Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Constitution Update

Turns out - thank heavens - that the posted Constitution is just some essentially random excerpts. Why this was touted as the "full text" I'm not sure. The full text of what they've managed to translate, I guess.

Anyway, here's hoping that the Great Turning Point of the adoption of the Iraqi Constitution turns out to be a bigger deal than the Great Turning Point of the Iraqi elections in January... From February 1st to August 24th of 2004, 438 American soldiers were killed in Iraq. From February 1st to August 24th of 2005, 432 American soldiers were killed in Iraq.

Monday, August 22, 2005

When the Going Gets Tough

The tough turn to scatalogical humor.

This is comedy.

Prepare to be Embarrassed and Ashamed

The Rocky Mountain Telegram brings us what purports to be the full text of the proposed Iraqi constitution. If this is really it, I'm at a loss for words. I wasn't expecting Alexander Hamilton, but this is an embarrassment. It's not a Constitution at all, just a bunch of vague platitudes. It's like the mission statement of some shitty activist group. A complete travesty and a great shame on our country.

We killed and tortured people for this. For this.

Oh, god...

Afghanistan and Iraq

Did you know that over the last six months, it has been approximately as dangerous to be an American soldier in Afghanistan as it has been to be an American soldier in Iraq? It's true. Over the last six months, about 65 soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, compared to about 370 killed in Iraq over that same period. Since there are about 7 times as many soldiers in Iraq as Afghanistan, the level of danger to the troops in those countries has been approximately the same.

The reason this is worth thinking about is that by all accounts, Afghanistan is a great deal farther along in its political process than Iraq. Yet American troops remain in country, and they continue to be exposed to Iraq-like levels of danger.

With that the case, how can the White House get away with pretending that the end is in sight in Iraq? Is Iraq projected to surpass Afghanistan at some point in the next, say, two years? If so, what does that tell us about the Afghanistan situation? Is the country in danger of falling back into the hands of the same elements who controlled the country prior to October 2001?

If not, what does that tell us about Iraq, if not that when it comes to getting our soldiers out, there's no time like the present?

Common Sense vs. Uncommon Stupidity

The intuitive tools we generally call "common sense" are some of the most overrated in the cognitive toolbox. Very often when someone exhorts listeners or readers to use common sense he is actually asking them to abstain from thinking things through carefully. This sort of trick is a staple among radio personalities, with Rush Limbaugh as its greatest exemplar.

Common sense, however, is sometimes the only defense against uncommon stupidity. So it is with George Allen's latest foray into international news analysis in which he contends that the problem of elements of the fledgling Iraqi police forces forming themselves into death squads is not unlike the jurisdictional squabbles frequently encountered by law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

Now, it's not that difficult, if you want to spend the time, to explain why this makes no sense. But to even engage Allen on a point this stupid is in a sense to fall into the weird Republican trap that seems to spring on the Democrats on so many issues. It is this tactic that makes George W. Bush the perfect leader for the modern GOP.

It works like this.

1) A Republican leader says something howlingly stupid.
2) Democratic leaders publicly refute the stupid Republican statement.
3) Media reporting on the matter is organized around the idea of a struggle between two opposing points of view, with only veiled mention of the fact that one of the points of view is not held by any remotely reasonable person.

This is the "Opinions Differ on Shape of Earth" phenomenon and the Dems have to stop falling for it. When a Republican like Allen says something mind-numbingly stupid, the only Democratic response should be "Can you believe how stupid this guy is?" Do you want people like this leading our country who are such idiots?"

Now any die-hard Allen fans are going to be offended by this, and eventually they will get churned into a frenzy by thir favorite radio hosts, decrying the Democratic leadership's stereotyping of Southerners or however the hell they want to spin the fact that the Democrats are pointing out that George Allen is, in fact, extremely stupid. But such people cannot be reached, certainly not through reasoned discourse.

