pmb: (unfortunately)
[personal profile] pmb
Torture is not okay. Torture is, in fact, never okay. Which means that I read with ever-increasing disappointment the news that the current administration actively approved of and explicitly authorized acts which we have successfully prosecuted as war crimes in the past. This means that torture is not "a few bad apples", it is instead the explicit policy of the executive branch from the top down.

I worry that none of this would change under a President McCain. He had this big reputation as a straight-talker about 8 years ago, but he rolled over and advocated for the Military Commissions Act, which is a horrifically two-faced piece of legislation. It expressly prohibits torture by the executive branch and also vests the executive branch with total authority in determining what is and is not called torture. He also seems to have kissed and made up with the people who ran the awful race-baiting campaign against him in South Carolina in 2000.

This means that I read http://electoral-vote.com with great trepidation, because it's looking more and more like the Democratic party is tearing itself apart in an effort to lose the fall election by as much as possible. Bad domestic policy is yucky, and can take some investment and soul-searching to recover from. Bad foreign policy reverberates for decades and causes wounds which take generations to heal. And the past 7.5 years have been marked by some of the worst foreign policy I can imagine, and John McCain seems to be desirous of continuing the disaster. Kissingeresque realpolitik is one thing (it may be bad and morally reprehensible, but at least it has goals and examines outcomes), but this hasn't been that --- it's been divorced from reality. They've pretended that the world was the way they didn't want it, and then they took the steps that would be appropriate in this imaginary universe to fix the problem. Unfortunately, their mental map of the world has proven to be very different from the actual territory.

Anyhow, I was reminded of these fun facts by reading two things today. The first was from former Talking Heads frontman and all-around crazy genius David Byrne (BTW - David Byrne has both a blog and an Internet radio station and they are both good in that insane David Byrne way) and the second was Cory Doctorow's new novel Little Brother (available in full online at http://craphound.com/littlebrother/Cory_Doctorow_-_Little_Brother.htm ). When the zeitgeist is full of conspiracy theories and dystopias based on stupid responses to terror, this stuff just comes pouring out.


While I've opened the political can of worms, I thought I should plug my solution to ending the Iraq War in the most humane way possible:

First it was the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but the current raison de guerre is that we deposed Saddam Hussein to bring democracy to Iraq. Which succeeded — or, at least, a vote was held and people voted and got a purple thumb and then everyone went back to having a big ol' civil war. Let's hold another vote. I propose that this ballot will have a single question on it: Should the foreign troops leave within 1 year? 1 year is a nice round number, and it allows for an orderly goodbye. If they say yes, then we train people if they want the training, accept refugees if they want to come and be US citizens, and we leave in a year. We can even split hairs on whether it should be a year of the Islamic calendar or a year on the Gregorian calendar, but that ends up being a pretty small difference. That's democracy: people vote for something, and then the government does that thing (modulo various checks and balances).

By all accounts and all polls, this ballot measure would end up with more than 70% of the Iraqi population voting us out of their country. Why are we staying in a country that does not want us inside of it? We ``brought democracy'', and if they aren't free to vote us away on their own terms, it starts being colonialism and empire-building. (Sidenote: If we do stay, what is the end condition? Will we stay in Iraq until ``terror'' surrenders and we finally win the war?)

We may have broken it, but we do not own it. Iraqis own it. It is, after all, their country that we broke. Let's find out what they want us to do and then do that.

Date: 2008-05-06 11:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] amoken.livejournal.com
When did politics not make you sad and worried?

Date: 2008-05-06 11:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
It used to make alternately frustrated, angry, and (very occasionally) hopeful.

When a nation is countenancing systemic torture, however, I give up. This next election will determine whether torture is a one-off aberration or sustained policy. McCain seems to be pro-torture (or near-as - see previous about the MCA) and that worries me a lot. It actually worries me more than just about anything else I can think of. You can't fix anything when a system is so fundamentally broken that it's torturing people with impunity.

Date: 2008-05-07 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] leech.livejournal.com
This means that I read http://electoral-vote.com with great trepidation, because it's looking more and more like the Democratic party is tearing itself apart in an effort to lose the fall election by as much as possible.

Polls taken in May reflect our current news cycle; I don't think they're terribly useful for predicting the results of an election six months in the future. Voter turnout in democratic primaries has been extremely high.

Date: 2008-05-07 02:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akatchoom.livejournal.com
Thanks for linking "Little Brother", I'm heading out for a copy now.

