|Got five and a half hours of sleep last night. By 1:30 I had given up trying to fix my column, because my wonderful PC laptop has an interesting quirk: you cant type more than three letters without the cursor jumping somewhere else in the text. I couldnt even file the thing, because the cursor would jump into the header and screw up all the routing information. I called my editor, left a message telling him to pull it from my queue, and went to bed. Up at seven with the feeling that it was going to be a long day. A very, very long day.
Started with the newspaper, of course. Headline: A DOZEN MARINES SLAIN. Subhead: At least 20 wounded in fierce fighting; Iraqi attackers suffer heavy casualties. Sidebar: "LATEST US DEATHS." Story from the Washington Post; three paragraphs before the jump with scant but sufficient context: theres this Al-Sadr out there, a radical Shiite cleric. Last line before the jump: In nearby Fallujah, meanwhile, Marine officers said Tuesday they control the city.
Given the horrible headlines that followed the brutal deaths of four Americans last week, youd think that would be the main story, or at least something that merited a mention in a headline. But a dozen dead Marines is the main story. The reason they died is not the main story. What has been accomplished is not the main story. To me, this is like printing Four Thousand Dead in French Assault and putting Omaha Beach secured in the subhead.
Which one honors the dead more?
Put paper away. Turn on the TV so Gnat can watch the lugubrious Dragon Tales, in which big-headed moppets consort with dragons who can fly despite the obvious insufficiency of their wingspans. Its all scored with oboe and bassoon and flute,, and the music sounds like the bowels of some rich Roman who dined on goat brains and lark thyroid. Every day I hope the show will revolve around the death of the dragons due to some horrible intestinal parasite the moppets bring from their world; every morning I am disappointed. At nine the TV goes off, so Gnat can paint, read, crayon, and counteract the previous 60 minutes spent in a vegetative state. She wants a sausage. I insist she eat grapes first. No grapes are consumed. Well, shell starve, then.
Turn on the radio. The host is playing a clip of Ted Kennedy declaring Iraq is George Bushs Vietnam. Well, Ted, were a long way from Vietnam, when American irresolution condemned millions to the gulag or to exile. Maybe well get to that point, but as you might say, well drive off that bridge when we come to it. But thanks for telling the troops that were going to lose, and that theyre dying for no reason.
CNN characterized Kennedys speech thus:
The Massachusetts Democrat said that Iraq was never a threat to the United States and that Bush took the country to war under false pretenses, giving al Qaeda two years to regroup and plant terrorist cells throughout the world.
(Direct quote:Tragically, in making the decision to go to war, the Bush Administration allowed its own stubborn ideology to trump the cold hard evidence that Iraq posed no immediate threat. )
Compare with his remarks in September, 2002:
No one disputes that America has lasting and important interests in the Persian Gulf, or that Iraq poses a significant challenge to U.S. interests. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime is a serious danger, that he is a tyrant, and that his pursuit of lethal weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated. He must be disarmed.
How can we best achieve this objective in a way that minimizes the risks to our country? How can we ignore the danger to our young men and women in uniform, to our ally Israel, to regional stability, the international community, and victory against terrorism?
There is clearly a threat from Iraq, and there is clearly a danger, but the Administration has not made a convincing case that we face such an imminent threat to our national security that a unilateral, pre-emptive American strike and an immediate war are necessary.
So it was a threat, except that it was never a threat. Senator Kennedy either lied to us, or misled us. Right? No other choices.
Kennedy also noted that iraq was not an imminent threat, and he is correct, in the same sense that Afghanistan was not an imminent threat in 1997, or Germany in 1937, or Russia in 1919.
Incidentally, Kennedy voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. (Yes, hes been around that long.) And against the 1991 Gulf War. (He wanted an economic blockade.) HR 4655, which called for regime change in Iraq, was passed by the Senate in October 1998. By unanimous consent.
See, everyone talked about Saddam, but no one did anything about him.
A caller on the radio show takes issue with the drift of the conversation, and says Bush lied about Iraq being an imminent threat. I turn off the radio. This is Newspeak: you say that we cannot wait for Iraq to become an imminent threat, and this becomes an assertion that Iraq is an imminent threat.
I read some blogs. A few note a Doonesbury cartoon in which the president calls Condi Rice Brown Sugar. Trudeau used quotes: Brown Sugar. Of course we dont see Bush or Rice, since Trudeau cant drawn anything other than four or five basic characters. Its the old Dialogue Appearing Above the White House dodge. Some bloggers note that there would be great outrage if such a cartoon put such words in the mouth of a Democratic president. I think something else is afoot; I think this is a sneak preview of a Drudge headline that will pop up as soon as copies of Woodwards book is leaked. The book will reveal that Bush did, at some point, call Dr. Rice brown sugar, and it will even give us the context. Trudeau used quotes: Brown Sugar. Mark my words.
Back to the radio. Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, a caller says. Fine. Another person who thinks the war on terror means a war exclusively focused on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of everything else that has long-term strategic consequences. Ive had enough. I close the browser, turn off the radio, call up the 40s playlist on the laptop, and for the next hour Gnat and I clean house. Its quite theraputic. Tex Beneke, Django, Der Bingle (did they call him that during WW2?) and the others in lo-fi glory. I clean all the chairs around the kitchen island, do the windows, the inside of the sills, Pledge the ground-floor woodwork and furniture. Keep moving, or Ill fall asleep.
