The Third Front

Ken AshfordDemocratsLeave a Comment

Billmon of the Whiskey Bar has some interesting thoughts on the unification of interests between progressives (as distinguished from John Kerry-like "neolibs") and libertarians. It takes him a while to get to that point, but the journey is interesting as well. An excellent read from an underrated blog.

Excerpted highlights:

Strategically, the neocons and their neoliberal collaborators now hold the center of the political spectrum. The anti-imperialists hold the two edges — historically not an enviable position. To continue the military analogy, the hawks enjoy the advantage of "interior lines of communication." The two wings of the anti-war movement, on the other hand, barely speak the same language.

The fact that realism has been pushed to the fringes of the political debate says a lot about America’s collective mental condition. Sanity isn’t very popular these days . . . We seem to have reached the point where a half-baked strategy for endless war in the Middle East is actually easier to sell politically than a sensible energy policy, an end to America’s fawning subservience to worst instincts of the Israeli national security state, and a focused, relentless campaign to destroy Al Qaeda while drying up the pools of hatred in which jihad festers and grows.


For libertarian conservatives, the great fear is of a state that gradually overwhelms and crushes human liberty. For progressives, it’s a state that ignores the needs of the weak and the powerless at home, while acting as an engine of oppression in the developing world. Thanks to the war in the Middle East, it looks like both of our worst fears could come true. Thus, the idea of a coalition of both ends against the middle.


Lets just call it "Americans for Sanity," and leave it at that.

On Winning The Hearts And Minds

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

"Today there is hatred of the Americans like never before in the region," said Egyptian President (and ally) Hosni Mubarak, speaking of the Middle East. You can read all about his comments here: "Mubarak: Arabs Hate U.S. More Than Ever" (Reuters)

Quick! What best describes your reaction?

(1) "Who gives a tinker’s cuss about what Arabs think of America?"
(2) "I’m building a bomb shelter"

To those who responded with #1, let me counter-respond.

Let’s assume that every society has its share of player-haters. For example, we in the West have angry Christian fundamentalists (although, of course, that does not mean that all Christian fundamentalists are angry).

Let’s further assume that a certain small percentage of those player-haters will be driven to illegal, immoral, and violent extremes — in a word, terrorism. For argument’s sake, let’s say they represent 1% of the identifiable group of "player-haters". So, continuing my example, one percent of angry Christian fundamentalists will be so angry as to commit acts of violence and terrorism (see Eric Rudolph).

It stands to reason that as the Christian fundamentalist movement grows and gains power (which is not a bad thing necessarily), the violent radical fringe of the movement also grows (which IS a bad thing).

So logically, what’s the result when you have a larger universe of Arabs in the Middle East who hate America than you did on, say, 9/11? Answer: you have greater numbers of Arabs situated in the subset of those willing to go to violent extremes. In short, you have more who are (a) willing to fund terrorists (private donations, etc.) and (b) act as terrorists. (Note that this does not require the complicity of nation-states to harbor or support terrorists).

A rising tide raises all boats, so a rising tide of anti-American sentiment necessarily means more terrorists. Does that make America safer? So if you are serious about ending terrorism, you should care about how other cultures see America.

Those who think we can win a (so-called) "war on terror" by stamping out "the terrorists" fail to see how our actions in the past have actually created terrorism. So naturally, they fail to see how our actions in the present are counter-productive to the ultimate objective. They assume that terrorists, in all the forms and incantations, are nothing more than a "band of thugs" (a phrase Bush likes to invoke), without realizing that our policies actually create more anti-U.S. fever and, hence, more terrorists.

In fact, the Bush supporters often go one step further. The mere suggestion that attention be paid to winning the hearts and minds of the people we want to change . . . gets greeted with mocking derisions of how "appeasement doesn’t work".

Don’t get me wrong. I’m strongly in favor of the judicious use of the military, but only as one of many tools in our arsenal to halt the so-called "war" on terror. But a myopic, heavy-handed, military-weighted solution to terrorism is like scratching a poison ivy rash: it may seem like you are getting rid of the problem . . . but in reality, you are merely exacerbating it.

If terrorists recruit in their culture with the propaganda that America is militaristic, expansionist, and self-serving. . . then how are we served by acting in an unapologetic militaristic, expansionist and self-serving manner, thus proving their entire point?

