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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?

I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.

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"The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson

"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin

"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton

"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan

"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule -- and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt

"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley

"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss

"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire, the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind; and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon

"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon

"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon

"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespect for elders and they love to chatter instead of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize their teachers."
-- Socrates

"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook

"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook

"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr

"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion

"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson

"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices, intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation; a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition -- to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri

"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke

"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology; it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant

"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville

"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon, but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant

"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand

"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.

"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible, and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus

"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814

"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true, the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated. This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944

"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News

"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas

"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
-- Cicero

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue." -- François, duc de La Rochefoucauld

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." -- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson

"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example." -- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance." --
H. W. Fowler

"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place." -- Kate Wilhelm

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein

"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms

"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).

"Nothing would be done at all, if a man waited till he could do it so well, that no one could find fault with it."
-- Lecture IX, John Henry Cardinal Newman

“Nothing is more common than for men to think that because they are familiar with words they understand the ideas they stand for.”
-- John Henry Cardinal Newman

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
-- James Madison

"Those who are free from common prejudices acquire others."
-- Napolean I of France -- Napoleon I of France

"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.

"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.

"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128

"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)

"American life is a powerful solvent. It seems to neutralize every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good will, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism."
-- George Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States, (1920)

"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days

"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs

"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign

"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden

"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
-- Batman


Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit. He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.

The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cute panda. Don't you love pandas?

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Contents © 2001-2013 All rights reserved. Gary Farber. (The contents of e-mails to this email address of Gary Farber are subject to the possibility of being posted.)

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world

[Blogroll now far below the sea line! Dive, dive, dive!]

You Like Me, You Really Like Me

Gary Farber! Jeez, the guy is practically a blogging legend, and I'm always surprised at the breadth of what he writes about.
-- PZ Meyers, Pharyngula

...Darn: I saw that Gary had commented on this thread, and thought: oh. my. god. Perfect storm. Unstoppable cannonball, immovable object. -- Hilzoy

...I think Gary Farber is a blogging god. -- P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula

...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow

‎"Gary Farber is a gentleman, a scholar and one of the gems of the blogosphere." -- Steve Hynd,

"Well argued, Gary. I hadn't seen anything that went into as much detail as I found in your blog." -- Gareth Porter

Gary Farber is your one-man internet as always, with posts on every article there is.
-- Fafnir

Guessing that Gary is ignorant of anything that has ever been written down is, in my experience, unwise.
Just saying.

-- Hilzoy

Gary Farber gets it right....
-- James Joyner, Outside The Beltway

Once again, an amazing and illuminating post.
-- Michael Bérubé, Crooked Timber

I read Amygdala...with regularity, as do all sensible websurfers.
-- Jim Henley, Unqualified Offerings

Okay, he is annoying, but he still posts a lot of good stuff.
-- Avedon Carol, The Sideshow

Amygdala - So much stuff it reminds Unqualified Offerings that UO sometimes thinks of Gary Farber as "the liberal Instapundit."
-- Jim Henley

...the thoughtful and highly intelligent Gary Farber... My first reaction was that I definitely need to appease Gary Farber of Amygdala, one of the geniuses of our age.
-- Brad deLong

Gary is a perceptive, intelligent, nice guy. Some of the stuff he comes up with is insightful, witty, and stimulating. And sometimes he manages to make me groan.
-- Charlie Stross

Gary Farber is a straight shooter.
-- John Cole, Balloon Juice

I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber

Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
-- Ogged

I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow

One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.

One of my favorites....
-- Matt Welch

-- Virginia Postrel

Amygdala continues to have smart commentary on an incredible diversity of interesting links....
-- Judith Weiss

Amygdala has more interesting obscure links to more fascinating stuff that any other blog I read.
-- Judith Weiss, Kesher Talk

Gary's stuff is always good.
-- Meryl Yourish

...the level-headed Amygdala blog....
-- Geitner Simmons

The only trouble with reading Amygdala is that it makes me feel like such a slacker. That Man Farber's a linking, posting, commenting machine, I tell you!
-- John Robinson, Sore Eyes

...the all-knowing Gary Farber....
-- Edward Winkleman, Obsidian Wings

Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged

We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!

Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!

Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog

Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog


Gary is certainly a non-idiotarian 'liberal'...
-- Perry deHaviland

Recommended for the discerning reader.
-- Tim Blair

Gary Farber's great Amygdala blog.
-- Dr. Frank

Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott

Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit

My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal

If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.

Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks

I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes

Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this?
-- Natalie Solent

You nailed it... nice job."
-- James Lileks

Gary Farber is a principled liberal....
-- Bill Quick, The Daily Pundit

December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 December 2011 January 2013

Blogroll is Always In Progress:

