No, Really?

Out here in Hollywood everyone was in a bad mood on the last day in August – the second of five or six days of Stage One alerts, so you turn off lights and kick the air-conditioning up to seventy-eight, if you use it at all, and run all appliances after seven in the evening.  No one wants those voltage drops they call brownouts (they tend to fry the circuits in televisions and computers), or the rolling blackouts – but California is low on power, or really, they cannot get it where it needs to be in these heat waves – in the nineties downtown, about a hundred here at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, and ten or fifteen degrees above that on the other sides of the hill, in Studio City and Burbank.  Bah.


The column had to wait until the evening, when it started to cool down, even if it wasn’t by much.  But scanning the events of the day, here you could be glad you weren’t facing what the “important people” in Washington were facing.  It was Karls Rove’s last day on the job – reports are he got all teary – and the White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow, unexpectedly resigned, and John Warner, the classy-looking elderly Republican senator from Virginia, once married to Liz Taylor, announced he’s not going to run again.  And late in the day the word was Senator Craig from Idaho, the gay-bashing super conservative, would resign his office on Saturday, after that business with pleading guilty to what the police thought was soliciting oral sex from an undercover cop in an airport restroom.  Add that week also gave us, after the surprise resignation of the attorney general, the second anniversary of Katrina, and no one could spin the aftermath of that – the recovery that wasn’t – into anything that would make the administration looks good.  It was not a good week for the “important people” in Washington.  Bah.  That word might have been spoken a few times at the White House.


September will be better.  General David Petraeus, our top commander in Iraq, will, on September 11, tell us things are going fine and we should continue the “surge.”  We can win it all, whatever it is.  Of course that presentation is scheduled for September 11 – to remind us that six years earlier on that very day a group of quite mad Saudis now on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border carried out an attack that killed three thousand Americans, give or take, so we have to fight on in Iraq, against the Iranians.


What’s that about?  Don’t even ask.  If you do ask you won’t be supporting the troops, and you hate America and want the bad guys to win, or probably wish that Saddam Hussein were still in power.  Why even bother?  That’s the way it’s been since the Iraq War started in March 2003 – and that makes it convention wisdom.  As someone put it, those who want wars, even if they don’t make sense, are Winston Churchill people, those who ask questions and suggest we can be more effective in all sorts of other ways are Neville Chamberlain people, and everyone else is a Nazi.  Don’t even try to fight it.  That’s how it is.


Still – and it may be the heat – some things just get to you.  Via Hilary Bok here you could find this in the New York Times –


An independent commission established by Congress to assess Iraq’s security forces will recommend remaking the 26,000-member national police force to purge it of corrupt officers and Shiite militants suspected of complicity in sectarian killings, administration and military officials said Thursday.


The commission, headed by Gen. James L. Jones, the former top United States commander in Europe, concludes that the rampant sectarianism that has existed since the formation of the police force requires that its current units “be scrapped” and reshaped into a smaller, more elite organization, according to one senior official familiar with the findings. The recommendation is that “we should start over,” the official said.


The report, which will be presented to Congress next week, is among a number of new Iraq assessments – including a national intelligence estimate and a Government Accountability Office report – that await lawmakers when they return from summer recess. But the Jones commission’s assessment is likely to receive particular attention as the work of a highly regarded team that was alone in focusing directly on the worthiness of Iraq’s army and police force.


Start over – on the entire national police force.  Bok dryly comments that this is hardly encouraging news, but Kevin Drum is less dry


This is becoming a comedy of the absurd. Scrap the Iraqi police force? Start over from scratch? Is this a joke? Even if we could do it, it means (a) putting 26,000 armed and pissed off Iraqis back on the street, (b) running the country without a police force until a new one is recruited and trained, and (c) spending two or three years building a replacement. And that’s the good news. The bad news is that there’s no reason to think the shiny new police force would be any better than the old one. It didn’t improve after all our efforts in 2006, after all. The unpleasant truth is that there’s a reason the police force acts essentially as an extension of the Shiite militias – namely that that’s exactly how the Shiite government wants it – and no reason to think that’s going to change anytime in the near future.


So let’s take stock. Pretty much everyone has lost confidence in Nuri al-Maliki, though there’s no replacement in sight who seems like a better bet. The police force is so corrupt that the best advice the Jones commission can offer is to disband it completely and start over from scratch. And the Iraqi army, after three years of intensive training designed by one Gen. David Petraeus, has a grand total of six battalions capable of operating on their own.


In other words, except for the fact that Iraq has a dysfunctional government, a dysfunctional police force, and a barely functional army, things are going great. I can’t wait to see how Crocker and Petraeus spin this into an argument for staying another four years.


They will, somehow.  But Bok says this report is hardly surprising, considering “the working draft of a secret document prepared by the US embassy in Baghdad” obtained by the Nation (see that item here).  The issue is the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), the people in charge of the police force – “MOI is a ‘legal enterprise’ which has been co-opted by organized criminals who act through the ‘legal enterprise’ to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, bribery, etc.”


