The “nobody-could-have-known” excuse and Iraq September 1, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, War.
Tags: glen greenwald, howard dean, Iraq, iraq casualties, Iraq occupation, Iraq war, iraw invasion, john burns, journalism, Media, roger hollander, war reporting, wmds
1 comment so far
(updated below – Update II - Update III [Wed.] – Update IV [Wed.] – Update V [Wed.] – Update VI [Wed.])
The predominant attribute of American elites is a refusal to take responsibility for any failures. The favored tactic for accomplishing this evasion is the “nobody-could-have-known” excuse. Each time something awful occurs — the 9/11 attack, the Iraq War, the financial crisis, the breaking of levees in New Orleans, the general ineptitude and lawlessness of the Bush administration — one is subjected to an endless stream of excuse-making from those responsible, insisting that there was no way they “could have known” what was to happen: ”I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile,” Condoleezza Rice infamously said on May 16, 2002, despite multiple FBI and intelligence documents warning of exactly that. One finds identical excuses for each contemporary American disaster. Robert Gibbs just invoked the same false excuse: that “nobody” knew the depth of the financial and unemployment crisis early last year.
Because the political class is treating today as some sort of melodramatic milestone in the Iraq War, there is a tidal wave of those self-defending claims crashing down around us. The New York Times‘ John Burns — who bravely covered that war for years — presents a classic case of this mentality today in a solemn retrospective entitled “The Long-Awaited Day.” I realize we’re all supposed to genuflect to Burns’ skills as a war journalist — I’ve personally found him far more overtly supportive of the war than most others covering it and certainly more than his claimed objectivity would permit, even when his reporting was illuminating — but if he’s right about what he says today, it’s a rather enormous (albeit unintentional) indictment of himself and his colleagues covering the war:
Hindsight is a powerful thing, and there have been plenty of voices amid the tragedy that has unfolded since the invasion to say, in effect, “I told you so.” But among that band of reporters – men and women who thought we knew something about Iraq, and for the most part sympathized with the joy Iraqis felt at what many were unashamed then to call their “liberation” — there were few, if any, who foresaw the extent of the violence that would follow or the political convulsion it would cause in Iraq, America and elsewhere.
We could not know then, though if we had been wiser we might have guessed, the scale of the toll the invasion would unleash: the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who would die; the nearly 4,500 American soldiers who would be killed; the nearly 35,000 soldiers who would return home wounded; the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who would flee abroad as refugees; the $750 billion in direct war costs that would burden the United States; the bitterness that would seep into American politics; the anti-Americanism that would become a commonplace around the world.
If Burns wants to claim that he and his American media colleagues in Baghdad were unaware that any of this was likely, I can’t and won’t dispute that. In fact, it’s probably true that they were unaware of it — blissfully so — which is why media coverage in the lead-up to the war was so inexcusably one-sided in its war cheerleading, as even Howard Kurtz documented. But Burns’ claim that they “could not know then” that the invasion could unleash all of the tragedy, violence and anti-Americanism it spawned is absolutely ludicrous, a patent attempt to justify his severe errors in judgment as being unavoidable.
Aside from the obvious, intrinsic risks of invading a country smack in the middle of the Muslim world, with much of the world vehemently opposed, there were countless people warning of exactly these possibilities from invading. If Burns and his friends were unaware of those risks, it was only because they decided to ignore those voices, not because they could not have known. Here, as but one example, is Jim Webb in 2002, arguing against an attack on Iraq in The Washington Post:
Meanwhile, American military leaders have been trying to bring a wider focus to the band of neoconservatives that began beating the war drums on Iraq before the dust had even settled on the World Trade Center. Despite the efforts of the neocons to shut them up or to dismiss them as unqualified to deal in policy issues, these leaders, both active-duty and retired, have been nearly unanimous in their concerns. Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq? . . . .
With respect to the situation in Iraq, they are conscious of two realities that seem to have been lost in the narrow debate about Saddam Hussein himself. The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences — ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. . . . .
The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years. Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay. . . . .
The Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. Indeed, this very bitterness provided Osama bin Laden the grist for his recruitment efforts in Saudi Arabia when the United States kept bases on Saudi soil after the Gulf War.
In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets. . . . It is true that Saddam Hussein might try to assist international terrorist organizations in their desire to attack America. It is also true that if we invade and occupy Iraq without broad-based international support, others in the Muslim world might be encouraged to intensify the same sort of efforts.
And here’s Howard Dean, in one of the more prescient political speeches of the last decade, speaking at Drake University, roughly one month before the war began:
We have been told over and over again what the risks will be if we do not go to war.
We have been told little about what the risks will be if we do go to war.
If we go to war, I certainly hope the Administration’s assumptions are realized, and the conflict is swift, successful and clean. . . .
It is possible, however, that events could go differently, and that the Iraqi Republican Guard will not sit out in the desert where they can be destroyed easily from the air.
It is possible that Iraq will try to force our troops to fight house to house in the middle of cities — on its turf, not ours — where precision-guided missiles are of little use.
It is possible that women and children will be used as shields and our efforts to minimize civilian casualties will be far less successful than we hope.
There are other risks.
Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.
Iran and Turkey each have interests in Iraq they will be tempted to protect with or without our approval.
If the war lasts more than a few weeks, the danger of humanitarian disaster is high, because many Iraqis depend on their government for food, and during war it would be difficult for us to get all the necessary aid to the Iraqi people.
There is a risk of environmental disaster, caused by damage to Iraq’s oil fields.
And, perhaps most importantly, there is a very real danger that war in Iraq will fuel the fires of international terror.
Anti-American feelings will surely be inflamed among the misguided who choose to see an assault on Iraq as an attack on Islam, or as a means of controlling Iraqi oil.
And last week’s tape by Osama bin Laden tells us that our enemies will seek relentlessly to transform a war into a tool for inspiring and recruiting more terrorists.
We should remember how our military presence in Saudi Arabia has been exploited by radicals to stir resentment and hatred against the United States, leading to the murder of American citizens and soldiers.
We need to consider what the effect will be of a U.S. invasion and occupation of Baghdad, a city that served for centuries as a capital of the Islamic world.
I could literally spend the rest of the day quoting those who were issuing similar or even more strident warnings. Anyone who claims they didn’t realize that an attack on Iraq could spawn mammoth civilian casualties, pervasive displacement, endless occupation and intense anti-American hatred is indicting themselves more powerfully than it’s possible for anyone else to do. And anyone who claims, as Burns did, that they “could not know then” that these things might very well happen is simply not telling the truth. They could have known. And should have known. They chose not to.
UPDATE: Perhaps even worse than the strain of “nobody-could-have-known” excuse-making invoked by Burns is the claim that “nobody could have known” that Iraq did not really have WMDs. Contrary to the pervasive self-justifying myth that “everyone” believed that Saddam possessed these weapons — and thus nobody can be blamed for failing to realize the truth — the evidence to the contrary was both public and overwhelming. Consider the March 17, 2003, Der Spiegel Editorial warning that “for months now, Bush and Blair have been busy blowing up, exaggerating and deliberately over-interpreting intelligence information and rumours to justify war on Iraq,” or a September 30, 2002 McClatchy article — headlined: “War talk fogged by lingering questions; Threat Hussein poses is unclear to experts” — which detailed the reasons for serious skepticism about the pro-war case.
Or simply recall the various pre-war statements by the ex-Marine and U.N. weapons inspector for Iraq, Scott Ritter (“The truth of the matter is that Iraq has not been shown to possess weapons of mass destruction, either in terms of having retained prohibited capability from the past, or by seeking to re-acquire such capability today”), or Howard Dean in his Drake speech (“Secretary Powell’s recent presentation at the UN showed the extent to which we have Iraq under an audio and visual microscope. Given that, I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness“). All of that, too, was brushed aside by government officials and suppressed and even mocked by most of the American media, all of whom were determined to allow nothing to impede the march to war. Rather than take responsibility for their failings, they instead insist — as Burns did today — that they could not have known.
UPDATE II: Every retrospective from supporters of the attack on Iraq, if they’re to be honest and worthwhile, should read more or less like John Cole’s, from 2008.
UPDATE III: After Obama’s Iraq speech last night, I was on CBC – Canada’s broadcasting network — discussing that speech. It can be seen here. As you can see, Skype video technology is improving rapidly and enabling acceptance of more TV offers.
UPDATE IV: For sheer factual inaccuracy in John Burns’ observations, see here.
UPDATE V: Speaking of accountability for those responsible for the Iraq War, Simon Owens has a very good article on the criticisms provoked by Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article in The Atlantic — featuring my criticisms of him — and what that dynamic reflects about the new media landscape.
Obama’s Royal Scam and The Iron Fist Of Rahm January 2, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: audacity to hope, audacity to win, Barack Obama, bmaz, change, david plouffe, democracy, democratic party, hope, howard dean, Obama, obama campaign, Obama presidency, presidency, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander
1 comment so far
Audacity To Hope
Change We Can Believe In
Rule of Law
Freedom From Lobbyists and Special Interests
Harm From Illegal Surveillance
Predatory Business Practices
Withdrawing From Iraq and Afghanistan
These are but some of the major buzzwords, issues and concepts Barack Obama based his candidacy and campaign on to convince the American electorate to sweep him in to office. Mr. Obama, however, has gone significantly in the opposite direction on each and every one since taking office. As Frank Rich noted, there is a growing “suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image – a marketing scam…”.
Is there support for this allegation other than anecdotal evidence? Yes, and Micah Sifry has an excellent piece out detailing the basis:
After all, the image of Barack Obama as the candidate of “change”, community organizer, and “hope-monger” (his word), was sold intensively during the campaign. Even after the fact, we were told that his victory represented the empowerment of a bottom-up movement, powered by millions of small donors, grassroots volunteers, local field organizers and the internet. …. The truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied. And this is the big story of 2009, if you ask me, the meta-story of what did, and didn’t happen, in the first year of Obama’s administration. The people who voted for him weren’t organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests-banks, energy companies, health interests, car-makers, the military-industrial complex-sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting. …. Should we really surprised that someone with so much early support from Wall Street and wealthy elites overall might not be inclined to throw the money-changers out of the temple? …. When it came to planning for being in government, it turns out that Plouffe, along with David Axelrod, was a chief advocate for bringing in then Rep. Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff. He writes, using a baseball analogy: “Rahm was a five-tool political player: a strategist with deep policy expertise, considerable experience in both the legislative and executive branches, and a demeanor best described as relentless.” (p. 372) Note that nowhere in that vital skill-set is any sense of how to work with the largest volunteer base any presidential campaign has developed in history. Rahm Emanuel came up in politics the old-fashioned way; organizing and empowering ordinary people are the least of his skills.
It is an extremely interesting piece by Sifry, and I recommend a read of the entirety. For those that have not read David Plouffe’s book on the campaign, The Audacity To Win, or one of the other long form reports of the Obama 2008 campaign, Sifry lays open the hollowness of Obama’s “grass roots”. Use em and lose em appears to have been the Obama modus operandi. The American people were desperate for something to latch onto, and Obama and Plouffe gave them a slickly tailored package.
As Digby notes, this line by Sifry really sums it up:
Now, there is a new enthusiasm gap, but it’s no longer in Obama’s favor. That’s because you can’t order volunteers to do anything-you have to motivate them, and Obama’s compromises to almost every powers-that-be are tremendously demotivating.
I think that is exactly right, and the needle in much of the activist base is moving from “demotivated” to downright demoralized and antagonistic. Yet Obama and his administration, notably Rahm Emanuel, indignantly continue to poke sticks in the eyes of the activist base and boast about it; and it is not from necessity, it is from design and pleasure.
Quite frankly, the seeds of this should have been seen coming. I have never forgotten the shudders I felt when I read two interrelated articles by Matt Stoller and David Dayen discussing how, heading into the 2008 general election, Obama was not just benefitting from, but devouring and commandeering broad swaths of Democratic base activist groups and their power, and actively working to marginalize and cripple those that didn’t assimilate into his Borg.
This isn’t a criticism; again, Obama made his bet that the country isn’t into ideological combat and wants a politics of unity and hope, and he has won at internally. In terms of the ‘Iron Law of Institutions’, the Obama campaign is masterful. From top to bottom, they have destroyed their opponents within the party, stolen out from under them their base, and persuaded a whole set of individuals from blog readers to people in the pews to ignore intermediaries and believe in Barack as a pure vessel of change. … All I’ll add is that it’s time to think through the consequences of a party where there is a new chief with massive amounts of power. I’ve been in the wilderness all my political life, as have most of us. The Clintonistas haven’t, and they know what it’s like to be part of the inside crew. We have a leader, and he’s not a partisan and he can now end fractious intraparty fights with a word and/or a nod. His opinion really matters in a way that even Nancy Pelosi’s just did not. He has control of the party apparatus, the grassroots, the money, and the messaging environment. He is also, and this is fundamental, someone that millions of people believe in as a moral force. When you disagree with Obama, you are saying to these people ‘your favorite band sucks’.
There’s nothing shadowy about this – it’s an extension of what the Obama campaign has been doing since he entered the race. He’s building a new Democratic infrastructure, regimenting it under his brand, and enlisting new technologies and more sophisticated voter contacting techniques to turn it from a normal GOTV effort into a lasting movement. The short-term goal is to increase voter turnout by such a degree that Republicans will wither in November, not just from a swamp of cash but a flood of numbers. The long-term goal is to subvert the traditional structures of the Democratic Party since the early 1990s, subvert the nascent structures that the progressive movement has been building since the late 1990s, and build a parallel structure, under his brand, that will become the new power center in American politics. This is tremendous news.
However, despite his calls that change always occurs from the bottom up, these structures are very much being created and controlled from the top down.
Stoller and DDay, although both seemed to have a nagging question or two, both thought that the gathering “Obama Nation” was a good thing and that once he took office the immense consolidated power and organization would, in fact, as Obama was jawing, be used to end the age old grip of corporate money and influence and propel good new and different policies into action. This pie in the sky was directly defied by passages in their own articles though. Not only was Obama consolidating Democratic power to serve only him from the top down, he was taking out people and groups that didn’t step in to his line.
I have heard from several sources that the Obama campaign is sending out signals to donors, specifically at last weekend’s Democracy Alliance convention, to stop giving to outside groups, including America Votes. The campaign also circulated negative press reports about Women’s Voices Women’s Vote, implying voter suppression. … He has bypassed Actblue, and will probably end up building in a Congressional slate feature to further party build while keeping control of the data. … The campaign has also, despite thousands of interviews with a huge number of outlets, refused to have Obama interact on progressive blogs. … I’m also told, though I can’t confirm, that Obama campaign has also subtly encouraged donors to not fund groups like VoteVets and Progressive Media. These groups fall under the ‘same old Washington politics’ which he wants to avoid, a partisan gunslinging contest he explicitly advocates against.
But wresting away ALL the power and consolidating it is I think a misunderstanding of how inside and outside groups can be mutually reinforcing and part of a more vibrant cultural and political movement, and how the culture is moving toward more decentralized, more viral, looser networks to organize. Obama’s movement, based on unity and hope, is working because politics is of the moment, a fad, Paris Hilton. To sustain that, you must institutionalize engagement, civic participation, awareness and action, even in a non-horse race year, as a necessary facet of citizenship. And there’s no reason to shut down reinforcing progressive structures that can keep it fun and interesting and vital.
