Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Erika Christensen and Evan Rachel Wood Celebration Act


In the course of this fine summer day, you might want to take a look at a very special list, a list of the most despicable members of the House of Representatives. If you weren't sure who the worst members were, this list should clarify things for you.

These 33 Republicans voted against renewing the Voting Rights Act yesterday. At least they were honest. But even the anti-immigrant J.D. Hayworth and anti-gay Marilyn Musgrave voted aye. But for the Republican 33, renewing the VRA was just too much for their tender sensibilities.

Some of the 33 have gone so far as to post explanations for their noes on their House websites. Let's let Georgia Rep Charlie Norwood, a no vote, explain:

That is the contention of HR 9, as it ravages the rights of the innocent, whose only offense is in their place of dwelling.

I can partially understand Rep Norwood's interest in removing the stigma of federal oversight of voting in his state, the desire to put his state on the same plain with the majority of U.S. states that can institute minor changes in voting procedures and district outlines without an OK from the Federal Justice Department.

But "ravages the rights of the innocent"? Me thinks the Congressman doth protest too much.

In the meantime, if states like Georgia decide to stop trying to pass bogus photo ID requirements for voting, and to discontinue the tired rhetoric from conservatives about how much a threat voting fraud by (black and poor) individuals is, maybe the next 25 years will be sufficient to demonstrate Charlie's state has changed.

And maybe when the VRA comes up for reauthorization again, Charlie Norwood's no vote, along with those of his 32 companions, will be remembered for the bigotry it is, and regretted accordingly.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Neo-Conservativism and Realignment

Glenn Greenwald theorizes that the opposition to Joe Lieberman by grassroots Democrats is rooted in the latter's opposition to the former's embrace of the administration's "neo-conservatism." Moreover, Greenwald suggests the Connecticut primary battle is indicative of a realignment away from the old conservative-liberal axis and towards a neo-conservative vs. non-neo-conservative dimension. Greenwald believes the Iraq war has been the primary dividing line between Lieberman and the Lamont forces, and that in a broader sense, the nation's new primary default line lies over Iraq as well, Iraq as a symbol of neoconservative politics. As evidence, Greenwald offers the opposition by some Republicans to Bush's and the neo-conservative's foreign policies, in Iraq and elsewhere, the opposition to Lieberman by Democrats despite Lieberman's liberal voting record on domestic issues, and by the support among neo-conservative members of the press--like David Brooks--for the Democratic Lieberman.

I think there is some basis for Greenwald's conclusions. Iraq certainly is the dividing line of our time, as it was in 2002 and 2004. With the exception of last year's Katrina, the Iraq war has dominated the national debate and news coverage since 2002. And one of the effects of Iraq has been to make strange bedfellows in Congress, as conservative Walter Jones of NC and liberal Dennis Kucinich of Ohio appear together calling for a withdrawal from Iraq of U.S. military forces.

But I suspect Greenwald is making too much out of a national--or even regional--neoconservative versus non-neoconservative split where the issue of Iraq is concerned.

In the first place, I agree with
Ezra that the basis for the Democratic grassroots opposition to Lieberman is not primarily the war, but Lieberman's vocal opposition to the war's opponents. As Ezra notes, other Democratic Senators up for re-election this year supported the war and have not faced the wrath of the Democratic Internets.

In the second place, I'm not sure that the Iraq war continues to be the exemplary of a neoconservative foreign policy. Only one Republican voted for the Levin Amendment last month, which makes me think that most Republicans still support the administration in Iraq. But I'm not sure that makes these Republicans neocons in the purest sense of the word, nor do I think it makes neocons out of the other five Democratic Senators that voted against Levin. This is the point I think the AltHippo is making as well.

Which raises the question of what exactly a neocon is.

Neo-conservatism, in my understanding, is a foreign policy perspective that prefers the use of military force, or at least the threat of military force, over diplomacy or as the primary piece of diplomacy; unilateral action rather than cooperation with international institutions; that obstensibly targets un-Democratic regimes; and that most ardently promotes American Exceptionalism.

Neo-conservatism contrasts with foreign policy Realism which: generally aims for world stability as opposed to world democracy; is more inclined to work cooperatively with other nations and institutional bodies; is less inclined to rely on military force as a means of diplomacy and is even less reluctant to apply it except in conditions that are of a last resort and which promise swift victory and a clean exit strategy.

A third foreign policy perspective is Isolationism, which shares with neo-conservatism an anti-international organizational stance, a willingness to use force, and American Exceptionalism, but is like the Realists more guarded about applying military force to limited circumstances and generally not concerned with the internal politics of other nations.

