a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Consistency in the pursuit of empire is no virtue

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th July 2008

The Washington Post’s lead editorial on Wednesday, “The Iron Timetable,” made clear from the start that the paper’s editorial board will be little more than an auxiliary of the McCain campaign from now on:

Barack Obama yesterday accused President Bush and Sen. John McCain of rigidity on Iraq: ““They said we couldn’t leave when violence was up, they say we can’t leave when violence is down.” Mr. Obama then confirmed his own foolish consistency. Early last year, when the war was at its peak, the Democratic candidate proposed a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. combat forces in slightly more than a year. Yesterday, with bloodshed at its lowest level since the war began, Mr. Obama endorsed the same plan. After hinting earlier this month that he might “refine” his Iraq strategy after visiting the country and listening to commanders, Mr. Obama appears to have decided that sticking to his arbitrary, 16-month timetable is more important than adjusting to the dramatic changes in Iraq.

Well, good for him — if that’s what Senator Obama has decided (I still believe so), and if he actually sticks to that decision (I wish I could count on it).

In one way, Wednesday’s editorial may have set a land speed record for “fastest to be overtaken by events,” given the “time horizon” gambit now being floated by the Bush administration itself. But neocons and their media enablers are never ones to let the facts get in their way. So in case the editorial’s argument — that is, its cheap rhetorical trick — is used more often in the days ahead, it’s worth taking on. The question isn’t whether Obama (or McCain) are “foolishly” consistent about how to conduct the mission in Iraq in the face of some changed conditions. The question is whether having U.S. troops in Iraq was, is, or ever will be in our country’s best interest. And whether the Post likes it or not, that question was answered “no” a long time ago.

As Senator Obama noted, “What’s missing in our debate is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq.” And the Post’s reply to that is telling (emphases added):

Indeed: The message that the Democrat sends is that he is ultimately indifferent to the war’s outcome — that Iraq “distracts us from every threat we face” and thus must be speedily evacuated regardless of the consequences. That’s an irrational and ahistorical way to view a country at the strategic center of the Middle East, with some of the world’s largest oil reserves. Whether or not the war was a mistake, Iraq’s future is a vital U.S. security interest. If he is elected president, Mr. Obama sooner or later will have to tailor his Iraq strategy to that reality.

Largest oil reserves? That’s funny, last I checked invading Iraq was all about the central front in the war on terror. Before that it was freedom, democracy, and all that jazz. Before that it was Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Before that it was Saddam’s nonexistent ties to Bin Laden. (Remember Bin Laden?)

But even on the Post’s realpolitik premise, they’re wrong. First, Iraqis will remain eager to sell us as much oil as we’re stupid enough to have to buy. Second, broadly speaking, when the United States finds itself “doing counterinsurgency,” we’ve already screwed up. That’s what we’ve been doing in Iraq: American troops killing whoever’s killing them back that month, on behalf of a mission that changes from one six month unit to the next.

Third: as the “time horizon” concession (such as it is) makes clear, even the people we’re allegedly propping up want us out, and sooner rather than later. The oddest thing about the editorial was its silence about the Maliki government’s own demands for a withdrawal date. The people hanging on to power in the Green Zone realized their best bet is to create some plausible distance between them and the U.S., and a plausible timeline for a U.S. departure. If so, this week’s “show of force” in Sadr City is more for our consumption than for Sadr’s, i.e., “see? we run things. now leave.”

There’s more to dislike about the editorial — the patently false claim that a 16 month timetable for withdrawal is militarily infeasible, for starters.

But while it’s not the most important thing about the piece, I think it’s revealing that the editorial’s lede speaks of “Barack Obama,” but “President Bush” and “Sen. John McCain.”

That’s “Senator Obama” to you, Fred Hiatt, for the remainder of the campaign. The Washington Post likes to set itself up as arbiter of ‘serious’ talk about foreign policy, but its execution is not often this plainly ham-handed: Senators and Presidents think unfoolishly, Baracks think foolishly. While I remain a Missourian (i.e., “show me”) about Obama, I’m already clear about the Post: they’re not on my side, or the American people’s side, when it comes to this war, this occupation, and this oil reserves empire.

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Dems win New Hampshire on change — not more of the same

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th January 2008

Mark Schmitt, writing at TPM Cafe, has said the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign is more about “theories of change” than about policy differences: Edwards’ populism and fighting stance, Clinton’s technocratic mastery of detail and process, Obama’s charismatic style, centrist rhetoric, and community organizer tactics.

But the main thing about all the Democratic candidates is that they stand for, or profess to stand for, change from the failed and dishonored Bush administration. And that continues to be a winning formula: given that about 55% of votes cast were in the Democratic primary — in a state where registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats — the headlines about New Hampshire today might just as well read “Dems Win.”

With 96% of precincts reporting, CNN reports that both Clinton and Obama decisively outpolled McCain — both gathered over 100,000 votes, while McCain’s supporters numbered about 87,000. What’s more, there’s at least anecdotal evidence suggesting many New Hampshire independents (who outnumber both Democrats and Republicans) considered voting for Obama but wound up voting for McCain — arguably in order to restore some order to the “Wrinkles, Beagle Eyes, Carrot Face, Oily” GOP freak show.

