Just Above Sunset
August 20, 2006 - Everything Turns Sour in the Heat













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It's August, the dog days of summer, so not the time to be too serious (or is that Sirius?) In case you don't remember, in the summer, Sirius, the "dog star," rises and sets with the sun. During late July Sirius is in conjunction with the sun, and early astronomers believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of hot and just nasty, uncomfortable weather. They named this period of time, from twenty days before the conjunction to twenty days after, the "dog days" - after the Dog Star. There are a few more days to go.

But here we see that August is the
Worst Month Ever - August has failed us.

 

The contention - "August sucks. Need proof? Look around you. Liquids are being banned from airliners. Californians are dropping dead from heat. Princeton professor Bernard Lewis has predicted the apocalypse for August 22. What's not to hate?"

Princeton professor Bernard Lewis predicted what? There's a discussion of that
here. His thoughts appeared on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. We all could die. That editorial page under Paul Gigot has gotten pretty strange. The news - the reporting - is first rate. The editorial page is just wacky. The word on the street is that the current owners, Dow Jones, will be selling the paper to Rupert Murdoch, who will no doubt turn it into the print version of Fox News - fair and balanced and all that. The reporters will all probably move on, sensing what they'll have to do. Ah well, the apocalypse will shift from the opinion page to the news pages. That's for next August, perhaps. In any event, Princeton professor Bernard Lewis seems to have spent too much time in the August sun this year. It got to him. (For a dissenting view, scroll down to the footnote at the end of the column.)

As for August, conceptually if you will, in 2001 David Plotz said it's just a crappy month.

 

His evidence - "August is when the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when Anne Frank was arrested, when the first income tax was collected, when Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe died. Wings and Jefferson Airplane were formed in August. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuted in August. (No August, no Sonny and Cher!)"

That's a thought. No Sonny and Cher. And his idea was to cut August - to ten days only. That would be quite enough - "Purists will insist that we shouldn't tinker with the months, that August should be left alone because it has done workmanlike service for 2,000 years. That's nonsense."

So let's just say it's September. The "worst month ever" writer is on board with that - "Recent history has only made the need for August reform more urgent. August 2003 saw the New York blackouts. August 2004 took Rick James from us. Then, August 2005 did its worst with Hurricane Katrina. It may be too late to salvage 2006. But there is still time to prevent an August 2007 from ever happening."

Rick James aside - he used to be pretty dangerous behind you, glassy-eyed in his big black SUV a half inch off your rear bumper coming down twisty Laurel Canyon Boulevard into Hollywood - August seems to be an awful month. Maybe it is time to change the calendar.

The president, of course, is having a bad August, as noted in
this item in the New York Times (August 15, Thom Shanker and Mark Mazzetti, with Jim Rutenberg).

It seems on Monday the 14th the president had a long lunch at the Pentagon with his "war cabinet" and selected outside experts (there's an effort to get him outside the bubble). It was private but the Times reporters talked to people who were there, and found out what went on. They said the president made it clear he was "concerned" about the lack of progress in Iraq and really, really frustrated that the new Iraqi government, although he refused to criticize the new prime minister we've got there, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He did ask each of the outside academic experts for their assessment of the prime minister's effectiveness, but didn't say what he thought.

But the thing that really caught people's attention was that he was really disappointed with the Iraqi people - those ungrateful and strange folks had not shown the appropriate public support for the American mission. After all we had done for them he just didn't understand what their problem was.

 

It made no sense to him -

 

More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. "I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States," said another person who attended.

 

Well, it's pretty clear he just doesn't understand his own foreign policy, or doesn't attend to the details of what we've done and who we've aligned with, or maybe never knew because he leaves that sort of thing to his subordinates - but he's trying to get a handle in this, on why things are not as they're really supposed to be, or what he's been told they are. It's a start.

Others aren't so kind. On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman from Florida and now host of Scarborough Country, the same day as the Times piece ran a twelve-minute segment - "Is Bush an Idiot?"