Roger Ailes
Alas, A Blog
The American Street
The Aristocrats
Avedon Carol
Between the Hammer and the Anvil
Lindsay Beyerstein
The Big Con
CantBlogTooBusy The Center for American Progress
Chase me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry
Doghouse Riley
Kevin Drum
Fables of the Reconstruction
Gall and Gumption
Gin and Tacos
House of Substance
The Hunting of the Snark
If I Ran The Zoo
Lawyers, Guns & Money
Lotus: Surviving a Dark Time
Matters of Little Significance
Nancy Nall
Charlie Stross bastard.logic
Daniel Larison
American Conservative
American Footprints
Andrew Sullivan
Angry Bear
Balloon Juice
Beautiful Horizons
Bitch Ph.D.
Brad DeLong
Crooked Timber
Cunning Realist
Daily Kos
Debate Link
Democracy Arsenal
Edge of the American West
Ezra Klein
Glenn Greenwald 13th Floor
Hit & Run
Juan Cole
Kevin Drum
Lawyers, Guns and Money
List Project (Helping Iraqis who worked with us get out)
Marc Lynch
Mark Kleiman
Katha Pollit
Market Square
Matthew Yglesias
Megan McArdle
Metro Green
Pam's House Blend
Paul Krugman
Philosophy, et cetera
Radley Balko
Sadly, No!
Southern Appeal
Stephen Walt
Steve Clemons
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Taking It Outside
Talking Points Memo
The Poor Man
The Progressive Realist
The Sideshow
U.S. Intellectual History
Unqualified Offerings
Volokh Conspiracy
Washington Monthly
William Easterly
Newsrack Blog
Ortho Bob
The Poor Man
Prog Gold
Prose Before Hos
Ted Rall
The Raw Story
Elayne Riggs
Sadly, No!
Texas Liberal
Think Progress
3 Weird Sisters
Tristram Shandy
Washington Monthly
Ian Welsh
James Wolcott
World o' Crap
Matthew Yglesias
Buzz Machine
Daniel Larison
Rightwing Film Geek About Last Night
can we all just agree
Comics Curmudgeon
Dum Luk's
Glenn Kenny
Hoarder Museum Juanita Jean
Lance Mannion (Help Lance!
Last Words of the Executed
The Phil Nugent Experience
Postcards from Hell's Kitchen
Vanishing New York
a lovely promise
a web undone
alt hippo
american street
city of brass
danger west
fierce urgency of now
get fisa right
great concavity
happening here
impeach them!
kathryn cramer
notes from the basement
talking dog
uncertain principles
unqualified offerings
what do i know
crooked timber emptywheel
ezra klein
The F-Word
glenn greenwald
schneier on security
ta-nehisi coates
talking points memo
tiny revolution
Roz Kaveney
Dave Ettlin
Henry Jenkins' Confessions of an Aca-Fan
Kathryn Cramer
Monkeys In My Pants
Pagan Prattle
As I Please
Ken MacLeod
Arthur Hlavaty
Kevin Maroney
MK Kare
Jack Heneghan
Dave Langford
Onyx Lynx Atrios
Rittenhouse Review
Public Nuisance
Scoobie Davis
Nathan Newman
Echidne Of The Snakes
First Draft
Rising Hegemon
Cab Drollery (Help Diane!
Southern Beale
The Kenosha Kid
Culture of Truth
Talk Left
Black Ag=Q< Report
Drug WarRant
Nieman Watchdog
Open Left
Meet the Bloggers
Dispatch from the Trenches
Crooks and Liars
Campaign for America's Future
Iraq Today
Daily Kos
Lefty Directory
News Hounds
The Brad Blog
Informed Comment
UN Dispatch
War and Piece
Glenn Greenwald
Schneier on Security
Jim Henley
Arthur Silber
Julian Sanchez
The Agitator
Balloon Juice
Wendy McElroy
Whoviating (LarryE)
Scott Horton
Tennessee Guerilla Women
Looking Glass
Charles Kuffner
Brad DeLong
Busy, Busy, Busy
Oliver Willis
The Carpetbagger Report Shakesville
Down With Tyranny
Professor B
Monkey Media Report
The Grumpy Forester
Ian Welsh
Pacific Views
Booman Tribune
Matthew Yglesias
The American Street
Media Bloodhound
Liz Henry's Composite
The Heretik
Arizona Eclectic
Sisyphus Shrugged
Interesting Times
Talking Dog
Liberal Desert
Under the Lobsterscope
Seeing The Forest
Sean Paul Kelley's The Agonist
King of Zembla
Mark Kleiman
Liquid List
Elayne Riggs
No More Mr. Nice Blog
Fanatical Apathy
Blue Gal
Mark Evanier
Roger Ailes
Suburban Guerrilla (Help Susie with money!)
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People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost, Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry, Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny. It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out. And She of whom I must write someday.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006
IRAQ: THE SUCKHOLE, NOT THE MODEL. I managed to blank out that I'd started reading George Packer's mammoth piece of last week, until I was interupted by first a power failure, and then a SessionSaver failure.

But it's must reading. Yes, it largely consolidates things already written about, and some of it's a bit repetitious in that regard (almost to the point of making one feel deja vu when reading much of it: same names -- McMaster, Petraeus, Tal Afar, that one has been reading for years now), but it's still must reading for distilling down an awful lot of invaluable information and perspective into concise -- though long in aggregate -- form.

Fasten your seatbelt, Dorothy: even just quoting some bits and pieces, while trying to convince you to read the whole thing, is a long and strange trip.
[...] In the spring of 2003, McMaster joined the staff of General John Abizaid at Central Command. Abizaid soon took over from Franks, who got out of Iraq and the military just as his three-week triumph over the Baathist regime showed signs of turning into a long ordeal. Although the violence in Iraq was rapidly intensifying, no one at the top levels of the government or the military would admit that an insurgency was forming.

“They didn’t even want to say the ‘i’ word,” one officer in Iraq told me. “It was the spectre of Vietnam. They did not want to say the ‘insurgency’ word, because the next word you say is ‘quagmire.’ The next thing you say is ‘the only war America has lost.’ And the next thing you conclude is that certain people’s vision of war is wrong.”

The most stubborn resistance to the idea of an insurgency came from Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, who was determined to bring about a “revolution in military affairs” at the Pentagon—the transformation of war fighting into a combination of information technology and precision firepower that would eliminate the need for large numbers of ground troops and prolonged involvement in distant countries. “It’s a vision of war that totally neglects the psychological and cultural dimensions of war,” the officer said. Rumsfeld’s denial of the existence of the insurgency turned on technicalities: insurgencies were fought against sovereign governments, he argued, and in 2003 Iraq did not yet have one.