Date: 2008-05-07 02:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
There was a recent thing about how young adult is this totally ignored category of literature in which lots of good stuff is happening right now and where writers can actually make money. Also, "Little Brother" is quite good and I heartily recommend it to all.

Date: 2008-05-07 02:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] clipdude.livejournal.com
I have hope that, after the primaries are over and the Democratic Party has settled on a nominee, more states on those maps will turn blue.

I am disappointed in how negatively the presidential primary campaigns have been conducted. It's irresponsible. I believe that we should have vigorous primaries, but I don't think either one of these candidates truly believes it's a disaster if the other one becomes president, and impression you would not get from some of the rhetoric or campaign ads.

I find it especially troubling that we are having a serious debate about whether it's okay to torture people. A systematic policy of state-sponsored torture is wrong in a way that few things can be. I hope someday that those responsible are prosecuted. I doubt the U.S. government would ever do so, but even if one administration official responsible for torture were arrested and prosecuted while vacationing abroad, I would be happy.

Date: 2008-05-07 02:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
Well, Henry Kissinger is unable to visit France, so there is precedent. Also, CIA agents have been arrested in Italy.

But yeah. A policy of torture is one of those things that is so wrong that I end up sputtering angrily and fuming when I talk about it in person. And yet, I don't think I'm irrational about it - I think it's an issue that everyone should be sputtering and fuming about.

Date: 2008-05-07 02:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] keystricken.livejournal.com
What? I thought arrest warrants had been issued, but the agents were long gone and America basically said, "Yeah, that's not going to happen."

Date: 2008-05-07 02:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
I thought they were briefly held by police and then a deal was quickly brokered.

Date: 2008-05-07 02:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
Of course, this is a fact. I forgot the cardinal rule: do not argue about facts. The facts (as verified by a quick Google search) are that you are totally right. My bad.

Date: 2008-05-07 04:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snailprincess.livejournal.com
Sigh.

I try not to get too pessimistic. I think most things we fret and fear generally just kind of fizzle and turn out to be not so a big deal. But I'm pretty sure the end result of the last eight years will be the slow decline of the United States as a world power. That in and of itself I don't think is intrinsically bad, accept that I actually don't think there's anyone ready to step up and take our place. I'm not a huge fan of Europe and China and India certainly aren't ready.

I don't think Bush deserves all or even most of the credit for leading us down this path. Mostly I'm just frustrated and increasingly disillusioned.

Date: 2008-05-07 05:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
I think Bush deserves most of the credit. People vaguely resented us during Clinton's era, but nothing like today. After September 11, 2001 there was a massive outpouring of support - freaking Le Monde published a front page stating that "Now We are All Americans" - we then invaded Afghanistan for good reasons to get at the people who flew planes into the WTC. Everything was still copacetic and the world was behind us. Indeed, most of our allies are still at war fighting the good fight in Afghanistan although we now ignore that whole effort and focus on our most recent boondoggle.

Then, in their zeal to invade Iraq, the Bush administration spent every single gram of global political capital and went into hock for the rest. Pissing off all of Western Europe by calling them "Old Europe" and "irrelevant" and then pissing off Russia by ignoring a nuclear arms treaty and trying to set up an ABM shield just like we said we wouldn't. Pissing off the middle east by invading Iraq. Pissing off India by letting Pakistan go nuclear. Pissing off the whole world by almost encouraging North Korea to go nuclear. Pissing off half of Central America by trying to incite a coup against Hugo Chavez and pissing off the other half by then having the coup fail. Pissing off Africa by simply ignoring it (albeit slightly less than past presidents - good job there - although only funding "abstinence only" efforts to fight AIDS is, quite frankly, a total boner). After all of this hamhanded undiplomatic spell of foreign relations, it's a wonder anyone likes us. But most of Eastern Europe doesn't loathe us as much as everyone else does. But they also didn't much hate us before. That achievement there is mostly one of failing to screw up.

All he had to do was not rock the boat and not start any unprovoked wars. Instead, he went into extreme debt to do exactly the opposite on the advice of a small group of people who don't seem to have ever been right about anything but have lots of power anyway. And now you wonder if it was just something in the air? The man dragged our foreign policy kicking and screaming back into the 19th century and now we're sitting around wondering why everyone resents being treating like our colonies.

