Tuesday, August 23, 2005

If He Only Had a Brain -- or a Heart

The draft constitution submitted to Iraq's parliament today -- but not voted on yet -- gives Islamic law the final say on all policy issues; and the Shiites and Kurds are insisting on a federalist system that Sunnis fiercely oppose because they fear such a system would leave them politically and economically marginalized -- given that Sunnis are in the minority in Iraq and most of the country's oil is in southern Iraq, which is Shiite territory.

Shiite delegates give ridiculous assurances that there is a "choice" to have a federalist system in the constitution; and "whoever doesn't want federalism can opt not to practice it." There is no explanation of how, if southern Iraq becomes a separate state and the Kurdish north becomes a separate state, the Sunni-dominated central part of Iraq can "opt not to practice" federalism.

There is the spectacle of the Bush administration's lackey ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, shrugging off concerns about the primacy this charter gives to Islamic law and saying there is no need to worry about the constitution's statement that Iraq is an Islamic state and no law can be passed that contradicts Islamic doctrine -- because, he says, the constitution contains a bill of rights guaranteeing religious freedom and equal treatment for women and minorities.

"It is a very enlightened constitution," Khalilzad said. "It tries to reconcile Iraqi traditions with universal values. . . . Americans will be very pleased when this document is released. . . ."

He does not explain how the same document can simultaneously guarantee democratic freedoms and declare that Islamic religious law gets to sign off on all Iraqi laws. He also does not mention the fact that he is the one who gave in to the Shiites' demand that Islamic religious law be given primacy in the charter.

And then there is that little aside, "Americans will be very pleased...."

Who cares if Americans are pleased or not? Is this America's constitution, or Iraq's? Who is running this show?

Needless to say, that is a rhetorical question. I'm sure the Bush administration is thrilled with the idea of an Iraqi political structure that "would fundamentally change Iraq, transforming the country into a loose federation, with a weak central administration..."; and if that loose federation is governed according to Islamic law, that is of lesser importance to the Bushies than the fact that there would be no single powerful central authority, as in Saddam Hussein's day. The breakup of Iraq is surely just what the White House wants.

It's odd, though, that the Bush administration, having demonized Saddam Hussein and the Sunni minority as an imminent and pressing danger to the entire world, now are so willing to throw themselves into the arms of the Shiites, who would almost certainly be strongly influenced by Iran. But it makes as much sense as anything else about Bush's Iraq policy.

The official White House response to Iraq's draft charter is in keeping with their philosophy that if you spray perfume on a two-day-old corpse, people will think it's a flower garden.

"We welcome today's development as another step forward in Iraq's constitutional process," said a White House statement. "The progress made over the past week has been impressive."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also praised the Iraqis in a statement for their "statesmanlike decision" to use three more days to build a national consensus.

The Iraqi parliament was actually responding to threats of civil uprising if the constitution was voted on and passed over Sunni objections, but "statesmanlike" sounds much better than "desperate, last-ditch attempt to avoid all-out civil war."

But don't expect even a whiff of unpleasant reality to penetrate George W. Bush's mental narcosis -- particularly pronounced right now as the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces enjoys a five-week vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times gives us GWB's description of his typical schedule on any one of the 35 or so days he is on vacation:

"I'm going to have lunch with Secretary of State Rice, talk a little business; Mrs. Bush, talk a little business; we've got a friend from South Texas here, named Katharine Armstrong; take a little nap. I'm reading an Elmore Leonard book right now, knock off a little Elmore Leonard this afternoon; go fishing with my man, Barney; a light dinner and head to the ballgame. I get to bed about 9:30 p.m., wake up about 5 a.m. So it's a perfect day."

Sweet. And Pres. Bush has had a lot of perfect days like that one -- in fact, he's had more such days than most presidents in U.S. history. Just this one five-week stretch is the longest consecutive vacation time any president has had in at least 36 years.

The Washington Post had an instructive piece on George W. Bush's penchant for vacationing, back on August 3, the day after Bush left Washington, D.C., for Texas.

President Bush is getting the kind of break most Americans can only dream of -- nearly five weeks away from the office, loaded with vacation time.
The August getaway is Bush's 49th trip to his cherished ranch since taking office and the 319th day that Bush has spent, entirely or partially, in Crawford -- nearly 20 percent of his presidency to date, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS Radio reporter known for keeping better records of the president's travel than the White House itself. Weekends and holidays at Camp David or at his parents' compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, bump up the proportion of Bush's time away from Washington even further.

