Tuesday, January 30, 2007


At a recent rally of some sort, Hillary Clinton appeared in front of a campaign sign reading not "Clinton," as is the default linguistic choice for a candidate for office but with "Hillary." Who does she think she is? Oprah? Cher? Sting? Seal? A Brazilian soccer star? I can't answer my question but her use of her first name in campaign signs, a first to my knowledge, reflects her very unusual situation. She is the very first spouse of a President to run for President. Should Jeb Bush run for President he might have something like the same problem for he and W are brothers. Should that happen, I would recommend that Jeb's signs read "I'm the Other Bush" or "I'm Jeb, not George."

One sign which is autographed by Hillary is being auctioned off on Ebay, as I write. You have until February 4th to bid for the following sign. Note that this sign gives the URL "HillaryClinton.com which acknowledges that she has a last name, as do Oprah and all those Brazilian soccer stars. I am not so sure of Sting and Seal. At that site, one finds the items "Hillary's Story" and "Join Team Hillary" on the drop down menus. There is also a link titled "Send Hillary a Message of Support" you are invited to click. I didn't.

A graphic associated with a link titled "Campaign Memo" we find just "Hillary." And, when one accesses various links within this site, we find a logo reading "Hillary for President" as part of the banner at the top of the pages. At another site, which calls itself "Hillary Clinton for President '08 Campaign Store" we find campaign buttons reading "Hillary."

It is pretty clear that Hillary wants to put a certain distance between herself and the Bill Clinton legacy, which, while it includes no smoking gun, does include a smoking cigar. Al Gore tried that strategy and lost. Many pundits said afterward that if he had embraced Bill Clinton while distancing himself from Bill's below the beltline activities, he would have won. I think that's true since Bill Clinton was and still is a well-loved President. (Pace Right Wing Crazies!) And for good reason. He is the only President in my memory who acted like he cared about the American people and he did it so convincingly that I and many other Americans actually believe it. No one even pretended then or pretends now that either Bush cared or cares a lick for us "little people." W's response to the Katrina disaster and his indifference to the deaths of Americans in Iraq proves this as clearly as anything could.

I have heard from an unofficial source (my uncle) that Bill will campaign hard for Hillary but that he and she will campaign in different places. If you Google
Bill Clinton "only Black President
you will find a number of references to the widely bruited claim by Blacks that Clinton was the first Black President, another reflection of the fact that Clinton is a genuine people person. One of Hillary's problems is that while I can easily believe she cares about children -- she certainly seemed to care about her own child -- I find it hard to believe that behind that often cold visage there is a warm heart beating for you and me. So, I would have Clinton campaign in every state with a large Black population and swing states like Ohio which Bill won. Hillary should focus on the Northeast and the West Coast, as well as Chicago, which is, I think, her home town. The problem with a "two places" strategy is that Iowa and New Hampshire are very important and she will need him at her side in those places to win the nomination despite the efforts people like me will make to try to stop her.

The "First Name" strategy wasn't really an option. Bill Clinton "owns" Clinton. And, she must avoid the suspicion that if she is elected, Bill will be a "Shadow President" for those who demand that their Presidents be independent thinkers. To do that, she has to campaign on her own and run as "Hillary." She must go that way, just as Jeb Bush would have to go with "Jeb" along with "I never liked my big brother either" on his campaign signs.

What I am wondering is whether this use of just "Hillary" might project her into being perceived by many as being a Rock Star. If so, then she might actually get nominated and elected. I for one am deeply concerned that nomination of Hillary will mean another 4 to 8 years of a Republican Presidency and that is a fate worse than death. So, its not that I would mind Hillary being President. I would like it. I just think that the Right Wing Crazies and even some decent Republicans will rumor her into oblivion. You know what the main rumor will be already.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Playing God

I very rarely read anything in the Faith and Values section of my daily newspaper because it is really a Faith and Faith section. Yesterday, I was greeted by a story recounting an address by a "noted theologian" who claimed that evolution and intelligent design are not mutually exclusive. The headline for the story was quite silly -- "God and evolution can coexist" was how it was put. This is paired with comments by a paster and teacher at a Cleveland University. According to her, germline genetic engineering, that is, the altering of genes early in pregnancy, constitutes "playing God"? She also evokes the slippery slope argument asking, "How far do we go?" These religious persons seem to have wildly different conceptions of God.

