Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fabricating the case for the Iraq War

Most of you have never heard of Larry Wilkerson, and probably even fewer of you have heard of Jasim al-Azzawi, and that's truly a shame. Larry Wilkerson was the chief of staff to Colin Powell, first at the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later at the State Department. He has become an outspoken critic of the Iraq War, and most especially of the process by which the George W. Bush White House went about selling the American public, the Congress, and at least some of the international community on the idea of régime change by military force. Jasim al-Azzawi once worked as an Arabic translator for the U.S. State Department, but he is now the host of the weekly discussion program Inside Iraq on Al Jazeera English. This week, Mr. Wilkerson was the guest for a special one-on-one discussion Inside Iraq.

I realize that a transcript of an interview between two people who are relatively obscure will not draw the same level of interest as a transcript of an exchange between Jon Stewart and John McCain, but I post it here because it offers a rare inside glimpse at the workings of the Bush White House in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. Mr. Wilkerson worked closely with Secretary of State Colin Powell in preparing the presentation to the United Nations Security Council on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's supposed ties to international terrorism.
Jasim Azzawi: In February 2003, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell stood before the United Nations Security Council and presented his country's case for war against Iraq. Critics charge that presentation was weak, inaccurate and full of fraudulent evidence, but most people did not know at the time, Powell believed in those words despite some nagging doubts.

Our guest today is aware of those nagging doubts. Our guest today is former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff Larry Wilkerson. Welcome to this special edition of Inside Iraq, Mr. Wilkerson. Those nagging doubts: were they born as a result of lack of evidence, lack of information, or the misinterpretation and potential misinterpretation of that evidence?

Larry Wilkerson: Thank you for having me here. That's a good question. I think the doubts came mostly from the fact that we had predominantly circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence, while convincing, is not the kind of evidence that you would like to have for such a fateful decision, to send a nation to war. And also because what we had was evidence that came from other sources. That is to say, the United States did not have real intelligence sources on the ground in Iraq, and so we had to rely heavily on other intelligence services: the British, the Germans, the French, the Israelis, the Jordanians. We had not had any "eyes on the ground" in Iraq since President Clinton had bombed Iraq in 1998, and Saddam Hussein had essentially severed the relationship with the inspectors, and so forth, and removed them from his country, and so there was quite a period of years that all we could do is depend on other people's intelligence sources and depend on our national technical means, satellites and so forth, for what they could render about his programs. That obviously was not adequate.

Azzawi: Perhaps that's unprecedented, somehow, for the U.S. to rely on other countries for such a weighty enterprise, and that is to go to war, on evidence they could not corroborate. Having said that, many intelligence agencies within the US had their doubts, they had dissension. Was this dissension presented to Colin Powell?

Wilkerson: We have 5 really prominent intelligence agencies that we were dealing with routinely, and we have another 10 or so that we have to deal with in what we call the "intelligence community." This is everything from the Central Intelligence Agency, with which most everyone is familiar now, to the National Security Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency, and so forth. The man who speaks for all those agencies is — in the past was the Director of Central Intelligence, at that time, George Tenet, and his deputy, the DDCI, John McLaughlin. So when they spoke, they spoke for all of the elements in the US intelligence community, and they spoke in a decisive way. That is to say, George Tenet was the person advising the President of the United States and the National Security Council, of which Colin Powell was a member. So, if there was dissension in the intelligence community — and, as you indicate, there was some dissension — then that dissension is handled, managed, by the DCI. The DCI makes the decision as to which side of an argument, if there are sides, that he comes down on. The President and the Secretary of State and others listen to the DCI, and they take (normally) what the DCI says as the verdict of the intelligence community.

Azzawi: Mr. Wilkerson, that begs the question: you and Secretary Powell spent days, if not perhaps weeks, in Virginia, in the headquarters of the CIA, perhaps next door to George Tenet. You were presented with most of the information, all of the information, and yet you are saying that those dissensions, some of those internal e-mails within the community, were not given to the very man who was going to present the case for the United States in front of the international community.

Wilkerson: That is correct. Some made it through to us; for example, our own intelligence bureau, which is one of those other 15 entities that I was telling you about — our own intelligence bureau in the State Department dissented on the nuclear program. They maintained that Saddam Hussein had no active nuclear program. That dissent was made a footnote to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which was the estimate we used as our backdrop, so to speak, as we prepared the Secretary's presentation.

Azzawi: Are you referring here to the aluminum tubes, or are you referring to something else?

Wilkerson: Here I'm referring to the comprehensive decision to say, Yes, he's got an active nuclear program, [or] No, he doesn't have a program. In this case, INR said their best evidence, their best analysis, showed that he did not have an active nuclear program. The remainder of the intelligence community, however — and importantly the DCI, who's over that community — said that they believed he did have an active nuclear program, and of course that involved, as an ingredient of that assessment, the aluminum tubes.

Azzawi: Earlier you mentioned the reliance on others, and one of the names that had become synonymous, perhaps, with this war and the potential damage to US interests for the long run is "Curveball," and within the dissension there were a couple of e-mails regarding the inaccuracies and perhaps the fraudulent information garnered by Curveball. In your opinion, why were those e-mails not presented to Colin Powell, when the CIA had them?

Wilkerson: This is an issue of major concern to me now, after the presentation has been made and I've done research and I've discovered some of the things that you said —

Azzawi: Did you come up to a conclusion?

Wilkerson: Well, I have listened to Tyler Drumheller, who was the head of CIA operations in Europe. I don't see any reason why he would be lying or fabricating. He has said that there was information available during the time that we were preparing, and that information discounted the reliability of a source, who I have since learned was the principal source for the mobile biological laboratories. This is your "Curveball." We never heard about that doubt, we never saw that doubt expressed by the DCI or the DDCI. We never knew that there was a single source only; we were told there were four independently corroborated sources for the biological labs. So, yes, I have deep concern over that now, as to why George Tenet and John McLaughlin did not tell the Secretary about that doubt, which Tyler Drumheller says he talked to them about extensively.

Azzawi: The Germans, who had possession of Curveball, said, you know, he's a liar.

Wilkerson: That's my understanding. My understanding is not just the Germans, but also, as I said, the head of the European division of the CIA, Tyler Drumheller, actually talked on the phone with John McLaughlin about his own doubts, and when he saw the script that we were preparing for Powell to give in New York, he weighed in again and said that Powell should not be saying this, because the information was unreliable. And yet that never made it to the Secretary of State.

Azzawi: Mr. Wilkerson, let's come to the case officer of Curveball, the master of Curveball, if you like: Ahmed Chalabi (أحمد الجلبي). Did he actively — was he critical in the US going to war based upon the fraudulent information that he furnished the US?

Wilkerson: In my subsequent research, I think I have found that Chalabi had an inordinate amount of influence, and his Iraqi National Congress in the context that they created had an inordinate amount of influence over the compilation of intelligence that was done by Douglas Feith's office in the Pentagon, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Feith. I think that information, essentially, was the information that made it into the script that Secretary Powell was originally given by Scooter Libby in the Vice President's office at the White House, for his presentation at the UN Security Council.

Azzawi: And yet, listening to Douglas Feith, he discounts very much the influence of Ahmed Chalabi, whether on Secretary Rumsfeld or on Wolfowitz or on him.

Wilkerson: I differ with that opinion, obviously. I believe Chalabi had significant influence on a number of decision-makers, including Vice President Cheney.

Azzawi: Let's come to the second pillar, the second reason for the US going to war, and that is the nexus between the Iraqi government and terrorism. Were the US convinced that Iraq really is involved in international terrorism, again despite the dissension of other intelligence agencies?

Wilkerson: Well, here's another area where I have some deep concern about what happened at the CIA in those five, six days that I virtually lived at Langley. We were debating the portions of Secretary Powell's presentation that described Saddam's contacts with terrorists. We almost got to the point where we were throwing the majority of it out; that is to say, Secretary Powell didn't believe any of it, didn't think it was relevant, didn't think it proved anything — we were about to eliminate him. We had a last-minute presentation on an interrogation of, as it was put at the time, and this is almost a direct quote, "a high-level Al Qaeda operative."

