Monday, August 14, 2006

Crisis? What Crisis?

Already this weekend's sojourn into the mingled waters of "citizen journalism" has heavily emphasized some rather egregious examples of poor journalism and half-assed pundit-mongering in the realm of the "legitimate" media.

Let's take that dynamic a step further, and do a little fisking of the latest Pravda softball, and contrast it with the new Hersh piece on the Israel/Lebanon crisis.

First, the Post profile, ostensibly a wrap-up of The Decider's break from the rigors of being expected to do something useful. There are some bits in this article that rather neatly illustrate some of the subtler points I've been making, such as the use of conditioned, weighted phraseology, needless anonymous sourcing, and the increasingly iterative process of stenographic journalism.

Other than that, it's pretty good.

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President George W. Bush faced major security challenges on three fronts on Sunday as he prepared to return to Washington after a 10-day working vacation at his ranch.

The fighting in southern Lebanon, concerns about whether there are still suspects at large in the British terror plot and the ongoing war in Iraq represented formidable issues facing the president.

One thing we've learned from these Crawford bylines over six long years of having this tool running the show is that the vacation stories are always, always scripted filler, nothing more. The only exception was last year, when Cindy Sheehan's month-long camp-in took on a life of its own, and Bush was nothing if not circumspect in not adding any fuel whatsoever to that fire. He literally just drove past the whole scene to attend the fundraiser next door. I'm sure that if his Suburban's windows hadn't been tinted, we'd have seen both his middle fingers jutting at the protesters who dared to disturb his hard-earned five weeks off from breaking shit. Then Katrina capped the whole thing off for him, for which I'm sure Bush has never forgiven New Orleans.

The three listed "crises", as mentioned, are merely a handy iteration, a cipher intended to induce the notion that Bush has active intent to do anything about any of them, as opposed to his current status as a largely passive bystander. Consider the actuality of the three scenarios:
  1. The only actions the administration has taken to address the Israel/Lebanon problem is sending more weapons to Israel (already the strongest military in the region by far), then waiting around for two weeks while the situation escalated, before finally unleashing Rice -- you know, the chief diplomat -- to start crafting some sort of resolution. Several weeks since, a shaky cease-fire has finally been negotiated, and might have an outside chance of holding. If so, the French will be at least as responsible for addressing the situation as anyone in the administration.

  2. Regarding the thwarted British terror plot, the biggest concern is not that there may still be a few loose ends to tie up (though of course that is a concern), but the lessons we should be drawing from it, which we probably won't. First is that this was purely a law-enforcement issue -- the British police and the Pakistani ISI cooperated, and identified, infiltrated, and captured the terrorist cells in their respective countries. There was no military action, and it had nothing to do with Iraq, Iran, or Syria.

    Furthermore, Blair has curtailed British civil liberties to a significantly greater degree than we have here. Perhaps this is a subject due for a serious national conversation. I have no doubt that a sizable portion of Americans will gladly submit to whatever depredations are foisted upon them just to feel safer, but whatever the case, maybe the issue needs to be discussed once and for all.

    After all that, sure, I suppose it's possible that there are a few remaining people from these known cells, most likely in Pakistan. All we can do is try to work with the ISI, and hope they're actually leveling with us on what they know and what they're willing to do to help. There is no reason not to be skeptical of their motives and means. Other than that, there's simply not much Bush or anyone else can actually do about Pakistan's internal affairs.

  3. Seriously, the war in Iraq? What's changed? Is the course no longer to be stayed, are there no more imaginary corners left to turn? Is "civil war this, civil war that" about to be officially acknowledged? Is there some change of policy in the offing, say, an opportunistically-timed schedule for redeployment and eventual drawdown? One assumes that the main impediment is finding a palatable way to propose this without looking like complete hypocrites, not that that hasn't been finessed before.

So North Korea's newfound belligerence from last month, Iran's intransigence and sudden advantage in the region, a bursting housing bubble and the concomitant ARM foreclosures to come, a moribund economic picture, rising gas prices? Nope. Bush's three biggest concerns apparently are one problem he's enabled, one he can't do anything about, and one he's caused and seems to be hoping will go away with a policy of malign neglect and lots of finger-crossing.

Sounds like he really used his downtime to sort some shit out.

Bush puts down his summer reading -- including Albert Camus' "The Stranger," and two books on Civil War President Abraham Lincoln -- in favor of presidential briefing books.

And he is back in his limousine after days of riding ranch trails on his mountain bike, once running over an armadillo and another time crashing while trying to negotiate a steep hill.

Jesus, again with the Camus. Has he figured out yet that The Stranger's take on existentialism is completely at cross purposes with Bush's own shopworn Sunday school comfort zone of the vaunted moral compass? And since when exactly has Bush ever been known to wander even near the boundary of said psychic comfort zone? Either he read it and didn't understand it, or he didn't really read it. Either way, it sure is funny how we suddenly keep hearing about what a big-shot philosopher-king Our Boy is aspiring to be.

And crashing the bike. Again. Do these things not come with training wheels?

Bush's popularity remains in the danger zone -- around 40 percent -- heading into the election campaign, and the Iraq war could complicate the White House's hopes of U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq later this year.

Let's parse this loaded set of assertions. Bush has polled consistently under 40% -- frequently under 35% -- almost all year, generally at around -20% on the approval/disapproval over/under. And it is indisputable that the chief culprit in Bush's abject failure to resolve the invasion and occupation of Iraq is his own administration's failure to plan effectively, its refusal to listen to people who really did know better, from intel analysts to field generals. They believed Ahmed Chalabi and their own stovepiped hype. It's their own fucking fault that this might "complicate" the election season for them.