But the Washington Post and Fred Hiatt see it differently, with a silly op-ed about “Comeback Grownups.” And — of course — what’s “grown up” about the two New Hampshire winners is their position on Iraq:

His deep knowledge of foreign affairs, clearheaded approach to the threat of Islamic extremism and unwillingness to abandon his support for the war in Iraq, even when it threatened to cost him his bid for the presidency, are admirable […]

[Ms. Clinton’s] policy positions overlap with Mr. Obama’s more than they differ, but the differences aren’t inconsequential, especially in foreign affairs, where Ms. Clinton has had the more sophisticated approach to how to deal with Iraq and other danger zones.

To most of us, this election isn’t about “sophistication” or stubbornness, it’s about change — whether it’s “change we can believe in”, someone who’s “ready for change”, or a “campaign to change America.” But real change will have to take on voices and powers like Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post. In December, they wrote:

The keenest Democratic disappointment — failing to force the president to rapidly withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq — is no disappointment to us. Although unhappiness with the war in Iraq helped propel Democrats to victory, in the end President Bush was able to secure continuing funding for the war with no strings attached.

And last week they smirked again about the stupid American people:

Likewise, the Democratic debate ought to advance from its current crowd-pleasing rhetoric… about “ending” the war in Iraq … to grapple more seriously with the challenges that will face the next president.

So inside the Beltway, the 2008 election is apparently more about how to stay the same, “grapple seriously,” and just talk about change for the rubes. That’s why I’ll continue to judge the candidates in large part by whether I detect that in their records and their rhetoric (and that’s why I continue to favor John Edwards). Harold Meyerson was right to warn last fall (“Silenced Majority“):

If Democrats are to win in 2008, it will be because they represent a decisive break, not a partially veiled continuity, with George Bush’s policies, and with his war policies most of all. The Democratic candidates, Clinton especially, need to assure voters that their voice matters more than those of the Beltway theorists who supported the war at the outset and still can’t contemplate ending the occupation. They need to assure voters, in short, that they take democracy in America seriously.

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The week that was

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd October 2007

Well, I’m back. Weeks like the last one make me appreciate the value and maybe even wisdom of not following the news so closely or at all.

The Post kept up its full court press about and generally against H.R.106, the Armenian Genocide Resolution, with op-eds by Charles Krauthammer (naturally) and Richard Cohen. The latter started off well — the title was “Turkey’s War on the Truth” — and ends well: “but there is only one thing to call Turkey’s insistence that it and its power will determine the truth: unacceptable.” But Cohen both buys into the idea that now is not the right time — when is it ever? — and undercuts his own “truth” premise by finding ways to doubt that the genocide was in fact a genocide:

Of even that, I have some doubt. The congressional resolution repeatedly employs the word “genocide,” a term used by many scholars. But Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the term in 1943, clearly had in mind what the Nazis were doing to the Jews. If that is the standard — and it need not be — then what happened in the collapsing Ottoman Empire was something short of genocide. It was plenty bad — maybe as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished, many of them outright murdered — but not all Armenians everywhere in what was then Turkey were as calamitously affected. The substantial Armenian communities in Constantinople, Smyrna, and Aleppo were largely spared.*

The fact that some communities were spared is (a) immaterial and (b) doesn’t mean what Cohen thinks it means. Those cities were where major Western consulates were; the Turkish leadership wanted to minimize and blunt criticism by having a few unharmed Armenians to point to. It’s still working.

Cohen uses “and it need not be” as a rhetorical fire escape while essentially arguing otherwise. To complete the thought he doesn’t, the concept of “genocide”is a genus, not a species — an overarching concept capturing a variety of crimes against humanity, not just one (monstrous) example of it. What happened in Rwanda was not precisely like the Holocaust, what happened in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was not precisely like either one, or what like what happened in Turkey beginning in 1915. But they all have something in common: large scale, centrally directed killings of noncombatants because of their race or ethnicity. They are all examples of genocide. Efforts to establish some kind of “Holocaust threshold” (let alone essentially elevate the Holocaust to the only possible example of genocide) are arguably even more dangerous than this administration’s tortured parsing of the word “torture.”**

Krauthammer’s article — “Pelosi’s Armenian Gambit” — is more straightforwardly predatory. Unlike Cohen, Krauthammer concedes on the one hand that what happened was “unambiguously” a genocide, but that Turkey’s arm-twisting bothers him not a bit — it’s also “unambiguously” the wrong time to raise the issue. As was the case with John Murtha last week, the main issue for Krauthammer is the inconvenience of the issue for our all-important war in Iraq. But (as may be the case for Murtha as well?) the real issue for Krauthammer is a chance to get a dig in at Pelosi, with the most withering words available to the Washington not-so-intelligentsia: “she is deeply unserious about foreign policy.”

