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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, June 18, 2007


Iraq Now and Later

Visible attacks and photo-ops are what's going to be on the menu in Iraq for what the Bush administration needs in their big Summer push. As the Associated Press is reporting today, "New military operations underway in Iraq," is merely the beginning. You're going to see Iraqi and US troops working as a unit with the Iraqi's in the lead; you'll see convoys and "surges" attacking what the Bushies will no doubt call "al-Qaeda strongholds"; and we'll get the inevitable report that we got "the number 2 guy" with an accompanying picture of a dead and bloated body made just for the US audience.

The Bushies will claim that the "Surge" is working whether there are increased casualties or not.

As we read that 20 Shi'ite gunmen were killed in raids orchestrated by the newest US-Iraqi alliance in the New York Times, we'll be asked to view the glass as nearly completely full rather than how it really is: almost empty. They'll talk about killing Sunni insurgents, those Shi'ite gunmen and al-Qaeda terrorists all in the same vein forgetting to mention that we are, in fact, at ware with just about everybody who has taken up a claim in that nation since "Mission Accomplished".

Just who isn't our enemy over there?

And when someone has the temerity to mention the deaths of an American soldier or a suicide bomber who kills dozens at a market, the Bushies will tell us that we're looking at the same suicide bomber over and over again and that it's just the liberal media not wanting to show us the truth - or at least the Bush administration's version of the truth.

When September rolls around and General Patreus has to tell us all how well or badly things are going in Iraq, the Bushies will put their smiley faces on the whole of Iraq and ask our Congress for even more money to keep their military-industrial machine going. They won't mention the American or Iraqi lives lost; they won't use the word "dead"; and they won't admit to any mistakes in the past the present or the future.

There will be many in the House and Senate who will say "give it even more time". We just have to hope that those who said "this is it - no more money without real results" won't retreat and allow the Bushies to spin this one past them.

We'll see.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

It’s been a contentious week in the world and as is so often the case, the Middle East has been the locus of the worst tensions. The war on Iraq has heated up exponentially in the past ten days, with Sunnis and Shi’as turning to blowing up not just each other, but each others’ mosques as well. Even Moqtadr al-Sadr has pleaded for calm where he previously demanded retaliation.

Gaza is embroiled in a mini civil war being waged between the two leadership factions--Hamas and Fatah–of the Palestinian leadership coalition. The two groups have been battling for months, but on June 14th, Hamas gained control of Fatah headquarters which means a spillover into the West Bank is likely, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called a state of emergency in the Palestinian territories and disbanded the Palestinian Coalition, effectively–or at least attempting to–excise Hamas from the leadership equation. Fatah is a secularist leadership, Hamas radical Islamist.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace is out of a job, the last vestige of the Rumsfeld era, asked to retire soon after noting that the U.S. would be in Iraq for at least another five years. The Bush Administration fired Pace, finding him no longer worthy to either run the war or even comment on it. Yet when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) allegedly told a group of liberal bloggers on June 13th that Pace was “incompetent”–a report run with by everyone from FOX news to NPR, the guns were out for Reid, not Pace, which is the very definition of how this war happened in the first place: the right *always* sets the agenda in America, or at least has done for the past 30 years.

Meanwhile, as Reid was getting the media drubbing Pace should have been getting, Vice President Dick Cheney continued to try and drum up interest in a pre-emptive military action against Iran, with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), a frequent supporter of Cheney’s, leading a similar chorus in the Senate. (Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Pentagon and Reid have all voiced their disapproval of that warmongering, however.)

President Bush has the lowest approval rating of any sitting president in 40 years, lower even than Richard Nixon on the eve of his resignation and more than 20 points lower than Bill Clinton during the impeachment proceedings.

Americans feel grim about their country and their leadership–or lack of leadership. Polls taken in the past week show that only a fifth of Americans think the country is headed on the right direction. People blame the President and Congress equally for the problems.

Focus on the war has skewed all attempts at change anywhere else in the nation. We are in stasis. Again. Still. Perhaps for a very long while. The hopes many of us had in November 2006 when control of Congress was voted out of the hands of the Republicans who had held it in a stranglehold for 12 years have since been dashed: The slender majority that Democrats wield in the House and the one-vote majority they hold in the Senate have not been enough to override either the Republicans in Congress or the President.