Azzawi: You are referring to —

Wilkerson: Later I determined that that was [Ibn al] Shaykh al-Libi (ابن الشیخ اللبّی), and that he had confessed, and in that confession he had owned up to the fact that there were direct contacts between Saddam Hussein's people and Al Qaeda, and in fact those contacts included training by Saddam Hussein's Mukhabarat and training Al Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Well, this was stunning. This was coming from a high-level operative whom we had captured, and it was delivered to the Secretary of State, it was delivered to me, and we decided that we would put that information in Secretary Powell's presentation, and it became the heart of his presentation on terrorism with regard to Saddam Hussein.

Azzawi: Mr. Wilkerson, before we take a break, was that evidence, that statement by him, taken under duress?

Wilkerson: I have subsequently learned that he was tortured in Egypt, that no US personnel were present during that torture, and that he "confessed," as it were.

Azzawi: Mr. Wilkerson, we'll take a short break now, but when we come back, I'll ask you about Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council. Stay with us.

Welcome back to this special episode of Inside Iraq. My guest today is Larry Wilkerson; he was the former chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell. In his presentation in February '03 to the Security Council, Powell talked about Ansar al-Islam (انصار الاسل) — this is a small Islamic radical fringe group — that they had a small base in northern Iraq, a part of Iraq that was not under the control of the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. How was it possible for Powell to extrapolate that Iraq is supporting terrorism, knowing full well that Baghdad's writ does not extend all the way to the border between Iraq and Iran?

Wilkerson: Both the Secretary and I asked John McLaughlin, and George Tenet, and other analysts that they presented to us, those questions about, why were we looking at an area that should've been under the control of the Kurds, and obviously under our surveillance, because we virtually, in terms of the no-fly zones, were "owners" of the southern and northern portions of Iraq. The answers we got were that that was a wild and wooly area in Iraq, and that no one — not even the Kurds — really had constant visibility over that area, and that's the reason the terrorist group had selected it to be its poison factory, where it put together various chemicals and so forth to make poisons. And that was the extent of the information that the intelligence community gave to the Secretary.

Azzawi: And how did they tie it to Baghdad?

Wilkerson: Well, it wasn't necessarily tied to Baghdad —

Azzawi: The way it came out, in the presentation —

Wilkerson: Well, actually, it was tied to Iraq. If you tie it to Iraq —

Azzawi: That's good enough?

Wilkerson: — you've tied it by implication to Baghdad.

Azzawi: And he mentioned also Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (أبومصعب الزرقاوي) being in Baghdad, or frequent appearer to Iraq, and that turned out to be also not true.

Wilkerson: Well, we went through quite a bit of discussion about that, with the Secretary, with myself and Mr. Tenet and Mr. McLaughlin and others, and the conclusion we came to was, at least what we believed they were telling us was, that Zarqawi was seeking some sort of medical treatment in Baghdad and that because of the fact that no one could be in Baghdad without Saddam Hussein's people knowing it, that Saddam Hussein was essentially a host while he was there receiving medical treatment.

Azzawi: Coming to the ace in the hole, the pièce de résistance within the administration, the presentation that, as outlined by Powell at the Security Council, was the mobile lab. Was he really convinced that Iraq had those labs? We only saw sketches; there was no hard evidence at all that Baghdad has it.

Wilkerson: Well, as I said before, we were presented with four different sources, each of which had, independent of one another, corroborated the presence of the labs — not just what we eventually showed, which was a mock-up of trucks that plied Iraq's highways and had hide positions in Iraq, but also on rail cars that were in certain hide areas also. And on these rail cars and in these trucks, which constituted a less than 1% portion of the trucks that plied the roads of Iraq, for example — virtually unfindable — these facilities were available to make, on the spot, if you will, batches of biological weapons. And it came across from the CIA analyst, who, remember now —

Azzawi: These are actual US sources? These four sources?

Wilkerson: No, these four sources were not revealed to us, in terms of whether they were run by the British, run by the United States, run by Germany, run by Jordan, run by the INC — they were not revealed to us, except that, because they were trying to protect their sources and methods, except that they were sources with impeccable credentials, and that they independently corroborated each other. Now, the one that was revealed to us in some detail, was an Iraqi major who had actually worked in one of these laboratories. He had been present when an accident had occurred in the laboratory, had injured and even killed some people, and he was the one who was able, because of having worked in the laboratory, to sketch for the CIA artist exactly what you saw presented at the UN, the sketches of the mobile biological laboratories. This was a very convincing presentation.

Azzawi: Did he pan out to be right?

Wilkerson: He turns out, apparently, to have been Curveball, camouflaged so the Secretary of State would not see that it was Curveball, would not see that it was a source in Germany, would not see that the Germans had possession of him and not us, would not see the things, the details that would normally be available. He was camouflaged as a source that was "impeccable."

Azzawi: Now, all along, this begs a question: Colin Powell, a man who spent all his years of life in the service of his country, and here again he is presenting the case for his country to the Security Council, and he's putting his personal credibility, let alone the credibility of the United States. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and four years and now you are teaching most of this here in the Virginia area, was it a deliberate machination by part of the US government to make Powell a fall guy, or was it just circumstances conspired against him?

Wilkerson: At the time that we made the presentation, and in the months that came later, when Mr. Tenet and Mr. McLaughlin had to call the Secretary and tell him that major pillars in his presentation were false, I thought that it was just a colossal intelligence failure. I still think that was a major part of it, and not just a failure on the part of the United States, but also of some of our friends and allies. But after, as you said, doing a lot of research, listening to people, talking to people, looking at some of the data that's come out, I can't explain, especially, those two instances, the one of Curveball, the other with regard to Shaykh al-Libi, because the Defense Intelligence Agency dissented on Shaykh al-Libi's "confession" immediately, because it was gained under coercion. I can't explain why those two, in particular, very important parts of his presentation, weren't made available to Secretary Powell at the time so that he could make a decision as to whether he included them in his presentation, so I have to conclude now that there was some, not just politicization of intelligence, some cherry-picking of intelligence, which I've always thought there was, but I have to conclude now that there were some people in this process who actually colluded to make a false picture, and make that –

Azzawi: This was a deliberate effort, in order to trap Colin Powell?

Wilkerson: Well, not necessarily to trap Colin Powell. More accurately, to trap the international community and the American people and the UN Security Council into voting for a war with Iraq.

Azzawi: Because the people in the Middle East, as well as the rest of the world, may have the following theory: when Colin Powell went to George Bush, as the drum for war was beating, that you need an international cover, you need a United Nations resolution, otherwise it's not going to pan out, it's not going to work out. People surrounding the President — Dick Cheney, Feith, Wolfowitz — said, "That's what the Secretary wants, international cover, legitimacy, let us give it to him, and let's put him in front of the Security Council." Do you buy that argument? Somehow he got what he wanted, but in the process he was cheated?

Wilkerson: I buy the argument, something a little bit more sophisticated than you just delivered it.

Azzawi: Let me hear it.

Wilkerson: I buy the argument, something like this: the Vice President of the United States, who was the most powerful member of this administration from 2001 to 2004, when I observed it — the Vice President of the United States essentially weighed in and must've said something like this: "Powell wants to go to the UN? Let him go. If he fails, no harm done; if he succeeds, then we'll have their support." So Powell was sent to the United Nations to deliver the message, the message of circumstantial evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and therefore presented, if not an imminent, certainly a considerable threat to the United States and to the region. Colin Powell was sent — unlike Adlai Stevenson being sent during the Cuban Missile Crisis, arguably a much more serious crisis, Colin Powell was sent — the Secretary of State was sent — because he had high poll ratings and the most credibility of anyone in the administration. And that's the only conclusion I think anyone who's not naïve must come to these days.

Azzawi: Iraq is in a crisis now. The United States is in crisis right now. Almost it's a Catch-22: they cannot leave and they cannot stay. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, four years of research, and before that you were in the very heart of the US political decision-making, why was it? What was the very reason for the war? Was it oil? Was it forward bases? Was it war of choice? Exactly how would you describe this, what Madeleine Albright said, "The worst single American misadventure in the history of the United States, since the creation of the Republic"?

