Thursday, November 30, 2006

Laura makes a Bushism

Providing ABC with a Christmas tour of the White House --

Q Well, let's talk a little bit about the decorations here, because we're inside here in the Red Room. And people don't -- it takes months and months to prepare, doesn't it?

MRS. BUSH: We've been planning this for months. We thought of the theme early last spring, which was "deck the halls and welcome all." And we really took the theme off of this room, the most dramatic and beautiful room -- and many times the First Lady's favorite room in the White House, the room that First Ladies have used to serve tea. And we have the beautiful Angelica Houston [sic] here above the fireplace, who was -- Angelica Van Buren, who was President Van Buren's hostess when he was President. Because this is a room that First Ladies have used.

Her protection is guaranteed

With Russia in the news, worth taking note of a dispute between the Russian edition of Forbes magazine and its German publishers. It's convoluted -- what in Russia isn't -- but it pertains to one element of Russia's oligarchy, namely that the wife of the Mayor of Moscow just so happens to be a billionare, and the couple are increasingly touchy about the scrutiny (Wall Street Journal, subs' req'd; alt. free link) --

The controversy began Monday when the Russian version of Newsweek, which is also published under license by Axel Springer, carried an ad for Forbes's December issue, showing the magazine's cover with a photo of Ms. Baturina [the billionaire] accompanied by the words: "My Protection is Guaranteed."

In a statement, Axel Springer Russia said Ms. Baturina had been misquoted, saying that she had, in fact, said: "Like any investor, I am guaranteed protection of my rights" -- and the quote as published would have misled readers. The company said it had decided to suspend production of the December issue because "principles of journalistic ethics had not been observed" in the cover story.

... However, Mr. Kashulinsky [Forbes editor] maintains that he replaced the offending quote prior to publication with one approved by Ms. Baturina. He alleges that Axel Springer pulled the issue because Inteko [her company] had obtained an advance copy of the article -- in violation of Forbes's policy -- and threatened to sue for libel if it was printed. Mr. Kashulinsky said he didn't know how Inteko came by a copy of the story.

In the post Polonium 210 world, getting hold of an advance copy of a magazine article doesn't seem too difficult.

Amman summit debunked

On the principle that one sometimes learns more from questions than from answers, the key question in one of the White House background briefings today -

Q But there were reports from inside the Iraqi side of the meeting that they basically blew off the questions about Moqtada al-Sadr, side-stepped, wouldn't answer, went on, despite the President's entreaties.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is not at all how I saw it. I cannot comment on Iraqi reports of the meeting. There was a discussion about militia and it was responded to in what seemed to me certainly a very appropriate response from the Prime Minister about taking the importance of using force or other means to deal with these kinds of problems, and that no one, regardless of their political or sectarian identity, should be immune from that. So I did not find that to be a side-stepping of the question.

UPDATE: In a different briefing, aboard Air Force 1 on the way back, the answers are mainly interesting for their Benny Hill quality --

MR. HADLEY: When the President and Prime Minister Maliki went one-on-one with translators, Condi and I then had the national security advisor, the foreign minister and some other Iraqi officials, General Casey, Zal, Meghan O'Sullivan, had a -- in the ante-room, and Tony joined that, as did Dan Bartlett and Josh Bolten a little bit way into it ...

A very special shipping forecast

A day when the spectacularly bad weather in the north Atlantic leads to a discovery that the text of the shipping forecast includes an additional line about the waves that is not mentioned in the radio version --

And Now The Shipping Forecast Issued By The Met Office, On Behalf Of The Maritime And Coastguard Agency, At 1130 On Thursday 30 November 2006

... Bailey South Storm 10 To Hurricane Force 12 Veering Southwest Gale 8 To Storm 10. Very High Or Phenomenal. Rain Or Squally Showers. Moderate Or Poor ...

Southeast Iceland Cyclonic Severe Gale 9 To Violent Storm 11, Occasionally Hurricane Force 12. Very High To Phenomenal. Rain Or Showers. Moderate Or Poor.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Off-the-record briefing follies

One of today's press briefings by the US contingent in Latvia was declared off-the-record, leading to interactions like this, as the row of suits at the head table couldn't be named --

Q Can I get back to something the senior official on the left said?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Your left, or our left? .... I'll help you -- even though I'm on your right and our left ... Many of the joint collaborations that I and my fellow senior administration official have referred to have taken place subsequent to the writing of this memo.

[Full text of leaked memo that generated this panicked briefing]

UPDATE: They managed to top the farce at yet another briefing in Amman to explain the cancelled meeting with Iraqi PM al-Maliki --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the one word answer is, no. I can tell you that when the President made the decision -- or actually, it wasn't even a decision a few days ago when the idea arose -- of coming here after Riga, it was always a bilateral dinner. I can tell you that. It was always a bilateral dinner, and that was well understood.

I don't know when the idea -- the trilateral idea came up, but it was pretty clear from the dinner, I think, that both of them felt they -- you know, there are three bilateral meetings here, which cover all the bases -- President-King, King-Maliki, President-Maliki. So everybody gets to have these bilateral conversations and go into all the depth they want, and I guess they just concluded there was no need for a trilat.

It's the "I didn't do it" guy

Tom Friedman in the New York Times (subs. req'd) --

On Feb. 12, 2003, before the war, I wrote a column offering what I called my ''pottery store'' rule for Iraq: ''You break it, you own it.'' It was not an argument against the war, but rather a cautionary note about the need to do it with allies, because transforming Iraq would be such a huge undertaking. (Colin Powell later picked up on this and used the phrase to try to get President Bush to act with more caution, but Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Powell's advice.)

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there -- broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam's iron fist.

His "Pottery Barn" rule was also wrong (and by the way, note his legerdemain between "pottery store" and "Pottery Barn") because it's not the Pottery Barn rule.

Irish breakfast might kill, but not that quickly

A bizarre coincidence, a truly dodgy piece of black pudding, or something more? --

LONDON (Reuters) - Yegor Gaidar, a former Russian prime minister, told the Financial Times he suffered a sudden, serious illness last week on a visit to Ireland.

The mystery ailment struck a day after former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died in a London hospital from radiation poisoning. There was no indication that radiation had been the cause of Gaidar's sickness, the newspaper said on Wednesday.

"I have suffered sudden problems with my health on November 24 which posed a threat to my life," the former premier told the newspaper in a telephone interview from a hospital in Moscow where he is undergoing tests.

"This threat has not been realized. After a few hours the situation stabilized," Gaidar said.

He was unable to explain why he fell ill, noting that it occurred after he ate a simple breakfast where he had been staying near Dublin [Maynooth], the newspaper reported.

UPDATE 1 DECEMBER: Whatever about the Irish breakfast, his case is a commentary on the state of the Irish healthcare system. He was discharged from Connolly in just 3 hours, yet subsequent developments show that he must have been seriously ill at that point.

And RTE reports that radiation tests are now being conducted on the Maynooth campus and at Connolly.

Also available with suicide bomber wording

Irish Times (subs. req'd) -- A T-shirt saying "I'm a bomb technician - if you see me running try to keep up" was found in the house of a man accused of IRA membership, the Special Criminal Court heard yesterday.

Det Sgt Ruairí Corcoran showed the T- shirt to the three-judge court on the first day of the trial of Art Sherwin (55), a father of 10, Ballinagappa Road, Clane, Co Kildare. He denies membership of the IRA on March 14th, 2005.

Det Sgt Corcoran said he found the T- shirt among various other republican paraphernalia and 10 alarm clocks when he searched the house as part of a Garda investigation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Taking strategery up to 11

George Bush in Riga --

And under the able leadership of the Secretary General, NATO is transforming from a static alliance focused on the defense of Europe, into an expedentiary* [sic] alliance ready to deploy outside of Europe in the defense of freedom.

[the speech also saw this spectacle]

2 sides in the Great Game

Today at National Review's The Corner --

[Mario Loyola] ...I've often thought that U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War has been consumed with cleaning up the disastrous mess the Soviet Union left behind.

What do Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and Israel-Palestine have in common?