Date: 2008-05-07 05:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snailprincess.livejournal.com
My point is not so much that Bush didn't fuck everything up, it's more that he didn't do it by hijacking the country and taking us somewhere against our will. Sure everyone hates him now, but we elected him a second time after he'd made a lot of his big mistakes.

We the people, including voters, the media, everyone, were remarkably complacent along the way. I mean, I even blame myself. I didn't join any protests or do anything big to change things. I mostly just complained a lot.

Date: 2008-05-07 04:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agthorr.livejournal.com
By all accounts and all polls, this ballot measure would end up with more than 70% of the Iraqi population voting us out of their country. Why are we staying in a country that does not want us inside of it? We ``brought democracy'', and if they aren't free to vote us away on their own terms, it starts being colonialism and empire-building. (Sidenote: If we do stay, what is the end condition? Will we stay in Iraq until ``terror'' surrenders and we finally win the war?)


I'm going to play devil's advocate here a bit...

When should we have left Germany after WWII and why? How about Japan?

Date: 2008-05-07 04:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
After Germany and Japan surrendered, there were terms dictating how long we would continue to occupy them and how we would do it. In this regard, our long occupation was totally legal and pretty darn orderly. Also, hooray for the Marshall Plan! In Iraq we've obliterated the country. There's nobody to surrender to us. There's no command and control structure. So the war isn't going to end unless we end it. Especially considering the fact that we threw the first punch in the Iraq War, I think that it behooves us to get out as soon as can be done without making things worse than they already inherently are. I'd love to also have some kind of Marshall Plan to help rebuild Iraq, but quite frankly our current leaders have shown themselves unable to plan themselves out of a paper bag and it would be impossible to institute any plan in the middle of a civil war. And we can't stop a civil war from happening because there's no functioning state anymore because we broke it.

We've utterly broken their whole country, and we can't fix it. That makes us guilty of horrible acts (arguably well-intended, arguably not) and completely unable to make remuneration. It's like when somebody screws everything up so bad that everything they do just makes things worse and all you can do is tell them to leave. That's where we are in Iraq. The country, if there is one, doesn't want us in it. And if there isn't a country, then the only autonomous-region-of-ambiguous-sovereignty that likes us is Kurdistan, which we already promised Turkey we wouldn't let exist, but seems to have quite happily created itself right under our noses and is our only friend in the region. This, of course, pisses of Turkey, who is perhaps our only friend in the region capable of actually influencing other countries in the region in anything other than a negative way. (Israel is our friend, but all the other countries in the region loathe Israel so much that their diplomatic power is pretty limited.) Thus, the only bright spot in Iraq is also a big middle finger stuck up at what we were hoping would be our main friend.

Date: 2008-05-07 05:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agthorr.livejournal.com
After Germany and Japan surrendered, there were terms dictating how long we would continue to occupy them and how we would do it. In this regard, our long occupation was totally legal and pretty darn orderly. Also, hooray for the Marshall Plan! In Iraq we've obliterated the country. There's nobody to surrender to us.

By what strange measure did we obliterate Iraq _more_ than we obliterated Germany and Japan in WWII? :-)

Date: 2008-05-07 05:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
By only this one measure: There is nobody left to surrender to us. Wars end in two ways: someone signs a surrender agreement, or the invading side leaves and stops fighting.

There is now nobody in Iraq who can surrender to us. By invading faster and cheaper we totally destroyed all of the key links in the network that held Iraqi society together - which was effective as a way of invading and becoming top dog, but made it impossible to find anyone who people would listen to to sign a surrender agreement. So now the only way to "win" is to somehow magically convince the people of Iraq that, despite totally screwing everything up for 5+ years, we're now all of a sudden magically competent, not torturing anyone anymore, and one the side of stability and have their best interests at heart. And we have to convince EVERYONE of it, because there is no structure left where someone could say "Everyone, stop fighting" and have everyone actually, you know, STOP FIGHTING. And then, once we've done that, we have to help rebuild the country to at least the prosperity level it was at when we invaded.

Date: 2008-05-07 05:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
Actually, there is a third way: one side is completely eliminated. But that means either obliterating us (not gonna happen) or killing every single Iraqi. And I'm just not into the whole "We had to slaughter every single person in order to make them free" thing.

