2006-06-29

Guantanamo Prediction

You know how I love making predictions, protected in this warm envelope of anonymity as I am.

Hamdan vs Rumsfeld should precipitate the closing of Guantanamo. The international chorus has reached a crescendo over the last few months, forcing Bush himself to say recently that he would like to see the prison closed. It is an universal black mark on our no longer shining city, and it must be addressed. At this point, since it is no longer the legal blackhole the Administration has used it as the last few years, its closure is imminent, barring political considerations. That being said, it still could take some time since we have to make arrangements for the current residents, and, of course, President Bush can't be seen as immediately cowed by something as trivial as an equal branch of government.

Or, I suppose that the Republicans could use this decision to pick a fight by introducing a bill to authorize the military tribunals, but Mr. 35% doesn't have a lot of capital to throw around. If they went for it, you know how it would be: "Democrats and the Supreme Court want to tie the hands of the President in this war on terror." Nevermind that three of the 5 majority justices were appointed by Republicans. Those appointments were "mistakes," you see, thus rendering those judges liberal.

Where do you think the decision will fall? Will the Republican Party embrace the court's decision and move towards ending the legal limbo that is the Guantanamo detention facility, or will they pick a fight with the Democrats to help save their hides in '06? Will policy or politics prevail? As much as we've seen politics as the golden idol of this administration, that doesn't mean they'll view this as a fertile ground to pick those fights. Surely, Republicans will not universally rally to the President's call for unfair tribunals, and if the Democrats can maintain unity we can use that disagreement among Republicans to sow further dissention. Surely, McCain and Graham wouldn't tote the White House line on a such a gambit, right?

What will be the Next Attack?

It is believed that Osama bin Laden nixed the cyanide attack on NY subways because it wasn't spectacular enough. His vision is for every attack to escalate the terror felt by the American people by escalating their overall impact, both physically and psychologically, thereby creating an increasing arc of terror. So, if cyanide wasn't showy enough to clear the bar, what does that leave? How can you top the iconic image of that plane hitting the second tower? Or the image of the two towers shrinking into their growing concrete blooms? I'm an imaginative guy, but I have a hard time thinking up something more spectacular. More damaging, maybe, but not more spectacular.

The 9/11 attacks were spectacular enough to realign our entire ideological system. Your placement on the ideological spectrum is no longer tied to your opinions on social programs, government spending, education, labor and tax policies, but only by your adherence to the radical governing philosophy advanced by this neoconservative administration. Challenging neoconservative ideas makes you an instantly and inarguably liberal, as people like William F. Buckley and George Will have discovered. Senators Hagel and McCain have found themselves cast as moderate mavericks, when they are, in fact, strong traditional conservatives. Instead of the old measurements, we're now placed on a spectrum determined by your views on detainee treatment, torture, pre-emptive war, and whether the President can violate criminal law with impunity. It's made for some strange bedfellows. Who'd have thought that I'd admire Bruce Fein so much?

So, if the images of 9/11 have had that powerful an effect, what can compete with them? What will be the next attack?

Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld

Victory for the constitution! Defeat for the royalists!

Addressing the substance of Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court found that the military tribunals set up to review the cases of prisoners held at Guantanamo are unconstitutional, requiring review of their cases by congressionally established courts. It is with a sense of irony that I note these are the same tribunals set up by the Bush Administration after Hamdi vs Rumsfeld came down holding that the President could not order people held indefinitely without court review. Needless to say, by finding that the President has overstepped his constitutional authority the Supreme Court has delivered a serious blow to the unitary theory of executive power held by the Bush Administration.

But, according to this teaser from Marty Lederman at SCOTUSblog this holding isn't the most important one in the decision:

As I indicated here, the holding that the military commissions are unlawful -- although of enormous significance -- is hardly the most important holding of the Court today in Hamdan. At least three other holdings are likely of greater lasting significance:

1. That the President's conduct is subject to the limitations of statute and treaty.
Additionally, in the process of the decision, the court dismissed the government's argument that when Congress passed the AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force) it silently amended the law to allow military tribunals in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

In the Slashdot parlance, IANAL, but in the context of the NSA spying scandal these two findings are facially important. The Supreme Court has held to be true what we as Americans have known since the revolution: That no American is above the law. There is no American King, and thank god. It seems, to my unlawyerly mind, that these facts demolish any justification the Bush Administration has for calling the NSA spying program lawful, since they directly attack the two arguments the Administration has left. (1) The Congress did not silently amend FISA to allow for the NSA program when the enacted the AUMF. (2) The Congress has the authority to regulate the actions of members of the Federal government, including how the President executes his Article II responsibilities.

