Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I'll See Your Conundrum and Raise You a Paradox

The occupation of Iraq has exposed a number of unpleasant paradoxes, but none are larger than the fact that the insurgency appears to be growing at a faster rate than the Iraqi Army can be trained for the task of taking over for U.S. troops, which would further delay their departure.

If you didn't think President Bush would mention that in yet another marginally coherent "stay the course" speech this morning before yet another captive audience, this one at the Naval Academy, you were not disappointed.

But veteran editor-commentator James Fallows, who has spent almost as much time on the ground in Iraq as some U.S. troops, is all too aware of the paradox, which is at the heart of his disturbing new Atlantic Monthly article entitled "Why Iraq Has No Army."

Fallows' money quote:

The crucial need to improve security and order in Iraq puts the United States in an impossible position. It can't honorably leave Iraq -- as opposed to simply evacuating Saigon-style -- so long as its military must provide most of the manpower, weaponry, intelligence systems, and strategies being used against the insurgency. But it can't sensibly stay when the very presence of its troops is a worsening irritant to the Iraqi public and a rallying point for nationalist opponents -- to say nothing of the growing pressure in the United States for withdrawal.

Elsewhere on the paradox front:

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi says that human rights violations in Iraq are as bad now as under deposed President Saddam Hussein.

The secular Shiite Muslim said Shiite-led security forces are out of control and responsible for death squads, secret torture centers and a level of brutality that rivals Saddam's secret police.

Allawi was stating the obvious, but his comments were stunning nevertheless considering that he was the U.S.’s hand-picked choice as interim PM in the run-up to national elections and gave a fawing Rove-esque speech in support of President Bush’s Iraq policy (sic) before Congress.

Allawi’s money quote:

People are doing the same as [in] Saddam’s time and worse. . . . It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that the U.S. military is paying Iraqi newspapers to print stories written by its "information operations" specialists and translated into Arabic that praise the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops. Says a Pentagon official who is opposed to the practice:

Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it.

Payments are in the $500-$1,500 range and are provided by a defense contractor to mask the Pentagon's role. Deadpanned a senior military official when asked about the practice by the Times:
Absolute truth was not an essential element of these stories.

As it has not been for the administrations entire Iraq policy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Quote du Jour

Food for thought from the wonderfully wise Wretchard of the Belmont Club blog:

One of the reasons the Internet has been so successful is that it has so far escaped the restraints of Filipino judges, Tunisian government officials and United Nations bureaucrats. Addresses which are published onto the root servers can be resolved and their content displayed, subject to the restrictions of their publishers. The United States, by refusing to regulate the Internet, has occupied the position of an information central banker maintaining the coin of the realm. If lower court Filipino judges and assorted bureaucrats get their way, the pathways of the Internet will be subject to bureaucratic gatekeeping, conducted in the name of "governance". But the proper word would be debasement.

The moment the free flow of packets over the Internet is no longer substantially guaranteed, it will cease to be trusted. Companies which are building businesses worth billions over the Internet protocols would stop if they knew a relative of the Tunisian President had to be placated for commerce to continue. Applications such email, instant messaging, searches, e-commerce, online banking, virtual medicine -- to name a few -- would be at the mercy of bureaucratic caprice, not just in the United States, but in every swamp and backwater imaginable. In the end, governing the Internet, especially in the United Nations sense, might be indistinguishable from destroying it. But one can see how that would appeal to those who yearn for bad, bad old days.

The Biggest Lie Ever?

One of the more persistent canards about the Iraq war pushed by the Bush administration and its conservative allies is that Saddam Hussein had teamed up with Osama bin Laden. This unholy -- if wholly untrue -- alliance has been used repeatedly to justify the president’s claim that he was acting on the best available intelligence when he beat the war drum and Congress and most of the American public dutifully fell into step behind him.

A newly declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document with the deceptively nondescript title of DITSUM No. 044-02 would seem to be the last nail in the Saddam-OBL claim coffin.

The Los Angeles Times reported today that DITSUM No. 044-02 demolished the credibility of the key Al Qaeda informant whom the administration replied on to make the claim. The document was prepared by the DIA in February 2002 but in a now familiar pattern, was ignored by the White House because it did not fit its preconceptions.

The informant, Al Qaeda senior military trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi — a Libyan captured in Pakistan in 2001 — was probably "intentionally misleading the debriefers," the DIA report concluded in one of two paragraphs declassified at the request of Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and released by his office. The report added: "Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest."

Notes L.A. Times commentator Robert Scheer:

Folks in the highest places were very interested in claims along the lines Libi was peddling, even though they went against both logic and the preponderance of intelligence gathered to that point about possible collaboration between two enemies of the U.S. that were fundamentally at odds with each other. Al Qaeda was able to create a base in Iraq only after the U.S. overthrow of Hussein, not before.
Bush used the informant's already discredited story in a key speech just before the Senate voted on whether to authorize the use of force in Iraq and again in two speeches in February, just ahead of the invasion.

