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Port Security


For all the concern about safety at the nation's airports, counterterrorism officials and other experts say the nation's ports may now present an even greater threat. Since Sept. 11, they have received far less security funding than airports, yet they continue to process far more cargo — more than 9.5 million containers a year.

During this fall's presidential campaign, Democrat Sen. John F. Kerry repeatedly warned about the safety of the nation's ports, telling voters that only 5% of all incoming cargo was inspected.

Homeland Security officials denied Kerry's charge. They said they screen 100% of containers as part of a new "layered" system of defense that begins overseas, where foreign shippers must provide full cargo and crew manifests 24 hours before loading any ship bound for the U.S.

But after these manifests are examined, mountains of shipping intelligence are sifted and ships are tracked as they cross oceans, only about 6% of the containers arriving at U.S. ports are classified as high risk and examined using X-ray machines, officials said. Locally, about 6% of the containers scanned by X-ray are further inspected by hand.
Enhancing port security is a difficult, but manageable task. It takes organization, commitment, and money. Instead, the administration provides false assurances and stop gaps.

Financial Times on Iran

The FT has an important look at developments on the Iran front, more pessimistic than most:

A deal with Europe committing Iran to freezing sensitive elements of its nuclear programme threatened to unravel yesterday as officials wrangled over final details.
Iran apparently wants "to keep working on a small number of centrifuge machines for experimental purposes, but without using nuclear material," limit the "intrusiveness" of the inspections, and the duration of the freeze on enrichment.
[T]he negotiations revealed a lack of trust on both sides. The US has refused to endorse the agreement, worked out by France, Germany and the UK. A breakdown would leave the Bush administration without an alternative approach, however.
The article highlights administration indecision on Iran policy, exacerbated by the departure of Powell and the elevation of Ms. Cipher, Condi Rice. The confused policy reflects the disarray of hawks, like Danielle Pletka, who refuse to negotiate but who've seen their only policy option, invasion, rendered inoperative by Iraq:
Danielle Pletka, a senior Middle East analyst at the influential neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute, this week sketched out what a second Bush administration's policy towards Iran might look like.

It did not go unnoticed among her audience of experts that she avoided the words "regime change". At odds with other neo-conservatives, who for years have described the Islamic regime as one ready to fall like a rotten fruit, Ms Pletka said a revolution was not on the cards.

Policy to date had been characterised by "frustrated concern and congressionally mandated sanctions", said Ms Pletka. She admitted this was not good enough: "Facing something with nothing is not an effective alternative in foreign policy."

The administration should not get dragged into bargaining with Iran over "incremental" steps, she said, as it had with North Korea. Instead it should consider a Libya-type offer of a "grand bargain".

In exchange for handing over all weapons of mass destruction and halting support for "terrorist" groups, the US should be prepared to renew diplomatic relations and remove unilateral sanctions. There would be no negotiations, she said.
Update, 11/28/04 3:44 PM EST: The BBC reports that Iran has "promise[d] to include 20 centrifuges [allegedly for research] in a freeze on nuclear activities." "[I]nclusion of the centrifuges in the freeze could save Iran from being referred to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions on Tehran."



Waldman on Kristof's critique of "Left behind."

New Offensive

"More than 5,000 American, British and Iraqi troops swept through a lawless region south of Baghdad on Tuesday in a new move to crush insurgent unrest before national elections in January," the region known as the "triangle of death." This region has received much less media coverage than Fallujah, but there is some good information on it. In late October, the LAT reported that "military officials said a lack of troops has made it impossible to secure" the area. The Boston Globe reported that the triangle of death "illustrates the destabilizing results of a hands-off approach to Iraqi trouble spots." This is the problem presented by improvidently reducing troop levels in Iraq.

James Glanz and Edward Wong in the NYT emphasize the threat posed by secular "crime families," while Anthony Shadid in the Washington Post highlights the region's violence and instability, directed particularly toward Iraqi security forces, as well as the influence of Wahhabism.

Shadid also ominously notes that "Shiite militiamen and armed tribesmen have threatened to avenge the deaths on their own terms," which may explain the recent assassinations of Sunni clerics.

