Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Avoiding Connections

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

You Cannot Connect the Dots You Refuse to See

Monday, February 5, the week opened with the important news - the president's new budget, the one he is proposing to congress. These sorts of things are rather theatrical - the administration gets to show it really knows what it is doing, and that they are good stewards of the money provided by the people, and provided by the governments of other countries, financing what the taxpayers cannot provide, happily buying our long-term bonds. Someday those loans will have to be repaid, with interest, but we can do that by selling more of those promises at whatever interest rate we can tolerate.  There's no reason that cycle cannot go on forever.

Much has been said about the new budget (the link is to the BBC explanation). There's a lot to say, as the new budget has some strange assumptions and will be disassembled and examined closely by the House and Senate, both now in the hands of the opposition party.  When you're talking about 2.9 trillion dollars being spent in one year you're not talking chump change.  And somehow, two years after the next president has taken office, there will be a surplus, if things go just right. And there's also room in there to make all the massive tax cuts for those earning over two hundred thousand a year quite permanent.  Keeping that five percent of the population unburdened is important, somehow.  And those with estates over ten million would be perpetually freed of the inheritance tax, so their children and grandchildren would never have to work at all, and they all could be like Paris Hilton.  That's the plan.

Skepticism is now natural in these matters.  But in as far as the next fiscal year goes - starting in October as that's when the federal budget year begins - we're talking about seven hundred billion in new military spending, and one third of that seven hundred billion in new military spending going to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. If congress does approve the new budget, and the president gets what he wants, the United States would have spent 661.9 billion on combat in Iraq and Afghanistan since the war began, and that's not left-wing whining.  That's the administration's own number. The former assertion about the wars costing relatively little, and Iraq financing its own reconstruction from its massive oil revenues, somehow didn't work out.  Some plans just don't work out, of course. But this one - the new budget - will, or so we are told.  Hey - these guys have to get something right sometime.  It could happen. 

But this is not all good news, as some will get the short end of the stick -

    President George W. Bush proposed cutting $78 billion from U.S. health spending over five years, setting up a potential fight with congressional Democrats.

    The $701 billion budget for the Department of Health and Human Services that Bush sent to Congress today includes $66 billion in cuts over five years from Medicare, which provides health insurance for 43 million Americans. Bush also would cut $12 billion from Medicaid for the poor and from a program that provides health insurance for low-income children.

That may be for the greater good, but did produce a rant or two, like this sputtering -

    We are among the wealthiest nations on the planet.  America is a good place, or it should be... but Bush is bankrupting it, wearing it down, letting those who have no health care and can't afford it drown and be washed away as if they are but litter in the wake of a flood.

    The Iraq war is a veritable black hole for funds... and blood.  It has a never-ending thirst for the blood of US soldiers, and the blood of innocent Iraqis.  Every day, the news brings fresh horrors.

    It's things like this that make my stomach hurt, and make me swear that I will never, ever trust ANY politician - namely, any Democrat - who thinks this war needs to go on.  Stop fucking around, you lawmakers, because there IS no reason for the bloodshed, there never WAS a reason for the bloodshed, and you CANNOT justify this spending.

    End it.  NOW.

It's really not going to end, and everyone knows it.

The same day brought evidence of that -

    Republicans Block Senate Debate on Iraq

    WASHINGTON - Republicans blocked a full-fledged Senate debate over Iraq on Monday, but Democrats vowed they would eventually find a way to force President Bush to change course in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops.

In short, the Republicans used a procedural maneuver - they said they were starting a filibuster to block discussion of the matter and make sure any debate on our policies in Iraq would never start. Cloture - a vote forcing them to stop blocking discussion of our war policies - required sixty votes. There weren't sixty votes. Two Republican senators broke rank and voted for cloture, but there was a break on the other side.  The somewhat Democratic senator, Joe Lieberman, voted against cloture.  He wants no debate on any of this, as his position comes down to saying, over and over, that any disagreement with the president on any matter at all gives "aid and comfort to our enemies" - and that is how treason is defined in the constitution. You don't even tell the president his dog Barney just puked on the carpet - al Qaeda will think we're not all in this effort together, with all our heart and soul, supporting the man who is leading us.  Lieberman is funny that way.

