Saturday, April 17, 2004

Sneaky French

Noted in passing ...

Someone at Tom Bihn, a Port Angeles manufacturer of backpacks and luggage, decided to append the following detailed explanation on the care tags attached to some of the company's goods:
Nous sommes desoles que notre president soit un idiot. Nous n'avons pas vote pour lui.

Which translates:
"We are sorry our president is an idiot. We didn't vote for him."

Bihn himself told the P-I he thinks whoever did it was talking about him and not, say, some other unnamed president. He's also a pretty enlightened boss, as far as that goes, saying he has no intention of tracking down the workplace subversive: "There are bigger fish to fry."

Of course, the fine folks at Free Republic are organizing a boycott. As if any of them were buying Tom Bihn goods beforehand.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Rush Limbaugh, lunatic conspiracy theorist

Is it the Oxycontin talking again?

It's a sign enough of conservatives' mental instability that they're obsessing over the notion that Hillary Clinton is going to be John Kerry's running mate.

Now this. No More Mister Blog reports the following transcript from Rush Limbaugh:
Hillary wants to be on the VP ticket so that she dispels the notion that the Clintons are sabotaging the campaign and so that she can also go out there and really be the star. She'd be the star because she'll be the one bringing excitement to it. And, by the way, she'll get all kinds of criticism and the Republicans will launch all they've got at her, and she'll endure that. They know that they're pretty confident Kerry is going to lose and if Kerry wins there's always Fort Marcy Park. So they're rolling the dice on this.

The park in question, of course, is the one where Vince Foster's body was found -- which is to say, in the Bizarro Worldview of Limbaugh and his followers, where his body was dumped after Hillary had him murdered.

In other words, Limbaugh is not merely hinting, he's clearly saying outright that the Clintons intend to assassinate Kerry if he wins the presidency.

You have to wonder if the self-righteous right-wing bloggers who have been jumping all over Daily Kos, Ted Kennedy and Christopher Dodd (you know who they are) are going to make even a peep about this.

Nah, of course not. Their brand of hypocrisy is all too familiar to us anyway.

But anyone with an ounce of decency in them should be raising hell about this.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Denial like a river

We've been hearing for over a decade from conservatives that liberalism is the source of everything wrong with America. Indeed, attacking liberals as "evil" (see, e.g., the title of Sean Hannity's current screed) seems at times to be the entire raison d'etre of the conservative movement, at least insofar as it promotes its own ideology.

The corollary to this, of course, is that conservatism, by contrast, is the source of all that is good and right and pure about America. Most conservatives prefer the former tactic -- it's always easier, not to mention more emotionally satisfying for the conservative mindset, to tear your enemies down -- but of course, the Whatta Rush Limbaughs of the world are never shy about a little vacuous self-plumping.

That's why they really hate it when anyone brings up the little problem of racism.

Nearly everyone recognizes, of course, that racism is in fact one of the real things that is foul and wrong about America. And while the Democratic Party was for years the primary home of white supremacists, most people -- especially minorities -- are well aware that this all changed in the 1960s and '70s, thanks to the so-called "Southern Strategy."

That, of course, was Richard Nixon's tactic of drawing in white nationalists in the South to the Republican Party by making not-too-subtle appeals to their innate racism. It transformed the GOP from the party of Lincoln to the party of neo-Confederates it is today.

And most of us are similarly aware that the Southern Strategy remains alive and well in today's GOP.

One of the ways today's Republicans deal with this conundrum is not to try to actually confront these elements and eradicate the racist impulse from its ranks. Its preferred course is to play a PR game touting a phony "compassionate conservatism" by posing party leaders with as many minorities as they can find, even while it continues promulgating policies, such as attacking affirmative action, that clearly are counter to the interests of those same minorities. When someone like Trent Lott is caught revealing Southern Republicans' oft-camouflaged inner thoughts about segregation and civil rights, their initial impulse is to deny, obfuscate and counterattack, until the building PR nightmare finally forces them to slap his wrists.

Recently, we've seen a new tactic emerge, consonant with the movement's increasing dependence on Newspeak: Deploy up-is-down arguments that the Southern Strategy really doesn't have racism at its core, pretending that white supremacism is actually vanishing from the South.

