Archives For: Keepers

One might be forgiven for thinking that the catastrophic war in Iraq was designed to bring democracy and sovereignty to that nation after a brutal, foul dictatorship. That, after all, was what we were told from the get-go, along with the alleged threat of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Many service-members died to bring that democracy about; almost 200,000 Iraqis died in the bloody transition. And they elected a prime minister; and re-elected him in fair elections. And yet now, courtesy of the CIA’s unofficial spokesman, David Ignatius, we hear that Maliki is nonetheless going to be deposed by the US:

President Obama sensibly appears to be leaning toward an alternative policy that would replace Maliki with a less sectarian and polarizing prime minister — and then begin using U.S. military power on behalf of this more broadly based government. The White House is already mulling a list of alternative prime ministers.

So the whole pretext of Iraqi democracy was a sham, and we now know this without a shadow of a doubt. The next leader of Iraq will be IRAQ-UNREST-VOLUNTEERSpicked in Washington, and not by the people of that country. And the right of an elected government to choose its own policies and direct its own governance – for good or ill – has been effectively rendered null and void. There’s never any welfare reform with imperial welfare. They are to be dependents for ever. And, of course, the CIA’s previous regime changes in the Middle East – Iran, anyone? – do not even merit a mention. Just because they have screwed it up every single time doesn’t mean they don’t have the absolute right to screw it up again. Because the residue of their own disasters can be used to justify yet more ones. Just ask Fred Hiatt.

As with most imperial projects – and what other word can be used to describe the embedded assumptions in Ignatius’s column? - Washington will use local power-brokers to implement its designs. Ignatius is perfectly candid about the rawness of the imperialism involved:

The people who will pull the plug on Maliki are Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and other Iraqi kingmakers. The United States should push them to signal unmistakably that Maliki is finished. And they must do so in coordination with Iran, which will effectively have a veto on the next Iraqi prime minister, whether we like it or not.

Notice the lack of any subjunctive. The Kurdish leader will do what he is told; the Sunni tribes must cooperate with Iran. This is the mindset of the CIA, a beyond-the-rule-of-law organization that has done more damage to this country’s interests and values than any other organ of state. The contempt of these imperialists (who brought torture into the American bloodstream) for the autonomy of any other country is a striking as their contempt for American values.

So Ignatius admits that this illegal intervention needs “political cover”from other interested parties in the region (all of whom have ulterior motives and almost all of whom have contributed to this burgeoning sectarian warfare). And the goal now is to intervene simultaneously in Syria’s civil war, to the tune of training up to 10,000 “Syrian moderates” (try not to laugh out loud or burst simultaneously into tears).

And the entire point of this exercise is to get another war up and running – and soon – in Syria and Iraq:

Targeting ISIS perhaps could begin with its safe havens and infiltration routes along the Syria-Iraq border, where there’s less chance of hitting Sunni tribesmen. “We know where their base camps and training camps are, which is where we can start — and it’s important to start,” says U.S. Central Command adviser Derek Harvey.

Yes, “it’s important to start”. Sure, we don’t know where any of this could lead – but the one thing we have learned this past decade and a half is to launch a war first and figure out those questions later. Intervening in two sectarian countries just adds to the challenge, I guess. It’s so good to know someone advising Central Command has absorbed the lessons of the past so well.

I’m distressed by the news out of DC and alarmed by Obama’s presser, but I haven’t given up on the president yet.

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Bush Asks Congress For $74.7 Billion In War Aid

Noah Millman responds to me by insisting he does not favor military intervention in what’s left of Iraq, but that my own formulation of “letting go of global hegemony” is too glib and too blithe. As for the US having an indirect responsibility to the people of Iraq, having invaded their country eleven years ago, here’s the money quote:

My definition of “indirect responsibility” is simply to say that once you have positioned yourself as a global hegemon, declared yourself “indispensable” and arrogated to yourself rights that are not granted to any other state, of course you are indirectly responsible for just about everything that happens, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the situation. The madness lies not in my description of reality but in the reality itself. We should seek to change that reality. Perhaps I am overly pessimistic, but I assume that this will be a difficult and lengthy labor, with many setbacks along the way. I am hard-pressed to name another hegemonic power that acceded peacefully to a more multi-polar reality.

