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


 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

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

Gloating and Recriminations - Agenda-Driven Hysterical Harrumphing

After the midterm elections, where, in the end, after a few days of counting the votes again at few locations, it does seem the nation chose to say, "Stop, let's rethink all this." A good number of those claiming there was nothing to rethink lost their seats in Congress. For the first time in twelve years the opposition party will have control of both houses - one third of the government, with the power to approve or deny funding for anything the government does, subpoena power to investigate anything the executive branch does, and the power to change laws enacted or to enact new laws the executive branch must follow, even if the executive branch has for the last few years has maintained that's "old thinking" and in the dangerous world in which we now live the president has the right, if not the duty, to ignore the law for whatever he decides is the greater good at the moment. And at the highest level of the judicial branch, the Supreme Court, all that will be straightened out? Well, that's the system - two hundred thirty years old and still working, to some extent.

Things certainly had been simpler for the preceding six years - with one party in control of two of the three branches, and appointing compliant judges to the third branch at will. All the whining that things needed rethinking was mocked, and the media pretty much joined in. Everyone seemed to enjoy the bully winners laughing at the hapless losers who wanted "to think about things" - much like the amusement in seeing a masterful football team roll over some comic and bumbling last place team, ruining up the score with that eleventh touchdown and doing the funky victory dance in the end zone again and again. There's a certain pleasure in watching masterful professionals at work, doing what the want at will. It's heady stuff.

Some people, on the other hand, equally enjoy seeing the hapless underdogs rise to the occasion and unexpectedly win - the '69 Mets winning it all, or Rutgers beating Louisville two days after these elections. It's that satisfying "fall of the mighty" thing. And most people like to think of themselves as the underdog who will one day win it all - even rich and successful folks. Everyone has some sort of chip on his or her shoulder, however subtly hidden.

So the underdogs won control of Congress and the mighty will get their comeuppance, or something.

But it wasn't all good. It came with baggage -

    A new recording Friday attributed to the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq mocked President Bush as a coward whose conduct of the war was rejected at the polls, challenging him to keep U.S. troops in the country to face more bloodshed.

    "We haven't had enough of your blood yet," taunted terror chieftain Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, identified as the speaker on the tape.

    He gloated over Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation, claimed to have 12,000 fighters under his command who "have vowed to die for God's sake," and said his fighters will not rest until they blow up the White House and occupy Jerusalem.

Yeah, yeah - that was predictable. Comment on right was generally - "See, Bush was right, the Democrats and al Qaeda are the same thing, out to kill us all."

It was nonsense, but also predictable.

The Associated Press item in this case notes that was just what Abu Hamza al-Muhajir had in mind -

    The audio message appeared to be an attempt to exact maximum propaganda benefit from the results of Tuesday's midterm elections, in which the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress, in part because of the war.

    Al-Muhajir praised the American people for handing victory to the Democrats, saying: "They voted for something reasonable in the last elections."

    He also said Bush was "the most stupid president" in U.S. history.

    "We call on the lame duck not to hurry his escape the way the defense secretary did," al-Muhajir said in reference to Rumsfeld's resignation as Pentagon chief on Wednesday. "Remain steadfast on the battlefield, you coward," said al-Muhajir, who took over leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June. "We will not rest from our jihad (holy war) until we are under the olive trees of Rumieh and we have blown up the filthiest house - which is called the White House," al-Muhajir said.

Blowing up the White House is not, of course, what the Democrats have in mind. They'd like one of their folks to move in there in January, 2009. Abu Hamza al-Muhajir is not thinking things through.

But the president and his national security team will meet Monday with members of that "blue-ribbon" commission trying to devise a new course for this unpopular (now a matter of record) war - and that would be the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton. No gloating will be involved. This is all about rethinking things.

But at the end of "election week" there were still those resisting any of that rethinking stuff. Over at Andrew Sullivan's Time Magazine site there was an extended discussion of what Rush Limbaugh had been saying (see the footnote to Things Changed). Limbaugh pretty much admitted he had lied and been saying that the Republicans were great, when he knew they were corrupt incompetents, but the threat that any Democrat would win any seat gave him no choice. Democrats in power would destroy the nation and happily let the Islamic fanatics rule the world - and you just could have that. Hugh Hewitt had been saying much the same on his radio show and at his website. The idea that the Democrats want al Qaeda to take over the world and end what we know as the United States after two hundred thirty years seems to be a given on that side, even if the voters, in the end, just weren't buying that view.

