Thursday, March 05, 2009

Barack's tales of celebrity

Starting with talk of war crimes. Yesterday in Geneva the United Nations General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto, speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, called for an investigation into the crimes going on in Iraq. Donn Bobb (United Nations Radio, link has text and audio) reports:

UN General Assembly President, Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann on Wednesday urged the Human Rights Council to investigate "massive human rights violations" in Iraq.
The Nicaraguan diplomat describes Iraq as "a contemporary and on-going example of how the illegal use of force leads inexorably to human suffering and disregard for human rights."
He says "it sets a number of precedents that we cannot allow to stand."
"The illegality of the use of force against Iraq cannot be doubted as it runs contrary to the prohibition of the use of force in..the United Nations Charter. All pretended justifications notwithstanding, the aggressions against Iraq and Afghanistan and their occupations, constitute atrocities that must be condemned and repudiated by all who believe in the rule of law in international relations."
General Assembly President D'escoto suggests the Council consider appointing a special mechanism to report on Iraq.
Mr. D'escoto cites "reliable" estimates of over a million deaths in Iraq "as a result of the US-led aggression and occupation", saying " and still there is no rapporteur".
He says this was a serious omission that should be corrected.

D'Escoto also called for human rights to be seen in a more encompassing manner stating, "I see a profound relationship between access to safe drinking water and sanitation and the enjoyment of the right to life or health. Indeed, access to water is indispensable for a life in dignity and a prerequisite for the enjoyment of other human rights." Iran's Press TV states, "The UN General Assembly president's fiery speech coincided with the Obama administration's decision to take up observer status on the Human Rights Council -- which the Bush administration had boycotted. "

Friday Barack gave his kind-of-sort-of-leaving-Iraq-if-you-pretend-with-me speech at Camp Lejeune.  Monday, USA Today's Susan Page hosted The Diane Rehm Show and the first hour was a discussion on Iraq (here for just that hour).  Her guests were Tom Andrews (Win Without War), Michael O'Hanlon (right-leaning, War Hawkian Brookings Institution), Paul Pillar (former CIA, Georgetown University professor) and Thomas E. Ricks whose most recent book is  The Gamble:

Susan Page: Well Tom Ricks, in brief, what is this new strategy that the president outlined on Friday?
Thomas E. Ricks: It was presented as a way to end the war . He said that we'll start drawing down troops at an undetermined rate over the next couple of years and that by August of 2010, next year, we'll be down to what he called a non-combat force that would then do the next year of transition to Iraqi forces.  Oddly reminescent in many ways of President Bush's plan to accomplish the mission and stand down as they stand up.
Susan Page: Do you see, Michael O'Hanlon, big differences in what we would be doing in Iraq if President Bush were still in office and what President Obama has outlined?
Michael O'Hanlon: That's a good question, Susan.  Probably not enormous.  [. . . ] I think Mr. Obama, by going with the 19 months and then, as Tom says, keeping 50,000 thereafter is perhaps a little faster than Bush or [Senator and GOP presidential nomine John] McCain would have been but that 50,000 number is key and I'm sure we'll come back to that.  That retains a lot of capability and that, I think, closes the difference between Obama and McCain - Bush which is why I'm sure Senator McCain endorsed it the other day.
Susan Page: Well, Paul Pillar, is there -- President Obama says he's withdrawing combat troops but leaving 35,000 to 50,000 US troops there.  Is it a meaningful distinction that they will not be combat troops?
Paul Pillar: Good question.  It's not an obvious distinction because -- well the president laid out three missions for the so-called transitional force.  The residual is not the preferred term, it's a transitional force.  One was training.  A second was counterterrorism.  A third was protect everything else we're doing there. If you talk about something like training, it's not a matter of US officers standing up in a safe classroom and lecturing.  We're talking about side-by-side operations, we're talking about American troops still being in harms way.  There will still be casulties incurred.  So I think some of the questions we heard on Capitol Hill from Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and others about whether this 35 to 50,000 troop range really makes sense is not just disatisafaction or impatience with getting this thing over with.  It reflects a real question about what the mission is going to be so that the combat versus noncombat distinction is still a question that hasn't really been resolved. 
Susan Page: Well Tom Ricks is it clear to you what the mission of these transitional US forces will be?
Thomas E. Ricks: It's clear to me what President Obama said it would be: not to fight.  But as Professor Pillar points out it's just a bizarre thing to say, that these are troops who are not combat troops.  The heart of this mission is going to be two combat brigades.  Now they're going to be renamed something like advisory units but look you can call them Mousekateers if you want.  They are US army soldiers going in harm's way with bombs going off, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.  Troops will still be dying after August 2010 and I don't think a lot of Americans get that.  For that matter, I think US troops will be dying in Iraq after the SOFA [Status Of Forces Agreement] comes to fruition in 2011.
Susan Page: Now the SOFA agreement is the Status Of Forces Agreement and that calls for all US troops to be out by when?
Thomas E. Ricks: By the end of 2011.  Except unless it's renegoiated and I think the SOFA was all about getting through 2009 and taking the American troop presence off the table as a divisive issue in domestic Iraqi politics.  So you get to that point and they say, "Well actually, we'd like you to stay."  And I think this residual force that President Obama laid out is the same thing I heard about in Baghdad last summer.  They talked about the post-occupation force and oddly enough it's very similar to what they talked about in Baghdad with me last summer which was 30 to 50,000 troops because it's really hard to get smaller than that and still have an effective force.  There's a lot of minimums you need. [. . .]
Susan Page: Well before you get to the post-occupancy force you've got to get to the point where you're actually withdrawing these troops and Michael O'Hanlon, he's -- President Obama's indicated that these troops wouldn't be coming out a brigade a month which is what he talked about during the campaign but that rather this withdrawal would be pretty backloaded after elections toward the end of the year in Iraq.  And I wonder, do you think this timetable is likely to hold up?  Will events allow it to proceed the way President Obama outlined it on Friday?
Michael O'Hanlon: I -- I hope so.  There's a decent chance by the way let me agree very much in answering with Paul and Tom but add one additional point: I do think we should view the mission as being difficult and enduring and dangerous but I also think that if we can get through this next year, we will have gotten through a lot of the residual dangers and problems in terms of getting through big elections -- that second election in a young democracy, the peaceable transfer of power and also I hope a resolution or at least a partial resoultion of some of these Arab-Kurd issues that are so difficult up north right now that I heard about last week when I was in Baghdad and that could come to a head very soon. So I'm hopeful without being able to convincingly demonstrate this that we can get to a much better place within a year.
Tom Andrews wasn't on the first segment and had nothing of value to say when he did stammer onto the show via phone-in.  He said that most Americans would give Barry the benefit of doubt.  So nice of pathetic Tom Andrews to presume to speak for all of us.  He had nothing of value to say and little that was factual.  I don't believe I've ever agreed with one of Michael O'Hanlan's punditry moments but I'd rather sit through his nonsense (which O'Hanlan truly believes) than Tom Andrews spinning.  Pillar is falling into the same trap that Phyllis Bennis already did, by the way, which is saying that two or three months doesn't matter.  Currently 15 to 16 US service members die in Iraq each month.  I would assume the families of those 15 to 16 could tell you that, yes, every month does matter.  Michael O'Hanlan -- who is not, my opinion, very astute (to put it mildly) -- had enough sense not to make the kind of ridiculous statements others are. 
Susan Page: Now we have notably seen praise from John McCain, his foe in the campaign, and criticism from Nancy Pelosi, his chief ally on Capitol Hill.  What do you make, Tom Ricks, of the political situation the president now faces when it comes to Iraq?
Thomas E. Ricks: Well I think what that tells you, with respect, I disagree with Paul, I think it tells you that people understand what's going on here.  Is that his speech on Friday at Camp Lejeune was much more about how to stay in Iraq than how to get out of Iraq.
Susan Page:  Please expand on that idea.
Thomas E. Ricks:  It's a formulation for walking away from taking a brigade out every month for 16 months and instead going to the post occupation force that the military has been planning for well over a year now. 
Susan Page: When you go away from the pulling out a brigade out a month -- which is what he talked about during the campaign -- it then makes it possible if the situation after the elections isn't stable, doesn't seem right, I guess you could greatly delay the planned pull out of the forces there at the end.