So there will be no discussion in the Senate of what we're doing and why, of what might work better, of what new direction the country might take.  It's not so much these folks are saying that's just not their job - a rather indefensible position given the mandate of their office to advise and consent. It is really most probable that many of them are up for reelection in 2008 and going on the record one way or the other - escalating the Iraq war is a fine idea, or escalating the war is spectacularly stupid - is real trouble. Trouble can be avoided.  You don't go looking for it.  The idea is that it will be far easier to remain in office for another six years if you can say to your constituents that the matter just never came up. No matter how the war goes you're covered. It doesn't occur to them that their constituents might ask a far more embarrassing question - "So what exactly did you do for the last six years?"  You cross that bridge when you come to it.

The previous week James Fallows in the Atlantic had argued that it hardly matters - the questions may be hard, but there's the other real issue -

    Deciding what to do next about Iraq is hard - on the merits, and in the politics. It's hard on the merits because whatever comes next, from "surge" to "get out now" and everything in between, will involve suffering, misery, and dishonor. It's just a question of by whom and for how long. On a balance-of-misery basis, my own view changed last year from "we can't afford to leave" to "we can't afford to stay." And the whole issue is hard in its politics because even Democrats too young to remember Vietnam know that future Karl Roves will dog them for decades with accusations of "cut-and-run" and "betraying" troops unless they can get Republicans to stand with them on limiting funding and forcing the policy to change.

    By comparison, Iran is easy: on the merits, in the politics. War with Iran would be a catastrophe that would make us look back fondly on the minor inconvenience of being bogged down in Iraq. While the Congress flounders about what, exactly, it can do about Iraq, it can do something useful, while it still matters, in making clear that it will authorize no money and provide no endorsement for military action against Iran.

But it probably won't do anything there either.

And as mentioned last week it's not hard to see what coming.

Fallows -

    Think of the three ways war between the United States and Iran might start.

    One is the surprise, "surgical" air operation against Iranian nuclear facilities to take them out before they cause too much trouble. This option is beloved of the kind of tough-guy op-ed writers who earlier cheered on a war with Iraq. It is not at all beloved within the U.S. military. That is because military officials know what would happen roughly five minutes after the attacks were over: a short-term effort to make things really difficult for Americans in Iraq (where Iran obviously has huge leverage), in world energy markets, and everywhere else - plus a long-term, renewed effort to build Iran's own bomb.

    The second option would be land war. Please. Iran is nearly four times as large and has nearly three times as many people as Iraq. With what army will the U.S. attack and occupy such a state?

    And the third would be some kind of drift into war, Cuban Missile Crisis-style. Threats and bombast on both sides, hair-trigger preparations, each side hurrying to strike because it thinks it's too dangerous to wait for the other side to strike first. (Come to think of it, wasn't this the essence of the "National Security Strategy" the Bush administration laid out in 2002, with its concept of "preventive" war?) For the likely consequences, see Option One.

What can be done to eliminate those three options?

Out here, in the Los Angeles Times, Leonard Weiss, senior science fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and Larry Diamond, senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, have at it -

    Iran is still years away from being a nuclear threat, and our experience with "preventive war" in Iraq should teach us a thing or two. Launching another such war without international approval would leave us even more politically isolated and militarily overstretched. Attacking a Middle Eastern country - one much stronger than Iraq and with the ability to cut off oil supplies from the Strait of Hormuz - could inflame the region, intensify Shiite militia attacks on our soldiers in Iraq and stimulate terrorist attacks on Americans and U.S. interests worldwide.