You wouldn't have thought those two points would be contested, but this is the Bush Administration, and they have a radical agenda.

Answers by the G8

The French Foreign Minister, about Iran:
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Thursday that Iran must reply to an international plan for resolving the standoff over Tehran's nuclear programme before the G8 summit in two weeks.

"We expect their reply before July 15," Douste-Blazy said during a visit to Moscow for talks with other foreign ministers from the Group of Eight.

"It seems clear to me that Iran will say yes. Then there will be negotiations," he said.

That's essentially the way I saw it, give or take a few days.

2006-06-28

Alerts vs. Real Vulnerabilities

Has anyone noticed how we haven't had a terror alert since the '04 election? Given the following from former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, I think we may conclude a pattern exists:
The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level, Ridge now says.

Ridge, who resigned Feb. 1, said Tuesday that he often disagreed with administration officials who wanted to elevate the threat level to orange, or "high" risk of terrorist attack, but was overruled.

(snip)

"More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it," Ridge told reporters. "Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don't necessarily put the country on (alert). ... There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, 'For that?' "

So, how long until the alerts start popping? An election is coming up, after all. You know there will be "developments" that conveniently remind the American people of the gigantic risk terrorism plays in their day-to-day lives. Otherwise they might notice that their wages have been flat for the last 5 years as the non-millionaire economy stagnates.

Does this make me cynical? It's just that after the deliberate misinformation that took us to war in Iraq, I can't bring myself to trust the Bush Administration on anything national-security related. Domestic politics are too large a consideration for them, controlling everything. It has been said thousands of times that there is no Policy in the Bush Administration - only Politics in the shape of Policy (reference just about any "administration insider" book).

Of course, there are real vulnerabilities out there that terrorists might well exploit. The civilian transit systems are all notoriously insecure, with the possible exception of the airlines. But even for that sector that garnered the most focus after 9/11, we can really only prevent planes from being used as missiles. In my mind, I don't see hijackings occurring again in our skies - or at least hijackings where the hijackers attempt to fly the planes themselves. The American people in the plane wouldn't stand for it. I know that personally, since you're dead either way, I'll be damned if I'm used as a weapon against innocents. But that doesn't mean that planes can't still be blown out of the sky with similar methods to those used to attack the various rail systems around the world. I'm not saying that simple pipe bombs or suitcases full of explosives would work, of course, since our airport security is geared to deterring just such attempts. That's hardly the only avenue to terrorism the bad guys have, though.

The essential problem in this modern age is that the class of chemicals that are technically explosives is gigantic. It's large the way Aires Rock is large, and it's comprised of things you'd never suspect of being explosive. "Make enough soap and you can blow up just about anything," after all. Two or three component explosives could be assembled and armed on airborne planes in the bathroom, for god's sake, and their constituent parts smuggled through security as various clandestine items - shampoo, shaving cream, thread or pipe cleaners. In this age of the supreme agency of the individual, physical security is an increasingly daunting task.

So, will the alert system be used to buoy the Republicans rapidly fading electoral changes in November? I'll do my best to avoid knee-jerk cynicism, no matter how many times we've been burned in the past.

2006-06-27

Redeploying from Iraq is the Consensus

In the last year the static, alarming situation in Iraq has convinced a majority of Americans that redeploying troops out of the country is good policy. Who would expect them to feel differently when almost every indicator we measure shows a worsening of conditions? Empirically, we've been losing this war for quite a while. Electricity, sewage and water services are all worse than they were before the war. Security problems are rampant, from kidnappings of American soldiers to marketplace and mosque car-bombs, and the pace has been increasing. The ballyhooed security lockdown of Baghdad that's been instituted since the permanent government took over hasn't made a noticeable difference in the rate or seriousness of violence.