Date: 2008-05-07 05:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agthorr.livejournal.com
By only this one measure: There is nobody left to surrender to us. There is now nobody in Iraq who can surrender to us. By invading faster and cheaper we totally destroyed all of the key links in the network that held Iraqi society together - which was effective as a way of invading and becoming top dog, but made it impossible to find anyone who people would listen to to sign a surrender agreement.

I don't think it really has much to do with how we invaded (and I think your German WWII history is lacking :P), but more to do with the fact that Iraq never fully congealed into a proper state. Iraqis identify based on their racial heritage and religious beliefs, not as Iraqis. And their idea of racial identity is hair-splitting by American melting-pot standards.

There never _was_ anyone to say "Everyone, stop fighting" and have everyone stop.

Date: 2008-05-07 02:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pmb.livejournal.com
There was always a German army, even when there wasn't much of a German anything else. Thus, when the German army surrendered, fighting pretty much stopped. Also, there was a nominal leader of Germany (Donitz), and he was able to sign the articles of surrender, which made the army surrender, and ended WWII - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/End_of_World_War_II_in_Europe or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/End_of_World_War_II_in_the_Pacific for how it went with the Japanese.

The leader of the Iraqi Army (some general - it doesn't matter which one, quite frankly) could have signed the articles of surrender, but we dissolved that. Saddam Hussein's second (or, like, twelfth) in command --- say, the highest up in the chain who hadn't plausibly committed too many grievous crimes against humanity --- could have signed articles of surrender, but we declared his entire government unfit to rule or make decisions and dissolved that.

We explicitly eliminated every single person or institution who could have surrendered to us. And now we're surprised that the war is continuing to go on with no end in sight? We are now hoping that the Iraqis will elect a government so that we can sign some sort of treaty with them and then we can become legitimate helpers rather than just occupiers, but nobody wants the job of "bend over to the Americans as much as you can" except Ahmed Chalabi, and nobody in Iraq wants him to be the leader, apparently. And racial and religious lines are exactly what people fall back on when forming tribes when a state has failed. So yeah, there's nobody now, but at one point there was. But every time we found someone who could, we killed or jailed them or dissolved their institutional base.

Date: 2008-05-07 03:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agthorr.livejournal.com
There was always a German army, even when there wasn't much of a German anything else. Thus, when the German army surrendered, fighting pretty much stopped.

Yeah, but the Germany army that was actually located in Germany bordered on non-existent. ;-) Germany was rubble.

Anyway, I agree that obtaining a formal surrender would have been nice, although I don't put quite so much weight on it.

We are now hoping that the Iraqis will elect a government so that we can sign some sort of treaty with them and then we can become legitimate helpers rather than just occupiers,

Possibly I haven't been paying close enough attention recently, but didn't they already elect a government that's US-friendly? al-Maliki et al?

And racial and religious lines are exactly what people fall back on when forming tribes when a state has failed. So yeah, there's nobody now, but at one point there was.

I'm not sure I agree. I don't think Iraqis ever identified primarily as Iraqis. Saddam faced uprisings from ethnic (Kurds) and religious (Shi'ite) groups, but he ruthlessly repressed them. Arguably, his crimes against humanity--and the fear they inspired--were what kept him in power for so long.

Comment #1 - Nat'l Security Concerns

Date: 2008-05-07 04:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akjdg.livejournal.com
This is an excerpt of a paper I wrote for myself last September on the issue. It seems appropriate here, so I'll toss it out. Consider this list the brainstorming product of a busy person, I do not represent it to be complete or comprehensive, but as a starting point for consideration.

Primary Long Term Threats to U.S. National Security (NS):

I. Domestic threats. Americans losing control of their government and their rights.
II. The nuclear Genie. North Korea, Russia, Pakistan, Iran? I fear containment is a lost battle and we’re just waiting now. A nuclear exchange abroad (e.g., Pakistan/India, Iran/Israel) is perhaps more a humanitarian concern than an acute U.S. NS concern, but domestic nuclear terrorism is a real NS concern.
III. Energy security. Iraq, fundamentally in my view, is a subset of this. So is the global warming orgy.
IV. Renewed cold war with Russia. I doubt Putin wants to take it that far, but very disturbing. He is building a cult of personality ala Stalin or Khrushchev (complete with the youth camps and posters), and he is using old Soviet glory as a foundation. Teaching a whole new generation of Russians to hate the West is a bad thing. He also holds Europe by its energy short-hairs, perhaps more effective than the red menace of old.
V. Established "real" environmental concerns (Midwestern topsoil depletion, midwestern ice-age aquifer depletion, collapsing fisheries, meeting basic public health needs, loss of ecosystem integrity, etc).
VI. Mega-terrorism.

