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

Up for the Job

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

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

What Passes for Leadership

So who will be the next president, or who do the Republicans think they should run?  As of early February the front-runners on that side are Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain, both "pro-surge" and very much in favor of continued and expanded wars. To win the nomination they must seem "tough" and virile to the Republican base - they want the Bush supporters, and their money for all the ads they must run and organizing they must do. And there are all those expensive consultants one must hire.

But then the Bush base comes with baggage, and there are other considerations. You cannot get by with just the position that the United States will simply take out anyone, anywhere, who looks at us funny. There's more to it.

One of them understands this, and is adjusting, as in this from 12 February -

    McCain to Deliver Keynote Speech For Creationists

    Today is Darwin Day, commemorating the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and of the publishing of On the Origin of Species. The National Academy of Sciences, "the nation's most prestigious scientific organization," declares evolution "one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have." President Bush's science adviser John Marburger calls it "the cornerstone of modern biology."

    Yet, on February 23, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will be the keynote speaker for the most prominent creationism advocacy group in the country. The Discovery Institute, a religious right think-tank, is well-known for its strong opposition to evolutionary biology and its advocacy for "intelligent design." The institute's main financial backer, savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson, spent 20 years on the board of the Chalcedon Foundation, "a theocratic outfit that advocates the replacement of American civil law with biblical law."

You do what you have to do.  How bad can biblical law be, after all - save for some odd things in Leviticus about stoning disobedient children to death? And maybe science really is overrated. If you want to be president you have to make some compromises.

McCain's "straight-talk express" is now out of service.  It's no longer useful.  There's a nomination to win here, and all previous statements he made regarding the problems with the religious right now are what in the Nixon administration came under the heading of "inoperative."  That was, back then, a nice way of saying that what we said was true we won't say is true any longer - and let's have no questions about that.

Some call what McCain is up to here "pandering." Last time around such things were called "flip-flopping."  John Kerry knows the danger of having that label stick to you.  In McCain's case one might charitably call this strategic positioning - he's not changed his mind about a whole range of issues, but only clarified his positions.  This is very tricky, and the result may be that he's toast. On the other hand, the people whose support he wants may be pleased that they can make him embarrass himself, and relish the thought they can help elect someone so pliant - he can be manipulated and jerked around. You can work with that.

But what about Rudolph Giuliani? The current thinking is that he is much more likely to win the Republican nomination. Yes, he's pro-choice on the abortion issue, and he has no problem with gay folks being who they are, and he thinks gun control is a fine thing. That should scuttle his chances - he shouldn't even have come this far.  And he's not backing down very much on any of those three things. 

Giuliani has different strategy - don't pander on those minor issues, but swamp them with the one bigger issue.  This man is "The Hero of 9/11" - the mayor of New York who was everywhere, actually doing things. At least that's the myth he enjoys having others spread. He won't stop them.  And he's out to "out Bush" Bush - if elected he will fulfill the Bush legacy and bring change for the better in the world through war with anyone, anywhere, who is evil.  That's what the man says - George Bush got everything right, or at least the big things, and he'll do much more of the same, and even more enthusiastically. Here you overwhelm the minor issues with a flood of testosterone. He'll dazzle the Bush base, with what really matters.  He will be the protective daddy who will slap around anyone who makes trouble for his kids.

This is probably a better way to go, in spite of what a good number of New Yorkers remember -

    It's very far out and lots of things can happen, but here are some initial thoughts about Rudy from a longtime New Yorker who witnessed firsthand what he did (and didn't do) for New York.

    1. If you thought Bush was bad with cronyism, wait till this one gets in power. Remember the one protégé of his he got into a high government office? Bernie Kerick? That's just the tip of the iceberg. Rudy runs a multimillion-dollar consulting firm whose essential mission is to profit off of 9/11. He's got his finger in a lot of military-industrial pies. If he gets in, watch for a DoD and a DoJ stuffed full of lackeys and yes-men.

    2. If you think Bush is insular, wait till this one gets in power. When Rudy was mayor of New York, he absolutely refused to allow anyone around him who disagreed with him in the slightest. He publicly humiliated every Board of Education president who uttered a peep against him. He rammed through three police commissioners before he found one who knew how to say "Yes, Rudy."

    3. If you think Bush is a ham-handed diplomat, wait till this one gets in power. This is, after all, a man who led a personal crusade against hot-dog vendors. This is a man who criticized the parents of kids who got killed by cops for letting them out on the street past 10:00. This is a man who publicly lectured Arafat (which was sort of fun, but he was just a Mayor, not Pope Rudolfus IV). So if you've been entertained by Bush's excruciating gaffes internationally, you'll have four more years of fun.