And on that point, we can surely agree. There are, indeed, very few empires that “let go” without hanging on indefinitely and then succumbing to a sudden collapse. One wonders what would have happened to the British Empire without the Second World War. But that’s only the case with respect to meddling in other countries’ internal affairs, trying to shape the form of government in other countries, or feeling obliged to prevent evil whenever it emerges. It seems to me perfectly possible for the US, by virtue of its naval and air power to secure the critical shipping lanes for international trade and travel, to bolster democratic allies with trade, intelligence, and mutual security arrangements, while eschewing the kind of global micro-management that was once justified by the Cold War or rationalized by unchallenged unipolar power from 1989 – 2001. Will that mean some regional actors filling the vacuum?

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No Drama Obama And Iraq

Jun 16 2014 @ 12:00pm


While Iraq unravels, Lexington appreciates Obama’s temperament:

In and of itself, his cool, cerebral analysis is often more rational and less hypocritical than the criticism raining down on him from his political opponents. Republicans in Washington, knowing full well that voters have precisely no appetite for a return to Iraq, content themselves with accusing the president of allowing the world to fall apart and emboldening wicked men and dangerous foes through a lack of attention and “weakness”. By this they seem to mean that Mr Obama should stop saying that American force may not be capable of fixing the world. They do not mean that they actually want Mr Obama to do anything with American force.

Which merely goes to show there is only one grown-up in Washington these days, and we’re lucky he is in the White House. I was particularly impressed with the president’s insistence on continuing his California fundraising trip. What he’s doing by this business-as-usual approach is to try and defuse the Beltway’s cable-news-driven hysteria of the minute – usually larded up with insane levels of parochialism and partisanship – so that a saner foreign policy can be realized. Amy Davidson also sees Obama’s even keel:

It is not a simple matter, if it ever was, of the people we really like (and who like us) against the ones who don’t. (Try factoring in the role of ISIS in fighting the Assad regime, in Syria, and our possible shared interests with Iran in Iraq, and you’re left with a chalkboard of squiggly equations.) One question to emerge from our wars is our susceptibility to a certain sort of blackmail by regimes we support: without me, there is Al Qaeda and chaos. When Andrea Mitchell, of NBC, asked Senator John McCain, who had been railing against the Obama Administration’s decision to withdraw troops in Iraq, whether Maliki could really be persuaded to change his ways, McCain replied, “He has to, or he has to be changed.” How that would be accomplished was, as always in Iraq—a land we seem to associate with the granting of wishes—left unclear.

That “he has to be changed” remark tells you a lot. It comes from a very 20th Century mindset that saw the world as essentially a “garden to tend,” in David Brooks’ metaphor, and that views other countries as mere objects of American fire-power and will. It usually comes from an essentially benign place – McCain doesn’t want to unleash terror or mayhem or sectarian massacres – but that’s not often how it goes down (see “Shock and Awe” and Abu Ghraib). Davidson later quotes a segment of the president’s interview with David Remnick as a lens into his current thinking. Obama said:

You have a schism between Sunni and Shia throughout the region that is profound.

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A tip of the hat to Terri Gross who simply and persistently tried to get out of Clinton why she supported the Defense Of Marriage Act in 1996, and why and when she changed her mind on marriage equality. Listen to the full exchange here:

Clinton says she didn’t support gay marriage in the 1990s but subsequently changed her mind. When and why she changed her mind is what Gross was trying to get at. Had she changed it by the time she and her husband left the White House? Or when George W Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004? Was she still opposed to marriage equality when Massachusetts became the first state to enact it legislatively in the same year? The answers to these questions remain mysterious.

But one thing isn’t mysterious: she was not just another evolving American. She was the second most powerful person in an administration in a critical era for gay rights. And in that era, her husband signed the HIV travel ban into law (it remained on the books for 22 years thereafter), making it the only medical condition ever legislated as a bar to even a tourist entering the US. Clinton also left gay service-members in the lurch, doubling the rate of their discharges from the military, and signed DOMA, the high watermark of anti-gay legislation in American history. Where and when it counted, the Clintons gave critical credibility to the religious right’s jihad against us. And on the day we testified against DOMA in 1996, their Justice Department argued that there were no constitutional problems with DOMA at all (the Supreme Court eventually disagreed).

What I’d like to hear her answer is whether she regrets that period and whether she will ever take responsibility for it. But she got pissed when merely asked how calculated her position on this was.