Wilkerson: First, let me tell you that I knew there were going to be problems, because I was with Powell in 1990 and 1991 when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and we talked another President Bush out of going to Baghdad. I knew all of the reasons we had come up with to persuade the President that he shouldn't go to Baghdad. That is to say, "quit while you're ahead." So, here we fast-forward to 2002 and 2003, and I'm listening to arguments that we are going to Baghdad now, that we are going to take Iraq, a nation of some 20+ million people, and we're going to essentially "own" that nation, so I had ample reservations even at that time, but looking back on it, as you said now, I think you have to ask me which person advising President Bush are you talking about, before I can give you a motivation, and let me just give you some examples: I think with Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the motivation was freedom and democracy, utopia, that sort of thing. It also was very much the oil. Paul Wolfowitz even said that Iraq was "swimming" in oil. So, if you look at others, like the Vice President, then I have to tell you that I think the principal reason was both oil and the nexus of potential nuclear weapons, in particular, but WMD in general, and terrorist groups. If you're looking at other people in the administration, Colin Powell, for example, I think the motivation was closing off a policy that was becoming increasingly a failure. The sanctions régime was failing; we hadn't, after all, ended the war in 1991: all Norm Schwarzkopf had done in the desert was sign a cease-fire. So for Colin Powell, it was bringing closure to a policy that was increasingly failing, against a threat that, while it might not be "imminent," still needed to be dealt with. For others in the administration, the motivations were different things. The motivation for Douglas Feith, I think, was Israel; I think Douglas Feith probably was indeed a card-carrying member of the Likud Party.

Azzawi: On that note, Mr. Wilkerson, perhaps I can tell you that is the dominant sentiment in the Middle East: all along, it was oil and Israel. Thank you for being on this special episode of Inside Iraq. That's all the time we have for this week; join me next week when we take another look Inside Iraq.
Inside Iraq airs every Friday at 17:30 UTC, which is 1:30 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, 10:30 A.M. PDT, and repeats several times through the weekend. Check the Al Jazeera English schedule page for air times in your time zone. (Note: it's better to choose your time zone from the pulldown menu, rather than the map, if you are on Daylight Savings Time.) You can watch the low-bandwidth feed on the web for free, or buy a monthly subscription for the broadband feed.

In this interview, we have the direct and damning allegation that the Bush Administration distorted and manipulated the intelligence, not only to dupe the Congress, the public, and the United Nations, but even to dupe its own cabinet officials. Colin Powell placed his own personal credibility on the line before the UNSC, based on the smoke and mirrors of turning one "Curveball" into four impeccable, independently corroborated sources. The lies that were told to Secretary Powell were nothing short of treasonous, because their purpose was to subvert the government of the United States, and their effect was to give aid and comfort to our enemies. George Tenet has a new book out, in which he argues that the intelligence flaws weren't his fault, and that his "slam dunk" comment has been misconstrued. Tyler Drumheller also has a book out in which he squarely blames the Bush White House for "compromising" American intelligence.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

John McCain returns to The Daily Show

Senator John McCain (R–AZ) returned to Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Tuesday, and received the toughest grilling I have yet seen Jon Stewart give a guest. Stewart directly assailed McCain's refusal to criticize President Bush directly and the contradictions inherent in his support of the "surge" strategy currently being pursued in Iraq. McCain retreated into neocon Republican talking points, impugning the patriotism of anyone who suggests that staying in Iraq might not be the best plan for assuring our security.

Update: Here is the video, courtesy of Comedy Central's MotherLoad:

or go directly to the Comedy Central site, or download it in WMV or QT format from Crooks and Liars, or watch it in The Newsroom. The full transcript follows, below the fold.

Here's the transcript of the interview, originally aired 2007-04-24.

Jon Stewart: My guest tonight, he is the senior Republican senator from the great state of Arizona. He's also running for President. Please welcome back to the program Senator John McCain — Senator!

You're our most frequent guest, you realize that? (No.) You've been on the program more than anyone else, I think, nine or ten times — you're our most frequent contributor, but tonight, this is me and you tonight.

Senator John McCain: This is the last time.

Stewart: Tonight you and I go mano y somewhat-less-of-a-mano.

McCain: All right, I'm ready.

Stewart: We're gonna learn, now — are you running for President?

McCain: Yes.

Stewart: You are.

McCain: Yes.

Stewart: All right. There we are. Do you know that right now is not the pre-season: these games count.

McCain: These games count.

Stewart: What do you want to start with, the "Bomb Iran" song or the walk through the market in Baghdad? What do you want to start with?

McCain: Let's see: which one have I seen most on your show? I think maybe shopping in Baghdad. I had something really picked out for you. (Did you really?) Yes, it's a little I.E.D. to put on your desk.

Stewart: That's very lovely of you, thank you. That's why we have the dogs here. Listen —

McCain: By the way, the dog wasn't there, Chloe; I wanted to kick it on my way in.

Stewart: Oh, Chloe, no! Chloe is the sweetest dog in the world! Did you see Parker? Also a beautiful dog. (Yes, indeed.) I don't want to give Parker any complex. (Any ideas.) You go to Baghdad, to see if the surge is working, and you're walking through a market.

McCain: First time anybody's been in that market since the explosion that killed a couple hundred [in fact, seventy-one] people.

Stewart: You made some comments about the safety of it. The gentleman you were with, Mike Pence of Indiana, said this is great, it's like a summertime market in Indiana.

McCain: No! What Mike was saying, what the rest of us were saying, they take all plastic, and so that's good — and that things are safer than they were. Now, are they safe? No. Are they safer? Yes. Are they better? Yes. Have we got a long way to go? Yes. Is it long, is it hard and tough? Yes. Am I saying "last throes"? No. Am I saying "mission accomplished"? No. Am I saying "a few dead-enders"? No.

Stewart: These are fine distinctions. Isn't part of the insurgency, and isn't this the difficulty, that we have to win over the Iraqi people, and can we win them over when we seem to almost consistently diminish their suffering? Rumsfeld has said, "When you fly over Baghdad, the whole place isn't on fire." Condi Rice has said, you know, "This is birthing pains." Think of how we're grieving — and rightfully so —

McCain: Jon, nobody complained more than me, over the last several years, about the way the war was mismanaged. It was terribly mismanaged, I was frustrated, and the sacrifice we made was so sad. Now, you showed a thing on the program where the Majority Leader of the Senate said we lost; now, tell me who won. Who won? Al Qaeda? Sunni militia? Shia militia? Who won, if we lost?
Yes, Senator McCain did criticize the management of the Iraq War, but he also told the American people in 2004 that it was essential to re-elect George W. Bush in order to assure our victory in Iraq. Can there be any doubt that Kerry could only have done a more competent job of managing the war?
Stewart: In fairness to Senator Reid — and god bless me, I don't believe in fairness — (I found that out recently.) he was saying that militarily, even [General David] Petraeus has said you can't win it militarily. I think he said it clumsily, but what he said was, it's a political solution, not a military solution. But I agree with you —

McCain: You know, that's clever, but the fact is, you have to have a military situation where there's security before you have a political and economic solution, (Don't you think we already won militarily?) the same way it was in Bosnia, the same way it was in Kosovo, other places where we've faced this kind of economic —

Stewart: Can we describe this as won or lost? Even the President has said this isn't the kind of war you win and people surrender on a battleship. Shouldn't we get away from the language of "win or lose" in Iraq and get more to (Success.) a descriptive kind of success, with metrics — deadlines, if you will, timetables?

McCain: If you'd prefer to set a date certain for surrender, sure. Yeah, absolutely, if that is what you want —

Stewart: That is absolutely the most unfair —

McCain: The fact is, the fact is that the most rudimentary student of warfare will tell you that —

Stewart: Hey — I play Stratego and Battleship like the next guy! You are not sinking my battleship!

McCain: I know exactly what you mean, but the fact is —

Stewart: Didn't [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates say that the idea that we would set deadlines, didn't he even say that has helped them put pressure on Maliki's government?

McCain: No, what he has said is that we need to put pressure on the government, and the government is not functioning as we want it to, and we need it to make the decisions such as oil revenues and others —
McCain is simply flat-out wrong here. Gates did in fact say that the Democratic push for timetables was helping to put pressure on the Maliki government.
Stewart: But now who's being cute? Isn't the President saying, "I don't want to set timetables, but our patience is not unlimited." So, what he's saying is, "We're not going to pull our troops out between now and the end of time." Isn't that, you know — how do you say we have to set a deadline, but I don't want to pin it down, because that's "surrender"?

