War News for Friday, September 16, 2005
Bring 'em on: Three Iraqis killed, 15 wounded in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Heavy fighting, air strikes reported in Ramadi
Bring 'em on: Three Iraqi policemen killed, six wounded in convoy attack near Hasswa
Bring 'em on: One US Marine killed by mortar fire near Ramadi
Bring 'em on: Mayor of Iskandariya
and four bodyguards assassinated.
Bring 'em on: Shi'ite cleric assassinated in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: US air strikes reported near Karabila
Bring 'em on: Shi'ite cleric and three Iraqi civilians killed by bomb in Mosul
Bring 'em on: Nine Iraqis killed, 21 wounded by car bomb at Tuz Khurmatu
Bring 'em on: Green Zone mortared in Baghdad
. "The Camp Casey Memorial on Prairie Chapel Road was removed by thieves earlier today. Not a single item is left at the memorial site. Crew members working for McLennan County said they witnessed items being removed by an unidentified individual and contacted their office to inform commissioners. Upon arrival at Camp Casey, honor guard members who had been at the Crawford Peace House immediately called McLennan County Sheriff’s Deputy R. Polansky to report the theft. Among the items stolen were numerous crosses, Casey Sheehan’s boots, tents, and other items."
Status Report: Hearts and Minds Campaign
. "Al Qaeda's top operative in Iraq is drawing growing numbers of Iraqi nationals to his organization, increasing the reach and threat of an insurgent group that has been behind many of the most devastating attacks in the country, U.S. officials and Iraqi government leaders say. The group, headed by Jordanian-born radical Abu Musab Zarqawi, previously was composed almost exclusively of militants from other Arab nations, and has symbolized the foreign dimension of a stubborn insurgency fighting to oust U.S. forces. But Zarqawi 'is bringing more and more Iraqi fighters into his fold,' a U.S. official said, adding that Iraqis accounted for 'more than half his organization.'"
Off topic, but this
is funny as hell.
We have already seen what happened to the Federal Emergency Management Agency when it was taken over by an administration that didn't like large federal agencies with sweeping mandates. For Iraq, the White House asserted that open-ended and no-bid contracts doled out to big corporations run by people known to government officials would mean swifter, more efficient operations. What we got was gross inefficiency, which has run up costs while failing in many cases to do the jobs required.
Given this history, it's impossible not to worry about what will happen to the billions of dollars being committed to New Orleans, especially since the Army Corps of Engineers' top man in the reclamation effort was once the corps' top man overseeing contracts in Iraq.
The administration is staffed several levels deep with officials who share their leader's distrust of large, expensive federal undertakings. But it is now faced with an unprecedented task: housing hundreds of thousands of homeless people, making sure their children are educated over the short term and eventually getting them a start on a new life. There is no way to do that without a focused federal effort.
Last night, the president was particularly strong when discussing the nation's shocking lack of preparedness for disaster, and the stark fact - obvious to every television viewer around the globe - that the people left homeless and endangered by Katrina were in the main poor and black.
The entire nation, he said, saw the poverty that "has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America." Polls show that black Americans are far angrier and more skeptical than whites about the administration's actions since the storm. Mr. Bush's words could begin a much-needed healing process. But that will happen only if they are followed by deeds that are as principled, disciplined and ambitious as Mr. Bush's speech.
We have a war in Iraq that isn't going so well. We have a federal budget in deepest deficit and gas prices in the stratosphere. Yesterday, jobless claims hit a 10-year high, the dollar crowded in on a 17-year low compared to gold. The president's domestic agenda - remember privatizing Social Security? - is utterly stalled.
And now Katrina blows in.
Is this a president who is up to such a major challenge? Does he have a team in place for success? Hobbled by so much, how much personal inspiration does he have left?
Bush spoke the words last night, and they sounded fine. But the music was still a little faint.
"We will do what it takes," he declared. "We will stay as long as it takes ... to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."
He was talking about New Orleans. With words he already used for Baghdad.
But even at this remove, I have to say, Hurricane Katrina has made me finally give up on US President George Bush.
I have always been weary of Bush criticism in SA, because so often criticism of Bush is really surrogate criticism of the US. The US tends to get knee-jerk criticism because it is large, powerful and rich — criticism that depicts the US in a simplistic and cartoonish way as a kind of international playground bully. Actually, power and riches are qualities we ought to seek rather than reject.
It always seemed to me that Bush had, perhaps not better, but certainly more explicable motives for invading Iraq than he was ever given credit for in SA — despite the lack of weapons of mass destruction, despite the lack of international support. Getting attacked for no apparent reason is rather like being raped. Who knows how rationally we would have reacted to a surprise attack on Johannesburg by, say, Botswana.
There is also something noble about US attempts to plant democracy in countries that have never seen it before. World-weary Europeans might call it naïve, but if you have no ideals, then where are you really?