DISCLAIMER - what Democrats SHOULD avoid is the temptation to throw in "tobacco-spittin', boots-wearin'" type slurs into their descriptions of transcendentally stupid politicians like Allen . The idea that Allen is country is, first of all, something of a PR affectation, and second of all, irrelevant to the fact that Allen is an idiot. There are a lot of idiots who spit tobacco, just as there are a lot of idiots who wear leather elbow patches and teach classics. No liberal would feel the need to throw "grey-bearded" "bespectacled" or any similar trait into a denunciation of a stupid person who also happened to display those characteristics.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Law Ignored by Iraqi Government

The Iraqi government has apparently illegally extended the deadline for the completion of a constitution until next Monday, according to press reports.

More Trouble With Iraqi Constitution

The talks originally scheduled for 6:00 p.m. today, which were postponed to 8:00 p.m. today, have now been postponed again, to 10:00 p.m. today. The deadline for presenting the draft constitution is midnight tonight Baghdad time, which is 4:00 p.m. EDT.

Again, if that deadline is not met, under Iraqi transitional law the parliament elected for the sole purpose of drafting the constitution will be dissolved and a new one will have to be elected.

Laters Iraq "Whoops"

The always excellent Juan Cole brings us a disturbing piece of expert commentary this morning. Apparently the way the Iraqi transitional law is written, on August 1 the Iraqi consitutional committee had the option of requesting an extension on the deadline for writing the permanent consitution and sending it up for approval by the elected legislature.

They wanted to request such an extension, but the Bush administration realized how bad that would look back home (especially with Cindy Sheehan bird-dogging the Prez about why exactly her son was gunned down in WMD-less Iraq), so they told the Iraqis to get it done, or else.

Or else what?

Well, that's what Juan Cole lets us in on today. If the constitutional committee can't agree on a consitution by August 15th (that's today), then the elected legislature is dissolved and elections have to be redone by December 15th. In other words, this whole year of political maneuvering in Iraq is washed down the drain and we start again like the Dallas season that turned out to be all a dream.

It's currently 6:45 p.m. in Baghdad. Last I heard, no constitution.

Actually, here's an update on that - the drafting committe was supposed to meet today at 6 p.m. but nobody showed up. So they (who?) postponed it til 8 p.m. I guess maybe everybody was caught in traffic.

Seriously, this is just embarrassing.

Latest Iraq "Whooops"

Frog March Watch Begins

Disclaimer: Murray Waas is not exactly the most administration-friendly reporter. However, since this information will eventually become public one way or another, it's a pretty big limb for him to go out on if he doesn't have some pretty good evidence that this story is true.

And if the story is true, well, that's very bad news for Karl Rove. According to Waas:

During his initial interview with the FBI, in the fall of 2003, Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed Plame with Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper, according to two legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

Now, before I get on Bob Somerby's shit list (don't I wish), let me say that this may not be as damning as it sounds. It's possible that the questions Rove was asked by the special prosecutor were not specific enough to make Rove's failure to disclose his conversation with Cooper rise to the level of perjury. Keep in mind that Rove was initially interviewed not by Fitzgerald's team of pit bulls but by FBI people who were still working for Ashcroft. So it's possible Ashcroft had focused the investigation just so, such that the tough questions were not being asked. That in itself, of course, would be a story.

The Waas article is very interesting for several reasons.

One, it underscores the importance of tough confirmation hearings even when a nominee is almost sure to be confirmed.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Comey had pledged that he would personally see to it that the independence and integrity of the investigation would not be compromised in any way.

At one point during those hearings, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cited the close relationships between Ashcroft and Rove, and also between Ashcroft and others also likely to be questioned during the leak probe. Schumer asked Comey:

Now, by all accounts I've read, Comey has a lot of integrity, and he didn't need Schumer to tell him that he was to keep investigations of the executive branch fiercely impartial. But it's nice to get it in the record.

Second, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Judy Miller's trip to jail is not as clean-cut as it once appeared. It seems that prosecutors are mainly interested in what she told Rove, not the other way around. So the key in all this is not whether Rove is Miller's source, but whether Miller was Rove's. Of course, if she was the conduit for this information, the question again becomes: who told Miller?

