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Our server got swamped with spam email last week and for a day or so wasn’t receiving emails. Apologies. It’s fixed now. For similar reasons, the Inside Dish will start up again next Friday. Emerging from the August vacation has been a little groggier than I expected. But, hey, I must have had a good time if I’m still adjusting.

WHERE WERE THE REPUBLICANS?

At the Senate hearings yesterday on whether the Defense of Marriage Act is in trouble and a Federal Marriage Amendment is necessary, no fewer than two – count them – two Republican senators bothered to show up. Five Democrats did. One Republican stayed for only a few minutes. I think we may have seen exactly what’s going on here. No serious legal scholar thinks that one state can impose marriage rights on another, under current law. Despite disingenuous attempts to claim otherwise, the Full Faith and Credit Clause has never applied to marriages and still doesn’t. DOMA makes sure that federal marriage rights are exclusively heterosexual. This entire FMA charade is entirely designed as theater for the fundamentalist base of the GOP. It seems even the Senate leadership can’t take it seriously. I’m grateful, of course. But if I were one of the fundamentalists trying to amend the U.S. Constitution, I’d be more than a little perturbed.

A TRUE CONSERVATIVE

What a breath of fresh air to read Alan Simpson’s moving and genuinely conservative defense of the Constitution and the dignity of gay citizens in the Washington Post today. Eschewing the hysteria of some social conservatives, he sees gay people not as a wedge issue or a threat to anyone, but as a group of human beings asking merely to come home, to belong fully to their own families, and to their own society. Money quote:

In our system of government, laws affecting family life are under the jurisdiction of the states, not the federal government. This is as it should be. After all, Republicans have always believed that government actions that affect someone’s personal life, property and liberty – including, if not especially, marriage – should be made at the level of government closest to the people. Indeed, states already actively regulate marriage. For example, 37 states have passed their own version of the Defense of Marriage Act.

I do not argue in any way that we should now sanction gay marriage. Reasonable people can have disagreements about it. That people of goodwill would disagree was something our Founders fully understood when they created our federal system. They saw that contentious social issues would best be handled in the legislatures of the states, where debates could be held closest to home. That’s why we should let the states decide how best to define and recognize any legally sanctioned unions – marriage or otherwise.

As someone who is basically a conservative, I see not an argument about banning marriage or “defending” families but rather a power grab. Conservatives argue vehemently about federal usurpation of other issues best left to the states, such as abortion or gun control. Why would they elevate this one to the federal level?

Why indeed? Unwarranted fear; baseless panic; fundamentalist fervor. Three things conservatives have always been against. And should be today.

KINSLEY GETS ALL HUFFY

Mike Kinsley has long been brilliant at jabbing people on high horses. Now he’s climbed on top of one. Kinsley has long advocated the removal of any public figure’s privacy and so is delighted to see Arnold’s lively sexual past come back to haunt him. But he’s particularly outraged by AS’s recounting in an old interview in Oui magazine of an alleged “gang-bang” between a bunch of bodybuilders and a woman. Here’s what Mike says:

But if it did happen, exactly as Arnold described it in 1977, it’s pretty disgusting. It’s disgusting even if it was consensual all around. It’s disgusting even though Arnold wasn’t married at the time. It’s disgusting even if this amounts to applying the standards of the 21st century to events of the mid-1970s. Schwarzenegger isn’t running for governor of California in 1975.

But why is group sex between consenting adults in private “disgusting”? I guess disgust is not something you can justify or explain. It’s a feeling, not an argument. As for arguments, I can understand why someone who takes a culturally conservative view of sex might feel this way, but a good libertarian-liberal like Mike? Kinsley’s attempt at a justification is that the incident, even if made up, reflects “an attitude toward women that is not acceptable in a politician.” Hmmm. Is this the same Mike Kinsley who defended Bill Clinton? By any standards, AS’s sins are, in fact, far less significant than BC’s. Arnold’s gang-bang wasn’t sexual harrassment, so far as we know, which gives Arnold a moral advantage over the ex-prez. It wasn’t adultery, ahem. It wasn’t hypocrisy, as Kinsley concedes, which gives AS another advantage over Clinton, who was busy signing the preposterous “Defense of Marriage Act,” while getting sucked off under the table in the Oval Office by an intern. It was private and consensual. For all we know, the woman had a great time. Does Kinsley believe that all women are so sexually vulnerable that they cannot consent to such group sex and enjoy it? Why does this harrumphing sound a little like partisanship to me?

