their consequences, negligent; the secretary of state - proud, instinctively subordinate, constantly in retreat; the vice-president - as Richelieu, conniving, at the head of a neoconservative cabal, the power behind the throne; the national security adviser - seemingly open, even vulnerable, posing as the honest broker, but deceitful and derelict, an underhanded lightweight.
The Stiftung could not have said it better. Yet there is more. Sidney reminded the Stiftung this morning of his latest reporting from the State Department.
Rice is now affirmatively suppressing accurate reporting from Iraq. Moreover:
By reducing the numbers of soldiers the administration can claim its policy is working going into the midterm elections. But the jobs that the military will no longer perform are being sloughed off onto State Department “provincial reconstruction teams” led by Foreign Service officers. The stated rationale is that the teams will win Iraqi hearts and minds by organizing civil functions.
The Pentagon has informed the State Department that it will not provide security for these officials and that State should hire mercenaries for protection instead. Apparently, the U.S. military and the U.S. Foreign Service do not represent the same country in this exercise in nation-building. Internal State Department documents listing the PRT jobs, dated March 30, reveal that the vast majority of them remain unfilled. So Foreign Service employees are being forced to take the assignments, in which “they can't do what they are being asked to do,” as a senior State Department official told me.
One wonders how Rice's cavalier disregard for the security and safety of her own people will be spun by her Amen chorus.
April 07, 2006
ne tawdry intellectual conceit of Imperial City Republicans can now be given a deservedly contemptous burial. I speak of the “If Only The Tsar Knew!” cant spouted by Republicans who opposed the Administration up through 2006 but could not or would not equate their opposition as opposing the President. All the problems were conveniently someone else's fault — Rumsfeld, Feith, Chertoff, Brown, Cheney, “the Neocons”, etc. But if only the President knew, all could be made better.
Intellectual bifurcation allows one to embrace the regime and yet criticize openly. Under the Romanovs, the fine line was to be a mere reformer rather than a target for the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana. Under Bush, the label was 'I am a true conservative' and supporter of the President. Then the segue to blaming whatever ill one sees on another: Feith, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, etc. If one walks that fine line, one can avoid having a career terminated by a ritualistic mau mau from the “Talking Points Police”.
Now even this flimsy facade and bogus intellectual prop lies in tatters. One by one, on the major disasterous decisions and policies of the Administration, Bush himself is and was the engine and source for much that Republicans wish to blame on others.
First, Iraq. It is now increasingly clear that the Neocons did not foist Iraq onto a hapless or inexperienced Bush. While Cambone, Rumsfeld, Feith and others were talking Iraq on September 12th, the record now shows that Bush was already there-- whether for different reasons or not. At Camp David he may have been open to arguments from Powell and others over timing and sequencing. But it was a quesiton of when, not whether. I don't wish to whitewash or exonerate Neocon arm chair violence. Simply recognizing that they may have pushed open the door after September 11th; Bush took the locks off himself.
Bush's role as Neocon-in-chief was clear to almost anyone following matters in 2004. Yet, how many Republicans opposed to the Iraq War insisted that it was all the PNAC agenda? And that Bush was “up for grabs”. Remember how shocked these Republicans were at the Endless War innaugural address? How shocked they were that David Frum was laughing at them?
There is no daylight between Bush the man and the policies in Iraq or the romantic abstraction of democracy, etc.
nd so too with the transformation of national security into a partisan agenda. Scooter's trial offers it seems two lessons today. First, that Bush would use the national security apparatus and institutions like a NIE for narrow tactical partisan political purposes is undeniable. For Republicans drinking the Kool Aid of Imperial Leader in the Twilight Struggle, it is no longer possible to blame Cheney. Or Rove. Bush here debased the national security coinage himself.
Secondly, Bush's famous loyalty is more conceptual than real. He may not fire an incompetent for loyalty reasons. But that is a negative demonstration. Under Bush, loyalty as an affirmative act has real limits. Before Scooter leaked the NIE on orders from above, he wisely sought a legal opinion about it. Unfortunately, Scooter got it from Addington. (“Scooter, the President can kill babies and eat them for breakfast under his inherent authority” ). And Scooter did not get his orders in writing. (The Stiftung actually agrees with the narrow legal reading on Presidential declassification). But here's the rub: when Scooter got caught and went back seeking confirmation that he was under orders, everybody went cold. No statement. Or acceptance of responsibility. That, too is Bush the man.
“If only the Tsar knew!”
He does. He does.