Adds Scheer:

One by one, the exotic intelligence factoids Bush's researchers culled from raw intelligence data files to publicly bolster their claim of imminent threat — the yellowcake uranium from Niger, the aluminum tubes for processing uranium, the Prague meeting with Mohamed Atta, the discredited Iraqi informants "Curveball" and Ahmad Chalabi — have been exposed as previously known frauds.

Bush exploited the worldwide horror felt over the 9/11 attacks to justify the Iraq invasion. His outrageous claim, repeated over and over before and after he dragged the nation into an unnecessary war, was never supported by a single piece of credible evidence. The Bush defense of what is arguably the biggest lie ever put over on the American people is that everyone had gotten the intelligence wrong. Not so at the highest level of U.S. intelligence, as DITSUM No. 044-02 so clearly shows. How could the president not have known?

How indeed?

Mississippi Halfstep Up-Town Toodloo

It has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, so it would be reasonable to expect that rebuilding is well under way considering the many promises that President Bush and Congress made to rush through legislation to promptly rebuild flood-ravaged neighborhoods.

Well, guess again.

Relief legislation remains in limbo because of a leadership vacuum resulting from the preoccupation of the White House and Congress with the war in Iraq, the CIA leak investigation, myriad corruption probes and cutting the pork laden federal budget.

Meanwhile, folks in Jackson, Mississipi have fared quite well, thank you.

FEMA and the Red Cross have doled out $62 million in aid to nearly 30,000 households in that city although it is 160 miles from the Gulf Coast and the worst damage was spoiled food in freezers following hurricane-related blackouts.

Residents who put in the requisite paperwork received payments of up to $2,300, which predictably set off spending sprees on jewelry, guns and electronics.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Russell the Crow

Backyard bird feeders are wonderful. They help sustain the smallest and therefore the most vulnerable birds during the cold, ice and snow of winter. They're great entertainment, better than any reality TV show by a country mile. And they offer an up-close and intimately personal opportunity to see how different species of birds interact.

I have hung a large feeder from a branch of the plum tree outside the kitchen window of Kiko's House. The feeder is a survivor, having endured several harsh winters and a bear attack when it was suspended below a Norway maple outside the mountain cottage of my Dear Friend & Conscience (DF&C). The bear smashed the feeder’s plastic squirrel shield into many small pieces, which I determinedly glued back together and then brought south to this more temperate and bear-free clime.

Now well into its second life, this feeder is frequented by chickadees, slate juncos, nuthatches and various and sundry finches, among other species of small birds. Its clever design makes it difficult for larger birds to partake who have their own more plentiful food sources. And the shield makes it impossible for even the most acrobatic squirrel to make off with so much as a mouthful of my mix of striped and black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, millet and thistle.

For the most part, the birds who congregate at my feeder get along, even if it means having to take turns during morning rush hour. But that species interaction has become a bit loopy with the arrival of an American crow with an attitude whom I've named Russell.

Russell is a stereotypically handsome Corvus brachyrhynchos. The corvids, which range in size from the American crow up through the magpie to the majestic raven, are the rocket scientists of the American aviary. They have an astonishing innate intelligence and precocity, which includes the ability to play – yes, play -- and that is most evident by the game Russell engages in with my small feathered friends.

(An aside: I knew an immense adult male raven named Edgar who had bonded with the owners of a ranch in southwest Colorado to the extent that he had become a full-fledged member of their extended family of cats, pea and guinea fowl, chickens and the occasional rescued fawn or raccoon. Edgar was so gentle that you could put an index finger in his mouth and raise and lower him like a yoyo.)
Russell’s routine usually begins mid morning when he lands on a branch near the feeder and checks out the other birds, who quickly retreat to the bushes under the plum tree to await his next move.

That would be Russell flap-flapping to the feeder and balancing all 10 or 12 inches of his purple black self on two of the small pegs beneath the feeding holes. Russell looks like he’s doing an acrobat’s split – and it’s a comical sight indeed -- as he wraps one set of claws around one peg and another set around another peg. He then stretches even further, and is now fully horizontal and extended 12 or 13 inches from tail tip to beak, as he sticks his beak into a feeding hole.

Having accomplished this feat of corvid daring do, Russell takes a single symbolic “See, I can do it, too” peck of food before flapping back to his branch.

This is the signal for the smaller birds to cautiously re-approach the feeder. Russell, for his part, feigns indifference to their presence and seems to be looking away and thinking loftier thoughts. But he actually has one beady eye squarely on the feeder and gives a head nod and little caw as soon as the birds work up the nerve to fly up to the pegs so they can resume feeding. The birds seem to be intimidated and hastily exit, only to try again a little later. Russell repeats his taunt and they again retreat.

Russell has perched over the feeder for upwards of an hour on some mornings. Interestingly, it falls to the tiniest of the birds – the precious little chickadees – to break the standoff by surreptitiously flying up to the feeder from the exact opposite direction from Russell’s branch, which means the mass of the feeder is blocking his view of them.

Do the chickadees really think they’re outwitting Russell? Yup. Does Russell know what they’re doing? I’m sure he does. But remember, for him it’s all a game.