As an aside, try to imagine living with just a few hours of scheduled power outage a day. It would be personally infuriating, and debilitating to society. Imagine if the trash and sewage weren't easy to deal with in daily life. Even for Iraqis, who are used to more adverse conditions in the form of excesses of executive power under their former Dictatorship, the environment today is one that beats people down. People are driven over the edge, and the violence increases. Innocents die, and their kin feel rage in their blood. Is there any wonder that violence has started to take hold? It is a positive feedback loop, and such patterns are nearly impossible to abrogate.

This is why our invasion was always going to be a ridiculously costly step to address a minimal threat. It was disproportional in the extreme, given that Iraq posed no threat to America, and without an exit strategy or even post-war plan for the country. In fact, Bush recited his part in Bin Laden's playbook. In bin Laden's mind, move over Reagan, because it was bin Laden's war of attrition in a foreign land that bankrupted the USSR, and it is this same strategy which he is executing against us in Iraq.

As part of the "bleed-until-bankruptcy plan," bin Laden cited a British estimate that it cost al Qaeda about $500,000 to carry out the attacks of September 11, 2001, an amount that he said paled in comparison with the costs incurred by the United States.

"Every dollar of al Qaeda defeated a million dollars, by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs," he said. "As for the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars."
A shockingly good point, don't you think? This is the essence of asymmetrical warfare, with the bungling of an incompetent Commander in Chief multiplying the damage by taking the bait.

All of this "irresponsible" pessimism sets the scene for the "Iraq Debate" in the U.S. Congress. We've spent the last few weeks hearing about how any withdrawal of troops would be a shameful, cowardly act which would doom the Iraqi people to the whims of a terrorist government. In fact, Cheney delivered the cutthroat political attack, as usual:
They believe they can in fact force us to quit, that ultimately we'll get tired of the fight, that we don't have the stomach for a long, tough battle, and that we'll pack it in and go home. If we were to do that, it would be devastating from the standpoint of the global war on terror.
The above, coupled with the facts that we are building permanent bases and that the President himself has told us that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq would be for "future Presidents to decide," sends a clear message about the Administration's plan for Iraq. We're in it for the long haul, and withdrawal is failure. More of the Same is their strategy.

In the meantime, the highly praised Iraqi Prime Minister has been busily putting together a National Reconciliation Plan to bring the country together. Unfortunately for Republican rhetoric in the United States, Prime Minister Maliki's plan involves setting a timetable for the phased withdrawal of U.S. Troops. Concomitantly, General Casey has been working on a plan for the substantial withdrawal of troops before October, 2006.

So, the the Democrats want a timetable, the Iraqis want a timetable, the Generals on the ground want a timetable, and the American people want a timetable. So the Democrats are leading this debate, right? So says the future Speaker Pelosi:
"“Republicans have repeatedly and loudly rejected these [Democratic] ideas, using military, diplomatic and national-security arguments that have now been exposed as false. Republicans are determined to reject any Democratic ideas, simply because they come from Democrats, and yet the Bush administration is proceeding with planning reductions in our military presence in Iraq immediately before the midterm elections," Pelosi said in a statement. "“When it comes to Iraq, the only schedule that matters to Republicans is the U.S. election schedule."
So why is it that the Administration would be so two-faced? Perhaps it has something to do with the dire political situation the Republicans find themselves in? For clarity, add a dash of this quote from The Hill:
"The withdrawal of 20,000-40,000 U.S. troops from Iraq this fall would greatly help Republican chances in the November election," Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.)
We now see the reality behind the "conditions based draw-down" that the President ostensibly supports. There is no plan for victory, there is only More of the Same taking us ultimately to a politically motivated timetable designed to save the Republican's bacon. This is cynicism and cowardice of the worst degree that the Bush Administration is advancing. To use the military so transparently, for so many years to meet political goals is disgusting.

The Leader's Illustrious Choreography

A North Korean missile launch is looking less and less likely.
We have no idea, really, whether North Korea is preparing a missile. Or what that missile is capable of doing.

The hype kicked into high gear when the New York Times claimed that the Norks "completed fueling a long-range ballistic missile" over the weekend. But the report is getting fishier by the second. The Norks generally rely on a highly corrosive gasoline-kerosene mix for their missile fuel, and an oxidizer containing nitric acid. It's nasty, metal-eating stuff. And once fueled up, the missile has to be launched quickly -- two or three days, I've been told -- or else the missile is basically ruined.