If America wants to change the world, it needs to be a beacon of humble respect for other countries and cultures, even — no, especially — ones that we disagree with.

On occasion, there may be clear good reasons to militarily overthrow countries (and if they are indeed "clear and good", there should be absolutely no problem with world consensus on that issue). But barring that, there is simply no reason to attempt to make other countries in our own image. Let THEM make THEMSELVES in our image, but being a beacon of freedom.

Furthermore, if we demonstrate that all we understand is force and death, then those who oppose us will not hesitate to speak to us in a language we understand — just as they did on 9/11. And once again, we will hear them say, "The chickens have come home to roost".

CPA Memo Admits That Iraq Is A Clusterfuck

Ken AshfordIraqLeave a Comment

A newly-surfaced memo, written in March, from an unnamed U.S. government official detailed to the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) in Iraq, is alarming in its honesty.

You can read about the CPA memo here. Some highlights from the article:

Yet the memo is gloomy in most other respects, portraying a country mired in dysfunction and corruption, overseen by a CPA that "handle(s) an issue like 6-year-olds play soccer: Someone kicks the ball and 100 people chase after it hoping to be noticed, without a care as to what happens on the field."

The memo also describes the CPA as "handicapped by [its] security bubble," and derides the U.S. government for spending "millions importing sport utility vehicles which are used exclusively to drive the kilometer and a half" between CPA and Governing Council headquarters when "we would have been much better off with a small fleet of used cars and a bicycle for every Green Zone resident."

The memo also notes that while Iraqi police "remain too fearful to enforce regulations," they are making a pretty penny as small-arms dealers, with the CPA as an unwitting partner. "CPA is ironically driving the weapons market," it reveals. "Iraqi police sell their U.S.-supplied weapons on the black market; they are promptly re-supplied. Interior ministry weapons buy-backs keep the price of arms high."

CPA now estimates there are at least 30 separate militias active in Iraq, and "essentially [CPA] doesn’t know what to do with regard to them — which is frightening, because CPA’s authority essentially ends on June 30, and any Iraqi incentive to get rid of the militias is likely to go away after that date . . .

We have a strategy?!?

UPDATE: Full text of memo now online here.

Foreign Leaders Favor Bush

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Election 2004Leave a Comment

The Saudis, that is.

In blogosphere time, this is an old story, but for those who have been in a cave for 24 hours, you can read more about it here. Basically it’s this: The Bush White House and the Saudis have a "sweetheart deal" in which the Saudi government will lower gas prices just prior to our elections, a move that would favor Bush.

The response from the right wing pundits about this piece of news? It’s this: [sound of crickets chirping and a sagebrush ambling by].

So what is it guys? Is Woodward a liar, too? And answer me this question posed by Calpundit: "What would be [your] reaction if Woodward reported that Jacques Chirac had agreed to hold up a new UN resolution until November, just to make Bush look bad?"

UPDATE: Even though Woodward has clarified that the Saudi’s offer of political help to Bush does not necessarily mean it was a "quid pro quo", the Bush White House seems curiously unable to deny that there was indeed a deal:


QUESTION: There were no conversations specifically about the President’s reelection?

MR. McCLELLAN: You can ask Prince Bandar to —

QUESTION: But from the point — I mean, conversations are obviously two ways.

MR. McCLELLAN: — what his comments were. But the conversations we have are related to our long-held views that we have stated repeatedly publicly, that market forces should determine prices.

QUESTION: To follow up on that then, I would gather that the White House view is one of expectation that the Saudis would increase oil production between now and November.

MR. McCLELLAN: Our views are very well-known to Saudi Arabia. Prince Bandar made a commitment at the stakeout that I will let speak for itself. You all should look back to those remarks.

QUESTION: We’re missing the allegation here, which is that Prince Bandar and the Saudis have made a commitment to lower oil prices to help the President politically. Is that your —

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those comments to him. I can tell you that what our views are and what he said at the stakeout is what we know his views are, as well.

QUESTION: Does the White House have any knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Does the White House have any knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I’m not going to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those questions —

QUESTION: Is there a deal?

