"The Secret Service has spotted a manatee"

I know I rag on the NYT's Elisabeth Bumiller from time to time, but I did enjoy this from her. Languishing in reporter purgatory trying to cover Bush on the campaign trail, she offers a lovely little description of her time in the holding pen:

TNR's Campaign Journal We're now in a hold in the boathouse/garage/guest house of the home of Jack Donahue, the president's host, where we are looking out at Gordon Pass, which flows from the Gulf of Mexico out into the Gordon River. I have no idea what the main house looks like, but I would be perfectly happy to live with the boats. The architecture of the boat /guest house is stone and stucco, with a wooden slate roof; it's new and it looks really expensive. Donahue is the chairman and founder of Federated Investors, Inc., a Pittsburgh based investment management firm that at the end of 2003 was managing $198 billion, three-fourths of it in money market funds. He has 13 children, 84 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. I think his house is on the Gulf -- I can't imagine it's not -- but it's hard to tell from my vantage point. My view is framed by sea grape and palms. Right now I am looking across Gordon Pass to Keewaydin Island, which is edged by mangrove trees. The water is a lovely blue-green; the Secret Service has spotted a manatee.


Hating us

Let me heartily recommend Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men, a gripping and disturbing narrative of how the CIA staged a coup to overthrow Iran's last true democratic leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953. Kinzer makes a persuasive case for how the importance of that event cannot be understated, whether you are thinking about our relationship with the Middle East, the nature of the Cold War, or how America's power is extended in the world.

With a small staff and several million dollars, the CIA fundamentally altered the course of Iranian history, proving that for all its pretty talk, the United States would be a fickle friend to emerging democracies in the global contest with the Soviet Union. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is Harry Truman's firm stand against undermining the fledgling Iranian democracy. While certainly troubled by potential Soviet designs on the country, Truman bucked the British colonialists and steadfastly refused to employ U.S. power against popular will in Iran. It was only with the election of the less engaged Eisenhower that the covert action hawks were able to have their way and proceed with the coup. Sound like familiar themes?

Truman recognized that the path to democracy for post-colonial nations was a delicate one, and that true diplomacy and resolve could produce transitions both fruitful and favorable to American interests. The legacy of our duplicitous conduct in Iran has resulted in neither. For 50 years, Iran has suffered under the weight of tyrannical regimes, enabled in part by a bitter political culture produced by the betrayal of 1953. Not to mention the billions of dollars with which the US propped up the Shah's regime. And Iran has probably done more than any other nation in the Middle East to keep the homefires of fanatical anti-Americanism burning over the last quarter century. The rhetorical underpinnings of the assault now being unleashed against the West were well developed in Iran when Osama bin Laden was still on the CIA payroll.

So it is quite remarkable that this tortured country has again produced a movement that, by all accounts, looks to complete the democratic project stifled in 1953 and again in 1979. And yet, American policy has failed to address the complexities of our history and relationship with Iran. It has also failed to address the significance of the democracy movement and what this would mean for American security. Instead, we get "axis of evil" on one hand and a scattered focus on Iran's nuclear violations on the other. The nuclear issues are serious and need to be addressed, to be sure, but we will lose a mighty opportunity if we ignore Iran's popular sentiment again and focus only on its leadership.


He does work in mysterious ways...

Maybe Bush really does have a problem with his base. The Judge Roy Moore (of Ten Commandments lawn ornament fiasco fame) for President website gives a run down of how Bush is not conservative enough:

  • George W. Bush betrayed Roy Moore. When Justice Roy Moore and his supporters declared that the Ten Commandments have a place in the America's courts of law, George W. Bush cut and run. Bush pretended that he didn't even know us, like Peter denying Jesus.

  • George W. Bush betrayed Lieutenant General William Boykin. When Boykin told the truth about America's war against terror, saying that it is really a war against Satan, Bush denied knowing anything about it. We know very well that Bush and Boykin have talked about this very thing in the White House together, but again Bush pretended that he didn't even know about it.

  • After September 11, 2001, George W. Bush has engaged in a silly ecumenical project to try to pretend that all religions are really the same and equally valid. General Boykin is courageous enough to say that "America is a Christian nation". Bush tries to pretend that he does not think so. We need a President who will be honest about these things, and not try to cover up the real differences between Christianity and Islam.

  • George W. Bush promised that he would promote a pro-life agenda, but now both George W. Bush and his wife say that they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, because George W. Bush is really pro-Choice!