White House officials believe the importance of pursuing the war on terrorism, an issue brought to the fore by the British terror plot, plays to their favor and they plan to talk about it on the campaign trail.

"The issue's going to be discussed in the fall. ... Are you saying if the Democrats talk about the war, we shouldn't? ... We'll talk about the war, and we will talk about the consequences of the policies advocated by the Democrats," a senior Bush administration official said.

Okay, which "senior Bush administration official" said this, and why did he feel the need to remain anonymous, and why did Steve Holland feel the need to do this anonymous prick a solid, and unquestioningly stenograph his assertions? This is exactly what I've been talking about; these are all baseless assertions. How can terrorism automatically "play to their favor" anymore, when they've so clearly fucked the dog every which way for five years?

What they're banking on is one more homestretch run at the "daddy party" trope, but as I say, the actual information regarding the British terror plot (as opposed to simply saying "British terror plot" over and over again) militates otherwise, brings up a lot of rather inconvenient facts and operative patterns that they'd sooner ignore, or sweep under the rug.

Until we go through all this post-mortem bullshit again in December, when more facts come out too late to do anything about them, and more neutered weasels come slithering out of the woodwork telling us that "the only way" "we" can "win" is to puff out our chests and try to out-strut the douchebags who invented the sport. Praise the Lord and pass the bunker-busters.

Perhaps a journalist should investigate some facts, instead of taking dictation and filing anonymously-sourced press releases. This is where Sy Hersh comes in.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”

A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preĆ«mptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.” (As this article went to press, the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution, although it was unclear if it would change the situation on the ground.)

According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term—and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah “may be the A team of terrorists”—Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran. “If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million,” Armitage said. “The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

It would be intellectually dishonest of me, after slamming other journalists about using anonymous sources for their stories, to not mention something about Hersh doing the exact same thing. I don't like it, particularly the extensive use of these "consultants" and "former senior intelligence officials" throughout the article, but at least I understand why. Contextually, there is both a qualitative and quantitative difference between Hersh's use of these sources and the usual use of them. In the Reuters article, the source is clearly using his anonymity as cover to launch a politically-charged talking point, and the writer of the article is functioning merely as an enabler, allowing himself to be used to float what will certainly be a recurring theme in the campaign homestretch.

Hersh, on the other hand, is hunting some pretty dangerous game to begin with, and it's probably impossible to expect all or even some of his sources to go public -- though they really should, perhaps simultaneously so as to deflect undue attention on them singly. But Hersh is using their sourced information to state his overall case, plank by plank, bit by bit, to piece together a narrative that has already been largely affirmed by the administration's own actions, statements, and implied strategic objectives.

We know that the PNAC crowd that engineered this clusterfuck regards destabilization as more of a feature than a flaw. We know that they are disproportionately protective and proactive in regards to Israel. We know that they have Iran in their sights, and because they so massively screwed up Iraq, their need to double down in Iran requires instigating a massive, unmistakable provocation from Iran.

We also know that they refuse to learn lessons that do not jibe with their preconceived notions. Thus failure in Iraq is alternately portrayed as a failure of execution, a failure to follow through in ideological commitment, or a failure to come down with enough of an iron fist to put these wogs in their place for their own good. It doesn't even enter into the equation for them that it was just a bad idea in the first place, entered into in bad faith, under the flimsiest of pretenses. That is ancillary to their overall objective.

So there's no reason to assume that, even though Israel's summer incursion into Lebanon is nominally a dry run for Iran, and even though said incursion cannot be construed as a victory for Israel, no matter how hard one squints, the policy arm of this administration will learn anything from the current Levantine crisis. At most, they will simply tell themselves that Israel didn't beat Hezbollah because they just weren't ruthless enough in sacking Lebanon, therefore we have to prepare to use bunker-busters and deploy massive civilian infrastructure attacks in any Iranian campaign.

These guys don't learn anything; they just keep doubling down, like a dipshit gambler who loses his car at the roulette table in Vegas, and figures he'll win it back by staking his house.

Cheney’s office supported the Israeli plan, as did Elliott Abrams, a deputy national-security adviser, according to several former and current officials. (A spokesman for the N.S.C. denied that Abrams had done so.) They believed that Israel should move quickly in its air war against Hezbollah. A former intelligence officer said, “We told Israel, ‘Look, if you guys have to go, we’re behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later—the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.’ ”

Cheney’s point, the former senior intelligence official said, was “What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it’s really successful? It’d be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon.”

The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the Administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “The big complaint now in the intelligence community is that all of the important stuff is being sent directly to the top—at the insistence of the White House—and not being analyzed at all, or scarcely,” he said. “It’s an awful policy and violates all of the N.S.A.’s strictures, and if you complain about it you’re out,” he said. “Cheney had a strong hand in this.”

I don't know how many times this has to get confirmed by various people, anonymous or not, before the dots start getting connected in a more comprehensive fashion. It's become quite clear that the administration merely regards the gathering and analysis of intelligence data as a means to an end. If things aren't getting concocted outright (that we know for sure about), at the very least exculpatory evidence is getting ignored in favor of more biased analysis.

This is a very dangerous game they're playing; not only does it tend to render useless the enormous expenditures of our fifteen intel agencies, it needlessly alienates allies and squanders valuable resources. It commits money, time, and valuable diplomatic credibility to a fool's errand. It is irresponsible for them to do this, and it is equally irresponsible for the self-styled watchdogs of truth to subserviently wag their tails, rather than bark.

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