Tuesday, August 29, was the actual anniversary of Hurricane Katrina slamming into New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast, exactly one year before. It seemed as if all other news had been suspended - try as you would, there was little else on the networks and cable news shows. All else could wait.
On the other hand, since it was Ingrid Bergman's birthday (1915), the classic movie channel was doing all of her major films, including Casablanca, where the French are actually the good guys, making all sort of trouble for the Nazis with the help of the elegant Czech fellow. (August 29, 1944, oddly enough, was the very day American troops marched down the Champs Elysées, helping celebrate the liberation of France.)
And it was also Charlie Parker's birthday (1920), so the jazz station down in Long Beach was playing his stuff. It was Michael Jackson's birthday too (1958), but as he's become somewhat of a joke there wasn't much on air - no Thriller.
There seemed to be no mention it was John McCain's birthday (1936), but that was probably because the president last year was at a big party for him and the two of them made jokes and horsed around, making no mention of the bodies floating in the water in New Orleans. No need to bring up that birthday. It was also John Locke's birthday (1632), but logic and the Enlightenment are so out of fashion these days no one said a thing.
The day was a parade of politicians in New Orleans - although on CNN's Situation Room Jack Cafferty took care of that. In one minute and forty-one seconds he mercilessly went through what happened one year ago - describing just what happened and what specifically didn't happen - and turned to the host, John King - Wolf Blitzer had the day off - and wrapped it up with this: "I find it absolutely amazing, John, that any politician who had anything to do with Katrina had nerve enough to walk into the city of New Orleans today." Watch the segment here (Windows Media) or here (QuickTime) and you'll get an idea of how angry he was. It seemed appropriate. The posturing was all a farce.
But these guys have little shame - just a need to stay in office. It was a sad day.
The actual news, not retrospective, was happening in Salt Lake City, that awful place with the giant sea of brown fetid water next to it. The mountains it the background are pretty, but the place smells. And Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld didn't help matters, giving a speech to the American Legion's national convention there that seemed to be the real kick-off of the campaign by those in power to remain in power. The midterm elections are coming in November and the polling shows the Republicans could easily lose control of the House, and really could lose control of the Senate too. Then all bets would be off - maybe impeachment is unlikely, but there will be investigations, and all the stalled reports on how we got to where we are will get un-stalled, quickly. This falls under the heading of potential "big trouble" - and that may be putting it mildly.
So Rumsfeld was on the attack. The transcript of the speech itself is here, the brief Associated Press summary here, and the more detailed Washington Post analysis here.
But to cut to the chase, this is what we can expect to hear said endlessly up until 7 November.
Critics of the administration's Iraq and counterterrorism policies simply lack the courage to fight terror. Think the war in Iraq was a bad idea, that maybe it may have had nothing do to with the real threat of al Qaeda, and it may be making things worse, as the majority now thinks? Then you're a coward. Think the president ought to do all he can to find out what the bad guys are up to, but he really should follow the law, and in the NSA business just get the damned warrants and nit endless claim the laws just don't apply to him? Then you're a coward.
The strategy of calling the majority of Americans cowards may, on the face of it, seem counterintuitive, but perhaps the idea is to shame everyone into changing their minds. Forget what you read in the news and see on television. And disregard logic. No one wants to be a coward. Do you want to be a coward?
And there's the secondary argument - the administration's critics as suffering from "moral and intellectual confusion" about what threatens this nation's security. If you think the whole policy in play now for years - change the world through invasion, regime change, and occupation - is making things worse not better, then you're just confused. It may be moral confusion - your values are crap - or it may be intellectual confusion - you cannot think straight - or it may be both. Either your values or your intellect are corrupted (or both) - so you're worthless and should shut up. On the lower levels - strategy and then tactics - the same obviously applies. You know nothing.
The effectiveness of direct insult may also seem counterintuitive, but then it matches how we conduct diplomacy around the world. You remember Rumsfeld saying that stuff about France and Germany way back when - they're "old Europe" and no one cares what they think. You remember Condoleezza Rice recently defending our position that we don't talk with bad governments, not just North Korea but in that case Iran and Syria. Why would we do that? As she said of Syria - there's no point in talking with them as "they know what they must do." These people believe in the effectiveness of insults.
Thirdly, Rumsfeld spoke of what he called the lessons of history. We haven't been good students. We didn't do our homework. There were those failed efforts to appease the Hitler regime back in the thirties - Neville Chamberlain and all that - "I recount this history because once again we face the same kind of challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism."
