Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A Long Hard One

Either way you slice it, the US has a serious problem on its hands with Iraq. After a tumultuous month, the Administration is quickly moving to acquire more UN assistance. With the June 30th hand-over date on the horizon, and no let up in insurgent attacks, it appears that securing a workable mandate with the UN won't necessarily matter in the short-run.

Despite wails of consternation from Bush detractors to internationalize the occupation of Iraq, the UN has been hesitant to step in at any capacity since the bombing of its headquarters in Iraq last August. Some months back, Kofi Annan deplored the UN's lack of risk assement and preparedness in Iraq that led to the bombing that killed 22 and wounded 150. Seeking desperately to change the optics, the Bush Administration has tasked U.N. diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to handle the process of power transfer by June 30th.

Another battle the US faces is keeping coalition members in the coalition. Spain and Honduras have decided to move their troops out earlier than expected, yet their military presence in Iraq-- not to demean-- was, and is, very small and ineffectual. The US hasn't really made a rile about losing these members of the "coalition of the willing", which should speak to how valuable their contributions really were.

Nonetheless, even if the Bush Administration is shifting its policy-- be it from lack of alternatives, or because of political imperatives and strategic necessities-- the attacks by insurgents still continue. If anything, the presence of more troops will only embolden insurgent and guerilla efforts. In addition, the sophistication of the attacks seem to be increasing, and an unweilding response by US forces to these attacks will only cause unavoidable civilian causalities-- further exacerbating US relations with moderates.

An interesting point, though, that goes unmentioned, is the characterization of these latest uprisings in Fulluja and Najaf as insurgent uprising, rather than terror related. The term terrorist has been dropped from White House parlance with regard to Iraq lately; though just today their seems to have been car bombings in Iraq killing 68 people which may be related to foreign terrorist.

What the Bush Administration is certainly doing right now is working the back channels of negotiation with moderate clerics like Sistani, in an attempt to mollify these uprisings. Short of precise tactical weapons to extricate these insurgents, the US has to negotiate to maintain a level of civility just to start talks. Sustained attacks against the insurgents hold up in civilian areas will prove to be extremely counter productive in the long run.

Therefore, though internationalizing the occupation of Iraq is a wise, if far a too late, move by the Bush Administration, the larger problem is regaining stability within the region. This requires propping up credible public arbiters, Sistani being one, and removing all appearances of an engineered occupation (Iraq governing Council-IGC). Likewise, other substantive measures should be taken, but the optics must be changed aswell. This will be even tougher to do, now, with the new US super embassy in Iraq headed by John Negroponte. The embassy will have a staff of 3000 thousand people, the largest in the world, and control the administrative apparatus of Iraq—overseeing the IGC, but that’s a whole other story. Right now it looks like its going to be a “long, hard slog.”

Monday, April 19, 2004


The Saudi Ambassador to the U.S, Prince Bandar, is said to have assured Bush that oil prices would be down before the November election. The effort would be to increase Saudi oil production by 1 to 2 million barrels a day thus lowering the per/bbl price to around $28 US-- as of this writing, light sweet crude is going for $36.75 US per/bbl. Low gas prices and a rosey economic picture could help Bush get re-elected. However, having this little tidbit of information as part of the public discourse before the election is a huge political liability. One way the Bush Administration could pre-empt criticism, or allay suspicions, would be to get Bandar to start pumping up oil production now; though that would only confirm the suspicions of collusion. The story is already in the news cycle, but the question is whether it will have any legs. This, from Joshua Marshall at TPM, is how they're handling it:[Transcript]

QUESTION: Can you describe conversations between the White House and Prince Bandar about his essential promise to lower oil prices before the election?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard from Prince Bandar a few weeks ago about --

QUESTION: He didn’t talk specifically about the election.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the most recent conversation that we had with him regarding oil prices. And he expressed his views out at the stakeout to you all that Saudi Arabia is committed to making sure prices remained in a range, I believe it’s $22 to $28 price per barrel of oil, and that they don’t want to do anything that would harm our consumers or harm our economy. So he made those comments at the stakeout and we’ve made our views very clear that prices should be determined by market forces, and that we are always in close contact with producers around the world on these issues to make sure that actions aren’t taken that harm our consumers or harm our economy.

QUESTION: There were no conversations specifically about the President’s reelection?

MR. McCLELLAN: You can ask Prince Bandar to --

QUESTION: But from the point -- I mean, conversations are obviously two ways.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- what his comments were. But the conversations we have are related to our long-held views that we have stated repeatedly publicly, that market forces should determine prices.

QUESTION: To follow up on that then, I would gather that the White House view is one of expectation that the Saudis would increase oil production between now and November.