McCain: What he's saying is — because it is. I mean, you tell any enemy when you're leaving, they'll say, "Why, fine, we'll just wait until you leave, and then we'll take over."

Stewart: But that assumes we're fighting one enemy; they're fighting each other. It's not. We're there keeping them from killing each other. Surrender is not — we're not "surrendering" to an enemy that has "defeated" us, we're saying, "How do you quell a civil war when it's not your country?"
It also assumes that it is possible for the U.S. military to wait out the insurgents, which is a preposterous claim. The insurgents will not relent even if we keep our army in Iraq for a thousand years.
[audience cheers]

McCain: We're paying a very heavy price.

Stewart: They come in, and the thing is, the tickets are free.

McCain: I think I know whose side they're on.

Stewart: No, they're on America's side, because they're patriots. We'll be right back with more from Senator John McCain.

Hey, welcome back. We're here with Senator John McCain. Here's what we're going to do: you and me, mano a mano; I'm just going to walk through the talking points, and you tell me why they're right. "If we don't fight and defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, they will follow us home." Now, my poisition is —

McCain: Why don't you read what Zarqawi says and what Bin Laden says? Go online, go on the Internet — they'll tell you that. I'm not saying it, they say it. Then I can refer you to their statements.

Stewart: They've also said, "Our strategy is to trap America in a war that will bleed them of treasure and lives." That's also their statement, so you can go both ways on that. But my point is, the idea that Al Qaeda —

McCain: I know one way to go, and that is Al Qaeda has declared their dedication to the destruction of everything that we stand for and believe in. I know that for a fact.

Stewart: Whether we're in Iraq or not.

McCain: You know that for a fact?

Stewart: I know it for a fact.

McCain: Good. That's the first time we've agreed on this whole program. [audience applause] (That's not true!) Thank you!
Yes, Al Qaeda has declared its intent to destroy America and everything America stands for and everything America holds dear. That's not the question. The question is, does staying in Iraq make it easier or harder for Al Qaeda to achieve that objective? As Jon Stewart pointed out, Al Qaeda wants the United States to be stuck in Iraq, so staying in Iraq to spite Al Qaeda is nothing short of insane.
Stewart: But here's the thing I'm trying to say (Yeah.) : when they attack people who disagree with their policy, they attack them in that "they don't understand there's a real threat out there." I'm saying to you, the American people — or at least the ones I get on the subway with — they know there's a real threat out there; they felt like Iraq lessened our ability to fight that threat, so when they say the talking point of, "They'll follow us home" — they're trying to follow us home anyway, whether we're in Iraq or not.

McCain: I know that, and look, Bill Russell, the famous philosopher of the Boston Celtics, once said, "When things go bad, things go bad." The war was terribly mismanaged. It was terribly mismanaged.
And it continues to be terribly mismanaged, even with a highly capable general in the field. The problem is at the very top, specifically at the Commander in Chief.
Stewart: But let them be honest with us — why attack people that question that?

McCain: We are where we are now. We are where we are now. And the question is, Can we give this strategy a chance — and I'm emphasizing a chance to succeed with a great general? And I think we —

Stewart: Why should we? Why?

McCain: Because! Because the [inaudible] of failure are enormous.
We have already failed, because of the incomprehensibly, criminally, treasonously irresponsible mismanagement of the war by the Bush Administration from even before Day One. The question now is, how do we minimize the blowback, to the Iraqi people as well as to the United States, from the fact that we have already failed in Iraq? A few thousand extra troops for a few months will not magically produce results that a hundred thousand troops have not been able to achieve in four years. It's been said many times in many ways by many people, but why on earth should the American people give the Bushies their seven hundred forty-fifth chance when they've blown the first seven hundred forty-four? Why should we expect their prosecution of the war in 2007 to be any better than it was in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006? "Trust us, we're making good progress" just doesn't cut it.
Stewart: If the architects who built a house without any doors or windows don't admit that that's the house they've built, and continue to say, "No, it's your fault for not being able to see into it!" then I don't understand how we're supposed to move forward.

McCain: I was the most severe critic of that architect for the nearly four years that we employed a failed and flawed strategy that's caused us to sacrifice so much, and so I think now, if we can give this a chance....

Stewart: Here's my next bugaboo: supporting the troops. They say that asking for a timetable or criticizing the President is not supporting the troops. Explain to me why that is supporting the troops less than extending their tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months, putting them in stop loss, and not having Walter Reed be up to snuff. How can the President justify that? How can he have the balls to justify that?

McCain: All I can say is that, if you talk to these young men — and women — who are fighting, they'll tell you they think it's a worthwhile cause, and that they're fighting for freedom and —

[audience boos]

Well, all I'm saying, the overwhelming majority of them do; I hear from them all the time.

Stewart: The majority of the guys that I talk to say, "The political scene is not my thing; I'm a soldier."

McCain: The ones I talk to, and I talk to them all the time, my friend, and I hear from them all the time — they know, I know what war is like; I know what evil is like. (You're saying to me that they're madder —) And I'm telling you that they believe they are fighting for somebody else's freedom, and the majority of them believe that. (I don't doubt that.) Now, you're entitled to your views, (No, that's a different point.) but the view of the majority of them is that they think they are doing the right thing, (The soldiers' view is a different point.) and their parents, who have also had to sacrifice, generally speaking, are proud of the service of their sons and daughters, as well as their husbands and wives, and I'm proud of them, too, because they're the best.

Stewart: No one's saying that they shouldn't be proud of their service — this is a very unfair way to deal with this issue (It certainly is! It certainly is. It's very unfair to — ) because — Let me explain it this way: what I'm saying is, it's less supportive of them — (when these people are being told they're fighting a war — ) — Settle down for a second!

McCain: No, you settle down. That they're fighting in a war that they lost. That's not fair to them.
Which is more unfair, telling the troops that they're fighting in a war that their commanders have already lost, or leaving them to fight in a war that's already been lost? The words cannot hurt more than the painful reality behind them, and pretending the reality is not there doesn't help at all.
Stewart: What I believe is less supportive to the good people who believe they're fighting a great cause, is to not give them a strategy that makes their success possible, and to not —

McCain: We now have a strategy. Yes, we do.
Stay the Course, plus a few extra troops, rotating in for longer. I'm underwhelmed.
Stewart: Adding 10,000 people to Baghdad (We now have a strategy.) — add 350,000, and you might have a shot.

McCain: I don't know that that strategy will succeed, but we do have a new strategy. It's a fact.
No, it's not a fact, it's an outright lie. We do not have a new strategy, we have a little hand-waving over the same old failed strategy we've been pushing for four years. Tell the truth, McCain.
Stewart: All I'm saying is, you cannot look a soldier in the eye and say, "Questioning the President is less supportive to you than extending your tour 3 months, when you should be coming home to your family." And that's not fair to put on people that criticize. (Jon —) And you know I love you, and I respect your service, and would never question any of that, and this is not about questioning the troops and their ability to fight and their ability to be supported, and that is what the administration does, and that is almost criminal.

[audience cheers]

McCain: Can I say again, Jon, and I apologize for being repetitious, Americans are saddened and frustrated, and I understand that. The terrible mishandling has been chronicled in books like Fiasco, Cobra II, many others, but again, we are where we are, and I believe these young people have a new strategy and a new general; I hope you have a chance to see 'em. I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic, and I'm aware of how unpopular this war is —

Stewart: It's not about popularity. It's not about popularity.

McCain: I'm aware of the disapproval of the war, and I understand —

Stewart: — and the way it's been prosecuted. Please also be aware that just about everybody I've ever met understands we have a problem, they just think they took the problem in the wrong direction.

McCain: Well, I understand that point of view, and in many ways there's legitimacy to that point of view, but I want to go back to say, we are where we are.
And where we are is stuck in Iraq with a policy that has failed and that continues to fail. The only sensible way forward is to honestly admit that we have failed and look to ways to contain and minimize the effects of that failure. Pretending that we will somehow sprinkle magic pixie dust on Iraq and sprout a victory out of the desert sands, only distracts us from the real work at hand. We need to look at what we can do to leave the best possible security situation in Iraq when we pull out most of our combat troops over the next few months. We cannot sustain this large a military presence in Iraq over the objections of large majorities of both the Iraqi people and the American people, so we must look at what we can do now to keep the blood and mayhem that will inevitably follow in our wake to a minimum.
Stewart: Bless you.