Thomas E. Ricks: Well I think military feeling that I picked up in Baghdad is that there's a lot more things in Iraq that could go wrong than can go right.  You really have to thread the needle to make this work right so they really do want to hedge they really think they're going to be there longer than the president thinks and I don't have the faith in the Status Of Forces Agreement I think that will be renegotiated and I think we're going to have US troops fighting in Iraq for a very long time to come.
Susan Page:  If the situation there is less stable, not more stable, will the US forces stay or will the nation's patience basically have been exhausted and we pull out in any case?  Paul, what do you think?
Paul Pillar: Well we should note that in the speech last week, the president did give himself some rhetorical wiggle room when he said "I intend" -- that was his word -- "I intend to have forces out by December 2011." Which was a somewhat weaker statement than his one about "Let me be as clear as I possibley can," you know, "no combat after August of 2010." So it's not totally out of the realm of possibility.  The only thing I would say about these things, about getting over the next election or getting over the next whatever it is, there's always the next something or other.  We've heard about that all in the past.  There was the transfer of sovereignty way back in 2004.  There were the constituent assembly elections.  There was the next round of parliamentary elections.  There's always another hump to get over, another reason for us to say, "Oh, the next year is going to be the critical year."  We'll be saying that five years from now if we're still in Iraq just as we were saying it five years ago.
On the Status Of Forces Agreement, Ricks (Foreign Policy) notes today, "Meanwhile, Sen. James Webb (D-A Country Such as This) notes with alarm in an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell that the Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq has "plenty of loose language in there that would allow our troops to stay longer." He dislikes that idea. I think it is going to happen and think, on balance, that it is better than leaving. But I don't much like either option. "
Tom Andrews' comment about most Americans giving Barack the benefit of the doubt is echoed in another coward's comments.  Robert Fantina (link provided for laughter purposes only, CounterPunch) slobbers, "One hesitates to criticize Mr. Obama too strongly.  Rarely, if ever, in the history of the United States has a president inherited such a colossal mess, ranging from the implosion of the U.S. and world economy, to two disastrous and ill-conceived wars."  Really?  And this is a surprise because?  It's a shocker?  You go out for a job and you get it, you have no right to whine about it.  No one has sympathy for the actress who complains about the loss of her privacy and no one should have sympathy for Barack's 'new problems' that were all known some time ago.  He wanted to run.  He did.  He won.  And maybe cowards who run to Canada should just stop commenting on US politics?  How 'bout that?  And to be clear, we're not talking about someone in the US military making a brave decision to resist by going to Canada.  We're talking about an alleged grown up -- who worked on John Kerry's campaign -- being such a coward that after the 2004 election, due to those results, he had to high tail it to Canada.  What a coward, what a loser.  No one needs to hear from people like that.  They have no 'authority' with which to speak.  They're the turncoats, the ones who go running whenever things get tough.  And how embarrassing for John Kerry that someone associated with his presidential campaign (and associated with MoveOn) could be seen as so unAmerican as to flee the country in a panic over the results of an election.  How very, very sad. 
If you want to end the illegal war, you fight to end it.  And it is always a fight to end an illegal war.  Debra Sweet (World Can't Wait) observes, "Those who are breathing a sigh of releif that US troops are being slowly removed from Iraq should stop and realize that this is part of an overall strategy to deepen and strengthen, not end, US domination of the region.  Those who think our job is to 'help' Barack Obama carry out this plan are not looking at the interests of the people here, or in the Middle East, in stopping this occupation immediately."  Those who want to stop the Iraq War can join with The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War for an action this month. From IVAW's announcement:

IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21stAs an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution, click here.)     
To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: or
Those not sure whether it's necessary to protest the ongoing, illegal war should consider the evaluation of the draw down offered by Steve Chapman (Chicago Tribune):
During the campaign, Mr. Obama pushed a plan to withdraw one or two combat brigades per month until they were all out. Only two things have changed in Mr. Obama's 16-month departure plan: It will take longer than 16 months, and we won't depart.
Instead of May 2010, the target date has been pushed back to August of that year. Nor will he bring back one or two combat brigades each month. Instead, The New York Times reports, Mr. Obama plans to withdraw only two between now and December, or one combat brigade every five months.
The administration claims it will speed up the pace of withdrawal next year. But if someone says he's going to sober up tomorrow, it doesn't mean he will definitely do it tomorrow. It just means he definitely won't do it today.
But Obama's lies matter little to much of the public, anti-war activists among them. 'You don't understand,' they tell us. 'Obama +has+ to say all this stuff - it's not what he believes. He's out to change all this, but he has to say it.'

This involves a kind of treble-think. Politicians typically hide their ruthlessness behind compassionate verbiage. Obama, we are to believe, is hiding his compassion behind ruthless verbiage - Machiavellianism in reverse.

Which is exactly what was said of Clinton and Blair in the 1990s. Of course it could be the case now. But should we not aim to be a little more socially scientific in our political analysis?

We can observe that, in a way that mirrors Newtonian physics, enormous political forces tend to act unimpeded unless challenged by powerful oppositional forces. We can observe, further, that there is no reason whatever to believe that the greed and violence that have become entrenched in American politics over decades and centuries have simply gone away. Certainly they have not been countered by mass democratic movements rooted in compassion rather than greed. There are no new, mass-based parties rooted in progressive values; no city-stopping protests erupting out of a transformational political process.

If a brand new, benevolent face now fronts the system in which traditionally ruthless forces dominate, rationality demands that we assume it to be a makeover, a brand alteration, an attempt precisely to reduce pressure on the system to change.

The Bush-Blair crimes contaminated the American brand with Iraqi and Afghan blood products - we have to assume that the same ferocious system is now in the process of rehabilitating, not revolutionising, that brand. Greed, ignorance and hatred do not miraculously transform into compassion, wisdom and peacefulness, in individuals or in superpowers. Call it Newtonian political physics. Call it Buddhist psychology. Call it common sense.
Today at the Washington Post online, Dana Priest participated in a discussion and, asked about what the US military commanders wanted, said she wasn't sure there was a consensus but she believes "many in the military are hoping for . . . some flexibility so the drawdown deadline doesn't become hard and fast." Asked about similarities between the Cold War and the current wars, she responded, "I agree that there are parallels between those who saw a Commie behind every bush during the Cold War and those who see a terrorist behind every Mid-Eastern face now. Such generalities always backfire, causing the U.S. to spend too much, waste too much and misdirect a lot of our foreign policy effort. But here's where the difference ends: the U.S. helped topple Communism abroad by enabling dissent (not by invading) from within and standing as an ideal for those who wanted out; for many reasons we (capitalists, promoter of equal rights and free speech, etc.) are not the model that moderate Islamic governments and believers want to follow. It's a third way we have not figured out how to effectively promote."  Asked to explain why Barack's draw down so closely resembles George W. Bush's statements (Jon Stewart did a mash up on The Daily Show), Preist responds Barack "was being politically expedient during the campaign when he promised at first to get out of Iraq lickety-split.  His base did not listen closely when he began to hedge on that later, so now they are surprised.  Sorry."

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