You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded.
To the question, “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply, “Why not?”
Atheist: Natural Morals, Real Meaning, Credible Truth

31 December, 2004

I liked this article...

Behind Bush's Back
New Term: While the president was blowing his chance at leadership, China was taking advantage. What he must now do.

By Michael Hirsh
Newsweek International

Issues 2005 - George W. Bush did get one big thing right in the post-9/11 era. His campaign to spread democracy and freedom to a part of the world that the great transformations of the 20th century had bypassed—the Middle East—was in the honored tradition of American global leadership going back to Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. It's just that Bush seemed to get so much else wrong in his first term. Part of the problem—in addition to the trumped-up evidence against Iraq—was his tone, many people said. Even some supporters cringed at the insults the U.S. president kept firing off, quite gratuitously, at the rest of the world, each of them a shot in his own foot.

Combined with his trademark smirk and strut—reminiscent of "a sullen, pouting, oblivious and overmuscled teenager," as Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis put it—and what many abroad saw as a scary blend of simple-mindedness and certainty, Bush went over like a Visigoth at a garden party. And, not surprisingly, when the president sought to lead the world into a transformational war in Iraq, he looked over his shoulder and found almost no one behind him. Where were they? They were hanging back with those arch-kibitzers, the French. Bush's main leadership challenge had been to isolate the bad guys, the Islamist terrorists. After 9/11 he had a golden opportunity to bring the free world together in the face of a common threat. Instead, Bush managed to isolate America. He's still paying the price.

Being the only superpower, it turns out, does not automatically confer leadership status on presidents. Today they actually have to earn it. This is the great lesson we have learned since the cold war. It is also the main lesson that Bush needs to absorb from his first-term foibles. In many ways it was easier for America to lead the free world during World War II and the cold war, simply because the alternatives (the Axis powers, the Soviet Union) were always so much worse. Now the bar is higher. Strength must be married to subtlety.

Bush is no fool, despite what many in the world may think (just ask John Kerry). When Bush stepped out on the world stage for the first time as a second-term president-elect, he seemed ready to try out a whole new tone. America and Europe, Bush said in November, were together the "pillars of the free world." (Did Bush now mean "old Europe," too?) He also announced plans for a Kerry-esque trip to confer with European leaders. His November remarks were not off the cuff; the president came equipped with a fresh set of talking points meant to convey a new sensitivity to the demands of diplomacy, his aides say.

But does he mean it? The early signs are that Bush's shift remains rather shallow. In the first weeks after his re-election, Bush effectively launched a purge of every U.S. agency and official that, in his first term, questioned his approach to the war on terror, or raised doubts about the manufactured evidence against Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had not so privately resisted the segue in 2002 from Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, was not asked to stay on, though he was willing to do so. (Bush, despite speaking a new rhetoric of activism on the Mideast, then promptly sent Powell on a lame-duck mission to the region. When news of his resignation got out, the secretary's plans to talk with both Palestinians and Iranians were rendered all but useless.) And Bush apparently directed his new CIA chief, Porter Goss, to rid the agency of some of those who had disagreed with the White House. Months of inquiries that point to the need for independent intelligence analysis may be going unheeded.

Nor has Bush shown much responsibility for many of the first-term policies that, along with his tone, have turned smoldering anti-Americanism into a roaring conflagration. Take the Abu Ghraib scandal. While still maintaining the fiction that the interrogation abuses were merely the work of a few rogue MPs, Bush promoted one of the authors of the now infamous legal memos that prove such abuses emanated from White House policy. The man who once called the Geneva Conventions obsolete, Alberto Gonzales, will now become America's new attorney general, the highest law-enforcement official in the land.

Still, after four years of lost opportunities, even Bush's armor-plated unilateralists are beginning to feel badly dented. In private conversations, some officials no longer just complain about what they didn't get in troops or aid, as if alliances were merely a matter of barter. They now admit that far more was lost in the first term: an entire atmosphere of cooperation. Some neocons have even begun to notice that the legitimacy conferred on Bush by the U.S. electorate—and America's dominant military—has nothing to do with the legitimacy America needs to earn as a global leader.

They also know that, even in the best scenario, Iraq will remain a millstone around Bush's neck until Jan. 20, 2009. The strains on the U.S. military and budget, and the new-order-of-magnitude difficulties of launching military strikes in hot spots like Iran and North Korea, have made the threshold for going to war much, much higher. That leaves diplomacy.

Perhaps the biggest test case for the administration's second-term direction will come over Iran. Here there are two clear and opposite avenues available, and what we will soon learn about the leanings of Condoleezza Rice, Powell's replacement and Bush's alter ego on foreign policy, will be crucial. Powell and his departing deputy, Richard Armitage, had actively sought to open quiet talks directly with Tehran, and to offer carrots. The problem: unlike Rice, they didn't have the ear of the president. Rice has the stature to persuade Bush to sign onto the European approach of muddling through, negotiating periodic agreements with Tehran and pushing for ever more probing inspections. Or she can side with hard-liners like Under Secretary of State John Bolton who insist that Tehran intends to build a nuclear weapon no matter what—despite the evidence that there is a genuine debate about the issue inside Iran—and who will continue to push for "regime change."

Another sure sign that the Bush team is worried about the failures of U.S. leadership is that some have begun to fret about China's success at diplomacy. Indeed, China hasn't been shy about exploiting the atmosphere of doubt and fear that now prevails in the vacuum of failed American leadership. Beijing has reached out to Europe and Russia, and Brussels has responded by hinting it might lift its arms embargo against China (unilaterally, by the way). Tellingly, Europe and China have also begun to integrate their space systems—an especially worrisome sign for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who covets the high ground of space. In Asia, too, because of the American preoccupation with terror, says Brookings Institution scholar Bates Gill, "there is a subtle shift going on. Many of America's allies are getting a little nervous." Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, in the run-up to the first-ever military exercises between Australia and China last fall, said bluntly that Americans could not expect his country to simply line up behind them over a conflict with China.

To reclaim America's prestige, the Bush team must show new flexibility on strategic questions as well as tactics. That means having the maturity to rethink their own priorities by acknowledging key issues of importance to their friends. Take global warming. At a Washington dinner recently, a former prime minister of a major West European nation was upset to hear that Bush's list of second-term priorities did not include climate change, despite all the first-term bad blood over the issue. "You would win more cooperation on your issues if you would listen to what ours are," the P.M. said sternly.

Mostly, however, nothing succeeds like success. And success requires diligence—and adjusting course when errors are made. Woodrow Wilson is today seen as one of the major transformational presidents in history. But Wilson's failure to secure America's entry into the League of Nations left him open to the same kind of charges made against Bush today, that his shrill moralism was unmatched by real commitment. At Versailles, Lloyd George wrote in a pique afterward: "The Americans appeared to assume responsibility for the sole guardianship of the Ten Commandments and for the Sermon on the Mount; yet when it came to a practical question of assistance and responsibility, they absolutely refused to accept it." Ultimately, a generation later, under FDR and Truman, Wilson's original vision was vindicated. Through patient work and learning from previous failures, America did accept responsibility for the global system. It is long past time for George W. Bush to put his head down, learn from his mistakes and recognize that global leadership is about more than power. It is about leadership.

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.

22 December, 2004

Yahoo! News - 56 Percent in Survey Say Iraq War Was a Mistake

I sure wish these people had realized this back in October. Damn, what a mess. We are going to be there for years. They can't get the Iraqi army and police trained or lead. Bushie won't get any help. We are going to pay for this for years and years. I bet Bush's approval rating gets down in the 30% range. That is my prediction.

20 December, 2004

Yahoo! News - Bush Short on Social Security Details

Yeah, Bush is making a crisis like Iraq was a crisis. Have to get those WMDs! Have to fix SS! Why would we believe him? And he has no details, like he had no plan for Iraq after we had the place. From the above link:

"Critics accuse the White House of inventing a Social Security emergency to generate public support to help ram Bush's plans through the Republican-controlled Congress.

"Social Security is like a car with a flat tire," said Peter Orszag, an economist at the liberal Brookings Institution and an economic adviser in the Clinton White House. "There is a problem. We need to fix the flat tire. But we don't need to replace the car." "

16 December, 2004

This is good:

Presidential Medals of Failure

By Richard Cohen
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page A37

Where's Kerik?

This is the question I asked myself as, one by one, the pictures of the latest Presidential Medal of Freedom awardees flashed by on my computer screen. First came George Tenet, the former CIA director and the man who had assured President Bush that it was a "slam-dunk" that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Then came L. Paul Bremer, the former viceroy of Iraq, who disbanded the Iraqi army and ousted Baathists from government jobs, therefore contributing mightily to the current chaos in that country. Finally came retired Gen. Tommy Franks, the architect of the plan whereby the United States sent too few troops to Iraq.

One by one these images flicked by me, each man wearing the royal-blue velvet ribbon with the ornate medal -- one failure after another, each now on the lecture circuit, telling insurance agents and other good people what really happened when they were in office, but withholding such wisdom from the American people until, for even more money, their book deals are negotiated. (Franks has already completed this stage of his life. His book, "American Soldier," was a bestseller.)

I braced myself. Could Bernard Kerik be next? Would we skip the entire process of maladministration, misjudgments in office and sycophantic admiration of the current president and go straight to the celebrated failure? After all, what seems to matter most to this president is not performance -- certainly not excellence -- but a matey kind of loyalty and obsequiousness, of which Kerik had plenty.

"Bernie," Bush called out at a White House ceremony last year.

Kerik, who was walking away, stopped. "Yes, sir," he said.

"You're a good man," the president said.

It is this manly affection that explains how Kerik came to be nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security. The president liked him. He was the president's kind of guy: a wayward, messy kind of youth and then -- wow! -- this explosive career, coming out of the starting gate like Seabiscuit, another runt with something less than an elite East Coast pedigree. What's more, he had been recommended by Rudy Giuliani, another very tough guy who, everyone somehow forgot, is a man hobbled by awful judgment, in people as well as in himself.

Had the president given the awards a moment's thought, he might have asked himself what he was doing. A pretty good argument can be made that Tenet was incompetent. He not only failed to prevent the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 but he failed to protect the president from what has to be a historic embarrassment: the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

As for Franks and Bremer, they cannot -- on the face of it -- both deserve medals. Since coming home from Iraq, Bremer has said the United States did not use enough troops there. "We never had enough troops on the ground," he confided to the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers in October. This allowed the looting that broke out shortly after Baghdad was captured and the subsequent insurgency. For the record, Franks -- prodded by Donald Rumsfeld -- is the guy who never had enough troops on the ground. Which one deserved the medal? Easy. Neither.

The White House medal ceremony was really about George W. Bush. It had a slight touch of the absurd to it, as if facts do not matter and failure does not count. The War to Rid Iraq of WMD has now become The War to Bring Democracy to the Middle East. No one is ever held accountable, because the president will not do as much for himself. He admits no mistakes because he is convinced that he has made none. The terrorist attacks themselves, for which Tenet should have been sacked, are no one's fault because they cannot be the president's fault. He was warned. Condi Rice was put on notice. But, still, who could have known?

To make these awards in the face of failure -- the mounting American death toll, the awful suffering of the Iraqis, the looming possibility of civil war, the nose-thumbing of the still-at-large Osama bin Laden and the madness of making war for a nonexistent reason -- has the creepy feel of the old communist states, where incompetents wore medals and harsh facts were denied. For this reason Bernie Kerik -- three months in Iraq building a police force as good as rhetoric can make it -- seemed as likely and appropriate a recipient of a presidential medal as any of the others.

Maybe next year.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

08 December, 2004

Yahoo! News - U.S. GIs Hit Rumsfeld With Hard Questions

I am glad to see the troops grilling Rummy. Not enough armor to go around in Iraq. As things get worse in Iraq, the dollar falling, interest rates go up... in 4 years I hope the Republicans get thrown out. May happen sooner in congress if this crap gets worse. Of course the media is still willing to be toadies to Bush and avoid the hard questions. More church-state issues coming up... some teacher in Cupertino is in the news about teaching the role of religion in the formation of our Constitution. The question is, what is he saying? There are several opinions on the subject and there was a good article linked in the FUCKTHESOUTH website. We still have to stay in Iraq but I am not sure we are winning the hearts and minds. The elections will be a start, I hope... I don't think delay is good. Those areas where there is too much violence may have to have assigned members until safe elections can take place. Of course it looks like it is all confused and out of control anyway... too rushed but too late to stop and do right. Fuck, what a mess.