And that has left us at a different impasse than the one we were mired in before November. Before the election, we had no hope. Immediately after, many of us felt revivified. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, was there, in-your-face, doing this, doing that. It looked like finally the nation might get back on track. When Pelosi took her controversial, yet very important, trip to Syria, the one that jump-started negotiations with that country, it looked like the tide was turning for the better.

Then came the war funding bill. The Democrats tried to put restrictions on it–a time line for troop withdrawal and demands on the Iraqi government to meet basic standards of governance and security for Iraqi citizens.

Republicans refused to sign on. The President vetoed it. A second bill, watered down, was dead before it left the Congress and had to be revised again. Democrats who voted for funding for the troops (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did not) seemed to sunder all the hopes that had been pinned on Democrats to somehow – with no real majority in the Congress–end the war, now.

Nothing seems to have happened in Congress since. It’s as if time has stood still in Washington. The immigration debate has been yet another diversion from the war and is also mired in conflict. Democrats and Republicans are divided on the bill: Democrats don’t want to sign it because they believe it penalizes undocumented workers; Republicans don’t want to sign it because they believe it grants undocumented workers–illegal aliens in their parlance–amnesty.

It’s deja vu all over again, the gridlock of the 1990s with the Republican Congress against President Clinton revisited in the extreme.

Who is to blame?

Harry Truman famously said, “the buck stops here”–meaning at the President’s desk. But Bush never takes responsibility for anything, as even his staunchest supporters acknowledge.

Bush is so well-known for his inability to own up to his mistakes, he even said a few years back in a State of the Union Address that he couldn’t think of any he’d made in his tenure as President. As a consequence, his stalwarts make excuses and deflect attention away from the disasters he leaves in his wake. Rudy Giuliani even said recently on the Letterman show that the war on Iraq was Bill Clinton’s idea. Except 9/11 happened *after* Clinton had been out of office for nearly a year and the Bush Administration has always taken the ABC (anything but Clinton) approach to foreign and domestic policy.

The war is Bush’s responsibility–Bush’s and Bush’s only. Shifting a few chairs in Congress is not going to make a difference as long as the President has veto power in his pen. Congressional Democrats had wanted to put withdrawal time lines in the bill for funding the troops. Bush vetoed that, calling it “political theatre.” Yet less than a week after Bush signed the emasculated war funding bill, he suggested that troop pullouts might begin as early as next January–which would be when the first primaries begin.

Is the President just screwing with the Democrats, as he has for most of his six and a half years in office?

The Middle East is a chain-reaction kind of place. When Bush invaded Iraq without reason, he set a series of disastrous events in motion, not the least of which is the civil war raging in Iraq right now.

No president spent more time on Middle East diplomacy than Clinton. Whether one agrees with his approach or not or even credits it with any success, his continual involvement and frequent meetings between and among leaders in the region helped keep a lid on the powder keg that is the Middle East.

Bush has made no such diplomatic overtures during his presidency, and the results of his abrogation of responsibility in that arena have made everything more volatile. Terrorism has raged out of control since Bush invaded Iraq and the cause-and-effect is evident to all but the inner circle of the Administration itself, which seems incapable of listening to experts or even watching the evening news.

There are big issues in the Middle East and the U.S. is involved in every one of them. This month marked a grim anniversary–40 years of occupation by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza. The plight of the Palestinians has been the source of political and sectarian tension for four decades. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq added more fuel to that fire. Now there are three seats of conflict: Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is where Iran and Syria come into play. The U.S. has accused both nations of aiding and abetting terrorism in the region. The Bush Administration claims that Syria funnels weapons to the Palestinian territory and to Afghanistan and that Iran funnels weapons to Iraq and Gaza, fueling the insurgencies and instabilities in those places.

Yet the Bush Administration also has refused to open talks with either nation, although after Pelosi’s trip to Syria, limited discourse has begun with Syria. Despite the recommendations, however, of both peace negotiators from the Clinton Administration and the Iraq Study group headed by James Baker, former Secretary of State under the first Bush Administration that the current administration open talks with Iran and Syria, there has been no discourse between Tehran and Washington. The response by President Bush has been simply that the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists.

