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On Tenth Anniversary of Iraq Disaster WaPo Op-Ed Wants More Foreign Intervention

2:41 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Michael Gerson, opinion writer

Actually, two Washington Post Op-Eds. Yet we can dispense with one as not worthy of attention: one columnist continues his self-contradictory campaign of earlier pieces to arm the “moderates” among the rebels in the particular case of Syria in order to keep that conflict from getting even worse. (The rest of the regular Tuesday lineup is filled out with making fun of the recent CPAC conference, and calling for legislation to forbid food stamp purchases of “junk foods.” Big issues, those.)

But let’s get serious. On March 19, 2003, U.S. troops invaded Iraq to inaugurate a conflict that would cost over 4000 American and untold numbers of Iraqi lives and at least a trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money, and would result in a country that is so politically divided today that, for example, the Vice President has been under criminal indictment, with a situation on the ground where the average citizen lives in fear of the next car bomb. It is exactly ten years later that Compassionate Conservative (Michael Gerson) has chosen to pen a column called “Obama’s foreign policy and the risks of retreat” (or in the print edition, “Creating a global vacuum”), which he begins by characterizing the world as in chaos and ends by invoking the specter of Munich 1938.

Before getting to what is in between, however, I must digress. If the PTB and the MSM have not learned the lessons of Iraq, it may be that neither has the left. I remember that at the somewhat anemic protest at the Washington Monument ten years ago tomorrow, as well as at the bigger and better protest in DC on a bitterly cold day two months earlier, there were a lot of “no war for oil” signs. One is invited to think of the CEO of Standard Oil getting President Bush on the phone and saying, “let’s go.” Thus this week a lot of attention is being paid (by the Guardian, TPM, HuffPo and last night’s FDL Late Night, at the least) to a recent Daily Beast article by former Bush speechwriter David Frum in which he reminisces about the times and says in particular that Dick Cheney and infamous Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi talked a lot about Iraq as “an additional source of oil.”

For us to swallow this is infantile leftism. Frum was a low level staffer without much access to the administration’s inner workings, who is surely aware that no one will fault him now for saying that oil was a factor, and who is working from memory. (And his memory is faulty in at least one detail in his original post. He writes “My youngest daughter was born in December 2001: a war baby,” and follows this with a series of statements about what was happening in DC at the time. One of these that I saw yesterday when I first looked at the article, since edited out, was a statement that sniper attacks had been terrorizing the suburbs. In fact these attacks took place almost a year later. I guess it’s good to know that Frum came to realize that this was incorrect.)

In fact, the war was started because overthrow of Saddam Hussein had long been on the agenda of key Bush administration figures, certainly including those who consulted with the Project (then called Committee) for the New American Century, the think tank whose manifesto included that goal, namely, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith. Thus any scrap of so-called intelligence, no matter how shaky, that lent weight to the position was eagerly embraced. (Some would even say they “lied” about this intelligence, and I have no basis upon which to disagree.) Oil was a factor in these people’s thinking, as was global power politics, and just plain old hatred of Arabs/Muslims (their minds not making any distinction between these groups). It is just possible that genuine concern over Saddam Hussein’s treatment of his people was a factor in the consciousness of some of our leaders, but I wouldn’t weight it highly.

In this context, without anywhere even mentioning Iraq, CC starts by reviewing the turmoil today in the MENA region and the rise of Asia, and then says:

Barring the option of utter despair, these challenges would seem to require expanded, sophisticated American engagement to shape an economic and security environment favorable to our long-term interests. Do any of these problems grow easier with time and inattention?

After this rhetorical question he laments that our actual response has been “budgetary chaos and military cuts, ideological self-questioning and mixed leadership signals.” A bit further on he castigates “the Rand Paul right” for opposing drone warfare, i.e., “a campaign conducted by U.S. intelligence services and military forces with exceptional patience, restraint and care in targeting.” (Tell that to the survivors whose loved ones were killed by drones hitting funerals.) This is followed by a claim that Obama himself is ambivalent on all these issues, and finally a caution that, after all, isolationism is too familiar an American tendency.

In short our concerned columnist, appealing to a traditional notion that foreign policy here and elsewhere is something methodically developed by a State Department/Foreign Ministry, and backed up by a War/Defense Department/Ministry, all with the guidance of the Chief Executive, wants this complex to act more forcefully against threats to “the national interest.” This is not how foreign policy actually happened with Iraq, and there is no reason to believe it is how business is conducted now. And there is no hint in CC’s thinking of guarding against the influence of moneyed interests, ethnic prejudice, or simple ego tripping in determining what the so-called national interest constitutes.