MR. McCLELLAN: Our views are very well-known to Saudi Arabia. Prince Bandar made a commitment at the stakeout that I will let speak for itself. You all should look back to those remarks.

QUESTION: We’re missing the allegation here, which is that Prince Bandar and the Saudis have made a commitment to lower oil prices to help the President politically. Is that your --

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those comments to him. I can tell you that what our views are and what he said at the stakeout is what we know his views are, as well.

QUESTION: Does the White House have any knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Does the White House have any knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I’m not going to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those questions --

QUESTION: Is there a deal?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I wouldn’t speculate one way or the other. You can direct those questions to him, but I’m telling you --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speculate either. Do you have knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m telling you what our views are and what we've stated, and I'm telling you what I do know, which is that our position is very clear when it comes to oil prices and what our views are. And Prince Bandar spoke to you all just a few weeks ago out at the stakeout after meeting with some White House officials and expressed --

QUESTION: So you have no knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and expressed their view. I'm not going to try to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those questions to him.

QUESTION: The President is confident that the American elections are not being manipulated by the world's largest oil producer?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our view is that the markets should determine --

QUESTION: The market doesn't. It's a cartel.

MR. McCLELLAN: But our view is that that's what -- that the markets should determine prices. And that's the view we make very clear to producers around the world, including our friends in OPEC.

I used to like Rex Murphy, until I picked up a thesaurus and started deciphering his code. Rex is clearly a smart man-- former Rhodes Scholar (Same Class as Bill Clinton) -- but his circuitous prose tends to meander far too much for my liking. I guess for him it’s aesthetically edifying to speak above us. He creates, so meticulously, superfluous diction when simple, short and understandable words would do. But hey that's Rex, he's a national treasure. Yet, in a Saturday editorial for theGlobe and Mail , Rex lays down his stilted language, as much as is Rexly possible, to come to the defense of his Newfoundland brethren. Rex takes umbrage with the self-preening vanity and hypocrisy of the radical-activists that protest against the Seal Hunt:

Newfoundland was a playpen for the ostentatious hearts of all the good-cause world. The baby seal with its Bambi-sized eyes and pristine white coat was, as an icon, the very Pietà of activist environmentalism

Intuitively, and with that natural shiver of a sentient being, I feel the Seal hunt to be harsh. But with some rationality and compassion towards the plight of the sealers and, more importantly, a comparative delineation(Cost/Benefit) between the value of a seal's life and the value and quality of a human life, I'd have to agree with enhancing the value and quality of the sealer’s life-- absent any other apparent means of subsistence.

Thus, it is one thing to be entirely opposed to the hunt, and yet another to be critical of how the seals are killed. Ensuring that a seal is humanly killed is a cause worth advocating; though destroying the economic prospects of rural communities by stopping the hunt, is missing the point in a large way(Strawman).

The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been critical of the Seal Hunt since the early 60's, and continues to wage a public relations campaign to see that the hunt is disbanded. The Green Party of Canada, however, adopted a position in favor of the East Coast Hunt in 2002. Yet, there has been growing clamor within the Green Party to reverse that decision. The cleavage has much to do with regional interests, and understandably so. The Newfoundland wing of the Green Party supports the Hunt.

Rex's goes on to poignantly add:

There was never any appreciation, and more loathsomely, never any attempt to achieve an appreciation, either of the history of the great hunt, the desperation of the people who for generations prosecuted it, the heart-rending exigencies of the out-harbour crews who were driven to it and the great train of loss, wreckage and death that inscribed its melancholy story.

This could not be truer. All other forms of subsistence for these Newfoundlanders are scares. It would be more enlightening if these activists proposed alternatives means for acquiring a livelihood on the Coast, rather than glibly smearing regular folk. In what I must admit is a low blow, and beneath him, Rex takes a rhetorical jab at the political focus of such groups:

I have thought on more than one occasion in the last while that if even a 30th of the concern and a 10th of the press had been on offer in Rwanda, for a real cause, Romeo Dallaire need never have had a single sleepless night. But fawning over cute things is always more inviting than putting some torque into the protest of real cruelties.

Yet, that passage is somewhat instructive and should give us pause to rethink and maybe reprioritize the causes we advocate-- perspective is everything.