Here’s my guess:

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Dexter Filkins assigns three reasons for the continuing disintegration of a country destroyed by the US invasion and occupation. The first two are the sectarian implosion in Syria and the sectarian authoritarianism of Nouri al-Maliki. But he then blames the Obama administration for not fighting harder to keep a minimal force in Iraq over Maliki’s and the American people’s wishes as the occupation came to a merciful close in 2011. IRAQ-UNRESTSomehow, that residual force would have restrained Maliki in his Shiite excesses, as the US did from 2006 onward, in the middle of a swirling civil war. The old guard in Washington will jump at this conclusion – with the neocon right and neocon left (what else do we call the liberals who never see a conflict in which the US should not be involved for the betterment of humankind?) rallying behind a new interventionism or, worse, a Captain Hindsight desire to pummel Obama again, while offering no real alternative.

It’s always a tempting idea that if we had stayed a little longer, all would have been well. It’s worth recalling the neocon desire to stay in Iraq for decades if necessary, in order to somehow forcibly impose a democratic structure on a sectarian, authoritarian and pathological non-state. But this is based on the fundamental illusion that the surge achieved anything of substance in altering sectarian divisions or Islamist extremism and thereby we ever had a success to sustain. We didn’t. We were able to temporarily pacify – by bribes and military maneuvering – a civil war that had always simmered below the Iraqi surface and had flared brutally even as we had 100,000 troops in the country. The idea that a few hundred could have prevented Iraq’s return to its historic sectarian entropy strikes me as absurd. It is not crazy for a Maliki ally to air this idea to Filkins in order to exonerate Maliki in the ensuing blood bath. What’s crazy is to take it at face value.

Yes, we broke Iraq in 2003. But another eight years of occupation, and billions in expense, fulfilled what obligation we had to the place. Does its disintegration mean more peril for the US?

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Our Cold Civil War Intensifies, Ctd

Jun 12 2014 @ 12:49pm

In 2007, I gamely hoped that Obama’s liberal pragmatism could somehow overcome the deep cultural and political split in the country that had opened up in the Vietnam era and had defined the entire boomer generation. I remain of the view that Obama’s policies have remained moderate – on healthcare, immigration, the deficit, and foreign policy. But the cultural churn of polarization has only intensified in the country at large. In fact, the polarization seems to have intensified in the Obama years, rather than moderating, as a fascinating Pew survey 856551367of 10,000 subjects reveals. The GIF at the right can mesmerize after a while, but watch it a few times.

The late 1990s sees a shift by both parties to the relative left, and in the early Bush years, there’s a shift by the GOP to the left as well. Since this is a measure of consistently liberal or conservative positions, it may be scrambled by the response to 9/11. The only three years in which the parties showed signs of moving toward each other were 2000 – 2003. From 2004 on, the GOP moves relentlessly rightward, while the Democrats move to the left more firmly from 2010 onward. Yes the two seem to reinforce each other in their mutual alienation.

But what’s truly depressing is how ideology now trumps virtually everything else in American politics. Geography matters less and less in sustaining mixed and moderate electoral districts; gerrymandering has intensified the process; but deeper cultural shifts help explain a lot of the rest. The urban/rural divide is a chasm; as is the racial one. And ideology seeps deep into everyday life. So inter-marriage between the Union and the Confederacy the consistent Democrats and the consistent Republicans is becoming rarer:

Three-out-of-ten (30%) consistent conservatives say they would be unhappy if an immediate family member married a Democrat and about a quarter (23%) of across-the-board liberals say the same about the prospect of a Republican in-law.

The reason that I don’t think a cold civil war is too hyperbolic is the following chart. It doesn’t just show increased differences between the two parties; it reveals profound and growing antipathy, with each of the respective partisans believing the other is a threat to the country as a whole:

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Our Cold Civil War Intensifies, Ctd

Jun 12 2014 @ 12:00pm

So marriage equality is now either legal or bans on it have been found unconstitutional in 27 states. Has the GOP adjusted? Yes – by lurching even further to the anti-gay position. Rick Perry went to San Francisco yesterday to compare homosexual orientation to alcoholism, and to recommend reparative therapy for gays, even after the ex-gay movement has effectively collapsed. And a budding young Tea Party Republican in Oklahoma is ambivalent about whether gays should be stoned to death or not. The Southern Baptist Convention is also doubling down on reparative therapy for transgender people and for gays, if Al Mohler’s response to Matt Vines is any indicator.

