Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The effect of executing Islamic -->Christian converts on certain foreign interventions

The right wing was recently all up in arms about Afghanistan's attempt to try and execute Abdul Rahman for having converted from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago. That's fair enough: I wasn't exactly happy about that myself. People shouldn't be killed simply for changing faiths - that's not the sort of thing that can be brushed off as a mere cultural difference. It's wrong, period. And apparently most of the Muslim world accepts death as the appropriate punishment for leaving the Islamic faith.

The Western world's response should be: sorry, guys, but you've gotta change. Welcome to modernity, guys; part of the admission charge is that you don't kill people just for abandoning your faith. We consider choosing a new religion (or none at all) to be a fundamental human right, and we're going to be less than happy with you until you do too.

We've got a problem in that we're arguing from a weak position here, but I'll get back to that in another post. What I really wanted to talk about was how this episode has caused many on the Right to question their support for our endeavors in Afghanistan and Iraq. And at this point, I just want to say to them: why didn't you guys freakin' do your homework?? Shouldn't you have thought about - learned about - things like this up front, before pushing these wars??

Like many on the left, my position on the recent wars has been: Afghanistan yes, Iraq no. We were attacked on 9/11, and the Taliban government of Afghanistan was harboring bin Laden and al Qaeda. So we had to fight that war, period. And once we did so, we kinda owed it to them to help them patch their country back together: when the Soviet Union (or what was left of it by then) pulled out of Afghanistan in the late 1980s, we pulled out too, rather than helping them deal with the aftermath. We couldn't exactly do that to them twice in a row, no matter what they believed. We can do what we can to make sure they don't execute anybody else for abandoning Islam, but we can't pull out on account of their desire to do so. We're stuck. End of story.

Iraq, on the other hand: let's face it, apostasy isn't going to be any more popular in Iraq than it was in Afghanistan. But the difference is, we chose to intervene in Iraq. So if you're one of the people who was for this invasion, don't you think you should have known this sort of thing first?? If you're going to mess with the real world, you shouldn't do so on the basis of fairytales - oh, Iraq's really a secular country, they'll welcome us with flowers, and yada yada yada.

If you're second-guessing what we're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq on account of Rahman, here comes a point at which you've got to say: I should have known this was what Iraq was like, but I didn't, because I, and all my buddies, and all my leaders - we didn't do our freakin' homework. We, from George W. Bush on down to the lowliest Keyboard Kommando, didn't bother to learn much about Iraq ahead of time, and boy howdy, are our soldiers - and the Iraqi people - ever paying for our willful ignorance.

Because if this case would have raised some doubts with you, then ignorant you were. Which means you were treating the world like a frickin' RiskTM game, rather than a place with real people who can be hurt and killed. People like you have a lot of nerve, showing your faces in public, let alone having the idea that anyone should still listen to what you think.

"War on Christians"? Gimme a break.

Yeah, I know. This country hates Christians. Especially evangelical Christians. So much that if guys like James Dobson or Pat Robertson call up the White House, they may actually be forced to talk with George W. Bush - which must be hard for even their small minds to take.

It gets even worse. Did you know they're actually forced to live in a country - ours, shockingly enough - where not everybody is a Christian, some people don't even like Christianity, and millions of people fail to live up to their high moral standards?
"We are after all a society that abides abortion on demand, that has killed millions of innocent children, that degrades the institution of marriage and often treats Christianity like some second-rate superstition. Seen from this perspective, of course there is a war on Christianity," he said.
How do they endure this? God only knows.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

An Open Letter to the WaPo's Jim Brady (post-Domenech)

JFTR, nobody cares about Ben Domenech. OTOH, I do care very much about the integrity of the Washington Post, which I've been reading for four decades. I want them to journalism, rather than suckupitude. The WaPo's kinda schizophrenic these days - it's got some great reporters who aren't going to suck up to anyone, but it's got some reporters and editors who clearly do. People like me who care about the damned paper want to see it come down on the side of journalism. Hence the following, which I emailed yesterday:

Dear Jim Brady:

As a subscriber to the print version of the paper, and as a regular reader of the website, I have some thoughts about your continuing search for a specifically conservative blogger.