But who’s really “unserious” about foreign policy here? If we can’t call a spade a nonbinding spade in our own House of Representatives because of the effect it may have on a war Americans clearly don’t want, does that make the proponents of the nonbinding resolution unserious — or those of the war? More on that another time.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party continues to find interesting new ways to sell out its electorate, by drafting a FISA revision bill that lets telephone companies off the hook for supporting Bush’s illegal warrantless domestic spying activities. The October Quisling Of the Month award goes to Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), previously famous for locking away his tepid qualms about the “program” in a safe until the New York Times — belatedly — broke the underlying story and made it safe for him to reveal them.

Thus, the latest definition of “Congressional oversight” is apparently to retroactively condone lawbreaking in return for the right to establish that laws were broken.

I join those saluting Senator Chris Dodd for fighting this, and may join those contributing to his campaign as well.

* Constantinople? Cohen’s right: the official name change to Istanbul happened in 1923, though the name was already in use. Official Turkey referred to Konstantiniyye before then.
** As most recently demonstrated in Saint Mukasey’s confirmation hearings. Department of I told you so: The Gonzales resignation: a strategic retreat.

POSTSCRIPT: Oh, I remember what else I was bummed about — a perfectly sensible health care measure benefiting children of uninsured families couldn’t get past a Bush veto and a Republican minority. Many lies were told, perhaps the liars will eventually be punished for them. Thanks to those like eRobin (“fact-esque”) who fought and continue to fight the good fight on this.

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Another day, another Turkish New Lira for the Washington Post

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th October 2007

Both despite and because of the efforts of the Washington Post, the Armenian Genocide continues to be a hot topic in the media and in Congress. It’s despite their efforts, because the Post editorial board clearly wishes no one cared quite this much about a little old genocide years and years ago someplace far away. Ironically, it’s also because of those selfsame efforts, because a lot of good Americans are probably learning about that same little old genocide for the first time ever over their eggs and coffee — and thinking “huh? wait a minute, that’s not right” about the systematic, Washington establishment-assisted efforts to deny it.

The Post kicked things off last week with possibly the most despicable editorial in their recent history, a veritable barrage of genocide (make that “genocide”) denial, belittlement of those who refuse to forget, and slander of those working on their behalf that would make a David Irving flush with shame.

Sunday’s installment in the Post’s full court press came courtesy of David Ignatius. As someone with Armenian American roots of his own, he crafted a rather remarkable document that ends with this pearl of wisdom: But if foreign governments try to make people do the right thing, it won’t work. They have to do it for themselves.”

Call me crazy, but that seems a lot more applicable to a certain quagmire Ignatius and his buddies thought was such a great idea. The distinction between a nonbinding resolution and what Ignatius is babbling about is so obvious even the Post editorial page should be able to grasp it, but I’ll spell it out anyway: if you make someone do something at gunpoint, it may not be the right thing in the first place — and if it’s not at gunpoint, you’re not really making them do anything.

Next, on Monday Fred Hiatt wept big, salty crocodile tears for Armenia:

Imagine what the Armenian diaspora might have accomplished had it worked as hard for democracy in Armenia as it did for congressional recognition of the genocide Armenians suffered nearly a century ago. […] It’s hard not to think that 3 million Armenians might be less poor and more free than they are today.

One way 3 million Armenians would be less poor if their landlocked country weren’t blockaded by Turkey (population 71 million). I’m doing my best here to imagine what the Armenian diaspora can do about that — maybe advocate some kind of deal with a country… that… denies a million and a half Armenians died at its own ancestors’ hands. Just from a business standpoint, you’d always have to be wondering what other inconvenient facts they’d “forget.”

Hiatt has a point about one thing, though. Armenia — it may be freely stipulated — is not the very model of a major Western democracy: no military industrial complex to speak of, no “up is down, torture is OK when the president says it is” Office of Legal Counsel Mumbo Jumbo, no up is down, “genocide by our pals is fine, genocide by those sitting on a lot of oil we want isn’t” major news media firms. To be sure, Armenia has apparently mucked up a few elections lately, and we can only hope it will rise to Florida 2000 or Ohio 2004 levels with dedicated hard work.

As noted last week, the Turkish government is currently ingratiating itself with the power circles of Washington to the tune of $329,000 a month in lobbyist fees. Set against that, what do the Armenian Americans have? A brigade of little old ladies in wheel chairs, the last survivors of a genocide — and as such a suitable backdrop, of course, for Dana Milbank’s signature vapid, supercilious brand of drivel last Thursday.

No matter. Those little old ladies are going to win — at least well they should. Thanks to everything from Schindler’s List to Hotel Rwanda to The Pianist, even the dullest American theatergoer or TV viewer is reasonably sure who he’s supposed to root for when it comes to genocide and efforts to cover it up or baldly deny it. Paradoxically, the harder the Post and the Republic of Turkey try to flush the Armenian Genocide down the memory hole, the less they’ll be able to do it.