Asshat Safire

In today's NYT, Will Safire unleashes a belligerent barrage of bromides toward the 9/11 Commission and its "private lobbying juggernaut," praising the sturdy stalwart of stoppage, the brawny bulwark of blockage, the enervating advocate of obstruction, the inspiring apostle of impotence, the courageous champion of constipation, California Republican Duncan Hunter, for stopping the perfidious project of pablum, intelligence reform.

Safire argues in his typically disingenuous manner that the press and administration critics have "flip-flopped," initially arguing that Bush ruled his administration with despotic powers, only to now characterize him as impotent for failing to pass the intelligence reform bill. He later, of course, explains the "conventional media narrative," that "the Machiavellian president is publicly posing as a reacher-outer, but is privately telling the House to drag a foot to protect the Pentagon" - admirably resolving the dialectic tension in a mere 23 words. I also must thank the pedant for attributing to administration critics the use of the word "reacher-outer." Bravo!

Perhaps addled by the excitement of impending retirement, Safire desires that the "next Congress take a hard look at a radical notion in the current bill - to strip the C.I.A. of its covert-action arm and assign that function to the Pentagon. That calls for all-out war or no action at all - when sometimes it is wise to operate in the gray area of plausible denial." Of course, just last week Bush "ordered an interagency group to devise a plan that could expand the Defense Department role in covert operations that have traditionally been the specialty of the Central Intelligence Agency."

Safire closes by claiming "lame ducks shouldn't stampede." They shouldn't write either.

Johnson and Engelhardt on "Loyalty"

At Antiwar.com, Chalmers Johnson and Tom Engelhardt have an excellently shrill look at the risks excessive "loyalty" pose to our government and the dangers of the administration's treatment of the CIA.

Update, 11/24/04, 9:19 AM EST: Clemons, who is friends with Johnson, also flags the article, emphasizing the wealth of historical information therein. He notes that the only way to deal with the administration's loyalty fetish is "for private players -- public intellectuals, solutions oriented think tankers, NGOs, journalists, public policy intellectuals, and others -- to focus on embarrassing the idiotic assessments and decisions of a government that has made itself blind" and then "to put better ideas on the table."

I suspect Steve is underestimating the strength of the GOP noise machine and the extent to which administration "loyalists" are in fact ciphers for certain outside ideological positions disseminated through the OVP and DoD. That is one of the more bizarre facts of the administration's loyalty fetish: only those adequately supine to nongovernmental demagogues are deemed "loyal."



Since the election, I have been pretty adamant about insisting that Bush was elected based on lies and public misperceptions of his agenda. People voted for him despite of what he stood for, not because of it. It's nice to see some vindication in the NYT/CBS News poll. "Nearly two-thirds of all respondents - including 51 percent of Republicans - said it was more important to reduce deficits than to cut taxes," "a majority continue to say they want [abortion] to remain either legal as it is now... or to be legal but under stricter limits," "a majority continue to support allowing either same-sex marriages or legally recognized domestic partnerships for gay people," "nearly a fifth said [Bush's tax cuts] had done more harm [than good], and just under half said the tax cuts had made little difference," "45 percent said a proposal to permit people to invest their Social Security withholding money in private accounts was a bad idea," and "51 percent said that Mr. Bush was unlikely to 'make sure Social Security benefits are there for people like me.'"

In more mixed news, "more than 6 in 10 of the respondents said people with higher incomes should pay a greater proportion of their income in taxes; 3 in 10 said all income groups should pay the same proportion." That support for progressive taxation is down to 60% is appalling - it is a bedrock principle of the US tax system. I recently had an argument with a self-employed techie who though progressive income taxes were Communist. It is almost impossible to argue with people whose understanding of politics and economics is almost entirely derived from talk radio.

The concern about Hollywood I consider to be a wash, at least potentially. First, I think it is largely a transient false positive, where people answer because they think its the right thing to do, rather than because they believe it. Second, because we on the left are less in thrall to the sexist materialism of the corporate media than the conventional wisdom suggests. It is an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

Attacks on Sunni Clerics

The increase in assaults on Iraqi security forces is not new news, but the targeting of Sunni clerics certainly is.