Roger Ailes recently pointed us to a Jonah Goldberg entry at National Review's The Corner that made this argument by proxy, likewise directing us to an article by Gerard Alexander in the pseudo-academic conservative propaganda journal of the Claremont Institute:
The Myth of the Racist Republicans

Alexander examines four serious texts dealing with the Southern Strategy, and denounces them all as fundamentally deluded because, it seems, racism isn't really present as a significant political impulse in the South any longer.

Alexander introduces this thesis with a peculiar formulation of the argument against the GOP:
A myth about conservatism is circulating in academia and journalism and has spread to the 2004 presidential campaign. It goes something like this: the Republican Party assembled a national majority by winning over Southern white voters; Southern white voters are racist; therefore, the GOP is racist. Sometimes the conclusion is softened, and Republicans are convicted merely of base opportunism: the GOP is the party that became willing to pander to racists. Either way, today's Republican Party -- and by extension the conservative movement at its heart -- supposedly has revealed something terrible about itself.

There may be some critics of the GOP who use the first argument, but not many, at least not those who are serious about the matter. But there are many who clearly adopt the latter, including many former Republicans who abandoned the party precisely because of this strategy and the way it transformed the party.

I happen to be one of the latter. And my view -- like those of many others -- is actually somewhat more nuanced. What is clear to us is that the GOP, and the conservative movement generally, has been overtaken by people whose chief concerns have little to do with true conservatism and more with the Machivellian acquisition of power by any means. This is not mere opportunism, but a malignant metastasis that not only finds white supremacism an acceptable impulse but one fully consonant with its drive to power.

Alexander, however, denies this is the case. The old racism of the South, he argues, has been displaced by standard middle-class concerns about policy that are innocent of racism and are instead based on middle-of-the-road policy concerns:
The fact that these (and many other) books suggest otherwise shows that the myth is ultimately based on a demonization not of the GOP but of Southerners, who are indeed assumed to have Confederate flags in their hearts if not on their pickups. This view lends The Rise of Southern Republicans a schizophrenic nature: it charts numerous changes in the South, but its organizing categories are predicated on the unsustainable assumption that racial views remain intact.

The basic dishonesty of Alexander's argument is revealed in the fact that one of the books that he criticizes -- Joseph Aistrup's The Southern Strategy Revisited: Republican Top-Down Advancement in the South -- is not particularly critical of the GOP. Indeed, it is in fact largely a strategic manual for Republicans, arguing that the top-down strategy (which is to say, an orientation toward top national offices as a way of leading a national Republican charge at state and local levels) inherent in the Southern Strategy should remain intact while shedding the old racism that was at its core.

However, Aistrup is both blunt and accurate in assessing the Southern Strategy's foundations and its continuing polity. I excerpted relevant parts of the text some time back:
The Southern Strategy was developed to take advantage of the upheavals of the southern structure (Bass and De Vries, 1976, 22-33). The major goal of the Southern Strategy was to transform the Republicans' reputation as the party of Lincoln, Yankees, and carpetbaggers into the party that protects white interests (Klinkner 1992; Bass and DeVries 1976; 22-23). Thus, subtle segregationist threads are sewn in to the tapestry of the Southern Strategy. As a response in part to the GOP's new image and the liberalizing changes in the national Democrats' party positions, the Southern Democrats evolved from a party that depended on race-baiting, white supremacists to a party that needs and depends on black support to win elections (Lamis 1988).

Significantly, the GOP began a conscious effort to recast their Southern image after Nixon's loss in 1960. Under the influence of Goldwater and his allies, the Republican National Committee's program "Operation Dixie" (Klinkner 1992) changed to openly promote a more conservative states' rights and segregationist policies and to recruit candidates of this ilk. Republican segregationist candidates made respectable showings in the 1962 South Carolina U.S. Senate elections, where William Workman received 43 percent of the vote, and in the 1962 Alabama U.S. Senate election, where James Martin was seven thousand votes shy of unseating Democratic Sen. Lister Hill.

Even with the subtle change toward accepting candidates who were more in tune with the predominant white Southern party at that time, it was not until the 1964 presidential campaign that the Republicans' new image became solidified. The key event that highlighted the Republicans' new strategy and led to the Democrats shedding their old segregationist image was the national Democrats' support of civil rights and Goldwater's and the Republican party's support of states' rights (Bass and De Vries 1976, 29). This election, more than any other (Carmines and Stinson 1989), drew clear lines of division and provided a glimpse of the future of party politics in the South and the rest of the nation. The battle was defined in the South as segregation versus desegregation. However, it was the Republicans, not the Democrats, who promoted segregational politics.