The headline is silly because it links concepts from two different cognitive categories, that of beings (God) and a human cognitive construct (the theory of evolution). The theologian, unlike the headline, claims that evolution and intelligent design are not in conflict. This does not constitute a category error for both are human cognitive constructs. Where they differ is that those studying evolution make falsifiable claims and therefore are engaged in an empirical enterprise while those "studying" intelligent design do not make falsifiable predictions and are therefore not engaged in an empirical enterprise. For that reason, we must dismiss intelligent design as being nothing more than bad metaphysics.

I am reminded of picking up the great German theologian Paul Tillich at the airport in Houston, Texas in the late 50's or early 60's to take him to Rice University where he was to give a talk. I told him that the Texas legislature in its infinite wisdom had decided or was considering deciding to require all state employees and/or all teachers to affirm their belief in a "Supreme Being." Tillich's responses was: "Bah, bad metaphysics." He would be even more aghast at the notion of "intelligent design."

The theologian, John F. Haught, does say some useful things, namely that believers in intelligent design see God as having an engineering capacity. "They want a magician," he says. He prefers the view that God is a being who can create a universe that can create itself rather than a God who "is pulling all the strings directly." I have no idea what this means but it is fun to think about. What he seems to be saying is that God may have posited whatever amount of energy and matter that exists in the universe as an unstable ball which explodes and morphs into gobs of different things and that somehow the "laws" of physics evolve to regulate how matter and energy will behave. This would turn the "laws" of physics into necessary truths. As I said, I have no idea what this really means.

I am more interested in the pastor's claim that altering genes in fetuses constitutes "playing God." This presuppose precisely the view of God that Haught dismisses, namely that of God as an engineer, pulling all the strings. In fact, anyone who has carried a child or been with a woman who is carrying a child knows two things: it is a difficult 9 months for the woman and it is a crying shame if this 9 months were to end with a child with birth defects that were correctable. It would criminal to prohibit people from allowing such gene alterations for it burdens the parents and the child with problems that are extremely difficult to cope with. To reply that this would be "God's Will" is a load of crap unless you really like J.B.'s notion that "If God is God, God is not good; If God is good, God is not God."

Would it be good if every set of parents were to decide that they want a blond blue-eyed boy who has an IQ of 200 and the athletic talent of Michael Jordan and will live forever? No, it wouldn't. And the pastor is right to be concerned that genetic engineering will be used for purposes that are problematic. After all, after China passed its "one child" rule for parents, sonograms were used to determine the sex of fetuses and many parents chose to abort females, a practice that also seems to occur in India. And it is not unknown for parents to simply kill female babies. China has tried to take measures to strictly limit the use of sonograms. I do not know what India has done. It has been speculated that both countries will experience significant social problems as very large numbers of males will not be able to have wifes. So long as genetic engineering is restricted to correcting correctable problems not enhance an already sound fetus, I can't see how any reasonable person could object but I suspect someone will tell me how that is possible in fact.

Here are set of options for conceiving God as a creator: God creates a universe that creates itself, Haught's position; God creates a universe and stipulates its laws of physics as well as other constraints and leaves things alone; God does the latter but continues to meddle with the universe; God does the latter but also takes a personal interest in each of us, punishing us after we die if we are bad and rewarding us if we are good; God does the latter except that the punishments and rewards occur here; and finally God creates everything, stipulates the laws for whatever needs them, meddles in our lives, punishes us and rewards us in this world and after we die. I think I was trained to believe in this last conception by the church my parents made me go to (a view of god my mother, at least, didn't actually believe -- their motivation was social) and I am an atheist only with respect to those theories that have a meddling God who engages in punishment and reward. I don't care about the other conceptions but I am intrigued by my construction of Haught's position.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

W's Word Game

I happened by accident upon Bush's State of the Union address last night exactly when he said
And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.
Uh, neither the House nor the Senate nor the public has ever been presented with the options of voting for success in Iraq and voting for failure. So, of course, no one voted for failure since they didn't have an opportunity to.