You seem to be convinced of the WaPo's need for such a blogger. Needless to say, many of your readers are wondering why a specifically conservative blogger should be elevated to such visibility, ahead of many quite possibly more accomplished bloggers of various political orientations. Honestly - why don't you just steal Kevin Drum from the Washington Monthly? He's a first-class writer, and he's got a track record for levelheadedness and backing up his ideas with factual cites.

But since you're not likely to do this, maybe you should give us Washington Post subscribers an idea of what's missing from that only a righty blogger could provide. Here's how you might go about this:

1) Read a week's worth of posts on some of the major righty blogs, such as The Corner, InstaPundit, PowerLine, and RedState. [Doesn't have to be *you*, of course; that's what interns are for.)

2) In the (, reprint, or link to, posts that you feel are the sort of thing you'd hope to see from a conservative blogger on the site.

3) Stop and ask yourself - and your readers - how many such posts fly in the face of facts and logic. (I'm a more than occasional reader of such websites. They seem to suffer from a lot of this. Not to say it never happens on the left, but I'd say it happens to a much lesser degree on the lefty equivalent of the sites I mentioned above. Feel free to compare a week's worth of those four for factual accuracy and soundness of argument with a week's worth of the DailyKos main page, TalkingPointsMemo, Political Animal, and Firedoglake. No contest.)

4) What's left over is the maximum potential worthwhile output of a reasonable right-wing blogger. Note that any individual blogger will probably hit no more than 50% of the M.P.W.O. Note further that any blogger worth his pay will be posting a few times a day, and the remaining posts will not be part of that group of worthwhile posts. Think about the signal-to-noise, worthwhile-to-garbage ratio that implies.

5) Ask yourself, and your readers, if that ratio suggests that a conservative blog can make a positive contribution to the WaPo website.

I'm quite serious about this. Unless you've spent some time actually reading the righty blogs, you may have this idea that there's a pool of conservative blogging talent out there that is busily making strong, factual intellectual cases for socially conservative ideas. I can't say I run into anybody out there who's any more sound and factual than, say, Cal Thomas. I hope Cal's beneath the Washington Post's standards, and I expect that any socially conservative blogger you'd find wouldn't be any improvement over him.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

The new 'Saddam-bin Laden collaboration' memo

Seems the guys at RedState have been at the KoolAid again. According to the New York Sun,
[former Senator Bob Kerrey] says a recently declassified Iraqi account of a 1995 meeting between Osama bin Laden and a senior Iraqi envoy presents a "significant set of facts," and shows a more detailed collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
RedState's getting all self-congratulatory about this: "the prowar folks were already aware of this and the antiwar folks...there's not a chance on Earth that the antiwar movement's going to admit that it got things as horribly wrong as they did."

The lefty blogsphere fully expected that the declassifications of Iraqi documents would be handled in the usual political manner - if it made the Bush Administration look better, it would be declassified, and if it didn't, it wouldn't. But still, if there was real evidence of Saddam-Osama collaboration, I'd have to say I was wrong about a great deal of stuff.

So what collaboration did this document provide evidence of? Gee, the RedState commenter forgot to tell you that - can't imagine why. Here's what the NY Sun article said:
when Saddam was informed of the meeting on March 4, 1995 he agreed to broadcast sermons of a radical imam, Suleiman al Ouda, requested by Mr. bin Laden.
Well then, we had to attack Saddam. No question. I've been wrong about everything.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Iraq in a Nutshell

There are three key aspects of Iraq that must be included in any summary: Iraq as WMD threat, Iraq as humanitarian mission (and as massive post-invasion fuckup), and Iraq as colossal quagmire we can't seem to either remedy or abandon.