  • Bush is two-faced and insincere about homosexuality. He says he opposes gay marriage, but then refuses to oppose civil unions for homosexuals. He also refuses to be consistent on hiring gays in the government, allowing for other offices to fire gays because of their sexual orientation, but he hires several homosexuals himself! Either Bush should be pro-gay or anti-gay. Make a decision, Bush!

  • Bush has taken part in Shinto ceremonies, bowing down to idols at a Shinto temple in Japan. Blasphemy and idolatry is not Christian behavior. Judge Roy Moore would never do such a thing.

  • Bush has sent American soldiers to serve under United Nations authority.

  • Besides demonstrating the right wing pressure on G2 right now, stuff like this should provide a stern rebuke to all those 'thoughtful' conservatives and their polite conversations about how maybe we should allow prayer in schools and such because Christian philosophy and principles of American government have been so closely intertwined (I'm looking at you, Brooks). Your ideological bedfellows on this one aren't worried about historical accuracy, guys. They want government based on a fundamentalist brand of Christianity, and namby-pamby legalisms in the Constitution can go suck an egg. When you try to rationalize these arguments you are appeasing a vision of society that is deeply inconsistent with the principles of tolerance and respect for the rule of law we hold dear.


    "The Hay's All in the Barn, Let's Burn it Down"

    The title of a song just heard on my new favorite Internet destination, a bluegrass station in East Tennessee that plays bluegrass 24/7 and broadcasts over the Internet. Courtesy of someone writing in to Altercation . Absolutely delightful.

    It's called WDVX and you can find it here.


    Less smug, more beleaguered, I'd say

    Forced myself to endure the press conference tonight. Pretty standard stuff, although, as always, the farther we get along in these tangled webs the more startling the surreality of it all is, i.e., the nation has been pretty unanimously shocked or at least seriously alarmed by the violence in Iraq over the past weeks. Regardless of the initial justification, there is a general consensus that we are through some kind of looking glass there, and no one is really sure if this is an isolated incident or a sign of terrible things to come. But Bush seems to have the same talking points he did for the State of the Union 2003 i.e., "No one ever said the war on terror would be easy." Um, yeah, we got that.

    Otherwise, he seemed especially confused tonight, as though he hadn't been briefed very well, or is running out of the composure to deal with these sorts of questions and criticisms. I may have to concur with the people who suggested he just do a regular speech instead of a press conference, if only to avoid another one of these merciless charades where Bush puts on blinders while the media try to distract him from his cue cards with their questions. It's like a Fear Factor episode where the contestant must sit in a tank of bees and not flinch or even acknowledge the bees' presence, lest he get stung.

    As far as the apology thing goes, I maintain this question is kind of a waste of time, but it has some drama to it so whatever. It's the media's prerogative now. That said, Bush's desperate evasions and deer-in the headlights expression reminded me of a certain Happy Days where the Fonz is so adverse to apologizing to someone that he is physically unable to form the words. Maybe we were spoiled by too many years of (too many) soulful Clinton pleas for forgiveness, but the refusal to even entertain the emotional need for an apology is becoming almost a neurotic tick. But I guess that's what it means to have a macho president.

    Other items and quotes of note:

  • Bush referred to our anti-terror campaign in the "Caucus area". I'm pretty sure this is not a legitimate synonym for the region known as the "Caucuses", but I could be wrong. Hell, maybe he was talking about the campaign.

  • "People don't like seeing dead bodies on their TV. I know I don't." Gasp.

  • He called Saddam an 'ally' of terror. I think this is a downgrade for Saddam. I know it's semantics, but since he uses so few words that haven't been through the WH communications shop, I think it's fair game.

  • Why did he keep going on about how maybe we could still find some weapons? I was pretty sure I detected a central directive a month and a half ago about cutting the losses on that one. That makes me nervous.

  • "Calling George Tenet. Please return to your upright position. You have been bending over for this administration for nine months." I don't know if I can handle G2 making Tenet his bitch from now through the final report of the intelligence commission. It's like watching Oz but everyone's out of shape. And yet people still earnestly debate if he's going to be fired. These people obviously do not understand how the bitch system works.

  • Ok. Back to work.


    Satisfatied yet?

    Oh I hope this doesn't sound too "pessimistic", but, regarding the infamous PDB:

    Doesn't it seem reasonable that this document is only the tip of the iceberg? As I think Kevin Drum noted, the PDB reads alarmingly like the cliff notes to the cliff notes of your standard letter to the editor in Foreign Affairs. And, as we all know from Ron Suskind's gracious sharing of White House memos, Bush has things explained to him in the most simple terms possible. It begs the question of whether this memo represents merely the super-watered down version of high level intelligence circulating among executive branch staff pre-9/11 and whether the rest of the group was getting briefings with a bit more meat on the bones.