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Despicable Washington Post editorial against Armenian Genocide Resolution

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th October 2007

With its opening paragraph and chosen title of “Worse than Irrelevant,” The Washington Post’s editorial board leaves little doubt where it stands on H.Res.106, the Armenian Genocide resolution:

IT’S EASY to dismiss a nonbinding congressional resolution accusing Turkey of “genocide” against Armenians during World War I as frivolous. Though the subject is a serious one — more than 1 million Armenians may have died at the hands of the Young Turk regime between 1915 and the early 1920s — House Democrats pushing for a declaration on the subject have petty and parochial interests.

Beyond the despicable slap of putting the word “genocide” in quotes, the belittling “may have,” the dismissal of representatives as “petty and parochial,” and the concern as “irrelevant,” the editorial mistakenly implies only Democrats support the bill, calls the findings of H.Res.106 “one sided” — and concludes that “frivolous” doesn’t go far enough. Given alleged glacial progress in Turkish-Armenian relations, but far more importantly the possible negative effect on Turkish cooperation with U.S. in Iraq, “its passage would be dangerous and grossly irresponsible.”

Wow. That’s one powerful nonbinding resolution. It gets the Washington Post to oppose the democratic sense of the American people — a majority of the House of Representatives has co-sponsored the bill — on behalf of a foreign country still ruled in large part by its generals. It gets the Washington Post to defend and promulgate genocide revisionism, on behalf of unreconstructed apologists for the opening act in the 20th century’s parade of horrors. It gets the Washington Post to marginalize one group of “hyphenated Americans” in a way it wouldn’t dare for any other: imagine similar invective against the Holocaust Museum, or a resolution condemning slavery. It gets the Post to make sloppy claims — there is no “large Armenian population” in Pelosi’s district that accounts for her support.

What’s at stake for the Post? “Charitably,” it’s the conduct of their precious war in Iraq. Angering Turkey might cost the US the use of air bases and complicate efforts to keep a lid on the ever-present Turkish-Kurdish conflict. But it’s hard to believe a nonbinding resolution will cause hard-headed Turkish generals and politicians to do anything other than what they believe is in their own interests anyway.

So perhaps we should be less charitable and look elsewhere. At the end of the related news story “White House, Turkey fight bill on Armenia” — on page A1! — Glenn Kessler writes, “The Turkish Embassy is paying $100,000 a month to lobbying firm DLA Piper and $105,000 a month to the Livingston Group, and it recently added communications specialists Fleishman-Hillard for nearly $114,000 a month, according to records filed with the Justice Department.” Looks like they got their money’s worth today — at least from the Washington Post.

The House Foreign Affairs committee has scheduled a vote on H.Res.106 for today, with the hearing beginning at 1:30pm; live video of the proceedings can be accessed at the committee’s web site. I hope Rep. Schiff and multitudes of Armenian-Americans are on hand — with middle finger salutes to the Washington Post.

SELECTED PRIOR POSTS on H.Res 106 and the Armenian Genocide:
2007/03/07: pander n.: “When [Rep. Schiff] proposes a legitimate goal of people in his district to the Congress of the United States, then in our “democracy” that’s not a bug, that’s a feature.”
2007/03/05: Re Jackson Diehl’s “The House’s Ottoman Agenda”
2005/04/24: 90 years ago: Armenian genocide begins

UPDATE, 10/11: Huzza! -the resolution was passed in committee by 27-21, and thus advances to the full House for consideration. A roll call and video of the debate can be found at the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) web site press release.

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Gerson’s holiday from Cambodia

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd July 2007

In further proof of the maxim that nothing succeeds in Washington like abject failure and bald-faced lying, Washington Post readers are apparently now doomed to read columnist Michael Gerson for the foreseeable future. Gerson, an escaped Bush 43 speechwriter who coined or helped with some of the defining phrases of this presidency (e.g., “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” and “axis of evil”), produced a particularly pungent column last week, “An Exit to Disaster.”

Safely weeks removed from the heat of April and May’s actual debates on Iraq war spending, Gerson finally bravely peeked over the parapet and pronounced the Democratic/anti-Iraq position to be “creating a momentum of irresponsibility,” all the while graciously allowing as how things weren’t going swimmingly in Iraq just this very moment. As Steve Benen pointed out, he couldn’t even do that well: “Gerson isn’t willing to say he takes issue with some of Bush’s decisions; he’s willing to say history is rendering judgment.”

No; as ever (e.g., “compassionate conservatism”) Gerson’s real aim was to perform a rhetorical parlor trick. To wit:

History seems to be settling on some criticisms of the early conduct of the Iraq war. On the theory that America could liberate and leave, force levels were reduced too early, security responsibilities were transferred to Iraqis before they were ready, and planning for future challenges was unrealistic. “Victory in Iraq,” one official of the Coalition Provisional Authority told me a couple of years ago, “was defined as decapitating the regime. No one defined victory as creating a sustainable country six months down the road.”

Now Democrats running for president have thought deeply and produced their own Iraq policy: They want to cut force levels too early and transfer responsibility to Iraqis before they are ready, and they offer no plan to deal with the chaos that would result six months down the road. In essential outline, they have chosen to duplicate the early mistakes of an administration they hold in contempt.