1) The WMD Threat

Since this was the justification the Administration gave to Congress, the nation, and the world for the war in the first place (see, for example, the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, U.N. Resolution 1441, and Bush's speech to the nation on the eve of the invasion), this is what got us there. The claim was that Saddam had WMDs which would constitute a threat to us in terrorist hands. It turns out the Administration lied to us about the evidence supporting both the WMD claim and the terrorist-connection claim, which at this point should surprise nobody.

One could argue that despite the weakness of the evidence for WMDs, and the near-total absence of evidence for a Saddam-al Qaeda connection, the Administration believed the threat to be real, and deceived the American people so that they could dispense with the threat anyway. Unfortunately, our conduct of the invasion itself demolishes that myth.

As George Packer reminds us in The Assassins' Gate (p.134), during the invasion
the Third Infantry Division and First Marine Expeditionary Force were chewing up hundreds of miles of desert on their way to the Iraqi capital, leaving in their path liberated but unsecured territory.
A primary reason this territory behind our front lines was left unsecured was (p.118)
In planning for Iraq throughout 2002, Rumsfeld obliged General Tommy Franks of Central Command to whittle his invasion force down from an original half around 160,000.
This wouldn't have been important if it hadn't been for the WMDs: as the Washington Post's Barton Gellman reported just ten days after the infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, the "liberated but unsecured territory" contained a number of prospective WMD sites. The absence of any attempt to secure the sites meant that they were looted to the ground in between the time our front lines liberated the sites, and the time when our Task Force 75, charged with finding which of these sites had in fact had WMDs or equipment to produce them, could inspect the sites.

In other words, if the sites had in fact held WMDs, they would have been looted, and nothing could have prevented terrorists from obtaining them from the looters. If there had been WMDs, our invasion would have accomplished the very thing it was supposed to prevent. It was a war plan that placed a low priority on securing the potential WMDs, and as such, it has to be regarded as the war plan of an Administration that had little concern about WMDs as a threat.

I am personally convinced that they expected to find token quantities of old nerve gas or mustard gas that they could exhibit as justification for the war, and were as surprised as everyone else by their apparent complete absence. But I am equally convinced that they did not expect to find biological or chemical weapons that could have been used by terrorists to kill thousands of Americans. If they did, their war plan was completely disconnected from their expectations. And in the end, I think we must regard their actions - their invasion - as the primary evidence of their beliefs and intent. Absent a mind-meld with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the other architects of the invasion, we must believe they didn't believe Saddam's WMDs constituted a meaningful threat.

2) Iraq as Humanitarian Mission

Saddam was a thug who ruled through violence and fear. Lord knows the Iraqis deserved something better than life under Saddam.

Unfortunately, that didn't mean we were capable of giving it to them.

Even if we'd run the ideal occupation - thoroughly planned, with three times as many troops as we went in with, stopping the looting before it started, keeping the bureaucracy of Saddam's government up and running through an efficient transition - the outcome still might well have been sectarian war. (David Wurmser, who was a player in the Administration's planning for this war, had written papers about this possibility back in the 1990s.)

But of course the Bush Administration was still at war with itself, even as our psy-ops people were pulling down the statue, about whether we should be doing nation-building in Iraq, let alone who should do it or how. There was no postwar plan whatsoever, as George Packer documents in The Assassins' Gate (pp.110-148). And to this day, there's no evidence of an Administration plan in all this. Hell, even our goals are unclear.

And so Iraq keeps sliding into chaos. Compare the news from Iraq at any time after the statue fell, to the news a year later. With the modest exception that the news in April 2005 wasn't as bad as that of the conflagrations of April 2004, the trend has been steadily down. Now the civil war is increasingly out in the open, and there seems to be nothing we can do to stop it.

There are things that are worse than all but the most hellish dictatorships, and chaos, anarchy, and civil war are among them. Saddam ruled through extravagant fear, but normal life went on: people had jobs, got married, raised families, and carried on. What they didn't do, unless they had a death wish, was suggest that Saddam was less than a perfect ruler. But that threat, real as it was, was open, and there were clear and obvious ways to minimize one's exposure to that risk. Now, the threat is from everywhere - sectarian violence, gangs, kidnappers, and of course Americans and mercenaries, who are free to kill any Iraqis that they perceive as a threat.