It's now been four days. And there's been no launch. Which means it's becoming increasingly unlikely that a missile has been fueled. So much for Perry's demand "to strike the [missile] if North Korea refuses to drain the fuel out."

And, of course, there may not be an ICBM at all. Remember, the North Koreans have launched exactly one intermediate-range ballistic missile, in 1998. The thing -- a combination of smaller, Nodong and Scud missiles -- went about 2,000 km or so. Now, U.S. intelligence assumes the Norks have been working on strapping together more Nodongs and Scuds (or, at least, their engines) for an ICBM -- something that can reach three to five times further, and hit the U.S. But no one has actually seen the weapon. Even how many the stages the mystery missile has in unknown; some folks say two, others say three.
On top of this, the "Norks" (as the DefenseTech guys like to call them) have a history of staging shows for the the benefit of our satellites. Remember the viewing stands they were constructing to observe an imminent test of a Nuclear Weapon?

2006-06-26

Lies in the Iraq Intelligence?

The Washington Post has an article about ex-CIA officer Tyler Drumheller's claims that his warnings about faulty Iraq Intelligence went unheeded in the run-up to war.
In late January 2003, as Secretary of State Colin Powell prepared to argue the Bush administration's case against Iraq at the United Nations, veteran CIA officer Tyler Drumheller sat down with a classified draft of Powell's speech to look for errors. He found a whopper: a claim about mobile biological labs built by Iraq for germ warfare.

Drumheller instantly recognized the source, an Iraqi defector suspected of being mentally unstable and a liar. The CIA officer took his pen, he recounted in an interview, and crossed out the whole paragraph.

A few days later, the lines were back in the speech. Powell stood before the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 and said: "We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails."
So, we have yet another example of the Administration deliberately ignoring the facts that don't agree with their predetermined conclusion. They ignore the facts so that, when caught, they can conveniently claim ignorance of the facts that cast their assertions in doubt. As with the aluminum tubes, the reconstituted nuclear program, the tons of operational chemical and biological agents, the Al Qaeda connections, the "mobile chemical weapons trailers" that we found out were mobile outhouses, and now with more of the intelligence Powell used in his infamous U.N. presentation, the Administration presented evidence it had been told was unreliable or flat-out false.

If this happened once or twice, you might reasonably say that knowledge is not perfect within a bureaucracy, and even without rampant incompetence or malfeasance communication up and down the chain might falter on a few occasions. But this is not once or twice, this is a pattern. This is a concerted attempt to use the only excuse available to them - "sure, we were told at one time that this intelligence wasn't worthy, but then we weren't reminded later so it found its way back in." It's an excuse based on ignorance within the "Unitary executive", and this highest of accountability-phobic arguments is all they have left to offer as an explanation for the litany of falsehoods that took us to war.

No, at this point it is much more likely that we were actively mislead to achieve a preordained policy goal. It wasn't that everyone agreed that Saddam had WMDs, it was that everyone we agreed to listen to said he had WMD, and the dissenters were Bush haters that couldn't get over the 2000 election loss - even in the CIA, of all places, that most liberal of Washington institutions. Oy. Our nation's sterling image and honorable military stand in tatters because of this disastrous and dishonest war.

2006-06-22

Alternate Missile Explanation

Defense Tech, a great military technology blog, offers another explanation for the decreasingly imminent North Korean missile test.

It seems that the Taepodong II missile uses a highly corrosive fuel - 20% gasoline and 80% kerosene. The oxidizer even has nitric acid in it, so it's not like you can fuel the missile and go about your business on a casual schedule. Defense Tech's sources say that the missile would need to be launched in the first two or three days, or the missile will basically ruin itself sitting on the pad.

Given that it is now day four since the ostensible completion of fueling over the weekend, it's starting to look unlikely that a missile is actually readied for launch. Is this another screw-up by the intelligence community, an attempt at militaristic diversion by the Bush Administration, or the Norks playing us for chumps? Interesting, in any case.