What the people of America overwhelmingly voted for was anyone who was against Bush's war policies. That is why the Democrats are in power. If he wishes to characterize those who ran for election who support his war policies as "victory candidates" and those who ran who don't support his war policies as "failure candidates" then on that assumption the American people voted for failure in Iraq. But that was not how the last election was framed.

The people overwhelmingly are opposed to Bush's war policy in Iraq. They showed that in the last election and they have showed it in opinion polls before the election, after the election, and after Bush presented his "new policy" in Iraq -- his "troop surge" plan. The thing is that as I read it, the American people would prefer victory in Bush's sense to defeat but believe that a Bush-style victory is impossible to achieve given the FUBAR state of affairs that Bush's policies have created.

In my opinion, what the American people have said and what the Iraq Study Group said is that we need to pull our troops out of Iraq and if that results Bush's worst case scenario
Chaos is the greatest ally -- their greatest ally -- in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America.

To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy.
so be it.

You will note that Bush uses here the gift that just keeps giving, the 9/11 attack. It is his "Scary Idea" hole card, which is played any time his candidates or his policies are under attack in the hopes of scaring us into going along with him. The problem is that if he had just left Iraq alone, the chaos he fears would never have happened. He created the conditions for this chaos. And there is nothing he can do to stop it but nuke the entire country back into the stone age (which wouldn't work either since the rest of the world would gang up on us).

As I noted in the post just cited, the 9/11 attack, viewed objectively, was a blip on the American historical record. The economy was barely affected. And we lose more Americans on average each month on our roads and highways than we lost people (of many countries) that sad day. I do not mean to minimize the losses to the families and friends of those who were killed but their pain is no greater than that of a parent who loses a kid in a highway accident, to say nothing of the pain of the parents, spouses, or children of someone killed in this incredibly stupidly crafted war, the only purpose of which any more is to save what can be saved of Bush's reputation.

War ought to be a sobering notion and we ought to reflect soberly on it, accepting our defeats where they come, as in the case of the Vietnam War and Iraq, and celebrating the victories when they come. There is no War on Terror -- that is another Bush word game. There is an international crime problem and so far the most effective way of dealing with it has been with police work and where it is truly necessary military action, as in Afghanistan. Unfortunately Bush was so eager to get on with his war in Iraq that he left the job in Afghanistan unfinished and the Taliban are, as a result, experiencing a surge in their influence and power there. Saddam, son of a bitch that he was, was a secular Muslim. That's the best kid just as secular Christians and Jews are the best kind.

The American people seem to want us to withdraw our troops and get on with the tracking down and killing of terrorists using criminal investigations and the use of are special forces units and their toys such as the Predator and later innovations, better and more powerful sniper rifles, and the like. I don't question the need to kill terrorists. I do question a President who uses a tragedy like 9/11 to get us to support a policy that has absolutely no chance of working (more is not always mo' betta') and will put more American troops in harms way since they will be quite unable to tell insurgent or Sunni killer or Shiite killer from the nice man who owns a grocery store. And the really sad fact is that they will be fighting alongside supporters of all three groups. Would you want your son or daughter or father or mother fighting in a unit comprised of Iraqi soldiers given their their recent track record?

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Still Another Actor Acting Out His Prejudices

Conservatives have long held the view that Hollywood is full of bleeding heart liberals who are destroying our culture despite the clear evidence that there have been and still are very prominent conservative actors. The hypothesis that Hollywood is full of liberals should mean, among other things, that they find ethnic and racial slurs offensive. First we had a White Catholic engaging in anti-Semitic slurs in Mel Gibson. His excuse is that he was drunk. Then came Michael Richards, a Jew engaging in anti-Black slurs. His excuse was that he was thrown into a rage due to cat calls coming from a couple of Black men in the audience. I blogged on this topic earlier, noting that these slurs are not plucked out of the air but come from within and clearly express an underlying prejudice so strong that it overwhelms one's mental monitor/filter, the monitor/filter that keeps us out of trouble like this. Clearly, being drunk or in a rage creates problems for the monitor but no less clearly we are hearing something truthful about how these men feel about the groups in question.