That is to say, he has learned nothing from the Iraq disaster.

Washington Post Op-Eds: Koop, Coolers, Corruption, Consternation

8:02 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

I knew I would have to write this piece as soon as I saw in one of the WaPo columns that its author composed it while listening to Bach — I presume on a CD or downloaded — in the comfort of his home. What a coincidence, since I had just come from a bit closer to the real thing, a live lunchtime concert where the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (BWV 543) was played on the fine organ of the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington, DC, followed by a performance of the BWV 105 Cantata. That piece, btw, has instrumental obbligatos accompanying the arias, as is usual with Bach, but its continuo for one recitative includes arco upper strings but pizzicato cello and double bass, which is not. Bach was nothing if not an innovator, and innovation is an important theme in today’s study.

Today we are back to the regular Tuesday lineup: Compassionate Conservative, Honorary Hasbarist, Anti-Prometheus (a slight name change), and Liberal #1. CC’s contribution amounts to a meditation on the passing of C. Everett Koop on Feb. 25. This reflection all but suggests that the apparent curing of an infant of HIV the other day was due to the spirit of the late Surgeon General hovering over the Mississippi hospital where it happened. After all, his innovation consisted in bucking his bosses in the Reagan administration to produce a sensible document on AIDS, originally “distributed … on glossy paper to discourage edits.” That got the ball rolling, CC implies, or at least Koop’s “conspir[ing] to have a brochure containing similar information distributed to the entire IRS mailing list of 107 million households” did. Fine, I have no serious criticism as long as no one claims the AIDS problem is now solved.

HH likes to begin his columns with a metaphor, and this time it is the art scene in Paris at the beginning of the last century. This, he says, was the water cooler of its day, and new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer should have her minions study Picasso and Braque if they want to understand why her new order to stop telecommuting and come into the office makes sense. For the water cooler is where innovation takes place, and innovation is sorely needed at her troubled company. That, indeed, is the essence of her rationale for the new policy according to a leaked memo, although the real reasons, of course, may be otherwise: at least one commentator thinks Mayer is simply on a power trip.

HH duly notes the protests by environmentalists about the increased use of the internal combustion engine and by mothers with daycare problems, but says he misses the newsroom,”a community of experts and eccentrics where the chance remark could spark a retort, an observation, an idea — a column!,” as he sits at home writing, with his creature comforts and his Bach (yes, he’s the one). What, won’t WaPo give him at least a shared desk?

A-P is concerned with the taxpayers’ money being wasted in Medicare, and has been extolling a lawsuit by Rupert Murdoch the Wall Street Journal to get access to billing records. But “scientists doctors,” he says, (not, for example, their hospitals) are fighting the suit, so pending the outcome of that, he has done his own investigation. He finds that there has been a slew of inflated prices for “durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies,” in short, DMEPOS.. After some further musings he says that “Congress should accelerate the planned introduction of nationwide competitive bidding on DMEPOS to 2014, and extend it to medical devices, lab tests and advanced imaging services by 2015,” as has been recommended by the Center for American Progress, which is to say, the Obama administration. As much as I would like to poke holes in this analysis, I don’t know enough about the issues to do so intelligently. (Commenters, feel free.) But since he’s talking about overbilling for DME I do wish he’d said something about The Scooter Store, currently under investigation for outright fraud against Medicare,

L1 is angry at the sequester, thus agreeing with just about everyone except Wall Street (where the DJI hit a new record today). Apart from the fact that it changes a verb into a noun, he hates it because it “diverts attention from issues that actually matter, such as unemployment, gun violence, climate change, failing schools and the need to spur economic growth.” He goes on to offer some more reasons for hating it, then reviews the various talking points of the responsible parties, including the standard narrative that it was only supposed to goad them into serious legislative action, not actually happen, quoting the supposed wisdom of Casey Stengel (“Can’t anybody here play this game?,” actually apocryphal), and concludes by agreeing reluctantly that both Obama and the Republicans are to blame.

But in the process L1 reveals something about his priorities. With the sequester,

Medicare will see no more than a 2 percent cut, while Medicaid and Social Security will be untouched. Since these programs are so big and costly, other parts of the budget will have to face much deeper cuts to make up the total $85 billion savings.

And then, “[E-word] spending is largely untouched.” Clearly he wishes it were otherwise. So does O, as has been amply documented in numerous FDL posts

In short, O’s man pure and simple.