Bush's briefing book for Estonia

Any guesses as to what the 2nd and 3rd of the three bullet points were in the sheet provided to him by his handlers before the visit (the first being coalition of the willing)?

PRESIDENT BUSH: It's an amazing country you have here. They've got an e-government system that should be the envy of a lot of nations. They've got a tax system that is transparent, open and simple; people file their taxes over the Internet.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. President, thank you very much, and, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you, as well, for your gracious hospitality ... I am amazed to be in a country that has been able to effect a flat tax in such a positive way. I am impressed by the e-governance that you have here in Estonia.

PRESIDENT BUSH: .. We also discussed how Estonia has built a strong economy and raised the standard of living for the people. I appreciate the fact that you got a flat tax, you got a tax system that's transparent and simple. I also am amazed by the e-governance you have here in your country.

UPDATE: The WSJ also notices the emphasis; also see here for a debunking of the flat tax myths.

Europe is other people

The early returns are in on the state of American conservative thought in the post election defeat era. And they're not good, even by their debased standards. Here's a Tuesday editorial from the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd), linked to the NATO summit in Latvia:

The NATO forces battling resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan call to mind the Normandy landing. Once again, mostly Canadian, British and American troops are fighting and dying. Most of the rest of Europe is absent from the fight,

So it was Japanese soldiers on the other side in France in 1944?

most NATO members prefer the by now traditional division of labor: The Anglo-Saxons do the fighting while the others compete for popularity as armed aid workers ...The 2,900 German troops in Afghanistan are concentrated in the relatively safe north, focusing on reconstruction ... . If the Taliban are allowed to re-establish Afghanistan as global jihad's international headquarters, Europe would probably suffer more than the U.S. or Canada. The terrorists are opportunistic killers, attacking where there is the least resistance. Since September 11, they have failed to carry out another attack on U.S. soil. Scores have died in bomb attacks in Europe.

Note the incoherence. The under-equipped Germans are supposedly hiding out in northern Afghanistan where there is least resistance -- precisely the place where those opportunistic terrorists are said to be most likely to attack. And it doesn't occur to the Journal that it might indeed be because Europe has to concentrate on the home front that it's been harder to mobilize for the Afghan War, not least given the moral hazard that more European forces there would just free up US troops for adventures elsewhere.

Finally, the editorial never confronts one contradiction at the heart of the NATO strategy -- that there is at least one European country that's "plenty willing" (as Bush says) for a fight, especially when it gets really messy. That country is also missing from the WSJ's list of countries above that did the fighting in WW2, and it's the one which the choice of location for today's summit was designed to irritate. Indeed, there are echoes of past and present dilemmas in one of today's anniversaries --

in 1943 Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met in Tehran to discuss their combined strategy for defeating the Germans.

That was back when it was understood that wars involved awkward choices.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Outside looking in, again

One likely explanation of Tony Blair's willingness to indulge George Bush in his various schemes was the belief in London that, via the State Department, they could head off the White House's worst excesses. Consistent with this is the fixation of London first with Colin Powell and now Condi Rice, notwithstanding what the historical record has revealed about Colin Powell's very low weight in the Iraq deliberations.

Having latched on to Condi, they're hopefully schooled enough in the Yes Minister tradition to understand the importance of the people around Condi, by which standard there is bad news today --

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's most senior adviser on Iraq is leaving the State Department to return to his teaching job. Philip D. Zelikow is the best-known member of Rice's academic brain trust at the State Department, and the author of sometimes contrarian appraisals of the Iraq conflict and reconstruction effort. He holds the title counselor, a sort of adviser without portfolio.

In a resignation letter dated Monday, Zelikow said he will return to teaching at the University of Virginia in January. He cited a "long-standing debt to my family" and "truly riveting obligation to college bursars," for his children's tuition.

Zelikow was among the first people Rice hired after she took over as secretary of state in 2005. She also brought in other fellow academics to join a team of Republican political strategists to be her top advisers. His first assignment was a scouting trip to Iraq.

When Zelikow returned, according to the Bob Woodward book "State of Denial," he wrote a secret memo characterizing Iraq as "a failed state" two years after the U.S.-led invasion. In September 2005, he wrote a memo estimating a 70 percent chance of success in achieving a stable, democratic Iraq, and what he called a "significant risk" of "catastrophic failure," the book said.

Besides being on of the few reality-based officials with any influence at the top, Zelikow was also the key person at the top pushing the Blair line that resolution of any problem in the Middle East was going to require progress on Israel-Palestine, a position with no constituency inside the White House. Rice is having trouble filling the senior positions at the State Department, indicating that people in Washington recognize what Blair does not -- the very limited influence that the department has over disastrous policies.

UPDATE 28 NOVEMBER: Lest there be any doubt, US National Security Adviser Steven Hadley shot down the Blair-Zelikow view for good --

Q Underlying a lot of the calls for more direct talks with Iran and Syria is the belief that if there were progress, particularly involving Israel, either with the Palestinians, or between Israel and Syria, that if there was progress on those two tracks you might have greater stability in Iraq or across the Mideast. Do you think that that position, that idea, that progress in Israel-Palestine, Israel-Syria is linked to stability in Iraq and the Mideast? Do you share that belief?

MR. HADLEY: We have -- it's in our interest and it's in the interest of the region to both help Iraqis stabilize the situation in Iraq, help Iraq become a democratic state that can, as the President says, can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself, and is an ally in the war on terror. It is also, separately and apart, a good thing for the region and for U.S. policy for the Israelis and the Palestinians to get to the point where they can talk about how to stand down their conflict and move in the direction of a more permanent peace. Those are useful and important policy objectives.

Notice the rejection of any sequencing or linkage between the two issues.

FINAL UPDATE: One State Department analyst, Kendall Myers, thinks that Blair never had much influence.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Double minority

In an incident that is difficult to slot into any of the many narratives about French society, a black policeman shot dead a fan of Paris St Germain who was one of a mob attacking him and a French fan of Israeli soccer team Hapoel Tel Aviv whom he was protecting. This extensive BBC report notes that things got ugly after the match, which PSG lost 4-2. The mob chanted anti-Semitic slogans at a group of French fans of the Israeli team and then attacked one fan and the policeman, Antoine Granomort, who had intervened. Accounts differ about whether he fired in self-defence or in panic, although in this case it's not clear what the difference is.

PSG fans had been more recently noted for infighting, but the presence of the Israeli team clearly brought other tendencies to the surface. Yet both Hapoel and Maccabi Haifa have managed previous trips to potentially dodgy territory without this level of trouble breaking out -- the presence of hometown fans of the visiting team being the apparent "provocation" in this case. The events will inevitably be grist for the mill in this political season in France.

UPDATE: Much more, in French, from France 2 [also watch their nightly news]. The specific chant aimed at the policeman was "Dirty nigger ... Blue, White, Red, France for the French". It also appears that a single bullet injured one fan before hitting the second fatally in the heart; this is one reason why the prosecutor is indicating his preference to intepret the incident as self-defence and not indiscriminate fire.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Unholy month

While it might seem too easy to do this, the Pentagon doesn't deserve any better -- their generals having spent October insinuating that the Iraqi insurgents wanted American voters to support the Democrats. Hence it was just 4 days ago that the empty uniform represented by General William Caldwell was quoted as follows --

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2006 – As expected, violence in Iraq has dropped following the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a coalition spokesman said in Baghdad today.
Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said civilian and Iraqi security force casualties were at the lowest levels since the government was formed in May.

So far this month, the civilian casualty count is well below the casualty count in October and below the six-month average. The security force casualties reduced 21 percent over the past four weeks, and are at the lowest level in 25 weeks, he said.

“In Baghdad, there was a 22 percentage drop in casualties related to sectarian violence and executions,” Caldwell said during a televised news conference. “Coalition forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces to control the sectarian violence and terrorist attacks.”

How are those percentages looking now?

The more things change, again

RTE -- The Stormont Assembly building in Belfast has been evacuated after a bag was thrown into the main reception area.

The bag is believed to have been thrown by former loyalist gunman Michael Stone, who served a prison sentence for the murder of mourners at Milltown Cemetery in the 1980s.