And now, we have a Black, Isaiah Washington, who is a star on Grey's Anatomy, who has twice now engaged in verbal gay bashing. ABC and its parent organization, Disney, have expressed their unhappiness with their actor. In the first instance, Washington used the slur against a fellow actor on the set of the program. I have heard nothing about his being drunk, his being on drugs, or his being in a rage. Apparently Washington has a very poor monitor/filter or a very strong case of homophobia. This followed or preceded a brief fight between Washington and Patrick Dempsey, who is not the actor Washington bashed. This forced the target of his attack to come out of the closet, something he may not have wanted to do. Washington apologized.

And now, at the Golden Globes, the cast of the show was interviewed back stage after winning an award and Washington, it seems, moved to the microphone and denied he had used the slur -- contradiction alert! -- while using it. That is like saying, "I didn't say "fag/queer/whatever"' which constitutes a second contradiction in that if he didn't use it, how did he know which slur he used. Then comes another actor, this time the lovely Katherine Heigl repudiating Washington's claim that he hadn't used the slur and then the actor he slurred appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show disputing Washington's denial. It could be that Washington was drunk when interviewed after the show won the award since booze seems to flow freely at the Golden Globes, which is probably the secret of the success of the show -- the actors lose some of their inhibitions.

Washington then fired his publicist -- what in hell did that person have to do with this? Feed him the slur? Feed him the denials of an action that was done in front of the cast? Maybe the publicist told him it would be best to lie. If so, the guy would fit in nicely at the White House.

Disney, we have a problem. You have a very popular show. The male lead, to the degree that there is one, got in a fight with Washington. Strike one. Washington then did his gay bashing bit in regard to a second cast member. Strike two. Washington then apologized. Ball one. Then he denies that he engaged in use of the slur while using the word at issue. Strike three. He's out. He apologized again, again seeming to acknowledge that he had used the word the first time despite his denial at the Golden Globes. We have a homophobe and liar who has fought one cast member, used a verbal slur directed toward a second cast member, and been denounced by a third cast member. Now, except for Washington, the cast consists of professionals. and so they may be able to hide their distaste for Washington. Poor Sandra Oh. She is his main squeeze on the show. How does Washington feel about orientals?

By the way, if you ever need surgery, you need to go to the Seattle Hospital these doctors practice their craft at. They are each the best in their fields. Can't beat being the best.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Jungle Woman

A woman whom no one has seen for 19 years who was "lost" in the jungles of northeastern Cambodia when she was 8 years old has appeared and "her father" has popped up to claim her. This woman is unable to speak intelligibly. When hungry she rubs her stomach. it seems. She can't say the Cambodian equivalent of "I am hungry."

A question that will inevitably come up is whether this woman will ever be able to speak the language of Cambodia (officially "Khmer"). The answer is "No." One might think that since she was "lost" at the age of 8 she might be able to recover her language skills. If, in fact, she is a reasonably intelligent person and she had an 8 year old's command of Khmer, that would be possible in principle. The problem is that with "feral children," the term I have seen most often in the linguistic literature, we find that the children tend to be mentally retarded and that is why they came to be "lost" in the first place.

DNA tests have not yet been done but apparently will be so we don't yet know for sure whether the father is her biological father. That this man came forward could mean that he genuinely wants the child back. But there are other possibilities.

Feral children are always of interest. The most famous American case involved Genie, a child who was diagnosed at around the age of 6 or 7, after she began to learn language, as mentally retarded. Her mentally ill father decided that "to protect her" he would pen her up, tying her down in a sitting position on a "potty chair" wearing diapers and enclosing her in a sleeping bag in a crib she couldn't escape from at night. He beat her if she attempted to vocalize and would bark at her to scare her if she displeased him. When she was found at age 13, there was a great deal of scientific interest in her but after it was learned that nothing was being learned from studying her, federal funding for the research was cut off and the scientists lost interest. She was passed around from foster home to foster home, never becoming socialized or learning language. Of course her early beatings for attempting to vocalize could have had something to do with that.

In 1964, the linguist Eric Lenneberg became quite famous for proposing that there is a critical age of language learning that runs up to about 12 years old. He argued that while one may become a fluent speaker of a language as an adult, one will never acquire the full abilities of a "native speaker." This is one of the underpinnings of nativistic theories of language learning and of language competence of the sort Chomsky has proposed. So far as I know, no one has ever refuted Lenneberg's thesis. By a "native speaker competence" I mean someone who speaks without a foreign accent, can judge whether or not a sentence is or is not "grammatical" with a very high level of success (I mean a sentence any native speaker of that language would accept as well-formed) and, at least in some cases, has a knee jerk negative response to most dirty talk and other taboo expressions. The Pavlovian conditioning as a child to think that such English expressions are "bad" does not occur if they learn English as an adult.