 

Those words were on the screen the whole time (video of it all here and transcript here).

Now that was odd. That idea had moved from the lefties - or at least from Linda Ronstadt and the Dixie Chicks - to the center-right (and Joe is a bit right of center). The concept can now actually be discussed on national television, and Lawrence O'Donnell and John Fund discussed it with Joe. Even Bush-backer Fund admitted the man really does sound like an idiot - but then it may be just that he has a language problem that makes him incapable of articulating his thoughts. The other two weren't buying that.

August is an awful time. Add this television discussion to the list.

As for what the Times reported about that ninety minute lunch meeting, they did say the president appeared "serious and engaged" - and there was "lengthy discussion" of the political, ethnic, religious and security "challenges" in Iraq.

 

So maybe he's not an idiot, but they all said he "showed no signs of veering from the administration's policies." As they stand up, we stand down, so it's very simple. And there's no civil war there either.

And one participant - Carole A. O'Leary, a professor at American University who does work in Iraq on a State Department grant - said the president insisted that "the Shia-led government needs to clearly and publicly express the same appreciation for United States efforts and sacrifices as they do in private." They need to be publicly thankful, damn it. They say nice things to me face-to-face. Why won't they say those things to everyone else?

The answer is pretty obvious - you don't insult the man with the big club and short temper to his face. You make nice, no matter what you really think. Small talk is not diplomacy, nor is it policy. He doesn't get it. He's a simple man. Complicity confounds him. And it's just not fair.

Actually, that's more dangerous to us all than deciding he's an idiot.

 

People are fond of Forrest Gump simplicity, and they embrace it (Tom Hanks was so charming) - but they laugh at idiots. Being "a simple man" inoculates him. We'll accept the lovable scamp who understands very little but triumphs, but not the moron who screws everything up and ruins things. The trouble is that more and more he looks less like the former, and more like that latter. Remember August gave us Sonny and Cher.

The Pentagon lunch meeting - private but with careful leaks - was to help keep the latter view (moron) from gaining too very much traction. You see, folks, he really is thoughtful.

But even here there had to be
damage control, the White House flatly denying that the president is frustrated with Iraqis and with their prime minister - and, by the way, Iraq has not slipped into civil war. Not at all -

 

"We don't expect him to be an overnight success in dealing with all these problems - nobody can be. But the president certainly supports Prime Minister Maliki," countered White House spokesman Tony Snow.

"You've got a government that is brand new," Snow told reporters. "This is a guy who has a series of challenges before him with his government, and the president is impressed not only by his determination to get the job done, but the fact is that he is working aggressively to do these things."

Bush believes that "when you're facing a situation, you don't sit around and get frustrated. You figure out how to get the job done," said Snow. "The president is somebody who's intensely practical about these things."

 

The short form - he's just a simple, practical man who wants to fix problems - and, by the way, Americans "don't see are the operations ongoing, the apprehensions of terrorists, the seizure of weapons caches, all of which are going on on a daily basis."

So things are fine. And no one is reporting that. It's just August madness, perhaps. People think too much. It's bad for them, and for everyone.

People are certainly thinking too much about last week's airline bombing plot - the big August story (so far).

First there was NBC News with
this, reporting that the timing of both the arrests and the announcement of the plot was a subject of real clash between the British and the Americans -

 

A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.

... The British official said the Americans also argued over the timing of the arrest of suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf in Pakistan, warning that if he was not taken into custody immediately, the U.S. would "render" him or pressure the Pakistani government to arrest him.

 

Ned Lamont has just defeated the White House's favorite Democrat, Senator Joe Lieberman, in the Connecticut primary - and it was a Eugene McCarthy moment. The population was turning on the war government, just like back in 1968 - something had to be done. A victory was necessary. Lieberman had been, for the last year or more, saying all the other Democrats were fools and idiots - Iraq was a great success and any who disagreed with the president was doing great harm to the country and aiding our enemies. And the voters tossed him out. On top of that, at the time Hezbollah was just not folding in southern Lebanon and this particular demonstration project to remake the Middle East looked like a bust. A "big scare" and "we got the bad guys (and the Democrats didn't)" was necessary, immediately.

