Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Best of Spencer Ackerman Weekly--December 9, 2006 Edition

I continue to get great value from my $60 two-year subscription to Spencer Ackerman weekly (http://toohotfortnr.blogspot.com/). Here are this week's highlights: (1) Never fire your best polemicist. (2) On the Iraq Study Group. (3) On the Party of Ali in Iraq. (4) On why Heidi Klum would have been a better chair for the ISG than James Baker. (5) And, finally, becoming completely unhinged through reading Left Behind.


(1) Never fire your best polemicist:

toohotfortnr: Wow, I didn't expect to be so angry -- like, hands-quivering angry -- when I read this week's T[he ]N[ew ]R[epublic] lede, which I gather was written by Leon [Wieseltier]. But here it is:

But at least it is no longer defeatist or heretical or treasonous or (the most absurd muzzle of all) cruel to the troops to articulate lucidly the magnitude of the mess in Iraq and the steady dwindling of America's power to achieve its goals.

How many times, guys? How many times did you intimate to me that I was in league with the terrorists when I told you to get out of Iraq? Hey, Leon, do you remember the editorial meeting after the Blackwater lynching in late March 2004? That was the first time I said I thought the war was unwinnable, and that was the first time you told me ("joking," of course) that I was fired. Yeah, it was funny the first time, I guess, but after the next hundred, the joke gets kind of old.

And I notice you stop short of giving your blessing of seriousness to the idea of withdrawal, "which is politically the most sensational question." Guys, if you don't know what you think about the issue, just say so. It's a bit rich to chastise Baker et. al. for evasiveness while committing your own evasions. Of course, Leon writes these ledes on the late afternoons of the day (Wednesday) that the magazine closes, so you can't really expect much depth. How tragic that they believe it's better to mean nothing than to say nothing...

(2) On the Iraq Study Group:

TAPPED: MORE IMPORTANTLY? I spent my morning at the Iraq Study Group's press conference on the Hill. (I'll have a piece for TAP on all this imminently.) Many bizarre things were said, but one that revealed the ISG's midset particularly well was this, courtesy of co-chair Lee Hamilton:

"We have one last chance at making Iraq work, and, more importantly, one last chance to unite this country on this war."

Jigga what? Why is it more important to rally the country behind a war that has only "one last chance" to it? Why is it important at all? What's the virtue of uniting behind a mission that's crashing and burning? And, if you believe that it's really important to "win" (or, at least, "not lose") the war, why would you possibly think that uniting the country behind that objective is even more important than the objective itself?...

(3) On the Party of Ali in Iraq:

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of SCIRI and commander-in-chief of the fearsome Badr Corps, left his meeting today with President Bush for a brief appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace this afternoon. I asked Hakim: You've been accused of the abduction, torture and execution of perhaps thousands of Sunnis. How do you respond?

He said, through a translator: "Those are only accusations. We deny them all, we reject them all. There is no evidence of any of that. It happens that there was an armed group by the name of the Badr Brigade, but by the order of Sayyid Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim [Abdul Aziz's murdered brother], they became a civil group known as the Badr Organization in 2003. Since then there has been no violence by them, no fighting."

There you have it! Hakim also wants to see the civil war escalate, according to his prepared remarks: "The strikes that [Sunni insurgents, takfiris -- his term -- and Baathists] are getting from the multinational forces are not hard enough to put an end to their acts, but leave them [to] stand up again to resume their criminal acts. This means that there is something wrong in the policies taken to deal with that danger threatening the lives of the Iraqis. Eliminating the danger of the Civil War in Iraq could only be achieved through directing decisive strikes against takfiris [the prepared statement, corrected by the translator, reads "terrorists" here], Baathists [and] terrorists in Iraq. Otherwise we'll continue to witness massacres being committed every now and then against the innocent Iraqis."

