Cindy Sheehan and Wonkette

Wonkette writes something that sums up my view on Cindy Sheehan (if not about the Bush Administration):

Is that what the debate has come to? Which side can corral the saddest crop of widows, parents, and orphans? Call it a harms race. Better: an ache-off. We hope the grimly absurd image of two competing camps of mourners illustrates why it is we’ve been somewhat reluctant to weigh in on Sheehan’s cause: Grief can pull a person in any direction, and whatever “moral authority” it imbues, we can’t claim that Sheehan has it and those mothers who still support the war don’t. The Bush administration knows all about exploiting tragedy for its own causes, including re-election. Whatever arguments there are against the war in Iraq, let’s not make “I have more despairing mothers on my side” one of them. The only way to win a grief contest is for more people to die.

Somone Tell Frank Rich…

Frank Rich writes in the New York Times:

LIKE the Japanese soldier marooned on an island for years after V-J Day, President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over. “We will stay the course,” he insistently tells us from his Texas ranch. What do you mean we, white man?

A president can’t stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won’t stay with him. The approval rate for Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq plunged to 34 percent in last weekend’s Newsweek poll – a match for the 32 percent that approved L.B.J.’s handling of Vietnam in early March 1968. (The two presidents’ overall approval ratings have also converged: 41 percent for Johnson then, 42 percent for Bush now.) On March 31, 1968, as L.B.J.’s ratings plummeted further, he announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, commencing our long extrication from that quagmire.

I almost feel churlish wondering how it is that one of the largest opinion-manufacturing organizations in the world can comment on the state of public opinion as the justification for policy changes without at least acknowledging his and his organization’s role in shaping that opinion.

I’d also feel churlish – if it didn’t feel so good – reminding Mr. Frank that unlike L.B.J., Bush won.

Yes, his plummeting approval ratings matter – as does the overall level of fatigue around the war. But Bush will be President until January 20, 2009 – no matter what Frank Rich says.

But we’re in an interesting race here, between the declining credibility and business viability of the New York Times and its peers, and the decline in political will to keep fighting until we win in Iraq.

British Capture Weapons on the Iran Border

Britain yesterday described as “unacceptable” the smuggling of weapons from Iran into Iraq after revealing that a consignment was intercepted at the border between the two countries.

While complaints have been made in the past, it is relatively rare to have concrete evidence of such smuggling.

Here’s the evidence, from the Guardian:

Iran has repeatedly denied any involvement in the insurgency or party politics in Iraq.

A senior British official disclosed yesterday details of the incident two weeks ago when a group crossing from Iran was intercepted near Maysan, which is in the British controlled sector of Iraq. Iraqi security forces opened fire and the smugglers fled back to Iran leaving their cache of timers, detonators and other bomb-making equipment.

The British official said he did not know the identity of the group or those behind it but said it had the “fingerprints” of either Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, controlled by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or the Lebanese based Hizbullah which Tehran backs. The incident came against a backdrop of tension between Iran and the west over allegations that Tehran is intent on securing a nuclear-weapons capability.

Well, then…

Serendipity

I’m in D.C. for a class (hang on, the electrodes Rove is implanting are itching a bit) which finished about 6:30 tonight. I missed joining the rest for dinner because I had to work for a few hours first.

As I walked from my hotel through the GWU campus, looking for a light meal, I saw the neon sign of a Baja Fresh – a good Mexican fast-food chain that’s also near my house. I walked over, and just as I was about to cross the street, I saw a neon sign on a basement restaurant – El Chalan at 20th and I. It turns out to have yummy Peruvian food – a great chicken in peanut-garlic sauce made a much better dinner than a couple of soft tacos.

It’s largely luck, but it also helps to be willing to look.

Fatigue

Christopher Hitchens has an article in Salon about Iraq and our attitudes toward it. He opens:

Another request in my in-box, asking if I’ll be interviewed about Iraq for a piece “dealing with how writers and intellectuals are dealing with the state of the war, whether it’s causing depression of any sort, if people are rethinking their positions or if they simply aren’t talking about it.” I suppose that I’ll keep on being asked this until I give the right answer, which I suspect is “Uncle.”

As we approach a domestic election cycle, war fatigue becomes more and more of an issue.Chris Bertram replies to Hitchens:

Needless to say there isn’t a mention of the fact that they wouldn’t be under assault from “the vilest movement on the face of the planet”, nor would that movement be as strong as it presently is, but for the policy that Hitchens and his co-thinkers promoted in the first place. Oh, sorry, I didn’t notice at first, but Hitchens doesn’t believe that since he claims:
Bad as Iraq may look now, it is nothing to what it would have become without the steadying influence of coalition forces. None of the many blunders in postwar planning make any essential difference to that conclusion. Indeed, by drawing attention to the ruined condition of the Iraqi society and its infrastructure, they serve to reinforce the point.

The “steadying influence of coalition forces” …..

Well, I guess Chris is kind of right; oppressive tyrannies are more stable. For a while. If you don’t mind the human cost. Until they need to attack their neighbors to try and maintain their power. Or until they feed human and financial (and possibly technical) capital into a worldwide conspiracy dedicated to destabilizing the world order so a new, purer one can triumph.