In October of that year, a classified National Intelligence Estimate warned that the insurgency was becoming broad-based among Sunni Arabs who were unhappy with the American presence in Iraq, and that it would expand and intensify, with a serious risk of civil war. But Rumsfeld, President Bush, and other Administration officials continued to call the escalating violence in Iraq the work of a small number of Baathist “dead-enders” and foreign jihadis. For Rumsfeld, this aversion became a permanent condition. Over Thanksgiving weekend last year, he had a self-described “epiphany” in which he realized that the fighters in Iraq didn’t deserve the word “insurgents.” The following week, at a Pentagon press conference, when the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Peter Pace, said, rather sheepishly, “I have to use the word ‘insurgent,’ because I can’t think of a better word right now,” Rumsfeld cut in, “ ‘Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government’—how’s that?”

The refusal of Washington’s leaders to acknowledge the true character of the war in Iraq had serious consequences on the battlefield: in the first eighteen months, the United States government failed to organize a strategic response to the insurgency. Captain Jesse Sellars, a troop commander in the 3rd A.C.R., who fought in some of the most violent parts of western Iraq in 2003 and 2004, told me about a general who visited his unit and announced, “This is not an insurgency.” Sellars recalled thinking, “Well, if you could tell us what it is, that’d be awesome.” In the absence of guidance, the 3rd A.C.R. adopted a heavy-handed approach, conducting frequent raids that were often based on bad information. The regiment was constantly moved around, so that officers were never able to form relationships with local people or learn from mistakes. Eventually, the regiment became responsible for vast tracts of Anbar province, with hundreds of miles bordering Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria; it had far too few men to secure any area.

A proper strategy would have demanded the coördinated use of all the tools of American power in Iraq: political, economic, and military. “Militarily, you’ve got to call it an insurgency,” McMaster said, “because we have a counterinsurgency doctrine and theory that you want to access.” The classic doctrine, which was developed by the British in Malaya in the nineteen-forties and fifties, says that counterinsurgency warfare is twenty per cent military and eighty per cent political. The focus of operations is on the civilian population: isolating residents from insurgents, providing security, building a police force, and allowing political and economic development to take place so that the government commands the allegiance of its citizens. A counterinsurgency strategy involves both offensive and defensive operations, but there is an emphasis on using the minimum amount of force necessary. For all these reasons, such a strategy is extremely hard to carry out, especially for the American military, which focusses on combat operations. Counterinsurgency cuts deeply against the Army’s institutional instincts. The doctrine fell out of use after Vietnam, and the Army’s most recent field manual on the subject is two decades old.

The Pentagon’s strategy in 2003 and 2004 was to combat the insurgency simply by eliminating insurgents—an approach called “kill-capture.” Kalev Sepp, a retired Special Forces officer, who now teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, said of the method, “It’s all about hunting people. I think it comes directly from the Secretary of Defense—‘I want heads on a plate.’ You’ll get some people that way, but the failure of that approach is evident: they get Hussein, they get his sons, they continue every week to kill more, capture more, they’ve got facilities full of thousands of detainees, yet there’s more insurgents than there were when they started.” In “Dereliction of Duty,” McMaster wrote that a strategy of attrition “was, in essence, the absence of a strategy.”

During the first year of the war, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez was the commander of military operations in Iraq. He never executed a campaign plan—as if, like Rumsfeld, he assumed that America was about to leave. As a result, there was no governing logic to the Army’s myriad operations. T. X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel who served in Baghdad in early 2004, said, “Each division was operating so differently, right next to the other—absolutely hard-ass here, and hearts-and-minds here.” In the first year of the war, in Falluja and Ramadi, Major General Charles Swannack, of the 82nd Airborne Division, emphasized killing and capturing the enemy, and the war grew worse in those places; in northern Iraq, Major General David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division, focussed on winning over the civilian population by encouraging economic reconstruction and local government, and had considerable success. “Why is the 82nd hard-ass and the 101st so different?” Hammes asked. “Because Swannack sees it differently than Petraeus. But that’s Sanchez’s job. That’s why you have a corps commander.” Lieutenant General Sanchez, who never received his fourth star, remains the only senior military official to have suffered professionally for the failures of the Iraq war. (He is now stationed in Germany.)


From his post in Central Command, McMaster pushed for a more imaginative and coherent response to an insurgency that he believed was made up of highly decentralized groups with different agendas making short-term alliances of convenience. By August, 2004, Falluja had fallen under insurgent control, Mosul had begun to collapse, and Najaf had become the scene of a ferocious battle. On August 5th, General George Casey, Sanchez’s successor, signed the Operation Iraqi Freedom campaign plan. The document, which was largely written on Sanchez’s watch, remains classified, but Kalev Sepp described it to me in general terms. (In early 2004, McMaster had recruited him to be an adviser on Iraq.) Sepp said, “It was a product that seemed to be toning itself down. It was written as if there were knowledge of this bad thing, an insurgency, that was coming up underfoot, and you had to deal with it, but you had to be careful about being too direct in calling it an insurgency and dealing with it that way, because then you would be admitting that it had always been there but you had ignored it up to that point. It did not talk about what you had to do to defeat an insurgency. It was not a counterinsurgency plan.”


By November, 2004, MNF-I had outlined a strategy, and the military command in Baghdad finally had a plan for fighting the insurgency.