As Aistrup observes, these appeals were not as overt as the white supremacy of the old Dixiecrats like Theodore Bilbo, John Rankin and Strom Thurmond:
... In tandem with the Southern Strategy issue orientation, a number of Republicans attempted to use subtle segregationist suggestions to win elections. Southern Republicans developed a set of policy positions that reinforced their racially conservative policy orientations. Republicans opposed forced busing, employment quotas, affirmative action and welfare programs; at the same time, they favored local control and tax exemptions for segregated private schools (Lamis 1988, 24). Segregationist policies became more abstract, a Reagan official explained: "You're getting abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes ... [these policies] are totally economic things and a by-product of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it" (Lamis 1988, 26).

...Undaunted by Wallace's potential usurpation of the states' rights mantle, Nixon cut a deal with Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond (S.C.) to continue promoting policies consistent with a states' rights orientation. Murphy and Gulliver describe the meeting: "Richard Milhous Nixon ... sat in a motel room in Atlanta in the early spring of 1968 and made his political deal. Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina was there. There were others. The essential Nixon bargain was this: If I'm president of the United States, I'll find a way to ease up on the federal pressures forcing school desegregation or any other kind of desegregation. Whatever the exact words or phrasing, this was how the Nixon commitment was understood by Thurmond and other southern GOP strategists."

Since this time, the racially conservative issue appeal of the southern Strategy has evolved from advocating states' rights and opposing busing in the 1960s and 1970s to opposing large segments of the civil rights policy agenda, including affirmative action and quotas in the 1980s... The key to deciphering the Southern Strategy and understanding its evolution is found by revealing how its policy rhetoric appeals to its target audience, Southern whites. Many of the public words and deeds of the Southern Strategy have hidden meanings to adherents. Seemingly ambiguous political language has important, specific connotations for various groups in society.

And as Aistrup observes, the Southern Strategy has broader ramifications for voters well outside the South as well:
When a GOP presidential candidate's campaign strategy emphasizes racially conservative appeals, he identifies not only himself but his party as the one that protects white interests. The identification of the GOP, instead of the Southern Democrats, as the protector of white interests, combined with the large infusion of blacks into the Southern Democratic parties, opens the door for Southern whites to abandon their historic ties to the Democrats.

Indeed, it seems fairly clear that the GOP has largely followed the core ideas of Aistrup's thesis since the book was published in the mid-1990s -- with varying degrees of success. "Compassionate conservatism" represents a cosmetic attempt to appear to shed the old racism, even though the reality is that, in both the South and elsewhere, those old impulses are not so easily shed.

This is especially the case when it comes to the continuing, and sometimes overwhelming, presence of the far-right neo-Confederate movement within the ranks of the GOP. This movement, as I've discussed at length previously, is not merely arch-conservative but positively radical; it not only defends the Confederacy and slavery and denounces Lincoln, but it argues for outright secession.

Sean Wilentz discussed the neo-Confederate presence in the modern GOP a couple of years ago in detail at The American Prospect:
Neo-Confederate influence in the Bush White House is not, meanwhile, confined to Hines. Bush's first act as president was to nominate Ashcroft as attorney general. Ashcroft had just lost a Senate race in Missouri after deciding not to run against Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has observed, Ashcroft -- as attorney general, governor of Missouri and a U.S. Senator -- "built a career out of opposing school desegregation in St. Louis and opposing African-Americans for public office." During the St. Louis integration crisis and after, Ashcroft maintained intimate links to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the successor organization to the segregationist White Citizens Councils, which has its headquarters in St. Louis. Ashcroft even intervened at the behest of CCC leader Gordon Baum in a strange case involving a prominent CCC member accused of plotting the murder of an FBI agent. In his Southern Partisan interview, arranged by Hines, Ashcroft commended the magazine for helping to "set the record straight" and for "defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Thomas "Stonewall"] Jackson, and [Jefferson] Davis." As George W. Bush's attorney general, Ashcroft has used the Department of Justice to support Republican efforts at voter suppression, many of them aimed at black voters.