That view of those who want to rethink things does seem cartoon-like and childish, and Sullivan concludes with this -

    There comes a point at which an adult conservative should be eager to see the Democrats come to the center, if only to avoid the hubris and corruption that always stems from one-party rule, whichever party it is. I think the explanation for the intellectual dishonesty was that an entire industry was built around demonizing the left; and that this demonization became all conservatives were about. There was so much money in it; and it was so easy to demonize liberals that that's all they ended up doing.

    The Republicans had become so enthralled by what they were against that they had forgotten what they were supposed to be for. So they came off as negative, mean-spirited and cruel. Hence the solid American center moving back to the Dems. The result, however, is in many ways a good conservative one. Many more conservative Democrats are now in Congress than before. We have a chance to move in a realistic way in Iraq, now that the loonies have been removed from the Pentagon (Cambone has just been given his papers, I hear). And we may get a sensible compromise on immigration. Bush has a real opportunity to rescue his presidency. For the sake of the country, I hope he succeeds.

Yeah, but Limbaugh and his crowd rely to that, usually, by reminding everyone that Sullivan is a fag - a homosexual man engaged to his "partner." Are you going to listen to what he says? Don't you read you Bible?

The problem is that line of thinking (to use the term quite generously) seems to has lost its power. Consider this from Republican Chairman Steve Salem from Woodbury County, Iowa, of all places -

    You've heard of IslamaFascists - I think we now have Christian fascists. What is the definition of a fascist? Not only do they want to beat you, but they want to destroy you in the process... if things keep going the way things are going locally and statewide, it is going to be more and more difficult for Republicans to recruit candidates. We have elements of the party who are moral absolutists, who take the approach that if you don't take my position every step of the way, not only will I not support you, but I will destroy you.

That's odd. The Republican Party in Iowa wants to run candidates who listen and think things through?

You'd think Iowa is suddenly New York City, where Paul Krugman says pretty much the same thing in that newspaper Rush and that crowd revile, the New York Times -

    … we may be seeing the downfall of movement conservatism - the potent alliance of wealthy individuals, corporate interests and the religious right that took shape in the 1960s and 1970s. This alliance may once have had something to do with ideas, but it has become mainly a corrupt political machine, and America will be a better place if that machine breaks down.

    Why do I want to see movement conservatism crushed? Partly because the movement is fundamentally undemocratic; its leaders don't accept the legitimacy of opposition. Democrats will only become acceptable, declared Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, once they "are comfortable in their minority status." He added, "Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate."

    And the determination of the movement to hold on to power at any cost has poisoned our political culture. Just think about the campaign that just ended, with its coded racism, deceptive robo-calls, personal smears, homeless men bused in to hand out deceptive fliers, and more. Not to mention the constant implication that anyone who questions the Bush administration or its policies is very nearly a traitor.

    When movement conservatism took it over, the Republican Party ceased to be the party of Dwight Eisenhower and became the party of Karl Rove. The good news is that Karl Rove and the political tendency he represents may both have just self-destructed.

    Two years ago, people were talking about permanent right-wing dominance of American politics. But since then the American people have gotten a clearer sense of what rule by movement conservatives means. They've seen the movement take us into an unnecessary war, and botch every aspect of that war. They've seen a great American city left to drown; they've seen corruption reach deep into our political process; they've seen the hypocrisy of those who lecture us on morality.

    And they just said no.

And they seem to have said no even in Iowa.

And even in the UK folks get it. There's Martin Kettle in The Guardian with this -

    The Democrats did not just win among the usual groups such as the poor, women and black people. This time they won among the middle class too, among small-town voters, among every age group and - crucially and emphatically - among independents and moderates. Even where the Democrats lost they polled significantly, taking 45% in the south, 28% of white evangelical Christians, 20% of conservatives and 15% of people who voted for Bush in 2004. These strong showings among unlikely groups help explain why Democrats won congressional seats in so many "red" states this week and why the win that finally gave them control of the senate came from the near south.

    No one can say if this is an epochal hit or one from which the Republicans will bounce back in 2008. But the implications of the 2006 crash are fascinating. This is not the creation of a new majority… but a lot of space has nevertheless opened up in which the Democrats could do even better in future. Clearly such optimism has to be highly contingent. Only a fool would overstate it. Karl Rove has not become incompetent overnight. But this week defies the argument in influential recent books that America is a conclusively conservative country.