A leading Sunni cleric was killed in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Mosul on Monday, and American military officials in the city discovered the bodies of at least four more Iraqi Army soldiers killed by gunshots to the head.

[Gunmen killed another Sunni Muslim cleric in Miqdadiya on Tuesday, Reuters reported, citing witnesses and hospital officials in the city, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad.]

Insurgents are kidnapping and killing Iraqi soldiers and national guardsmen with shocking regularity in Mosul, the third largest city in Iraq and the scene of a ferocious insurgent uprising two weeks ago that followed the American invasion of Falluja.

In the past two days, American forces in Mosul have discovered the bodies of at least 13 members of the Iraqi security forces, and the bodies of 11 more people have been found in that time but not yet identified.

"It's safe to say they are targeting Iraqi security forces with a campaign of threats, intimidation and murder," said Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a military spokesman in Mosul.

Concerns are growing that the campaign is succeeding in part because the insurgents have infiltrated the Iraqi security forces.
The Reuters report is here. Targeting of Sunni clerics raises three troublesome possibilities: either (1) Kurdish or Shiite vigilantes are escalating the conflict; (2) American or allied forces are engaging in illegal assassinations; or (3) Sunni fighters are attempting to make others think (1) or (2). It's also possible that the attacks are random, since it takes three for a trend.

See here, here, here, here, and here for more on the terrible yet effective insurgent campaign against Iraqi security forces.

Rational Weapon Seeking

On the heels of last week's KR piece, Richard Cohen reminds us in today's Washington Post how rational it is for Iran to be seeking nuclear weapons. Knight Ridder reported:

Of more than two dozen Iranians interviewed in Isfahan and Tehran, all favored Iran's acquiring nuclear power and enriching its own uranium to power its plants, even if the process could be manipulated to develop an atomic bomb.

Most added that they'd like to see Iran develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent and to enhance its stature in the Middle East.
It is important to gauge the extent of regime rationality in formulating security policy. Is Iran deterrable if they acquire weapons? Can its interest in weaponizing be mitigated through security concessions or diplomacy? These are baseline questions - but we can't trust people like John Bolton to even ask them.

Update, 11/23/04 10:05 PM EST: I don't mean to minimize the risks of a nuclear Iran, which are obviously severe, potentially regionally and globally destabilizing.

Massing's Latest Installment

Via Juan Cole, Michael Massing's new article on Iraq media coverage is out. As usual, Massing distills the most important issues hindering media coverage, including both intentional and circumstantial impediments to on the ground reporting and the poisonous quality of cable news coverage.

Now, with President Bush preparing for a second term, what can we expect from the press in Iraq? The initial signs, from Falluja, are not encouraging. Even allowing for the constraints imposed by embedding, much of the press seemed unduly accepting of US claims, uncritically repeating commanders' assertions about the huge numbers of insurgents killed while underplaying the devastation in the city. And little attention was paid to the estimated 200,000 residents said to have fled Falluja in anticipation of the fighting. Amid US claims that the city had been "liberated," these refugees seemed invisible. But, in light of the coverage in recent months, this should have come as no surprise.

Fewer Troops in Iraq

Laura Rozen, Matt Yglesias, Jim Henley, Kevin Drum, Max Sawicky, Jesse Taylor, Taegan Goddard, and surely others have flagged yesterday's Boston Globe article by Brian Bender, "Hawks Push Deep Cuts in Forces in Iraq." Apparently, Cato's director of foreign policy studies Chris Preble struck a chord with his report "Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against Al-Qaeda." Bender's update to the September Robert Novak scoop (which was soundly ridiculed on the right) and quasi-confirmation of John Derbyshire's speculation is valuable reporting.

This development bizarrely reverses the invective hurled mere weeks ago against John Kerry. Many of the same people Bender cites as coming around to a radical troop reduction position accused Kerry of harboring the same secret desires, despite his avowed statements to the contrary. Three weeks ago Bush himself insinuated that Kerry wanted to "cut and run" - which, regardless of its wisdom, is exactly what Bush is considering doing. Kerry called it - he argued that Bush was going to radically reduce troop levels without regard for the consequences, an assertion skeptically received (and which Bush and Cheney routinely denied).