Yes, the parallels are shaky, but it's a good line. Fascism here is supposed to make people perk up and want to agree to any war - just as the word communism did in the fifties. So fascism is a key world for the next several months. You'll hear it a lot. It's a word everyone can "relate to" - and so powerful no one much will think about whether it fits the case now.
But Rumsfeld ticked off all the terrorist attacks - 9/11, Bali, London, Madrid - and said it should be "obvious to anyone" that terrorists must be confronted, not appeased. Then he went off on how stupid people are - "… it is apparent that many have still not learned history's lessons." Of course he said that part of the problem is that the American news media have tended to emphasize "the negative rather than the positive." It's the damned press. His example - more media attention was given to Abu Ghraib than to the fact that Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith received the Medal of Honor. What happened ay Abu Ghraib wasn't that important. (The rest of the world, and particularly the Arab world, might disagree, of course.)
So what are you going to do? The press reports the wrong things, the whole country is a bunch of cowards, their values are just wrong, they cannot think straight, and they slept through that high school history class.
So that's the argument - vote for our side as we're not cowards, we have real moral values, we think straight, and we passed that Modern European History course. In short, we're better than all of you on all four counts.
Is this approach a winner?
Matthew Yglesias puts it this way - "Accepting the Bush administration's view that the more dangerous the Bush administration makes the world the more we need to keep on keepin' on with the Bush approach is, as I said, absurd.
And as he said -
For his latest trick, in a speech to the American Legion, Don Rumsfeld gives the full wingnut monte. America faces an undifferentiated fascist menace. Bush's critics are appeasers who don't understand the lessons of history who blame America first and hate freedom. The media is treasonous and a free press is a luxury we can ill-afford in this time of crisis. Etc.
This, I think we can assume, is the fall campaign. The idea is to psyche the Democrats out. To make them think they can't win an argument about foreign policy. To make them act like they can't win an argument about foreign policy. And to thereby demonstrate to the American people that even the Democrats themselves lack confidence in their own ability to handle these issues.
It's essential that the debate be joined, and joined with confidence. Rumsfeld is a buffoon. A punchline. A well-known liar. He and his bosses - Bush and Cheney - are running around the country trying to cite the failures of their own policies as a reason to entrust them with additional authority in order to continue and intensify those same failings. We're witnessing the bitter, bitter fruits of the Iraq War. Other nations learned that they must seek nuclear weapons as soon as possible to safeguard themselves from a newly trigger-happy United States of America. Muslim opinion was sharply polarized against us. Iran and Syria were told that their cooperation against al-Qaeda was no longer needed because their governments would topple soon enough. A power vacuum was left on the streets of Baghdad that parties aligned with Iran have rushed to fill. The Arab-Israeli conflict was sidelined as something that would magically resolve itself once Saddam Hussein was out of the way. And America's allies were taught that our government was not to be relied upon - that we operated with bad intelligence and initiated wars of choice without any real plans or ideas about how to cope with the aftermath.
That's how we got here. By listening to Bush. By listening to Cheney. By listening to Rumsfeld. The idea that we should keep on listening to them is absurd.
But doesn't saying that make you a coward, and a moral reprobate, and a muddled thinker, and someone who forgot about Neville Chamberlain and his umbrella and so on?
Only if you buy into it, and don't just laugh out loud. It is a classic psych-out.
See this -
Never mind the fact that many critics of the administration do not oppose the goals of the administration, merely its methods for doing so. Rumsfeld's criticism, and frankly the view that I have seen repeatedly from the right and specifically the Neo-Cons is that there is One True Path to defeating terrorism and that you either support the President 100% or you must be supporting the terrorists. Which is patently absurd. This type of black and white view is so far detached from the very values they claim to be defending it's almost laughable. Almost, if it weren't so serious.
… Critics of Bush, including myself, do not have a problem with him because we believe that the goal of defeating terrorism is a bad one. No, on that we definitely and most certainly agree. Terrorism is a very real threat. What we DO have a problem with are the means that his administration has used in the past and are continuing to employ.
The best analogy I can think of is two doctors attempting to treat a sick patient. Bush and co. represent a doctor applying, let's say, 18th century medical techniques to the problem. Yes they want to cure the patient, and yes they may even believe that their methods are the best. Any maybe they are marginally effective. Or maybe they are making things worse. Dr. Bush not only refuses to try anything new, but he refuses to acknowledge seriously any setbacks his patient is having. If we were to follow Rumsfeld's line of logic anyone who called into question the good Doctors methods is someone who wants the patient to receive no treatment, that critics just want to sit back and see if the person heals themselves.