    But maybe that's just some hatred filled conspiracy talk. I do have that book to promote.

    Welfare reauthorization fatigue so soon...

    Bravo to Mark Schmitt for this post on why the debate over welfare this year misses the point entirely. It has been said by many people, and by myself as well, that one of welfare reform's lasting effects has been the neutering of a classic Republican cudgel on the Democrats. That was a good thing Clinton did. Good like his ending of the myth that Democrats liked street criminals. And to boot, old welfare sucked pretty hard, and needed to be changed.

    On the other hand, Clinton got very, very lucky. Kicking tons of families off the welfare rolls came at just about the best time it could have: lots of upwardly mobile jobs for former recipients, states with bunches of cash to throw at nice programs. Awesome. Things look, shall we say, less promising these days.

    But again, we digress. Schmitt's point is that intolerable economic insecurity is a far bigger problem than the 2 million on the welfare rolls. It's the whole freaking lower quintile of the income distribution (max househould income about $18,000). Fixing the poor/underclass/dispriveleged and cleaning up welfare are none too synonymous in this day and age. Traditional welfare reform has been reduced to a bureaucratic curiosity. Meaningful policy solutions for struggling Americans is the real, and ignored, challenge.


    The real story

    Josh Marshall has a good post reiterating exactly what sensible people are hoping to get out of the 9/11 commission and specifically the PDB release Saturday here. It has been all to easy too make this debate into a ludicrous question of how the White House should have been able to prevent the 9/11 attacks. They are using this to their advantage true to form, rewriting the question to provoke the answer they want to give, i.e. "It was an unprecedented terrorist conspiracy that literally took the entire globe by surprise. No, we couldn't have stopped it."

    Richard Clarke's apology resonated so strongly because government accounting for the intelligence failure on 9/11 has been so resoundingly dishonest. Bushco would rather meet an apology in hell than engage in earnest self-examination, and earnest self-examination has been in no uncertain terms the single most pressing need for national security policy since 9/11. It's not like anyone even asked them to resign, since after all, they had only been in office for 233 days, as Condi reminded us ad nauseum last Thursday. The concerned public, and the families of the 9/11 victims, only want some clear eyed accountability, and the administration has vehemently refused that wish from day one.

    The remarkable thing about the whole mess is that if the administration had been playing a running game of defense and concession at the same time they had launched their massive offensive, they would never be confronting these headaches 6 months from election day. The Democrats would be neutralized beyond anyone's wildest dreams and questions about 9/11 would be ancient history except for the crazies and conspiracy theorists.

    Only time will tell if this gamble bought the payoff it intended, and, obviously, I hope it doesn't. But if only to prove that governments must be able to navigate the tricky waters between failure and success, let's hope the political damage from the WH's shameless equivocation this week inflicts some lasting wounds.


    Sorry, blog

    I know I've been lax lately. Much to do at work. Hopefully that will change this week. Anyhow, on to business:

    Iraq: The fighting this week is pretty scary. I don't think we should get sucked into overstating how much of the country has been lost, as these are relatively isolated incidents. But that's not the point. This episode is going to have serious ramifications for what our future involvement there is going to look like, and so far the course has been less than encouraging. Just heard an estimate that 600 civilians (that matters even if they are participating in the insurgency) may have been killed in the assault on Falluja, including a number of women and children. Other reports, especially from the invaluable Juan Cole (if you feel like you don't know what's going on on the ground in Iraq, give a similar impression: that U.S. forces are dealing with weeding out the insurgency with full indiscriminate ruthlessness. Not that we should blame the soldiers, it is really fucking scary there right now and urban warfare is a brutal, bloody nightmare. But we shouldn't be in this position in the first place.

    And we certainly shouldn't be treating this insurgency like an Al-Qaeda nest. No-prisoners tactics against the insurgents will and is losing us any benefit of public opinion at all levels and fast, and we don't exactly have a lot of that to lose anymore.


    Petroleum reckoning

    Gregg Easterbrook speaks truth to power here about gas politics on the campaign trail. The inability of Democrats to take firm stand on this issue is one of the more cringeworthy talking points in the all-out Bush bash, and I think deeply weakens their position against the Republican big oil machine. I am willing to allow a great deal of not perfectly kosher insults on the campaign trail (because we will never get anywhere otherwise) but this one is a bit more dangerous. Americans need to understand how absurd it is to insist that a gallon of gas costs less than a gallon of Coca-Cola, and politicians need to stop enabling this fantasy. American soldiers are dying for this reason and its sick.