Friday, October 28, 2005

Commander-in-Zilch Escapes

The one thing a war lover cannot deal with is the imminence of defeat.
--John Hersey, The War Lover (1959)

It’s nothing new to anyone that this war-addled administration’s most important members—Bush, Cheney, Rove, Card, Rice—either didn’t have to serve in the military (Rice) or racked up deferments (five student and marriage deferments for Cheney) or pretended to serve in safe stateside assignments (Bush) or served in pretend-military service (Card, in the Merchant Marine from 1967 to 1968). But it’s been one of the great, dingy ironies of the administration, and of Bush in particular, that whenever the polls have needed a boost from depression or the president has needed a shield from reality, he’s donned military camouflage, flown the coop, and landed, at times literally, in seas of soldiers cheerfully choreographed to, like a support group with nothing but an hour to lose, applaud him and reassure him and let him play his commander-in-chief role the only way he can: From the safe confines of a presidential dais, on the safe grounds of an armor-plated military base or a an aircraft-carrier-turned Hollywood stage for an afternoon’s commercial at taxpayers' expense.

He’s done it again. Where was our Lord and Savior President Friday, as the special prosecutor was handing down his indictment of the vice president’s aid and teaching the White House a lesson about law-breaking, hubris, spilling life-endangering secrets of state (as opposed to, say, spilling sperm on a blue dress)? Where was the president? Recovering from his morning appearance at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Virginia, where he repeated his now-familiar magic act about emerging peace and democracy in Iraq and winning the war on terror, to an adoring crowd camouflaged in head-over-heels love and appreciation: “…and the Commander-in-Chief is incredibly proud of you. (Applause.) And to the veterans, thanks for setting such a good example. I'm proud of your service. (Applause.)” And those five soldiers who got blown to bits in western Iraq and Baghdad yesterday? Invisible, as always. Not on the program. Nor should they be, of course. It would insult their memory to share a stage with so much canned fakery. Bush is escaping his own political funeral by tap-dancing (with rhetoric three years past its expiration date) on the graves of soldiers. Leave it to the Virginia Symphony’s “Haunted Orchestra” concert at Chrysler Hall tomorrow night to make up for the embarrassment with a scheduled performance of Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette.”

Thursday, October 27, 2005

White House Climate Change: Miers Melts

And so what even the Weather Channel could have predicted with ninety-nine percent accuracy within days of her nomination has, a bit late, happened. The Texas cheerleader can now go back to doing smiley-faced Q&As on the White House web site. The president's whimperish statement accepting the withdrawal isn't worth a thought, but Chris Matthews on MSNBC just wondered who could possibly have so disastrously advised the president to nominate Harriet Miers, and whether that (or those) advisers will still be there advising the president in the future. If So, Matthews said, the country is in trouble.

The sum-up misses two crucial points. First, the Miers nomination was Bush’s, who insisted on her over and above the objections of his advisers. Bush went with his self-celebrated (and more dangerously for the country, self-indulged) instinct on this one, as he does on too many issues for the same reason: “I’m the commander—see, I don't need to explain why I say things,” he once told Bob Woodward (see pp. 145-6 of Bush at War). “That’s the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel I owe anybody an explanation.” An attitude like this is cynical, small-minded, sophomoric, and given the small matter of democratic expectations that go with the job, entirely erroneous. But Our Lord and Savior President, speaking it like the true hibernating lion he’s become, has at least been consistent.

Second, the disastrous advice, whether self-indulged or heard from his inner circle of Roves and Cheneys and Basmatis — on taxes in 2001, on Iraq in 2002 and since, on dozing on Osama since 2002, on Social Security in 2004, on energy all along — has already done its job: The country is in serious trouble, has been in serious trouble for several years, and more disturbingly, has three more years to go on this Cassandra Crossing Presidency. Miers’s is the least of the belated withdrawals we need, and Fitzpatrick’s Danny-Boy indictments aside, probably the last we’re about to get for a while. Not even Osama could have dreamed of such promise of mass destruction.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


"On Oct. 7, 2002, in one of the many speeches he devoted to making the case for war on Iraq, President Bush said: "I'm not willing to stake one American life on trusting Saddam Hussein." Two and a half years into the war in Iraq, we have staked 2,000 American lives on trusting George W. Bush. Each death has been, more than anything else, the result of Bush abusing that trust in the name of a war abysmally planned for, in a country he understood not at all, toward ends that have changed almost as rapidly as the seasons. The greater disgrace is that the futility continues, with no discernible changes of strategy and no apparent end in sight."[Read more...]

Indictments Near and Far

No one this side of what's left of Wilma is going to be interested, for the next 48 hours or so, in anything but the Fitzgerald indictments, which The Washington Note is reporting have been issued (the targets of indictment have already received their letters") but which may, according to CBS' John Roberts, have more to do with an unexpected Mr. X than with anything Rovish or Libbish. So even the Invisible War's 2000th American death will pass for a ghost, much like the 1,999 deaths that have preceded it. Lucky for our Lord and Savior President on either count: The knave escapes again. Shades of 1987 and Ronald Reagan's eventual slime (because it wasn't exactly a graceful or legal slide) out of the muck of Iran-Contra and his knavery.