The sense of fatigue in the chattering classes is palpable. They’re tired of the war, resentful that it’s not going better, despairing of the sacrifices involved. I’d been meaning to blog about the similar effects in World War II (Churchill lost the election, and when Morgenthau visited England after D-Day, Churchill wasn’t willing to walk him around London for fear that Londoners would jeer him.) and the Korean War (Truman’s approval ratings were in the 30’s toward the end of that war) and how democracies don’t do well in long wars.

I was looking for an explanation of how much stronger that fatigue is today when I finally read the back of this month’s Atlantic, and read Cathy Seipp’s friend Sandra Tsing Loh’s review of a book on a modern marriage, Unraveled by Maria Housden. Sandra writes:

Finally, an American mother who stopped her yammering and found a stunningly simple solution to the work-life balance problem: she left her family—her husband and three small children!

The author goes on to forge a new life for herself, living her bliss with a hunky New-Age kind of husband in the redwoods of Northern California. She sees her children on alternating weekends and summers.

Loh’s response to this flight from duty into bliss is right on:

Still puzzling over what, exactly, Mark Matousek was thinking when he mentioned The Road Less Traveled [in lauding Unraveled – ed.], I flopped open our old water-spotted 1978 copy and read,
Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* …

Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others.

*The first of the “Four Noble Truths” which Buddha taught was “Life is suffering.”

Stuff is hard.

War is probably the hardest stuff of all, and sadly, there is no hunky new-age husband and no redwood-shaded architecturally-crafted cabin where we can hide from it.

Charitably, I’ll assume that people arguing “Out Now!” believe that we can somehow decompose the war in Iraq from the overall war between Al-Quieda and the West. I obviously don’t believe so.

It appears that they don’t either.

Well, the Al-Reuters Name Isn’t Taken.

Reuters and the UN are backing a news agency in Iraq:

“The development of a robust, independent and reliable media industry in Iraq is of fundamental importance to the world’s understanding of this nation and its people.

“This new agency, the first of its kind in Iraq’s history, will have a profound effect on how this country’s story is told.”

Geert Linnebank, the Reuters editor-in-chief

Having an independent Iraqi news service, with Iraqi reporters and editors: a great thing.

Having it led by Reuters, which is characteristically pro-insurgent and anti-West: not so great. Although the involvement by the UN, which is under a microscope and has taken strides toward supporting post-war development in Iraq could be good.

I hope.

Four Guys From A Gym in Leeds. Right.

From the Counterterrorism Blog:

Also, today’s London Observer reports that “Saudi Arabia officially warned Britain of an imminent terrorist attack on London just weeks ahead of the 7 July bombings after calls from one of al-Qaeda’s most wanted operatives were traced to an active cell in the United Kingdom.” Recall that last week, Italian authorities revealed that they traced a call from Hussain Osman, another 7/21 suspect now held in Rome, to Saudi Arabia. If the details of the new Saudi claim are true, it raises the possibility that the London attackers were closely allied with the Saudi-based al-Qaeda group, which is presumed to be funded from and protected by sympathetic Saudis.

The nightmare, of course, is ‘spontaneously generated’ terror cells that draw from the media-spread ideology and techniques that they create themselves or adopt from what they’ve read.

The evidence, however, keeps pointing to a network of recruiters, financiers, and bombmakers directed by another network managed from some central group or point.

The revolutionary fantasy of an avalanche of a spontaneous ‘movement’ triggered by a few vanguard pebbles keeps getting reduced – as demonstrated in Chang’s book – to a network founded, funded, and led by shadowy figures tied to mainstream geopolitics.

The Atlantic On Arafat and Experts

Go buy the Atlantic this month.

There are two great articles in it; the first is a long review of Arafat’s damage to the Palestinian people.

“No doubt Arafat was a great man,” al-Masri says. “No doubt he had vision. Most of the people that you see now being very important, I see them wanting the grace of Yasir Arafat. They want to be in his grace. Ah, he thought money was power,” al-Masri adds, with a wistful glance around his study. The money he spent to buy the loyalty of his court, al-Masri gently suggests, could easily have paid for a functioning Palestinian state instead.

“With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.”

Read the rest, as they say.The other is an editorial about the Supreme Court.

I’ve been working on some questions in case the makers of Trivial Pursuit ever decide to put forth a Supreme Court edition: Now that Sandra Day O’Connor has announced her retirement, how many remaining justices have ever held elected office? How many have previously served at the highest levels of the executive branch of government? How many have argued big-time commercial lawsuits within the past thirty-five years? How many have ever been either criminal defense lawyers or trial prosecutors? How many have presided over even a single criminal or civil trial? The answers are zero, zero, zero, one, and one, respectively. (David Souter was a New Hampshire prosecutor once upon a time.)

The answers would have been starkly different fifty years ago. Five of the nine justices who decided Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, had once worked as trial prosecutors, and several had substantial hands-on experience in commercial litigation. More famously, that Court included a former governor, three former senators, two former attorneys general, two former solicitors general, and a former SEC chairman.

I’m working on a long post on “experts” and how the rise of a class of clean-hands thinkers with little experience in the messy world outside academia, the executive branch, and think tanks are screwing things up. This fact adds a little fillip to that point.