A suspect device is being examined. The words 'SF/IRA scum' were painted in red on a wall at the front entrance. Michael Stone has been detained in connection with the incident.

Much more background on Michael Stone, and the never-ending series of events that he precipitated. See also the BBC's story on this morning's event, which has an amazing picture.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Not in their house

There was an obituary for Irish architect Sam Stephenson in yesterday's Times (UK). We had obliquely noted his death here. The obit slyly observes that most of his buildings are commercial and not residential, because the same political patrons who facilitated his Modernist/Brutalist projects for commercial buildings in Dublin preferred to live in traditional country mansions, with a resulting lack of such design commissions. Also odd, but not noted in the obit, is that the same elite class that showed such disdain for preserving Dublin now eagerly takes parts in consortiums buying trophy properties in London and Paris.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Something's cooking

And not just turkey. The flurry of Middle East consultations now includes a Dick Cheney trip to Saudi Arabia -- leaving on Thanksgiving Friday, and announced with about 36 hours notice. What are they up to?

UPDATE: One part of the scheme is now apparent -- Cheney is in Baghdad for the "SURPRISE!" Thanksgiving visit to the troops.

2nd Update: The claim that Cheney is in Baghdad was being reported on radio news by Baghdad correspondents at 1400 GMT, citing Iraqi government sources. But as of 1600 GMT, the White House is denying it.

Final Update: While it's always possible that the original reports of Cheney in Baghdad were incorrect, an alternative is that a visit was planned but was put off at the very last minute as a result of the chaos in Baghdad.

OK we lied really final update 23 December: The intrigue has only deepened about what Cheney was up to in Riyadh since his visit. His trip was followed by the abrupt resignation of the Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who it seems returned home to be in a stronger position to battle Prince Bandar, who is pushing a pro-Bush line within the Saudi government, particularly regarding a hard line in Iran. It's not that the Saudis in general want to go easy in Iran, but they differ on strategy. There seems to be a constituency advocating stepped up support for Sunni insurgents in Iraq should the US withdraw, and for a big increase in oil output to drive down the price and hurt Iran economically. Apparently Prince Bandar, echoing the Bush line, is for some reason opposed to the latter. Here's one of several recent NYT articles trying to decipher the signs see also this Washington Post article.

The more things change ...

During the 2nd reading of the St Andrews Agreement legislation --

Rev. Ian Paisley: Has the Secretary of State seen the recent statement by Sinn Fein saying that it will not call an ard fheis, or whatever it is called? Excuse me, I cannot pronounce these so-called Irish words; I am an Ulsterman.

UPDATE: Paisley once was not so specific about which province he was from --

The 'Sunday Life' 'newspaper' , June 23rd, 1991,page 12 -
"I would never repudiate the fact that I am an Irishman" - Ian Paisley !

The new geography

US National Security Adviser Steven Hadley, trying to explain why George Bush will meet the Iraqi PM next week in Jordan, and not right next door in the apparently too dangerous Green Zone --

Q Why not in the United States, or why a third country? And how long?

MR. HADLEY: The President is going to be in the region anyway; this will come at the end of his trip to Riga, for the NATO summit. It seemed, therefore, a good opportunity to do it. Coming to Jordan makes a lot of sense. Jordan has been very helpful and supportive of the unity government in Iraq, so that made it a particularly good venue. It was a venue, obviously, the President could reach easily, since he was in the region, and a venue that the Prime Minister could reach easily since it's next door.

Got that? -- Latvia and Jordan are in the same region.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Now watch this drive

George Bush in Hawaii --

I call for a full investigation of the [Gemayel] murder to identify those people and those forces behind the killing. We call on the international community to support Prime Minister Seniora's government. And one clear way to do so is for the United Nations Security Council to take all remaining steps needed to establish a special tribunal concerning the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, and to assure that those behind that killing and others that followed are brought to justice. I strongly believe the United Nations Security Council ought to act today. For the sake of peace, the free world must reject those who undermine young democracies and murder in the name of their hateful ideology.

I want to thank our Secretary of State for joining us. You know, one of the jobs of the President is to surround himself with smart, capable, strong people -- and I have done so in Condoleezza Rice. (Applause.)

I also did so at the altar. (Laughter.) And I'm pleased Laura is here, as well. (Applause.)

UPDATE: A statement later gets issued, with the advantage of not having been inserted right before the speech's applause lines.


In the hopelessly convoluted world of Lebanese politics, one of the many historical echoes in the assassination of Pierre Gemayel is that the assassination of his uncle, Bashir, in 1982, was the pretext for the Israeli occupation of then Palestinian West Beirut -- which they outsourced to Christian militias with disastrous consequences. In fact one remarkable thing is that despite the assassinations and quarter-century of turmoil since, so many of the principals and creations of the 1982 invasion are still around.

UPDATE: We should also note this now more laden sentence from Michael Young in today's Wall Street Journal --

Syria's Lebanese allies are trying to undermine the Hariri investigation from within, and are expected to escalate their efforts very soon, maybe even this week.

As several news articles explain, the Lebanese Cabinet is now very close to not having a quorum for any business, including the Hariri investigation.

And Talking Points Memo notes another association with the 1982 Gemayel killing.

In the culture

It's not something that official or respectable pundit opinion in the US had yet grasped, but Abu Ghraib is now well embedded as a cultural reference point -- sufficiently so that it can be worked into hip-hop lyrics, as with Lupe Fiasco's Daydreaming:

I Had To Turn My Back On What Got You Paid
I Couldn't See Had The Hood On Me Like Abu Ghraib

As much as thinking about a plan to extricate itself from Iraq, a future White House will need to think about how to rescue its image.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gimmick Beer (updated)

From a Wall Street Journal article (subs. req'd) about Blue Moon beer, a "craft" beer brewed by Molson --

Distributors credit the success of Blue Moon in part to its visual appeal in "on-premise" locations like bars. In what turned out to be a masterstroke of marketing, Keith Villa, Blue Moon's creator, decided that the company should suggest that bars to serve the beer with an orange slice garnishing the rim of the glass.

"When people saw a beer with an orange slice in it, it piqued their interest," says Jim Doney, president of Chicago Beverage Systems LLC. "They said, 'Hey, let me try one of those.' "

UPDATE 30 July 2009: Officer Crowley had the orange slice in the beer.

Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Media Notes

Nice long (too long?) article in the Sunday New York Times magazine about Irish poet Paul Muldoon. It doesn't mention his classic Armagh/Armani poem but a few other couplets are listed. The compare and contrast with Seamus Heaney is interesting, and it's impossible to imagine Muldoon writing a poem to mark the accession of 10 new countries to the European Union in 2004, as Heaney did. Or if Muldoon did it, there'd be an elaborate joke buried somewhere.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

This ballot box only had room for 9 votes

US Vice President Dick Cheney, near the beginning of his speech to the elite conservative Federalist Society --

It's a privilege, today, to be in the company of my friend Ted Olson. Ted, of course, is a lawyer of high scholarship and persuasiveness. To this day I'm still impressed with his effective performance in a case called Bush v. Gore. (Laughter and applause.)

Dick Cheney, near the end of the same speech --

If an additional reason is needed for courts to show exceeding caution in national security affairs, it is this: They are unaccountable for the consequences of getting it wrong. The security of the country, and the strategies for its defense, are the province of the American people themselves. They exercise that control at the ballot box by voting us in or throwing us out.

[previous instance of right-wing ignorance about how recent presidential elections have been decided]

UPDATE: We should have mentioned Cheney's previous amnesia about 2000. And reacting to the above-linked speech and its reception, the National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez tells the truth -

Federalist Society could double as the official Dick Cheney Fan Club. Where the heck else could you say such a thing? Okay, so maybe at the NRO convention.