I have had personal anecdotal experience that Lenneberg's thesis applies not just to learning a new language but also to adopting a new accent of one's own language. English speaking actor's clearly have the ability to adopt accentless American or British or whatever English is required. Indeed, the US has been flooded with an amazing array of "down under" actors who most of us probably think are American including such Aussies as Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, and Hugh Jackman, and a legion of others) or South Africans like Charlize Theron and Thomas Jane etc. When the movie Briget Jones' Diary came out in film, the American actress, Renée Zellweger, was said to have had too perfect a version of standard British English. I have been shocked on seeing interviews with foreign actors who speak in unaccented English in movies (or the correct American dialect for the role) to hear Aussie or British or South African English come out of their mouths. We have been invaded by the Commonwealth nations.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Public Communications -- Who is the Audience?

The President's spokesman, Tony Snow, asked concerning a Senate nonbinding resolution by the Senate opposing Bush's so-called troop "surge"
"What message does Congress intend to give and who does it think the audience is? Is the audience merely the president? Is it the voting American public or, in an age of instant communication, is it also al-Quaida?"
It is, of course, a cheap shot for Snow to suggest that the intended audience is al-Quaida, but the point that Snow is making -- that public communications are available to all is worth making.

When a football coach holds his weekly press conference, the press asks questions which have a clear intended audience, the coach, but what the coach says will likely be heard by the members of his team, the university administration including the athletic director, the next opponent, and the general public. The problem the coach faces is that the press will normally ask probing questions intended to get information it and fans most want to hear -- what is often called "inside information" -- but the coach, unless he is a dolt knows that he if he satisfies the desires of the press and fans, he will be providing information that could affect one or more members of his team or all of them in a negative way and also be helpful to the next opponent. A smart coach will tell the press nothing useful while seeming to answer the question. So, if the question is, "Who will be your starting quarterback next season?, the smart answer would be "The competition is too close for me to say."

The President when he talks and the Senate when it passes a resolution and makes it known faces exactly the same situation a football coach faces. The people who will be listening to the Senate resolution will be the President, the men and women fighting in Iraq, the voting public, and allies and enemies of the country, and anyone else who is interested. How does the Senate craft a resolution opposing the "surge" that does not tell the troops in the field that they will not be getting any help in the form of increased combat soldiers and does not tell whoever is fighting against US interests in Iraq (whatever they are) that they will not be facing increased numbers of people trying to kill them. Of course, being politicians, Senators who vote one way or another are very much thinking about the voting public and possible opponents in the next election, especially those senators who must run in the next general election.

The Senators who vote for the resolution seem to have in mind the President ("It is time for you to bring the troops home", Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq ("Get off your butt and put your troops at work stopping the civil war going on in Baghdad"), and the voting public ("I heard your voices in the last election and know you no longer support the war"). The President and his supporters will object saying that ("This resolution will undermine morale among Americans fighting in Iraq and embolden the insurgents" among other things) and Dick Cheney, reliably and on cue will say that those voting for the proposal have "no stomach" for the war. Cheney is an expert on that topic since he knows what having no stomach for fighting in a war means from his own personal experience, having been too cowardly to fight in the Viet Nam War, preferring instead to take student deferments while at the University of Wisconsin.

Clearly, then, the Senate faces the problem that its actions always communicate many messages to many different audiences, some intended and some not intended. There is nothing that can be done about it. But, if the Senate is not to be reduced to a totally impotent body, it must act in the way it sees as best, just as the President must.

I have one question? What do we call a form of government in which the leader of a country can ignore with impunity both the views of the elected legislative body of the country and the views of a vast majority of the people? We damn sure don't call it a democracy.