There are other ways that white supremacism has adopted new guises as well, and these likewise have become inextricably interwoven with the conservative movement. One of the most significant of these is through so-called "academic racist" organizations such as American Renaissance, which promotes the old supremacy by couching it in seemingly respectable language, even as a closer examination reveals not only specious logic but a foundation of truly vile racism. Yet mainstream conservatives treat AR and its leader, Jared Taylor, as a respected authority; Joe Scarborough's MSNBC talk show, for instance, has hosted Taylor on two occasions without even explaining to its audience that AR is designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

AR also provides an important way of networking with other white supremacists, and helps to likewise plug them into mainstream conservatism, as this report points out:
In 1994 Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve resurrected scientific racism. Now it was no longer culture and behaviour which caused unemployment and crime, but genes and biology. That year in Atlanta American Renaissance held its first conference. The mainstream conservative cloak came off revealing a different movement. Sam Dickson, John Tyndall's favourite Atlanta attorney, for example, was a featured speaker. Sam Francis gave an unvarnished appeal to resurrect white supremacy. In attendance was a gaggle from the Council of Conservative Citizens along with Ed Fields, the Truth At Last publisher who alternates between Klan and neo-nazi affiliations.

The above-mentioned Council of Conservative Citizens likewise has something of a notorious role in connecting mainstream conservatism with the racist far right. Trent Lott, before his meltdown of last year, had previously raised eyebrows by maintaining substantive connections to the group, and only half-heartedly distancing himself from the group when its core agenda was revealed.

But that was not the end of the CofCC's role in the Republican Party. It reappeared again last year during Haley Barbour's successful bid for the Mississippi governorship, which also featured overt appeals based on the Confederate flag debate (a significant code issue for Southern racists). Barbour, in keeping with the standard GOP approach to such issues, tried shrugging off his grip-and-grin appearance with the group's offiicals by suggesting that the CofCC was a constituency just like any other.

Indeed, the CofCC regularly insists that it is not a racist organization, even though the evidence is substantial that it is indeed. Perhaps the most stark case of this came when Earl Holt, one of the CofCC's founders, based in St. Louis, decided to respond to criticism from ArchPundit:
Being the shallow, nigger-loving dilettante that you are, you probably DO consider niggers to be your equal (who am I to question this?): Yet, unlike you and your allies, I have an I.Q. in excess of 130, which grants me the ability to objectively evaluate the Great American Nigro (Africanus Criminalis.)

The nigro is 11.5 % of the U.S. population, yet he commits in excess of 55% of all felonies (although felonies are UNDER-represented in the nigro community, where observing the law is considered "acting White!") Moreover, he (or should I say she?)accounts for 48% of all ADC recipients in the U.S. We have spent over $7 TRILLION on "Urban Welfare Spending" since the mid-1960s, (black economists Thomas Sowell & Walter Williams) and the nigro is still as criminal, surly, lazy , violent and stupid as he/she ever was, while his illegitimacy rate is 80% nationwide, and over 90% in the "large urban areas."

... Some day, You sanctimonious nigger-lovers will either have to live amongst them ("nothing cures an enthusiasm for integration like a good dose of niggers") or else defend yourselves against them. My guess is that you are such a cowardly and pusillanimous lot of girly-boys, they will kill fuck, kill and eat you just as they do young White males in every prison system in the U.S. That's right: When defending this savage and brutish lot, you must also consider their natural ( or should I say UN-natural) enthusiasm for buggery!

I honestly pray to God that some nigger fucks, kills and eats you and everyone you claim to love!

Holt, who hosts a St. Louis radio talk show touting conservative issues, is still a key figure in Republican politics in St. Louis, as this report explains.

Similar comments cropped up recently during the debate over erecting a statue of Lincoln in Virginia, as Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest recently observed. The petition complained that placing the statue in Richmond -- the capital of the Confederacy -- would be like "one glorifying the evil Third Reich to Hitler in Tel Aviv." Comments against the plan ran like this:
"Absolutely Not ! I'll accept a statue of Ape Lingum in Richmond when Karl Marx and Vlad Lenin are placed in Washington, D.C. along with a statue of Bin Laden in New York City.....

Why not put up a statue of Osama bin Laden at Ground Zero?....

The only way that I would support a statue of Lincoln in Richmond would be to have him depicted in CHAINS in a kneeling position!....

Based on years of monitoring the growing interconnection between the racist right and mainstream conservatism, Mark Potok of the SPLC offered the following assessment:
In fact, the ideas of the radical right are thriving in a number of venues. On hugely popular talk shows like "The O'Reilly Factor," conspiracy theories about non-white immigration that originated on the extreme right are now bandied about as fact. A number of major foundations are pushing the notion that a tiny group of German Jews are behind the destruction of "American culture." In much of the South, the idea of Abraham Lincoln as a racial emancipator is under attack by right-wing academics. Extremists have seized control of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a purportedly mainstream Southern heritage group with 32,000 members, a $5 million bank account, and an increasingly far-right political agenda.