    It will take time for this to sink in among conservative Republicans. This election has been a major blow to their self-image and world-view. Like the Thatcherites, they got used to assuming that they were always right and would always be victorious. On Tuesday the voters told them they were wrong. It has taken many false starts for the Conservative party to get back in the game in Britain. Something similar could happen to the suddenly weakened Republicans. But there's nothing they like more than a fight.

He's right about that last part.

And he notes the implications of it all - it's a reminder to the rest of the world that the problem is not America but this American administration - "Foreigners have had the useful reminder that Americans are not nuts." In fact, Americans seem to have actually become multilateralist in foreign policy for the first time - fifty-eight percent agreeing that America's security "depends on building strong ties with other nations" compared with thirty-four who think it depends "on its own military strength." What's up with that, Rush?

And the quite conservative former diplomat Greg Djerejian, with Rumsfeld gone now too and that Gates dude taking his place, is actually feeling relief -

    Regardless, what we saw [Tuesday] was American democracy at its finest. We saw the public mount a critically needed intervention, because without it a President well beyond his depth would have likely continued to cast his lot with discredited cocksure ideologues and/or Jacksonian nationalists like Rumsfeld.

    In Gates, we have an anti-ideologue and a realist. In his role with the Baker-Hamilton commission (a welcome dose of bipartisan sanity in an increasingly moronic Washington, media and blogosphere), he will have had access and been influenced by distinguished peers grappling with what to do next in Iraq in a climate characterized by sober appraisal of the national interest, rather than the agenda-driven hysterical harrumphing afoot in all the usual quarters.

Now that's a nice turn of phase - agenda-driven hysterical harrumphing. Agenda-driven hysterical harrumphing has made Rush Limbaugh a very rich man.

Sullivan is gleeful -

    What we are seeing is an almost Shakespearean drama in which the wayward son is forced back to the advisers of the father he once rejected. Two words: Poppy's back! His arch-nemesis, Rumsfeld, is gone. Two of Poppy's closest allies and friends are now trying to figure a path out of the hole Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld dug. So the Bush presidency is back! The other Bush presidency. The one that, in retrospect, seems sane and wise.

Yes, Andrew, but that's only by contrast. The father was goofy and dangerous in his own way - and stuck with completely at sea Dan Quayle until the very end, for goodness sakes. But just goofy would be a relief these days. (It is odd that William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and the main spokesman, "deep thinker" and cheerleader for the neoconservatives, was Dan Quayle's press secretary - but that sort of makes sense now.)

Things are getting back, though, to something like sensible. The problem is that in cutting Rumsfeld loose other problems just had to come up. He's not in office, and no longer a government official, and as Pinochet and Milosevic discovered, there a bit of exposure now -

    A lawyer for the families of Saudis in the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay hailed the resignation of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and said he "reserved the right" to sue him over alleged abuses there.

    Kateb al-Shammari said in a statement that Rumsfeld's departure after the Republicans' drubbing in mid-term congressional elections was a "positive step" for the detainees, since he was "primarily responsible" for the abuses there. Rumsfeld was also a main advocate of keeping Guantanamo "outside international and US law," and he sanctioned the use of torture under the euphemism of "interrogation techniques," Shammari charged.

    "In my capacity as a lawyer in this affair and agent for most of the families of Saudi detainees in Guantanamo, I reserve the right to file a lawsuit against Rumsfeld and the other (officials) responsible for the abuses committed against the detainees, and for their continued detention without legal justification," the lawyer added.

Yep, we had ninety Saudis at Guantanamo, repatriated thirty-seven, and sent them the bodies of the two who, in an act of asymmetrical warfare against us, as we said, managed to commit suicide. And a lawyers' group representing Guantanamo prisoners said in Washington that Rumsfeld's resignation on Wednesday leaves him open to legal action over his alleged role in "authorizing torture" of people held in our worldwide war or terror - he's open game now. We have denied authorizing torture down there, but Rumsfeld has angrily defended the use of "robust interrogation techniques" to find out what we could find out. Now he's in trouble. It will all be in what you call what was done, as what was done was done.

