The Talking Lion

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

When the shit hits the fan, change the subject

I had the pleasure of enjoying the Sunday New York Times on the beach for the second time this summer and although the Jersey Shore is not Bermuda, it was good enough for me.

Frank Rich had a piece in the Week in Review section where he argues that the Bush administration's timing in the Roberts nomination had failed to be the kind of distraction that the White House was looking for.

When a conspiracy is unraveling, and it's every liar and his lawyer for themselves, the story takes on a momentum of its own. When the conspiracy is, at its heart, about the White House's twisting of the intelligence used to sell the American people a war - and its desperate efforts to cover up that flimflam once the W.M.D. cupboard proved bare and the war went south - the story will not end until the war really is in its "last throes."

While I hope Rich is right in the long run, it seems like the Roberts nomination is doing just what Bush had hoped it would do: Turn the attention away from Leakgate and Iraq and onto the merits of Roberts as a Supreme Court. Rich cites the fact that the Washington Post lead story less than 36 hours after the nomination talked about a new memo revealing that Bush administration officials knew that Palme's identity was supposed to be kept secret. The problem is, nobody is paying attention to the new revelations that continue to emerge each and every day.

During this past Sunday morning, I turned on Meet The Press and watched the D.A. from Law and Order spend 15 minutes defending Roberts as someone who should be easily confirmed, followed by another 15 minutes from Dick Durbin claiming maybe we shouldn't be so sure about this Roberts guy. There was no talk of Plame. There was no talk on Iraq. Even the WIR section where Rich's column ran, more than 75% of the front page was dominated by a story by Adam Nagourney on the upcoming nomination battle and the graphic that accompanied it. Only in the remaining space did the Times make room for John F. Burns' eerily fantastic piece on the deteriorating state of affairs in Iraq. A sample:

The first signs that America's top officials in Iraq were revising their thinking about what they might accomplish in Iraq came a year ago. As Iraq resumed its sovereignty after the period of American occupation, the new American team that arrived then, headed by Ambassador John D. Negroponte, had a withering term for the optimistic approach of their predecessors, led by L. Paul Bremer III.

The new team called the departing Americans "the illusionists," for their conviction that America could create a Jeffersonian democracy on the ruins of Saddam Hussein's medieval brutalism. One American military commander began his first encounter with American reporters by asking, "Well, gentlemen, tell me: Do you think that events here afford us the luxury of hope?"

It seemed clear then that the administration, for all its public optimism, had
begun substituting more modest goals for the idealists' conception of Iraq. How much more modest has become clearer in the 12 months since.

From the moment American troops crossed the border 28 months ago, the specter hanging over the American enterprise here has been that Iraq, freed from Mr. Hussein's tyranny, might prove to be so fractured - by politics and religion, by culture and geography, and by the suspicion and enmity sown by Mr. Hussein's years of repression - that it would spiral inexorably into civil war. If it did, opponents of the American-led invasion had warned, American troops could get caught in the crossfire between Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Turkmen, secularists and believers - reduced, in the grimmest circumstances, to the common target of a host of contending militias.

Now, events are pointing more than ever to the possibility that the nightmare could come true. Recent weeks have seen the insurgency reach new heights of sustained brutality. The violence is ever more centered on sectarian killings, with Sunni insurgents targeting hundreds of Shiite and Kurdish civilians in suicide bombings. There are reports of Shiite death squads, some with links to the interior ministry, retaliating by abducting and killing Sunni clerics and community leaders.

So things are going to hell pretty quickly out there, but no one seems to notice. STOP! What's that sound? Everybody look what's going down...

Even the new Iraqi forces, hailed by the Bush administration as the key to an eventual American troop withdrawal, seem as likely to provoke a civil war as to prevent one. The 170,000 men already trained are dominated by Shiites and Kurds, in a proportion even higher than the 80 percent those groups represent in the population. Though there are thousands of Sunni Arabs in the forces, including some generals, Iraqi units that are sent to the worst hot spots are often dominated by Shiites and Kurds, some recruited from sectarian militias deeply hostile to Sunni Arabs.

The contempt this provokes was voiced by Dhari al-Bedri, a Baghdad University professor with a home in Samarra, a Sunni town. "The Iraqi army in Samarra is Badr, Dawa and Pesh Merga," he said, citing the militias of the two largest Shiite political parties, and of the Kurds. "The people feel that the army does not come to serve them, but to punish them. The people hate them."

The American hope is that the political process under way will succeed, eventually, in forging a broad enough consensus that hard-liners on all sides will be isolated. The odds on that, though slim, seemed to rise a bit with an agreement this month that added 15 Sunni Arabs to the 55-member parliamentary committee charged with drawing up the constitution. But when two of the Sunni men involved in that process were gunned down in Baghdad last week, some other Sunni members pointed to Shiites as the killers, and said the killings showed that Shiite hard-liners wanted no compromise.

Hopefully, Rich's claim that "two damning story lines emerge [from the Plame affair] and both have legs" will prove correct in the long run, but right now it's not happening. The legs are being undercut by a middle-aged white guy who has been nominated to the Supreme Court.

Rich does make an appropriate observation at the end of his column about what is most important when talking about all of this:

The real crime here remains the sending of American men and women to Iraq on fictitious grounds. Without it, there wouldn't have been a third-rate smear campaign against an obscure diplomat, a bungled cover-up and a scandal that - like the war itself - has no exit strategy that will not inflict pain.

Now if only somebody would be able to pay for that crime...


  • Bush Sr. never tried to topple Saddam himself because they didnt have any decent exit strategy. Looks like Bush Jr. doesnt either. Now we are stuck in the middle of this mess. Whoopeee!

    By Blogger Aaron Kinney, at Tuesday, 26 July, 2005  

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