... Sam Francis, perhaps the leading intellectual of the radical right, recently wrote that the future of the movement lies with the softer-line hate groups like American Renaissance, a journal and allied foundation focusing on the "science" of race, and the Council of Conservative Citizens, which sees non-white immigration as a threat to the nation.

"Both have succeeded in learning how to discuss ... the scientific, social, and political realities of race without reliance on the old rhetoric of what was called 'white supremacy' and 'hate,'" Francis wrote.

The sad reality is that Francis is mostly right. Trent Lott is no longer Senate majority leader and white supremacist groups across the board have taken a serious body blow. But the ideas they represent are alive and doing surprisingly well.

Make no mistake: There are thousands if not millions of conservative Republicans who are free of racist taint. These tend to be genuine conservatives of principle who, as Alexander suggests, base their beliefs on serious policy concerns that have nothing to do with racism or white supremacism.

But pretending that the racist element has little influence -- or, even more absurdly, that it doesn't exist -- does not raise any hope that conservatives will be serious about eradicating its presence in their ranks anytime soon.

Which is all the more the tragedy. The sooner that racism is deprived of any political power in America, the sooner it will be eradicated. Conservatives like Alexander only give it the kind of cover it needs to keep eating away at the nation's soul.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Waco in Iraq

My friend Jean Rosenfeld, whose work I've mentioned previously, is a religious-studies researcher at UCLA who specializes in analyzing extremist religious movements and the way religion can inspire violence. She was among the scholars consulted by the FBI during the Freemen standoff in Montana, and counts among her colleagues the scholars consulted by the FBI at Waco (whose recommendations were made to the negotiating team, whose work in turn was ignored by the tactical units that were in charge of the scene there). I also consulted with Jean while I was covering the Freemen standoff in Montana -- which, because the negotiating team was placed in charge, had a dramatically different outcome than that in Waco. (For details, see In God's Country.)

She sees an important parallel in what is now happening in Iraq regarding the Sadrists, and is hoping that the government does not make the same mistakes there that they made at Waco. She recently penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that appears to have been ignored by that paper's editors. So I'm going to publish it in full here.
One of the most difficult problems before and during a critical incident is one of access. The media understands this problem, but perhaps does not know that it is a major problem for people with expertise outside the agencies tasked to handle the incident.

There were experts outside the cordon at Waco who were effectively negotiating David Koresh out of Waco. This is now well documented. One of these experts was very effective during the Freemen crisis when he was brought on site by the FBI.

I have studied both critical incidents and written about them. I was involved in data gathering and sending memos during the Freemen critical incident.

Watch what is happening with al-Sadr in an-Najaf. This is a critical incident writ large of the type my colleagues and I have advised about, studied, and written about over a period of eight years. I am hypothesizing that we risk making the same mistake at an-Najaf with al-Sadr that we made at Waco, unless the knowledge gained from three critical incidents in the U.S. -- the CSA (The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord), Branch Davidian, and Jordan, Montana -- has been transmitted to the U.S. military and CPA and has been incorporated into their strategies and tactics. I seriously doubt that this is the case.

I have written and spoken many times about how a religiously motivated critical incident, or standoff, differs qualitatively and markedly from a criminally-motivated hostage standoff. The latter is the model for defusing critical incidents among law enforcement and CT specialists. They remain uninformed and skeptical about these important differences to this day. The Freemen crisis actually began to unravel after scholars advised the FBI to "get a letter from God" to Gloria Ward that allowed her and her two children to leave the Clark ranch. They did so and she left. I have published an article about the Freemen crisis in a peer-reviewed journal and it was reprinted in the book, Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence, ed. by Catherine Wessinger.

[Coalition spokesman] Dan Senor is reported in the Times [last week] as saying, "The way we look at it is, there is no alternative to getting it (capturing or killing al-Sadr and eradicating the Sadr brigades) done ... If we allow the violence to cause setbacks to the political process, the terrorists and the extremists will have scored an enormous victory."