He also attempted to drive a wedge between nationalist-minded Sunnis and extremists, a distinction that, in the war’s first year or two, American soldiers were rarely able to make; they were simply fighting “bad guys.” At the highest levels of the Administration, the notion of acknowledging the enemy’s grievances was dismissed as defeatist. But in Tal Afar I heard expressions of soldierly respect for what some Americans called the Iraqi resistance. “In a city that’s seventy-five per cent Sunni, if you approach it from a point of view of bringing in or killing everyone who’s had anything to do with the insurgency you’re bound to fail,” Major Michael Simmering said. “Imagine how many people in this town have picked up a rifle and taken a shot at coalition forces. Do we really want to try to arrest them all?” Lieutenant Brian Tinklepaugh explained, “You can’t sever your ties with anyone—even your enemy. People with ties to the insurgents have us over for tea.”


“The tedium of counterinsurgency ops, the small, very incremental gains—our military culture doesn’t lend itself to that kind of war,” Jack McLaughlin, a major on Hickey’s staff, told me. “There are no glorious maneuvers like at the National Training Center, where you destroy the Krasnovian hordes. It’s just a slow grind, and you have to have patience.”


“There are two ways to do counterinsurgency,” Major McLaughlin said. “You can come in, cordon off a city, and level it, à la Falluja. Or you can come in, get to know the city, the culture, establish relationships with the people, and then you can go in and eliminate individuals instead of whole city blocks.”


“If a doctor makes an operation and the operation succeeds, it’s not a good thing to put the patient under the care of another doctor,” the Mayor told me. “This doctor knows the wound, he knows the patient.” He added, “Hickey knows my children by name.”

I asked what would happen if, as before, the Americans withdrew from Tal Afar.

“What? No American forces?” The Mayor could hardly comprehend my question. “It will take only one month and the terrorists will take over. At a minimum, we need three years for the Iraqi Army to be strong enough to take control of the country—at least three years. You can’t measure the Army only by weapons. It’s building people, too.”


That night, I visited the jail at a police station between Hickey’s headquarters and the Mayor’s office. Forty-seven prisoners were squeezed into a cell so tight that they had to take turns sleeping; four or five others were crammed into the latrine. When a guard slid aside a plywood sheet covering the cell’s barred door, the prisoners, dazed and wide-eyed, protested their innocence and asked for blankets. One boy said that he was twelve years old. A fat, middle-aged man who claimed to be a teacher from Mosul told me in fluent English that he’d been arrested because a roadside bomb had happened to go off near a taxi in which he was riding. He hadn’t seen a judge in a month, and hadn’t seen a lawyer at all.

Next door to the cell, in an unlit room whose roof had partially caved in, offering a view of the starry desert sky, several policemen were trying to stay warm around a petrol burner. With one exception, they were Shiites. Police work was the only job they could find, they said; Sunnis had taken their old jobs. The chief, whose name was Ibrahim Hussein, said, “My wife and children can’t leave the house.” A slight young cop named Hassan said that seventy members of his tribe had been killed by terrorists, including a cousin whose corpse turned up one day with the head severed.

The policemen offered me the only chair in their squalid little room. One of their colleagues was sleeping under a blanket on the cement floor. It was bitterly cold. They said that they wanted the Americans to leave Tal Afar and create a perimeter around the city to keep terrorists out; inside the city, they said, the Americans were preventing the police from eliminating the terrorists, releasing most prisoners after just a few days. The men had been trained for two months in Jordan, and I asked whether they had been instructed in human rights. They said that they had studied the subject for a week.

“What about the rights of the guy who gets kidnapped and beheaded?” Hussein said. Hassan added, “If the Americans weren’t here, we could get more out of our interrogations.”

“You mean torture?”

“Only the terrorists.”

“How do you know that they’re terrorists?”

“Someone identifies them to me. We have evidence. The innocent ones, we let go.”

“How many terrorists and sympathizers are there in Tal Afar?”

Hassan considered it for a moment. “A hundred and fifty thousand.” This was approximately the number of Sunnis in the city.

When I got up to leave, the policemen begged me to ask Colonel Hickey for blankets and heaters.

The Tal Afar police were better informed about local realities than either the Americans or the Iraqi Army, but they were ill-trained, quick to shoot, likelier to represent parochial interests, and reluctant to take risks. “There are some police that would go after the Sunnis,” Chris Hickey said. “So, yes, we are a constraint on them. Their head’s not there yet.” A soldier in the squadron, who was departing on a mission with Iraqi policemen to distribute food packages in a mixed area, went further: “These guys are worthless.”


Hickey and other Americans spoke highly of Lieutenant Colonel Majid Abdul-Latif Hatem, an Iraqi battalion deputy commander. One evening, Colonel Majid invited me into his spartan quarters on the grounds of Tal Afar’s granary, across a marshy field from the American patrol base. A Shiite from Nasiriya, in the south, he had a comically large handlebar mustache and mirthless eyes under droopy eyelids. In the corner of the room was a cot with a military blanket; on the wall was a map of his battalion’s area of operations. As he began to talk, an orderly prepared tea in a blackened brass pot.

Colonel Majid, who had been in Tal Afar for a month, had an unsentimental view of the city’s problems. “If we evacuated Tal Afar of Shiites or of Sunnis, it would be a calm, lovely city. The main issue in Iraq now is the sectarian one: one group wants to destroy the other group. The people need a long, long time, so that they can learn democracy, because they were raised on a sectarian basis. Second, to get rid of the problems we should divide Iraq into three parts: Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd. If there is one Iraq on the map, but inside the people are divided, what’s the point of being one? The people are tired of war and instability—they just want to live in peace, even by dividing. The time of Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad is past. There are no more miracles.”

Colonel Majid took out a piece of white paper and carefully drew the outline of Iraq, then carved it into sectors. “This area is Shiite,” he said. “This area is Sunni: Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra, Anbar. Take oil from here”—he pointed to Basra and Kirkuk—“and give some of it to here. The Sunnis will have to accept. If the oil was in their area, they would ask for division.”

I asked if the American and Iraqi armies could prevent a civil war.