Good one — that ought to put all us military know-nothings in our place, Lt. General Gerson! More to the point, Bush’s failures do not compel the Democrats or anyone else in the country to double down to bail him out. The best way to fix someone else’s mistake is not to compound it.

Meanwhile, commenting on candidate John Edwards’ pledge not to leave the region, Gerson actually has the gall to counter: “So America would defend its interests from a safe distance in Kuwait. But how effective has it been to fight terrorist networks in Pakistan from a distance?” If Bush et al hadn’t let Al Qaeda’s leadership get away at Tora Bora, we might never have needed to know the answer to that.*

But it was the final paragraphs that made me put down the paper in disgust. Gerson cites Kissinger, telling of former Cambodian prime minister Sirik Matak’s refusal to be rescued from the oncoming Khmer Rouge back in 1975:

“I thank you very sincerely,” Matak wrote in response, “for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we are all born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans].”

Eventually, between 1 million and 2 million Cambodians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge when “peace” came to Indochina. Matak, Kissinger recounts, was shot in the stomach and died three days later.

Sometimes peace for America can produce ghosts of its own.

No doubt this is how Henry Kissinger would like to lay out the story of Cambodia. But the alternative — and strangely familiar — version is this:

In April 1970, without Lon Nol’s knowledge, American and South Vietnamese forces crossed into Cambodia. There was already widespread domestic opposition to the war in Vietnam; news of the “secret invasion” of Cambodia sparked massive protests across the US, culminating in the deaths of six students shot by National Guardsmen at Kent State University and Jackson State University. Nixon withdrew American troops from Cambodia shortly afterwards. But the US bombing continued until August 1973.

Meanwhile, with assistance from North Vietnam and China, the guerrillas of the Khmer Rouge had grown into a formidable force. By 1974, they were beating the government on the battlefield and preparing for a final assault on Phnom Penh. And they had gained an unlikely new ally: Norodom Sihanouk, living in exile, who now hailed them as patriots fighting against an American puppet government.

Sihanouk’s support boosted the Khmer Rouge’s popularity among rural Cambodians. But some observers have argued that the devastating American bombing also helped fuel the Khmer Rouge’s growth. Former New York Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg said the Khmer Rouge “… would point… at the bombs falling from B-52s as something they had to oppose if they were going to have freedom. And it became a recruiting tool until they grew to a fierce, indefatigable guerrilla army.”

Frontline, “Pol Pot’s Shadow”, 2002

Nixon and Kissinger helped light the Cambodian funeral pyre that consumed Mr. Matak. In Cambodia as in Iraq, a militarily and legally questionable war in pursuit of unachievable goals produced the very opposite of what we — or, that is, American leadership — claimed to desire: chaos, local patriotism converted into hatred of America, and a horrific reign of terror visited on the average inhabitants of that country. For Gerson to look at Cambodia and dare to see in it a justification for “staying the course” in Iraq is equal parts breathtaking idiocy and bloody minded “burn the village to save it” crusaderism.

That is, it’s par for the course for loyal Bushies.

* By the way: impeachable offense number 693. Recall Bush was explicitly warned by the CIA days in advance that forces committed at Tora Bora were “not up to the job” and that we were “going to lose [Bin Laden and Zawahiri] if we’re not careful.” No presidential action resulted. Apparently, it’s good to have a permanent, invisible enemy — especially if otherwise you’re a waste of time like this president.

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Weisman and the Post are at it again

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th May 2007

Oh no! “Democrats’ Momentum Is Stalling: Amid Iraq Debate, Priorities On Domestic Agenda Languish, ” says the Washington Post’s Jonathan “Little Broder” Weisman:

…now that initial progress has foundered as Washington policymakers have been consumed with the debate over the Iraq war. Not a single priority on the Democrats’ agenda has been enacted, and some in the party are growing nervous that the “do nothing” tag they slapped on Republicans last year could come back to haunt them.

But it turns out “some Democrats” once again means Weisman’s LLTLC (Looks Liberal, Tastes Like Chicken) go-to source Leon Panetta — traumatized from his stint as Clinton’s chief of staff back in the late 90s — who backs up Weisman with the David Broder-esque view that everything would be ever so much easier and better if Democrats weren’t so darned contentious:

The primary message coming out of the November election was that the American people are sick and tired of the fighting and the gridlock, and they want both the president and Congress to start governing the country,” warned Leon E. Panetta, a chief of staff in Bill Clinton’s White House. “It just seems to me the Democrats, if they fail for whatever reason to get a domestic agenda enacted . . . will pay a price.”

The trouble with that analysis — Leon! David! Jonathan! stop fidgeting and pay attention! — is that right now the most pressing domestic agenda is to roll back outright executive lawlessness at home, and to free up money that’s being poured down a worse than hopeless rathole called “Iraq.” Among examples from just the past weeks: Condi Rice regally refusing to answer Congressional subpoenas or even allow State Department staff to be questioned; the White House trying to stonewall on AttorneyGate; security officials quietly undoing their recent pledge to work within FISA for domestic electronic surveillance; dozens of soldiers and billions of dollars lost forever each week in Iraq.

