Wednesday, August 29, 2007

That's more like it!

See updates at end, and helpful clarification from Thomas Nephew in comments.
New Edwards statement on Iraq:

Edwards' plan for Iraq calls for Congress to:

Cap Funds: Cap funding for the troops in Iraq at 100,000 troops to stop the surge and implement an immediate drawdown of 40-50,000 combat troops. Any troops beyond that level should be redeployed immediately.

Support the Troops: Prohibit funding to deploy any new troops to Iraq that do not meet real readiness standards and that have not been properly trained and equipped, so American tax dollars are used to train and equip our troops, instead of escalating the war.
Require Authorization: Make it clear that President Bush is conducting this war without authorization. The 2002 authorization did not give President Bush the power to use U.S. troops to police a civil war. President Bush exceeded his authority long ago, and now needs to end the war and ask Congress for new authority to manage the withdrawal of the U.S. military presence and to help Iraq achieve stability.

End the War: Require a complete withdrawal of combat troops in Iraq in 12 to 18 months without leaving behind any permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. [emphasis added]
Whew; he's ditched the "residual force" b.s., and not a moment too soon. Primary campaigns are truly pointless, massive wastes of money and effort if there's no significant difference among major candidates. This is a healthy step forward. I'd also expect it to help Edwards in Iowa.

Yes, yes, I'm too easily sucked back in. But this does put some much-needed pressure on Congress. Dodd endorses the same plan, blunting the "easy for you to say" retorts from Clinton and Obama supporters who want to rationalize their candidates' passivity.

Update: 4 Sept, 3:35 pm - Hm. The text at the Edwards site linked above has changed since I posted; my excerpt was cut and pasted from the text then.

Update 2: 8 Sept, 6:00 pm - Good for Bill Richardson for laying out his proposal for getting out of Iraq quickly and challenging the other candidates to answer these questions: How many troops would you leave in Iraq? For how long? To do what, exactly? I look forward to hearing Edwards' answer.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

The shiny new war has me hypnotized.

In October, November, and December 2001, a small group of peace activists stood in front of the courthouse every Monday afternoon in a silent vigil to protest the "war on terror"; I was one of them. In November, after the U.S. troops rolled into Kabul, I changed my placard to No Wider War, seeing even then the early signs of the coming attack on Iraq. What I'd give to have been wrong about this regime's plans and intentions!

The placard's been put to use again in recent years at our periodic Iraq war vigils. Once again, what I'd give to be shown wrong about a looming attack on Iran. It would be much easier to act if I could muster some hope. But I'm paralyzed by seeing too clearly how the so-called opposition party has collaborated with the ruling clique to lay the groundwork for the new, wider war.

If only I could take heart from signs that the Iraq debacle and the Democrats' enabling have begun to open cracks in the consensus favoring a permanent war economy and our assumed right to intervene anywhere in the world. But I'm afraid that shift is happening too late and too slowly to stop another leap toward cataclysm. The attack can't be stopped politically in the time remaining; it's up to Bob Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the courtiers around "the Decider".

As a result, focusing on the coming horror feels too much like standing on the porch watching a tornado travel towards me across a long, flat plain. Rather than study the twists and turns of the various scenarios for provocation, and measure each new gust of windy propaganda, shouldn't I be looking for a cellar?

But the analogy fails, because in tornado country, almost everyone is familiar with the conditions in which the storms develop. They recognize that nothing they can do will stop the twister, and pay attention to sirens.

Okay, then. For as long as I can stand it, I'll be a siren. There's a lot of complacency and skepticism around. Some of the rationales for it are comfortingly sensible-sounding, but I'm convinced that the comfort's illusory. I won't head for the cellar before I've given my best effort at sounding the alarm. I'll be thrilled if it turns out there was no need.

More later.

Update: 30 Aug 12:45 pm - Plenty of blogs with actual readerships are picking up the cry (Glenn Greenwald, Jim Henley, Tony Karon, Chris Floyd), so for the sake of my mental health I may stick to aspects of the unfolding situation that aren't being widely discussed. Bush's menacing speech at least quiets for the moment assertions that the threat of war on Iran is just in our minds. Jon Schwarz reads between the lines a hint that the CIA is stubbornly clinging to verifiable facts.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Attack on Iran and Congressional war powers

Most reporting from the McClatchy news service (formerly Knight-Ridder) stands above the competition, but nobody's perfect. A recent story by Matt Stearns vastly overstates Congressional opposition to a U.S. military strike in Iran. This passage [via TPM] made my jaw drop:
It's been the consensus for months among the Democrats who hold the majority that Bush must get congressional authorization before any military strike [on Iran].
Orilly? Then why was a provision requiring such an authorization stripped from the Democratic leadership's version of the Pentagon supplemental spending bill in March before ever coming to a vote? Why did a similar standalone bill go down to defeat in May with 100 Democratic members voting against it? And why does Stearns not even mention either event?