McCain: Bless you. I thank you. I thank you.

Stewart: Will you come on again? Next time you come on, pure shits and giggles. Senator John McCain!
On the whole, not nearly as delusional as Dubya himself, but far from "straight talk" by any measure.

I also have transcripts of John McCain's visits to The Daily Show on 2006-04-05 and 2006-07-24, as well as Michael Ware on Real Time with Bill Maher (2006-03-24), Ali Allawi (former Iraqi government minister, 2007-04-18), and a recent appearance by Jon Kyl, the other senator from Arizona, on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos 2007-04-08. I've also commented on statements by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R–CA) attacking the patriotism of anyone who questions the wisdom of our Iraq war policies (2007-02-13), and panel discussions of the Iraq situation on Al Jazeera English's Inside Iraq program (2007-01-26). I hope you'll take the opportunity to browse some of the other stuff I've written on this blog.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ali Allawi on The Daily Show

Jon Stewart's guest on Wednesday's Daily Show was Ali Allawi, a former advisor to the prime minister and himself a former minister in the current Iraqi government. They had a refreshingly substantive and frank discussion of the reality of Iraq since the fall of Saddam. Mr. Allawi's interview followed directly on the heels of a discussion of the Bush Administration's embarrassing search for a war czar execution manager for President Bush's wars.

Here's the transcript of the Allawi interview:

Jon Stewart: Here to shed some light on all of these goings-on is our guest tonight. He's been a senior advisor to the Prime Minister of Iraq as well as Iraq's Minister of Defense and Finance. His new book is called The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace. Please welcome Ali Allawi.

Delighted you could be with us. The book is called The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace. First things first: the big news, Moqtada al-Sadr has withdrawn from the parliament six guys — expected?

Ali Allawi: I think so; it's been going on for the last 2½ months or 3 months. There was talk about him withdrawing from the government, and I think now he decided to make it a reality. It's not something that is really surprising.

Stewart: So, it's not something that — you don't consider this a terrible blow? Is he like the guy that would keep saying, like, "We're leaving. ... Okay, we're going. ... Okay, you can't stop me. ...," and just keep going? Did anyone really want him to stay, or is he too polarizing, even for the Shia blocs?

Allawi: Well, his rôle has been quite contradictory, in the sense that he's needed to be inside the political process, because he does represent a large segment of the Iraqi population, especially the poor Shia, and at the same time he's seen to be a disruptive element, so he's both in and out. By and large, the last year, it has been better for the political process to have him inside, and especially inside the government rather than outside.

Stewart: Is he now on the outs with Maliki? Does this mean now that his government falls to the other, more powerful, Shia bloc?

Allawi: I think you can make a case that that's what's going to happen, in the sense that he backed Maliki's appointment last year, and he does have about 32 members of parliament.

Stewart: You make the interesting point, you said in the book, one of the biggest mistakes we made was we didn't understand where the power lay in Iraq. That we didn't understand that the power is not necessarily within the government, it's with the people.

Allawi: It's true, I mean, the size of the underground Sadrist movement, before the overthrow of the former regime, is much larger than either the U.S. administration expected or the Iraqi opposition, frankly, so when the occupation started, there was a very large mass movement that had been, to some extent, underground, and whose size and scope was not known before the war, and when it came on the scene, quite a significant political factor.

Stewart: You would have thought that, in all our research on Weapons of Mass Destruction, that we might also have heard something about that.

Allawi: Well, I think you're looking for enemies in the wrong place, frankly. I mean, the fact of the matter is that this movement grew throughout the 1990's, and reached very, very large proportions before the end of that decade, but it's off the radar screen completely in terms of the war's planners as well as a large part of the Iraqi opposition.

Stewart: Right. Well, we're going to come back, we're going to take a quick break and come back with more with Ali Allawi, right after this.

Welcome back, with Ali Allawi. The book is The Occupation of Iraq. It is absolutely incredibly informative; I wish you had written it before the war — it really would've helped.

Allawi: It's quite difficult to do that.

Stewart: A lot of it — it's interesting: a lot of it is about the occupation and what you felt like were the missteps, and the corruption of the government now, but a lot of it is a background of the country, that for someone who was, say, picking a place to invade — might have been nice if you had had a Let's Go Iraq. One of the things that was in it that really struck me was King Faisal, who was the head of the country from 1920 to 1932, I guess, said this is a really tough place to run. The country really seems to have no sense of country.

Allawi: It's true, you know, when he first came into the country, it was like that, but over a period of time, a kind of identity was established, especially among Arabs in the country, but Iraq historically was always part of an empire — somebody else's empire — or it was the center of its own empire. It was never ruled or run as a nation-state in the framework you're talking about now.

Stewart: You talk about it as being on a fault line.

Allawi: It is; it's a fault line of different civilizations and cultures. It's a fault line between Arabs and Persians, Arabs and Turks, Arabs and Kurds, and also within the Islamic world, between Sunnis and Shia. So, Iraq has really been a kind of crossroads country, where people passed through, left their traces.

Stewart: Is there — can you create stability on a fault line? Is there some way to do that, or do you just build sturdier houses?

Allawi: Well, you have to have some kind of national identity if you want to work within the framework of the state that you've inherited, but without that I think it's extremely difficult to have a strong, centralized state, where large elements of the country feel alienated from the government. At that point, I think you have very little choice, except for some sort of federal, or even confederal arrangement.

Stewart: As someone who really thought the invasion could really create the democratic civilization in Iraq, and really do some good, and has become somewhat disillusioned over the past years — is there some way out that you now see? If we leave, is it — I guess what I'm saying is, when the Iraqis stand up, will we stand down? No, that's our President; I'm sorry. Which, by the way — does that make any sense to you guys, 'cause it doesn't make any sense to us.

Allawi: We try to make sense of it.

Stewart: Well, it's very nice of you. What do you see as the solution, ultimately?

Allawi: I think that the solution has to be to really face the fact that the invasion and occupation of the country has led to really enormous consequences, not only within Iraq but in the region, and unless you administer and control the effects of the invasion, you're unlikely to have much peace. And to do that, I think you have to take into account that certain irreversible changes have taken place. Especially, for example, the empowerment of the Shia community, the empowerment of the Kurds, and the effects of that on the various countries of the Middle East.

Stewart: So you see sort of a central government, kind of existing to mediate between Kurds and Shia and Sunni, but they also have autonomy of their own?

Allawi: I think so, in the long term. I mean, if you want to have a nation-state, these components have to be brought together again. You have to re-weave the structures of the country and the society, and a central government that is based on a kind of federal arrangement is possibly the best outcome.

Stewart: One more thing, on a more personal note, and I don't even know if it's appropriate to broach it, but we in this country, we've just had a very tragic situation occur at one of our universities, and it really has taken the country aback, and there's a real grieving process that we're going through — and going through it by mourning by learning about the victims and learning about it and showing our support, you know, I hesitate to say, How does your country handle what is that kind of carnage on a daily basis? Is there a way to grieve? Is there a numbness that sets in? How is that?

Allawi: I think the scale of violence in Iraq is really inconceivable in your terms. I mean, we have on a daily basis what you had the other day at Virginia Tech, massacres of that scale, practically on a daily basis, and it's very hard to grieve. Most of the ways that people do treat this is just to leave the country. We now have a very large external refugee problem, nearly 2 million Iraqis have left the country, and an internal refugee problem, also about 2 million people displaced. But the scale of violence and its continuity is such that it really numbs you. In my case, for example, I had six people I had appointed in various positions in the government, including my office manager, we had a suicide bomber walk into my contingent of guards. So, it's really quite a serious psychological problem that is going to be one of the legacies of this terrible crisis.

Stewart: Yeah, and I truly cannot fathom it and I just recall, there's been so much information as I was becoming sort of wrapped up in our grief, and then I saw the headline today of literally 150 people killed, and I think it just sends an awful dagger through your heart. I can't imagine how you feel, but we love the fact that you come here and you write such a powerful story, and good luck — you're heading back to Iraq?