Leon Panetta et al would apparently shrug their shoulders and seek some remaining tiny patch of common ground elsewhere — i.e., pretty much the post office naming that Weisman derides in his piece. But most Democrats and most Americans seem to disagree. TPM’s Greg Sargent points out that Weisman had to ignore strong evidence from the very poll he cites for “lack of progress” that Americans are just fine with Democrats for going after Bush and the GOP — in fact, we’d like the heat turned up. Sargent:

Check out the numbers in this recent Pew poll:

Do you think Democratic leaders in Congress are going too far or not far enough in challenging George W. Bush’s policies in Iraq, or are they handling this about right?

  • Too far 23%
  • Not far enough 40%
  • About right 30%
  • Don’t know/Refused 7%

So 70% say that Dems are being appropriately or even insufficiently aggressive in challenging Bush.

I’ve noticed that Jonathan Weisman has become the predictable conveyor of Broderish conventional “wisdom” halfheartedly disguised as “reporting” at the Washington Post — and that his pieces about Democratic discontent and retreat are proving untrue time after time. Earlier this week, he reported that Democrats had already decided to “back down” about Iraq timelines — only to have that denied by Nancy Pelosi herself soon thereafter. During the run up to the supplemental appropriation vote in the House, Weisman reported that Democratic leadership was going to make timetables “advisory“– with no trace of that in the bill eventually voted through.

Meanwhile — and as usual — Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) gets it right:

[The] chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee [said] his party needs to get some achievements under its belt, but not until voters begin to focus on the campaigns next year. “People understand the Democrats in Congress are doing everything in their power to move an agenda forward, doing everything possible to change direction in the war in Iraq, and the president is standing in the way,” he said.

NOTES: “Looks liberal, tastes like chicken” line originally by stolen from James Wolcott, who used it for Lanny Davis. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.
UPDATE, 5/5: Avedon Carol (“The Sideshow”) and Steve Benen (“The Carpetbagger Report”) lay into Panetta as well.
UPDATE, 5/6: re money down a rathole, eRobin (“Fact-esque”) notices the calculation that the cost to date of the Iraq War — $456B — could have fed and educated all the world’s poor for 5 and a half years.
EDIT, 5/7… accordingly revised from “tens of millions” to “billions” of dollars a week.

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It’s the Washington Post’s country, we just live in it

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th March 2007

You could tell where the Washington Post’s lead editorial yesterday (“The Pelosi Plan for Iraq“) was heading early on, when it snidely described the House Democratic leadership’s planned restrictions on Iraq war funding as “exquisitely tailored to bring together the party’s leftist and centrist wings.” It went on to imply that the relative lateness of the final withdrawal deadline (August 2008, if not sooner) was a sop to moderates, and that the various detailed ancillary budget items (post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction, wounded veterans, etc.) were “enticements” for some representatives to vote for what they otherwise presumably would not. The editorial then continued:

The only constituency House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ignored in her plan for amending President Bush’s supplemental war funding bill are the people of the country that U.S. troops are fighting to stabilize.

The Post’s recommendation is that Congress should instead “rigorously monitor” progress in Iraq. What Congress should then <em”>do as the daily “SNAFU” and “FUBAR” messages come rolling in is apparently left as an excercise for the reader. Today, Harold Meyerson used his slot in the Post’s op-ed page to deliver the perfect riposte:

The only constituency that The Post ignored in its assessment of Pelosi’s plan, and the chief constituency she is trying to heed, is the American people. They have charged the Pelosis and Obeys with the messy task of ending this fiasco, which, to their credit, is exactly what Pelosi and Obey are trying to do.*

As Republicans have been so fond of reminding us until recently, elections have consequences. We had one in 2006, I still remember it well — a sweeping repudiation of Bush’s presidency and his enablers in Congress, with a particular emphasis on Iraq (and a heaping side order of disdain about Katrina, by the way.) But as I observed last week in a different context, the whole “democracy” concept seems to be literally foreign to the Post editorial board — something to cheerlead for when it’s elsewhere, perhaps, but something to deride when it threatens the raison d’etat or strategic interests of our country as they see it.

The Post is unquestionably correct in warning that things may not go well for Iraqis or for American interests if we withdraw by some time certain, say in August 2008. Then again, who knows: maybe, just maybe, our presence in Iraq is an irritant, not a bandage, so that we should leave as soon as possible. Maybe bad outcomes — a hostile Iraq, brutal ethnic cleansing, Iran’s relative advantage — will happen whenever we leave, so that we might as well leave now.