MR. McCLELLAN: — I wouldn’t speculate one way or the other. You can direct those questions to him, but I’m telling you —

Thanks, GWB. I Feel MUCH Safer Now

Ken AshfordIraqLeave a Comment

Probe Shows Iraq Nuke Facilities Unguarded

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Some Iraqi nuclear facilities appear to be unguarded, and radioactive materials are being taken out of the country, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency reported after reviewing satellite images and equipment that has turned up in European scrapyards.

Geez. Full story here.

Bush Is Perfect, White House Reveals

Ken AshfordBush & Co.Leave a Comment

Courtesy of The Borowitz Report:

First Flawless Person in History, Experts Believe

President George W. Bush received some much needed good news today as the White House revealed conclusive evidence that the President is perfect.

“After reviewing his actions since entering the White House in 2001, we have come to the conclusion that the President is perfect,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “And we believe that his perfection may date back even further than that, possibly to his date of birth.”

Mr. Bush responded to the news of his perfection with self-effacing modesty, Mr. McClellan said, “which is exactly how you’d expect a perfect person to react.”

“He said he would move mountains to find some flaw that would make him less than perfect,” Mr. McClellan said, adding that the President could, in fact, move mountains.

Mr. McClellan then distributed to the press copies of a bowling score-sheet attributed to the President which showed Mr. Bush bowling a perfect score of 300.

In the aftermath of the White House’s announcement, experts in the field of human perfection expressed astonishment at the news of Mr. Bush’s flawlessness.

“We’ve always operated on the presumption that nobody is perfect,” said Dr. David Stemmins of the University of Minnesota. “If these revelations are true, that would make President Bush the first perfect person in history.”

Not so, says Mr. McClellan: “Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Ashcroft are also perfect.”

In other news, Barry Bonds’s home-run heroics were overshadowed yesterday when President Bush produced his 660th reason for invading Iraq.

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

Ken AshfordIraqLeave a Comment

Based on my thorough research (i.e., scanning a few blogs and catching a few minutes of Rush), the right-wing line du jour seems to be that the media is over-exaggerating the problems in Iraq. Which may or may not be true (who can say??), but I wonder how long that meme will float.

Kos goes out on a limb with a wonderful prediction:

So you’re a war supporter, and Iraq is going to hell. You want to pull the troops out, but doing so might require admitting defeat. And admitting defeat would mean that the bloodbath in Iraq was all for naught. What to do? Easy.

Blame Iraqis. Talk about how the US came in, altruistic at heart, hoping to spread "freedom" to the Iraqi people. And then, pointing to the current broad-based rebellion, screech about how "ungrateful" the Iraqis are to the US for bringing said "freedom" to the country.

And then cut tail and run.

Watch the Right. It’s gonna happen.

Yep. I’ll be watching . . .

Rice vs. Bush

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Apparently, Dr. Rice doesn’t read my posts here. Like this one.

Today, before the 9/11 Commission, she characterized the threats that were coming in (during the Spring and Summer of 2001) as:

"Troubling, yes. But they don’t tell us when; they don’t tell us where; they don’t tell us who; and they don’t tell us how . . . "

To which I ask (again quoting Bush’s 2003 SOTU) "Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?"

Of course, it HELPS to have exact details if we can get them, but their unavailability shouldn’t deter our government from taking action.

And that’s the difference between Clinton and Bush. Clinton, in late 1999, was aware of a possible millennium attack by terrorists. He, too, was hampered by a frustrating lack of detailed information about where, when, and who would attack. But Clinton, you know, did something about it — our borders were tightened, etc. We picked up several people crossing the borders and quite possibly avoided a major terrorist attack.

The Bush Administration, on the other hand, was annoyed at the idea of "swatting flies". So — as as they sat around trying to find develop some grand fly-decimating strategy (and taking their sweet time) — we got bitten. Big time.

Sorry, kids. "We didn’t know the exact details of a specific terrorist attack" is a lame excuse for doing NOTHING.

Another Bloody Day?

Ken AshfordIraqLeave a Comment

Sky News out of Britain is reporting that 130 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq. I don’t know how much stock to put in that (it’s a Murduch publication, so . . .).

Other (more realistic, but nevertheless tragic) reports are coming out saying "Six U.S. soldiers dead". Let’s hope they’re ALL wrong.

UPDATE: As of this entry (6:05 pm EST), CNN is reporting breaking news of "dozens" of U.S. soldiers killed. MSNBC reporting "twelve". I won’t update anymore.