Popular at 60mph

A segment from a press briefing today in Hanoi by US National Security Adviser Steven Hadley --

Q And one question on Vietnam. As some of us who were here on the previous trip the President took to Vietnam, when President Clinton came, I guess was at the very end of his presidency -- have been struck a little bit by the difference in tone. It was a different time, of course. But he was out much more in public with the Vietnamese. I know the President went today to a POW/MIA center. I think President Clinton went out to one of the sites where they were recovering -- and so forth, and it was something that whole villages turned out for. I was wondering whether you are concerned at all that the Vietnamese people are not seeing President Bush in their midst quite as much as they might like?

MR. HADLEY: Well, if you'd been part of the President's motorcade as we've shuttled back and forth over the course of the day --

Q I have been in some, yes.

MR. HADLEY: Well, as you can tell, we're in the midst of the Vietnamese people all the time. It's been -- one of the things I think the President has enjoyed is the people hanging out of windows and going up and down the streets. You know, one of the things that's nice about this is the streets have not been cleared, but there are folks coming and going. And the President has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.

Friday, November 17, 2006

John Howard's pride confiscated at airport!

Or maybe he forgot it at home. But anyway, in the same Q&A with Bush as below, a reporter asked about the case of Australian citizen David Hicks, detained indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay --

Q Mr. President, did you discuss the issue of David Hicks at all with the Prime Minister? And when do you think he might come to trial?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, we did. The Prime Minister brought it up. He was pleased that I was able to sign the military tribunal bill -- in other words, a way forward for somebody like Hicks to be able to get a day in court. And he was asking me, do I have a timetable in mind as to when Hicks' trial will be coming forth. I told him I didn't, although we hope that Hicks is one of the early people that will have a day in court.

Interestingly enough, as I understand, Hicks has lawyers that may be trying to appeal certain aspects of the law we passed. If that's the case, he's having his day in court, in an interesting way. But I believe Hicks deserves a trial and is going to get it.

So Howard stood there as Bush gave him something between a brush-off and an outright lie, as there is no immediate plan to try any of the Gitmo detainees, the would-be overseer of such trials having just resigned. Note also Bush's weird implication that one gets one's "day in court" by challenging the system under which you're held, a construction that truly merits the phrase Kafkaesque.

Incidentally, the Q&A ended with a bizarre reminder of Bush's obsession with not seeming weak -- the strong horse:

Q One more, do you feel generous, one more?
PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I'm not generous. It's also hot out here, Gregory. We're in the sun, you're not. (Laughter.)
Q I don't see you sweat.
PRESIDENT BUSH: That's the problem, you might see me sweat.

The Leader does not sweat.

UPDATE: The lack of respect for Australia extends to Condi Rice not knowing the Foreign Minister's name, if this transcript is accurate --

QUESTION: The Australian Government, as you know, has been a close and supportive ally through this enterprise. As this fresh look, as you put it, goes on, what sort of level of consultation can the Australians expect?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I had an extensive discussion yesterday with Alexander Downing,

FINAL UPDATE: A New York Times article about Hicks and his military lawyer Michael Mori.

He only reads it for the sports pages

George Bush, in a photo-op Q&A with Australian PM John Howard --

Q You mentioned troop postures in Iraq. There's a report that you may want to send 30,000 additional troops to Iraq. Is that something --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Where was that report?

Q In the Guardian newspaper.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Guardian newspaper? Well, I don't read that paper often.

Easy to get into, difficult to get out of

Even in the rare admissions of flaws in the planning for the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, the spinners in Washington and London seek to carve out the initial attack, overseen by George Bush's friend General Tommy Franks, as a singular success. Today's kidnappings of foreigners in southern Iraq highlights once again a catastrophic flaw in the Tommy Franks invasion plan -- it never secured the supply line from Kuwait to Baghdad. The track record of invasions of Russia must not be anywhere on the US military strategy curriculum.

UPDATE 29 JULY 2007: Just a note about this kidnapping -- the victims (Joshua Munns, Paul Reuben, Jonathan Cote, John Young, and an unnamed Austrian) have never been found. In strategic terms, they fell foul of the Bush-Franks invasion plan. But in tactical terms, they had the misfortune of working for an unscrupulous employer, the kind that apparently thrives in Iraq.

Adverse selection

Today's New York Times feels the need to provide source protection for this anecdote in an Iraq-Vietnam analogy story --

In private, Mr. Bush says there is another big difference between then and now — the draft. There is little question that by signing up to be a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, the risk was low that he would end up in Vietnam as a 23-year-old. But according to an academic called into the White House recently, Mr. Bush said the administration could never have sustained this effort in Iraq, politically, without an all-volunteer force. He declined to be named because he was relaying a private conversation.

But there is no need for the anonymity or lack of a direct quote, because Bush has been more explicit himself about why this is so: a the conscript army in Vietnam didn't understand the stakes --

Secondly -- which is different from Vietnam -- secondly, in terms of our troops, this is a volunteer Army. Vietnam wasn't a volunteer Army, as you know. And in this volunteer Army, people -- the troops understand the consequences of Iraq in the global war on terror.

The extent to which this inference of stupid conscripts was buried by the media apparently now extends to attaching a veneer of secrecy to other people who report him saying the same thing. The fetishisation of an all-volunteer army probably also explains why this particular Milton Friedman proposal was elevated to prime position in the White House statement marking his death.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Uncle Miltie

The inevitable tributes to Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, who has died, will likely conflate his intellectual brand of conservatism with an implied claim that he was the inspiration for Republican party policies in general, and George Bush policies in particular. This would be wrong, not least because Friedman opposed the Iraq war, on the simple ground that it was a war of aggression.

UPDATE: If one was making a list of Friedman's contributions, would the three issues that get the lead emphasis in the White House statement -- school choice, tax reductions, and an all-volunteer army -- be top of the list? Read a typical obit and see how highly they feature.

Blowing peace and freedom

Mickey and Mitch. George and Laura.

UPDATE: Alternative commentary from watertiger.

Falling value detainees

Among the pre-election stunts by George Bush now quietly dumped was his claim that early in 2007, he would begin his executive branch trials of the 9/11 planners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, having recently moved them to Guantanamo Bay. In fact, yesterday's Wall Street Journal politics blog noted that the would-be overseer of the trials has resigned, no replacement has yet been found, and anyway, none of the 14 "high value detainees" including the suspected 9/11 plotters are slated for trial anytime soon.

UPDATE 18 NOV: There won't even be a building for the trials until July, and that's assuming that Congress approves the money for the structure, which is not guaranteed.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Out of practice?

RTE -- What had been taken to be a dissident republican bomb found near Dundalk, Co Louth, late last month, has now turned out to be a cache of illegal amphetamine.

A rucksack containing 5kg of powder had been discovered on waste ground at Killin. Gardaí called in army bomb disposal experts who said the substance was ammonium nitrate - home-made explosives.

Don't forget the tobacco

In what seems like actual news, if not completely surprising at that, the White House has announced that Lizzie and Phil will undertake a full state visit to the US next year in observance of the 400th anniversary of the oldest English settlement, in Virigina --

Laura and I welcome Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, for a State Visit in May 2007 to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement. The United States and the United Kingdom enjoy an extraordinary friendship that is sustained by deep historical and cultural ties and a commitment to defend freedom around the world.

Hopefully the nascent signs of divergence between the US and UK about how to deal with Iraq will be ironed out by then. Wouldn't want things to be awkward.

He's learned nothing

George Bush has renominated Kenneth Tomlinson, the horse dude, to head the Broadcasting Board of Governors (the overseer of Voice of America, the Public Broadcasting Corp., and all other US government broadcasting activities).

UPDATE 10 JANUARY: Holden notes that Tomlinson has withdrawn his interest in the job.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Special Relationship

One question raised by this headache-inducing White House "Fact (sic) Sheet" on Tony Blair's speech is whether Bush and Blair's spinners cooperated on producing it, as the underlying issue is whether Blair intended to float any new policy proposals in the speech. For one thing, Blair clearly directed more attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict than warranted by Bush's non-existent efforts in that area, so it wouldn't look good if the White House spinners are now claiming -- as they seem to be doing -- that he said nothing new.