“At any moment, there will be war between the two sects,” he said. “I want to tell you the truth.” He repeated the word in English. “Right now, you are observing the men of the Iraqi Army, and seeing what’s on the outside. But I know the interior of them. My men are not coming here for nationalist beliefs, for one Iraq. They are here because they need work. So don’t be surprised if they stand and watch killing between the people here.”

We drank tea and talked, and, as the night wore on, Colonel Majid disappeared into the darkness; I could see only his mustache, his eyes, and the orange glow of the petrol burner. I asked if Iraq could be divided without huge population transfers and terrible bloodshed.

“How much do the Americans spend on their army every month here? Six billion dollars. One billion of this can build houses or apartment complexes in the south, for the Shia here up north. You have to offer many things if you’re going to move people: transportation, houses, jobs. It’s a very complicated situation, and I’m not George Washington to arrange everything for you.

“God says: no one can change the people if they don’t change themselves. America is the biggest power in the world, but it cannot get control over the explosions here and the insurgency. It cannot change the way people think.” He added, “Saddam Hussein brought all of us to the point where we all hate Iraq.”

I asked if Iraqi minds could change over time.

“Maybe,” Colonel Majid said. “But it will take years.”
On the one hand, Colonel Majid's is the opinion of one guy; on the other hand, he's Iraqi, I'm not, and I'm not here to claim he's wrong, either. But however one wants to regard his POV as half-full or half-empty, it seems to be half-full or half empty of a lot of dead Iraqis.
[...] The Americans’ achievement in Tal Afar showed that, in the war’s third year, individuals and units within the Army could learn and adapt on their own. On my last night in the city, Colonel McMaster sat in his makeshift office and said, “It is so damn complex. If you ever think you have the solution to this, you’re wrong, and you’re dangerous. You have to keep listening and thinking and being critical and self-critical. Remember General Nivelle, in the First World War, at Verdun? He said he had the solution, and then destroyed the French Army until it mutinied.”


“If we’re not stupid, and we don’t quit, we can win this thing,” Major McLaughlin said. “History teaches you that war, at its heart, is a human endeavor. And if you ignore the human side—yours, the enemy’s, and the civilians’—you set yourself up for failure. It’s not about weapons. It’s about people.”

“If we are smart enough to see this through, we can win it,” Major Simmering said. “If we’re not careful, we could destroy everything we’ve done in the last six months in a matter of minutes by doing something stupid—taking an action that could alienate the Sunni population. It takes months to make somebody like you; it can take just a minute to make them hate you.” All the soldiers worried about what one general in Iraq called a “rush to failure.” As Simmering put it, “There’s a lot of political pressure back home to turn this over to the Iraqis.”


The headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division, Speicher is an “enduring FOB”—one of a handful of gigantic bases around Iraq to which American forces are being pulled back, as smaller bases are handed over to the Iraqi Army. Speicher has an area of twenty-four square miles and the appearance of a small, flat, modular Midwestern city; there is a bus system, a cavernous dining hall that serves four flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream, a couple of gyms, and several movie theatres. At least nine thousand soldiers live there, and many of them seemed to leave the base rarely or not at all: they talked about “going out,” as if the psychological barrier between them and Iraq had become daunting. After three months on the base, an Army lawyer working on the Iraqi justice system still hadn’t visited the Tikrit courts. A civil-affairs major who had been in Iraq since May needed to consult a handbook when I asked him the names of the local tribes. A reporter for the military newspaper Stars & Stripes had heard a bewildered sergeant near Tikrit ask his captain, “What’s our mission here?” The captain replied sardonically, “We’re here to guard the ice-cream trucks going north so that someone else can guard them there.”

Much of the activity at an enduring FOB simply involves self-supply. These vast military oases raise the spectre of American permanence in Iraq, but, to me, they more acutely suggested American irrelevance. Soldiers have even coined a derogatory term for those who never get off the base: “fobbits.” I spent two days at Speicher without seeing an Iraqi.


Speicher provides a more representative picture of the American military’s future in Iraq than Tal Afar. The trend is away from counterinsurgency and toward what, in Washington, is known as an “exit strategy.” Commanders are under tremendous pressure to keep casualties low, and combat deaths have been declining for several months, as patrols are reduced and the Americans rely more and more on air power. (During the past five months, the number of air strikes increased fifty per cent over the same period a year ago.)


A sergeant in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, said, “We’ll be here for ten years in some form, but boots-on-the-ground-wise? We’re really almost done.” He said that the U.S. Army doesn’t allow itself to fail, and when I suggested that Iraq hardly looked like a victory the sergeant replied, “So you adjust the standard of success. For me, it’s getting all the Joes home. It’s not that I don’t give a damn about what’s going on here. But that’s how it is.”


I suggested to Senator Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican, who has been a critic of the Administration’s war policy, that this sounded like a variation on the famous advice that Senator George Aiken, of Vermont, gave President Johnson about Vietnam, in 1966: declare victory and go home. “In a twenty-first-century version, yes, probably,” Hagel said. “It won’t be quite that stark.” The Administration, he said, is “finding ways in its own mind for back-door exits out of Iraq.” He added, “We have an election coming up in November. The fact is, we’re going to be pulling troops out, and I suspect it’ll be kind of quiet. We’re going to wake up some morning, probably in the summer, and all of a sudden we’ll be forty thousand troops down, and people will say, ‘Gee, I didn’t know.’ ”


But a good-enough counterinsurgency is really none at all. There is no substitute for the investment of time, effort, and risk that was so evident in Tal Afar. The retreat to the enduring FOBsseems like an acknowledgment that counterinsurgency is just too hard. “If you really want to reduce your casualties, go back to Fort Riley,” Kalev Sepp, the Naval Postgraduate School professor, said. “It’s absurd to think that you can protect the population from armed insurgents without putting your men’s lives at risk.” The policy of gathering troops at enormous bases, he added, “is old Army thinking—centralization of resources, of people, of control. Counterinsurgency requires decentralization.”