April 05, 2006
uror over the news that the President directed Scooter via Cheney to disclose portions of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) favorable to the Administration is the main story d'jour. But another story that deserves as much attention is testimony by Alberto Gonzales before the House Judiciary Committee on the subject of the Administration's warrantless surveillance activities.
There, Gonzales testified about the now famous disputes within the Administration over the legality of the President's activities. He acknowledged that Newsweek was correct that DoJ under Ashcroft resisted the White House's assertions of legality. But he said most of the disputes involved another matter:
“They [the disputes] did not relate to the program the president disclosed,” he said. “They related to something else and I can't get into that.”
Even staunch Republicans like James Sensenbrenner are tired of White House stonewalling and disdain for Congress. The Administration's 6 year campaign to hide its contempt often lurked behind the bogus claim that Congress could not be trusted not to leak. The Scooter testimony over the NIE puts that facade to rest. Will House Republicans be able to cross the Rubicon and go beyond mere distancing from the White House for election year coverage to principled stand for Congress as a co-equal branch of government? What will it take?
April 04, 2006
ow to reconcile our strands of mobilized and politicized religion in the land with the American liberal democratic experiment and modernism remains the great question of our time. As a political task, it demands statesmanship of both political parties. Can it even be done? What does the past teach us?
To help answer these questions (and as a valid interesting voyage for its own sake), the Stiftung recommends Georgetown professor Michael Kazin's A Godly Hero: The Life of Williams Jennings Bryan
(Knopf, 2006). The Stiftung has had a chance to speak with Professor Kazin and hear his thinking about the book recently. We can vouch for the scholarship and passion he brings to the topic — even while avoiding the trap of hagiography and remaining keenly aware of our present circumstance.
It's an important inquiry. As Collin Hansen wrote, reviewing Kazin's book:
Bryan cast a long shadow on American politics for nearly 20 years, from his first presidential run in 1896 to his brief tenure as Woodrow Wilson's secretary of state until 1915. He rallied the masses against monopolies before Theodore Roosevelt took up the cause. (Bryan stated a democratic, Christian case: “There can be no good monopoly in private hands until the Almighty sends us angels to preside over the monopoly.” He advocated three of the most significant reforms of the early 20th century—direct election of senators, the federal income tax, and women's suffrage. And he argued for federal welfare before Franklin Roosevelt unveiled the New Deal. Bryan believed Christian faith compelled him to support these policies, which he argued would uplift the downtrodden.
From this Kazin examines the various strands of Christianity in America at the time. And Kazin is careful to note where and how Bryan's popular moralism was based on a view of conservative Protestant domination. His Christian moralism failed to woo some of that time's progressive elites, and he also didn't succeed with evangelicals. As Hansen notes about Kazin's research, “then as now, many middle-class evangelicals—especially in the Midwest—tended toward the Republican Party.” Yet for all that, Bryan was not only an intensely popular and successful American political figure, but perhaps the best personification of progressive populism and religious outreach.
f Michael Kazin's book recalls important American history, it is also worth asking where is Christianity today. The question is beyond a blog post, of course. But a microcosm as example is perhaps worth discussing. As reported by Elizabeth Castelli
, last week in the Imperial City, “The War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006,” sponsored by Vision America took place. Vision America is an organization committed to the project of “restoring the original American vision.” Vision America religious officials write books such as “Liberalism Kills Kids”. What happened in DC last week? Castelli's eyewitness account:
Striking for anyone with some knowledge of the history of Christianity are the remarkable parallels between the rhetoric of contemporary conservative Christians and that of their second- and third-century predecessors. Making connections between religious deviance, sexual deviance, and cultural spectacle is nothing new in Christian rhetoric...The sex panic of contemporary culture wars is a clear echo of a centuries-old Christian rhetorical strategy.
The core theme was and is the bogus premise that there is a war on Christianity. Interestingly, speaker after speaker denounced other Christians who did not embrace their apocalyptic and Manichean world view. Those Christian churches are “the devil’s demilitarized zone,” naïvely and fatally embracing “peace at any price.” Laurence Wright, a Lutheran pastor and co-president of Vision America, declared that “the time of a peaceful and contemplative Christianity is over; that Christians have been AWOL (“absent without Lord”) in the battle; and that “We must attack the evil now where it is strongest” in order to restore America.” There were almost no invocations of Christian love. The overriding message was “loud and unwavering bellicose righteousness”, with calls for the (one hopes only rhetorical) gang rape and murder of those who did agree with them.