And it gets worse, in Germany, with this -

    Just days after his resignation, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany's top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    The plaintiffs in the case include 11 Iraqis who were prisoners at Abu Ghraib, as well as Mohammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi held at Guantanamo, whom the U.S. has identified as the so-called "20th hijacker" and a would-be participant in the 9/11 hijackings. As TIME first reported in June 2005, Qahtani underwent a "special interrogation plan," personally approved by Rumsfeld, which the U.S. says produced valuable intelligence. But to obtain it, according to the log of his interrogation and government reports, Qahtani was subjected to forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, prolonged stress positions, sleep deprivation and other controversial interrogation techniques.

    Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that one of the witnesses who will testify on their behalf is former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the one-time commander of all U.S. military prisons in Iraq. Karpinski - who the lawyers say will be in Germany next week to publicly address her accusations in the case - has issued a written statement to accompany the legal filing, which says, in part: "It was clear the knowledge and responsibility [for what happened at Abu Ghraib] goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."

And others are named - Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, former assistant attorney general Jay Bybee, former deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo, General Counsel for the Department of Defense William James Haynes II; and David S. Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. And there are military - General Ricardo Sanchez, the former top Army official in Iraq, General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of Guantanamo, senior Iraq commander, Major General Walter Wojdakowski, and Col. Thomas Pappas, the one-time head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib.

Guys - don't leave the government. Germany was chosen for all this because German law provides "universal jurisdiction" - allowing for the prosecution of war crimes and related offenses that take place anywhere in the world.

But being in the government doesn't seem to matter -

    Indeed, a similar, but narrower, legal action was brought in Germany in 2004, which also sought the prosecution of Rumsfeld. The case provoked an angry response from Pentagon, and Rumsfeld himself was reportedly upset. Rumsfeld's spokesman at the time, Lawrence DiRita, called the case "a big, big problem." U.S. officials made clear the case could adversely impact U.S.-Germany relations, and Rumsfeld indicated he would not attend a major security conference in Munich, where he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, unless Germany disposed of the case. The day before the conference, a German prosecutor announced he would not pursue the matter, saying there was no indication that U.S. authorities and courts would not deal with allegations in the complaint.

Right - US law could handle the problem. But now, things have changed. Rumsfeld's resignation means that he will lose the legal immunity "usually accorded" high government officials.

And they're also arguing that the previous German prosecutor's reasoning for rejecting the prior case - that we can deal with that stuff - had been proven wrong. We don't do jack about such stuff, obviously.

And this administration has long said we will not adhere to the International Criminal Court (ICC) - such things are just a way for envious people to make trouble for us, because we're so powerful - so Washington is laughing. It's all very odd.

It's as if the election results uncorked a lot of things. Back in 2005 Italy issued arrest warrants for thirteen CIA agents (see this) - they said we kidnapped people we had decided might be radical Muslims off the streets of Rome or Milan or wherever and had flown them on "Ghost Air" to secret prisons in countries that practice torture. The Italians didn't think much of that. But that story disappeared.

Now, two days after the elections here, there's this news item - one of those guys the Italians say we kidnapped and flew to Egypt for "enhanced interrogation was Abu Omar, also known as Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. There seems to be a handwritten account of it, from him, smuggled out of the Egyptian prison where her was being held. It made its way to Italian prosecutors. And it was leaked to the press -

    In his letter, Nasr described how his health had badly deteriorated. He had lost hearing in one ear from repeated beatings, he said, and his formerly pitch-black hair had turned all white. He said he was kept in a cell with no toilet and no lights, where "roaches and rats walked across my body."

    He also gave a graphic account of Egyptian interrogation practices, including how he would be strapped to an iron rack nicknamed "the Bride" and zapped with electric stun guns.

    On other occasions, he wrote, he was tied to a wet mattress on the floor. While one interrogator sat on a wooden chair perched on the prisoner's shoulders, another interrogator would flip a switch, sending jolts of electricity into the mattress coils.

And there's this -

    Court papers allege that the kidnapping was orchestrated by the CIA's station chief in Rome and involved at least two dozen CIA operatives, most of whom arrived in Italy months before to lay the groundwork. Italian judges have issued arrest warrants for the CIA officers and have pledged to try them in absentia if necessary.

    The U.S. has refused to confirm or deny the allegations.

The Democrats win an election and all sorts of things happen.

It may be time for some major CYA, as Michael Wolff discusses in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. That issue is getting a lot of buzz as it has the item where all the neoconservative bigwigs explain what went wrong with Iraq (the change-the-world theory was fine but the Bush folks were idiots). Michael Wolff offers Survivor: The White House Edition, mostly about Woodward's latest book, but more about where things are heading -

    Bush fires Cheney and names McCain as the replacement V.P. - although it is not yet entirely clear to me who tells Bush to fire Cheney, if not Cheney. The war in Iraq, except for the shooting, is so over. But between now and when, as the president has no doubt accurately described it, we "cut and run," when there's a final helicopter lifting from a Green Zone rooftop, there's a whole third act to play.