Bush vs. Bush

Ken AshfordBush & Co., War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

"Let me just be very clear about this . . . Had we had the information that was necessary to stop an attack, I’d have stopped the attack. … If we’d have known that the enemy was going to fly airplanes into our buildings, we would have done everything in our power to stop it."

– Bush, quoted recently here

"Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?"

– Bush 2003 SOTU

So . . . help me out, Mr. Prez.

Re: Preventing acts of terrorism — is it a mistake to do this only when there is specific information about a pending attack (i.e., when the threat has "fully emerged") . . . or not?

Front Burner, My Ass – Pt II

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Last one, I promise. (Well, maybe I’ll touch upon it again when Cheney and his chauffeur meet with the 9/11 commission . . .)

This, too, is a confirmation of Clarke’s allegations.

National Security Adviser Condi Rice was to speak at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She had a major policy speech that was to address "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday."

What WERE those "threats and problems" mentioned in the speech? Mmmmmm . . .

Al Qaeda? Nope, not mentioned.

Bin Laden? Nope, not mentioned.

Islamic extremists? Nope, not mentioned.

Did the speech even mention "terrorism"? Well, yes, but only in the context of "rogue nations" (with Iraq being a specific example).

Apparently, the speech was designed to promote the missile defense system as the cornerstone of the new national security strategy.

Of course, this is all hearsay, from people who claim to have seen the speech. You see, Condi never actually delivered it (which is why the White House is saying it won’t release it). She was scheduled to deliver it . . . .

. . . . on September 11, 2001. Instead, she spent some of that day in a bunker.

Read more here.


Ken AshfordIraqLeave a Comment

Well, with the nine Americans(!) killed in Iraq today, we’ve gone over the 600 dead mark(!), and enjoyed the second-deadliest month(!) since the end of major combat eleven months ago.

As I saw the AP photos of the four charred American bodies (all civilians!) being hung from a bridge in Fallujah, I was struck by the complete and utter absence of rose petals at what was once their feet.

I was depressed about this, but then I thought about that knee-slapper of a joke Bush told the other day — you know, the one where he showed slides of himself crawling around looking for the WMDs? Hee hee hee! Took those blues o’ mine away! Gosh, it’s so darned refreshing to have a President — no, a compassionate President — in the White House to make us laugh on days like today. Har har har!

Powell Adds Credence to Clark Testimony

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Not intentionally of course.

Here’s the timeline which tells the story:

December 16, 2000 – Powell nominated by Bush to be Secretary of State.

December 20, 2000 – Powell meets with CIA, FBI and the State Department for the transition. "We talked about al Qaeda," Powell later admits.

January 17, 2000 – Powell testifies at his confirmation hearing. Outlining the new administration’s priorities, he talks on about 20 topics, including China, Balkans, Russia, Iran, and Iraq (saying that U.N. sanctions must be "re-energized"). Number of times "terrorism" is mentioned: twice (one time, it is lumped in with "organized crime"). Number of times al Qaeda is mentioned: zero.

Front burner, my ass.


Outsourcing Torture

Ken AshfordForeign Affairs, Iraq, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

The Village Voice has an interesting article on a CIA practice known as "extraordinary rendition". What it basically means is this: we pick up a suspect (i.e., a terrorism suspect) in a foreign country. Then, rather than interrogate him here in the United States, we ship him off to Syria or someplace where the authorities there can practice, uh, more persuasive methods of interrogation on him — in a word, torture.

Now, one can see the advantages of such a practice. Our government can (in theory) get information which it wouldn’t be unable to obtain here, where it is constrained by pesky little things like the Bill of Rights and all that. And that might translate into saving lives.

But the article brings up a larger issue. What message does that send about our system and values? We express outrage (rightfully) at Saddam’s torture of his people, but if the Syrians do it on our behalf, then torture is okay?!?

It makes no sense. Third-world countries will adopt the unmistakable perception that America is a principle-less country — i.e., that we are hypocrites. There is no moral absolutism, just transitory arguments of convenience.

So . . . an open question: If the key to ending terror lies in planting seeds of democracy and fostering moral principles of human rights in these regions, shouldn’t we examine the practice of "extraordinary rendition" more closely