The threat was interesting too - arrest the ringleader or we'll kidnap him and no one will ever hear from him, or of him, again, and you'll be without anything - or we'll have the Pakistanis arrest him and you'll look like fools and wimps. This was hardball.

And now no one is saying anything about the plot. There are a lot of hard feelings, one would assume.

And then there was the plot itself. James Galbraith in The Nation has been thinking about that, and has some thoughtful
observations -

 

No bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground.

... Apparently, not one ticket had been purchased by the detainees.

... [And] you need something else. It's a document called a passport. Apparently, some of the detainees don't have them.

... Finally, confessions. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested [and] they will have a chance to make an uncoerced statement of their intentions in open court. By then the authorities will have found the labs, testing grounds, airline tickets and passports. Credible witnesses too will have emerged. By then the young zealots will have no expectation of acquittal or mercy, and nothing to lose. We may therefore confidently expect them to face the judges and declare exactly what their motives and intentions were.

If they do that, I'll eat my hat.

 

There may be no case. That extra week would have been helpful. Damn you, Ned Lamont! And the Connecticut voters just messed everything up - or something like that.

And then there's Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, with
this -

 

Many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year.

... Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests. Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance.

... We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for "Another 9/11". The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shoveled.

 

And then of course there's this - the Guardian (UK), reporting that the testimony of Rashid Rauf, the British citizen who was picked up in Pakistan, is suspect since it came only after he had been "broken" under torture.

 

It's inadmissible. For centuries British law - all western law in fact - say you cannot use such evidence. You just cannot tell whether his testimony real - factual in any way - or if he just telling his interrogators whatever he thought they wanted to hear to stop the pain. (The administration is working hard to make us the first country in modern times to allow torture confessions to be admissible as factual evidence in legal procedures - juts like in the days of the Spanish Inquisition.)

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly looks at all this and
concludes -

 

As little a year or two ago I would have rolled my eyes at the idea that even the timing of the arrests was politically motivated, let alone the possibility that the plot itself was being exaggerated. But today? I don't know. I can only quote Teresa Nielsen Hayden yet again: "I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist."

Beyond that I'll just say this: there better not turn out to be even a shred of evidence that any part of this was exaggerated or timed or hyped for any reason that's not related with absolute certainty to the requirements of the police and counterterrorist community. Bush and Blair better be purer than Caesar's wife on this one.

 

We'll see.

But the skeptic (one who thinks too much) who caused the greatest buzz was Andrew Sullivan with
this -

 

So far, no one has been charged in the alleged terror plot to blow up several airplanes across the Atlantic. No evidence has been produced supporting the contention that such a plot was indeed imminent. Forgive me if my skepticism just ratcheted up a little notch. Under a law that the Tories helped weaken, the suspects can be held without charges for up to 28 days. Those days are ticking by. Remember: the British authorities had all these people under surveillance; they did not want to act last week; there was no imminent threat of anything but a possible "dummy-run [and] Bush and Blair discussed whether to throw Britain's airports into chaos over the weekend before the crackdown occurred.

 

He also quotes from the Craig Murray item, noting that Murray "was Tony Blair's ambassador to Uzbekistan whose internal memo complaining about evidence procured by out-sourced torture created a flap a while back."

 

And he selects this -

 

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.

… We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why?

 

Sullivan adds this -

 

I'd be interested in the number of plotters who had passports. How could they even stage a dummy-run with no passports? And what bomb-making materials did they actually have? These seem like legitimate questions to me; the British authorities have produced no evidence so far. If the only evidence they have was from torturing someone in Pakistan, then they have nothing that can stand up in anything like a court. I wonder if this story is going to get more interesting. I wonder if Lieberman's defeat, the resilience of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the emergence of a Hezbollah-style government in Iraq had any bearing on the decision by Bush and Blair to pre-empt the British police and order this alleged plot disabled. I wish I didn't find these questions popping into my head. But the alternative is to trust the Bush administration.