The clearest lesson that could be learned by anyone who lived in the USA during the Vietnam War or who has made a study of it is that no war opposed by the people can ever be successful. Of course, George Bush lived through that period but somehow missed this lesson. He is about to learn it now.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

9/11 -- The "Gift" That Just Keeps Giving

Let me say at the top that by putting the word "gift" in quotes, I am alerting you to the fact that I don't mean that word to be understood as it normally is. There was a significant loss of life on that day. There was a significant short term price that New York had to pay economically. And were some broader economic consequences, especially to the airlines. But the biggest cost was the damage to the psyches of the American people. This last thing was the only real victory the terrorists had on that day for people tend to personalize threats from from outsiders. We hear that a there was a house invasion in a neighborhood near ours and we go out and buy a gun for protection.

The gift on 9/11 was to George Bush. He has milked the 9/11 attack of all he can get out of it. Were I a friend or family member of someone who died that day, I would be furious at his cynical use of that attack. A reference to 9/11 is Bush's Easy Button. He evokes it whenever he wants to scare Americans into going along with his military plans or his dismantling of our freedoms at home. He used it to go to war in Afghanistan. That was an easy sell once people learned that Al Queda kept training camps there. And Bush used it to get us to support the invasion of Iraq, a war that was defended by a set of arguments all of which were predicated either on a lie or a falsehood. After Saddam was ousted, Bush continued to evoke our memories of 9/11 to justify a continuation of that war. And the other night, in an act of political desperation, he evoked it again to get us to go along with his "new plan" for winning the war in Iraq. As I told you in my last blog, Bush's vanity would not allow him to back away from "winning" the war in Iraq, that is, installing a democratic government capable of maintaining order inside the country. But only two things have changed. First, he wants to send more Americans to Iraq -- more targets of IEDs, more targets of RPGs, and more targets for snipers. Second, he is telling a new lie -- that the Shiite government of Iraq is both fully resolved and capable of terminating the sectarian violence with a little help from its American friends.

This latter goal depends on our embedding American troops with Iraqi troops to assist them as they secure the neighborhoods of Baghdad of Sunni and Shiite death squads and disarm the various militias. I can think of little that would be more dangerous than being an American soldier embedded in an Iraqi military unit that has divided loyalties and may even include members of Sunni and Shiite death squads, including, for instance, members of Al Sadr's militia.

Bush already knew that he had lost the confidence of the American people before the last election, but he defiantly stumped for his war policies. He must have thought that his Easy Button would help the Republicans maintain their majorities in the House and Senate.
Fortunately the American people had caught on to Bush's shtick. Bush's Easy Button didn't work. And now in an act of unimaginable arrogance, he thinks that evoking the threat of terrorist attacks initiated from within an Iraq ruled by militant Islamic fundamentalists, something that would be of Bush's own creation as I'm sure you know, he hopes to persuade us to invest more American lives and taxpayer money in what is, at best, a gamble much like going "all in" with a deuce and a seven. No thanks.

It is important for Americans to put the 9/11 attack in proper perspective. There was an earlier attack on the World Trade Center. Not many Americans died and it didn't affect the American psyche even though it was the sort of thing that could happen again. Timothy McVeigh's attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City hit Americans hard. A lot of people died. And it, too, was the sort of thing that could happen again. Yet, no one much talks about the danger from crazy people like the Oklahoma City bomber. The 9/11 attack killed a lot more people than did the Oklahoma City attack but this attack, unlike the earlier attacks on the WTC and the Murray Building, left a festering wound on the psyches of the American people. These murders were committed by people most Americans know little about and that fact must be part of any account of the fear that resulted from the 9/11 attack.

There have been a number of terrorist attacks before and since 9/11. None have been on American soil though there seem to have been some attempts. It is in this context that the 9/11 attack must be understood. It killed a very large number of people insofar as terrorist attacks go. But by now we have lost as many Americans in Iraq as we lost on 9/11. In the same year, there were more than 42,000 automobile deaths in the United States, more per month than died in the 9/11 attack. I don't mean to minimize any one of the 9/11 deaths individually. I mean only to put the event in perspective. It shouldn't have scared Americans as much as it did. Even the economic damage was slight viewed in the long term.