Last night on 60 minutes, famed journalist Bob Woodward-- the other guy that helped uncover the Watergate scandal-- gave an interview about his new book, Plan of Attack, that chronicles the White House leading up to the Iraq War. It should be noted that Viacom is the parent company of CBS, the network that airs 60 minutes, and is also the parent company of Simon and Schuster, the publishing house that is publishing Woodward's book. Nonetheless, it was certainly a compelling interview. Gleaned from transcripts and interviews with 75 top officials in the White House, including President Bush, Woodward's book conveys an unflattering image of a White House eager to go to war, and racked with division. The rift was clearly between hawkish Vice President Dick Cheney and the realist dove Colin Powell. Others in the administration like Rumsfeld, Rice, and Wolfiwitz, also advocates for the war in Iraq, managed to acquire more access to the President, which ultimately influenced his decision. Chief among them was Cheney. An article by the New York Times today states that the relationship between Powell and Cheney had soured through the years:

In 2002, Mr. Cheney was openly disdainful of Mr. Powell's insistence on getting approval of the United Nations Security Council before going to war, spreading consternation at the State Department. Mr. Powell won that argument, and President Bush authorized a bid to get a Security Council resolution supporting war.

Mr. Powell's memoir also recalls an exchange in the early 1990's, in which Mr. Powell accused Mr. Cheney " jokingly, he insisted " of being surrounded by "right-wing nuts like you." In the last year, the Woodward book says, Mr. Powell referred privately to the civilian conservatives in the Pentagon loyal to Mr. Cheney as the Gestapo

But irrespective of these variables, it appears that a greater force my have interceded on Bush's behalf: God. Woodward speaks of one exchange with the president, asking him with whom he sought advice for about the decision to go to war:

Did Mr. Bush ask his father for any advice? "I asked the president about this. And President Bush said, "Well, no," and then he got defensive about it," says Woodward. "Then he said something that really struck me. He said of his father, "He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength." And then he said, "There's a higher Father that I appeal to."

It's difficult to interpret this exchange without thinking: WOW. I'm mean surely faith is an integral guide in politics, and always has been. Further, public office should not be exclusive to only those who renounce thier religious faith. But, inasmuch as religious faith informs political practice, it should not be used demagogically to impose values. A decision to undertake war should be deliberative and discursive, involving all relevant members of cabinet. Woodward adds that Powell and, strangely, Rumsfeld weren't informed by the Preident when he made his decision:

"The president, in making the decision to go to war, did not ask his secretary of defense for an overall recommendation, did not ask his secretary of state, Colin Powell, for his recommendation,"says Woodward.

It seems as early as November of 2001, Bush tasked Rumsfeld to prep a War Strategy for Iraq; Joshua Marshall speaks to this here. Yet somehow, post war planning has been abysmal, if existent.

The justifications for war begin to look more threadbare with the passage of time. In the month of Apirl, thus far, 99 us soldiers have died-- the worst for any month since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. The Administration's logic that the worse it gets in Iraq, will only be evidence of how much progress is being made, needs to be rethought. Woodward 's book comes at an extremely vulnerable time for the Administration, already reeling from Richard Clark's critical book, Against All Enemies.

Sunday, April 18, 2004


It’s become painfully obvious, lately, that SNL is going through a creative dearth. With Will Ferrell, Chris Katan, and Tracy Morgan leaving last year, SNL has been left in the lurch. The apparent cause of this unfunny-ness, in my opinion, has much to do with their lack of political parody— more specifically a good impersonation of the President. SNL’s in house Rich Little, Darrell Hammond, made a valiant, though completely absurd, attempt at a George Bush impersonation—an impersonation they’re in desperate need of. If Darrell Hammond can’t muster a plausible parody of the President, then SNL is clearly in trouble.

I would hope that some intervening force—hopefully a fruitful summer of new comic acquisitions—changes the ensembles' comic fortunes. What made SNL appealing, and kept me in on a Saturday night, was the attention it paid to incisive political satire. Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush, Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton, and, more recently, Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush have all had an iconic influence in shaping public perceptions of these political figures. However, SNL may not have much time to cultivate a loyal constituency for their version of George W. Bush and John Kerry, since they go on summer hiatus in May, and don’t return until October/November—clearly not enough time to create memorable political parodies before the impending mid-November election.

So now the politically astute and satirically inclined are left to the only other offering of politically ironic comedy: The Daily Show with Jon Stweart. Well, I guess that should do.
In the beginning, Blog created......

The Strawman has cometh! It is with obnoxious glee that I finally stake my claim to the Bloggesphere. I'm certainly not the first, and will clearly not be the last. Admittedly, I got to the party late, though this will not deter me in the least. The mission statement thus far is to pump out as much commentary as is humanly possible-- or at least until I run out of things to comment on. The topics will be diverse, and range from such subjects as political economy; to theoretical physics; to popular culture; and, strangely enough, to Michael Jackson. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, will it make a sound? I guess it really depends on the acoustical ranges, but probably not. I fall in the Bloggesphere today, and besides myself-- anxiously viewing my own blog-- none will be the wiser. Anyhow, be on with it.