    But recklessness, not prudence, has been the hallmark of this administration's foreign policy. Beyond this, the president and vice president subscribe to what some call the "unitary executive," which is a fancy way of saying they believe that Congress cannot prevent the president from doing almost anything he wants. The 1973 War Powers Act, passed in the wake of our disastrous war in Vietnam, allows the president to put U.S. troops in a combat situation under certain conditions before obtaining any congressional authorization to do so. When Bush signed the Iraq war resolution, he issued a statement challenging the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, indicating that he could take the nation to war without obeying its restrictions. Unfortunately, even if the president were to agree to the act's restrictions, he could still attack Iran and have up to 90 days before being required to get congressional authorization for the attack.

    What to do? Congress should not wait. It should hold hearings on Iran before the president orders a bombing attack on its nuclear facilities, or orders or supports a provocative act by the U.S. or an ally designed to get Iran to retaliate, and thus further raise war fever.
    Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has warned the administration that it had better seek congressional authorization for any attack on Iran. But we need Senate and House hearings now to put the Bush administration on notice that, in the absence of an imminent military attack or a verified terrorist attack on the United States by Iran, Congress will not support a U.S. military strike on that country. Those hearings should aim toward passage of a law preventing the expenditure of any funds for a military attack on Iran unless Congress has either declared war with that country or has otherwise authorized military action under the War Powers Act.

    The law should be attached to an appropriations bill, making it difficult for the president to veto. If he simply claims that he is not bound by the restriction even if he signs it into law, and then orders an attack on Iran without congressional authorization for it, Congress should file a lawsuit and begin impeachment proceedings.

The italics are added. But this is a real argument for impeachment, coming from the ultra-right Hoover Institute, of all places.

Kevin Drum adds a filigree -

    Diamond, obviously, has more than the usual insight into how the Bush administration thinks and acts, since Condi Rice chose him to advise the CPA on Iraqi development in early 2004. His conclusion: the administration plans to bomb Iran and plans to do it whether Congress likes it or not. Listen up, Democrats.

Oh my. Someone else is connecting the dots.

Weiss and Diamond -

    It is, of course, possible that the president's truculent language and actions toward Iran are a bluff, an attempt to rein in its irresponsible behavior.

    But the administration's mendacious and incompetent course of action in taking the nation to war with Iraq gives us no reason to provide the president with the benefit of any doubt. And stiffening economic sanctions - at a time when Iran's economy is ailing and the regime is losing popular support - offers a better and safer prospect of exerting leverage.

    Another war of choice would only pour fuel on the fires of the Middle East. And the history of this administration shows that if Congress does not constrain this president, he could well act recklessly again, in ways that would profoundly damage our national interest.

And a reaction to that -

    Setting aside the morality and legality of attacking Iran without provocation (or a trumped up provocation), the situation is even more dangerous today than it was in 2002 when they started the insane drumbeat for war with Iraq without any real justification. This time, the president of the United States is both a proven liar and proven incompetent. You can't predict what kind of miscalculations people can make when dealing with a superpower that has this kind of reputation and track record. Needless provocation is the last thing the US should be doing right now.

Well, you could, as Christy Hardin Smith suggests, write your congressman or senator -

    But there is something to stop them. A welling up of sentiment from the voters of this nation, so strong that it cannot be ignored.  If ever there were a time to stand up and be counted - to tell your elected representatives exactly how you feel and why - this is it.

That may not be exactly how things work these days.  Exxon-Mobile might write. Joe Citizen doesn't matter much.

And there's the reality of the situation -

    As Bush and Cheney get more and more unpopular, their legacy becomes more and more predicated on the fact that they did the unpopular thing for the greater good. The more unpopular they get the more they have to prove.

How do you fight that?

Maybe the folks in the UK can help -

    A coalition of charities, faith groups and unions has warned Tony Blair that any military action against Iran would have "unthinkable" consequences.

    The organisations are urging the prime minister to put pressure on the US to enter talks with Tehran.