Bush's long vacations are more than a curiosity: They play into diametrically opposite arguments about this leadership style. To critics and late-night comics, they symbolize a lackadaisical approach to the world's most important day job, an impression bolstered by Bush's two-hour midday exercise sessions and his disinclination to work nights or weekends. The more vociferous among Bush's foes have noted that he spent a month at the ranch shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when critics assert he should have been more attentive to warning signs.

To Bush and his advisers, that criticism fundamentally misunderstands his Texas sojourns. Those who think he does not remain in command, aides say, do not understand the modern presidency or Bush's own work habits. At the ranch, White House officials say, Bush continues to receive daily national security briefings, sign documents, hold teleconferences with aides and military commanders, and even meet with foreign leaders. And from the president's point of view, the long Texas stints are the best way to clear his mind and reconnect with everyday America.

"I'm looking forward to getting down there and just kind of settling in," Bush told reporters from Texas newspapers during a roundtable interview at the White House on Monday. "I'll be doing a lot of work. On the other hand, I'll also be kind of making sure my Texas roots run deep."

"Spending time outside of Washington always gives the president a fresh perspective of what's on the minds of the American people," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters Friday. "It's a time, really, for him to shed the coat and tie and meet with folks out in the heartland and hear what's on their minds."

Well, how cozy. And unsurprising, too, given Bush's predilection for never putting himself in any position or locale that isn't thoroughly familiar, friendly, comfortable, and unthreatening. The problem is, he doesn't need to hear what's on his Texas neighbors' minds. He already knows. What he doesn't know is what's on the minds of the men and women he's sent to Afghanistan and Iraq, as this ex-soldier and veteran lets him know in no uncertain terms.

The thing I find most galling - in a long, long list - about the chicken-hawks and their supporters in this mis-administration is their predilection to put words in my mouth (and the mouths of other veterans and service members). Those who were just too busy to serve in the armed forces of our country or who served under mysterious circumstances (yeah, I'm talking to you, W), have no moral stand whatsoever to say what actions might "dishonor" service members or veterans. They have no right to declare that one action or another would make our sacrifices be "in vain."

As an ex-soldier and a veteran, I can tell you that nothing dishonors a soldier more than to waste his time or to risk his life or the lives of his buddies for no good reason. Nothing could be more in vain than to give up life or limb in the prosecution of a war sold to the American people as a lie.

Listen up, all of you who support this continuing disaster in Iraq, unless you've served, unless you're a veteran, you have no idea what you are talking about. You have no right to make claims on our honor. Keep your goddamn words out of our mouths; we can speak for ourselves.

You do not speak for me.

Well said. And how unseemly is it for this president to talk about the sacrifices those 1,864 men and women, and their families, have made (1,869 by the end of today) when he dodged that sacrifice as a young man, and won't sacrifice anything himself or ask most Americans to sacrifice anything? I can barely contain my contempt and disgust for this wicked, hypocritical man who spends five weeks vacationing on his Texas ranch while American kids by the thousands are experiencing the horrors of hell -- fighting and getting killed or horribly injured, in body and in mind -- and then claims to be "honoring their sacrifice" by keeping them there to fight a war that was built on lies: telling us that we "honor" the 1,869 who have lost their lives already by deliberately allowing hundreds or thousands more to die! And for a war that has destabilized an entire region and has not made us one bit safer!

For the record, having read many thoughtful pieces, by bloggers who understand the enormity of Bush's folly in starting this war, about the probable consequences of pulling all U.S. troops out right now, I don't think that is the solution. Juan Cole, an expert on the history and politics of the Middle East as well as a fine writer with great humanity, is convinced that pulling out now would precipitate a bloodbath, for which we of course would be responsible:

Personally, I think "US out now" as a simple mantra neglects to consider the full range of possible disasters that could ensue. For one thing, there would be an Iraq civil war. Iraq wasn't having a civil war in 2002. And although you could argue that what is going on now is a subterranean, unconventional civil war, it is not characterized by set piece battles and hundreds of people killed in a single battle, as was true in Lebanon in 1975-76, e.g. People often allege that the US military isn't doing any good in Iraq and there is already a civil war. These people have never actually seen a civil war and do not appreciate the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano.

All it would take would be for Sunni Arab guerrillas to assassinate Grand Ayatollah Sistani. And, boom. If there is a civil war now that kills a million people, with ethnic cleansing and millions of displaced persons, it will be our fault, or at least the fault of the 75% of Americans who supported the war. (Such a scenario is entirely plausible. Look at Afghanistan. It was a similar-sized country with similar ethnic and ideological divisions. One million died 1979-1992, and five million were displaced. Moreover, all this helped get New York and the Pentagon blown up.)