    And finally...

    Do you honestly think that people will elect a man who wants to keep us in Iraq for four more years? Americans might vote for victory but they won't vote to throw money and lives away just so we can save face. Americans know (and you know, and I know) that "victory" just isn't possible in Iraq, just as it wasn't possible in Vietnam.

    Oh, and then there's the fact that he's cavalier about torture, married his cousin, announced his divorce at a press conference, looks creepy and has all the personal warmth of Torquemada.

Other than that he'll do just fine.

Or, as Garrison Keillor suggests, maybe he won't -

    Rudolph Giuliani is running for president, it would seem, and watching his interviews reminds you that it is quite a leap from City Hall to the White House, and that the lecture circuit is not the best preparation for higher office. Out there, Mr. Giuliani is saying the same applause lines night after night, but in a TV studio, even with the friendly folks at Fox, the lines sound over-practiced. He purses his lips, furrows his brow, juts his chin, gives his teeth-baring grin, but there isn't much evidence of thoughtfulness, which is what people are keen to hear these days, not just that a man can hit his marks. We'd like to see that he's paying attention, reading the papers, getting around, listening to smart people who aren't running for office and who can tell him what he needs to know.

    What the former mayor wants to talk about is 9/11 and standing tough against terror and how important it is to win the war in Iraq, but people are either opposed to the war or sick of hearing about it. Meanwhile, he has to dance around the subjects of abortion and gay rights as he adjusts a Manhattan point of view to something that will pass muster in South Carolina. It is never pretty, watching a politician revise himself in full view, and Mr. Giuliani is revising like mad.

He is? But he's not repudiated those positions. Keillor doesn't care.  He references the notorious video, Giuliani in drag, where Donald Trump flirts with him and kisses his breasts. That's a killer, and also in the new movie Giuliani Time.

It's a problem, as Keillor notes -

    Say what you will about the Current Occupant, there is no video out there of him waltzing around in a long lavender gown and a brassiere, and blond wig, while an aging tycoon nuzzles his chest. He may have sunk low back in his drinking days, but he managed to keep his adventures private. I doubt that former Gov. Romney or Sen. McCain ever donned women's apparel for the cameras.

    This is not a major issue. The Giuliani candidacy is going to bring up once again his record as mayor and his failure, having taken office not long after the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, to do much of anything to protect the city from another attack and to coordinate fire and police radio communications, a doable thing in the age of electronics that would have saved countless lives. His appointment of Bernard Kerik as police commissioner, his brass-knuckle style of politics that put him at loggerheads with the Port Authority and other bodies of government, his airy lack of interest in the New York public schools, his tolerance of police misbehavior, the cheesy way he split up with his wife. There are plenty of bigger issues. But the video has a creepy fascination to it. The man in the lavender dress and the blond wig surely never contemplated running for president. It was the two planes hitting the towers a year later that made him a celebrity and then a candidate, nothing he had accomplished himself in public office.

This whole thing may not fly -

    Call me old-fashioned but the leader of the free world shouldn't feel a need to cross-dress. Putting on a flight suit and helmet is as far as he should go into the realm of fantasy. Otherwise, a suit and tie.

You probably cannot run away from your past.

And as for the "current occupant," he and his Secretary of State have some explaining to do. A curious new example of this comes from seven years ago, when all the election talk was about how that creepy Bill Clinton got us involved in the Balkans, using the military for nation building, of all things. Via Andrew Sullivan, here's Condoleezza Rice, in the oh-so-serious magazine Foreign Affairs, the January-February 2000 Issue, Volume 79, Number 1, page 53, on her high horse -

    The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be.  It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society. Military force is best used to support clear political goals, whether limited, such as expelling Saddam from Kuwait, or comprehensive, such as demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan and Germany during World War II. It is one thing to have a limited political goal and to fight decisively for it; it is quite another to apply military force incrementally, hoping to find a political solution somewhere along the way. A president entering these situations must ask whether decisive force is possible and is likely to be effective and must know how and when to get out. These are difficult criteria to meet, so U.S. intervention in these 'humanitarian' crises should be, at best, exceedingly rare.

Yeah, it's not an embarrassing and ill-considered videotape. But things came up, and such statements - there are many, but this seems the most definitive - need a bit of massaging now. McCain would say he's rethought things.  Giuliani would bare his teeth and hiss. The current administration shrugs.