Shutting down Democratic and progressive structures that do not toe his line is exactly what Obama and his right hand man, Rahm Emanuel, have done since the election. As Stoller and DDay noted, they actually started even before the election and accelerated after it. The deal was sealed when, immediately after the election, Obama chose the iron fist of DLC strongman Rahm Emanuel to lead his administration, immediately dumped Howard Dean and began shuttering Dean’s wildly successful fifty state apparatus.
There was only one reason to do that, and it was not to germinate a new grass roots policy force; it was to consolidate power and kill off any other voices and/or authority within the party. As Micah Sifry demonstrated, consolidation and exclusion were always a part of the Obama plan. Almost more disconcerting than Obama’s singular cornering of all the power and movement is his refusal to use it to propel new policies. Not even on healthcare did Obama even attempt to truly energize and mobilize the vaunted Obama network, preferring instead to leave it up to the lobbyists, in the bag Congressmen like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and corporate interests.
This is exactly what has made the progressive campaign and voice of Jane Hamsher, Cenk Uygur, Firedoglake and other awakening progressive movements so critical. It is crystal clear the Obama Presidency is less than it was advertised to be; the only route to correction is through power and action; assertion of independent power is the only thing they will respect and acknowledge. The change will not come through old school Washington politicians beholden to corrupt financial institutions, the insurance lobby and corporate interests. Politicians like Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel.
© 2010 FireDogLake
Lesson From Vermont: Don’t Cower, Push April 9, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Political Commentary.
Tags: bipartisanship, civil unions, congress, gay marriage, gay rights, howard dean, human rights, iowa supreme court, laura flanders, lbgt rights, lgbt equality, marriage equality, political compromise, political strategy, roger hollander, same-sex marriage, vermont, vermont gay marriage, vermont governor, vermont legislature
add a comment
Published on Thursday, April 9, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
They did it. On Tuesday the Vermont legislature formally recognized that civil unions are not the same as marriage. Forgive me for saying it, but I think the Vermonters have a thing or two to teach the Congress.
Mustering one more vote than the two thirds majority needed to override their Governor’s veto, they passed a bill that grants same sex couples the freedom to marry, and became the first state in the nation to achieve marriage equality through legislation rather than the court.
What’s it got to do with Congress? Merely this: there is such a thing as the courage of conviction. How many times have we heard that progress comes through conciliation? It’s the ubiquitous refrain of political “framing” and “spin-meisters.” “Go to where the middle is.” How many anti-war activists, anti-poverty, pro-single-payer advocates have been told that progress comes from hugging the middle, not pushing the edge? You hear it now in Washington, around healthcare — or the budget.
Go to where the bipartisanship is. It’s the conventional wisdom. And often it’s bunk.
Civil Unions, passed in 2000 in Vermont, didn’t satisfy fair-minded Vermonters. They’d pushed from the edge to Civil Unions, still wanted marriage equality, and they weren’t going away, and they continued to work and to push. A veto threat from Vermont’s governor didn’t discourage the backers of same sex marriage. Among the people egging them on was former Democratic National Committee chair and former Vermont governor Howard Dean. “Vote your conscience, not your district,” he encouraged legislators at a pre-vote party fundraiser.
“Stand up for doing the right thing; for being a human being,” Dean was quoted as saying in the Burlington Free Press. “Put human rights above politics – because if you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your political career.”
He was right. Coming less than a week after a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court that extended same sex marriage in that state, and with bills to follow suit under consideration in several other states, the arc of history feels as if it’s tilting toward equal protection after all.
And watching LGBT equality advance you’ve got to chalk up one more victory to a small but determined minority clinging to what they believe is right. If culture warriors always trod softly-softly and adhered to conventional guff, we’d never have marriage equality. Or inter-racial marriage. Or votes for women, or civil rights.