A fourth foreign policy perspective I would call Humanistic-Developmental. This foreign policy aims to ensure human rights across the globe and promote the economic and political development of third world countries, primarily through the auspices of international action. There are some similarities between this view and the obstensible support for democracy favored by neo-conservatives, but unlike the latter, the former are less inclined to act unilaterally or favor the use of force in most situations.

Most people probably at one point or another could be in any of these four camps at any particular time, and each might be relevant at any particular period. But most Democrats are probably either Realists or Humanistic-Developmentalists. Meanwhile, most Republicans are spread out over the first three categories, although the neo-con wing of the Republican Party has dominated under Bush II and importantly, since 911, in contrast to the Realism that occured from Nixon to Bush I.

In any event, my sense is that despite the declaration of One Percent Doctrines, pre-emptive wars, and calls from among the neocon dead-enders at the Weekly Standard and in Rupert Murdoch's media affiliates for extending the Iraq war to Iran, North Korea, and other countries throughout the Middle East, the neocon foreign policy agenda is finished, at least as it concerns overt military action in the next two years. Militarily, the neocon agenda is probably dead period. It may live on in anti-UN propaganda and American Exceptionalism rhetoric, but as an action plan, neoconservativism lacks the genuine popular support necessary for carrying out its ambitions. And by genuine popular support, I mean enough boots on the ground to wage global, eternal war.

Neoconservatism could possibly take its ball and go home, and revert to a Pat Buchanan-Tom Tancredo anti-immigration centered Isolationism, but the Republican Party's business base probably won't let that happen, and progressives that share neoconservatism's anti-globalism, won't buy into the anti-immigrant program. So it's probably a bit soon and too much of a stretch to see Iraq or neoconservativism as a realigning force. Yet.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Conservative Moral Relativism: When it's White, it's Right

What's an Iraqi Life Worth?

By Andrew J. Bacevich
Sunday, July 9, 2006; B01

In Iraq, lives differ in value -- and so do deaths. In this disparity lies an important reason why the United States has botched this war.

Last November in Haditha , a squad of Marines, outraged at the loss of a comrade, is said to have run amok, avenging his death by killing two dozen innocent bystanders. And in March, U.S. soldiers in Mahmudiyah allegedly raped a young Iraqi woman and killed her along with three of her relatives -- an apparently premeditated crime for which one former U.S. soldier has been charged . These incidents are among at least five recent cases of Iraqi civilian deaths that have triggered investigations of U.S. military personnel. If the allegations prove true, Haditha and Mahmudiyah will deservedly take their place alongside Sand Creek, Samar and My Lai in the unhappy catalogue of atrocities committed by American troops.

But recall a more recent incident, in Samarra . On May 30, U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint there opened fire on a speeding vehicle that either did not see or failed to heed their command to stop. Two women in the vehicle were shot dead. One of them, Nahiba Husayif Jassim, 35, was pregnant. The baby was also killed. The driver, Jassim's brother, had been rushing her to a hospital to give birth. No one tried to cover up the incident: U.S. military representatives issued expressions of regret.

In all likelihood, we will be learning more about Haditha and Mahmudiyah for months to come, whereas the Samarra story has already been filed away and largely forgotten. And that's the problem.

The killing at the Samarra checkpoint was not an atrocity; most likely it was an accident, a mistake. Yet plenty of evidence suggests that in Iraq such mistakes have occurred routinely, with moral and political consequences that have been too long ignored. Indeed, conscious motivation is beside the point: Any action resulting in Iraqi civilian deaths, however inadvertent, undermines the Bush administration's narrative of liberation, and swells the ranks of those resisting the U.S. presence.

Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded U.S. forces when they entered Iraq more than three years ago, famously declared: "We don't do body counts." Franks was speaking in code. What he meant was this: The U.S. military has learned the lessons of Vietnam -- where body counts became a principal, and much derided, public measure of success -- and it has no intention of repeating that experience. Franks was not going to be one of those generals re-fighting the last war.

Unfortunately, Franks and other senior commanders had not so much learned from Vietnam as forgotten it. This disdain for counting bodies, especially those of Iraqi civilians killed in the course of U.S. operations, is among the reasons why U.S. forces find themselves in another quagmire. It's not that the United States has an aversion to all body counts. We tally every U.S. service member who falls in Iraq, and rightly so. But only in recent months have military leaders finally begun to count -- for internal use only -- some of the very large number of Iraqi noncombatants whom American bullets and bombs have killed.

Through the war's first three years, any Iraqi venturing too close to an American convoy or checkpoint was likely to come under fire. Thousands of these "escalation of force" episodes occurred. Now, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, has begun to recognize the hidden cost of such an approach. "People who were on the fence or supported us" in the past "have in fact decided to strike out against us," he recently acknowledged.

In the early days of the insurgency, some U.S. commanders appeared oblivious to the possibility that excessive force might produce a backlash. They counted on the iron fist to create an atmosphere conducive to good behavior. The idea was not to distinguish between "good" and "bad" Iraqis, but to induce compliance through intimidation.