DEAN AND DEFICITS

I take the point from many readers that Howard Dean has not proved himself in any way committed to true fiscal conservatism. His plan for universal socialized medicine terrifies me, as it should anyone committed to the beleaguered excellence of American healthcare. His reflexive support for tax hikes is also troubling. I don’t trust him on a bunch of other issues like, ahem, national security. But he did balance budgets in the mini-state of Vermont, and he does place emphasis on fiscal sobriety in his campaign platform. As he fleshes out his proposals, we’ll get a better idea. But where else do fiscal conservatives look? In three years, Bush has managed to wreak so much havoc with the nation’s finances it’s very hard to see who could do worse. In his first three years, you have an increase in domestic discretionary spending of 20.8 percent, compared to a decrease of 0.7 percent for Bill Clinton. If a Democrat had this record, do you think Republicans would let him off the hook? Here’s Tom DeLay in 1995: “By the year 2002, we can have a federal government with a balanced budget or we can continue down the present path towards total fiscal catastrophe.” If Clintonomics was a “fiscal catastrophe,” what would an intellectually honest DeLay say about Bush? (I know an intellectually honest Tom DeLay is a bit of magical realism, but bear with me.) We don’t just have big tax cuts; we have a big leap in discretionary spending, huge hikes in agricultural subsidies, no reform of corporate welfare, a huge new entitlement for prescription drugs, big jumps in the number of people employed indirectly by Uncle Sam, and on and on. Looking ahead, the future looks even worse – and that’s even before we try and tackle the entitlement crunch of the boomer retirement. The GOP has to be punished for this. They run the Congress; and they’re now officially worse than Democrats at keeping government solvent or small. Clinton was way, way better. Honest conservatives know this. Dishonest partisans look the other way.

FIRST BLOOD ON BLAIR

As you know, I’ve so far seen nothing in the Hutton inquiry in London to justify the left’s hysterical complaints that Tony Blair “sexed up” the Iraq weapons dossier against the advice of intelligence experts in Britain. It’s clear to me that it was the BBC that sexed up its reporting to damage the government for purely ideological reasons. And nothing has emerged to give the slightest credibility to BBC hack, Andrew Gilligan’s, specific allegations. Au contraire. But yesterday and the day before provided the first real worries about the process that led the British government to declare Saddam an imminent threat to the West:

Brian Jones, a retired branch head of the defence intelligence analysis staff, told the Hutton inquiry there were several concerns about the 45 minute claim and one of his staff felt some of the assessements of the threat posed by Iraq were “over-egged” in the dossier. The inquiry heard the “shutters came down” on the dossier before intelligence officials’ reservations had a chance to be properly considered and there were fears “spin merchants” had been too involved in the dossier’s production.

The bottom line is that the dossier had not been finally approved in all its nuances by the intelligence chiefs, in the way that Blair had indicated. Here’s a particularly worrying incident:

[Jones] also told the inquiry a chemical weapons expert within his branch was concerned about the intelligence in the dossier relating to the production of chemical weapons in Iraq. “He was concerned he could not point to any solid evidence of such production. He did not dismiss it may have happened… but he didn’t have good evidence it had happened. It is the difference between making the judgment that the production of chemical weapons had taken place as opposed to that judgment being that it had probably taken place or even possible taken place. It was that degree of certainty in the judgment that was being made.”

This is not a smoking gun. It is not as if the government deliberately ignored the advice of its experts; or inserted data that had not been put forward by the same analysts. But the packaging, use of language, spinning of certain imponderables, all might have led to a misleading notion of the certainty that intelligence sources had about Iraq’s WMD capabilities. That matters. Like many people, I simply took on trust that intelligence assessments of Iraq’s threat were genuine. We know now, I think, that the real issue was not Saddam’s imminent capability but his long-term ambitions and connection with the terrorist network. None of this changes my view of whether the war was justified. But it’s troubling. To say the least.

LETTER FROM IRAQ

Here’s another letter from a soldier in Iraq, doing amazing work. He’s Lieutenant Colonel Steven D. Russell, the Battalion Commander of the 1st Battalion of the 22nd Infantry, 4th Infantry Division. I wish, reading this, that it gave me more reassurance. Some progress; some setbacks; but a hellish scene nonetheless. It’s long, but helpful to see this conflict through the eyes of one of America’s incomparable soldiers:

On the 11th of August we successfully raided three more objectives and netted two former Republican Guards officers one a division commander and the other a corps level chief of staff.- The third objective netted us a leader of Fedayeen militia.- By the 13th we had seen small enemy attempts to harass or strike back at us.-On a secondary market street, CPT Boyd’s convoy narrowly escaped harm as assailants rolled a volley of RPGs down the street like some game of ten pins.-The rockets whooshed, skipped and scraped along the pavement, but made no contact for them to explode. The enemy attackers had fired from several hundred meters away in the middle of a street and then fled.
Our actions continued to have momentum.-By mid-month two men wanted by our forces – one who worked for Saddam’s wife turned themselves in to us and on the same day we received weapons from helpful Tikriti merchants with keen eyes.- Even so, the young and the stupid continue to step forward.- In a suburb to our south, attackers launched a volley of RPGs at A Company soldiers in yet another classic miss and run attack.- Our Gators responded so quickly that the enemy was forced to flee for his life and abandoned his rocket launchers in the street.-The attackers melded into the local population before they could be caught.- Hence, we continue to work with the locals, the sheiks and plan more raids. One benefit of our dialogue with the sheiks has been the recruitment of reliable militia that we are now training.- Tapping into some previous experience I had on a much grander scale when I served in Afghanistan forming the plans for the Afghan National Army, we moved out with a modest training program that is producing a good-quality small element to assist the local government and our forces.- Through the great work of 1LT Deel and SGM Castro, and with the assistance of a couple of former drill sergeants in each company, we move forward to train Iraqis in martial and civil arts that will help them stabilize their own town…
The enemy continues to adapt his tactics to counter ours.- His only cowardly refuge has been to hide among the population and among legitimate emergency services.- On the night of the 18th our soldiers at a temporary checkpoint searched an ambulance that was bringing back an older man from the hospital.- Seeing this, a white car placed an explosive on a side street and ignited the fuse.- A Company soldiers reacted to the blast to the west.- The ambulance drove north to get out of danger and as it did, the white car pulled along side the Red Crescent vehicle and sent a burst of gunfire toward another unit’s outpost.- The outpost responded, seeing the fire come from what appeared to be the ambulance.
Also seeing the fire exchanged between the outpost and the ambulance, our snipers engaged the ambulance as it sped north, the victim of a cruel crossfire.- The white car, fully masked in its movements, then dashed down a dark alley and made good his escape. The ambulance shuddered to a stop.- The driver, fearing for his life, got out of the front seat to escape the bullet exchange.- He nearly made it but for one round that hit his ankle.- Another aid man was cut by glass from the windshield.- The older man in transport took a round to the shoulder and the thigh.- The police and our forces quickly arrived along the dark street.- The police took the seriously wounded victim to the hospital where he was stabilized. The ambulance then began its journey northward toward a police checkpoint, met by both police and our scouts.- After much confusion, we determined what had happened and treated the man with the ankle wound.- We took him to better care to remove the bullet.- We also handed over the ambulance back to the emergency workers.- The Iraqis helped us piece together the confusing puzzle and, while frightened and initially angered, became more angered at the fact that the attackers would once again use innocent people as shields.- They are by all estimations cowards… The next day, the 20th, we got an emergency request for help from another unit working in our area.- While coordinating information on a market street, armed attackers masked within the population open up a deadly burst of gunfire.- The soldiers translator falls dead with a torso wound.- A soldier collapses with a serious thigh wound and another is also hit in his extremities severely wounded.- The soldiers return fire.- The enemy’s damage done, he flees, unable to be pursued by this small wounded band.
Men from our C Company rushed to the scene.- Shocked and bloody men are lifted into vehicles, accompanied by their angry and equally shocked peers.- Our soldiers cordon the area, conduct a wide search and gather little from the locals who have either closed their shops in typical fear or claimed they saw nothing. The men’s lives are saved by a medical evacuation.- A translator, an American citizen, will speak no more. Vigilance, vigilance, vigilance.- My burden is that every soldier of mine goes home and with a pair of legs.-God has spared us from much in the midst of our battles.- Psalm 68:19-21.
One such sparing occurred on the 22nd of August.- A tip from a distraught local warned us of a plan to attack the Tigris Bridge.- He stated that the attack would occur within an hour and would be with RPGs, small arms and mortars using a water-services truck as a mask. Our response was immediate.- A section of M1 Abrams tanks changed the scenery of the bridge and our checkpoint there.- The enemy did materialize at a distance and launched a single pathetic 82mm mortar round, impacting just across the near bank of the river at dusk. The scenery of his own attack also changed, he missed and now ran.
An hour later, our Recon platoon headed south along the main highway. They approached a decorative gate incongruently guarding a wadi that funnels the waste byproduct of Tikrit into the Tigris River.– Our men affectionately know this depression as the Stink Wadi.- That night it exuded more than just odor.- A volley of RPGs raced across in a flash from the south bank of the wadi.- Small arms accompanied the volley. The scout’s weapons erupted in a converging arc that raked and then secondarily exploded on the bank. Unable to get to the scene quickly by the nature of the wadi, distance and terrain, the men could not determine the damage they inflicted.- But they blew up something.- When searched later, the area was vacant, revealing little information.
The revelation of information took on a different form in Tikrit the following morning.- Our C Company posted security along the main street of the city near the telephone exchange offices.- Bradley fighting vehicles and tough soldiers mixed with the squat, dilapidated structures of the city.- A small crowd gathered at a new café in town, an Internet café.- Words are exchanged, cameras roll and snap, a pair of scissors is lifted off a pillow as the owner and I cut a ribbon at the entrance.
While thrilled, it all seems so foreign to me given the context of the previous days.- For a brief moment these small trappings of normal life of normal pursuits and daily living awaken me.- As I leave the café an old woman is nearly struck by a car and a bicycle as she attempts to cross the busy street.- Our soldiers step into the four lanes of traffic and she is escorted across the thoroughfare.– As we pull out in our vehicles, we cradle our weapons, begin to watch rooftops, examine every trash pile, and check each alley.- A sea of people is scanned quickly – what is in their arms, what are their facial expressions, do they make unusual movement.-We pull away and
reenter our world.

Alternately moving and sobering, I’d say.