But two things about the conduct of the war gave me pause for thought. The first was the continuing incarceration of Islamic militants at Guantanamo Bay. South Africans know as well as anyone in repressive countries that long-term detention is really a form of torture. The idea that you can hold people offshore to escape your own laws and your own constitution from something so legally basic as habeas corpus is just appalling and shameful for any country, most of all one that claims to be fighting to spread democracy.
The second was the notion that only US companies (and a few British ones) would be allowed to benefit from Iraqi reconstruction contracts.
Actually, I find myself feeling a bit sorry for Bush. The man must be perplexed about why he is being held accountable for a natural disaster and not for one wholly of his making. The war in Iraq, after all, is entirely his doing -- everything from its inception to its execution, which have both been inexcusable examples of incompetence. The very basis for the war -- Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction -- turns out to have been nonexistent. And that was followed by a military campaign that was insufficient to meet the challenge. Outside the Bush administration itself, it is virtually impossible to find anyone in Washington who believes enough troops were sent to do the task.
Why should we believe that Bush will take names and boot buttocks about Katrina when he has not done so over Iraq? On the contrary, the principal architects of the inadequate military plan remain in the Pentagon -- Rumsfeld and his crew. Others have gone on to plushy appointments -- the World Bank for Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, or the entire State Department for Condi Rice. Still others have been given the once-hallowed Presidential Medal of Freedom, now as tainted as a pardon from Bill Clinton. If anyone at the top has been held responsible for an intelligence debacle without precedence, then his name is unknown to me -- or, for that matter, the president. Only the hapless Michael Brown failed to understand Bush. If he had hung on to his FEMA job, in another month or two Bush would surely have honored him on the White House lawn.
So to recap: Media say Bush bears responsibility. Much of the American public says Bush bears responsibility. In an unprecedented show of lucidity, Bush takes responsibility.
Bush jihadists say Bush is not responsible.
Seldom has the intellectual bankruptcy, situational outrage and robotic partisanship of that stratum of the electorate been more apparent. If Bush blew up the White House, they'd praise him for creating construction jobs.
Yes, the apparent failures of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco are manifest and manifold. And people are right to criticize them. But Bush is the bleeping president of the United States. And the miserable performance of the government he captains speaks not simply to our concerns about Louisiana and Mississippi but also to our future concerns about states that might come under terrorist attack.
Would you trust the gang that couldn't get water to Bogalusa for seven days to be in charge of rescuing you after a nuclear device went off in Los Angeles? Would you feel secure knowing your salvation relied on some guy who got his job because he had connections?
More to the point, is incompetence so profound it causes actual death OK so long as the incompetents are of the right party?
Never mind integrity. Never mind objectivity. Never mind simple enlightened self-interest.
Blue to the left, red to the right. This is the nation we have become.
Anybody want to take responsibility for that?
A high-level White House official explained today that problems in the war in Iraq have been largely caused by state and local government failures.
"All the Americans over there come from a state," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There are real limits to what you can expect the federal government to do."
The idea that having a U.S. Department of Defense makes war an exclusively federal responsibility, he noted, is as mistaken as the impression that having a Federal Emergency Management Agency means that a federal agency should manage emergencies.
"Look at the problems we're having in Iraq," he said. "Public safety, utilities, running elections. Those are state and local responsibilities. The federal government has been trying to help out, but those things aren't really our job."
The official, who insisted that the initials of the country he works for not be published, noted that the Bush administration has not wanted to stress the failures of state and local governments in Iraq, which he called "Fallujah finger-pointing." But, he pointed out, "People talk about all the garbage in the streets of Baghdad, but collecting garbage is a state and local responsibility.
Bush's presidency and re-election campaign was organised around one master idea: he stood as the protector and saviour of the American people under siege. On this he built his persona as a man of conviction and action. In the 2004 election a critical mass believed that, because of his unabashed patriotism and unembarrassed religiosity, he would do more to protect the country.
The deepest wound is not that he was incapable of defending the country but that he has shown he lacked the will to do so. In Bush's own evangelical language, he revealed his heart. The press disclosed a petulant, vacillating president they had not noticed before. Time magazine described a "rigid and top-down" White House where aides are petrified to deliver bad news to a "yelling" president. Newsweek reported that, two days after the hurricane, top aides, who "cringe" before Bush, met to decide which of them would be assigned the miserable task of telling him he would have to cut short his vacation.
With each of his three trips to survey the toxic floodwaters of New Orleans, Bush drifted farther out to sea. On his most recent voyage, on Monday, asked about his earlier statement, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees", he said: "When that storm came through at first, people said, 'Whew!' There was a sense of relaxation." In fact, the levees began to be breached before the eye of the storm hit the city. Queried about the sudden resignation that day of his Federal Emergency Management Agency director, Michael "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" Brown, Bush told the press, "Maybe you know something I don't know". On Tuesday, he tried a novel tactic to deflect "the blame game", as he called it. "To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right," he declared, "I take responsibility." "Extent" was the loophole allowing his magnanimity to be bestowed on the distant abstraction of government.