Well lots of things just become inoperative, so to speak.

Consider this trio -

Saturday 10 February -

    High-tech roadside bombs that have proved particularly deadly to American soldiers are manufactured in Iran and delivered to Iraq on orders from the "highest levels" of the Iranian government, a senior intelligence officer said Sunday.

White House Press Spokesman Tony Snow, 13 February -

    And there is a core of information that everybody agrees upon. Number one, there is weaponry that is of Iranian manufacture that's in Iraq killing Americans. There are Iranians involved, there are Iranians on the ground. Our intelligence indicates that the explosively formed penetrators, the EFP, in fact, are directly associated with Quds forces, which are part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which are part of the government.

    The Quds force is, in fact, an official arm of the Iranian government and, as such, the government bears responsibility and accountability for its actions, as you would expect of any sovereign government.

General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 13 February -

    A top U.S. general said Tuesday there was no evidence the Iranian government was supplying Iraqi insurgents with highly lethal roadside bombs, apparently contradicting claims by other U.S. military and administration officials.

    Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. forces hunting down militant networks that produced roadside bombs had arrested Iranians and that some of the material used in the devices were made in Iran."That does not translate that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this," Pace told reporters in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

He didn't get the memo, or a as Glenn Greenwald suggests something else is going on -

    This is quite a bizarre, and clearly significant, spectacle. The White House and intelligence officials are continuously feeding the press accusations that the Iranian Government is behind the attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, and yet the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is expressly denying that there is evidence for that, and even going so far as to insist that he is unaware of the intelligence briefings being given to reporters on this topic.

    Even the White House press corps recognized how extraordinary were these discrepancies in the claims from various Bush officials on such a key question, and they relentlessly pressed Snow today throughout the briefing until Snow finally admitted: "What [Pace] was thinking is, are you trying to lay this at the feet of members of the Supreme Governing Council; are you trying to lay this at the feet of particular individuals? The answer is, no, we don't have the intelligence that makes it that specific."

    Snow's admission (forced after 10 minutes of hostile questioning) that they have no evidence that the Supreme Governing Council in Iran has anything to do with these activities directly contradicts the principal claim at the intelligence briefing in Baghdad that the weapons were provided "on orders from the 'highest levels' of the Iranian government." But even worse, Snow's attempt to explain away Pace's comments by claiming that Pace only meant that they could not link the activities to any specific faction in the Iraqi Government is a total falsehood, since Pace said as clearly as he could - both yesterday and today - that the attacks could not be linked to the Iranian Government at all: "I would not say, by what I know, that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."

    What seems to be happening here is clear. Numerous high officials in the Bush administration (current and former) are in the process of having their reputations and credibility completely (and justifiably) destroyed as a result of their participation in disseminating the false pre-Iraq-war claims to the American public. Gen. Pace does not want to be the Colin-Powell-with-his-slideshow-at-the-U.N. of the Iran War - who would? - and he is thus making it a point to repudiate the highly precarious (if not entirely baseless) accusations being peddled by Bush officials regarding Iran.

Heck, it may be a revolt of the generals.  They might just think a new war with Iran would be disastrous, and "break" our Army and Marines.  Or it may be mere self-preservation.

Greenwald does add that it was Pace who, the week before, had emphatically denied what had been the central Bush rhetorical tactic for advocating the "surge":

    A top Pentagon leader weighed in yesterday on the war debate and appeared to undercut the argument advanced by the White House and many GOP lawmakers that a congressional debate challenging the Bush plan would hurt troop morale.

    "There's no doubt in my mind that the dialogue here in Washington strengthens our democracy. Period," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the House Armed Services Committee. He added that potential enemies may take some comfort from the rancor but said they "don't have a clue how democracy works."

And he adds this -

    It is clear that at least key factions in the Bush administration are intent on a military confrontation with Iran. They were able, more or less easily, to push the country into invading Iraq. But with so many people having watched as they severely damage our country in countless ways over the last six years, there is likely to be substantially more resistance to the next war they seem to be pursuing. Not being able to keep their stories straight on such a critical question, at such high levels, is an unmistakable sign of real disarray and division.

And Greenwald doesn't even quote Seymour Hersh in the April 2006 New Yorker, on the dissent -

    There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush's ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be "wiped off the map." Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. "That's the name they're using. They say, 'Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?'"

    A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was "absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb" if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy."

    One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government." He added, "I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, 'What are they smoking?'"