Aside from Senor's mistakenly mixing the Sadrist crisis up with the al-Zarqawi letter that advocated sparking a Sunni/Shiite civil war -- an agenda peculiar only to al-Zarqawi's foreign jihadists in Iraq and not to any other faction even a faction within al-Qaida that we know of, Senor is taking the very same approach that the Waco tactical commanders took to the Branch Davidians. Negotiators at Waco dissented with the tactical team, but were overruled.

What is not known about Waco is that the final assault plan was amended on the ground by the tactical field commanders on the very day of the assault. That alteration had been discussed and rejected by the FBI brass over several weeks. Nonetheless, the FBI HRT commander, Richard Rogers implemented the rejected plan via a loophole signed by Janet Reno the morning of the final assault on April 19. That alteration was identical to the gassing and demolition plan that two Delta Force advisors seconded to the Justice Dept. in a principals meeting of April 14. Those two advisors supported the rejected plan that was later implemented "hypothetically" in order to conform to the letter of Posse Comitatus law. I also have published a peer-reviewed article with this finding. It is based on government documents--all open source. The rejected plan supported by Jeff Jamar, Richard Rogers, and the two Delta Force officers resulted in a disaster that did not have to happen. It was an ill-advised tactical approach to a religious community that feared that Satan was attacking them.

Those two Delta Force officers were Peter J. Schoomaker and "Jerry" Boykin, now both top officials in the US Army in charge of military planning for the war on terrorism.

So, watch an-Najaf. The religiously-motivated standoff may end with a whimper. Or it may end with a bang. It need not end violently or set off more violence against the US. If al-Sadr is killed, he will become a martyr to Shiites outside of Iraq. We have already seen demonstrations in support of al-Sadr elsewhere in Iraq among Sunnis and elsewhere in the Arab world. Al-Sadr is creating solidarity between Sunni and Shiite activist and militant groups. This is not in the longterm US interest.

I believe that the hard tactical approach being contemplated in an-Najaf, if negotiations now under way do not result in al-Sadr's surrender -- is the same approach contemplated and executed at Waco. Capturing or killing al-Sadr will not neutralize what he is regarded as symbolizing to Shiites angry at "occupiers" in Iraq or in Israel. It will only amplify it. There are better ways to defuse the problem of al-Sadr. We should not take a tactical approach because it suits the politics or flawed strategy of the current administration. We may have to change our strategy in Iraq to accommodate new realities instead. This may be tough political medicine, but it will save us from terrible consequences down the road.

I believe Senor's approach is similar to the tactical one taken at Waco against another "messiah." It resulted in many deaths and a legacy that led us to the "commemoration" atrocity in Oklahoma City. As one of many scholars who study these cases of religion and violence and who have not seen our findings incorporated into law enforcement (we did have some input into the FBI's millennium approach) or the military, I am very concerned that the standoff in an-Najaf has the potential to become "another Waco."

The wild card at an-Najaf is religion -- a factor very few experts in fields other than ours fully understand and weigh in their calculations and strategies in these alarming and perplexing incidents.

So, please watch an-Najaf. Consult with knowledgeable experts outside the military cordon there, people who know what al-Sadr represents. He is not in league with Iran. SCIRI is closer to Iran. He is an Iraqi nationalist. He is a puritanical, orthodox Shiite. He does want political representation. We have mistakenly isolated him and his oppressed, impoverished, young supporters. That was dumb, but we should not now be dumber by making him a martyr in the Shiite fundamentalist pantheon.

It is worth observing, of course, that (as Atrios notes) the coalition appears determined to make this mistake, since its official stance is that "The mission of U.S. forces is to kill or capture Moqtada al-Sadr."

Monday, April 12, 2004

The incompetence coverup

The astonishing mendacity of the Bush administration regarding the ample warnings of impending terrorist attacks in the summer of 2001 -- and its subsequent failures to act in any substantive way on those warnings -- is perhaps understandable. After all, the situation reveals, as noted previously, the Bush team's grotesque incompetence.

Numerous bloggers have already weighed in on the blatant lying engaged in not merely by Condoleezza Rice, but George Bush himself, over the weekend. Daily Kos has a handy summary, including a link to David Sirota's excellent takedown.

Another problem with Rice's testimony popped up recently in this Newsday report, which found that other of Rice's claims before the 9/11 commission were on shaky ground, factually speaking:
Rice, testifying before the Sept. 11 commission Thursday, said that those 70 investigations were mentioned in a CIA briefing to the president and satisfied the White House that the FBI was doing its job in response to dire warnings that attacks were imminent and that the administration felt it had no need to act further.