Also in attendance was Brigadier Nigel AylwinFoster, a British general who had just published an article in Military Review, out of Fort Leavenworth, which delivered an attack on the American military’s cultural ineptitude in fighting the Iraqi insurgency. Aylwin-Foster, who had served under Petraeus in 2004, when Petraeus led the training mission in Baghdad, told me, “It seemed to be an enigma, the U.S. military as an entity. They’re polite, courteous, generous, humble, in a sense. But you see some of the things going on—if I could sum it up, I never saw such a good bunch of people inadvertently piss off so many people.” When Aylwin-Foster’s article appeared, in December, General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, ordered it to be sent to every general in the Army; I saw it on a number of desks in Iraq.


The killings have created an atmosphere of sectarian hysteria that residents of Baghdad have never known before. Fear and hatred of one’s neighbor are expressed in extreme language.


When I sat down, ten days later, to talk with Jassim, a stout, bearded man in his fifties, he was hyperventilating with rage. “Dirty fuckers, sons of bitches—they have no faith, no religious leaders, since the time of Omar and Abu Bakr until now,” he said of Sunnis, going straight back to the seventh century. “The only reason for this is that we are Shia.” He expressed great bitterness that Sunni religious and political leaders rarely condemn the killings of Shiites, and he despaired of being protected by American or Iraqi security forces. The butcher’s shoulders heaved, and he said, “If our religious leaders gave a fatwa, there would be no more Sunnis in Iraq anymore! Because everybody now has a broken heart. I wish I could catch them with my hands and slaughter them. I could do it—I’m a butcher.”


When I asked Colonel McMaster what Americans could do if a full-scale Iraqi civil war breaks out, he said, “Not a whole hell of a lot.”


Fort Leavenworth has a Center for Army Lessons Learned. There is no equivalent at the White House or the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Last November, the Pentagon issued D.O.D. Directive 3000.05, which declared that “stability operations,” or peacekeeping and security maintenance—which Rums-feld had denigrated in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, questioning why the Pentagon had such a division—were now “a core U.S. military mission that the Department of Defense shall be prepared to conduct and support.” The directive went on, “They shall be given priority comparable to combat operations.” In the obscure world of “stability ops,” D.O.D. 3000.05 was a historic, if belated, document. Careful readers noticed that it was signed not by Rumsfeld but by his deputy Gordon England. In February, Rumsfeld released his Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressionally mandated report setting out long-term military policy. Its language seemed unassailable, focussing on the need for greater capability in civil affairs, military policing, cultural and language expertise, and counterinsurgency, all as part of what the document called “the long war” against global terrorism. But in its budget choices, which reveal the real priorities of the Defense Secretary, the Iraq war had hardly registered. Instead of cutting back on hugely expensive weapons programs in order to build more troop divisions—Iraq has made it painfully obvious that a larger army is necessary for fighting counterinsurgency wars—the review favored the fighter jets and carriers that are the lifeblood of military contractors and members of Congress.


It’s an open secret in Washington that Rumsfeld wants to extricate himself from Iraq. But President Bush’s rhetoric—most recently, in a series of speeches given to shore up faltering public support—remains resolute. For three years, the Administration has split the difference between these two poles, committing itself halfheartedly to Iraq. (Through every turn in the war, the number of troops in Iraq has remained remarkably stable—between a hundred and fifteen thousand and a hundred and sixty thousand.) In 2006, maintaining the status quo no longer seems viable. The midterm elections and the President’s flagging popularity will force Bush to make a choice: either he will devote the rest of his Presidency to staying in Iraq or he will begin a withdrawal.

In “Dereliction of Duty,” McMaster’s book on Vietnam, he described how Lyndon Johnson’s top generals allowed the President to mire American troops in Vietnam with no possible strategy and no public candor. He wrote, “As American involvement in Vietnam deepened, the gap between the true nature of that commitment and the President’s depiction of it to the American people, the Congress, and members of his own Administration widened. Lyndon Johnson, with the assistance of Robert S. McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had set the stage for America’s disaster in Vietnam.” In Tal Afar, I told McMaster that there were more than a few echoes of the Iraq war in his book. He laughed and said, “I can’t even touch that.”

A President who projects a consistently unrealistic message of success to the public; a Defense Secretary who consolidates power in his office and intimidates or ignores the uniformed military; senior generals—Tommy Franks, John Abizaid, Ricardo Sanchez, Richard Myers, and now Peter Pace, Myers’s successor as chairman of the Joint Chiefs—who appear before congressional committees and at news conferences and solemnly confirm that they have enough troops to win: the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, in terms of the moral abdication of leaders, are not hard to see. In one sense, though, the two wars are inversely analogous: in Vietnam, Johnson claimed to be staying out while he was getting in; in Iraq, something like the opposite is happening.


For several months, Rice has tried to force a decision on whether to commit American troops to protecting key sites. Rumsfeld has resisted, and—as with so many issues in Iraq—the White House has made no decision.

The Defense Secretary has even objected to soldiers providing security for the small reconstruction teams that Khalilzad wants to establish in provincial capitals. (Rumsfeld insists that private contractors be used instead.) Final word on the mission has been held up at the White House for months. An Administration official said that the delay showed how badly reality can be “disconnected from the President’s rhetoric of Iraq as the most important thing on the planet.” The official went on, “Certain people at the Pentagon want to get out of Iraq at all costs.” He added, “These provincial reconstruction teams should be resolved in an afternoon. But Rumsfeld doesn’t want to do it, and nobody wants to confront him.”