In one sense, although its beligerance and militancy may be somewhat new, one could argue that American history has seen periodic surges of such fears and concerns. What Elizabeth A. Castelli's report makes clear, however, is that this 'Total War' Christian militarization does not harken back to an American grounding. Instead, it is a renewed ideological phenomenon similar to that which raged within Christianity in the Second and Third Centuries. The goal? To create a new orthodoxy within and across Christianity. The means? In Castelli's memorable phrase, “Total War” against secular and deviationist polititical and social institutions.
And here are the limits perhaps of Bryan as a mirror for contemporary analogies. Kazin as a historian presents his research wholly within Bryan's time and without allegory. That discussion comes outside Kazin's work. But to do so, one must recognize that Christianity has molted as much as America since Bryan's death. The Total War Christians in the Imperial City last week would likely denounce Bryan as an enemy to Christianity as much as the ACLU or Hollywood.
For Democrats pondering outreach or those Republicans seeking to save their own party, it is likely that 'Total War' militant Christians can not be bargained with, reasoned with, or coopted. Their agenda of 'Total War' is even more reactionary than repealling 1789.
A Bryan conversation might help form peel off strategies. Working with and outreaching to mainstream Christian strands while isolating and relegating calls for Christian 'Total War' extremism to the angry fringes. Democrats and Enlightenment Republicans must learn to speak with, to and for religious perspectives. But they must have help. Within Christianity itself there must be more willingness to combat, deal with and isolate the 'Total War' extremists and others hiding behind their religion for destructive political purposes.
April 03, 2006
ndrew Sullivan posts an item about Imperial City think thanks being bought for by corporate interests.
Should you be alarmed? Yes and no. Yes, it is real. And no, it is unfortunately nothing new.
From the Stiftung's experience, It is certainly true that most (but not all) think tanks are sensitive to and dependent upon donors — institutional and individual — for operating funds and cash flow. Some acutely so. But even the most venerable and endowed institutions, with their own buildings, etc,. face the pressues to secure sponsorship as the newest of the new. This is beyond whether Doug Bandow at CATO was subborned by Jack Abramoff, etc. Rather we are looking at the institutional political economy.
Depending on what sector the think tank or association might be, grants from foundations and the government are one means of securing headcount and programmatic activity. But most entities in the Imperial City eventually succumb to seeking out industry. Contrary to public perception, corporate public policy budgets in the Imperial City have not kept pace with demands. This means that associations and think tanks often compete against each other to demontrate 'compatible' (wink, wink) agendas.
The Stiftung has seen how these conversations evolve, including discussions of research, communications and PR to staffing and even lobbying. Although some associations are known as 501(c)(6) entities under the IRS code and permitted to lobby, even some think tanks classified as 501(c)(3) tax exempt (and thus expressly forbidden to lobby) do it in all but name. How to mix all this within an entities' activities and sponsorship interests is frequently a daily calculus in think tanks and associations, although denied vigorously and vehemently in public.
Depending on industry sector, the relationship between research and media output and sponsorship agenda is an open secret. This is particularly true in areas like telecom and tech policy, where associations and think tanks are routinely known by the roster of their members or contributors. And the entities are thus known to speak for and agititate for the agenda of a particular corporate group.
The Stiftung has raised significant amounts of money from corporations and corporate interests for such entities in this space. And when in industry we have been solicited for money by think tanks (including some famous entities that may or may not be responsible for the mess in Iraq) for even more when we were in other roles. So of course this goes on.
Read more »
April 02, 2006
ecent news reports of Iran's testing of a Russian hyper (or 'super') cavitating anti-ship missile (see Defense Tech
for an excellent summary write-up) naturally play up the symbolic impact on current U.S.-Iranian nuclear policy tensions. But the Iranians are also giving the U.S. a broader timely wake-up call. Will we listen?
At issue are core strategic U.S. concepts enshrined in our multi-trillion dollar defense posture since 2001. Under Rumsfeld and as codified more fully in the latest 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), U.S. strategy calls for a new 'expeditionary' force and mindset capable of flexible and surge deployments across the Eurasia littoral. Acceptance of the QDR's 'tranformational' ideology is not complete within the Pentagon — skepticism remains most notably in the Army and Marines. Debate over lessons learned from Iraq is aesopian code speak over the validity of Rumsfeld's insistance on lighter and allegedly more agile forces for our future. Doctrine aside, an even tougher battleground is in changing the nuts and bolts of R&D, procurement and associated budgets.
According to noted defense intellectual John Arquilla and others, technologies like hyper-cavitation call into question keys aspects of U.S. force projection strategy. In particular, the Iranian test should underscore that the very definition of what 'seapower' will be in the 21st century is changing. These new technologies allow powers like Iran or China rapid and powerful new means of asserting sea control, sea denial and access denial strategies against the U.S. which, despite the rhetoric of change and technology, remains trapped in 20th century concepts.