Been there. Done that. Learned my lesson.

 

Yep, he was one of those "all for the war and those who aren't for the war are traitors" types way back when. Fool me once, shame on me - fool me twice, shame on you. (See the president's version of that here.)

So people really are thinking too much. And that makes things fall apart, and it makes the main thing fall apart, as Josh Marshall notes
here (emphases added) -

 

Everybody and their brother - at least anyone who has any sense and isn't on the payroll of the GOP - has been saying for years that our occupation of Iraq has nothing to do with fighting radical Islamists who want to commit mass casualty terrorist attacks in the US and around the world.

'Nothing' is a very big word. Clearly, there is a relationship. Indeed, I think there's a pretty solid argument to be made that our invasion and occupation of Iraq has expanded the pool of terrorist recruits. And in other indirect ways with Iraq and international terrorism, we are all blind men touching different parts of the same elephant. But on the basic ground of 'Is fighting in Iraq helping reduce the threat of terrorism at home?' the answer is clearly 'No'.

And yet, I wonder if this recent terror scare out of London may have actually driven that point home in a new and more resonant way.

Living in a major American city, I take it for granted that my wife and I live under a certain general threat of major terrorist attacks. In that sense I'm not really different from everyone else in the country to this or that degree. Back in late 2001, when I was living in DC and we were in the midst of the Anthrax scare and various reports of sleeper cells in the United States, I remember having moments where I hoped the FBI and CIA were doing everything imaginable to shut these guys down, whatever the constitution might say.

Now, here's the point I want to focus in on. I want to make a basic distinction between the things we might think or feel impulsively when in the grip of fear and things we really think ought to be done. I never thought we should be torturing people or rounding people up. What I am saying is that I remember the atmosphere of those days just after 9/11 and the primal gut instincts that made part of me wish those things were happening.

It now seems that even this London bomb plot may not be all it's cracked up to be. But it did give me a moment of that gut level fear. And in that moment, as much as I've thought what I've thought about Iraq, I'm not sure I ever felt as clearly how completely beside the point Iraq is from the real threat we face of deracinated Islamic radicals (in the Muslim world and sprinkled about the West) trying to perpetrate mass terror attacks.

It hit me like a sort of epiphany even though it was a realization of something I and countless others have been saying for years.

I'm curious to know whether anyone else experienced something similar and even more whether anyone else's mind (about Iraq) actually may have been changed.

Is there anyone in the country who can say honestly, in their heart of hearts, that when that moment of fear hit them after the recent reports out of London, they said to themselves, "God, I'm glad we're in Iraq"?

Anyone?

 

Nope. No one.

T. S. Eliot had is wrong. April is not the cruelest month. It's August. And it's not just the death of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, or the birth of the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a long time ago. This year it's something new - the old tricks are not working. There was that "idiot" thing right there on television, being openly discussed, and the big coup - stopping the bomb threat, if that's what it was - had the opposite effect on far too many people. They weren't grateful at all. Yep, the president just won't understand that, but you can't jerk people around forever.

August is a problem, again.


___


Footnote:

Regarding the "end of the world" item by Bernard Lewis in the Wall Street Journal, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds a corrective -

 

Despite the impression left by the gawkers at Gawker, Bernard Lewis is not some nutbag but instead a well-respected Islam expert. Shortly after 9/11, I really enjoyed reading his "Crisis of Islam" - although, since it was an audiobook and I listened to while jogging, it was really a case of Lewis doing the reading while I just listened. He really knows his history and tells it well, although after a while you get the feeling that, in the clash of civilizations, he's definitely rooting for the West.

It's worth noting that, in his WSJ piece, Lewis doesn't say August 22 will be "the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world," only that the Iranian president may have had this in mind when he picked that date as when he will be "giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development."

If it happens, remember that you saw it here first; if it doesn't, then just forget we mentioned it.

 

So noted.































 
 
 
 
Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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