Wasn't it As-Safir or Al-Shiraa or one of those obscure little Lebanese newspapers that broke open the Bud McFarlane-Oily North missile-salesmanship trip to Iran, and with it the whole Iran-Contra affair? Shouldn't there have been a Polk award or a Peabody or something for those broadsheets? In honor of small Lebanese newspapers, which once in a while do get the story right before their American counterparts do, here's today's commentary from The Daily Star's Rami Khouri, just back from three weeks in the United States, with a few observations and a mild though unsurprising prediction: "When I saw the 'George Bush is a goddamned idiot' bumper sticker in Boulder, Colorado a few days ago, I knew the American president was in serious trouble. When I asked to buy a copy of that particular political statement (to place it in my office alongside my 'Syria get out' placard that I had picked up during one of the many anti-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut last spring), I was told that the anti-Bush sticker was unavailable, because the shops could not keep up with demand." See the rest...

As always the real indictments of the Bush presidency (2000 of them in one time zone alone, half a world away) have never been handed down inside the Beltway. What's worse: Nor are they heard much inside the nation's insular, self-satisfied borders. The proof is in the raptness over the Fitzgerald indictments. The focus and dismay is at least one election too late, even though the evidence--the lies, the treachery, the imperious contempt for law, the smug, joystick leveraging of power--was all there for all to see well before 2004. For those with eyes, it was obvious in 2000.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Judith Miller's Devil Theories

What took the New York Times twenty-eight years to realize about Judith Miller (she started in the Time's Washington bureau in 1977), Edward Said had figured out almost ten years ago. He must be having an especially satisfying cup of Turkish coffee in his grave.

A few choice bits for the hurried and harried:

On Miller's predilection for making herself part of the story, rather than reporting it: "... in one especially nauseating scene, she actually participates in the prison interrogation of an alleged Muslim terrorist by Israeli policemen, whose systematic use of torture and other questionable procedures (undercover assassinations, middle-of-the-night arrests, house demolitions) she politely overlooks as she gets to ask the handcuffed man a few questions of her own."

On Miller's fixation on fiction and the Times' early lock on misreporting the Mideast: "Miller disdains facts; she prefers quoting interminable talk as a way of turning Arabs into deserving victims of Israeli terror and U.S. support of it. She perfectly exemplifies The New York Times's current Middle East coverage, now at its lowest ebb."

On trusting the wrong pen: "Miller, in short, is a shallow, opinionated journalist whose gigantic book is too long for what it ends up saying, and far too short on reflection, considered analysis, structure and facts. Poor Muslims and Arabs who may have trusted her; they should have known better than to mistake an insinuated guest for a friend."

[With thanks to Rick deY]

Monday, October 24, 2005

L'Infame, 2: Taliban Advice & Consent

A list of implicitly American accomplishments in Afghanistan, posted on the White House’s web site on June 25, states: “Three years ago, women in Afghanistan were whipped in the streets, executed in a sports stadium, and beaten for wearing brightly-colored shoes. Schooling was denied to girls. Today, the constitution gives women the right to vote and guarantees freedom of expression, assembly, and religion. Young girls are attending school. Two Afghan cabinet ministers are women, and a woman leads the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.”

The White House, as always, prefers fabulism over its own agencies’ fact-checking. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose commissioners are appointed jointly by the White House and Congress, and whose work is entirely funded by the federal government, notes that in January 2004, “Afghanistan adopted a Constitution that does not include any guarantee of freedom of religion or belief or expression for members of the country’s majority Muslim community against unjust accusations of religious ‘crimes’ such as apostasy and blasphemy. Compounding this inadequacy was the signing in March 2004 of a revised press law that contains a sanction against publication of ‘matters contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects.’ The State Department as well as the Commission have reported in the past that the vagueness in the definition of what constitutes offensive material allows for the potential abuse of this clause with the aim of limiting freedom of the press and intimidating journalists.”

So it has.

“Women’s Rights” (Haqoq-e-Zan) is a monthly published in Kabul by Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, who happens to be an Islamic scholar, a Shiite, a former refugee in Iran (where he studied), and an unsuccessful candidate for parliament in Kabul last September. The articles he’s run in his magazine have, among other things, questioned the harshness of certain punishments under Shari’a law, such as the stoning to death of women found guilty of adultery, and argued that it is no crime to give up Islam (as it might be to be battered for giving it up). But Afghans still want their stonings. A religious adviser to Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, filed a complaint about Mohaqiq Nasab with the Afghan Supreme Court (where Antonin Scalia would, it appears, feel less of an exile than on First Street). Mohaqiq Nasab appeared twice before the court, without a lawyer, pleading not guilty to a charge of publishing anti-Islamic articles. On Saturday, he was found guilty of blasphemy and convicted to two years in prison. No appeal. “The Media Commission, which under Afghan law is supposed to try press offences,” Reporters Without Borders tell us, “has meanwhile announced that it no longer recognizes him to be a magazine editor.”

Who knew: Afghan law hinges on the advise and consent of the Taliban. They're not beheading adulterers in stadiums, but the likes of Karzai and his patrons aren't about to keep heads from rolling elsewhere for same or lesser reasons. No al-Hallaj wanderers, please. No wonder the Taliban's guns are quieter than Iraq's fanatics. Why fire a shot when the target is on his knees already? Which reminds me of one of Letterman's Top Ten April Fool's Pranks in Afghanistan: "Saying you support the Hamid Karzai government, but secretly supporting a warlord who has secretly begun to support the Taliban again, but then betraying the warlord, but then betraying the Karzai government and really supporting the warlord again." And posting that on the White House's Top Ten Lists of Accomplishments.