Iraq does not factor very highly on this list. At a very high level analysis, it would appear we are not using our NS resources very well.

Comment #2 - Iraq, Schmaraq?

Date: 2008-05-07 04:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akjdg.livejournal.com
So back to Iraq – what to do?

1) Staying retains the allure of making right what we so completely set wrong. Fundamentally, I find this naive. The dead are dead, the damage is done, and wishing a nation to be at peace will not make it so. The president’s administration lacks a vision to conclude Iraq. I have not heard a presidential candidate articulate one, therefore I conclude no one of consequence has one. If we have no vision, the best we can hope for is continued variations upon the established theme - culling the innocent, factionalizing the faithful, and destroying an arbitrary and contrived nation. With staying, when do we see a sudden (or gradual) reversal of trends, cessation of sectarian violence, and move towards reconciliation and rebuilding? I no longer think we will see it through continued occupation.

2) If we leave in short order, what will happen? Several things seem fairly certain:
a) Iraq's government will fall by some torturous route.
b) The vacuum will be filled by a combination of Syrian, Iranian, and local warlord presences battling for control (Ooo, what if we arm the Kurds and let them impose order?).
c) The Iraqi people will lose any hope of democracy and western freedoms. But these are not of their culture, so maybe they won’t mind as much as we claim to care on their behalf.
d) There is possibility of great loss of life as power and control gets sorted out. I’m not sure this isn’t inevitable in a post-Hussein Iraq. There’s reckoning to be had.
e) The bubble of peace around the fledgling Kurdistan will certainly be popped, to the inaction of the superpowers and the glee of the local powers. Turkey will try to delicately balance its competing goals to quash Kurdistan and join Europe’s clubs. Others will perhaps be less delicate.
f) A new power equilibrium, probably anti-western, will emerge within 5 years (probably less) and Iraqi oil will again be for sale on the world market. The world buys oil from many other unsavory regimes, this one will be no different.
g) At worst, Islamic terrorism will fully gain another region where it can operate freely at a grass roots level. This would boost its existing playgrounds from what, 3 or 4 to 4 or 5? If it becomes a big problem, we could always go back in.

Other possibilities are much less certain:
a) Will Saudi Arabia or Jordan get into the fill-the-vacuum game? Saudi Arabia has its ties with the U.S. to consider, I don’t think Jordan has the means.
b) What happens to Kuwait? Probably nothing. The spoils in Iraq are big enough without taunting the industrialized world with another Kuwaiti invasion.
c) Will the Islamic battle over Iraq ignite a broader Islamic holy civil war? Probably not.
d) What about the nukes? They’re coming, and a problem separate from Iraq. Iran is on that path regardless.

So if this is accurate, I don’t see a massive downside to immediate withdrawal. We can focus on more important things, and Iraq can suffer a fate similar to what it has now, only with the relative light of oppressive stability at the end of the tunnel. My biggest concern is how oppressive and brutal that light may be for the people. Perhaps we should strategize ways to mitigate that.

Date: 2008-05-07 04:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] roninspoon.livejournal.com
The Democrats have a long record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The primary strategic flaw that the Democratic Party is working on is that a Democratic victory is assured. They're so busy trying to figure out which Democrat would be the best that they've put aside any real concern that they'll lose.

Also, when I heard Hillary tell Stephanopoulos "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists" using a hokey assumed southern accent I realized that she had probably completely lost her mind. She's not in this to be the better candidate, she's in it to pander and smear her way into office.

As for Iraq, well, the problem there has always been one of definition. The Fed keeps telling everyone that all they really want in Iraq is Democracy. Except that the Fed has a different understanding of Democracy than just about everyone else. When you and I think Democracy, we think of a nation of laws maintained by the collective input of its population.

The current administration, however, has a very narrow ethnocentric view of Democracy, and to be honest, just about every other element of government. To them Democracy means; a nation that agrees with us and lets us do what we want. If the will of the people is contrary to the will of our government, then it can't possibly be a Democracy in their minds.

Date: 2008-05-09 07:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bonboard.livejournal.com
I doubt you can do very well in Arkansas for 20 years without being able to turn a southern accent on and off when necessary.

thanks much

Date: 2008-05-08 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
well done, man

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