Washington Post Op-Eds: Down’s Syndrome, Arabia’s Lawrence, and Hobson’s Choice

5:10 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Greetings, all.

The menu today includes Compassionate Conservative, Honorary Hasbarist, and Liberal #1. My spleen gets less of a workout this time because the anti-Promethean Fox Guest is taking the day off, to leave room for a guest column on a local matter (transportation legislation in Virginia) that I will skip.

Before getting to the three mouseketeers, though, I must mention a feature article masquerading as a news item (front page, though below the fold) in today’s WaPo, on FLOTUS as Oscar presenter. Not even those of us who wouldn’t be caught dead watching Hollywood’s annual paean to itself could avoid learning that Michelle O was charged with presenting the BP award to “Argo,” from inside the WH while standing next to troops in dress uniform. (Thus some of us have perforce developed opinions on what this was all about, for which I direct you to the comments thread following fatster’s roundup for yesterday.)

The article first quotes the FLOTUS communication director, to the effect that MO accepted the task because as a movie lover she was honored to be asked. As for criticism, the article says (after an intervening history of the relations between presidential couples and Hollywood), it has been of two kinds. Conservatives seem to have tweeted that it’s a matter of the Obamas ingratiating themselves everywhere. TV critics, for their part, “panned it as part of a disjointed Oscar ceremony.” But no critic has cited the fact that the film glorifies the CIA or the current villainous status of its villain, Iran; if they had, surely the paper of record in the nation’s capital would have mentioned it, right? (Never mind what the international TV news channels have pointed out: at least Iran itself has protested on such grounds.)

To the subject. From his perch “in the packed gym at Blessed Sacrament School in Northwest Washington,” CC waxes eloquent about the improved opportunities these days for people with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome or autism, particularly in athletics with the Special Olympics. He is watching an SO-sponsored basketball event where some of the players could not make a basket without the referee allowing a few extra tries. Nonetheless, he says,

By giving opportunities to those with intellectual disabilities, we discover what interests them. This includes sporting competition — and the inalienable right to put on a skirt and lead cheers. At halftime, the Joy cheerleading squad performance includes some impressive splits. The sight of young women with Down syndrome and other disabilities breaking the cheerleading barrier is no longer unusual. It is still better than Beyonce.

CC also reminds us that things were not always so, and that even today a fetus that betrays Down’s syndrome is often aborted. Then he concludes:

Everyone, it turns out, is dependent and vulnerable — and sacred and able. And the most remarkable thing about that discovery is the sheer joy of it.

I am not going to endorse the implied criticism of the pregnant woman who believes she simply would not be able to care for a child with Down’s and decides to abort. As CC himself says, “raising a child with a disability … remains difficult in ways that are hard for outsiders to imagine.” Still, I can’t fault his giving voice to the fact that all human life is capable of positive experience. I only wish he would express it in a less cloying manner.

HH’s topic, as it was two weeks ago, is the Obama administration’s supposed inaction where action is needed, namely in Syria. There he chastised the administration for not implementing a no-fly zone against Assad’s planes and not supplying the rebels with weapons (or not openly, I guess he meant, since one hears that the CIA is helping out), ultimately accusing it of “looking the other way” in the face of disaster. Today he first reminds us that at the end of David Lean’s film, T. E. Lawrence tries to unite the individual tribe-oriented Arab leaders to defend Damascus in 1918, but is unsuccessful so that the city falls. HH observes at the end of the piece that the battle for Damascus is joined again in the present. In the interim, he cites a new insider expose, to be published in April but with underground copies already available, to the effect that domestic political considerations have trumped the opinions of seasoned policy experts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus, HH infers, the same process must be at work for Syria. That is why Obama has done nothing to “contain the civil war” via a no-fly zone and arming the insurgents.

You read that right: to favor one side in a war is to contain the war. Sure.

L1′s piece is something of a jeremiad against coal as fuel. He begins:

The test of President Obama’s seriousness about addressing climate change is not his pending decision on the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline. It’s whether he effectively consigns coal-fired power plants — one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions — to the ashcan of history.

Later on he throws a bone to the “tens of thousands of demonstrators” who came to Washington the weekend before last, acknowledging their concern, but says the tar sands oil “is likely to be extracted eventually, regardless of the pipeline decision.” (Some FDLers have their own critique of that rally, but that’s another story.) Obama, he says, can act now to reduce global warming, independent of Congress, by instructing the EPA to escalate the process of tightening the rules on carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, “and effectively guarantee that no new coal-fired plants would be built.” Rather, the new ones would use natural gas. That fuel, admittedly, has its own problems, but to phase out fossil fuels completely “is a journey of many years.” Obama should act now on coal, which will “take us many miles down the road.”

In short, we have no choice but to use fossil fuels in one way or another for the indefinite future, even if we can get rid of one of them.

My response is: renewables, renewables, renewables. I have no problem with shuttering the coal-fired plants, but has L1 been so shell-shocked by the Republicans’ feeding off the Solyndra debacle that he cannot propose anything positive at all in the direction that everyone knows will have to be the answer? As FDL’s Phoenix Woman pointed out the other day, electrical generation from renewable sources has seen a considerable increase lately, in spite of subsidization of dirty energy sources and of obstruction by their representatives. But either L1 is unaware of this development or is simply too obsessed with abolishing one particular fuel that he doesn’t feel like suggesting any measure to enhance the trend.

Of course, it’s possible that that will be the subject of his next column, but I won’t hold my breath.

Washington Post Op-Eds: Three Yawns and a Sequester

3:41 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

It was nasty outside this morning and I felt a cold coming on, so I thought: It’s not a good day to do something enjoyable like going to the library to pursue research in classical philology. Perfect, though, for unpleasant activity like reading WaPo Op-Eds.

First, some background. I long ago got in the habit of going out in the morning to get my paper. It’s good exercise, it’s one less list I would get my name on to have a subscription for home delivery, and I can’t get used to reading a newspaper on a computer screen (though I don’t mind finding the URLs for the benefit of you folks out there). This situation rules out the NYT because, apart from the fact that it costs too much, there is little market for it in the DC ‘hood where I live, so the corner store doesn’t carry it. Thus I place my money in the open slot of the hard plastic-enclosed lazy susan for the clerk to rotate and retrieve to put in the cash register, putting any change I’m owed in the slot and rotating it back to me. Now lighter by $1.33 including tax ($2.65 on Sunday), I tuck the WaPo under my arm and am ready to rock and roll.

Today we have Liberal #1, back in his usual time slot after missing last Tuesday, suggesting that Obama’s new immigration plan is a ploy to draw the Republican flak onto himself and allow the serious minds in the Congress to work quietly on a plan that will gain bipartisan support. The first part has certainly happened, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for the second. Honorary Hasbarist complains that there is too much false intimacy these days, and wants to go back to a time when men shook hands upon meeting and only smooched other men if they were family. I’m only surprised he forgot to blame Arab culture for the kissing surfeit. Fox Guest has moved on from last week’s anti-Promethean attack on Obama administration new technology initiatives (see here, updated here), to a more classic anti-labor issue, naturally disguised as the opposite: As against “Liberal firebrand Paul Krugman,” he opposes raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour, arguing that there is too much danger of negative effects like increasing unemployment. In a generous mood he concludes: “Here’s a thought: Don’t eliminate the minimum wage. Leave it at $7.25.” Here’s another: Let workers own their factories, and they can decide the optimum wage structure.

The most interesting column is by Compassionate Conservative, who laments that “official Washington is so concerned about the coming sequester that it headed off on vacation.” There are reasons why both of The Two Parties are just as happy to let the thing happen, he says: the Democrats, because it’s probably their only chance to get cuts in the defense budget; the Republicans, because a 5.1% reduction in domestic spending is at least something, even if it’s “more of a haircut than a scalping.” Of course, this will mean the “ethical abdication” of indiscriminate cutting of the deserving (citing the AIDS Drug Assistance Program as an example) as well as the undeserving. And the cuts in so-called entitlements will be too little in the context that their share of the budget is going to grow in coming years.

Apart from the last point, which succumbs to the notion that Medicare and the like are not something that people have earned, I have to say that I find little fault in CC’s analysis. And no amount of caving on Social Security and Medicare on Obama’s part is going to satisfy the Tea Party, so my prediction, as I said the other day in a comment on another blog, is that the sequester will happen. It will be followed by emergency measure after emergency measure in the opening days of March as constituencies scramble to restore funding, as the Lear jets of lobbyists urgently cutting their Florida vacations short jam “Reagan” National Airport, and as people out in the land anxiously await the results. Read the rest of this entry →

Washington Post Op-Eds: Popery, the AIDS SOTU, CIA capability, and Steven Chu

7:04 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Given that my last piece about WaPo scored fourth place in a Google search of its subject matter the day after I posted it (details @ comment 10 here), why not try again?