There seems to be no middle ground here. And in this case, this has meant that marriage equality is winning. I wonder if the Republicans have yet grappled with that fact – and worry about its broader ramifications. They could have championed civil unions a long time ago and defused the issue; but they couldn’t for fundamentalist religious reasons – so we now have the prospect of full marriage rights for gays across the country far sooner than might otherwise have been the case. The same with healthcare reform.

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Our Cold Civil War Intensifies

Jun 12 2014 @ 11:15am

Maybe it’s the sea air up here on the Cape but I spent last night again watching Fox News. It was like slipping into an alternative universe. Sure. I expected criticism of the president and a few outrageous zingers – but not the picture of reality that seemed to undergird the entire enterprise. But here’s the gist: the president is a lawless dictator, abetting America’s Islamist foes around the world, releasing Taliban prisoners to aid in his own jihad on America, fomenting a new caliphate in Iraq, and encouraging children to rush the Mexican border to up his vote-count, while effectively leaving those borders open to achieve his “fundamental transformation of America.”

I watched Megyn Kelly, who is regarded as more centrist than Sean Hannity. You could have fooled me. The guests were Brent Bozell, far right veteran, and Andy McCarthy, pro-torture activist touting his book calling for Obama’s impeachment. The only pushback Kelly provided to a relentless stream of hysteria was to ask whether the president sincerely wanted another terror attack on America – since it would hurt his approval ratings. And that provided the only qualification to the picture of a Jihadist in the White House determined to destroy the America he loathes. The “chaos” at the border and the emerging caliphate in Iraq may have been merely the unintended consequences of fecklessness rather than a deliberate attempt to destroy everything valuable in the United States.

At no point was any context provided to make sense of any of this. So, for example, it is axiomatic for Fox viewers that Obama has presided over a massive wave of illegals flooding the country. The truth is quite different:

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Leading Conservatives Gather For Republican Leadership Conference In New Orleans

That’s my underlying take on what just happened in American politics. We live in a potentially powerfully populist moment. The economy is failing to help middle- and working-class people make headway, while the wealthiest are living higher on the hog than since the days of robber barons. Wall Street’s masters of the universe nearly wiped out the US and global economy – and there has been scarcely any accountability for their recklessness and greed and hubris. Big business favors mass, cheap immigration – which adds marginally to the woes of the working poor. All of this is grist to someone like Elizabeth Warren, but also to someone like Dave Brat or Ted Cruz.

But the main difference between a Warren and a Brat is that Warren is never going to be able to rally the Southern or Midwestern white working poor to her professorial, Massachusetts profile. A dorky populist like Brat? Much more imaginable. A gifted demagogue like Ted Cruz? I think many liberals would be surprised. And the ace card for the populist right, rather than the populist left, is immigration. If you can weld together a loathing and resentment of elites with a loathing and resentment of foreigners “invading” the country and “taking our jobs,” then you have a potent combination.

Brat also targeted K Street as well as Wall Street. So you have this dynamic, noted by John Judis:

Speaking last month before the Mechanicsville Tea Party, Brat tied Cantor to Wall Street and big business, whom he blamed partly for the financial crisis. “All the investment banks in the New York and D.C.those guys should have gone to jail. Instead of going to jail, they went on Eric’s Rolodex, and they are sending him big checks,” he said. Brat echoed these charges in a radio interview. “The crooks up on Wall Street and some of the big banksI’m pro business, I’m just talking about the crooksthey didn’t go to jail they are on Eric’s Rolodex,” he said.

Brat and local Tea Party leaders also criticized Cantor for attempting to water down the Stock Act, which banned members of Congress from profiting from insider trading. “One congressman changed the act so spouses could benefit from insider trading,” Brat charged, referring to Cantor. (Cantor drew equal fire from Democrats for attempting to undermine the bill.)

This theme also taps into a deep dissatisfaction with a gridlocked government.

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Engaging The T, Ctd

Jun 10 2014 @ 2:00pm

A reader follows up:

In your response to my letter, you dismissed my argument, claiming that it’s important that all trans advocates be willing to discuss their genitals because “reassignment surgery is often intrinsic to a full trans identity.” I am going to ignore the issue of whether surgery is intrinsic and what the words “full trans identity” mean and instead deal with the bigger issues: who has the right to know about our genitals, and why this is considered a personal subject.

The only people who have the right to know about our genitals are our intimate partners, and potentially anyone who needs to provide medical care directly related to our genitals. Beyond that, it is personal, and I will attempt here to give a non-exhaustive list of reasons why it is personal.

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