The third thing that's interesting about the piece is that, read in timeline form the way Waas lays it out, it has the feel of a major criminal scandal. If this sequence of events is really accurate, that the FBI became convinced in 2003 that Rove was trying to mislead investigators, and they've really been looking at Rove for this long, he's probably going to be indicted. It would be a major setback for Fitzgerald's career - which seemed on the fast track to the attorney general's office before he got involved in the Plame case - for him not to return any indictments now, after a long and expensive investigation.

The Frog March Watch Begins.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Psychology of Suicide Bombers

Everyone knows suicide bombers are mentally unbalanced religious fanatics. Everyone, that is, that has never made any serious study of the phenomenon of suicide bombing. Those who have generally know (as has been well known among experts for many years) that suicide bombers are generally not crazy, and that they are more commonly motivated by other concerns - nationalism, personal revenge, family honor - than religion.

This article is one of the few treatments of the subject I've seen in the US media. It's an interesting report. There is one snippet at the end that's especially interesting:

"Through much of the Muslim world, and even some of Europe," McCauley said, "it's believed that the embargo on Saddam Hussein's Iraq caused the deaths of several hundred thousand people, most of them children, from bad water, untreated sewage, lack of proper medical care."

How did "the Muslim world, and even some of Europe" come to believe such nonsense? Well, actually, this fact is well known in the US as well, among people who follow US foreign policy closely. It is not a secret, it's just not discussed.

Actually, I'm being much too hard on the American media, and much too easy on Americans generally, to say that the fact of several hundred thousand children's deaths is "not discussed." In fact it was discussed on national television in 1996. Here's Leslie Stahl interviewing Madeline Albright:

Lesley Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.

To the extent that Americans do not know that our embargo on Iraq resulted in the deaths of several hundred thousand children, it is a willful ignorance. We choose not to know. But what you choose not to know can hurt you, if you ignore it long enough.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Governments Lie

The always excellent Juan Cole has a rundown on why you shouldn't believe the neoconservatives when they tell you that Iran is supporting the Iraq insurgency.

For what it's worth, I like Juan but I think his view of the Iraqi insurgency is pretty simplistic. However, it's hard to argue a lot of his points in this piece. His strongest point has to do with the map:

Earlier in the article it was alleged that the supposedly captured shipment came from northeastern Iran. Yet by this later paragraph, the US military intelligence guys can't tell whether it came from the west or the east, or whether it came from Iran or Hizbullah. But if you don't know whether something comes from Lebanon or Iran, then you really don't know where it came from at all, do you? Lebanon and Iran are not like each other. One speaks Persian, the other Arabic. Why, they aren't even close to one another.

There's not enough of this kind of analysis of news reports. White House PR teams tend to be very slick in terms of coordinating their messages with one another, but they tend to be much worse at coordinating their messages with any kind of fact or logic.

Try to Believe He Said It!

Holy moly! Why is it that your press reasons so poorly? Here at the Ape Man, we don't have a clue. But what is to be done when even those who, incomparably, watch the watchers can be hornswaggled by their own fuzzy thinking?

Over at the The Daily Howler, Bob Somerby speculates that Robert Novak's source may have been George Tenet. But is that plausible?

In Novak's second column about plame, "The CIA Leak", he gives us the chronology of his inquiry into the Plame matter. According to Novak, he talked to a "senior administration official" who told him that "Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife."

This statement was, itself, The Leak. Novak then called a second administration source, now known to be Karl Rove, to get confirmation, which Rove gave him, saying "Oh, you know about it." At that point Novak contacted the CIA for additional confirmation and was put through to a CIA official now known to be Bill Harlow.

Now Somerby, apparently after working it over in his big brain for many moons, has decided the original leaker was probably George Tenet. Whaaaaaaaaaaa? Novak was leaked a piece of info by the director of the CIA, so he called to get confirmation from CIA nobody Bill Who-low?