Oh, that.  And Bok notes that the National Security Network has compiled a list of problems with assessing the administration’s claims that violence in Iraq has been reduced –


For the past month, the Bush Administration and General Petraeus have asserted that a drop in violence is evidence that the “surge” is working. Unfortunately, the evidence is difficult to validate. Underreporting civilian deaths is, sadly, nothing new. A number of U.S. agencies differ with the Administration’s assessment that sectarian violence is down and in fact there are inconsistencies within the Pentagon’s own reporting. The Iraq Study Group concluded that in the past car-bombs that don’t kill Americans, murders, and inter-ethnic violence were not tracked in order to demonstrate reduced violence. Recent analysis indicates that some of these trends continue. More importantly, the military has refused to show the public any evidence to support the claim that violence is down.


You just have to trust them, even considering this –


There were significant revisions to the way the Pentagon’s reports measure sectarian violence between its March 2007 report and its June 2007 report. The original data for the five months before the surge began (September 2006 through January 2007) indicated approximately 5,500 sectarian killings. In the revised data in the June 2007 report, those numbers had been adjusted to roughly 7,400 killings – a 25% increase. These discrepancies have the impact of making the sectarian violence appear significantly worse during the fall and winter of 2006 before the President’s “surge” began.


Confusing?  It is intended to be.  Spencer Ackerman turns it into graphs, which helps.  This might be caused by a change in methodology, but Bok thinks it would be nice if the Pentagon explained what accounts for a twenty-five percent increase in its own figures for the same month.  And she says it would also be nice “if the administration would share with us its basis for the claim that violence in Iraq is coming down.”  Here it would be nice if the heat wave ended.  Sigh.


But these are just details.  Duncan Black is curious about something else.  Did this happen?  It sounds about right –


This morning on the Chris Matthews Show, NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell revealed that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, met “very recently” with the Senate Republican caucus to discuss their strategy on Iraq legislation.


“Petraeus went to the Republican caucus and told them, I will have real progress to you by August,” Mitchell said. The Republicans claim they told him that after August, they will end their support for the war. “They have told him at a caucus meeting as very, very recently, that if there isn’t progress by August – and real progress means not a day of violence and a day of sanity – that they will pull the plug.”


It’s all political.  The general meets with the Republican caucus.  He knows his job is to support the president’s wish to continue the war as is, no matter what’s up on the ground, because otherwise, what would people think?


Josh Marshall says that actually, the real news of significance for “our democracy” are the opposition research sheets Green Zone authorities are circulating about visiting Democratic lawmakers.  Any who shows up and is not a Republican may not realize that the Army and the embassy have been circulating fliers that show they are not supporting the troops, and they hate America and want the bad guys to win, or probably wish that Saddam Hussein were still in power.  It’s not just the Justice Department any more.  The military is now an arm of the Republican Party.  It is very banana-republic, isn’t it?  That Rove guy was good.  And there is nothing to do about it.


Besides, California congresswoman Ellen Tauscher suggested her fellow Democratic congressman, Brian Baird of Washington, was overcome by “Green Zone Fog” during his recent trip to Iraq that prompted him to advocate maintaining the current troop levels on the ground, as everything was going well.  In this interview following her own fourth trip to Iraq, Tauscher said – “I will tell you that when you get in the Green Zone, there is a physiological phenomenon I think called Green Zone fog. … It’s death by PowerPoint. … It’s always that their argument is winning.”  She told Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Iraq that Americans did not want to see the status quo, or a “Saigon-like” airlift, or ethnic cleansing or any other “devastation to the Iraqi people.”  We need to rethink this.  They patted her on the head and sent her home.  She said the situation on the ground has deteriorated since her last visit in 2005 – “the year we lost it all.”  She must hate the troops.


Josh Marshall, on the matter of those visiting Democrats, picks out this detail


But even such tight control could not always filter out the bizarre world inside the barricades. At one point, the three were trying to discuss the state of Iraqi security forces with Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, but the large, flat-panel television set facing the official proved to be a distraction. Rubaie was watching children’s cartoons.


When Moran asked him to turn it off, Rubaie protested with a laugh and said, “But this is my favorite television show,” Moran recalled.


Porter confirmed the incident, although he tried to paint the scene in the best light, noting that at least they had electricity.


“I don’t disagree it was an odd moment, but I did take a deep breath and say, ‘Wait a minute, at least they are using the latest technology, and they are monitoring the world,'” Porter said. “But, yes, it was pretty annoying.”


Ah, there’s always the bright side.  That’s what we’ll get next month, the bright side.  Monitoring the world with the latest technology, indeed.   What the heck, we’ll believe anything.


But that’s enough of the “couldn’t be so” stuff.  There are always other things to consider.


Jonah Keri – The 18 Best Jewish Ballplayers of All Time – “With bashin’ boychiks knocking the seam off the ball this year, Salon highlights the greatest Hebrew hammers and fireballers to step onto the diamond.”


Tracy Clark-Flory – Doctors: No More Designer Vaginas! – “A respected medical group speaks out against the surgical trend.”


Reuters – Man Arrested For Stealing Bridge


Just don’t ask those questions about the war – and cut back on electrical use during the heat wave.  You don’t want this place to be like Baghdad.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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