In the course of a “normal” war, I might agree that the President’s judgment should prevail on matters of tactics, strategy, and foreign policy judgment. But this is not such a war; it’s a war begotten by lies, presided over by arguably the worst president ever. And it’s one that has already ended — in a hollow victory over Saddam and his nonexistent WMD: “Mission Accomplished,” as they say. That “accomplishment,” however, has been followed by a sectarian conflagration we have no hope, no business, and — depending on the military flavor of the month — as often as not no intention of presiding over and bringing to a decent conclusion. In general, counterinsurgencies ‘r not us, or shouldn’t be — especially when the insurgents and the noninsurgents switch places from one month and region to the next. The people of the United States are right not to defer to the judgment of the idiots, criminals, and incompetents who stuck us with this one.

Meanwhile, back in Washington Post country, Pelosi, Obey et al are merely “captur[ing] votes in Congress or at the 2008 polls.” Yet that’s their job! While Americans may not agree about how to go about it, they’re pretty clear that they want troops out of Iraq, they favor setting a timetable to do so — and they’re watching their representative’s votes on the issue closely.

But the poll that really matters is the one held last November 6. It’s to Pelosi’s and Obey’s credit that they’re trying to craft an appropriations bill that (a) honors the voters who put them in the driver seat in Congress by (b) putting a limit on Bush’s dream of endless war by (c) attracting as many votes as they can. In other words, this is what democracy looks like. To the editors at the Post, that seems to be unwelcome news.

* David Obey is chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

NOTES: “who knows” — Apocalypse Not,” a contrarian opinion on what might happen in Iraq after an American withdrawal, by Robert Dreyfuss in the Washington Monthly; “worst President ever” — Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz, Rolling Stone; “hollow victory” is Matthew Yglesias‘ accurate formulation; “favor” — USA Today/Gallup poll, 2/9-2/12/2007.

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pander n.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th March 2007

    1. a go-between in a sexual intrigue; esp., a procurer; pimp.
    2. a person who provides the means of helping to satisfy the ignoble ambitions or desires, vices, etc. of another


— Webster’s New World Dictionary

I return to Jackson Diehl’s Monday opinion editorial in the Washington Post, “The House’s Ottoman Agenda,” and specifically to his charge that H.R. 106, the Armenian Genocide Resolution was an example of “constituent pandering.”

“Start with the pandering,” begins Diehl, continuing that the resolution’s sponsor, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA-29), “cheerfully concedes that there are 70,000 to 80,000 ethnic Armenians in his district, for whom the slaughter of Armenians by the Young Turk regime during World War I is ‘anything but ancient history.'” ” Concedes?” What’s to concede? Mr. Schiff is a “representative,” which suggests he will “represent” the people of his district. When he proposes a legitimate goal of people in his district to the Congress of the United States, then in our “democracy” that’s not a bug, that’s a feature.

Diehl’s sloppy, deeply stupid opinion may well have meant to use the word “pander” in the same sloppy, stupid way it has come to be used generally: something done purely for local, short term political advantage that will benefit a few but cost more to others. But the word’s original meaning reveals that at its core, “pandering” doesn’t mean favoring the few over the many, it means catering to ignoble aims or vices.

It ought to be needless to say that remembering the wholesale slaughter of hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915 and 1916, and holding its perpetrators to account, is neither ignoble nor a vice. Mr. Diehl’s choice of words is a libel against Representative Schiff, but it is a far worse libel against his constituents.

Imagine if the Washington Post chose to call the United States January UN resolution against Holocaust denial “pandering” to anyone at all. There’s simply no such thing when it comes to opposing lies about that monstrous crime against humanity — especially when those lies are given the official blessing of a country’s government. Or consider Congress — in the 105th Congress of 1997-1998 alone, there were three binding and two nonbinding resolutions related to the Holocaust, including ones about establishing presidential commissions to investigate the disposition of Holocaust-era assets, identifying such assets for the purpose of restitution, setting aside $25 million to assist with that, and expressing the sense of Congress that Germany should do more to simplify and expand reparations. “Pandering”? Not at all. Helping see justice done? Of course.

I’d rather not speculate why some crimes against humanity seem to merit more attention than others, or why attempts to recognize them get more respect by the media than others — or at least aren’t subjected to disdain and mockery. I’ll simply restate what I said below: Diehl’s arrogant op-ed was a disgrace, marred by words like “pander,” “frivolity,” “shrug,” and “comical” in connection with one of the worst crimes against humanity that ever happened. He and the Washington Post should be profoundly ashamed, and everyone concerned — from Diehl to the publisher to the op-ed page editor — should reflect and then apologize for their contemptuous treatment of a genocide and its victims.

ADDENDUM: While I’m on the subject, it’s extremely disappointing to note that Matthew Yglesias has also — and once again — put his name to a supercilious, apathetic statement about genocide and responses to it. I realize it’s just a bunch of people with “ian” at the end of their names, but there’s simply nothing that’s “pretty funny” about the Armenian Genocide or about Diehl’s hatchet job on HR106. Deniers of the Holocaust are rightly derided and despised these days — yet surely not because of statements like Mr. Yglesias’s, but rather despite them. (Via Robert Farley at TAPPED.)