But the FBI Friday said that those investigations were not limited to al-Qaida and did not focus on al-Qaida cells. FBI spokesman Ed Coggswell said the bureau was trying to determine how the number 70 got into the report.

... [Rice] said the briefing memo disclosed that the FBI had 70 "full-field investigations under way of cells" in the United States. And that, Rice said, explained why "there was no recommendation [coming from the White House] that we do something about" the flurry of threat warnings in the months preceding the attacks.

But Coggswell Friday said that those 70 investigations involved a number of international terrorist organizations, not just al-Qaida. He said that many were criminal investigations, which terrorism experts say are not likely to focus on preventing terrorist acts. And he said he would "not characterize" the targets of the investigations as cells, or groups acting in concert, as was the case with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

In addition to these investigations, Rice told the panel that FBI headquarters, reacting to alarming but vague intelligence in the spring and summer of 2001 that attacks were imminent, "tasked all 56 of its U.S. field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists" and to contact informants who might provide leads.

That, too, is news to the field offices. Commissioner Timothy J. Roemer told Rice that the commission had "to date ... found nobody, nobody at the FBI, who knows anything about a tasking of field offices." Even Thomas Pickard, at the time acting FBI director, told the panel that he "did not tell the field offices to do this," Roemer said.

But that's not all. It seems the August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing that has become the focus of the current controversy was not the only significant warning the administration received.

A year-old Newsweek "Web exclusive" by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball contained the following nugget, conveniently buried near the end:
Some sources who have read the still-secret congressional report say some sections would not play quite so neatly into White House plans. One portion deals extensively with the stream of U.S. intelligence-agency reports in the summer of 2001 suggesting that Al Qaeda was planning an upcoming attack against the United States -- and implicitly raises questions about how Bush and his top aides responded. One such CIA briefing, in July 2001, was particularly chilling and prophetic. It predicted that Osama bin Laden was about to launch a terrorist strike "in the coming weeks," the congressional investigators found. The intelligence briefing went on to say: "The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning."

What's particularly noteworthy about this is the way the document was classified:
The substance of that intelligence report was first disclosed at a public hearing last September by staff director Hill. But at the last minute, Hill was blocked from saying precisely who within the Bush White House got the briefing when CIA director Tenet classified the names of the recipients. (One source says the recipients of the briefing included Bush himself.) As a result, Hill was only able to say the briefing was given to "senior government officials."

This reeks of cover-up. The common reason for classifying a document, or portions thereof, is to protect the identity of sources of intelligence information, not the recipients.

As Mark Crispin Miller (who sent this item along) points out:
Some recipients of the briefing could have been low-visibility CIA people, and it would be appropriate to shield them. However, with regard to the White House, the identity and government role of all recipients would be well-known. Therefore, Tenet's classification of all the names of recipients would be a clear case of politicizing the classification process, if White House personnel or Bush were recipients of the briefing, as they should have been.

At this point, only the willfully self-blinded or the spectacularly dumb should unable to see what's going on here. Unfortunately, that seems to include nearly every self-described conservative.

Smear artists

The depths to which the Moonie-owned Washington Times will reach to attack non-conservatives is no longer a surprise, of course. After all, this is a newspaper that sabotaged America's best chance to take out Osama bin Laden before 9/11 just so it could spite Bill Clinton.

Now it is descending to scummy Little Green Footballs-like depths in attempting to attack John Kerry -- trading in outright falsehoods while playing on xenophobic stereotypes about Muslims.

In a recent editorial titled "Inept or Ignorant?", the paper described Kerry as "a man who either doesn't understand the struggle against radical Islam or blindly went trolling for votes from a radical Islamic organization."
In December, when John Kerry was badly trailing Howard Dean, the Massachusetts senator spoke at the annual convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), an anti-Semitic organization that has defended infamous terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Addressing the Long Beach, Calif., audience by phone, Mr. Kerry told the crowd that he "really want to earn support of Muslim leaders across the United States." Mr. Kerry appealed to the crowd by strongly implying that the Bush administration is not protecting the First Amendment rights of Muslims. "I believe this administration is moving our country in a radically wrong direction and is cynically exploiting people in the country and has forgotten some of the heart of the Constitution of the United States of America," he said during his speech.