Except that’s not quite true. The assistant Secretary of State met with the Sudanese president last fall, even though Sudan is currently waging genocide against its own citizens in Darfur. Until the announcement by the President in April that there would be sanctions placed against Sudan because of the genocide, Bush was still calling Sudan “an important ally in the war on terror” that had given intelligence information to the CIA regarding terrorism and al-Qaeda.

The second largest foreign aid package the U.S. delivers to any nation after Iraq and Israel goes to Egypt, a barely disguised dictatorship that is also under suspicion for being involved in extraordinary rendition of terror suspects and which is the only avenue from which arms could be funneled from Iran or Syria to Gaza and Hamas.

The U.S. is currently supporting the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Ethiopia is a Christian-led nation. Somalia is Muslim. Somalia is also one of the most ravaged places on earth, but in recent months had been becoming stabilized by an Islamist regime which Bush views as possibly terrorist in nature. Somalis, however, uniformly oppose the Ethiopian intervention. That has not kept the Bush Administration out of the mix, however. Nor U.S. weapons and soldiers away from the Ethiopian “intervention.”

The Bush Administration negotiates with terrorists when it chooses. It just doesn’t choose to negotiate with Iran and Syria, which has only served to complicate matters in the Middle East.

Throughout his presidency Bush has also ignored the problem of Israel and Palestine, taking the attitude that if former President Clinton’s rapt attention to that conflict hadn’t achieved peace, then why bother. Except that the continued attention paid by the Clinton Administration was in part what kept the violence to a minimum during his presidency. Although Yitzak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, during the first Clinton term, he was killed by a right-wing extremist Israeli, not by Palestinians.

The Bush Administration’s attitude that the situation will somehow fix itself has angered many on both sides, Israelis as well as Palestinians. When the democratically elected Hamas government came to power last year, both the Israeli government and the U.S. refused to talk to the new Palestinian leaders, creating more ill-will in the region and ratcheting up the tensions.

This refusal also left an open door for Iran and Syria to make their own negotiations with the Hamas leaders, which were bound to be both anti-Israel and anti-American. Thus, when Israel made the disastrous mistake of invading Lebanon in June 2006, in a mini-reprise of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Syria and Iran backed Hezbollah against the democratically elected, but very fragile Lebanese government.

The Bush Administration has repeatedly been challenged by Arab leaders because of covert actions throughout the Middle East. Last month, Bush signed on to non-lethal covert CIA operations in Iran to destabilize the already volatile Ahmadinejad government. The President has been quoted, notably by Bob Woodward, as wanting to turn the Middle East into a fully democratic region. Unfortunately what Bush has failed to recognize--with Iraq, with its covert support of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, with the refusal to deal with the Palestinian coalition--is that when elections have been held in these countries, when the regimes in power have been destabilized, the people have turned, each and every time, to Islamic fundamentalist theocrats, making those countries far more threatening to the U.S. and Israel than they were prior to the “new democracies” the Bush Administration augured into being. Yet this counter-intuitive behavior on the part of Bush and his hierarchy continues unabated and now the Middle East is a veritable tinderbox on the verge of a truly dangerous explosion.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, that country was indeed a dictatorship under Saddam Hussein, but it was also the most secular Arab country in the entire Middle East. The Palestinian Authority under Fatah was also securely secularized. The Lebanese government of Prime Minister Siniora was fragile, yet multi-cultural. Christians, Druse and Muslims were living together in relative calm prior to the Israeli invasion supported by the U.S. and fueled by U.S. weapons.

The war on Lebanon was only 34 days long, but that was enough to rally a majority of Lebanese around Hezbollah, which allowed the radical Shiite Muslim group to gain far more control than it ever had.

The Bush Administration has a vested interest in suppressing radical Shiite Muslim sectarianism in the Middle East. Of course, so does the rest of the world. It is, after all, this branch of radical Islam that has done the most damage to both Arabs and non-Arabs worldwide.

That said–and it is never supposed to be uttered, but it’s true and followers of Islam themselves will say it about the Shiite radicals–the Bush Administration has taken a wrong and incredibly deleterious route to diffusing this branch of Islam and its terrorist manifestations at every turn. All the President and his cohort, which would include British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohmert, have succeeded in doing is increase the Shiite presence and power in the region. What’s more, the Bush approach has escalated terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East and introduced terrorism in places where it previously did not exist or was held at bay.