As a humanitarian rescue mission, this is already a failure, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

It eventually will get better, because it's unlikely that anarchy and chaos will last forever in Iraq. But that in no way justifies the invasion: if we hadn't invaded, eventually Saddam would have died of old age, or been killed, and the post-Saddam era would have arrived in a different way, which would have had just as much chance of working out for well or ill as the path that began with our invasion.

3) We Can't Fix It, We Can't Leave It

"Victory" is our goal, Bush says. Over whom? Iraq is falling into an increasingly open civil war, one in which we've played both a referee's role and a partisan role: we're the arbiter, but we've essentially sided with the Shi'ites against the Sunnis, which is why the Shi'ites haven't given us much trouble since Muqtada al-Sadr's rebellion of 2004.

But what are we going to do, now that our Shi'ite/Kurd client government is just as thuggish as the Ba'athists were? There doesn't seem to be much we can do. We have enough troops of our own to prevent an open civil war of massed armies, but that's not the civil war Iraq has - nor will it, since the Sunni insurgents are quite aware that they're outnumbered.

Our presence is doing a few things. It's keeping other countries from bringing troops across the Iraqi border. But we could do that from bases in a nearby country, or from the 'enduring bases' we have built away from the Iraqi cities. We're probably slowing somewhat the descent of Iraq into open civil war. But that descent is happening anyway. We're undoubtedly preventing the Sunni insurgents from openly running the Sunni portions of Iraq. The question there is, is that even something we should be doing?

At any rate, the best end-state we can hope for in Arab Iraq at this point is a stable Shi'ite theocracy, with enough power to suppress the Sunni insurgents. But even that's probably a dream beyond reach.

Given that, the question has to be asked: what are we fighting for? What do we still hope to accomplish in Iraq? How do we intend to do it, how much will it cost (in American and Iraqi blood, let alone treasure), and how long will it take? The time has long passed for vague goals of 'victory.' It's hard to have a clear idea of what's do-able when the Administration that controls so much of our information about Iraq is wrapped up in delusional thinking.

If I were asked what a Democratic alternative plan for Iraq should be, I'd say that by now, it's so fucked up that it's hard to imagine a plan that would un-fuck it. However, what we seemingly have now is no plan at all, and almost any plan that had some connection to reality would be better than that.


Hi, I'm Rufus. Or at least, I'm someone who is now blogging as Rufus.

I'm a middle-aged number-cruncher, a longtime political junkie, a born-again Christian, a fan of the Marx Brothers (of course) and off-the-wall humor of many sorts, and a proud liberal. I'm a Democrat, but more important, I'm a small-d democrat. I believe there's a constant tug-of-war, in American society (and probably everywhere else too), between political power residing with the people, and political power residing with the money.

Right now, the money's beating the people almost every which way. George W. Bush is the moneyed interests' man, and whatever one thinks of GWB's mental capabilities, he's won an impressive number of victories over the past five-plus years - for big corporations and for super-rich individuals alike. And these victories have usually been at the expense of some or all of the rest of us.

I'll be talking more about Bush in here. A lot more. That's inevitable: he's President, and he's a very effective one, measured in terms of progress towards what I see as his goals. He's about as easy to ignore as a Metallica concert in your next-door neighbor's backyard.

I'll also be talking about the Democrats, the 'Christian' Right, the media, the blogsphere, and the usual run of issues. I won't have an opinion on everything, because life's too short, and the day job which pays the bills means there's a limit to how much I can say anyway. Besides, there's a million blogs out there already, cranking out opinions on everything, and if I can, I'd like to try to add things to the discussion that aren't already being said on the front page of DailyKos or FireDogLake or AmericaBlog.

And I'd like to try to have some fun doing it. To paraphrase Groucho, "If you think the blogsphere's bad off now, just wait 'til I get through with it."