Mr. Kerry's words, though not justified by facts or any reasonable interpretation of reality, are not the primary problem. His willingness to address the group in the first place is. No presidential candidate should lend legitimacy to a group with MPAC's track record.

Well, what is MPAC's real track record? Here is its own reply to the smear job:
The Washington Times ... editorial falsely charges MPAC with being both anti-Semitic and a supporter of, or at best apologist for, terrorism. Both of these charges are baseless, and we categorically reject them as instruments of political exploitation. In fact, an honest and responsible analysis of our record demonstrates the opposite about our organization.

The irony is that in the organized American Muslim community, MPAC is perhaps the most vocal critic of terrorism, Wahhabism, and extremism. We have been at times criticized in our own community for being "divisive" when we have stood up for our principles. We produced a Counterterrorism paper last year numbering over 100 pages that gave detailed policy suggestions on how the United States can better fight and win the War on Terrorism. That paper was favorably reviewed by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Former Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA Graham Fuller, among others.

When it was politically incorrect in our own community to do so, MPAC condemned the Taliban for its treatment of women and its destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. MPAC took a firm stance against the Taliban even when the U.S. business establishment had ties to them. Our organization never hesitates to stand up for the rights of minorities in the Muslim world, dedicating an entire panel of our recent convention to the subject. When Salman Rushdie was given a death sentence, MPAC defended his right to free speech and condemned the sentence. The list of such principled positions goes on and on.

Our sense of principle also applies to the terrible violence in the Middle East. If the Washington Times had called MPAC or so much as visited our website, it would have found the above paper and our policy brief on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in which we clearly call for a two-state solution and condemn terrorism against Israelis and Palestinians. You would have noticed that we endorsed Oslo, the Road Map, the Geneva Accords, and we in fact favor any reasonable and viable peace deal as being not just in Muslim interest, but in America's interest. The Times should have cited our extensive work with Jewish organizations over 16 years and our on-going Muslim-Jewish dialogue, the longest in the country. You would have seen from our track record (a bibliography of our statements spanning over 60 pages that is easily available by a simple request), that we have condemned terrorism conducted by Hamas and Hizbullah by name, not once, but several times, including on national television.

What is truly bizarre about this type of pseudo-journalism is the unyielding and irrational determination to contort MPAC into an extremist group, even when such a hatchet job requires completely misrepresenting the facts. To take just one of several examples of this unethical behavior, the Times alleged that Salam Al-Marayati downplayed Hamas’ "quote unquote military operations". In reality, Al-Marayati said "quote unquote" because he does not believe that operations carried out by Hamas that kill civilians are "military operations": he believes they are terrorism.

On the day of the September 11th attacks, in response to a caller that placed Islam on the suspect list, Salam Al-Marayati responded that Israel should be put on the list of suspects for the bombing. At that early stage of the tragedy, when no culprits were identified, Al-Marayati made that comment as a rhetorical rejoinder: if we are to blame the tragedy on a religion, what is to stop others from wildly pointing fingers in other directions? Furthermore, Al-Marayati published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times clarifying his position and regretting any misunderstanding. He made personal phone calls to Jewish leaders and attended several meetings. These exchanges are also a matter of public record the Times chose to ignore. To paint MPAC as an "anti-Semitic group" because of this exchange is nonsense and an entirely inappropriate and irresponsible use of the serious charge of anti-Semitism.

As for John Kerry, not only did he speak at MPAC's convention, but so did Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Senator Tom Harkin, and representatives from the Bush Administration itself. In fact, the MPAC leadership has met with all levels of this administration several times, including the President himself. Our helpfulness on counterterrorism issues has been lauded by FBI Director Robert Mueller, leaders at the Office of Homeland Security, and countless local law-enforcement officials, with whom we have held numerous meetings and brainstorming sessions to help America remain safe. Perhaps your next editorial can clarify whether you consider the White House "Inept or Ignorant".

In the end, we continue to shake our heads and wonder why a paper like the Washington Times wants to waste its time attacking Muslims who are moderate, responsible, anti-terrorist and who want to help America in an informed and in-depth manner. We think your actions are un-American and a gross breach of journalistic ethics, which would at least have demanded that you speak to us directly before smearing us.

The Washington Times might be both inept and ignorant, but in this case, it's being neither. It's simply lying -- at the expense of responsible Muslims -- in a crude attempt to harm John Kerry.

All apologies

I've been wrapped up in proofing the galleys for Death on the Fourth of July. I'll be back in the saddle again later today.