I mean, we are always complaining, and rightly so, about the genocide in Darfur and the inattention to genocides in Rwanda and the Congo earlier. Can we really live with ourselves if we cast Iraqis into such a maelstrom deliberately?

And Stephen Bainbridge, a conservative blogger who thinks that the war was a huge mistake, says:

It's time for us conservatives to face facts. George W. Bush has pissed away the conservative moment by pursuing a war of choice via policies that border on the criminally incompetent.
The trouble with Bush's justification for the war is that it uses American troops as fly paper. Send US troops over to Iraq, where they'll attract all the terrorists, who otherwise would have come here, and whom we'll then kill. This theory has proven fallacious. The first problem is that the American people are unwilling to let their soldiers be used as fly paper.
The second problem is that the fly paper strategy seems to be radicalizing our foes even more. For every fly that gets caught, it seems as though 10 more spring up. This should hardly come as a surprise to anybody who has watched Israel pursue military solutions to its terrorist problems, after all. Does anybody really think Israel's military actions have left Hezbollah or Hamas with fewer foot soldiers? To the contrary, the London bombing suggests to me that it is only a matter of time before the jihadists strike in the US again, even though our troops remain hung out as fly paper in the Augean Stables of Iraq. ...
While we remain bogged down in Iraq, of course, Osama bin Laden remains at large somewhere. Multi-tasking is all the rage these days, but whatever happened to finishing a job you started? It strikes me that catching Osama would have done a lot more to discourage the jihadists than anything we've done in Iraq.
Update: In response to a valid email question, I haven't changed my mind about cutting and running. I still think that's probably the worst possible strategy. But I'm very angry at Bush for having gotten us into this mess in the first place. And, as per the Powell doctrine, I do think it's time for the administration to come up with both a viable long-term goal and a clear exit strategy.

But if "cutting and running" is not an option (or at least not a responsible option), the reason is not that "we must honor the sacrifices" made by American soldiers who have been killed or maimed in Iraq. The reason we can't just leave is because George W. Bush made a mistake of historic proportions. And it wasn't an honest mistake. It was a mistake created by lies, religious fanaticism, greed, and lust for power. And now, the horrible truth is that American men and women will have to clean up the mess that their president made, or at least prevent the mess from getting even worse.

But if I had Pres. Bush in front of me right now, I would read this Guardian article aloud to him:

The executions are carried out at dawn on Haqlania bridge, the entrance to Haditha. A small crowd usually turns up to watch even though the killings are filmed and made available on DVD in the market the same afternoon.

One of last week's victims was a young man in a black tracksuit. Like the others he was left on his belly by the blue iron railings at the bridge's southern end. His severed head rested on his back, facing Baghdad. Children cheered when they heard that the next day's spectacle would be a double bill: two decapitations. A man named Watban and his brother had been found guilty of spying.

With so many alleged American agents dying here Haqlania bridge was renamed Agents' bridge. Then a local wag dubbed it Agents' fridge, evoking a mortuary, and that name has stuck.

A three-day visit by a reporter working for the Guardian last week established what neither the Iraqi government nor the US military has admitted: Haditha, a farming town of 90,000 people by the Euphrates river, is an insurgent citadel.

That Islamist guerrillas were active in the area was no secret but only now has the extent of their control been revealed. They are the sole authority, running the town's security, administration and communications.

A three-hour drive north from Baghdad, under the nose of an American base, it is a miniature Taliban-like state. Insurgents decide who lives and dies, which salaries get paid, what people wear, what they watch and listen to.

Haditha exposes the limitations of the Iraqi state and US power on the day when the political process is supposed to make a great leap - a draft constitution finalised and approved by midnight tonight.

This is what goes on every day in Iraq, while George W. Bush spends his perfect day knocking off a little Elmore Leonard, fishing with "my man" Barney, going to a ballgame, and settling into his comfortable bed at 9:30 p.m.

1 comment:

Quit Smoking said...

Hello fellow fisherman,

Did you know that 16% of the U.S. population goes fishing at least 16 days a year?

Did you also know that over 75% of the nations fishermen do not fish during "prime time"; fish feeding hours?

Those precious few moments before twilight can be absolutely magical. Even up until 11pm at night, the largest predators of any species feed ravenously.

Don't believe me? Check out Daniel Eggertsen's story, and a picture of a couple of his catches here : "Evening Secrets plus more"

I want you to do me a favor and try it out so I can see what you think of it, and if it works for you as well as it did for me.

You will be one of the first to try it out.

Gone Fishin',