Allawi: I'm heading back to Iraq, I hope, in the next few weeks, but for now I go back to London and then wait and see.

Stewart: Well, good luck to you, sir. A pleasure to meet you. Ali Allawi, The Occupation of Iraq — it's on bookshelves now.
There's something quite telling, really, about the fact that a "government of the people, by the people, for the people" needed reminding that the power in Iraq lies with the Iraqi people, not with the interim government. Although it's interesting to hear that some of the emergent factions in Iraq came as a surprise to some of the other factions, it's disheartening to hear once again how little thought the U.S. planners of the war gave to the question. We really did knock Saddam out of power based on President Bush's belief that the magic pixie dust of freedom would turn everything to sugar candy and roses. We gave no thought whatsoever to how our little régime change project would reshape the Middle East, beyond the belief that introducing (what we could pass off as) democracy would transform everything, putting a chicken in every pot and uniting the Iraqi nation in gratitude for our magnanimous generosity. It isn't a question of what was George W. Bush thinking, but why wasn't he thinking?

But that's all looking backwards, at the myriad mistakes of the invasion and occupation. Where do we go from here? The withdrawal of Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc from the government, specifically over the issue of the prime minister's refusal to set a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal, could set in motion a chain of events. First, the stage is set for a vote of no-confidence. In the United States, we don't have such a thing, but in most countries the parliament can take a vote on a special motion that says, "We do not believe that the prime minister should continue in office." If that motion carries, then there are two possibilities. The blocs in the parliament can form a new coalition that will have a majority of votes — as happened in Ireland in 1994, when the Fianna Fáil–Labour coalition was replaced by the Fine Gael–Labour–Democratic Left coalition, without a new election — or you can dissolve parliament and elect a whole new batch. In any case, there is clearly reason to be concerned that a no-confidence motion could carry, since the Maliki government is bucking the will of the clear majority of the Iraqi people, who want the U.S. troops out of Iraq, yesterday if not sooner. While there is obvious danger of chaos and increased factional violence, the situation can only be addressed by an Iraqi government that holds the confidence of the majority of the people and the majority of parliament. If Maliki's government can't pass that test, then it's time for a new government.

Although the U.S. Congress can't remove the President by a simple majority vote, Bush is a fool if he thinks he can press on indefinitely without winning back the confidence of the people — preferably including some of us who have never thought he was doing a good job with the Iraq war. He needs to show that he is facing the realities of the mess he created. If he can't do that — and I very much doubt he is capable — then we will spend the next 21 months not-so-slowly bleeding. Iraq is, in former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley's words, "a figment of Winston Churchill's imagination."

A loose confederation, perhaps more along the lines of the United States' Articles of Confederation rather than our subsequent Constitution, or perhaps something like a somewhat more democratic version of the United Arab Emirates, is far more likely than any strong sense of national unity and Iraqi identity. Perhaps Iraq will divide into three regions, with a federal district around Baghdad. Of course, the mix is complicated by outside pressures. If the Iraqi confederation gives too much autonomy to the Kurds, giving rise to ambitions or especially pretensions of Kurdistani nationhood, Turkey may very well invade. Iran has its interests, as do the Arab states to the south and west. Also, the central government must be strong enough to prevent the development of a safe haven for international terrorism, or else the United States will shock and awe the Iraqis right back into their stone-age quagmire.

Jon Stewart's metaphor of building stronger houses on a fault line is perhaps more telling than he realized. I live in San Francisco, and was here in the Bay Area for the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. I've also seen the devastation from lesser quakes in other parts of the world, and I can tell you that the difference mostly comes down to building codes. In California, you have to build your houses and offices and apartments to remain standing when one of those fault lines flares up. In the same way, the metaphoric fault lines in Iraq are not going to seal themselves, forming one solid, stable foundation. It's not going to happen this century, much less this year. Whatever governmental structures the Iraqis build must be flexible enough to remain standing through the political aftershocks that are certain to reverberate for decades. The United States' approach to Iraq must be flexible enough to work with whatever works for the Iraqis.

It also bears mentioning that the United States must not lose sight of the fact that the most musical words to the ears of a terrorist recruiter are "refugee camp." A collection of angry, displaced, dispossessed, idle people — where better to preach hatred and revenge?

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Monday, April 16, 2007

Smarter than "5th Grader"

I finally saw an episode of Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?, a new quiz show on which adults match wits with ten-year-old kids. On Thursday's episode, though, the show outsmarted itself!

The question:

The period of Daylight Savings Time includes which one of the four seasons in its entirety?

Up until last year, there was one correct answer to that question. However, beginning with 2007, the U.S. and Canada observe Daylight Savings Time from the second Sunday of March until the first Sunday of November, meaning that DST includes all of spring and summer! The second Sunday of March falls in the range of March 8 to March 14, and spring begins on March 20 or 21. (The last day of summer is September 21 or 22.)

If you live in Europe or Australia or most other countries that observe some variation of Daylight Savings Time, the correct answer is summer, but hey, it's an American quiz show! A little supplementary geek trivia for you: only three countries in Africa observe DST; name them. Tunisia, Egypt, and Namibia

So, Jeff Foxworthy and company, are you smarter than a 5th grader?

Technorati tags: , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


NBC Universal announced today that Don Imus' simulcast of his radio program on the MSNBC cable television network has been canceled, not merely suspended. CBS Radio is reviewing the situation, for the moment keeping the Imus in the Morning show for the remainder of this week, for a previously scheduled charity telethon, and then suspending it for two weeks, beginning Monday. Whether Imus returns at the end of the month remains to be seen, although the momentum certainly seems to be strong in the "no" direction. I must (Imus t?) admit to strongly mixed feelings on this issue.

On the one hand, what Don Imus said, calling the Rutgers women's basketball "nappy-headed hos," was tacky and clearly racist and sexist. It was demeaning to those women as human beings. Beyond that, rather than judging those women or their opponents on the basis of athletic achievement or skill, he was judging them based entirely on physical attractiveness. Having said that, though, I find it difficult to credit the notion that the players were emotionally scarred for life. Insulted, yes, but wounded and victimized in a way that they will carry with them for the remainder of their lives? That view seems to me to be completely lacking in perspective. The words of a total stranger should not have that sort of power over your outlook on life.

For myself, I don't associate the word "ho" with race, but much more with class. A ho, in the literal sense, is a street hooker, as opposed to a hoity-toity call girl or rent boy. A few years ago, I was out for an evening with a couple of friends of mine who exchange sexual services for money. (No, I wasn't paying for their time, nor were we having sex. In fact, we were having club sandwiches and curly fries.) Robert made some comment about being "sex workers," to which Christopher said, "Sex workers? I'm not a sex worker, I'm a ho: a five-dolla' ho." He wore it as a badge of honor and viewed it, I think, as a part of his recovery from crystal meth abuse. Sadly, after paying for my food, I only had $4.95 left over....

The "nappy-headed" part I didn't quite understand initially, as in my experience the term "nappy" usually refers to a diaper. My first thought was of the astronaut who was so much in the news a few weeks ago. I doubt that's what was meant, but it's the lens through which I heard it, if you will. (In fact, "nappy-headed" means that the person's hair has the coarse and bushy texture associated with an afro hairstyle.)

As the story has been flogged, day after day, I've heard much more about the long history of inappropriate comments Don Imus has made in the past, each time followed by an apology and a promise to take remedial action. I don't think that Imus has any anImus against black people, but he clearly hasn't fully internalized the need to mind what he says. Indeed, I think the healthiest thing for Don Imus himself, not to mention for CBS Radio and MSNBC and their various sponsors, is for Imus to make a fresh start elsewhere. He needs to rethink the fundamentals of his radio persona and style and also put some concrete action behind his promises of increasing the racial diversity and sensitivity of his program.