UPDATE 27 NOVEMBER: There's an odd subtext to the reaction to Blair's speech which was noted a couple of weeks ago in a New York Times article about the US-Israel relationship --

So Israel has another worry: that Mr. Bush will try to build an anti-Iran coalition by pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.

In September, Israel was abuzz over a speech by an American official that got little coverage in the American news media. Philip D. Zelikow, counselor to Ms. Rice, had addressed the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, considered sympathetic to Israel’s interests, on “Building Security in the Broader Middle East.”

Mr. Zelikow, in the last of 10 points, suggested that to build a coalition to deal with Iran, the United States needed to make progress on solving the Arab-Israeli dispute.

“For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about,” he said.

The message seemed perfectly clear to Israelis: the Bush administration would demand Israeli concessions on the Palestinian issue to hold together an American-led coalition on Iran. American officials were quick to insist that there was no change in American policy, and that Mr. Zelikow was speaking on his own.

Note that Zelikow's sentiments -- portrayed by the White House as freelancing -- are identical to what Blair said ("we should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core"), which in turn the White House says corresponds to the position of George Bush.

That could be anybody's jihad

In a finding that raises questions about whether the medium or the messenger is part of the message, a BBC investigative team found that an expelled Islamic cleric is still reaching adherents via the Internet and making (perhaps empty) threats against the wrong Irish airport --

The joint investigation by File on [Radio] 4 and Newsnight has found Omar Bakri Mohammed broadcasts hatred for the UK using a variety of pseudonyms. He was excluded from the UK last August on the grounds that his presence was "not conducive to the public good." ... Omar Bakri Mohammed ran the radical al-Muhajiroun group from Tottenham, north London, until it was proscribed last year.

But the BBC has learned that he broadcasts online most evenings - a voice recognition expert confirmed that the voice was that of the radical preacher ... A chatroom has been infiltrated by a group called Vigil, which aims to disrupt radical groups and report back to police and security services.

During an online question and answer session a Vigil member asked Omar Bakri Mohammed if Dublin Airport should be a terrorist target because US troops transit there on the way to Iraq.

The cleric replied: "Hit the target and hit it very hard, that issue should be understood. Your situation there is quite difficult therefore the answer lies in your question."

Both the question and answer are vague and confused; for one thing the questioner surely meant to refer to Shannon, not Dublin, although the cleric's endorsement of a hit on the airport is clear enough. What's unknown is the capacity of the audience to carry out the threat, or whether the idea gets more weight when endorsed by a specific person as opposed to just a random pseudonymous lunatic.

Can we have a scale instead of just 0 or 1?

Tony Blair's speech to the Lord Mayor's banquet --

Take any problem Britain wants solving: global terrorism - (assuming you don't believe that but for George Bush it wouldn't exist);

Monday, November 13, 2006

Protection racket: 3

A classic illustration of how blinkered the Irish government can be, via, of all people, Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey, who --

has said he wants the British government to intervene in any bid to take over Northern Ireland Electricity. Mr Empey said he was concerned at reports that the ESB [Electricity Supply Board] is planning a proposal to take over the electricity network.

Northern Ireland Electricity's parent company Viridian is currently the subject of a €2.4 billion takeover by Bahrain investment bank Arcapita. However, reports yesterday suggested ESB would be interested in acquiring the electricity network following suggestions that Arcapita may sell off stakes in Viridian.

Indeed. The Republic's coddled overcharging monopoly would love to take over its only potentially serious competitor and squelch any hope that an all-Ireland electricity market could bring down prices in the Republic. And remember, the ESB has the same owner -- the Irish government -- that is yelling and screaming about the perils of a monopoly in the air travel market if Ryanair is able to take over Aer Lingus. Do they think for a second about whether their positions on related issues are remotely consistent? No.

Protection racket: 2

Since this is not a case about potentially offensive cartoons, it's gotten no attention. But Denmark is trying to punish a newspaper for publishing the truth --

The editor and two reporters from one of Denmark's main newspapers have gone on trial charged with publishing secret intelligence about Iraqi weapons.
In articles published in 2004 they quoted from analysis by a Danish intelligence agent, Frank Grevil.

His report, written before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, concluded that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

One person has already gotten jail time --

Former intelligence officer Major Frank Soeholm Grevil was sentenced last year to four months in jail for leaking the documents to the reporters.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen supported the US-led invasion of Iraq and told parliament he was convinced former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was in possession of WMD.

We'll update as right-wing bloggers take note of this suppression.

UPDATE: Powerline's Hindrocket does take note, but only via a dispute with a second hand account of the trial, and slots it into a larger theme about media rehabilitation of Saddam Hussein.

Protection racket

If this New York Times article is so sure that CNN is using "a cautious interpretation of the law" in making utterances from Bill Maher's appearance on Larry King last week disappear, why don't they print what he actually said? Or are they relying on Google plus a mention of an on-the-case blogger for inquiring minds to figure out what he said?

Angry at Geography

Amid an interesting story about the increasingly acrimonious relationship between Poland and Russia, now mediated via Poland's more pro-Russian partners in the European Union, a Wall Street Journal article (subs. req'd) has this quote --

"Why [take a tough line]? We need to have easy access to the vast reserves of gas that are located in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian region, which are separated from us by Russia," Piotr Wozniak, the economy minister in charge of Poland's energy policy, told reporters in Warsaw on Friday

Which, barring the possibility of invading Russia, sounds like a reason that you'd probably want to be nice to them.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Keeping it unreal

With today being the observance of Veterans' Day in the USA, Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing column at the Washington Post marked it by an excerpt from a soldier's first person account of life in Iraq. In what would count as an insult, except that the soldier (Sharon Allen) more than likely doesn't care, the Post has decided that its readers can't handle the full language in the excerpt; remember these are soldiers who've seen the type of horror that we don't see on our TV screens, and would have nightmares for weeks afterwards if we did:

Jake is one of my best friends out here, and one of the most infuriating people I've ever known. Jake's a former Marine who comes from a Marine family and whose biggest regret is that this isn't "a real war," something on the scale of World War II or Vietnam. I usually point out to him that we didn't lose many people in the first few years of Vietnam, either. And then I say something about how I'm really [expletive deleted by] sorry that not enough of us have died for him to consider this a real war. If I had met Jake in a bar in the States and he had said half the bullshit he says here, well, we definitely would not have become friends. But he's here, too, so I guess he's entitled to his opinion. His son, Joey, will be joining us when he gets out of Basic. I wonder if his opinion will change then.

So the BS word is in, but presumably the f word is out. The phrasing of the deletion implies that Froomkin wanted to include it, but Post editors took it out. Truly absurd.

He's learned nothing

George Bush today at the opening of the new museum dedicated to the US Marines --

And years from now, when America looks out on a democratic Middle East growing in freedom and prosperity, Americans will speak of the battles like Fallujah with the same awe and reverence that we now give to Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. (Applause.)

If cliches were weapons ...

... then the Pentagon would have this Iraq mess won a long time ago --

This week’s elections sent a signal that America, just like Iraq, is in a period of transition, but in no way diminish the two countries’ mutual commitment to success in Iraq, the spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq said today in Baghdad. “Here in Iraq, we look forward to working with a new secretary after the Senate confirmation process,” Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told military analysts by phone.

“We are aware that there will be changes on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon and that a period of transition will occur,” he said. “But we also heard the president’s commitment to sustain our partnership with the people and government of Iraq.”

Events in Iraq demonstrate the complex dynamics involved in transition, Caldwell said. “With transition, obviously, comes change, and with change comes challenges,” he said. “And these challenges are sometimes perceived as setbacks when, in fact, they are actually signs of growth.”

He could have elaborated on the Iraq-US analogy by saying that they both now have "unity governments." And he forgot the bit about the Chinese word for "crisis" being the same as the word for opportunity.

Rest in peace

The architect whose project resulted in this by way of this has died. Enough said.