There is no sense of history within the Bush Administration. No one in the hierarchy of the Bush Administration, including the President and Vice President, seems to recall that the Taliban was given its start by U.S. support during the war between the former Soviet Union and Afghanistan in the 1980s. Now the U.S. cannot defeat the Taliban, despite having invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Nor does the President recall that former President Reagan withdrew from Lebanon after nearly 300 Marines were killed by Hezbollah. Nor does he seem to know that the U.S. once propped up both the Iranian and Iraqi governments.

Now the Bush Administration is in bed with Saudi Arabia to destabilize Lebanon further and to subvert the actions of Iran and Syria. Where will this lead? The current chaos in the Palestinian territories is the inevitable result of the West’s and Israel’s refusal to acknowledge the government there. Why couldn’t the U.S. have attempt to work with the more centrist factions of the Palestinian coalition and brought Israel to the table? Now Hamas has virtually annihilated Fatah; with whom will Israel or the U.S. negotiate when they realize negotiation is essential?

The actions of President Bush in the Middle East impact America and the world. Whether by accident or design, Bush and his Administration have fomented terrorist insurgencies throughout the Middle East, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Gaza. The Arab world distrusts the U.S., and with good reason. Yet at some point–if not during the Bush Administration, then in the next Administration–there will have to be diplomacy. The U.S. does not have an endless supply of American soldiers to send into one or another nation to fight a series of overt and covert wars at the behest of Bush who seems unable or unwilling to understand that war is not simple and the ramifications in an era of nuclear weapons are extreme. The Bush Administration cannot tell other nations that killing is wrong when they do it, and then invade nations that have not attacked the U.S.

It’s time to ratchet down the violence and the subterfuge. The Bush Administration must recognize that it is not 1950 but 2007. The Cold war is over and should not be revived. In the global village, everything is interconnected. The influx of insurgents into Iraq was a direct result of Bush’s invasion of that country. The rise of Hezbollah was a direct result of the intervention by the U.S. and Israel in Lebanon. The election of Hamas was a direct result of the refusal by the U.S. and Israel to deal with the Palestinian Fatah government.

Bush’s approval rating is at an all-time low. He’s a lame duck with no heir-apparent. He has the opportunity to try to right some of the wrongs he has perpetrated in the Middle East. A first step would be a drawing down of the troops in Iraq. A second step would be getting Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table. A third step would be opening some form of dialogue, even through a third party, with Syria and yes, Iran.

The globe is a small place, made smaller by war, global warming and nuclear weapons. The U.S. is still the world’s only superpower, but under George Bush it is we who look like the rogue nation to the rest of the world. We have the power to pull back, pull together and make things less wrong, if not actually right. But the clock is ticking out on that opportunity. The only road away from Armageddon is diplomacy and reason. Is there no one in Washington capable of either?

In response to "The Health Care Tax," Carol Yost writes:


My one quibble is that you don't make it clear that Edwards doesn't really endorse a national single-payer healthcare plan right up front; nor do you say exactly what kind of national plan he has in mind. Nor do the other leading Presidential candidates endorse national single-payer--just Kucinich, who has it right by endorsing HR 676, the bill for national single-payer which he co-authored with Rep. John Conyers.

You're absolutely correct about the high healthcare tax(es) we all pay.

And Madman responds:

I have mentioned Edward's plan not being a Single Payer plan in the past. I thought I did so the other night as well.

It's still my belief that "you can't get there from here" regarding health care. I don't think we can go directly from this awful, awful health care situation to a single payer plan all in one leap. A plan, like Edwards', which will cover everybody is a good first step.

I believe that once people realize that having everyone covered is better than having four-fifths covered, and seeing that, in the long run (as well as the short?), we are actually spending less as a nation for health care, a Single Payer plan will arise.

At least that is my hope.

And in response to the 47 million (or so) Americans without health insurance, Rhian writes:


My 17 year old daughter got her first job. I can now afford a little medical from my company. If anything gets catastrophic, I'm covered.

I'm still working on preventative with health and naturopathic remedies.

I'm thinking of running off to LA to be a movie star, in some flick about some homeless old hag, which I would play, to cover some plastic surgery I would like to have done.

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-Noah Greenberg