Hypocrisy is old news, and surely not shocking from this bunch. But we still need to figure out what exactly is going on. Henley and Yglesias think the ulterior motives of the shift are to rationalize away our failure in Iraq, thereby minimizing the damage it's done to our imperialist impulses, and free up resources for Iran. It has now become obvious to many Americans that we did not go into Iraq with enough troops to secure the peace, primarily due to the poor strategic planning of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (that Salon article is worth watching the adv.). According to Henley, the hawks aren't happy with the idea that the militaristic imposition of democracy requires significant resources, and the only available counterargument is to claim that we weren't aggressive enough. I doubt that we could have created a democratic Iraq through military intervention no matter how effective our planning had been - but to argue that we failed because we used too many troops is shere madness.

The problem is that I'm not sure how I feel about the wisdom of troop reductions. I stand athwart the Kaplan-Feldman divide. The decision to invade was wrong, but it's done, and we need to find a path forward. Kaplan provides a reality-based argument that gets us to the same end of the absurd "hawkish" arguments: a draw down accompanied by increased reliance on proxies. Feldman, in focusing on "what we owe Iraq," returns us to our non-trivial moral obligations to a people we have screwed. Complicating the question is the dual incompetence of the Bush administration's policy apparatus and the national Democrats' message apparatus. The administration's policy incompetence lends weight to Kaplan by minimizing the opportunities for screw up. The Democrats' message incompetence lends weight to Feldman by increasing the risk that the GOP will be able to spin troop reductions as vindication and support for more intervention.

I can't resolve the dispute to my satisfaction - all I can do is list my considerations.

  • Troop reductions during instability will give a massive propaganda victory to bin Laden, Zarqawi, et al. The Afghan-Soviet mythology will be reinforced, Al Qaeda emboldened, etc. Of course, increasing troop levels, and especially locating permanent bases in Iraq, will also hand them a propaganda victory, affirming our lust for oil. We shouldn't have invaded.

  • Troop reductions without dividing Sunni insurgents from Al Qaeda fighters will inevitably produce civil war. This is Feldman's most insightful contribution: Al Qaeda has adopted Sunni grievances and Iraqi nationalism as tactics against the US, and we can not strategically succeed separating them. Sunni have different ultimate strategic objectives that Al Qaeda - returning to a privileged position in an Iraqi state v. shaming the "Great Satan" - and that divide must be exploited. An early draw down encourages greater cooperation, as the Sunni best case scenario (winning a civil war and installing another Sunni dominated regime) become possible again.

  • Iraqi national security forces are not ready to assume the responsibility of stabilizing the country. Insurgents and Al Qaeda have strategically targeted Iraqi security forces, massacreing them left and right, from the 50 dragged from their busses and executed to the headless bodies littering Mosul. Iraqi forces are infiltrated and intimidated by the insurgents, and are as likely to drop their weapons or switch sides as actually fight. The exception is the Kurds, who are competent and faithful, but a despised minority (again, see Mosul).

  • Troops & civilians are dying. The question, for me, is if more civilians will die in a civil war than under US occupation.

  • The impact on American credibility is uncertain. Parts of the world will view a withdrawal as a return to sanity, though the accompanying hawkish rationale will undercut that. Part will view it as one more lie from the President (recently validated by the American public - "sorry everybody" only goes so far). Part (Kurds) will view it as a betrayal.
I wish I had the answer.



Why are so many people searching for "loopification?" For about a week, I've been getting 5-10 hits/day from search engines looking for that term.

I first came across the term in Richard Chused's property text book, where he excerpted Duncan Kennedy's, The Stages of the Decline of the Public/Private Distinction, 130 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1349, 1354-57 (1982). It's the phenomenon where political positions (and occasionally personalities) at the end of a continuum are closer to each other than the middle. See also McClosky and Chong, Similarities and Differences Between Left Wing and Right Wing Radicals, 15 Brit. J. Pol. Sci. 329 (1985).