"You have to understand the Arab mind," one company commander told the New York Times, displaying all the self-assurance of Douglas MacArthur discoursing on Orientals in 1945. "The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face." Far from representing the views of a few underlings, such notions penetrated into the upper echelons of the American command. In their book "Cobra II," Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor offer this ugly comment from a senior officer: "The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I'm about to introduce them to it."

Such crass language, redolent with racist, ethnocentric connotations, speaks volumes. These characterizations, like the use of "gooks" during the Vietnam War, dehumanize the Iraqis and in doing so tacitly permit the otherwise impermissible. Thus, Abu Ghraib and Haditha -- and too many regretted deaths, such as that of Nahiba Husayif Jassim.

As the war enters its fourth year, how many innocent Iraqis have died at American hands, not as a result of Haditha-like massacres but because of accidents and errors? The military doesn't know and, until recently, has publicly professed no interest in knowing. Estimates range considerably, but the number almost certainly runs in the tens of thousands. Even granting the common antiwar bias of those who track the Iraqi death toll -- and granting, too, that the insurgents have far more blood on their hands -- there is no question that the number of Iraqi noncombatants killed by U.S. forces exceeds by an order of magnitude the number of U.S. troops killed in hostile action, which is now more than 2,000.

Who bears responsibility for these Iraqi deaths? The young soldiers pulling the triggers? The commanders who establish rules of engagement that privilege "force protection" over any obligation to protect innocent life? The intellectually bankrupt policymakers who sent U.S. forces into Iraq in the first place and now see no choice but to press on? The culture that, to put it mildly, has sought neither to understand nor to empathize with people in the Arab or Islamic worlds?

There are no easy answers, but one at least ought to acknowledge that in launching a war advertised as a high-minded expression of U.S. idealism, we have waded into a swamp of moral ambiguity. To assert that "stuff happens," as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is wont to do whenever events go awry, simply does not suffice.

Moral questions aside, the toll of Iraqi noncombatant casualties has widespread political implications. Misdirected violence alienates those we are claiming to protect. It plays into the hands of the insurgents, advancing their cause and undercutting our own. It fatally undermines the campaign to win hearts and minds, suggesting to Iraqis and Americans alike that Iraqi civilians -- and perhaps Arabs and Muslims more generally -- are expendable. Certainly, Nahiba Husayif Jassim's death helped clarify her brother's perspective on the war. "God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here," he declared after the incident. "They have no regard for our lives."

He was being unfair, of course. It's not that we have no regard for Iraqi lives; it's just that we have much less regard for them. The current reparations policy -- the payment offered in those instances in which U.S. forces do own up to killing an Iraq civilian -- makes the point. The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty is $400,000, while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500 in condolence payments -- about the price of a decent plasma-screen TV.

For all the talk of Iraq being a sovereign nation, foreign occupiers are the ones deciding what an Iraqi life is worth. And although President Bush has remarked in a different context that "every human life is a precious gift of matchless value," our actions in Iraq continue to convey the impression that civilian lives aren't worth all that much.

That impression urgently needs to change. To start, the Pentagon must get over its aversion to counting all bodies. It needs to measure in painstaking detail -- and publicly -- the mayhem we are causing as a byproduct of what we call liberation. To do otherwise, to shrug off the death of Nahiba Husayif Jassim as just one of those things that happens in war, only reinforces the impression that Americans view Iraqis as less than fully human. Unless we demonstrate by our actions that we value their lives as much as the lives of our own troops, our failure is certain.


When they aren't celebrating our "liberation" of Iraq, the U.S. press, military spokespersons, leading public officials, and representatives from the 101st fighting keyboarders routinely disparage the actual people of Iraq and people across the Middle East more generally. There's been next to no coverage or concern about the number and extent of Iraqi civilian deaths on account of the war and occupation. In the absence of Iraq's attacking either ourselves or any of its neighbors, our invasion and occupation was and is immoral. But no one of any prominence or distinction has really said this. Maybe Michael Moore or Cindy Sheehan has, but we know what the press thinks of them. Even most of the Democrats who supported the war initially and have now expressed regret for their vote, do so primarily from the standpoint that the invasion and occupation were "botched" and mishandled, not for the war's moral implications.

The American nationalism displayed by our press, public officials, and members of the public is moral relativism personified and exemplified. Of course our supposedly Christian clerics and the equally dubious "pro-life" forces they command have been largely silent at best on the war's carnage, or worse, they've acted as the administration's and "country's" apologists.

As Chris Rock jokes about White America's slavery, bootlegging and war-waging history, "When it's White, it's Right". Civilian deaths in Iraq? "We don't do body counts...especially those of sand niggers".