North Korea's Missile > Our Missile Defense System

The Washington Post reports today:
The United States said Thursday that a U.S. missile-defense system under development has "limited operational capability" to protect against weapons such as the long-range missile North Korea is said to be close to test-firing.
By "Limited Operational Capability," we mean that we can occasionally hit targets that have been specially outfitted to literally screaming EM out at the world, enticing our interceptors onto a nice collision course.
"The way out of this is for North Korea to decide not to test this missile," [National Security Advisor Stephen] Hadley said.
Yeah, that's about what I thought. So why would the North Koreans acquiesce? It certainly doesn't seem that "jeopardizing" the 6-party talks is high on their list of worries. Is this what the game of diplomacy comes down to every time? What can we secretly give them so we don't have to deal with this black eye? How distasteful.

There is another possibility, I suppose. Former Defense Secretary William Perry recommended in an op-ed that we go ahead and hit the missile before it's launched. That was a possibility I didn't see any realistic percentages in.
In the op-ed, Perry said the Bush administration should strike and destroy the missile before it can be launched. Perry noted the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emption, which it used as the basis for sending U.S. troops into Iraq in 2003.

"Therefore, if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched," Perry said in the piece, co-written with Ashton B. Carter, Perry's assistant at the Pentagon.
Zing! Where's your doctrine of preemption now? 'Cuz there's no way in hell we're going to hit the missile while its still on the pad.

2006-06-20

Suskind - Whoa Inducing

Yikes, Suskind's new book The Once Percent Doctrine has got some highly anticipated bombshells, and now that they're here it's surprising. You can see the video here at Crooks and Liars. I love bombshell books, and these are doozies.

We've got revelations about Cheney and Bush's personal relationship and the distribution of power in the White House, CIA judgments about who Osama wanted to win the election, and claims that the Bush Administration bombed al-Jazeera on purpose. That last one is a crime, isn't it? Oh dear.

A New Breed of incompetence

Check out this story by the NYTimes. The Iraqi government didn't know how to dispose of a refinery byproduct called "Black Oil," so rather than asking people who might know how to deal with the nasty goo, they decided to pump it into some open mountain valleys and leaky reservoirs. I hear the clamor now, "But that doesn't seem like a good enough solution, " you're saying to yourself. Well, the Iraqis would have agreed with you, so they took that last critical step - going the last mile to make sure they do it right: They set it on fire.

Did I mention that the sites for this inspired environmental coup are mere miles from the Tigris? But they've got plenty of ground-water in the area, being a desert, so I'm sure they can write the Tigris off if need be. The price of progress!

2006-06-19

Iran's 2003 attempt at diplomacy

Remember back in 2003 when we scolded the Swiss for authenticating and passing on a diplomatic proposal from Iran? Gareth Porter helps us make some sense of the exchange.

Thanks to the Washington Post we finally have details on the contents of that entreaty for engagement.

Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. forces three years ago, an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

So they offered the same deal we're giving them now three years ago... Let's practice some of that highly prized objectivity here: Was that delay the right decision? Well, let's see, what's happened in the last three years that wouldn't have if we had sealed the deal? Oh, right! Enrichment, the only hard thing about making a bomb! (nuclear-material excluded). The Iranians wouldn't have learned how to enrich uranium at all were it not for the Bush Administration. Lemme see... Any other consequences? Well, there have been the years of record oil prices, and the consequent purchases made by those flush Persian devils from their Russian pals. A few years ago I would have given you some form of an unbelievable, but at this point I've the wisdom of my years.

So, once again the Bush Administration's swagger has doomed us all. By which, I mean that they have provided for yet another net loss in terms of the quality of our national security. It is as Dean says it is: You can't trust Republicans to defend you. Rather than negotiating in 2003 - shortly after the May 1, 2003 "Mission Accomplished" embarrasment and at the height of percieved American strength - we choose to negotiate now, when it's clear we have no teeth. Like so much else the Bush Adminsitration has done, it embarrasses me. How will I hold my head with a snooty air at my Parisian dinner parties now?

Let me try to return to objectivity: So, even though we didn't actually gain anything from the delay, what did they think they were going to gain that made them choose to spurn the offer? They were "convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse." But based on what?

Richard N. Haass, head of policy planning at the State Department at the time and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations said... "I did not share the assessment of many in the administration that the Iranian regime was on the brink."