On the contrary, those who oppose Bush are saying that there are other, perhaps BETTER ways to treat the patient that should, at the very least be considered, especially since the patient is not showing the promised signs of recovery.
The writer must hate American and want the terrorists to win? Not exactly.
Over at Preemptive Karma ("Sacred cows slaughtered daily…"), "Becky" picks out her favorite parts of the speech, like how Rumsfeld really cannot sleep now, as some things just keep him awake -
"What bothers me the most is how clever the enemy is," he continued, launching an extensive broadside at Islamic extremist groups which he said are trying to undermine Western support for the war on terror.
"They are actively manipulating the media in this country" by, for example, falsely blaming U.S. troops for civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
"They can lie with impunity," he said, while U.S. troops are held to a high standard of conduct.
It's just not fair! She calls this sort of whining downright embarrassing -
"The enemy is so much better at communicating," he added. "I wish we were better at countering that because the constant drumbeat of things they say - all of which are not true - is harmful. It's cumulative. And it does weaken people's will and lessen their determination, and raise questions in their minds as to whether the cost is worth it," he said alluding to Americans and other Westerners.
Her comment -
You see, the biggest problem Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush Administration are facing right now is that even though the media has been uncommonly good to them, the truth still seems to get out to the American people and we are increasingly angry at our leaders over what has gone on. Instead of changing course in service to this country's desires and interests, the Bush Administration has responded to criticism by engaging in a war on the media and doing everything possible to undermine people's faith in what they read about the war.
And there is just one reason for it: the media is the last hope for freedom in this country. If they do their job and keep the people informed, the people will respond appropriately and the government will be held accountable. That is an intolerable state of affairs for an authoritarian like Donald Rumsfeld.
So it would seem.
And at Martini Republic ("Lead, follow, or have a drink…") you can find this, a long and detailed review of what actually happened in Europe in the late thirties, ending with this -
If one is going to analogize Hitler to Saddam, Nazi Germany to Iraq, then the analogy is this: Desert Storm was as if France and England responded to Germany's occupation of the Rhineland by storming over the border, destroying half of Germany's army and all its air force, and re-imposed war reparations.
So where is the appeasement Rummy is talking about? Has he been sniffing glue? What the hell does he put in his hair?
The Right periodically trots out World War II as some sort of justification for Iraq, without any regard to the facts or logic which cut against this piss-poor analogy.
World War II started when Germany invaded a militarily inferior nation, justifying the invasion with the false pretext that Poland was an imminent threat to Germany's national existence.
Our involvement in World War II started after United States forces and territorial possessions were attacked by Japan, followed by Japan's formal declaration of war.
A state of war arose between the US and Germany after the latter issued a declaration of war, and commenced unrestricted submarine warfare against US vessels.
Just how was the situation which existed prior to March 2003, in which we enforced no-fly zones in the North and South of Iraq, launched airstrikes at will, and fostered the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region akin to the appeasement of Nazi Germany, which was swallowing adjacent nations?
And how does our preemptive attack against Iraq compare to our response to two declarations of war, and the initiation of attacks against us?
Ah, someone pays too much attention to details.
And people have noticed what came out of that think tank in the UK, Chatham House, reported first here on the 23rd - "… the foreign policy of the United States "has bolstered Iran's power and influence in the Middle East, especially over its neighbor and former enemy Iraq."
So any way you look at it - and particularly looking at the replacement of "Iran's dreaded enemy, Saddam Hussein, with loyal Shiite allies" - Iran is the winner here. That's what all our work has done.
Or as Glenn Greenwald puts it -
Iraq is a war that is saddled with more incoherent premises than can be counted. Yet the most baffling part of it has to be that the more we succeed in stabilizing the new government and empowering majority rule, the more we hand over to our arch Iranian enemy (the New Hitlers) control over large parts of that strategically vital country. Thus, the principal result in exchange for all the lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars squandered is to ensure that Iraq will be ruled by those most opposed to US interests.
So, in the end, the day was the president in New Orleans and the secretary of defense in Salt Lake City, bragging that they've done things right, and done them well - so pay attention, and don't be stupid thinking something else. That'll be the next two months.
It could drive you to listing to old Michael Jackson albums.