We're sorry, fellow Howler-lovers. This explanation just doesn't pass the laugh test. There is no way the original leaker was George Tenet. Here at the Ape Man, we still believe that original source was none other than Scooter Libby, Cheney's Chief of Staff. Now, we don't claim to have any more evidence for our position than Somerby has for his, but at least our guess has the benefit of not being howlingly stupid.

Why is Libby the most likely candidate? Well, for one thing, if Novak had been looking for information on the search for evidence indicating Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, the first call he would have made would probably have been to the Vice President's office. It was, after all, Cheney who put pressure on the CIA to investigate the Niger uranium claim in the first place.

Second, we'll do well to remember whose name was on the letter that was sent to the Justice Department in 2003, requesting a criminal inquiry into the leak. That's right - it was George Tenet's John Hancock on the bottom of that note. Why would Tenet call for a criminal inquiry into a crime he himself committed? Somerby doesn't say.

We here at the Ape Man have an idea about why that is - Bob came up with this idea in a hurry, and didn't bother to check out whether it made any sense. In short, he used the same fuzzy methods for which he incomparably (and rightly) slams our celebrity press, day in and day out. Has the Howler itself succumbed to the disease he aims to diagnose?

Honestly, given the quality of Bob's usual work, we doubt it. We certainly expect Bob to return to his usual self soon, but in the meantime, readers, we'll be keeping an eye on the intrepid watchdog-watcher, for further signs of intellectual meltdown.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

War and Morality Again

This post is a continuation of some comments in a previous post. To read them, click here.

I dunno who I agree with here, because there'a a place in my heart for both positions, really, but I think I'm inclined towards The Greatness' point of view at first blush.

I think first of all it would be a big step in the right direction if we could just admit that the concept of morality in foreign policy doesn't really exist, and never has, at least in recorded history. This would, somewhat paradoxically, eliminate a lot of the specious modern justifications for war, ostensibly based in ideas of morality.

From there, The Greatness' proposal is a logical next step, particularly if we are also going to disregard the international legal framework as it pertains to our own behavior (as we plainly are and have since its inception.)

If we are going to act unilaterally, disregarding external legal frameworks, there must be some objective internal framework for making the decision to make war.

Now, all this logicalness unfortunately leaves aside the most important question, to which we return - exactly why did a majority of the US population support the invasion of Iraq?

There's no single answer to that question, of course, since we're talking about the opinions of millions of people. But we can speculate, with at least some evidence, on what drove the people who were NOT in support of an Iraq invasion in the summer of 2002 (when support for the invasion was at best lukewarm, and restricted mostly to Republicans) to support the same invasion in early 2003.

Now, obviously the specific reasons, especially the administration's (now) plainly baseless claim that Iraq was close to developing a usable nuclear weapon, have been well explored.

But one overriding factor that hasn't been discussed much is one I tried hamhandedly to get into sometime in the recent past, while I was in a bad mood. I approach it again now, hopefully with more aplomb...

In U.S. intellectual culture, it is implicitly assumed that being wrong in opposing a war is worse than being wrong in supporting one. It's easy to see that in the case of Iraq, since every time the Iraq war seems to be taking a turn for the better, the Op/Ed pages are suddenly full of crowing, while no corresponding comeuppance ever seems to pour forth when war supporters' previous utterances suddenly become inoperative.

As free-market economists are fond of reminding us (though usually not in this context) people, including our great and shining intellectual elite, respond to incentives. When opposing a bad war carries with it no increase in credibility or esteem, and supporting a bad war carries no penalty, well, it's not that difficult to see why an intellectual culture like that would wind up supporting idiotic invasion after idiotic invasion.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Interesting CIA Lawsuit Story

The New York Times reports that there is a guy suing the CIA because he told them in 2001 that Iraq was dismantling its nuclear program, but they wouldn't listen. Then when he complained about that, they fired him.