(4) On why Heidi Klum would have been a better chair for the ISG than James Baker:

American Prospect Online - No Middle Ground: Given the specific lineup of the 10 wise men and women serving on the Iraq Study Group, the most conspicuous absence is that of supermodel Heidi Klum. Sure, she has no relevant experience in foreign policy, nor any real knowledge of Iraq -- but neither do commissioners Sandra Day O'Connor, Vernon Jordan, Alan Simpson, or Edwin Meese. What Klum does have to offer is a lesson completely lost on the commission, one taught each week on her hit reality show Project Runway: you're either in, or you're out. When it comes to Iraq, it's good advice.

From the commission's perspective, however, such advice would represent a dangerous breakdown of Washington's most enlightened foreign-policy tradition -- that is to say, bipartisanship.... Its report refuses to bless the idea of sending new combat forces to Baghdad... and it also blanches at what Baker called "precipitous withdrawal," the position held by many in the Democratic Party, the country as a whole, Iraq, and the world....

[T]he Iraq Study Group is ultimately providing false hope for an extended war. Its assessment is appropriately bleak. For example, "Key Shia and Kurdish leaders," the commission finds, "have little commitment to national reconciliation." Now, given that these leaders comprise the Iraqi government, one might think that would lead to the conclusion that Iraq is doomed to an intensifying sectarian conflict, and unless one believes it is in the United States' interest to pick a side in someone else's civil war, that means it's time to go home. Instead, the commission, despite its own better judgment in its report, is gearing up for what Hamilton called "one last chance at making Iraq work." It's hard to see what's responsible about this....

[T]he commissioners say that we "must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq." But that's exactly what the commission's recommendation entails.... [T]he commission's assessment of the Iraqi government undermines its recommendations.... The Shiites are said to be "hostage to extremes." The Sunnis "have not made the strategic decision to abandon violent insurgency in favor of the political process."... And the Kurds want out.... [E]ach side believes it has more to gain through war than through negotiation....

Where it goes wrong is in its recommendation that we should be actively supporting an Iraqi political process that is hostage to such dysfunction and sectarian chaos. After all, if none of the relevant actors within the Iraqi government or in the political structure at large is interested in peace, pressuring them to just make nice with one another isn't going to work....

There is something of an upshot to the commission... it will shift the Iraq debate in favor of the modalities of extrication.... Bush will have a very hard time recommitting the country to a chimerical "victory" in Iraq. But in the name of "responsibility," thousands more will die, for years and years, as the situation deteriorates further. Someone, at sometime, will finally have to say "enough," and get the United States out...

(5) And, finally, becoming completely unhinged through reading Left Behind:

...the worst and most repugnant novel ever to have sullied my eyeballs: the first in the Left Behind series.... Leave aside for one second the hideous plot. The series' two authors, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, mangle the language in a way I haven't seen since high school. At one point they employ the image of a juggernaut sailing across the waters....

All right, a second is up. Left Behind is a despicable revenge fantasy perpetrated with a malicious heart by the sort of vile believer who sees only impurity around him. It hinders his ascension, and he must have satisfaction. So many so-called Christians are left behind after the rapture, and the sneering attitude by LaHaye and Jenkins informs you that they told you so.

The novel's enemies are familiar. Perfidious Europe. The secular and venal national media. The United Nations. The Jew. There's even Catholic-bashing of the ancient vintage: the unraptured President of the United States is an earthy lout named Gerry "Fitz" Fitzhugh. The Jew is my favorite enemy, of course. Israeli Dr. Chaim Rosenzweig creates a formula to make the desert bloom (thanks for that Ben-Gurion reference, assholes) and uses his resulting prestige to usher the Antichrist onto the world stage. Hey Krauthammer, these are your friends here.

This one passage, I think, sums the whole wretched thing up. Our hero, Buck Williams, ace reporter for the Global Weekly, first gets introduced to God when he witnesses the miraculous destruction of the Russian Air Force as it attacks Israel....

Why, Buck wondered.... [W]hat despicable kind of subhuman creature had he become, that even the stark evidence of the Israel miracle--for it could be called nothing less--had not thawed his spirit's receptiveness to God?

"What despicable kind of subhuman creature"! They're talking about you. Because they are the righteous.

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