One of the more fascinating examples of the phenomenon is the tale of Carl Schmitt; from Jan Werner Muller, A Dangerous Mind:

Converseley, many left-wing radicals in different parts of Europe felt repulsed (and sometimes secretely attracted) by Schmitt's supposedly supremely realist antiliberal theories. This was not a simple case of les extremes (antiliberaux) se touchent. Rather, as I shall argue in a number of chapters, it reflected the fact that European political thinkers after 1945 often addressed similar problems..." (6)

Newsweek: Bolton Out

Newsweek: Administration officials are downplaying speculation about possible hardline neocon nominees for key second-term national-security vacancies. At the State Department, sources tell Newsweek, the White House has all but ruled out a possible promotion to deputy secretary for John Bolton, currently the department's top arms-control expert and an ardent critic of the United Nations and rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea. At the tension-plagued CIA, government insiders say the front runner to become Director Porter Goss's new principal deputy is the current director of the hypersecret National
Security Agency, Michael Hayden, an Air Force lieutenant general and classic technocrat, whose appointment might soothe antagonisms between veteran spooks and Goss's sharp-elbowed political aides.
-- Mark Hosenball
I won't believe it 'til he turns to dust from the stake through the heart.

Duncan Hunter

Maybe Congressman Hunter should have spent more time working on intelligence reform, and less time inserting a rider into the omnibus spending bill on behalf of the Thomas More Law Center. Representative work from the Thomas More Law Center here (ID), here / here (gay marriage), here (reproductive rights). The rider designates a controversial religious icon in Southern California a national veterans memorial, attempting to compensate for a recently failed referendum that could result in its relocation.

The Thomas More Law Center is bankrolled by Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza, estimated to be worth up to half a billion dollars. He is using his money to disseminate his brand of fervent, conservative, quasi-evangelical Catholicism.

Patrick Murray

Patrick Murray is the Goss hanger-on brought to the CIA from the House intelligence committee who caused two high level CIA staffers, Michael Sulick and Stephen Kappes, to resign (see also Jay Jakub). Isikoff and Klaidman at Newsweek have a brief look at the scandal, including some backgroud on Murray:

Until a few weeks ago, Patrick Murray was just another ambitious Capitol Hill staffer. As a top aide to Rep. Porter Goss, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, Murray had a reputation as a sharp-tongued partisan lawyer. When Democrats on the committee asked the CIA for information, Murray would cut them off, reminding the agency that only requests backed by the Republican majority should be honored. "He was just impossible," says one staffer who dealt with him. "He was sarcastic, snide and had this uncanny ability to push people's buttons." One former CIA official told NEWSWEEK that Murray leaned on him more than once to declassify information so he could use it to "embarrass the Democrats." Murray was irritated when the agency declined. He regarded much of the CIA as a nest of obstructionist bureaucrats, time-servers who had schemed to undermine the administration's policies—especially in Iraq.
The guy responsible for the "selective declassification" epidemic is in charge of depoliticizing the CIA (see also here)? Murray looks like an archetypal combination of abrasive asshole and unethical partisan.

Power Mad

The GOP has again fallen prey to an old vice: believing their own spin, acting as though they have a mandate for revolutionary change. After a bruising election determined by a litany of ultimately insurmountable GOP distortions, conservatives have renewed their assault on the weary American people. Congress came back for a five day lame-duck session less than a week ago. In that brief time, Republicans have again revealed their true colors: contempt for the American people and disdain for the rule of law.

As evidence of criminality continues to accumulate against House Majority Leader Tom Delay, the GOP erected a shield around their wayward leader. "In an unrecorded voice vote conducted behind closed doors," the Republican Caucus voted to change an 11 year old rule prohibiting Congressional leaders from enjoying their positions while under indictment. Three of Delay's underlings were indicted in September for illegally funneling corporate contributions to Texas state politicians, an effort "engineered" by Delay himself. Delay's defenders have responded with a formal smear campaign against Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who is leading the criminal investigation. Unsurprisingly, the smears have already percolated into the press, despite the complete lack of supporting evidence. Delay gloats that the "crushing defeat" suffered by Democrats because of "Democrat (sic) obstruction and vicious personal attacks should show them that the American people are tired of a politics of personal destruction." A majority of the GOP voted to protect this unethical man because the GOP won the election, and has a mandate for more of the same.