UPDATE: That Irish Times link is supposed to be free but it's not; get related info here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


The BBC News website has a nice little Ulster-oriented feature on the apparent winner in the Virginia race for US Senate, James Webb. As we noted a couple of years ago, one of Webb's careers (mixed in with an illustrious military record and Reagan appointee) has been chronicling the contribution of the descendants of Scots-Irish immigrants to American wars. Incidentally, it's not clear that David Brooks quite gets this aspect of Webb, judging from his (free this week) column in the NYT --

Webb named his son after Robert E. Lee, and wrote a book, “Born Fighting,” which is a full-throated defense of “Rednecks. Trailer-park trash. Racists. Cannon fodder. My ancestors. My people. Me.”

As Andrew Ferguson noted recently in The Weekly Standard, he took white Protestants — who have always been the villains in movies from "M*A*S*H" to "Remember the Titans" — and he described them as an oppressed minority group. And their oppressors were the highly educated liberal snobs from New York, Washington, San Francisco and L.A.

Note the tell-tale description "Protestant" when "Presbyterian" would be more accurate. Put another way, if you come away from the Brooks column thinking that Webb's book is a defence of the minority group of which the Protestants George Bush and Dick Cheney are a part, then you (and he) have the wrong impression.

One other thing about Webb. Coverage of his victory confirmation is likely to feature strained analogies between any concession by his opponent George Allen and Al Gore's decision to contest the 2000 election count. Which is rubbish. The Allen-Webb outcome will not leave votes uncounted that could change the result. Bush-Gore 2000, which remains the Original Sin of the last 6 years, did.

At the nexus

One of the surprises about George Bush's selection of Robert Gates as Donald Rumsfeld's replacement is the apparent inattention to how difficult it is going to be to get Gates confirmed. On the one hand, Bush could do worse than working through the Bush I Rolodex, but by doing so he finds someone who knows a lot that he hasn't said about the Iran-Contra scandal and the US support for the Afghan mujahideen -- policies with consequences that are of course still with us today. And today's Wall Street Journal editorial (subs. req'd), perhaps feeling a little less encumbered after the election losses, notes another problem --

Which brings us back to Mr. Gates, whose nomination makes us wonder if Mr. Bush is signaling a change in policy, or worse, a new resignation toward Iraq. Mr. Gates is a capable public servant with broad security experience. But much of that experience is with the CIA, which has misjudged the nature of the enemy throughout this conflict. Mr. Gates is also on the Baker-Hamilton study group that Congress established to examine policy options for Iraq, and we hope his nomination doesn't mean Mr. Bush has already signed onto its soon-to-be-released recommendations. One of those proposals is reportedly a new engagement with Iran and Syria, which would make a hash of the President's "freedom agenda."

Most troubling regarding Iraq, Mr. Gates was deputy national security adviser under Brent Scowcroft in 1991, when President Bush's father abandoned the Shiite uprising that followed the first Gulf War. One reason the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki has had such a hard time dismantling Shiite militias is because Shiites fear that it's only a matter of time before the U.S. abandons them again and they will have to confront the Sunni Baathist insurgency on their own. If President Bush wants to reassure Shiites on this score and about Mr. Gates, he should announce that the recent efforts to appease the Sunni terrorist political fronts in Iraq have failed.

They're certainly right to ask for tough confirmation hearings, even if the specific reasons are odd. It's bizarrely insular to assume that Shiites remember who the deputy national security adviser was in 1991 when, if they did, they'd surely remember who the defence secretary was back then too. Note also the Journal's persistent view that Bush's troubles spring from a CIA "war" on the administration or from a potential coddling of Iran -- not complaints that one is likely to hear in the reality-based community.

UPDATE 10 NOV: The opposition to Robert Gates spreads across the WSJ op-ed page. Bush's plan to get him confirmed in the lame duck session might be in trouble -- from within his own base.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The more men, the lesser share of honour

In a sequence perhaps revealing of how George Bush has rationalized his Vietnam draft dodge to himself, today's news conference (also here) got around to the topic of Vietnam-Iraq analogies, and Bush claimed that one difference between the wars arose from the former being fought with a conscript army and the latter with a volunteer army, with the result that only the latter understood the stakes.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you mentioned the prospect that your successor would be dealing with the war. You'll be making your first trip to Vietnam in roughly a week. Some people are looking at the war as another Vietnam War. Are they wrong to do so? And, if so, why?

BUSH: I think they are. I think they are. First of all, Iraq is -- after the overthrow of the tyrant, voted on a constitution that is intended to unite the whole country. And then they had elections under that constitution where nearly 12 million people voted for this unity government.

Secondly -- which is different from Vietnam -- secondly, in terms of our troops, this is a volunteer Army. Vietnam wasn't a volunteer Army, as you know. And in this volunteer Army, people -- the troops understand the consequences of Iraq in the global war on terror.

It's quite an inversion to say that it's the less selective army was the one that didn't understand the importance of their war, not to mention Bush's apparent insinuation that the people who stayed out of Vietnam had a better view of its importance than those who went.

UPDATE: The remark is getting regrettably little attention, especially when compared to the staged uproar about John Kerry's comments. But Maureen Dowd noticed (link free this week with Philips ad).

W. also managed to bash Vietnam vets, saying that this war isn’t similar because there’s a volunteer army, so “the troops understand the consequences of Iraq in the global war on terror.” Is that why W. stayed out of Vietnam? Because he understood it?

Bush news conference

1. An admission that he lied to reporters last week when he said he was keeping Donald Rumsfeld in his job; the decision had already been made last week that he would resign.

[he's now qualifying this to say that he knew Rumseld was going but hadn't confirmed this with his intended successor]

2. An admission that the statement "However they put it, the Democrat approach comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses" was meaningless.

3. Said in the "you talking to me?" voice: "you think I'm nuts?"

4. A claim that the spinners are going to have to walk back very quickly, that because the Vietnam era army was a conscript army, the soldiers then didn't understand the stakes, but the all volunteer army in Iraq does.

5. Freudian slip -- "It's hard to win an election when you're trying to win a write-off write-in." (the latter a reference to Tom DeLay being on the ballot but not a candidate in Texas)

[UPDATE: Much more analysis of the event from Dan Froomkin]

More medals of freedom

The first official action from the White House since the election losses is to announce the list of recipients of various honourary medals, to be awarded in a few days time. Among those on the list for National Humanities Medals--

The Hoover Institution (John Raisian, Senior Fellow and Director of the Hoover Institution, will accept the award on behalf of the Institution) - Palo Alto, CA

Bernard Lewis, Middle Eastern Studies Scholar - Princeton, NJ

This would be the Bernard Lewis who is the intellectual source of Bush's obsession with Osama Bin Laden's "strong horse" prescription for the reforming of the Middle East, and who predicted that an Iranian nuclear detonation would take place on 22nd August. And the full name of the institutional recipient is The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace. Note the ordering.

In the wrong town

If Bono is going public with his concerns about Guantanamo Bay detentions, to the point of singling out a specific detainee, David Hicks, for mention before Sunday Bloody Sunday, shouldn't he be raising these concerns with George W. Bush and not with Australian PM John Howard?

Keeping it simple

In what looks like a pre-emptive attempt to package George Bush as a details man, his speechwriters have given some insights into his methodology for Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subs' req'd) --

Mr. McGurn [lead speechwriter] says the president uses the "track changes" feature in Microsoft Word software to compare drafts of each address and ensure that the speechwriters are following his directions. Mr. Bush took a class on American oratory during his undergraduate years at Yale, and Mr. McGurn says the president is quick to point out perceived weaknesses in the drafts of his speeches.

Remember this is the man who doesn't use e-mail and refers to using "the Google," but it's always possible that he's directed all his computer skills into Word. Unfortunately it's unlikely that the iterations of these speeches will be preserved for historians to see.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Kurdish solution to a Kurdish problem

As part of a recent effort to repackage himself as a contrarian (perhaps in anticipation of 2 years of a Bush implosion), Christopher Hitchens uses his Slate column to argue against the death penalty for Saddam Hussein. While acknowledging that there are good arguments for execution even for those who generally oppose capital punishment, Hitch grounds his opposition in that of his heroes, the Kurds --

But the irony, if there is any, is actually the other way around. The elected president of Iraq, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, is opposed on principle to capital punishment .... he [deputy PM Barham Salih] told me that he hoped the new Iraq would abolish capital punishment "even when we capture Saddam Hussein." Like many leading Kurds, he had been influenced by discussions with Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of former French President François Mitterrand, who was a great friend of Kurdistan as well as a stern foe of capital punishment. The idea was that the new Iraq would begin life without the death penalty ... It is a shame that the Kurds were not part of the centerpiece of this trial, just as it is impressive that their leaders are the ones most in favor of magnanimity. And these, by the way, are the people that every liberal in the world is currently arguing that we should desert.