He does report on Jim Webb's bill to forbid spending on any attack on Iran without explicit authorization from Congress. He notes Harry Reid's (verbal) support for it, but fails to ask why, if that's so, the bill hasn't even gotten committee consideration, much less a floor vote, as an amendment or on its own. Reid's chief of staff is quoted predicting that some Republicans will vote no on a resolution to authorize an attack on Iran, blandly assuming that Bush will ask for such an authorization. But it's clear from the sole Republican quoted that the only issue for them is whether there'll be a request for an authorizing resolution, not how they'd vote.

A military affairs aide to a Democratic senator (who would apparently only speak anonymously) predicts that an attack on Iran without Congressional authorization would create an "uproar over here. It would be a serious breach of (the limits on) executive power." Ooooh, an "uproar" in Congress; remind Dick Cheney to shake.

That part Stearns does get right:
Bush and Vice President Cheney take a broad view of executive power, and it's unclear what consequences Bush would face if he were to take action without authorization.

Many on Capitol Hill said the reaction would depend largely on the provocation used as a rationale for an attack.
Anyone under the illusion that Bush believes he needs authorization from Congress should read Webb's floor statement introducing his bill on March 5:

[T]he President's "signing statement" accompanying the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq indicates that this Administration believes it possesses the broadest imaginable authority to commence military action without the consent of the Congress.

In signing the 2002 Iraq resolution, the President denied that the Congress has the power to affect his decisions when it comes to the use of our military. He shrugged off this resolution, stating that on the question of the threat posed by Iraq, his views and those of the Congress merely happened to be the same. He characterized the resolution as simply a gesture of additional support, rather than as having any legitimate authority. He stated, "my signing this resolution does not constitute any change in ... the President's constitutional authority to use force to deter, prevent, or respond to aggression or other threats to U.S. interests..."
The idea that in the unlikely event an authorization vote were to take place, enough Democrats or Republicans would oppose an attack on Iran to defeat it, is wishful thinking.

The only conceivable thing that could bring about such a result is large-scale, visible protest and political pressure. Right now the carrier group Enterprise is alone in the Gulf; it will be joined by the Truman in late October or November. All this summer our ruling regime has been pushing the latest of the shifting rationales, supposed Iranian support for attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, which the Senate last month voted 97-0 for the opportunity to consider seriously every 60 days from here on out (something else Stearns leaves out of his story). Will the regime "roll out the product" after Labor Day?

Update: 3:00 pm 15 August - More signs point to 'yes':

The United States has decided to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a "specially designated global terrorist," according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group's business operations and finances.
In addition to other consequences, this move would (in the regime's view) put Iran within the scope of the existing authorization for use of military force passed in September 2001. No other Congressional action needed.

So, even if one accepts Stearns' characterization that leading Democrats believe that existing law would require Bush to come to Congress for authorizaton before an attack on Iran, they have just been given the clearest possible signal that that's not going to happen. If members of Congress truly want to make sure the American people and the administration understand that such authorization is required, then they need to get the Webb bill and its House counterpart passed, and quickly.

Update 2: 12:30 pm 16 August - Congress has helped lay the political groundwork for an attack in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way so far, and the sleepwalking will continue. From the same Post story linked in the first update:

The administration's move comes amid growing support in Congress for the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, which was introduced in the Senate by Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and in the House by Tom Lantos (D-Calif.). The bill already has the support of 323 House members.
A quick check of the bill in Thomas shows that the House will be making itself part of the drumbeat for war as soon as it comes back from recess:

Title: To enhance United States diplomatic efforts with respect to Iran by imposing additional economic sanctions against Iran, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep Lantos, Tom [CA-12] (introduced 3/8/2007) Cosponsors (323)
Latest Major Action: 8/2/2007 House Committee on Judiciary granted an extension for further consideration ending not later than Sept. 7, 2007.
Yes, that'll certainly "enhance diplomatic efforts."