Once again, the State Department was right while everyone else was wrong because the war proponents are princes of wishful thinking! They hoped that the Iranian regime would fall on its own because of the hypnotic power of democracy-spores flowing across their 650 mile border with Iraq. Just like they hoped that the war would be quick and easy. Just as they hoped to unite a people torn by religious/ethnic strife over one thousand years old - strife it had taken a dictator to contain. Just like they hoped the insurgency was in its last throes, or that the reconstruction would pay for itself, or that the result of the war would be a pro-Israel democracy! Pro-Isreal! They actually said that and people believed them. Unreal.

Of course, that's if you're willing to concede that they actually believed what they hoped, and they weren't just talking about their fantastic hopes because they had a private motivation that they couldn't sell as a reason for war. I can't believe that. For so many to have been so stupid and ignored so much evidence... I just can't see it. There's a much more likely explanation.

The Use of Force

Kevin Drum, one of my favorites, has been dealing with serious issues, as usual. Currently he's trying to come to some understanding of where the mythic monolith of "liberals" stand on when it is appropriate to use military force. Well, it just so happens that we have an ongoing real world situation in which to apply our standards for the use of military intervention. North Korea has a long-range, nuclear-payload-capable rocket fueled and sitting on the pad awaiting launch, and the world is wondering what we're going to do about it.

Here's a nifty graphic of the Design Heritage of the missile itself:

The Taepodong-2 Missile is the crowning achievement of P'yongyang's missile program, with an estimated maximum range of over 9000 miles. For those of you counting at home, that's capable of showering D.C. or Miami with a happy confetti-payload and still have excess capacity. Hell, it's enough to hit Bogota!

Rush Limbaugh is on the record thinking that "we've pretty much got to try to shoot it down" if they launch it, but that's hardly a surprise coming from the anti-diplomatic base of the Republican Party. Literally anything else would be appeasement, after all. If Korea's missile is launched, and we intercept it, I think Bush will get a bigger bump than the lousy 1-point he got out of Zarqawi's death.

Condi Rice is getting in on the act, warning the North Koreans against "provocative acts." You may remember the last "provocative act" in '98 when North Korea launched this same missile right over Japan-proper. Of course, at that time they didn't have the nuclear warheads to put at the tip of the missile, but for two countries that have historically just been in love with each other, it's not exactly a subtle message for North Korea to have sent. In contrast to the '98 experience, now we have two Aegis-class destroyers in the area who will serve as early confirmation of the launch and would help coordinate the attempt at interception.

So, sure, there's lots of reasons for us to attempt engagement. But I think the overriding (and yet) underlying issue is, "Do we think we can actually shoot the missile down if we try? " I'm not sure our military experts are convinced it would be a successful demonstration - and can you imagine the PR nightmare if we tried to shoot it down and failed? The anti-ballistic missile defense system has not exactly had a stellar track record when our targets aren't bearing homing transponders at which our interceptors can aim. And by "not stellar," I mean abysmal. I don't think we've ever hit anything under real world conditions.

I'll put my money on someone, somewhere, somehow inducing the North Koreans to forgo the test. If I'm wrong about that, I guess that we don't attempt an interception.

2006-06-12

The Iraq Debate

I see the political debate on Iraq as a politics of contrast proposition. My take is that we can play off a variation of Gingrich's "Had Enough" slogan, wherein the Democrats might need to say nothing more than to repudiate Bush and the Republican's leadership. In this case, the fact of the matter is that we're a minority party, and so without central leadership there can never be 100% unity on an issue as difficult as Iraq. But contrasting our position with President Bush's open ended status-quo commitment seems like an easy win.

The President clearly doesn't have a plan. Or rather, the formulation of "stay the course" is simply another version of having a "secret plan for victory," this time for Iraq instead of Vietnam. Bush knows what the course is, you see, he just can't tell us in any meaningful way. This is why the Democrats have been saying that there is no plan for victory in Iraq. There are no benchmarks, there are no metrics for measuring success, there is only "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But we've trained over 200,000 Iraqis now, and our goal is only 270,000, so where are our troops standing down? You see, without some metric - say, for every 3 brigades of Iraqis that are trained, one of ours redeploys - there is simply is no real victory possible - only a transparent declaration of victory and hasty retreat by order of the Commander in Chief. Without a clear definition of victory, there can be no victory.