Again scoffing at the people's right to hold their representatives accountable, the Republican Congress has passed an omnibus spending bill loaded with egregious riders. They have authorized the pillaging of the environment. They have undermined health care for women and families. They tried to hand unfettered access to our private tax information to Republican legislators. They, at the request of the President, allowed the Department of Education to reduce student loan spending by as much as $300,000,000, cutting off aid for as many as 100,000 lower middle class students and reducing aid for a million more. The bill is 3000 pages long and it was finalized in the dark of night, mere hours before it was voted on. Rest assured that more contemptible riders will come to light. The GOP won the election, and has a mandate for more of the same.

While the GOP fiddled with its stealth riders, intelligence reform burned. The 9/11 Commission's intelligence reform proposals are not going to become law, allegedly because of objections from Republican Congressmen Duncan Hunter (California) and James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin). Hunter supposedly ignored the Department of Defense's support for the reform, deciding that it would hurt our military intelligence capabilities. Sensenbrenner's objection was even more facile: he wanted to make sure illegal immigrants didn't get driver's licenses. It is inconceivable that a bill supported by the President, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority Leader could be blocked on such weak grounds. After spending the final months of the campaign courting reform advocates, the GOP sent them packing without the courtesy of breakfast. President Bush won his election, and has a mandate for more of the same.

While the GOP was submarining real intelligence reform, Bush's Director of Central Intelligence surfaced to launch his own reforms: driving objective and professional civil servants from the CIA, to be replaced by GOP loyalists. The Republican staff he put in place to head the agency insulted the professional staff to the point of resignation. Porter Goss responded by circulating a memo admonishing analysts and operatives to toe the Party line. Take no action to defend the American people from administration perfidy, support administration allegations, truth be damned. Bush won his election, and has a mandate for more of the same.

While Goss was busy protecting the administration from truth, Bush elevated to his cabinet two more partisans of fantasy. "In nominating Alberto Gonzales to be the next attorney general, President Bush has selected a man with a long record of giving him the kind of legal advice he wants, [WP]" especially when Mr. Bush wants to torture, execute, or evade international law and public accountability. In nominating Condoleezza Rice to be the next Secretary of State, President Bush has selected a woman with a long record of telling him exactly what he wants to hear, especially when Mr. Bush wants to go to war, blame Clinton, or save face. In even considering promoting the likes of Danielle Pletka and John Bolton, the administration is flaunting its distaste for rationality. Bush won his election, and has a mandate for more of the same.

While Bush was elevating friendly fabulists, old stories were being retold. At the same time that the administration was declaring victory in Fallujah (despite on the ground intelligence), Iraq erupted in flames and insurgents remobilized, leaving Iraq on the brink of formal civil war. Afghanistan is again dominated, socially, economically, and politically, by the opium trade. Following a European diplomatic breakthrough on Iran's nuclear weapons development, the administration leaked dubious intelligence to "preemptively sabotage" any real progress, escalating tensions. Bush won his election, and has a mandate for more of the same.

Democrats, on the other hand, have merely reaffirmed their decency. Former President Clinton asked if he was the "only person in the entire United States of America who likes both George W. Bush and John Kerry, who believes they’re both good people, who believes they both love our country and they just see the world differently?" Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, in his farewell address to a room virtually devoid of Republicans, nonetheless embraced the "firm middle ground based on common sense and shared values." New Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to "work with [Bush] 'to get things done so that we might actually fulfill the promises we hear so often on the campaign trail.'" Unfortunately, the GOP views decency as a character defect, an invitation to abuse. Senator Kerry is correct to place the burden of bipartisanship on Bush.

The GOP has misinterpreted the results of the 2004 election. A people too preoccupied to wade through innumerable lies reelected a President based on misconceptions, yet the GOP hears this muddled cry for help as vindication for its deplorable politics. They have managed to repeat four years worth of mistakes and malfeasance in less than three weeks. I once heard an old saying from Texas: "fool me once, shame on you - fool me [twice] - you can't get fooled again." Let's make sure the saying is true, and that the American people can't get fooled again.


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