Regrettably for Hitch's romanticised view of the Kurds, it now turns out that the Saddam death warrant was in effect signed as part of the negotiations -- overseen by US Ambassador Zal Khalilzad -- that led to the formation of the unity (sic) government (sic) last Spring. The Associated Press has the details --

If the appeals court upholds the sentences, all three members of the Presidential Council — President Jalal Talabani and Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashimi and Adil Abdul-Mahdi — must sign death warrants before executions can be carried out.

Talabani said Monday that although he opposes capital punishment, his signature is not needed to carry out Saddam's death sentence. Talabani, a Kurd, has permanently authorized Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, to sign on his behalf. Abdul-Mahdi has said he would sign Saddam's death warrant, meaning two of three signatures were assured.

Al-Hashimi, the other vice president and a Sunni, gave his word that he also would sign a Saddam death sentence as part of the deal under which he got the job April 22, according to witnesses at the meeting, which was attended by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

"We wanted a written promise before the first meeting of the new parliament. But later and during a meeting in the presence of American and British ambassadors and other politicians, the promise became oral in which he vowed not to oppose important rules and laws — especially those related to Saddam," Deputy Parliament Speaker Khaled al-Attiyah told the AP.

Thus the approval of the death penalties handed down Sunday for Saddam, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, chief of the Revolutionary Court, had been part of the pact under which al-Hashimi got one of two vice presidential posts.

Thus the Kurdish opposition to the death penalty only extended to "ethical subsidiarity" as the Europeans say, and the Sunnis only got slots in the government on condition that they agreed to it in advance -- in a deal brokered by the US. And there's still that strange business about why the verdict was announced before it was actually ready (see also here). Hitch still chooses not to realise the degree to which he's sucked in; there are not going to many noble interpretations of Iraq available, despite his best efforts.

UPDATE: It's odd that Tony Blair sounded so peeved about being asked whether he supported the Saddam verdict at his monthly news conference today, since as the report above notes, the British ambassador to Iraq was at the meetings the death penalty agreement was reached. Similarly, does Margaret Beckett understand what her ambassador apparently already knew last April? [Finally, here's a fresh AP link that has the same content regarding the signatures as the now dead link above]

So the BBC is biased after all!

Against Liverpool anyway -- as this opening sentence reveals:

A fashion show featuring footballers' wives is to be one of the highlights of Liverpool's Capital of Culture year.

Creating his own metaphor

Pascal Lamy, the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (which, through no fault of his, is about as effective as the "World Organisation" occasionally seen in Austin Powers films) ran the New York City Marathon yesterday. He finished in 3:50 which is not bad at all, although the average speed of 8.5 miles an hour is nicely representative of the pace of global trade talks.

Turn left in Bushland

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds decided to turn the tables on his RTE Prime Time interviewers (due to air tomorrow night) and conduct his own interview (with Mrs Instapundit) of Mark Little and Ken O'Shea at a restaurant in Knoxville. The soundfile is here. For the most part it's a fairly standard interchange of the quite different political perspectives one would expect, as the RTE lads stayed politely sk(c)eptical about the War on Terror. Unfortunately, the perils of impromptu interviewing meant that Instapundit's memory drive got full just as Mark Little was on to an interesting rumination about the incomptability of Irish and immigrant Muslim culture.

Reynolds makes his most perceptive comment in his roundup at the end, noting that in a political environment described as having "no ideological battles" (as Irish politics had been described to him), it just means that one ideology has won but doesn't realise that there are still others out there. Anyway, worth a listen, especially for anyone who does watch the Prime Time counterpart.

It's a term of art

George Bush at a rally in Nebraska today, explaining his rationale for warrantless wiretaps --

And so I talked to the -- our phone boys, and I said, if they're calling in, if al Qaeda is making a phone call from outside the United States to inside, or if somebody affiliated with the enemy is making a phone call from outside to inside, we better understand why.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Getting out the Supreme Court voters

Towards the end of a comprehensively delusional interview by Dick Cheney on ABC --

Q No, you don't think it's going to hold down turn-out [the Ted Haggard affair]. Are you worried about conservative turn-out? You worried about it crumbling?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: You always worry about turn-out. You always focus on it. And the key to our success, I think, both in 2000 and 2004 has been we had a first class turn-out operation.

To state the obvious: the 2000 election turned on the design of ballots in Palm Beach County, the decisions of the state official in charge of elections, Republican Katherine Harris, and the 5-4 decision of the US Supreme Court to select George Bush as President. If had depended on turn-out, Al Gore, who got more voters nationally and more voters in Florida who intended to vote for him, would have won.

[This is another example of the Right's bizarre amnesia about how recent elections have been decided. One possibility in the above is that Cheney meant to say 2002 and not 2000, but he said what he said]

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More historic information

A bizarre claim today from Condoleezza Rice in an interview with Bloomberg News --

QUESTION: You mentioned stability and you mentioned chaos in that answer. The New York Times published a chart this past week, a Pentagon chart, which has stability on one side, chaos on the other side, and it shows a steady continuum in Iraq of it moving closer to chaos.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I haven't seen that chart.

The chart -- circulated within the Pentagon, seen in the New York Times and from there seen all over the Internet, and the Secretary of State says she hasn't seen it?

She did tell a less incredible tale to Laura Ingraham, though --

You know, I wander around the White House a fair amount.

Gentlemen of blood and quality

The lesser-spotted sane Christopher Hitchens pops up in Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) to hint that, besides having genuinely botched a joke, John Kerry would have had a point had he actually made his alleged claim that the US troops in Iraq are disproportionately less well credentialed educationally. Hitchens accepted a challenge from conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt to give out his personal e-mail address on air to get what Hewitt believed would be a more representative selection of military e-mails critical of Kerry. So --

I have since had the chance to read about 500 or 600 messages. Almost all of them politely phrased (I exempt one from "the Riordan family" who evidently have not forgiven the long history of British depredation in Ireland) and almost all of them appending the list of college degrees as well as of medals and citations held, these letters show a very deep and interesting rift in which Mr. Kerry plays only a secondary part. Many of my respondents agreed that his words may not have meant or intended quite what they first seemed to mean, but they also felt that the klutziness was Freudian, so to speak, in that the senator's patrician contempt for grunts and dogfaces was bound to come out sooner or later.

One thing I already knew is confirmed -- there is a very great deal of class resentment in these United States. Another thing I wasn't so sure of is also confirmed -- James Webb in Virginia is right to stress the huge rage felt by those of Scots-Irish provenance who feel that they have born the heat and burden of the day in America's wars, and been rewarded with disdain.

Even my most relaxed soldier-correspondent from Iraq itself (a highly educated friend of faultlessly Irish extraction) confessed to a feeling of irritation at the few chances he had to meet Ivy League types in uniform.

Which hits several interesting points. It's over two years ago that we noted James Webb's account of the crucial role that the Scots-Irish played in staffing the US military from the very early days; it's interesting to look back at that now and see Webb in what was clearly, in retrospect, the beginnings of disillusionment with Republicans -- a path that now sees him as the Democratic candidate for US Senate in Virginia.

Anyway, Hitch's e-mail invitation seems to have attracted a more general cross-section of Irish-Americans, but probably not many members of the elite circle that George W. Bush moves in. It's also true that the media rarely pass up a chance to fete any Ivy Leaguer-in-uniform that they do come across; witness the excellent coverage that the Princeton-educated General David Petraeus can always get.

One final observation: with the Green Day video for Wake Me Up When September Ends, no one complained about the stereotypical depiction of a straight-out-of-school small-town teenager heading off to Iraq. Because it seemed realistic.