As a State Department official was preparing to leave for Baghdad recently, a colleague told him, “When you get there, the big sucking sound you’ll hear is D.O.D. moonwalking out of Iraq as fast as it can go. Your job is to figure out how we can fill the gap.”


In 1970, at the height of the pacification program in Vietnam, the U.S. reconstruction teams included seventysix hundred civilians and military officials; in a country the size of Iraq, that would mean eleven thousand people, but barely a thousand positions are planned for the provincial teams in Iraq. The Administration asked an increasingly skeptical Congress for just $1.6 billion in reconstruction funds for the coming year, which means that, though the output of electricity, water, oil, and other utilities still falls well short of prewar levels, the major reconstruction effort in Iraq is now over.


Rice admitted that the American public is “uneasy” about Iraq. Speaking in her precise, academic manner, she analyzed one or two of the Administration’s mistakes. But she kept falling back on the strategy of hope. I asked in several ways about the danger of civil war; her answer was that Iraq won’t have one, because Iraqis don’t want one. And when she turned to the larger questions about the President’s legacy in the Middle East, Rice sounded almost mystically optimistic: “I think all the trends are in the right direction. I can see a path where this turns out as we would want to see it turn out.” She narrowed her eyes. “I can see that path clearly.”

At the Embassy in Baghdad, Khalilzad gave me the impression that he worries about the focus and staying power of the Administration, as if his own sense of urgency had to be constantly signalled to Washington.


He added, “Happy talk is not the way to gain the confidence of the people.”


But if a government forms and the violence—whether sectarian, insurgent, criminal, or some indistinguishable mixture of them all—continues at this extraordinary level, or even intensifies, the U.S. will have played its last card.


In recent remarks, the President and Administration officials, such as Cheney and Rumsfeld, have made it clear that, in the case of an American defeat, they will have a Plan B ready: they will blame the press for reporting bad news. They will blame the opposition for losing the war.


A former Administration official said, “All of us—not just the Administration but Congress and the American people—own the problem of Iraq. But I’m afraid we’re going to cut. We’re unwilling to make the sacrifice and spend the political capital.” He summed up the three years of the Iraq war as three successive kinds of failure: “There was an intellectual failure at the start. There was an implementation failure after that. And now there’s a failure of political will.”
I'm hearing either Richard Armitage or Colin Powell here, maybe.
[...] When I asked Posen about the moral obligation to Iraqis, who will surely be massacred in large numbers without American forces around, he replied, “No one talks about the terrible things that can happen if we stay the course. The insurgents are trying for a Beirut Marinebarracks bombing.”


Dr. Butti’s decision depends on what happens in the next few months, and on the formation of a new government. He doesn’t have much hope for improvement any time soon, but he is looking for some sign of stability. “Or it will go into a civil war, and all will be lost, and there will be nothing to be done here anymore. It’s either this year or none.” He added, “Not one of the Iraqis believes that you Americans should leave tomorrow. Even the Sunni leaders—they announce it in the media, but that’s for, let’s say, public use. They know that we can’t have the American Army leaving the country right now, because, excuse me to say, George Bush did a mess, he must clean it.” He shrugged and smiled, in his pained way. “We are attached in a Catholic marriage with our occupiers. It’s not possible to have a divorce.”
What a fucking mess.

Here is "Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations" by Brigadier Nigel R.F. Aylwin-Foster, British Army; there are a lot of other relevant articles on ounterinsurgency in that issue. I've just started.

Read The Rest Scale for Packer: 5 out of 5; read the whole thing, not just my bits and pieces. Yeah, it's long; it's also kinda important.

Next long reading assignment: Christopher de Bellaigue'S "Iran & the Bomb." I'm just starting on that one.

ADDENDUM: 5:32 a.m.: Almost forgot to mention that Phil Carter visited the land of the fobbits a few weeks ago.

More gear-up on Iran:
In the past week, the State Department created an Iran desk. Last year, only two people in the department worked full time on Iran; now there will be 10. The department is launching more training in the Farsi language and is planning an Iranian career track, which has been difficult without an embassy there.

Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview that the department will also add staff in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates, as well as at other embassies in the vicinity of Iran, all assigned to watch Tehran. He called the new Dubai outpost the "21st century equivalent" of the Riga station in Latvia that monitored the Soviet Union in the 1930s when the United States had no embassy in Moscow.
Lots of hallmarks of more than seriousness. RTRS: 3.5 out of 5.

On the upside, now may be a good time to buy stock on the Iraqi Stock Exchange. RTRS: 3 out of 5, for dour amusement.

ADDENDUM, 4/11/06, 2:48 p.m.: The Atlantic has, at least temporarily, made James Fallows' long war-gamed look from December, 2004, at a military strike on Iran available to all; might want to read it while you can, if you didn't previously.

4/11/2006 03:20:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 2 comments


The plan I am sending you has been approved by many prominent thinkers and
activists in the field. Which includes: Benjamin Ferencz, Chief Prosecutor
at the Nuremburg Trials, Tom Hayden, Matthew Rothschild, Anthony Arnove, Danny Schecter,
Tony Benn- Former Member of the British parliament ,Reggie Rivers,
Robert Jenkins, Andrew Bard Schmookler and others.
I formulated this plan in September 2004, based on a comprehensive
study of the issues. For my plan to be successful it must be implemented
with all seven points beginning to happen within a very short period of
I have run up against a wall of doubt about my plan due to it's
rational nature ,and due to it's adherence to placing the blame on the
invaders, and then trying to formulate a process of extrication which would
put all entities in this conflict face to face, to begin to finally solve
the dilemmas that exist.
If you read my plan you will see that it is guided by a reasonable
and practical compromise that could end this war and alleviate the
internecine civil violence that is confronting Iraq at this juncture in it's
I am making a plea for my plan to be put into action on a wide-scale.
I need you to circulate it and use all the persuasion you have to bring it
to the attention of those in power.
Just reading my plan and sending off an e-mail to me that you received
it will not be enough.

