"I think the military culture fully accepts these days, rightly or
wrongly, that we can't go to war anymore without these contractors,"
said one Iraq war veteran. "I do not expect calls for action from
within the structure and have heard none. If action comes, it will be
from Capitol Hill or pressure brought by the press."
The quote is from this article by Sudarsan Raghavan and Thomas Ricks in the Washington Post about the Blackwater shootings, which also quotes a senior military official in Baghdad as saying that the incident could be worse for the US than Abu Ghraib (that's certainly going some!).
I wish I understood why that is so fully accepted in the military culture. Mercenaries are bad business as a matter of principle, and while many may have served honorably, I know of no instance in which their use has ever been a credit to the country that employed them. Their rules of engagement in Iraq are hazy, except that whatever they do, they have blanket immunity from the CPA that is still in force and being defended by the State Department in an internecine squabble with the DOD (and of course, the Iraqi government, such as it is). They continue to do damage to the US's image in Iraq, at a time when we are spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives ostensibly trying to stabilize a civil war among factions whose only common trait is that they have all come to hate their occupiers. The military commanders on the ground in Iraq think so little of them that they wouldn't take control over them if it were offered (which it has not been). Do we really need another heavily armed militia force in Iraq, even if its soldiers do speak English?
This is a dangerous issue in the long term, as well as an immediate crisis in Iraq (where we hardly needed another one). Jeremy Scahill's book, Blackwater, tells a story of the firm's history, background, and performance that is very creepy, and while I haven't yet read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, the excerpt in Harper's (unfortunately behind a paywall) is also deeply disturbing.
We have had a mania in the US for "privatizing" all sorts of functions that used to be performed by public agencies, and have witnessed a large number of disasters of public policy that led from that mania over the last few years. We have paid and will continue for years to pay the cost of having a government "small enough to drown it in a bathtub" - this is what happens when you elect people to govern who are convinced that governing is a bad idea.
One of the mantras of these people, though, is that the state must be stripped down to its core functions, the most important of those being national defense. Privatizing the armed forces is in violation of even that totally inadequate vision of government, so why is it fully accepted that we can't go to war without mercenaries? It may be cheaper (though I'm not even sure that's true)), but is it worth it to sacrifice the good name countless soldiers have died for to save a few bucks?
Much (way too much) has been written about MoveOn.org's ad about General Petraeus' dog and pony show before Congress last week, and about the incredibly disingenuous case of the vapors that Republicans and some Democrats have managed to get over the ad. I shouldn't add to it... but I can't help myself. :)
It should go without saying that the flap over the ad is a calculated distraction to avoid talking about a disastrously failed war and the myriad other disastrously failed policies of this administration and its Republican rubber stamps in Congress.
It should go without saying that questioning the veracity of a witness - any witness - who shows up before Congressional oversight committees and provides testimony whose statistics are internally inconsistent and contrary to two other official reports on the same subject is not only the right, but the duty of anyone who is paying attention. Having stars on one's shoulders doesn't exempt one from such criticism - a damn good case can be (and has been) made that the presence of those stars enhances the duty to give uncolored testimony before Congress.
It should go without saying that this flap is the result of the administration's cowardice - asking Petraeus to make the administration's case is a disgrace (and one in which the Congress is complicit). So is the ongoing assertion by the administration that it is allowing its geopolitical strategic decisions to be made by field commanders.
What it appears can't be said enough is that it doesn't serve the Democrats to help with this Kabuki theater. It is cowardly and politically tone deaf to agree with a bunch of wingnuts who are Mau-mauing MoveOn in an attempt to change the subject, not only because it is a slap in the face to a group that has supported those same Democrats, not only because it emboldens those wingnuts to keep changing the subject, but because it makes the Democrats look like "ass kissing little chickenshits" (to coin a phrase in the news).
Democrats in Congress are in danger of losing the base that gave them the victory they won in 2006. They are squandering the beginning they made then on the project of building a coalition that can bring this country back from the brink of disaster it perches on today. The lion's share of that support came from the hope that they would oppose the policies that got us here, and in ways that are clear and unambiguous.
The Democratic victory in 2006 was the result of a huge majority of the American people finally becoming disgusted by the corruption, incompetence, and ideology of the Republican party, including its support for a failed war and failed economic policies that are costing Americans their futures every day.
