Just Above Sunset
March 5, 2006 - Getting the Details Wrong, and the Concept

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The week of the turmoil of the Dubai ports deal, the president in India cutting a deal to give them the means to produce fifty more nuclear weapons and keep a third of their reactors free from any inspection by anyone, the new Hurricane Katrina tapes showing the administration was told what would happen and pretty much shrugged (the said no one told them), finally closed with a flourish of secondary stories that didn't get that much coverage.

Friday, March 3rd -

Ah, the stories of religion and morality. Missouri is considering a bill making Christianity the state's official religion (discussed here) - but they really way to make it the official "majority religion," so it's not that bad. Following South Dakota's lead, Mississippi is about to ban all abortions (CBS item here) - no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the woman. It's a trend. Over in the UK The Independent reports on what Prime Minister Blair is now saying (here) that God led him to invade Iraq, as it was the Christian thing to do and those are his values. And back here, in Kentucky, state legislators are asked to go on record as to whether they have, personally, "accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." That story is here - a political action group wants each of them on record.

On the other hand, there this - Pat Robertson loses his bid for re-election to the National Religious Broadcasters' board of directors. Yep, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network said our government should assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and said Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had that stroke because God was punishing him for the Gaza pullout. National Religious Broadcasters' board of directors bowed to pressure form the members. Too far is too far.

Ah, the stories of government corruption - San Diego Republican congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham pled guilty to accepting a bit under two and a half million for directly steering contracts to those with cash or antiques or a Rolls or cool yacht for him, and he asked the judge for leniency in his sentencing, as he was really sorry, and eventually confessed to it all, and he's an old guy, and he's ruined anyway, and they took all the goodies away anyway. Friday afternoon he got a record sentence, eight and a half years. On the other hand, the maximum sentence was ten years, so contrition and puppy dog eyes bought him eighteen months off for being really, really sorry.

But the story has a bit of filigree. The CIA Inspector General (here) was forced to reveal that the number three dude at the CIA, one Kyle "Dusty" Foggo (great name), is now under investigation in the matter. One of Cunningham's co-conspirators is tied to the guy. The inquiry is serious enough that Congress was notified of it in writing. So it's a big deal. Foggo (not Frodo) was appointed to his new gig by CIA Director Porter Goss - at present Foggo serves as the Executive Director of the CIA. Before that he was just a lower-level procurement dude in Germany, directing contracting.

What? Well, Porter Goss was a minor congressman from Florida when he was named to fix the CIA - a loyal Republican fundraiser but a bit of a dork. He jumped "Dusty" up to the top of the organization and everyone was quite puzzled. Not subtle.

This smells a bit. Newsweek has more detail here. Something is up.

George "Slam Dunk" Tenet may have been burnt-out and making foolish decisions in his last years running the CIA, but he wasn't involved in taking big bucks to approve fifth-rate work by contractors no one ever heard of. Well, maybe he did that too, but he didn't get caught using the CIA to make his friends rich and his retirement comfortable.

As crooks go, these guys have no class. You're supposed to be sly and sneaky. Amateurs.

And Amateur Hour, or one of the old shows, continued playing out Friday afternoon. As the Washington Post here runs down how the Hurricane Katrina video matter won't die. AP digs up a videotape of Bush, Chertoff and Brown being briefed before the hurricane hit, being told New Orleans was probably going under. Bush and Chertoff look bored, and Brown looks worried. Bush asks no questions, passive and fidgeting. Everyone knows Bush later said he never was told this could happen - "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." Oops. The White issues a point by point defense to all the outrage expressed in the press. More footage shows the former FEMA head, Michael Brown, who had to go, actually raising the alarm. It seems he knew this was a big deal, and he had few resources in the new Homeland Security organization, and he's raising holy hell.

Oops. New storyline. Brown tells CNN he made mistakes and rates his performance as a five on a ten point scale, but he rates the performance of his boss, Chertoff, as a two. (Chertoff was previously a federal prosecutor and had no experience at all running a large organization, so you have to forgive him of course, and he was after all, better than Bush's first choice to run Homeland Security, the high school dropout with mafia ties.) Those of us who also watched Michael Brown on MSNBC's Hardball on Friday saw a vary curious thing - the man was clear, and so was the video and email evidence, and he may have been overwhelmed, but he did his job. He repeated his ratings of his performance and how his boss did. The show's host, Chris Matthews, flat-out apologized to him for how Matthews and the rest of the press mocked him.