    … Everybody's positioning himself for the end.

    The plot structure of the war, and how it reaches its conclusion, is determined less, at this point, by events in Iraq (although the Times gamely reported a few weeks ago on the front page that the military was really, truly honing a new counter-insurgency strategy) than by the involvement of so many drama queens with their super-awareness of crisis and timing.

    The basic facts, after all, are three years old: no WMD, no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, not enough troops, no planning, and, obviously, no idea about how to deal with an ever growing insurgency.

    But patience is key. Richard Clarke, the terrorism expert of both the Clinton and first Bush administrations, went public more than two years ago with his harsh critique of the Bush terror war, and, to many, seemed like a bitchy Cassandra, which is not necessarily the perfect career face. Clarke seemed to think he could precipitate the dénouement, but the drama has its own rhythms. It's only in the third act that you get the big reversals and tough truths - we're finally ready.

    Knowing when we're ready is the important skill set - the higher media talent.

And if that's not cynical enough, try this -

    This information divide itself - between those who have read these [Woodward] books and those who haven't, or, anyway, those who have read about these books - becomes a crucial element of the third act. In some sense, it was the third act of Vietnam that defined these dual constituencies: part of the country, which followed the information trend, came to believe the war was unwinnable and suspect, while the other part, more remote from the information, continued to believe in the simpler, standard patriotic assumptions. This is the same divide that we now analyze ideologically as blue and red, but in so many aspects it might just be reduced to the smarts and the stupids, or the on-the-makes and the always-out-of-its.

    It involves not only information (i.e., knowing that Saddam and Osama were not partners in the same law firm) but opportunity too - or opportunism. This is one reason the smarts have such a bad reputation among the stupids, because so many of them, including the Democrats in Congress, the news media, and Woodward himself, as well as the many people who once helped give the president his 80 or 90 percent approval rating, were stupids when that was advantageous. And because so many of them, like Woodward, and the editors of the New York Times, and the Clintons, did not make the break across the information divide until they were confident that they'd be in good company.

    Indeed, the Woodward book gives a pretty clear picture of the time lag between when the smarties knew the war was a loser and when they decided to strategically alter and broadcast their own positions with regard to it. In some sense, the book goes back to Woodward's career theme: who knew what when. First there's the cover-up and then the unraveling.

And now we have the fall guys -

    Rummy, for instance - "enigmatic, obstructionist, devious, never know what his game is" Rummy (as Woodward has Scowcroft describe him) - is, let's face it, dead. He's gone at any moment. Indeed, as Woodward points out, he's managed to hold on only because intransigent Cheney intransigently supports him.

    Cheney. "Cheney was the worst," Woodward says, again using Scowcroft as his moral guide. Kissinger, the architect of the bloodiest and most catastrophic phase of the Vietnam War, emerged as well as he did (for sure, a war criminal to some, but to many, a man of renown) because most of the ill will got heaped on Nixon. Kissinger was the contrast gainer. Next to Nixon, he seemed … human.

    So, yes, Cheney is the new Nixon.

    … Cheney, in this respect, is such a gift. Born to be hated. He might even willingly - given his dystopian personality - take the fall. He resigns - his hundred heart attacks could be the gentle cover. But it's clear: the war's on him. It's his mistake. (Since we've regarded him as a virtual president anyway, we ought to accept his leave-taking as a virtual impeachment and removal.) McCain is nominated to replace Cheney as V.P. The Republicans go wild because they have a presidential contender in the White House (likewise, the Democrats might not be so unhappy to have McCain suddenly stuck with Iraq). The smarty-media pendulum swings (or at least hesitates) because McCain is McCain and because he might be the next president. A big conference of Arabs is convened. McCain heads a blue-ribbon delegation to Iraq (Powell comes back for this), which determines that the Iraqis are ready to handle their own security. We cut and run, declaring victory.

    And Bush can go to China, or North Korea. With Kissinger.

    The end in Iraq may not yet be near, but it is ordained.

Ah - gloating and recriminations. The midterm elections just sped up things a bit. Rethinking things? It's already been done.

This item posted November 12, 2006


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