NBC management has stated that the withdrawal of sponsors from the Imus program was not the conclusive factor in their decision to cancel the cable TV simulcast, but rather that it was internal discussions, primarily with employees of NBC and MSNBC who viewed this incident and Imus' continued presence on the network as a blot on their reputation for integrity. Although the withdrawal of sponsors was dramatic, I don't think it was the deciding factor, because, given Imus' ratings, the sponsors could be replaced. The bottom line would certainly have taken a hit for a few weeks or even months, but sooner or later those ad slots would be filled. There's no shortage of sponsors for the hate-filled rants, including much worse racist and sexist remarks, that are the common currency of right-wing talk radio. If anything, the continued media spotlight on Imus would probably have fueled his ratings when he returned from the originally planned two-week suspension, and sooner or later ratings will translate into ad revenue.

The media coverage of this issue has been interesting, but also somewhat schizophrenic:

Don Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos"!

He called them "nappy-headed hos"??

Yup, "nappy-headed hos." It's terrible. My skin crawls every time I hear someone say the words "nappy-headed hos."

You're right, the words "nappy-headed hos" are incredibly offensive in any context. Let's watch that footage again of Don Imus calling the Rutgers women "nappy-headed hos."
...nappy-headed hos...
That's awful. How could anyone say the words "nappy-headed hos" on the air?

We'll be right back after these commercial messages with more about the terrible story of Don Imus calling some women "nappy-headed hos." And remember, no broadcaster should ever utter the words "nappy-headed hos." It's indefensible.
And yet we hear so many references to "the N-word." Whether we're talking about "nappy-headed hos" or "niggers" or "ragheads" (another one from Don Imus' show) or "faggots" or "wetbacks" or "gooks" or "cripples," the words themselves are less important than the animus behind them. If I say, "The word nigger is an offensive term for an African American," is my use of the word nigger offensive in that context? I maintain that it's not, and that anyone who takes offense at that use of the word nigger is completely off-base.

All the same, I don't know what it's like to be African American, and I never will know. Even the white people on Morgan Spurlock's show 30 Days who were made up to look black, got only a tiny taste of the experience of growing up and living on the wrong end of a racial disparity that is pervasive throughout our society. Even when I travel to another country where I become a racial minority, the experience is very different, because I know that I can still avail myself of "white privilege" (and "male privilege," too). I can try to imagine what it would be like, and I can read books and watch films and tv shows about black history, and more importantly I can do my part in working to end that racial disparity, but my black experience will always be vicarious.

Part of the work of healing the racial divide involves balancing our sensitivities, which means being more sensitive to how others hear our words and also being less sensitive to the words others use. We must not focus on language to the detriment of working on more substantive issues like education and economic opportunity and judicial fairness. What the racist cop is calling you should matter less than the fact that he's beating the crap out of you with his nightstick. Conversely, having "the man" walking on eggshells with every word he speaks is a hollow victory if you still have second-rate schools, a third-rate job (if you have a job at all), and a legal system that criminalizes D.W.B.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

China Trade Complaint

The United States has filed a formal complaint against the People's Republic of China at the WTO because of the rampant and mostly unchecked piracy of intellectual property in the PRC. American movies are on sale as pirated DVDs on the streets of China almost as soon as they open in theaters, and the illegal copies quickly make their way around the world. The PRC Commerce Ministry has engaged in finger-wagging at the U.S. complaint, calling it counterproductive and calling instead for "dialogue and cooperation."

Well, no.

Anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at this blog knows that I am no fan of the Bush administration or its general aversion to "dialogue and cooperation" in international affairs. However, this action is right on target, and indeed long overdue.

The Plutocratic Republic of China (富豪的中华民国) has no democracy, nor anything remotely resembling freedom of speech. What they do have is tight control over their economy. If the PRC government had the slightest inclination to take on the problem of pirate DVDs, pirate software, and other forms of theft of intellectual property, 90% of the problem would disappear tomorrow. Local officials know where these DVDs are made and who is making them, at least the "big fish." A few of China's signature "show trials" would work wonders. They could even put the trials on DVDs and label them as the latest Hollywood blockbuster, just to put a fine point on it.

There has been for decades an official "look the other way" policy from the lowest street cop to the highest halls of government. We've been trying "dialogue and cooperation" with nothing much to show for our efforts, and it's about time to do something a bit more confrontational. (Thankfully, not even Dubya is stupid enough to invade China.)

Congratulations to the Bush administration for doing something right (for once).

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Colbert the Vexillophile

On his return from last week's vacation, Stephen Colbert has a new tag at the end of the opening credits sequence: he is now a "Flagaphile," which I take as a neologistical stab at what I think would more properly be called a "Vexillophile," or perhaps even a "Vexillolator." But there I go again, trying to get all fact-y.

While this latest update has passed almost unnoticed in the blogosphere, we at The Third Path remain hopeful that Stephen will return to his Lincolnish roots. America needs more Lincolnism, espeically of the Madisonian variety!

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

Read More......

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Imus steps in it again

I was about to go to bed, but the MSNBC simulcast of "Imus in the Morning" came on, so I watched a few minutes. I didn't stay on long enough to hear Bill Maher or Hamilton Jordan or any of the other guests, but I did hear Don Imus himself speak yet another faux pas. He was talking about the comments that the Reverend Al Sharpton made to Imus on Sharpton's radio program yesterday. Imus said that Sharpton has every right to call for Imus to be fired, but criticized the fact that Sharpton was making his comments without ever having listened to the show. Unfortunately, Imus described portions of Sharpton's comments as "just jive." Yikes. So much for being careful about racially loaded slang terms, Don. I believe that he's not a cross-burning klansman, but Don Imus just doesn't seem to "get it" when it comes to watching his language — and he doesn't even have the excuse of being poor white trash! (Or is that the pot calling the kettle black? The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!)

If you've missed this uproar, Don Imus on his radio program last week said that the Rutgers University women's basketball team looked like a bunch of "nappy-headed ho's"; for that comment, Imus is being suspended from both radio and television for two weeks, beginning next Monday. Yesterday, he apologized on his own program and again on a two-hour stint on Al Sharpton's program. He's also appearing on the Today show, and he has asked for the opportunity to apologize in person to the Rutgers team and their families; the Rutgers folks have scheduled a press conference for later today.

While Imus' comment was offensive, it is important to keep in mind a few mitigating factors. First of all, he was not speaking from malice, but from a badly misguided attempt at humor. That doesn't excuse what he said, but it does put it in a milder category than, for example, Michael Richards' racial tirade last fall. Secondly, Don Imus has been very up front about apologizing for his remarks and owning the fact that he said something very wrong. He hasn't indulged in the political cop-out of "I apologize if anything I said may have offended some of my audience...." Again, it doesn't excuse his words, but it does, I believe, demonstrate genuine understanding and remorse.

Let's hope that Don Imus uses his two weeks of involuntary time off to wash out his mouth with a little Rinso White....

Technorati tags: , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Monday, April 09, 2007

Senator Kyl's upside-down view of the Iraq War

Senators Carl Levin (D–MI) and John Kyl (R–AZ) squared off on yesterday's ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos over the issue of President Bush's request for supplemental appropriations for the Iraq War. Senator Kyl said some things that are just plain ass-backwards. First of all, he has a Pollyanna view of the political progress in Iraq. Beyond that, though, he has no understanding whatsoever of the nature of the conflict in Iraq.

When asked if it would be acceptable to keep the references to "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government in a second pass at the funding bill (eliminating the "date certain" for withdrawal, but keeping the idea that the Iraqis have to demonstrate that they are doing their part, too), Senator Kyl said, "No, absolutely not. First of all, it's premised on the notion that the Iraqis aren't listening to us. General Barry McCaffrey was over there, issued a long report, in which he said that the Iraqis are beginning to do the things that we've asked them to do. That same report has come back in many other forms; I was over there about a month ago: we saw the reactions of the Iraqis, they are cooperating with us, so that's 'old news' that they're not cooperating. That's one of the reasons this new surge strategy is working."