Americans need to understand that 9/11 was a criminal act. It did warrant the Invasion of Iraq and to my way of thinking, assuming the intelligence was sound, it warrants military attacks like the recent one in Somalia. But, in general, the fight against terrorists is best done, not by invading Arab countries, but by using the forces that we normally use to fight crime and by using greatly expanding the use of human intelligence in countries that provide support for terrorist activities. The Brits and other Europeans have been quite successful in ferreting out terrorist plots. I also believe that we should very greatly expand our various Special Forces. But most of all, we must never allow an American President exploit our fears the way George Bush has so cynically done.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Vanity of King George

We all remember seeing our self-proclaimed "War President" being helicoptered to a carrier where he declared, "Mission Accomplished." Think about that use of language for a moment. I confess that I didn't at the time. It was a fatal intellectual error by all of us who didn't think about what that phrase means and what it implies. The problem is that it implies that there was, in his mind, one and only one mission, and that was to defeat the army of Saddam Hussein and depose him. Though his language suggests that that was his only mission, fairness demands that I acknowledge that he had one other mission, namely creating a democratic Iraq.

There was no mission to protect government buildings, museums, and the infrastructure of Iraq. Had there been such a mission we would have seen the US military and its allies fan out to these public buildings to make sure they weren't looted and to the electrical and water works in Baghdad to make sure they weren't sabotaged.

There was no mission to rebuild what infrastructure we and Saddam's army destroyed and improve it in the process. Had there been such a mission, we would have seen an army of civilian engineers fan out in Iraq to perform these tasks.

There was no mission to protect Iraq from an inevitable underground movement by very angry Sunnis trying to regain control of Iraq. They really didn't have much choice since they could be absolutely sure that after 30 plus years of suppression, the Shiites and/or the Kurds would engage in reprisals. I believe it never occurred to W that this sort of thing would happen. Certainly, he didn't prepare for such a possibility. It would have been a good idea to have developed a plan for hitting the insurgents early and often, but, of course, even that might not have worked.

I must confess that though I did foresee that the Sunnis would not go away quietly, it didn't occur to me that sympathetic Sunnis from outside Iraq would join in their insurgency or engage in similar activities. To what extent these are members of al Queda or al Queda Wannabes I don't know and it doesn't really matter. The US seems not to have made any progress in dealing with this problem.

This brings us to the other mission that I think W had in Iraq and that was to help the Iraqis to form a democratic country. And, somewhat to my surprise, a constitution was written and a relatively peaceful election was held. The Shiites gained control. It was in connection with this that Bush made his most fatal error. We seemed early on to have in mind killing Al-Sadr because it was the biggest loose cannon in Iraq. So, W and the US military backed off. Thanks in part to our inability to kill off the Sunni insurgents, Al-Sadr's following became an army and it and other Shiite groups have set about engaging in those reprisals that any intelligent person with any kind of understanding of human nature should have predicted. Naturally, these reprisals have resulted in counter-reprisals. Only the Kurds seem not to be involved.

As a result of W's utter failure to predict the inevitability of both a Sunni insurgency and Shiite reprisals, the US military faces what seems to be a certain defeat, that is, an inability to stop both the insurgency and the Shiite reprisals, as well as counter-reprisals by Sunnis.

Tonight, despite the Democratic victory in the last election, which clearly indicated that Americans have lost confidence in W's Iraq policy, and the report of the independent commission on Iraq, which indicated "official Washington's disapproval, we can expect little in the way of a change in Bush's policy. We are dealing with a very vain man, a man too cowardly to go to war in Iraq but who fashions himself to be a War President. He must have his victory. It is reported he will propose a "surge" in the number of troops we have in Iraq despite the wide-spread opposition to it.

For W to have his victory, he must have a mission that he can achieve. I don't know what the new mission will be. But if it involves either an effort to kill off the Sunni insurgents or kill off Al-Sadr and his army, or both, the US will be unlikely to succeed. This is the lesson of Vietnam, a lesson Bush didn't learn since he didn't fight there and probably hasn't read a word about how that war went down: adding more troops is not the answer when fighting against a subpopulation of a country. When the good guys look just like the bad guys, it is hard to kill bad guys without killing good guys and any killing of good guys will likely lead to an increase in the number of bad guys. The problem is that the bad guys, if pressed, can simply vanish into the general population of good guys. If they are smart they will hide and wait until W decides he can declare "Mission Accomplished" again and withdraw our troops before having another go at the Shiite government.

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