Ah, leadership - when it goes bad someone has to fix things. Pace to the rescue.

It's one theory. And, from Digby at Hullabaloo, here's another -

    I have believed for some time that the Bush administration is intent upon attacking Iran because they believe that their unpopularity will be redeemed by history for having taken great, bold steps to transform the Middle East. The more Iraq looks like a cock-up of epic proportions that results in nothing more than chaos and death, the less likely it is that their "vision" will come to pass. And so they rely more and more on the "big" thinkers who set us on this path many years ago:  the neoconservatives who cooked up a document for Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu years ago.  A document called A Clean Break, which many people, including Ambassador Joseph Wilson, have pointed to as the guiding document that took us first into Iraq - and now maybe Iran.

    For those of you who may be foggy on the details, I would highly recommend that you read this very interesting neocon primer by Craig Unger in this month's Vanity Fair.  It was, at one time, considered to be crazed moonbat conspiracy mongering to talk about "Clean Break."  Today those of us who were writing about it prior to the Iraq invasion have been vindicated by events.  We were not being hysterical then and we are not hysterical now.

Ah, and from the Vanity Fair item -

    The neoconservatives have had Iran in their sights for more than a decade. On July 8, 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's newly elected prime minister and the leader of its right-wing Likud Party, paid a visit to the neoconservative luminary Richard Perle in Washington, D.C. The subject of their meeting was a policy paper that Perle and other analysts had written for an Israeli-American think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic Political Studies. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," the paper contained the kernel of a breathtakingly radical vision for a new Middle East. By waging wars against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, the paper asserted, Israel and the U.S. could stabilize the region. Later, the neoconservatives argued that this policy could democratize the Middle East.

    "It was the beginning of thought," says Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American policy expert, who co-signed the paper with her husband, David Wurmser, now a top Middle East adviser to Dick Cheney. Other signers included Perle and Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy during George W. Bush's first term. "It was the seeds of a new vision."

    Netanyahu certainly seemed to think so. Two days after meeting with Perle, the prime minister addressed a joint session of Congress with a speech that borrowed from "A Clean Break." He called for the "democratization" of terrorist states in the Middle East and warned that peaceful means might not be sufficient. War might be unavoidable.

    Netanyahu also made one significant addition to "A Clean Break." The paper's authors were concerned primarily with Syria and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but Netanyahu saw a greater threat elsewhere. "The most dangerous of these regimes is Iran," he said.

    Ten years later, "A Clean Break" looks like nothing less than a playbook for U.S.-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented-removing Saddam from power, setting aside the "land for peace" formula to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon-all with disastrous results.

    Nevertheless, neoconservatives still advocate continuing on the path Netanyahu staked out in his speech and taking the fight to Iran. As they see it, the Iraqi debacle is not the product of their failed policies. Rather, it is the result of America's failure to think big. "It's a mess, isn't it?" says Meyrav Wurmser, who now serves as director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute. "My argument has always been that this war is senseless if you don't give it a regional context."

Now it all makes sense, and we see the argument that's clearly "driving Bush and Cheney today" -

    They have nothing else. Cheney is melting down on national television.  Bush in his bubble is as detached and oblivious as ever. I believe that we are at a point where the only things standing between us and the order to attack Iran are the generals. (Forget congress - they can't even pass a toothless resolution against the "surge" in less than a couple of months. The "surge" will have already failed by the time they even stage a useless protest.)  And that is about the scariest thing, out of many scary things, I've contemplated since the beginning of the Bush administration. We are now in a Strangelovian bizarroworld where we must count on General Buck Turgidson to refuse to follow orders. Holy Moly.

Drat, it's that movie again.  Kubrick warned us about wacky leaders, but maybe the film was just too funny. But then, perhaps Pace and the other generals weren't actually laughing when they first saw it years ago.  Maybe they thought about leadership and responsibility, and got a tad depressed, and grim. And then they filed their thought away - it was just a movie.

It seems to be crunch time now, however. Something is going on.

We will see what happens.  Maybe we won't bomb Iran, and then send in fifty or a hundred guys to keep order, for just a week or two until the spontaneous and wildly pro-American government is up and running.

But the problem remains. If this third major war of choice is averted, for now at least, in another two years, how will the generals deal with the thin-skinned, hyper-aggressive and agree-with-me-or-you're-fired Rudolph Giuliani, or the "tell me what I should say and what I should think" John McCain?

Maybe the voters can help out the generals.

This item posted - in its final version - February 18, 2007

[Up for the Job]

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