EDIT, 3/7: Nevertheless, “statements like Mr. Yglesias’s” etc. is more supportable than “people like Mr. Yglesias” etc.
UPDATE, 3/9: My comment to Yglesias’ post has not appeared; I got a comment pending message. My comment in full: I disagree: not funny. Not funny at all.” Maybe the two links got caught on some spam filter, maybe the coComment thingie I use has bollixed things up somehow. Or maybe the comment hasn’t been and won’t be approved.
2D UPDATE, 3/9: Looks like it was the links; my somewhat longer comment without any external links has posted.
UPDATE, 3/13: WorldWideWeber (“Notes from The Basement”) points out a decent editorial, “Turkey’s Chutzpah,” in The Jewish Press, saying that Turkey shouldn’t play the uniqueness-of-the-Holocaust card with American Jews. It also simply “acknowledg[es] as genocide the systematic murder of a million and a half [Armenians].” See? That wasn’t so hard.

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Re Jackson Diehl’s "The House’s Ottoman Agenda"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th March 2007

Jackson Diehl has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post (“The House’s Ottoman Agenda“) about the possibility that the House may pass a non-binding resolution (H. Res 106) recognizing the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Below is my response to his article, as submitted to the Post:

Mr. Diehl dismisses as “comical” the quest of Armenians to have their ordeal in 1915 recognized for what it was: genocide — without the scare quotes he puts around the word. He dismisses Representatives pushing for the vote as “pandering.” He recommends Turkey dismiss the bill’s passage with a “shrug.”

He wouldn’t feel that way if his ancestors had been murdered by the tens and hundreds of thousands — and then faced a constant propaganda campaign by the perpetrators that nothing really happened. And op-eds in the nation’s premier newspaper that the whole thing is some kind of minor joke.

This is possibly the most callous, offensive op-ed I’ve ever had the misfortune to read in the pages of the Washington Post. Diehl should reconsider the entire article, retract it, and print an apology to the decent Armenian Americans of this country who have worked so long to see not justice, but a simple acknowledgement of the crime against their people see the light of day.

If you know little or nothing about the Armenian Genocide, you’re (a) not alone, and (b) you should; whether Diehl thinks it’s far-fetched or not, Hitler is quoted as saying “Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” I wrote about it in April, 2005 — “90 years ago today: Armenian genocide begins” — and there are links to more substantive resources there if you care to learn about it. Hundreds of thousands — the consensus is actually around 1.5 million — were either massacred outright, succumbed to disease and starvation, or perished in forced death marches into the deserts of Turkey and present-day Syria. For such grief and horror to receive such a brush-off from the Post is nothing short of reprehensible.

Diehl notes that the Turkish ambassador has been lobbying against the bill’s passage, warning that “a nationalist tidal wave could sweep Turkey and force the government to downgrade its cooperation with the United States, which needs Turkey’s help this year to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran.” These are not exactly weighty cudgels to swing at those of us who want the U.S. out of Iraq and dialing down a confrontation with Iran, but even a realistic appraisal of Turkish politics may not support the ambassador’s or Diehl’s alleged forebodings.

As Diehl noted, an ultranationalist teenager recently assassinated an Armenian Turkish journalist in Istanbul. But far from revealing the strength of anti-Armenian sentiment in Turkey, Hrant Dink’s murder appears to have galvanized the opposite among both the people and the media of Turkey. Tens of thousands of Turks took to the streets with signs saying “We are all Armenians” to protest what happened; the media widely condemned what it called a “lynch culture.” A great number of people in Turkey may be ahead of their ruling classes on this issue — rather than behind them. Meanwhile, the one thing Turkish elites really want these days — EU membership — is hardly going to be advanced if they whip up nationalist resentments about a US genocide resolution.

Mr. Diehl is also clever, but deeply misleading to imply H.R. 106 is some kind of Democratic ploy (sponsor Schiff is “pandering” with it, Speaker Pelosi supports it, “even” some Democrats oppose it). A look at the bill’s co-sponsors shows plenty of Republicans — the Diaz-Balarts, Wamp, Sensenbrenner, Rohrabacher, and Musgrave, to name a few, are hardly pushovers for partisan Democratic skulduggery. Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole always supported the Armenian genocide resolution during his tenure in the Senate.

Diehl makes much of the non-binding nature of the resolution; why all the fuss, he implies, for something that doesn’t matter? The question answers itself when you see how a Turkish full court press has apparently taken in the Washington Post. Why is the Turkish government bothering? Why do they want to keep a 90 year old crime against humanity covered up for another year? And why should the Post aid and abet them in that?

A final note: I’d like to think I’d support H.R. 106 one way or the other. But I don’t doubt I’m more aware of the issue because my wife is part Armenian. If you’ve stuck with this post, I’ve passed on a little bit of that awareness; if you’d like your Congressman or -woman to support the bill, send them a fax via the Armenian National Committee of America.

UPDATE, 3/6: As of today, ANCA shows that 47 Republicans are among the 178 Representatives “pandering” by cosponsoring HR106 and speaking out about a genocide that has gone unacknowledged by its perpetrators for more than 90 years.

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