Friday, November 03, 2006

No hat, no dog, and no cattle

It's not his hat. And [video], it's not his dog.

The new WMD

Today in Missouri, George Bush went into more length than usual about his frequent suggestion that the Iraq invasion really was about oil --

Imagine the radicals and extremists taking over a country, and they were able to pull millions of barrels of oil off the market, driving the price up to $300 or $400 a barrel, whatever it would be, and saying, okay, we'll reduce the price, all you've got to do is surrender. All you've got to do is abandon your alliance with Israel, and we'll lower the price. All you've got to do is retreat.

Three questions: Death and destruction in Iraq won't bring surrender but more expensive oil would? Osama would go to all that trouble just to be able to act like a cartel? And wouldn't he need Sunni fundamentalist extremists in charge of OPEC to do it? Oh, wait ...

UPDATE 6 NOVEMBER: Further analysis of this point via Dan Froomkin (scroll down to Blood and Oil).

Not the meaning he intended

Powerline's "Hindrocket"

Is a vote for the Democrats a vote for the terrorists? No Republican would dare say such a thing, but the terrorists do.

Hindrocket's Messiah, George W. Bush:

However they put it, the Democrat approach comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses.

In his box

A bunch of warbloggers have today admitted that Saddam Hussein's regime spent the 1990s with the technical knowledge to construct a nuclear weapon, but was unable to implement it because of the constraints of UN sanctions.

UPDATE: Prime example of someone not seeing the logical implication of Saddam having the valuable information but not able to use it: Michael Ledeen. But thanks to efforts of people like him, the Iranians can now use it.

The first mile

Is it possible to provide improved service to customers and extract hundreds of millions of euros for owners with a single corporate strategy? The claimed answer from Eircom's new Australian owners is Yes. Friday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) has a detailed report on how the owners plan to extract value from the Irish telecoms market. Rather than the traditional approach to such companies, splitting the fixed line and mobile businesses (moot in Eircom's case anyway), Eircom is apparently proposing to split the business into a line network and a services network. The line network would own all the switching and wires and would sell usage of it to service providers.

It's at this point that the rationale gets tricky. Eircom is going to claim that this is a good deal for customers, because the line network could be split off and regulated to keep prices under control -- but also a good deal for them, because the market would value the line network more highly as a separate entity than it does at the moment. That value has to be coming from somewhere. The closest we get to an explanation is this --

Because Ireland has a relatively small population of about four million spread out over the island, it would be too expensive for any competitor to build a network reaching all the homes and offices, leaving Eircom with a monopoly. The company must share the network by leasing access to competitors and others such as Internet providers, but the system for doing that is clumsy and loses money and is a headache for regulators.

"We share, but we share begrudgingly," Mr. Topfer says. The answer, he says, is to hive off the network and regulate it like a utility. For the regulator, such an outcome would be "nirvana," he adds.

i.e. the network would be a monopoly but it would be a nice one because regulators wouldn't let it do any nasty stuff like jacking up the price for network access. Which is very questionable. The entire scheme of a separate hardware network selling access to providers sounds suspicously like the UK's Network Rail/Railtrack, generally recognised as a disaster. And it also sounds a lot like the deregulated power supply market in the US, in which the monopolistic aspects were supposed to be dealt with by these same omniscient regulators. In fact, the market seems to understand this potential for monopoly power quite well, hence the high value allegedly attached to a stand-alone network.

Speaking of power supply and regulators, is anyone in Dublin looking into why big chunks of the Poolbeg power station have been offline (subs. req'd) for nearly a year, given the role that strategic power station "maintenance" shutdowns played in driving up the price of electricity in California in 2000-01? Today the ESB, tomorrow Network Eircom?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Yes, that's really his name

[BBC] Itai Pinkas, a member of Tel Aviv's city council and a gay community leader, told Israel's Haaretz newspaper the attack was a "malicious provocation".

Wish fulfillment

George Bush keeps using this line, so the focus groups must love it, but it's perhaps the most bizarre rationale of any offered for the Iraq war --

Oh, I hear them in Washington all the time saying Iraq is just a distraction from the war on terror. I don't believe it's a distraction. Our troops know it is not a distraction in the war on terror. And guess who else doesn't think it's a distraction? Osama bin Laden.

Soccer and rappers

We're not entirely sure what the mutual fascination is but here's more evidence:

[Manchester] United were paid a visit in their hotel on Tuesday night by P Diddy, the rap star who is due to appear at the MTV European Music Awards in Copenhagen this evening. He chatted with [Alex] Ferguson, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand for half an hour, the nature of his conversation with the United manager an intriguing thought.

Winds of change

One minor point of curiosity about P.W. Botha's funeral next week is whether the apparently immortal Ian Smith will show up.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

So who has to apologise?

From the Pentagon's website, a photo insight into a day in the lives of Iraqis (in Fallujah) and Americans.


Giving his two cents to the fake John Kerry "outrage" story, Victor Davis Hanson at National Review's The Corner notes --

It used to be that millionaire FDRs and JFKs felt sympathy for those of the lower classes and wished to ensure that the hoi polloi had some shot at the American dream.

Samples of VDH's bio:

Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (B.A. 1975), the American School of Classical Studies (1978–79) and received his Ph.D. in classics from Stanford University in 1980 ... Hanson was a full-time farmer before joining California State University, Fresno, in 1984 to initiate a classics program. In 1991 he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country's top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin..

All those credentials, and he commits this grammatical blunder?

Usage Note: Hoi polloi is a borrowing of the Greek phrase hoi polloi, consisting of hoi, meaning “the” and used before a plural, and polloi, the plural of polus, “many. ... Since the Greek phrase includes an article, some critics have argued that the phrase the hoi polloi is redundant.

Now, the above goes on to argue that it may be pedantic to criticise "the hoi polloi" -- but how could an academic and self-proclaimed expert in ancient Greece make that excuse?

UPDATE: In fairness to the Corner, John Derbyshire is doing a fine job of being the contrarian on the Kerry story.

Le monde, c'est moi

In a column that takes his self-parodic tendencies up to 11, Tom Friedman today (subs. req'd) inadvertently announces his retirement --

You know the old story, ''As my Parisian taxi driver said to me about the French elections '' Well, you can forget about reading columns starting that way anymore. My driver was too busy to say hello, let alone opine on politics.

We also can't let pass an insight into the music preferences of the Globalist-in-Chief --

After the car started to roll, I saw he had a movie playing on the screen in the dashboard -- on the flat panel that usually displays the G.P.S. road map. I noticed this because between his talking on the phone and the movie, I could barely concentrate. I, alas, was in the back seat trying to finish a column on my laptop. When I wrote all that I could, I got out my iPod and listened to a Stevie Nicks album, while he went on talking, driving and watching the movie.

With everyone now too busy to write Friedman's columns for him, could it have been Trouble in Shangri-La?

A different 5th of November

Seemingly unrelated corrections from the New York Times today --

A map with an article on Oct. 27 about motorists’ anger in Britain over cameras along the roads that help identify speeders incorrectly applied a shading to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that made them look as if they are not part of Britain.

The London Journal article yesterday, about the irritation with Halloween expressed by many Britons, misstated the nationality of Guy Fawkes, who was the perpetrator of a failed plot to blow up Parliament in 1605 and is the inspiration for a traditional fall holiday in Britain known as Bonfire Night. Fawkes was English, not Irish.

Word from the wise

In the context of the latest phony outrage over words (in this case, from John Kerry), not needs or deeds, consider this Paul Krugman advice from 3 years ago --

Don't fall for political histrionics. I couldn't believe how much ink was spilled after the Gore-Dean event over Joe Lieberman's hurt feelings. Folks, we're talking about war, peace and the future of U.S. democracy — not about who takes whom to the prom.

Political operatives have become experts at manufacturing the appearance of outrage. In the last few weeks the usual suspects have been trying to paint Howard Dean's obviously heartfelt comments about his brother's death in Laos as some sort of insult to the military. We owe it to our readers not to fall for these tricks.