Lunch: I help Gnat make a sandwich with bread and peanut butter. I make myself a sandwich lo-carb bread and lo-carb PB. Then I take her to school, stagger home, and pass out for half an hour. I awake with vim. One might even say I had vigor. I picked her up a few hours later; home to change clothes, then off to gymnastics class at the local community center. No radio, no blogs, no newspapers, just little girls learning how to cartwheel. High giggle factor; its very cute. Gift store: mommys birthday present. Grocery store: mommys cake. Home: she wants to watch Mickey downstairs in the battle bridge, which means a DVD of 1936 cartoons. She falls asleep during the noisiest one. I start supper. Salmon. The filets have little pop-out thermometers that tell you when theyre done. I love the modern world.
I listen to Hewitt while I cook. Kerry quotes.
Bob Edwards: "President Bush says Sadr's defiance can't stand. What should the U.S. do?"
Kerry: "Well, ahh, huh, it's interesting to hear that, when they shut the newspaper that belongs to a legitimate voice in Iraq, and, well, let me change the term legitimate --when they shut a newspaper that belongs to a voice, because he has clearly taken on a far more radical tone in recent days, and aligned himself with both Hamas and Hezbollah, which is a sort of terrorist alignment, so it creates its own set of needs in order to deal with the possible future spread of terrorism. But at the same time, if its unaccompanied by a broader set of moves to try and broaden our own base in Iraq, um, I just think it asks for great difficulties.
Well, thats decisive. As Hugh noted, al-Sadrs radicalism is hardly recent. But lets look at that quote again, stripped to its essence:
"When they shut the newspaper that belongs to a voice, because he has clearly taken on a far more radical tone in recent days, and aligned himself with both Hamas and Hezbollah, which is a sort of terrorist alignment, so it creates its own set of needs in order to deal with the possible future spread of terrorism.
I have no idea what this means. So lets boil it down some more: When they shut down the newspaper it creates it own set of needs in order to deal with the possible future spread of terrorism.
I still have no idea what this means. What does the it refer to? Theres no it present. Theres a they, the entity that shut down the newspaper; perhaps it is the act of shutting down an incendiary broadsheet, but then that created its own set of needs in order to deal with the possible future spread of terrorism oy. He sounded tired. People ramble when theyre tired. But instincts are telling, and Kerrys first instinct seemed to be to complain about shutting down the newspaper, which his mouth believed was legitimate before his brain, or an aide close by, waved hands in the international gesture for NOOOO!
Edwards: "What about holding on to that June 30th deadline for handover of power in Iraq?"
Kerry: "I think the June 30th deadline is a fiction, and they never should have set an arbitrary deadline, which almost clearly has been affected by the election schedule in the United States of America. The test for the transfer of sovereignty is a sovereign entity to transfer it to, and the stability of the region, not some arbitrary date. And I think now they'll wind up with a fiction of a transfer. There'll be some sort of symbolic transfer, but you won't see that much transition in what's happening. And once again this Administration is, is trading in fiction, trading in sort of wishes, and ideology, not in practical diplomacy that serves the needs of the United States."
Different people have taken different things from this quote, but what struck me was the stability of the region. The region? If he meant Iraq, I assume he would have said the stability of the country. The stability of the region is a tall order, given the nature of the place, and besides: were not interested in the stability of the region, if the region is composed of despots and raving mullahcrats.
How, exactly, is handing over power a manifestation of ideology? Mind you, we were pressed from the beginning for an exit strategy, lest an open-ended occupation lead to QUAGMIRE. As the date for hand-over approaches, the usual suspects rise up: fascists, dead-enders, Baathist flunkies, slum scum, radical spiritual leaders, all hoping to forestall something the Arab world rarely sees: transfer of power to a civilian authority with a constitution whose top dog is not the son of the last guy to hold the job.
If the Administration announced that the hand-over would be postponed in light of the uprising of Al-Sadr and his gang, I have no doubt they'd be slammed them for backsliding, improvisation, lack of a plan, seborrhea, psoriasis, etc.
Then, a few hours later with Judy Woodruff:
Kerry: "They are doing [the transfer] in such, a frankly, an inept way, Judy, that they're not really inviting anybody sufficiently to the table. People don't want to go to work for Paul Bremer and the provisional authority. What you need to do is have a transfer of authority for the reconstruction and for the transformation of the government to a legitimate international entity. Every day that goes by that this Administration has refused to do it has complicated the doing of it. They in fact have made it much harder to accomplish what could have been accomplished and should have been accomplished a long time ago. So I refuse to accept that logic from them, and I laid out this plan months ago. They are trying to do it through the back door, almost through the keyhole, rather than openly coming forward and acknowledging they need help."
If I may coin a new term: diplobabble. We have a stark choice: Bushs blunt and frequently inarticulate remarks, versus Kerrys prolix, labrynthic diplobabble. Which legitimate international entity? Not the coalition we have now, obviously. He can only mean the UN, whose dealings with Iraq have not exactly been characterized by high-minded noble intentions. Incidentally: If the US pressured Israel to make peace with the PA and grant massive concessions, would anyone be complaining that the agreement hadnt been run through a legitimate international entity?
Beneath all the diplobabble is a clear tenet of the Kerry Doctrine: Actions are legitimized solely by the quantity of allies. (In the case of Rwanda, Sudan et al, inaction is legitimized by the number of other Great Powers disinclined to act.) Other people dont want to go to work for Paul Bremer, and in Kerrys view thats a problem.
Solution: make our Marines go to work for Kofi Annan.
Questions: when the UN takes control before the hand-over, and refuses to authorize a military response to an assault on coalition troops, and the emboldened rebels kill a dozen Marines in a new attack, can we vote Kofi out of office? Can we sue Hans Blix?
And when the French officials show up to help ease the transition to civilian leadership, what do we say when they insist on banning headscarves for schoolgirls?