Despite years of successful Republican and media characterization of Democrats as spineless weenies, the electorate decided to give them a chance to fix an intolerable situation, but that victory was a provisional one. If enough Democrats become discouraged that the rhetoric that inspired them was only that, they'll go to sleep in the next election. If enough independents (and the increasingly rare moderate Republicans) become convinced that Democrats don't have the courage to stand behind any of their convictions, they'll go elsewhere, and we will have really witnessed the end of the Democratic party.
Dan Rather's $70 million lawsuit against CBS seems at first blush to be a matter of Rather wanting his pound of flesh for CBS leaving him out to dry after the "Rathergate" brou-ha-ha, and there's probably a good deal of that in it. Rather was treated shabbily by his network, and he may or may not have the contract case he seems inclined to make (not having been shown his contract, it's a bit hard to know).
There may be an additional angle to this, however, and it wouldn't surprise me to discover that Rather has this in mind as well. I expect that part of the discovery for the suit will be to review all the documents in the matter. As Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest points out, nobody has proven that the documents are a forgery (there are contemporaneous examples of the same superscript fonts being used in other documents - including those in the same office, despite what the shrieking right-wing blogosphere crowed at the time, a fact lost on most mainstream reports). Rather may well want to make his case in a court, before a jury, and doing so could conceivably get him some of his damaged credibility back.
Too bad that even if it works, it will be too late to have the underlying story about Bush's national guard records (which nobody has even denied was true) carry the weight it should have in the last election. There are a couple of thousand dead servicemen and many more thousands of dead Iraqis who would probably have found that useful.
Tom Brokaw was on "Countdown" yesterday, and I am freshly astonished at the myopia that persists in what he said. In response to a question from Olbermann about how we got from the unity we saw after 9/11 to the divisions of today, Brokaw started by saying that he thinks that the reason we are divided is because we weren't all asked to sacrifice for the war in Iraq, and then went on to say that the polarization we see is the result of failures by both parties.
Both of these assertions are astonishingly stupid. Does Brokaw actually believe that if we had all been asked to make more of a sacrifice, we would be happier about the disaster that is our Iraq adventure, or that our investment would make us less likely to be angry with those who led us into this mess under false pretenses? There's no question that the sacrifices of this nightmare have fallen unevenly on the military and their families, and I couldn't agree more that that sacrifice should have fallen more equally on us all. However, the assertion that it would have made us more supportive of this catastrophe are sustained by neither evidence nor reason. Brokaw is tacitly buying into the administration argument that the real problem in Iraq (and with the administration's policy in general) is a PR problem, not a failure of the policies themselves. I can understand why the administration believes this - their whole concept of what governing means is contained in PR campaigns directed at winning the next election. It's far less comprehensible in a journalist, who is part of the profession that is regularly lambasted by the administration and its toadies for bias in its reporting (a bias that, where it does exist, has been clearly demonstrated to run in favor of the administration doing the whining).
Likewise the assertion that the polarization we see is the result of failings on the parts of both parties. The administration, its water carriers in the Congress, and their Greek chorus of baying hyenas in the press made every effort to mine the horror and tragedy of six years ago for all the political gain they possibly could. First, they spent as much time as possible coloring the response to the attacks with as much of their partisan agenda as possible, and then they went on the political offensive against those with the temerity to question the loonier aspects of the rhetoric and the policy, impugning their patriotism, questioning their motives, making ad hominem attacks against their personalities, everything but conducting a reasoned debate (which, as we have since found out, would have been impossible, considering the disposition of facts in the matter).
Throughout, we have also since discovered, the administration was making direct frontal assaults on the foundations of our democracy (those that hadn't already been made in 2000, that is). Is it a "failure" for the opposition party to oppose these abuses, or is it just a failure to oppose them effectively? For Brokaw to paint this deterioration of comity as a bipartisan effort would be laughable, if it weren't too busy being disgusting.
Megan McArdle has apparently recently been described in terms fitting to this sort of "analysis". She doesn't deserve it, but Brokaw certainly does - "weapons grade stupid".
While checking some facts about Islam for a discussion with a friend today, I re-encountered this exchange
between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan on Beliefnet. It's several
months old, and I'd seen it before, but I had to preserve a link.
It's long, and involved, but I think the arguments on both sides are
just dazzlingly eloquent. It is among the most interesting exchanges on
any topic that I've ever read in the blogosphere, and among the best
about religion that I've seen anywhere. I am not much surprised (both of these guys are very sharp) but I'm still in awe.