    The US has refused to rule out military action if Iran does not halt its nuclear activities.

    Former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons warned that time was "running out" to stop Iran becoming nuclear-armed.

    In the report, Time to Talk: The Case for Diplomatic Solutions on Iran, the coalition accuses Mr Blair of using the prospect of military action as a negotiating tool.

    Launching the report, former Labour minister Stephen Twigg, director of the Foreign Policy Centre, said: "The consequences of military action against Iran are not only unpalatable; they are unthinkable.

    "Even according to the worst estimates, Iran is still years away from having a nuclear weapon.

    "There is still time to talk and the prime minister must make sure our allies use it."

Like George listens to Tony? He listens to no one, and these are just the usual collection of lefties.

On the other hand, these aren't -

    Three former high-ranking U.S. military officers have called for Britain to help defuse the crisis over Iran's nuclear program, saying military action against Tehran would be a disaster for the region.

    In a letter to the Sunday Times newspaper, the three former officers urged President Bush to open talks, "without preconditions," with the Iranian government in a bid to find a diplomatic solution.

    The signatories were retired Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard, a senior military fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington, D.C.; retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, former head of U.S. Central Command; and Vice Adm. Jack Shanahan, former director of the Center for Defense Information.

    They said Britain "has a vital role to play in securing a renewed diplomatic push" and urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to make it clear he would oppose any military attack on Iran.

    The officers said an attack "would have disastrous consequences for security in the region, coalition forces in Iraq and would further exacerbate regional and global tensions."

    "The current crisis must be resolved through diplomacy," they said.

But they are still just Brits.

But then everyone is connecting the dots.  They're saying "don't do this" - even if their senators here won't dare do a thing.  The odd thing is that all the voices will only make the Iran war more certain - to make up for the Iraq one, and prove everyone wrong.

And one final note regarding one of the four helicopters shot down in the last ten days -

    Cpl. Victor Langarica did not share (his fellow troops') optimism about the mission in Iraq. From the moment he received his deployment orders last April, he seemed convinced that he would not leave the war zone alive. Worse, he believed that he was going to die for no good reason. A twice-divorced single father of a young son and daughter, he had joined the Army hoping to gain the skills that would lead to higher pay than he made at Home Depot. His mother and ex-wives looked after the kids while he was overseas. He was proud of the nine months he served in combat in Afghanistan after 9/11, but the experience left the lighthearted 29-year-old sullen and fearful. Once he was surprised by an Afghan soldier who put a gun to his head. Just as the soldier was about to fire, a fellow American shot the Afghan dead. He never found out who had saved his life, but thought of him as an angel.

    Unlike most of the others who died in the crash, Langarica was regular Army. But when he got his deployment papers to Iraq, he didn't want to go. The invasion made no sense to him. "'I don't understand why Bush is doing this to us'," his mother, Pearl Lucas, recalled his saying. "'If I die, I won't know why I died, if it was for oil or for revenge'."

    In November, Langarica was granted a two-week leave. He returned to the United States to visit his mother and daughter in Decatur, Ga., and his son in Brunswick, Md. He told relatives that he dreaded returning. His aunt urged him to desert the Army and seek refuge in Nicaragua, where she and his mother were born. But Langarica was determined to finish out his tour, and returned to Iraq. Before he left, he told friends he didn't think he was going to see them again. He had already convinced himself he was "an angel of God - no matter what happens I will always be around." In a letter to his mother in 2003, he had confided, "I know it sounds crazy, but I really believe I am [an angel]."

    The night before the helicopter flight, he called home for the last time, certain that he would die the next day. "You better make it," his mother told him. "Your kids are waiting here for you." She put his 6-year-old daughter, Devina, on the phone to talk with him. When he got back on the line with his mother, he was crying.

    "I will remember you every second," he said.

There is a cost for all this.

This item posted - in its final version - February 11, 2007

[Avoiding Connections]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik