Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday Reading

The Real Backstory — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

The Trump-Iran story continues to develop in alarming ways. On Thursday, reports that Western governments believe Iranian military forces mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing a hundred and seventy-six passengers and crew members, produced a predictably divided reaction. “Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat,” Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic Presidential candidate, said, on Twitter, immediately drawing cries of outrage from Trump supporters who insisted that Iran was entirely responsible. Iran’s government dismissed the reports as disinformation. But, if it does turn out that the Iranian military made a terrible blunder amid the frightening escalation in long-running tensions between Tehran and the Trump Administration, it will be ever more imperative to get a full account, not only of that blunder but also of the escalation.

On that subject, more disturbing details are emerging by the day. The picture we are getting is of the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Vice-President Mike Pence both egging on an impetuous President to launch the January 2nd drone attack that killed the Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani at Baghdad International Airport. None of Trump’s other senior political or military advisers, meanwhile, appear to have urged restraint, despite the near-certainty that the move would inflame the entire Middle East and provoke reprisals. Any deliberative policymaking process appears to have been replaced by a combination of belligerence, toadyism, and saluting the Commander-in-Chief.

In the aftermath of Suleimani’s death, members of the Trump Administration claimed that Suleimani, who held great sway over Iran’s regular and irregular forces, was plotting an imminent attack that could have killed hundreds of American service members. Pompeo said, “We had deep intelligence indicating there was active plotting to put American lives at risk.” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday, “We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy.”

The Administration didn’t present any evidence to back up these assertions. On Wednesday, when it finally briefed Republican legislators about the rationale for the Suleimani killing, two senators—Mike Lee, of Utah, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky—walked out of the meeting and publicly trashed the material that had been presented. “I didn’t learn anything in the hearing that I hadn’t seen in a newspaper already,” Paul told reporters. “None of it was overwhelming that X was going to happen.” Lee was even more scathing. Outraged by suggestions from the briefers that Republican senators would be “emboldening Iran” if they even debated the wisdom of further U.S. military actions, Lee called the session “probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate.”

Meanwhile, Pence fell back on an old evasive tactic: claiming that the Administration did have real and convincing intelligence to justify the missile strike, but saying that it was too sensitive to be revealed, even in a private briefing on Capitol Hill. “We’re simply not able to share with every member of the House and Senate the intelligence that supported the President’s decision to take out Qassem Suleimani,” Pence told Fox News. “I can assure your viewers that there was—there was a threat of an imminent attack.”

Detailed reports from a number of different media outlets, as well as statements by Iraqi officials, tell a very different story. Just two days after the strike, the Times’ Rukmini Callimachi, in a Twitter thread, cited sources, “including two US officials who had intelligence briefings after the strike on Suleimani,” who said the evidence of an imminent attack was “razor thin.” In the Times itself, a tick-tock account of the decision to kill Suleimani quoted a U.S. official who described the Iranian’s visit to Damascus and Baghdad over the New Year as “business as usual.” Last weekend, Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Prime Minister of Iraq, told the parliament in Baghdad that Suleimani was scheduled to meet him on the day he was assassinated, adding that the general was bringing a response to efforts to mediate the showdown between Riyadh and Tehran. “He came to deliver me a message from Iran responding to the message we delivered from Saudi Arabia to Iran,” Mahdi said.

Pompeo subsequently mocked this claim, saying, “We’ve heard these same lies before.” The fact that Suleimani was met at the Baghdad airport by the head of the pro-Iranian militias inside Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also killed by the missile attack, suggests that he may have had other reasons for his visit. But, eight days later, it remains true that the Trump Administration hasn’t provided any evidence that a large-scale attack was imminent. By the time Suleimani arrived in the Iraqi capital, the violent protests outside the American Embassy had ended, and Iraqi forces had re-secured the heavily fortified Green Zone, within which the Embassy is located.

Also, more details are emerging about the roles played by Pompeo and Pence in the decision to assassinate Suleimani. Pompeo and Pence “were two of the most hawkish voices arguing for a response to Iranian aggression, according to administration officials,” the Times reported, a couple of days after Suleimani’s death. “Mr. Pence’s office helped run herd on meetings and conference calls held by officials in the run-up to the strike.”

On Sunday, the Washington Post, citing a senior U.S official, reported that “Pompeo first spoke with Trump about killing Suleimani months ago … but neither the president nor Pentagon officials were willing to countenance such an operation.” On Thursday, CNN’s Nicole Gaouette and Jamie Gangel reported that “Pompeo was a driving force behind President Donald Trump’s decision to kill” the Iranian general. The CNN story said that Pompeo, who was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Trump before he moved to the State Department, viewed Suleimani as the mastermind of myriad operations targeting Americans and U.S interests. It also quoted an unnamed source close to Pompeo, who recalled the Secretary of State telling friends, “I will not retire from public service until Suleimani is off the battlefield.”

We are also learning more about the roles that other senior members of the Administration played in the process that led to the drone attack on Suleimani, including Gina Haspel, the current director of the C.I.A. “In the days before General Suleimani’s death, Ms. Haspel had advised Mr. Trump that the threat the Iranian general presented was greater than the threat of Iran’s response if he was killed,” the Times reported on Wednesday. “Indeed, Ms. Haspel had predicted the most likely response would be a missile strike from Iran to bases where American troops were deployed, the very situation that appeared to be playing out on Tuesday afternoon.”

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal, in yet another lengthy account of the Administration’s decision-making, reported that all of Trump’s top advisers, including “new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and new national security adviser Robert O’Brien … backed the president’s decision to kill the top Iranian military commander and moved swiftly to carry it out. The new team was cohesive and less inclined than its predecessors to push back against the president’s wishes, according to administration officials and others consulted by the White House.”

Not that Trump needed much encouragement, it seems. “In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming,” the Daily Beast reported, quoting unnamed people who had been at Trump’s resort over the New Year. “He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’ one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.” We did see, of course, and the reverberations are far from over.

Tucker Carlson Is Still A Jerk — Frank Bruni in the New York Times.

Suddenly you’re digging him. At least a little bit. I know, I’ve seen the tweets, read the commentary, heard the chatter, detected the barely suppressed cheer: Hurrah for Tucker Carlson. If only we had more brave, principled Republicans like him.

Right out of the gate, he protested President Trump’s decision to kill Qassim Suleimani, the Iranian military commander, noting that it didn’t square with the president’s determination not to get bogged down in the Middle East and warning of the possibility and horror of full-blown war. Your pulse quickened. You perked up.

He sounded that same alarm on his next show and the show after that. Every night at 8 p.m., he worried about the bellicose itch of our leaders. When all around him on Fox News were playing their usual roles (indeed, his usual role) as masseurs for the president’s tender ego, he administered slaps, hard ones, the kind that leave angry red handprints. Ouch — and don’t stop.

You rejoiced. It’s one thing when Democrats challenge what looks like a rush to war by a Republican president. It’s another when typically fawning members of his own party do.

And while Carlson was hardly alone in his rebellion — three House Republicans voted with Democrats to check the president’s war-waging authority and, over in the Senate, Mike Lee and Rand Paul raised a dissident ruckus — no one else had his ardor, his articulateness, his megaphone.

Carlson to the rescue!

Oh, please.

The fascination with him is itself fascinating, for many reasons. Can you recall a modern president before Trump whose moods and movements could be reflected and predicted simply by watching one news organization and, for that matter, just a few of its offerings? In lieu of a normally functioning White House communications department or a press secretary who holds actual press briefings (what a thought!), we have “Fox & Friends” in the morning and Carlson’s and Sean Hannity’s shows in the evening.

They don’t chronicle this presidency. They shape it, not just in terms of the volume of their applause for Trump, who craves the loudest possible clapping, but in terms of actual interactions. Carlson — like Hannity and another Fox fixture, Lou Dobbs — has in fact advised him behind the scenes.

Hence the rapt reaction to Carlson’s antiwar jeremiads. They may well matter.

Also, those of us who regard Trump as a menace can be so eager — too eager — to welcome newcomers to our shores that we overlook the polluted seas they sailed to get there. In a recent moment on the ABC talk show “The View” that was awkward at best, Joy Behar announced excitedly that the prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer had just disavowed Trump because of Iran.

Carlson, mind you, has not disavowed Trump. In fact he performed semantic acrobatics to denounce America’s military maneuvers against Iran without precisely blaming Trump. Those slaps I mentioned landed more forcefully on the administration in general than on the man-child at its apex, who is, in Carlson’s tortured rendition, a gullible marionette, his strings pulled by inveterate, habitual warmongers. If these profiteering elites would just let Trump be Trump and train his wrath on Mexicans instead of Iranians, a great presidency would get its groove back.

During his Tuesday show, Carlson performed political jujitsu and held two of the president’s principal Democratic adversaries responsible for exacerbated tensions with Iran. Referring to the Washington establishment and singling out Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, he said, “These are people who have been basically advocating for a kind of war against Iran for an awfully long time.”

“It’s infuriating,” he added. “It’s because of Schumer and Pelosi and people like them that we got into Iraq in the first place.”

Come again? A Republican president, George W. Bush, urged and oversaw the invasion of Iraq, and while Schumer authorized it, Pelosi voted against it, as did many more Democrats than Republicans.

And Carlson’s portrait of Trump as puppet contradicts reporting from The Times and other news organizations that some Pentagon officials were stunned when the president ordered the strike against Suleimani, a measure more extreme than other options presented to him.

Carlson remains true to Carlson: selective with facts, slanted with truths and — this is the most important part — committed to his vision of America as a land imperiled by nefarious Democrats and the dark-skinned invaders they would open the gates to if not for sentries like him and Trump.

As Matt Gertz of Media Matters perceptively noted, Carlson’s antiwar stance “is not a break from his past support for Trump or his channeling of white nationalist tropes, but a direct a result of both.” Gertz explained that in the mind-set of Carlson and many of his fans on the far right, energy spent on missions in another hemisphere is energy not spent on our southern border. It’s no accident that, in regard to the Middle East, he and Spencer are on the same page.

Following Suleimani’s death, Carlson asked his audience, “Why are we continuing to ignore the decline of our own country in favor of jumping into another quagmire?”

Carlson is defined not by a bold willingness to check Trump’s excesses or ugliest impulses but by his indulgence — no, his fervent encouragement — of those impulses as they pertain to racism and immigration. On those fronts, Carlson himself grows ever uglier, as my colleague Farhad Manjoo and others have noted. It’s why many sponsors have defected from Carlson’s show.

Carlson repeatedly uses variations of the word “invasion” to characterize migrants from Central America. He insists that “white supremacy” is a fiction, a hoax. He has used language that buys into and promotes “replacement theory” — a far-right fixation on the idea that declining birthrates among whites will cause a nonwhite takeover — and recently castigated immigrants for litter along the Potomac River.

Just last month he gave precious time on his show to an obscure Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina, Pete D’Abrosca, who has warned white Americans that they’re “being replaced by third world peasants.” D’Abrosca has also bragged of his support from the “groyper army,” a far-right group with more than a whiff of anti-Semitism.

Is Carlson himself abetting hatred of Jews? In a rare point of agreement, some Jews and white nationalists believe so, pointing to an on-air rant last month in which he bashed a Jewish billionaire, Paul Singer, by comparing him unfavorably with Henry Ford, who owned a newspaper that ran a lengthy series alleging a Jewish plot to dominate the world.

“The Fox News host goes full anti-Semite,” wrote Tablet, a Jewish publication, while Mike Enoch, who rallied with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., said on his podcast, “If you didn’t catch the German shepherd whistles where he praised Henry Ford and then went into a diatribe of a Jewish financier, you know, I don’t know what universe you’re existing in.”

So that’s some of what Carlson was up to just before he turned his attention to Iran.

How warm and fuzzy are you feeling toward him now?

In other words, he’s Pat Buchanan without the charm.

Doonesbury — Having the vapors.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

They Need Each Other

Here’s where we are with Iran: Trump ordered the killing of one of their generals.  That sets off Iran and they threaten apocalyptic revenge.  Trump threatens to flatten their cultural sites; they come back with more threats of apocalypse.  Then they fire a bunch of missiles into the dirt in Iraq, purposely avoiding hitting anything.  Trump blames Obama, says Iran is backing down, and he’s heading for the golf course.

It’s all for show: Trump bloviates to his base to reassure them that he’s butch (and in desperate need to find a distraction from impeachment), and Iran’s religious nuts-in-charge need to unite their people after some rather unsettling pro-democracy demonstrations.  And other than a couple of dead generals and the collateral deaths in a stampede, this pecker contest with each other’s sworn enemy was about domestic politics and base appeasement.  I’ve seen the same kind of act between two horny peacocks in my backyard.

The difference, however, between Trump and the ayatollahs and the stupid fucking birds is that the guys without the fancy tail feathers have means at their disposal to really kill a lot of people, mainly civilians.  Add to that the fact that Trump is acting, as he always does, via his lizard brain; no strategy, just reflex.  And then when he does react, he recoils and retreats behind bluster and bullshit and lies and obfuscation.  The Iranians know this, and it’s not hard to imagine that they knew that Trump would back down or at least get talked out of nuking Persepolis, so they can carry on with their “Death to America” chants.

This is how dictators and fanatics handle foreign policy.  They need someone else, some common enemy, to blame for all their troubles, most of them self-inflicted.  Trump has done that all his life, as has every other megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur fueled by rampant paranoia and the harsh reality that they will never measure up to the expectations of some mythic father figure; seething with hatred for those who naturally achieve greatness.  (Trump’s call for “peace with all who seek it” is his rather gauche attempt to claim yet another legacy of Obama for himself: the Nobel Peace Prize.)  But at some point, someone always goes too far and the next thing you know, it’s not just preening; it’s a real war.  With real targets, real armies, and millions dead.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

“Hey, It Worked In Vietnam, Right?”

They’ve been lying to us about Afghanistan the whole time.

Lawmakers, veterans and experts have expressed shock and resignation after a Washington Post report Monday unveiled 18 years of distortion by U.S. officials over the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan.

The documents involved — more than 2,000 pages of confidential notes and interviews from more than 400 people, from ambassadors to troops on the ground — exposed a constant parade of failures while three presidential administrations insisted the war was moving in the right direction.

Whether or not the administrations knew they were being lied to or if they abetted it is almost beside the point.  This is a pattern that has been a part of warfare since time out of mind, and even when we were winning, they — the people running the war — knew they had to embellish and exaggerate to keep the money and the support flowing.

Vietnam and the Pentagon papers in 1971 was the first time they got caught, at least publicly.  What made them think that they could get away with it this time?  Well, probably the ingrained mindset that the first casualty of war is the truth, and the second thought being that with a public that has the attention span of a fruit fly and the depth of understanding of a twitter feed, they could keep it up.

“We must end the vicious, lethal cycle of misinformation and unspecified, unsupported strategies,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in response, calling for public hearings with Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and other officials.

“The Senate Armed Services Committee should hold hearings on the state of the Afghanistan conflict and the infuriating details & alleged falsehoods reported today,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a member of the committee.

Despite the high dudgeon and faux outrage of the senators, this will not end.  The only way to stop it will be to never go to war again.

Friday, June 21, 2019

That Was Close

It’s always a bit disturbing to wake up in the morning and find out that in the previous five hours or so this country almost started a war.

Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching them on Thursday night after a day of escalating tensions.

As late as 7 p.m., military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike, after intense discussions and debate at the White House among the president’s top national security officials and congressional leaders, according to multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.

Officials said the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries.

The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official said. Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down, the official said.

The abrupt reversal put a halt to what would have been the president’s third military action against targets in the Middle East. Mr. Trump had struck twice at targets in Syria, in 2017 and 2018.

It was not clear whether Mr. Trump simply changed his mind on the strikes or whether the administration altered course because of logistics or strategy. It was also not clear whether the attacks might still go forward.

Or he just got bored and decided to see what was on the other channel?  Maybe there was a marathon re-run of “Gilligan’s Island” or “Dr. Strangelove” was on TCM?

This is insane.  One drone gets shot down for whatever reason — it was a mistake or not doesn’t matter — and he’s about to give John Bolton and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) the wet dream of their warmongering lives and at the risk of how many countless lives there and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nuke ‘Em For Spam

This is insane.

A newly drafted United States nuclear strategy that has been sent to President Trump for approval would permit the use of nuclear weapons to respond to a wide range of devastating but non-nuclear attacks on American infrastructure, including what current and former government officials described as the most crippling kind of cyberattacks.

For decades, American presidents have threatened “first use” of nuclear weapons against enemies in only very narrow and limited circumstances, such as in response to the use of biological weapons against the United States. But the new document is the first to expand that to include attempts to destroy wide-reaching infrastructure, like a country’s power grid or communications, that would be most vulnerable to cyberweapons.

The draft document, called the Nuclear Posture Review, was written at the Pentagon and is being reviewed by the White House. Its final release is expected in the coming weeks and represents a new look at the United States’ nuclear strategy. The draft was first published last week by HuffPost.

It called the strategic picture facing the United States quite bleak, citing not only Russian and Chinese nuclear advances but advances made by North Korea and, potentially, Iran.

“We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be,” the draft document said. The Trump administration’s new initiative, it continued, “realigns our nuclear policy with a realistic assessment of the threats we face today and the uncertainties regarding the future security environment.”

Even in the hands of someone whose judgment we trust, this widening of the potential use of nuclear arms is dangerous.  Given the present atmosphere and obvious lack of cogent control at the top, we could see a mushroom cloud because someone tried to con Trump into sending them earnest money to guarantee a payoff from a Nigerian prince or some kid in China turned off the lights in Mar-a-lago.

Friday, December 1, 2017

At The Core

Josh Marshall explains what motivates Trump and his minions in their foreign policy and the machinations to get Rex Tillerson out at the State Department and replace him with Mike Pompeo from the CIA and replace Pompeo with Sen. Tom Cotton, a war monger.

If the ‘Tillerson swapped out for Pompeo and then Pompeo replaced by Tom Cotton‘ shakeup actually happens, it will be amazing the degree to which Trump’s core campaign message – disengagement from aggressive, regime change-oriented policies in the Middle East – turned out to be unmitigated bullshit.

It’s not that it’s surprising of course. Trump campaigned as a champion of middle class ‘real Americans’ against Wall Street and coastal elite fat cats. He’s ended up presiding over an extreme Club for Growth handouts to Wall Street economic policy. But Trump’s anti-Middle East interventionism seemed a bit more core to his beliefs.

[…]

What it all boils down to is that racism – white racial grievance, immigration restriction, generalized bashing of basically any political or cultural assertion by African-Americans – is the only consistent and persistent line connecting the campaign to the presidency. This is not quite the same as saying that that’s the only real bottom line for his supporters – though there’s a lot of truth to that. But for Trump, that’s clearly the only thing that isn’t opportunistic and situational. Those all fall away. The only thing that doesn’t is the ethno-nationalism and racism. It’s the real him.

We’ve already seen how Trump will pick a fight with African-Americans and other non-whites; vide his stomping of Khizr Khan and then the take-a-knee battle was directed at “others.”  So going on the offensive in the Middle East — and throwing in North Korea for good measure — is just another day at the office for him and the people who support him.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Loose Cannons

Via the Washington Post:

Trump used his harshest language yet to warn North Korea on Tuesday that it will be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” if it does not stop threatening the United States.

“North Korea best not make any more threats,” Trump told reporters at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, where he is vacationing. Saying that the threats had gone “beyond a normal state,” he twice repeated the “fire and fury” warning.

It was not immediately clear what Trump was responding to. A North Korean military spokesman said Tuesday that Pyongyang was considering a plan to fire missiles at Guam and that it would carry out a preemptive strike if there were any signs of U.S. provocation, Reuters reported, quoting state media.

Earlier in the day, North Korea said it would “ruthlessly take strategic measures involving physical actions,” in the wake of new economic sanctions approved Saturday by the U.N. Security Council. On Monday, Pyongyang threatened retaliation against the United States “thousands of times.”

Trump’s statement also followed a report in The Washington Post that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its ballistic missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power. The report quoted a confidential assessment by U.S. intelligence officials.

Talk about “fire and fury” is the stuff of dictators shouting from a balcony to carefully-marshaled rallies in soccer stadiums, not a hastily-called news conference at a golf club in New Jersey.  Once that kind of threat is made, there is no backing down.

If the hope here is to convince North Korea that our leader is just as much of a warmonger as they are, there’s not much of a chance that either side will decide to discuss it rationally.  The only hope for peace after this kind of crazy talk is for an ally of both sides — China or Russia — to try to calm everyone down.  And that’s where “Dr. Stranglove or: How Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” becomes a documentary.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Short Takes

U.S. blames Assad for chemical attack in Syria; Trump blames Obama.

North Korea launches missile into the sea.

ISIS calls Trump “idiot” in its first message acknowledging him.

New GOP healthcare plan undercuts popular provisions of Obamacare.

Russia to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” group.

The Tigers opened the season by beating the White Sox 6-3.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Monday, October 17, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Correction

Via The Hill:

Donald Trump said Wednesday that President Obama “founded” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“ISIS is honoring President Obama,” he said during a rally in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.  “He’s the founder of ISIS. He founded ISIS.”

“I would say the co-founder would be ‘Crooked’ Hillary Clinton,” Trump added of Obama’s former secretary of State and his Democratic rival.

Trump criticized Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. military forces from the Middle East and leaving behind a void ISIS could fill.

“We should never have gotten out the way we got out,” he said. “We unleashed terrible fury all over the Middle East.”

No, that would have been George W. Bush who sent our troops to war in the first place in 2003 based on misinformation and outright lies.  The fact that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and a number of Democrats voted to go along with it proves that the only thing the Bush administration got right about going to war in Iraq was lying about it.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sunday Reading

History Lesson — Robert Bateman teaches the Oregon “militia” a few things about their rights and wrongs.

Massachusetts, April 1775.  Daniel Shays was 30 years old when things went all squirrelly. The son of Irish immigrants, he spent his early years working on a farm in the western part of the state. Agrarian labor was the lot of the overwhelming majority, especially those living away from the coast. Swept up in the emotions of the day, Shays walked to Boston and immediately enlisted in one of the newly raised militia regiments then surrounding Boston in the wake of Lexington and Concord.

By all accounts Shays was a solid man. A stalwart soldier. Because he already had a modicum of training, Shays was enlisted as a sergeant. In that rank he fought at some of the most pivotal battles of the Revolutionary War: first, Bunker Hill; then, after his regiment went from being “militia” to “regulars” in the Continental Army, Long Island, New York, Saratoga, and his last battle, Stony Point.

It is there that we really come to see what kind of soldier he was. By then, Shays had been promoted to lieutenant and then captain of a company in his regiment. And he was not just any captain: He was the commander of the elite “light” company. It was in that role that he participated in the storming of Stony Point, during which American troops made a midnight assault with unloaded weapons, just bayonets, and won a significant and lopsided victory against the British. Shays performed so heroically that the Marquis de LaFayette personally awarded him a ceremonial sword in recognition of his leadership. (There was no such thing as a ribbon or a medal yet, at least not institutionally.)

In 1780, due to wounds, he mustered out. He had been away from home for five years, without pay. Yea, nada. Food and uniforms, but no actual pay. When he got home he found that he was being called before court for failure to pay debts. What a kick in the nuts for a guy who just spent five years, and spilled blood, unpaid, on behalf of the new nation. Eventually he sold the sword from the Marquis for petty cash.

Things weren’t much better for the state. After the war ended in 1783, Massachusetts was trying hard to clear its debts. But their technique was somewhat lacking. Among other things, they pushed hard on the collection of debts and taxes, especially in the sparsely inhabited and relatively poor western parts of the state. The men living there felt cut out, particularly since it was the rich businessmen, mostly on the coast, who held political power.

A tax revolt ensued. Something of a natural leader, Shays unexpectedly found himself in the lead of armed men once again. This time, however, they were fighting against their own government. It was, by any definition, an insurrection against the United States of America: Armed men sought to take over federal property (the Armory in Springfield). They were confronted by organized militia, raised locally, and paid by private donors because there was no “official” money for such a contingency. Both sides had over 1000 men. But one side, the authorized militia, had cannon, and that made all the difference. The insurrection was busted, and their whole effort ended in chaos. Their rebellion against America ended in abject failure. The conflict, known commonly as Shays’ Rebellion (though Shays was just one of its leaders), shocked the nation and had enormous influence over what became the U.S. Constitution.


The men in Bend, Oregon identify themselves as “patriots.” Many self-describe themselves as members of an extremist group known as the “Three Percent” – harkening back to the alleged percentage of colonists who fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War. They make much ado about being true to the U.S. Constitution.

But their knowledge of the actual history, let alone the text, of the Constitution, appears to be, shall we say, a tad lacking. To begin with, they seem to skip over some of its words. To begin, let’s look at what it means to be a “militia,” as these men claim to be. Here are the powers granted to Congress, in the Constitution, as they relate to “militia:

“To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

Bottom Line: There is no such thing as a “locally organized” militia that is not subject to the authority of a State or the Federal Government. Indeed, such is almost explicitly prohibited, in no small part because the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent something like Shays’ Rebellion from happening again.

Now let’s take a look at the definition of treason, as defined by the Constitution:

 “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”

Does taking over federal property or fighting the US government constitute “levying war?” For that, we must decide whether or not a forcible occupation of federal property that obstructs the ability of U.S. citizens from enjoying its resources constitute “insurrection.” The Insurrection Act, written by the Founding Fathers in 1807, which these Oregon dudes profess to adore, says this:

“The President, by using the militia or the armed forces, or both, or by any other means, shall take such measures as he considers necessary to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy, if it—

(1) so hinders the execution of the laws of that State, and of the United States within the State, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or

(2) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.

In any situation covered by clause (1), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.”

In reality, these men in Oregon are following in the footsteps of Daniel Shays’ armed insurrection, not his military service. Shays’ later actions, which are the very basis for the use of the terms “militia” and “treason” and the authority given to Congress to raise troops from the militia in order to suppress “insurrection,” are their antecedents.

Damn those Founding Fathers and the documentation that they inconveniently left behind.

Sure They Would — Rebecca Gordon in The Nation tallies up the votes from presidential candidates in favor of committing war crimes.

They’re back!

From the look of the presidential campaign, war crimes are back on the American agenda. We really shouldn’t be surprised, because American officials got away with it last time—and, in the case of the drone wars, continue to get away with it today. Still, there’s nothing like the heady combination of a “populist” Republican race for the presidency and national hysteria over terrorism to make Americans want to reach for those “enhanced interrogation techniques.” That, as critics have long argued, is what usually happens if war crimes aren’t prosecuted.

In August 2014, when President Obama finally admitted that “we tortured some folks,” he added a warning. The recent history of US torture, he said, “needs to be understood and accepted. We have to as a country take responsibility for that so hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.” By pinning the responsibility for torture on all of us “as a country,” Obama avoided holding any of the actual perpetrators to account.

Unfortunately, “hope” alone will not stymie a serial war criminal—and the president did not even heed his own warning. For seven years his administration has done everything except help the country “take responsibility” for torture and other war crimes. It looked the other way when it comes to holding accountable those who set up and ran the CIA’s large-scale torture operations at its “black sites” around the world. It never brought charges against those who ordered torture at Guantánamo. It prosecuted no one, above all not the top officials of the Bush administration.

Now, in the endless run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, we’ve been treated to some pretty strange gladiatorial extravaganzas, with more to come in 2016. In these peculiarly American spectacles, Republican candidates hurl themselves at one another in a frenzied effort to be seen as the candidate most likely to ignore the president’s wan hope and instead “do it again in the future.” As a result, they are promising to commit a whole range of crimes, from torture to the slaughter of civilians, for which the leaders of some nations would find themselves hauled into international court as war criminals. But “war criminal” is a label reserved purely for people we loathe, not for us. To paraphrase former President Richard Nixon, if the United States does it, it’s not a crime.

In the wake of the brutal attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the promises being openly made to commit future crimes have only grown more forthright. A few examples from the presidential campaign trail should suffice to make the point:

* Ted Cruz guarantees that “we” will “utterly destroy ISIS.” How will we do it? “We will carpet bomb them into oblivion”—that is, “we” will saturate an area with munitions in such a way that everything and everyone on the ground is obliterated. Of such a bombing campaign against the Islamic State, he told a cheering crowd at the Rising Tide Summit, “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” (It’s hard not to take this as a reference to the use of nuclear weapons, though in the bravado atmosphere of the present Republican campaign a lot of detailed thought is undoubtedly not going into any such proposals.)

* Kindly retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson evidently has similar thoughts. When pressed by CNN co-moderator Hugh Hewitt in the most recent Republican debate on whether he was “tough” enough to be “okay with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilian[s],” Carson replied, “You got it. You got it.” He even presented a future campaign against the Islamic State in which “thousands” of children might die as an example of the same kind of tough love a surgeon sometimes exhibits when facing a difficult case. It’s like telling a child, he assured Hewitt, that “we’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor. They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me.” So, presumably, will those “dead innocent children” in Syria—once they get over the shock of being dead.

* Jeb Bush’s approach brought what, in Republican circles, passes for nuance to the discussion of future war-crimes policy. What Washington needs, he argued, is “a strategy,” and what stands in the way of the Obama administration’s developing one is an excessive concern with the niceties of international law. As he put it, “We need to get the lawyers off the back of the warfighters. Right now under President Obama, we’ve created…this standard that is so high that it’s impossible to be successful in fighting ISIS.” Meanwhile, Jeb has surrounded himself with a familiar clique of neocon “advisers”—people like George W. Bush’s former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz and his former deputy national security advisor Stephen Hadley, who planned for and advocated the illegal US war against Iraq, which touched off a regional war with devastating human consequences.

* And then there is Donald Trump. Where to start? As a simple baseline for his future commander-in-chiefdom, he stated without a blink that he would bring back torture. “Would I approve waterboarding?” he told a cheering crowd at a November rally in Columbus, Ohio. “You bet your ass I would—in a heartbeat.” And for Trump, that would only be the beginning. He assured his listeners, vaguely but emphatically, that he “would approve more than that,” leaving to their imaginations whether he was thinking of excruciating “stress positions,” relentless exposure to loud noise, sleep deprivation, the straightforward killing of prisoners, or what the CIA used to delicately refer to as “rectal rehydration.” Meanwhile, he just hammers on when it comes to torture. “Don’t kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work.”

Only a stupid person—like, perhaps, one of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who carefully studied the CIA’s grim torture documents for years, despite the Agency’s foot-dragging, opposition, and outright interference (including computer hacking)—would say that. But why even bother to argue about whether torture works? The point, Trump claimed, was that the very existence of the Islamic State means that someone needs to be tortured. “If it doesn’t work,” he told that Ohio crowd, “they deserve it anyway.”

Only a few days later, he triumphantly sallied even further into war criminal territory. He declared himself ready to truly hit the Islamic State where it hurts. “The other thing with the terrorists,” he told Fox News, “is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” Because it’s a well-known fact—in Trumpland at least—that nothing makes people less likely to behave violently than murdering their parents and children. And it certainly doesn’t matter, when Trump advocates it, that murder is a crime.

The Second Amendment: Original Intent — John Quintance at The New Yorker uncovers some correspondence that should clear it up.

December 5, 1791
James Madison
House of Representatives

Dear James,

How is it almost 1792?! Quick question on the right to bear arms thing in your “Bill of Rights”—the wording and punctuation are slightly confusing. Did you mean that the right of the people serving in the militia to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, or people in general? I’m assuming the former, but don’t want to make an ass of you and me! (Franklin made that up, but I’m using it everywhere!) Could you please send me a quick note whenever to clarify?

TJ

P.S. To be honest, I’m still meh about “Bill of Rights” as a name.

* * *

December 7, 1791
Thomas Jefferson
Office of the Secretary of State

Dear Tom,

I know, it’s so crazy how fast this year has gone—I just got used to writing 1791 on my deeds of purchase (of slaves)!

As far as the amendment, of course it’s the former. If every private citizen had the right to carry a musket, a thousand people would’ve shot Patrick Henry by now, am I right? Don’t worry about it. Everyone will know what it means.

JM

P.S. You’re not back on “The Ten Amendments” are you? It’s trying way too hard to sound Biblical.

* * *

December 9, 1791
James Madison
House of Representatives

Dear James,

Hahaha re: Patrick Henry. And I agree it should be obvious. It’s just, why not make it so clear that even the biggest Anti-Federalist looney tune can’t misinterpret the meaning? I’d add “while serving in the militia” to line three. Also, not to be a grammar redcoat here, but the use and placement of the comma isn’t helping. Can we change it? It will take two seconds.

I know I’m being annoying!

TJ

P.S. How about “Constitution, Part Two?” (Not a serious pitch, unless you like it!)

* * *

December 11, 1791
Thomas Jefferson
Office of the Secretary of State

Dear Tom,

There is literally zero chance that anyone will misconstrue this, and the great news is that if someone actually does, the Supreme Court will set them straight. I don’t want to change it. It won’t take two seconds, because the addition would push a page and I’d have to do the whole rest of it over again and W. is breathing down my neck about it. Plus, I like the way my signature looks on the version I sent you, and you know I always hate the way it looks on important stuff.

Not trying to be snippy, but you’re worrying about nothing.

JM

* * *

December 13, 1791
James Madison
House of Representatives

Dear James,

I know, I know—I’m the worst. Just hear me out. Imagine it’s some two hundred years from now. Musket makers have made new and more powerful muskets—ones that are capable of firing two or even three shots per minute—and, in an effort to sell more, they claim that every homeowner should have the right to own one, or two, or twenty. They bribe politicians to advance their cause, they stoke public fears of crime and federal tyranny, and they manage to exploit this slightly confusing language and comma placement to claim that we originally intended to give every private citizen the right to own as many muskets (and for that manner, cannons!) as they can get their hands on. And because in this version of the future (just bear with me here) we’ve had such a run of Anti-Federalist Presidents, the Court is packed with men who might agree. Isn’t there the slightest chance that this could happen?