To emulate Marion in Savannah’s daily NYT Op-Ed report somewhat — I’ll skip the breakfast rundown — today we have Liberal #2 (aka E. J. Dionne, Jr.), Compassionate Conservative (Michael Gerson), Honorary Hasbarist (Richard Cohen), and Fox Guest (Charles Lane). Liberal #1 (Eugene Robinson) at least used to write on Tuesday, but not today for whatever reason. Here is what they say.

Liberal2, reminding us that he is a liberal Catholic, concerns himself with the legacy of Papa Ratzi upon the latter’s decision to relinquish the shoes of the fisherman. He writes with some authority since he once corresponded with then-Cardinal Ratzinger. He finds the man to be a paradoxical figure, one who was alarmed enough by the student revolts of the 1960s to fight liberalizing trends in the Church — thus his current campaign against gay marriage — but one who has unusual compassion for the poor and downtrodden. He thinks the nearly unprecedented decision to resign was “inspired.” because “it will give the church a chance to confront its crises — and its opportunities.”

Maybe so, but L2 does not trouble us with the well known problem of the then-Cardinal covering up child abuse or the possibility that the resignation really has to do with the resurrection of that scandal in the current case of Cardinal Mahony, where previously unpublished documents may yet come to light. Nor does he notice that Benedict either appointed or had a hand in appointing all of the Cardinals who will vote on his successor, so that he might be able to continue to guide the Church with an unseen hand. (These points are discussed by FDLer Pam Spaulding and her commenters here.)

Compassionate Conservative takes the occasion of tonight’s SOTU address to reflect on past such occasions, and unsurprisingly zeroes in on one by his former employer, Bush 43, in January 2003. Also unsurprisingly, CC does not mention “the sixteen words” in that speech that falsely claimed Iraq was trying to get a lot of Uranium from Niger, but rather extols at some length the proposal that would become The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which did make a dent in the global epidemic. Fine; I’ll give W points for that, his one foreign policy achievement, and for his respect for the Spanish language, although that’s all.

Honorary Hasbarist only mentions Israel in passing for a change, noting with thinly disguised satisfaction that it can attack the Syrian government’s air defenses any time it wants. His actual concern today is to criticize the Obama administration for not taking sides in the Syrian conflict more than it has, to implement a no-fly zone for that government’s aircraft and, especially, to supply weapons to those of the insurgents “who could be trusted with them.” For the CIA should be able to distinguish these worthies from the al-Qaeda-linked forces. (Right. As if the CIA could spare the resources from finding out where the “terrorist” funerals will take place in Pakistan so that it can attack the mourners.) Thus, says HH, the “Obama Doctrine” that everyone has been waiting for is here, and is called “looking the other way.” Sure, we really need to spread the American eagle’s wings further in that region.

Fox Guest disparages the Obama administration’s interest in electric cars, which others have certainly said has experienced roadblocks, as a “fantasy.” He cites such points as an American Physical Society symposium where it was concluded that “all-electric vehicles will not replace the standard American family car in the foreseeable future.” But the real target appears to be the outgoing Energy Secretary:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he of the Nobel Prize in physics, epitomized the regnant blend of sanctimony and technocratic hubris. He once told journalist Michael Grunwald that photosynthesis is “too damn inefficient,” and that DOE might help correct that particular error of evolution.

This does not quite reach the ignonimous level of the writer’s previous attempt to enlist the image of the wounded Gabrielle Giffords in support of Wisconsin Governor Walker’s attack on collective bargaining; still, it has a stench about it. (That cruise ship stranded in the Caribbean, without working toilets, comes to mind.) What Chu actually discussed with Grunwald, according to the latter, was the possibility of genetically-engineered microbes that would use a more efficient process than photosynthesis to produce fuel. To me this sounds more like finding a method to improve on natural evolution than “correcting its error.” And I don’t know what the pointed reference to Chu’s Nobel is supposed to prove: Several of the members of the American Physical Society that FG thinks is in love with gas-guzzlers also have one. (The politics of the Physics Prize may be as Byzantine as those for Peace or Economics, but that’s another story.)

The kicker is FG’s last sentence: “I might add that Chu does not own a car.” I guess the idea here is that he can’t competently recommend what kind of car people should buy if he doesn’t even drive one, but to me it suggests that the alternative to the electric car is not the individually owned internal combustion engine in the first place, but mass transit.

Phew. My respect for Marion in Savannah knows no bounds: I sure would not have the stomach to read these things every day.