As Senator Levin pointed out, of the 17 "benchmarks" that the Iraqi government set for itself, to be met by 2007-01-31, only two were actually achieved. In most contexts, 12% is not considered a passing grade. The city of Baghdad itself is well along in the process of "de-Sunnification." De-Ba'athification is the term for removing former members of Saddam's Ba'ath Party from positions of authority in the government and military; de-Sunnification is straight-up ethnic cleansing. The overly harsh de-Ba'athification law imposed by the Coalition Provisional Authority has not been amended as needed, because the Shia factions have blocked it. The legislation to divide oil revenues was killed by the Shia. The so-called "central government" has authority that extends almost the length and breadth of the Green Zone — almost 1/400 of 1% of the national territory! There are a few other pockets of government control here and there, but it is more than a stretch to pretend it controls the whole country. Iraqi security forces are still divided along sectarian lines, and their allegiance to the national government is weaker than factional allegiances. The Iraqi government has thwarted the U.S. military's pursuit of Shia extremists; the lip service paid to factional neutrality has not yet translated into reality. Indeed, the notion that Iraq is making meaningful progress towards "national reconciliation" seems to be nothing more than a pipe dream.

Time and again, the United States and the Iraqi government have set targets. When those targets have not been met — not even close — the refrain has been the same, "Oh, but we're making progress! We're almost there!!" In the fall of 2006, the Iraqis set 17 goals to be achieved by 2007-01-31. Only 2 of the 17 goals were met. That's not "almost there." If you don't see that point, you probably shouldn't try out for Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

The surge has been called a "whack-a-mole" game, with the intensified U.S. military presence quelling violence in one specific area, but with the violence simply springing up in another area with less vigorous suppression. The problem is that the extremists know full well that the Republican bluster about having the determination to stay "as long as it takes" is nothing more than empty rhetoric. Senator Kyl parroted the Republican talking points, saying, "When you send a message to the Iraqis that they need to do better, by withholding funds from our troops, you're also sending a message to our troops and to our enemies, who know that all they have to do is wait the conflict out. This is not the way to try to micromanage a war from the U.S. Senate."

"Our enemies" in Iraq already know that they can outwait us. The American people, with the exception of a few Republican die-hards, already know that the Iraqis can outwait us. The rest of the world already knows that the Iraqis can outwait us. So why do people like President Bush and Senator Kyl try so hard to pretend that the determination of the United States will outlast the determination of the Iraqis? It's nothing less than delusional. The American people are already fed up with this war and want out, yesterday if not sooner; Congress is finally giving voice to that overwhelming popular sentiment. The Iraqi insurgents are prepared to stay and fight for centuries, particularly since part of the conflict goes back almost 1,400 years. Do the math! Pretending that we can outlast the insurgents is like bluffing in open-hand poker.

As to the issue of managing the war, it's not "micromanaging" to say that we need to end the war. It is, in fact, the very definition of macromanaging. As is so often the case in Bushspeak, "up" means "down" and "black" means "white."

Senator Kyl did say one thing about the Iraq war that started out making sense: "The best way for [the United States] to be able to leave Iraq is to have a strategy that succeeds in stabilizing the country, so that the Iraqi government can maintain the security there," but he went on to blather, "and have a situation in which the Iraqi government and people support the United States in the war on terror. The political issues that have to be resolved, cannot be resolved in a situation of instability and violence; I think everybody agrees with that. Everybody also agrees that we have to have a political solution at the end of the day. But the answer is to create that stability so that the political compromises can be made."

The idea that the Iraqi people are going to "support the United States in the war on terror" can only be described as a drug-fueled hallucination. There are some respects in which the animosity is warranted, and other respects in which it is misplaced, but the fact remains that the United States must expect at least a generation of hostility from the people of Iraq; furthermore, the longer we remain in Iraq, the longer the animosity will last after we leave.

As to political compromises in an era of instability and violence, the flip side is that the instability and violence cannot be resolved in a situation in which the fundamental political compromises have not yet been established. Absence of violence isn't a prerequisite to political compromise; exactly the reverse! The political issues must be resolved in the midst of "instability and violence," or there is no hope for the Iraqi people — much less for American "success" in Iraq. Peace and stability are the building; political compromise is the cornerstone. If we don't understand that fundamental truth, we will be bogged down in Iraq forever.

There is certainly a "chicken and egg" feel to the problem: President Bush says that the United States will not withdraw from Iraq until it is stable, but Iraq will not be stable until the United States withdraws. It is difficult to craft political compromises in the middle of a war zone, but the violence will not end until those compromises are made.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Thursday, April 05, 2007

God Hates Sweden?

The so-called "Reverend" Fred Phelps, the Kansas whackjob responsible for the "God Hates Fags" protests at funerals, and even "Thank God for IEDs" protests at military funerals, also operates a sizable fax harassment operation directed against anyone that his Westboro "Baptist" "Church" determines to be insufficiently hateful towards homosexuals. One of the recent additions to that list is the fax number for the Swedish royal family, because of the fact that a Swedish preacher was prosecuted for hate speech for delivering a hate-filled anti-gay screed as a "sermon."

The "Thank God for IEDs" protest sign has been used at the funerals of soldiers who were not even rumored, much less confirmed, to be homosexual, on the basis of the theory that God is punishing the United States for tolerating homosexuality. That's right: the Christian God is putting bombs in the hands of Muslims to kill God-fearing heterosexual Christian Americans because other people in America refuse to establish the death penalty for homosexuality. The Christian God is teaching America a lesson by blowing up and maiming or killing soldiers in Iraq, and the lesson is that God hates fags. That is why we're in Iraq.

The case in Sweden is equally illogical. The Swedish royal family has no influence over the making of laws in Sweden or the prosecution of crimes. Their duties basically amount to sitting around looking "regal," and occasionally cutting a ceremonial ribbon or two, or hosting an official dinner. They retain the titles handed down from generation to generation, but have no actual political power. But, because someone in Sweden was punished for inciting violence against homosexuals, Fred Phelps and his gang of theo-thugs have started bombarding a nice woman in Sweden — the royal family's spokesperson, who had nothing whatsoever to do with the case in question — with repeated fax messages, several times a day, telling her that all of Sweden is "doomed to spend eternity in hell, where all gay faggots will go."

The Ten Commandments say precisely zero about homosexuality. Jesus himself, in all of his sermons and parables, said precisely zero about homosexuality. The question then arises, why does Fred Phelps have such a bug up his ass (tickling his prostate, no doubt) about this issue? What about the millions of times a day that American children talk back to their parents without being put to death? That one is right there in the Ten C's, for Chryin' out loud. And what of America's toleration for working on the sabbath? For that matter, the Ten Commandments says that God will punish the children for their parents' iniquities, but the U.S. Constitution says that no crime of treason shall work corruption of blood. That's the United States Constitution in direct opposition to the Ten Commandments. Many, though not all, people who are rabidly anti-gay, lash out at homosexuals to cover their insecurity about their own secret desires. Maybe that's the case with Fred Phelps, or maybe there's some other trauma in his life that twisted his soul into a Satanic pretzel; who knows?

All I can tell you is, Sweden is a wonderful place. I'd much rather go there than Topeka, Kansas.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Click below for more...

Read More......

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Rachel from Cardholder Services

I just got an especially annoying telephone call. I answered the phone and was immediately greeted by a recorded voice, identified as "Rachel from Cardholder Services," telling me that it is urgent that I contact them immediately to find out how I can lower the interest rate on my credit card debt. She went on a bit, explaining that I was only eligible if I owe more than $2,500, and finally telling me to press 1 to speak to a live operator or press 3 to discontinue further notices.

The entire call was illegal on three principal grounds:

  • I have no pre-existing business relationship to "Rachel," and my phone number is on the national Do Not Call list. (16 CFR Part 310)

  • The call began with a recorded message, rather than with a live human being asking my permission to play a recorded message. (Title 47, United States Code, Section 227(b)(1)(B))

  • The recorded message did not state clearly the identity, the telephone number, or the address of the business, individual, or other entity initiating the call. (Title 47, United States Code, Section 227(d)(3)(A)(i and ii))
There is no possibility that the caller could deny that the violation was intentional and willful; thus, if I ever find out who is behind "Rachel," I am automatically entitled to $1,500 in statutory damages. And if I ever catch a leprechaun, I'll make him give me his pot of gold.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Update: 2007-05-23, received another call from Michelle at Cardholder Services, no caller ID, pressing 8 to be taken off the list was an "invalid option."

Update 2008-03-13: there is a new blog devoted just to our good friends with "Cardholder Services," "Account Services," or whatever they're calling themselves this week. It's called "Stopping Heather with Account Services"

Read More......