Brown was the scapegoat here. And note here, apologies from the most widely-read legal website where they had been on his case, with links to the other sites logs apologizing for what they said about the man, and offering to go back and change all their previous commentary.

And the usual Friday afternoon after-the-presses-have-closed bombshell? That would be this - "In the aftermath of the public revelation of the presidential 'teleconference' and mounting criticism of the performance of Michael Chertoff, Administration sources told HUMAN EVENTS today that the secretary of Homeland Security has 'only a few days left' in the Bush Cabinet."

Human Events may be being jerked around by someone doing selective leaks, of course. But this story is hurting the administration as much as the Dubai ports thing and incipient civil war in Iraq. Mission accomplished, indeed.

But if you're going to release news late Friday afternoon, so no one discusses it in the press, as the networks and cable news shift to sports and, this weekend, the Oscars, then late Friday is when you announce the latest from Guantánamo Bay, which would be this, faced with a court order the United States, after years of refusing, finally released the names of hundreds of detainees held down at Guantánamo –


Human rights activists say this new information should make it easier to piece together the personal histories of the detainees - and for the first time to build a big picture of who is held at the camps, and why they are there.

What the documents do not do is shed light on speculation that there are other prisoners, known as "ghost" detainees, at the camp. If a prisoner at the camp has not had a CSRT [combatant status review tribunal] they will not feature in the transcripts.


Well, if we don't list them, they're not there.

Well, too late in the afternoon, and too late in the week, for the press to cover this, but not too late for the conservative Professor Bainbridge over at UCLA Law. For someone who teaches law at one of the top programs in the nation, he's on the case.

First he links to the Seton Hall analysis of just who we're holding down Guantánamo way (previously discussed in these pages here) –


1.) Fifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.

2.) Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.

3.) The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that in fact, are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist. Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations varies considerably. Eight percent are detained because they are deemed "fighters for;" 30% considered "members of;" a large majority - 60% - are detained merely because they are "associated with" a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of the prisoners, a nexus to any terrorist group is not identified by the Government.

4.) Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.

5.) Finally, the population of persons deemed not to be enemy combatants - mostly Uighers - are in fact accused of more serious allegations than a great many persons still deemed to be enemy combatants.


That's the claim.

Professor Bainbridge has questions


Indefinite internment with limited legal rights is sufficiently foreign to the US' ideals that this report should deservedly add pressure on the Bush administration to justify the Guantánamo detentions. I'm prepared to accept that the GWOT requires indefinite detention of people who pose a real existential threat to the United States, but I'm yet to be convinced that the executive branch should have unreviewable fiat in deciding who is to be indefinitely incarcerated.


Yeah, but he's a lawyer. Most people "feel" these are the worst of the worst. It's a Nancy Grace thing - they wouldn't be locked up forever with no charges and no right to a trial if they weren't guilty.

And as for time the news right so folks don't get prime time to talk about it, the nuclear deal with India at the end of the week, was getting closer attention


In addition to all the predictable reactions (pro and con) to the landmark nuclear agreement reached in India yesterday, a powerful and unexpected new concern has emerged based on a last-minute concession by President Bush.

It appears that, to close the deal during his visit, Bush directed his negotiators to give in to India's demands that it be allowed to produce unlimited quantities of fissile material and amass as many nuclear weapons as it wants.

The agreement, which requires congressional approval, would be an important step toward Bush's long-held goal of closer relations with India. It would reflect India's status as a global power. And, not least of all, it would more firmly establish India as a military ally and bulwark against China.

Critics have long denounced such an agreement, saying it would reward India for its rogue nuclear-weapons program and could encourage other nations to do likewise.

But now the criticisms may focus on this question: By enabling India to build an unlimited stockpile of nuclear weapons, would this agreement set off a new Asian arms race?

And here's another question: Were Bush and his aides so eager for some good headlines - for a change - that they gave away the store?


That's Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post, and he surveys who is saying what, in detail. This will go sour over the weekend. People will have time to think about what just happened.

And then there are the pesky "big thinkers" - as the week ended, Michael Kinsley at SLATE.COM with The Pursuit Of Democracy, What Bush Gets Wrong About Nation-Building, with nuggets like these –


The case for democracy is "self-evident," as someone once put it. The case for the world's most powerful democracy to take as its mission the spreading of democracy around the world is pretty self-evident, too: What's good for us is good for others. Those others will be grateful. A world full of democracies created or protected with our help ought to be more peaceful and prosperous and favorably disposed toward us. That world will be a better neighborhood for us than a world of snarling dictatorships.