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Friday, August 10, 2007


Situation in Iraq not bleak or scary enough for you? Try this from Patrick Cockburn:

[T]he wall of a dam holding back the Tigris river north of Mosul city is in danger of imminent collapse.
If it should fail,

a wall of water will sweep into Mosul, Iraq's third largest city with a population of 1.7 million, 20 miles to the south. Experts say the flood waters could destroy 70 per cent of Mosul and inflict heavy damage 190 miles downstream along the Tigris. ... Iraq, the site of the biblical flood,[*] is very vulnerable to inundation because it is very flat south of the Kurdish mountains. ...
[T]he impact of the flood would be felt all along the Tigris river valley. This would mean heavy damage to cities such as Tikrit and Samarra and the floods could reach as far as Baghdad, home to six million people, though by then the force of the floodwaters should have dissipated.

Given that the Iraqi government has only intermittent control of this area north of the capital, which is overwhelmingly Sunni, it is unlikely it could undertake effective measures to save lives if a flood occurred.
Via War in Context

* Have to take issue with this point: I don't believe there's a scientific consensus on the location of "the" Biblical flood.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Profiles in learned helplessness

The regime's Lucy-with-the-football trick appears to be working its mesmerizing spell on the Charlie Brown Democratic leadership once again.

Sure, the Cheney-led government's been flouting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without warrants for more than five years -- openly and defiantly since the NY Times editors finally saw fit to print the story they'd been sitting on since before the 2004 elections. And sure, the regime's refusing to tell Congress what the surveillance actually involves, and lying and stonewalling about the even more illegal interception program that preceded the current lawlessness. The contempt with which the regime views Congress was made so vivid by Attorney General Gonzales' "I'm not even trying to pretend I'm testifying" performance last week that even Republicans wouldn't step up to defend him.

Normal people wouldn't see this as the ideal moment to push for further loosening of warrant restrictions on surveillance. But we're not ruled by normal people, we're ruled by a small imperial court, confident in their ability to cow the people, the supine media, and the increasingly symbolic Congress with the incantation of "heightened threat."

If Democratic leaders had learned anything from the way in which they were stampeded into approving in advance the ruinous Iraq war, or the disgraceful, cowed way in which they went along with "legalizing" torture and indefinite detention last summer and fall, they'd be telling the executive branch to back off and cool their jets. They'd point out that they'd made plenty of changes to FISA already to accommodate the regime's supposed needs, and that they wouldn't even consider further discussion until they were satisfied about what has already gone on.

But no, once again they step eagerly in the trap, still apparently so afraid of being labeled "soft on terror" that they're prepared to give more unchecked power to an already out-of-control executive. This is a level of inability to break out of a losing pattern that, if it happened in a sporting event, would raise suspicions that the fix is in.

When I read this morning that the Congressional leaders actually want to pass FISA "reform" before the August recess, I just lost it. At this point, trying to lobby the leadership feels like a sucker's game. Which is too bad, because the ACLU's produced an excellent lobbying tool, Myths and Facts about FISA that counter every one of the regime's talking points.

Posts by Steve Benen, Jeralyn Merritt, and mcjoan have more detail.

Update: 5:50 pm 2 August - Insight into the weeds of FISA "reform" from TPM Muckraker. Meanwhile, the atmospherics surrounding the negotiations (Roll Call via Talking Points Memo):
Capitol Police officials have stepped up the department’s security presence on Capitol Hill in response to intelligence indicating the increased possibility of an al-Qaida terrorist attack on Congress sometime between now and Sept. 11.

The August-to-Sept. 11 time frame was confirmed by a Capitol Police source who said Congressional security officials were recently made aware of the potential threat by federal anti-terrorism authorities. The Capitol Police department has a liaison from the Homeland Security Department working in its Capitol Hill command center.

On Thursday afternoon, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who currently serves as chairman of the Capitol Police Board, acknowledged the noticeable increase in Capitol Police presence on the Hill but declined to discuss any specific threat or dates.
Beautifully played, Mr. Cheney.

Update: 12:45 pm 4 Aug - The endgame: Wash Post front page: "Senate Votes To Expand Warrantless Surveillance - White House Applauds; Changes Are Temporary"

Analysis from Marty Lederman, the indispensible.

Webb voted with Bush. I'm leaving the party, and electoral work, for good. Also the country, if I can arrange it. The Military Commissions Act was passed the day before the Webb fundraiser for which I was a major organizer last year. The county chair had to talk me back from the edge that morning. I used up all my hopes and rationalizations then; the well is dry.

"Changes are temporary"? I'm not that much of a fool.

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