In the QDR's 92-pages
[The] document calls for $84 billion of weapons spending — mostly for items like the F-22 and F-35 fighters, DD(X) and LCS warships, and the CVN-21, the Navy's next-generation supercarrier, which will start construction in 2007 and be bigger than today's Nimitz-class carriers. Thus, despite a 15 percent increase in Special Forces and investments in new systems such as drone aircraft, overall, the Pentagon continues to embrace military gigantism.
would note that using technologies such as hyper cavitation, the Iranian and Chinese answer would be:
JA: The lessons here include: how many British submarines did it take to pen up the entire Argentine navy [during the Falklands War]? Two. Simultaneously, the Exocet missile proved the slow-moving capital ship's vulnerability. Today, the Chinese aren't developing aircraft carrier battle groups, but brilliant sea-going mines that know how to maneuver, supersonic anti-ship missiles — which means the Falklands War on steroids — and super-cavitation torpedoes, which create a bubble of air in front of the torpedo, letting them move at hundreds of knots per hour. The Chinese have an explicit “swarming” doctrine that can best be characterized as sea power without a navy. R
In this new naval antagonism that's emerging, our potential enemies are not trying to emulate what we're doing. Instead, they're innovating in very thoughtful, effective ways. The point that was emerging in sea warfare even 24 years ago in the Falklands War was that these smart new weapons with great range and high accuracy would allow one to fight at greater distances, not closer distances. Given that, it beggars the imagination that the U.S. Navy has a fleet of ships that will burn to the waterline when hit, and yet their doctrine today calls for them to go in and fight at eyeball range. The whole thing is driven by the idea that the U.S. Navy has no big, “blue-water” opponent out there, so we have to learn to fight in close. . . It's a terribly wrong headed doctrine.
ussian military and technological cooperation with Beijing is even more highly developed than with Tehran. Chinese use and deployment of hyper cavitating technologies therefore is more advanced. The Stiftung never went to language training for Farsi, so we don't know how to say 'thank you' properly to the Iranians. Larger policy issues of the current stand off with Iran aside, this small episode helps to highlight how we can learn about and re-think potentially larger structural flaws within our strategic thinking and associated procurement strategies.
If we will listen.
n item in the Jerusalem News Wire
echoes the typical alarmist warnings from Geostrategies Direct. The meme now is that “Washington Israel's image as a strong, self-reliant ally is beginning to tarnish amid plans for an additional surrender of land and a clear hesitancy to fully crush the threat of Palestinian Arab terror.”
Here, Israeli weakness is threatening Western civilization and the GWOT (tm). “When it became evident Israel would not militarily defeat the current ”Palestinian“ terror campaign and a program of ”disengagement“ was proposed as an alternative that perception was drastically altered, said a leading US analyst with close ties to the White House.”
Israeli weakness will now be blamed for the U.S. failure in Iraq. The Jerusalem News Wire story quotes “a senior Bush aide” as saying in a conversation with a leading Republican House member:
“Israel screwed us up with its unilateral withdrawal plan because this is what is expected of us in Iraq.” But that position was not vocalized publically because “we can't be seen as intervening.”
And so the drive to paint Kadima's victory in the recent elections as further driving the US into the arms of its Muslim neighbors begins. The line? Kadima's policies are increasingly seen as a liability instead of the Likudnik's line of 'a stalwart and capable partner in the battle against global Islamic terror. '
Horowitz and the Frontpage types had been preparing this line since last August. Again citing Geostrategies-Direct, Frontpage wrote back then
[U.S. Represenative Dan] Burton then introduced into the record an assessment by a former Israeli diplomat, Yoram Ettinger, who served in Washington and as consulate-general in Houston during the 1990s. The assessment warned that the Israeli pullout could create a terrorist regime that could turn the Palestinians into an international threat against the United States as well as against such allies as Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
“Disengagement is perceived, by the Mideast, as cut and run, appeasement and cave-in, in sharp contrast to U.S. war on terrorism,” the assessment said. “No negotiation with - and no concession to - terrorists; no ceasefire with, but destruction, of terrorist regimes; no political, but military solution, to terrorism.” [emphasis added]
nd to make matters worse — from that perspective, at least — all this Israeli weakness also throws another wrench in the plan to orchestrate militaristic fever over the Iranian nuclear issue. At least in the near future. For that not-so-small mercy, we should all be grateful.