... But the case against spreading democracy - especially through military force - as a mission of the U.S. government is also pretty self-evident, and lately it's been getting more so. Government, even democratic government, exists for the benefit of its own citizens, not that of foreigners. American blood and treasure should not be spent on democracy for other people. Or, short of that absolute, there are limits to the blood and treasure that the United States should be expected to spend on democracy elsewhere, and the very nature of war makes that cost hard to predict and hard to limit.

Furthermore, the encouraging discovery that free elections are possible in unexpected places has a discouraging corollary: If tolerance and pluralism and suchlike Western values are not essential preconditions for democratic elections, they are not the necessary result of elections either. By definition, democracy produces a government that the people - or some plurality of the people - want, at least at that moment. But it may not produce the kind of government that we wish they would want, or - more to the point - that we want.


Yep, Hamas wins in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood get big votes in Egypt, our new Shiite theocracy in Iraq with its Kurdish appendage and so on. Kinsley quotes the more realist Henry Kissinger on why we had to get rid of Allende in Chile - "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."

And he gives us this –


Democracy now stands as the only remaining official rationale for the Gulf War (which the administration insists is a battlefield in the larger war against terrorism). This is grimly amusing, given that George W. Bush's Gulf War is really a continuation of his father's, which was in defense of two feudal monarchies and had nothing to do with democracy.


Grimly amusing, indeed.

The same day, in the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, Stephen Biddle offers No, it's not Vietnam. This one's a civil war.


Well, this article is based on an essay in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, as the International Herald Tribune isn't much like USA Today. They print wonk stuff you can discuss down the street at the Flore.

His key points?


U.S. military strategy for Iraq now centers on "Iraqization," the program to equip and train Iraqi security forces to replace American troops. For a Maoist people's war, this would make sense: it would undermine the nationalist component of insurgent resistance, improve intelligence and provide the troops needed for real security.

But in a civil war, Iraqization only throws gasoline on the fire. Sunnis perceive the national security forces as a Shiite-Kurd militia on steroids. They have a point: In an intercommunal conflict, the most effective units are the ones that are communally homogeneous. And if we want an effective Iraqi force anytime soon, it's going to be mostly Shiite and Kurdish.

The bigger and stronger we make national security forces, the more threatened the Sunnis feel, and the harder they are likely to fight back in a struggle that is ultimately about communal self-preservation.

The solution to inter-communal conflicts like this is a constitutional deal wherein each party agrees to ironclad guarantees of shared power that deny any the ability to oppress the others. But a large, powerful, U.S.-armed, U.S.-trained, Shiite-Kurd security force makes any such constitutional deal a fiction.


What to do?


First, we must slow, not accelerate, the growth of Iraqi security forces. Even an Iraqi force with Sunni enlistees is a problem if it precedes, not follows, a constitutional deal. Combat motivation is bound to suffer if mixed Shiite-Sunni units are asked to fight Sunni enemies. And the force we can get in the near term may have few Sunnis despite efforts to recruit them. Either possibility aggravates the real conflict.

Second, we must treat the military future of Iraq as a tool for brokering constitutional compromise, not as a quick ticket home for American troops. That is, we must threaten to throw American military power behind either side in today's civil war as needed to compel the other to compromise.

If the Sunnis refuse to compromise, they must be threatened with full U.S. support for a homogeneous Shiite-Kurd army. If the Sunnis do agree to a compromise, they must be promised U.S. protection from communal rivals until a stable power-sharing deal can ensure their security without us.

Conversely, if the Shiite-Kurd alliance refuses to compromise, they must be threatened with abandonment or even U.S. assistance to their Sunni rivals. If they do compromise, they, too, must be promised sustained American protection until a power-sharing constitution is fully implemented.


But we're doing the opposite. We're still trying to fight the Vietnam War the right way. Our guys are good at what they do, but someone didn't get the difference between Vietnam and Iraq. It's not just that there's a whole lot of sand this time.

So that's how the week ended. Things are fine, except we don't get the details right - church and state, what hurricanes do, what you can't do when someone offers you money to cheat the government, who we lock up forever and "disappear," and all the rest - and in regard to the oddest war we ever fought, and the first elective one, we don't get the concept right.

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

The inclusion of any text from others is quotation for the purpose of illustration and commentary, as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.  See the Legal Notice Regarding Fair Use for the relevant citation.
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