TJ

* * *

December 15, 1791
Thomas Jefferson
Office of the Secretary of State

Dear Tom,

You know I love you, but we seriously need to get this ratified, like, today, or W. will have my ass. There is no way that what you’re talking about could come to pass. It’s too ridiculous. The amendment goes before Congress as written.

Besides, if anyone ever needs to confirm our intention two hundred years from now, they need only consult any decent spiritualist to communicate with our ghosts. If muskets can fire three shots per minute in your future, I’m sure mediums will have become even better at their jobs, too.

JM

Doonesbury — Can’t get here from there.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

He Gave Us ISIS

Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who helped the Bush administration lie us into invading Iraq, is dead.  Aram Roston at Buzzfeed tells us about his legacy.

If not for the man named Ahmad Chalabi, the United States probably would not have invaded Iraq in 2003. If not for the Iraq War, as a senior CIA official flatly told BuzzFeed News earlier this year, there would be no ISIS. Indeed, the life of the charismatic and obsessive Chalabi, who died Tuesday of heart failure at 71, led to devastating and unpredicted results that will reverberate for decades.

Before he changed American and Middle East history, Chalabi was a failed Iraqi banker accused of massive international financial fraud in the 1980s. But through guile and grit, he managed to transform himself into Saddam Hussein’s most implacable and effective foe. The CIA, in cable traffic, called him Pulsar 1. His followers called him “the Boss” or “the Doctor.”

[…]

Because of Chalabi’s own diligent work, America’s elite were primed to believe him. More than anyone else in the late 1990s and the early part of the Bush administration, Chalabi had planted the seed in influential American thinkers, chiefly neoconservatives, that removing Saddam Hussein from power was a strategic imperative. But he did far more. Funded by the U.S., he fed bogus information and propaganda to the American press and to intelligence agencies.

In spring 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq and, as Chalabi boasted, toppled Saddam, because of him and the Iraqi National Congress. He dressed in a black Hugo Boss T-shirt, and he was flown by the American Air Force to the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya with a small army of ill-trained and chaotic “Free Iraqi Forces.”

Chalabi thought the U.S. would help install him as Saddam’s replacement, and he envisioned riding through Baghdad to cheering crowds of Iraqis, like de Gaulle returning triumphant to France. But that never happened. He had lost his influence in Washington, D.C., and he had too many enemies in the U.S. and Iraq.

It was after the invasion he’d pushed so hard for that his true weakness was exposed. He tried again and again to become the ruler of Iraq, convinced he was entitled to it. But he never scored more than 1% of the vote, and instead he survived by building blocks of coalitions and by allying himself with powerful Shiite politicians.

He tried one more time, last summer, to lead Iraq. He convinced his supporters, Americans and a handful of Iraqis, that it was a done deal, that he’d arranged a partnership by which he would become prime minister. In the end, that didn’t happen, and he was left, associates told BuzzFeed News, furious but impotent, convinced that he had been betrayed.

Is he really to blame for the current catastrophes of the region? Certainly, soon after the invasion, he pushed hard to maintain and even deepen Iraq’s sectarian divides, especially for policies that empowered Shiites while ripping the rug from under the Sunnis. Disenfranchising the Sunnis led to the rise of ISIS, which is what the senior CIA official mentioned earlier was referring to.

Still, the truth is that while Chalabi convinced the U.S. to go to war, it was George W. Bush and other American leaders in Congress and the White House who believed him and made the ultimate decision that caused so much damage. He never really had the power to invade, to change history. He just had an astonishing ability to influence and finagle others, and that was enough.

It sounds like he was the perfect partner for Bush/Cheney and the neocons who thought only of their own personal ambitions and vengeance.  It had nothing to do with anything more than that.  Thousands of lives have been lost for it, and we will be paying for it ourselves for generations to come.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Whose Side Are You On?

That’s the question for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, part of his weeklong trip to Israel.

[…]

“Today’s meeting only reaffirms my opposition to this deal,” Cotton said in a statement after the meeting. “I will stand with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel and work with my colleagues in Congress to stop this deal and to ensure that Israel has the means to defend itself against Iran and its terrorist surrogates.”

I’m just imagining the shitstorm that would have come raining down if a Democratic senator had gone to France in 2002 and pronounced that he stood with the opponents of invading Iraq.  The Republicans would have tried to arrest him for treason.  This guy gets a selfie with Bibi.

Thanks, Dick

There are now enough votes in the Senate to sustain any veto of the Iran nuclear deal rejection by Senate Republicans.

I think we have Dick Cheney to thank for this.  If he hadn’t reminded us just what a colossal warmonger he was and how wrong he and his minions were about the Middle East, some Democrats might have listened to his warnings.  But since it was really hard for him to hide his apparent glee — or in his case, his maniacal snarl — at the prospect of nuclear war, they decided to err on the side of sanity.