This war must end-we who oppose it can do this by using my plan.
We must fight the power and end the killing.

If you would like to view some comments and criticism about my plan
I direct you to my blog: sevenpointman

Thank you my dear friend,

Howard Roberts

A Seven-point plan for an Exit Strategy in Iraq

1) A timetable for the complete withdrawal of American and British forces
must be announced.
I envision the following procedure, but suitable fine-tuning can be
applied by all the people involved.

A) A ceasefire should be offered by the Occupying side to
representatives of both the Sunni insurgency and the Shiite community. These
representatives would be guaranteed safe passage, to any meetings. The
individual insurgency groups would designate who would attend.
At this meeting a written document declaring a one-month ceasefire,
witnessed by a United Nations authority, will be fashioned and eventually
signed. This document will be released in full, to all Iraqi newspapers, the
foreign press, and the Internet.
B) US and British command will make public its withdrawal, within
sixth-months of 80 % of their troops.

C) Every month, a team of United Nations observers will verify the
effectiveness of the ceasefire.
All incidences on both sides will be reported.

D) Combined representative armed forces of both the Occupying
nations and the insurgency organizations that agreed to the cease fire will
protect the Iraqi people from actions by terrorist cells.

E) Combined representative armed forces from both the Occupying
nations and the insurgency organizations will begin creating a new military
and police force. Those who served, without extenuating circumstances, in
the previous Iraqi military or police, will be given the first option to

F) After the second month of the ceasefire, and thereafter, in
increments of 10-20% ,a total of 80% will be withdrawn, to enclaves in Qatar
and Bahrain. The governments of these countries will work out a temporary
land-lease housing arrangement for these troops. During the time the troops
will be in these countries they will not stand down, and can be re-activated
in the theater, if the chain of the command still in Iraq, the newly
formed Iraqi military, the leaders of the insurgency, and two international
ombudsman (one from the Arab League, one from the United Nations), as a
majority, deem it necessary.

G) One-half of those troops in enclaves will leave three-months after they
arrive, for the United States or other locations, not including Iraq.

H) The other half of the troops in enclaves will leave after

I) The remaining 20 % of the Occupying troops will, during this six
month interval, be used as peace-keepers, and will work with all the
designated organizations, to aid in reconstruction and nation-building.

J) After four months they will be moved to enclaves in the above
mentioned countries.
They will remain, still active, for two month, until their return to
the States, Britain and the other involved nations.

2) At the beginning of this period the United States will file a letter with
the Secretary General of the Security Council of the United Nations, making
null and void all written and proscribed orders by the CPA, under R. Paul
Bremer. This will be announced and duly noted.

3) At the beginning of this period all contracts signed by foreign countries
will be considered in abeyance until a system of fair bidding, by both
Iraqi and foreign countries, will be implemented ,by an interim Productivity
and Investment Board, chosen from pertinent sectors of the Iraqi economy.
Local representatives of the 18 provinces of Iraq will put this board
together, in local elections.

4) At the beginning of this period, the United Nations will declare that
Iraq is a sovereign state again, and will be forming a Union of 18
autonomous regions. Each region will, with the help of international
experts, and local bureaucrats, do a census as a first step toward the
creation of a municipal government for all 18 provinces. After the census, a
voting roll will be completed. Any group that gets a list of 15% of the
names on this census will be able to nominate a slate of representatives.
When all the parties have chosen their slates, a period of one-month will be
allowed for campaigning.
Then in a popular election the group with the most votes will represent that
When the voters choose a slate, they will also be asked to choose five
individual members of any of the slates.
The individuals who have the five highest vote counts will represent a
National government.
This whole process, in every province, will be watched by international
observers as well as the local bureaucrats.

During this process of local elections, a central governing board, made up
of United Nations, election governing experts, insurgency organizations, US
and British peacekeepers, and Arab league representatives, will assume the
temporary duties of administering Baghdad, and the central duties of

When the ninety representatives are elected they will assume the legislative
duties of Iraq for two years.

Within three months the parties that have at least 15% of the
representatives will nominate candidates for President and Prime Minister.

A national wide election for these offices will be held within three months
from their nomination.

The President and the Vice President and the Prime Minister will choose
their cabinet, after the election.

5) All debts accrued by Iraq will be rescheduled to begin payment, on the
principal after one year, and on the interest after two years. If Iraq is
able to handle another loan during this period she should be given a grace
period of two years, from the taking of the loan, to comply with any
structural adjustments.

6) The United States and the United Kingdom shall pay Iraq reparations for
its invasion in the total of 120 billion dollars over a period of twenty
years for damages to its infrastructure. This money can be defrayed as
investment, if the return does not exceed 6.5 %.

7) During the beginning period Saddam Hussein and any other prisoners who
are deemed by a Council of Iraqi Judges, elected by the National
representative body, as having committed crimes will be put up for trial.
The trial of Saddam Hussein will be before seven judges, chosen from this
Council of Judges.
One judge, one jury, again chosen by this Council, will try all other
All defendants will have the right to present any evidence they want, and to
choose freely their own lawyers.

By Blogger sevenpointman, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 9:13:00 AM  


Fascinating site! Your blog was one of the top 3 listed in a search I did with the words "moral, violence, hate". I'm attempting to get a discussion going revolving around the words "moral, tolerance, peace, violence, hate" to see if there's a possibility for constructive change, and would value your input. Please drop by if you have a sec to


By Blogger Thoughtlines, at Tuesday, April 11, 2006 3:06:00 PM  

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