By contrast, there is a clear definition of defeat in Bush's strategy: The withdrawal of troops. If we withdraw troops, Iraq will become a safe haven for terrorists, and therefore, withdrawal is not an option. This, combined with the Secret Plan, is supposed to make the American people support our continued deployment while thinking that we'll get out of there sometime "soonish." That's the way the Republicans always spin it - imminent draw-downs, not putting in troops that had been scheduled, etc - in order to make it seem like our commitment there isn't unending. But, in fact, Bush himself has said that the withdrawal "...will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."

So what we're looking at is an essentially limitless commitment. Our boys will be over there getting blown up for at least twice as long as they have been already under Bush's so-called plan. Around 53% of the people want us to withdraw troops in under a year, imagine what the polling would be on the real question: "Would you support leaving U.S. troops in Iraq until 2009?" It would be a blow-out.

This is why I think this debate should be an easy one politically. It's not incumbent on us to set a date-certain for withdrawal. All we as Democrats must say is that "The President will have us in Iraq until at least 2009. The Democrats will change course."

The opposition among the Republicans and their noise-machine will be fierce and so we must be fierce in response. A newly unindicted Karl Rove will spew his poison over the debate, and the Republicans will be united with President Bush in supporting unending war and in calling the Democratic position one of "cutting and running," or "surrender and defeat." It is the bitch-slap theory of campaigning (a phrase coined by Marshall?), whereby slapping the ever-loving rhetorical shit out of your opponent accomplishes two things. First, the content of the attack itself casts doubt on your policies and thereby bolsters the attacker's position - in this case equating anything other than "stay the course" with surrender. Secondly, if you don't hit back just as hard it shows that you aren't made of the "right stuff" to be President and protect this country. If you don't have the stones to fight viciously when you're viciously attacked, how will you protect America from the madmen of the world? So when the Republicans call us Democrats cowards, or traitors, or accuse us of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, we've got to all be a bit more like Jack Murtha and come back swinging.

The reasonableness and effectiveness of a message is directly correlated to how many people say it, and how many times it is said. By forcefulness and consistency of response, we will win this debate. It should be possible to herd the cats together on this one. Opposition to Bush's never-ending war and the promise to change course in Iraq is a powerful message.

Warrantless Wiretapping Town Hall

This is a great webcast on the topic of the NSA warrantless spying on Americans case. The ACLU has a case pending in court, and has a page hosting the Town Hall meeting.

The guy 2nd from the left is Bruce Fein, who was the Deputy Attorney General in the Reagan Administration. He's got impeccable Conservative and Republican credentials, and at this point, he's kinda fiery. I've watched him over the last year or so get more frustrated with the legal contortions the Bush Administration has been engaging in. With the advent of the warrantless spying case, he's pretty ticked. This is the kind of Republican I like, as a Libertarian Democrat (McCain need not apply).

There are a couple other people on the panel, but it's basically a Bruce Fein show, and it's spectacular. You can listen to all of it, but 13:32 and 25:18 is where I would begin if I were you.

2006-06-10

Iranian Counter Proposal

The Iranians are said to be considering a counter-proposal to our proffered deal. Unfortunately, unlike the deal already on the table, we know nothing of the contents of the counter-offer the Iranians are contemplating. I expect that murkiness to disperse quickly if they actually deliver a counter-offer. Just try keeping it secret, State Department. I dare you.

Still, this looks like real diplomacy to me. This is just the Iranians doing all the jostling for position they can before the actual event. This will work. War will be avoided... And Iran will have a full fuel cycle on their soil, with all the concomitant expertise that implies. That's clearly a victory, because war would be a catastrophe - but it's definitely victory with a small "v."

Cortical Algorithm

YKos has sucked so much blog-talent out of the online world that there's nothing exciting to read. You can interpret that statement as, "YKos has made the internet boring." I know what you're thinking: "Cry me a river, liberal."

So, what I've been thinking about instead is the Cortical Algorithm via the Memory-Prediction Framework, a little side project I've been working on for the last 6 months or so. If you have heard of it, then you must have read On Intelligence by Jeffrey Hawkins. If so, bully for you.

Hawkins introduces his book thusly:
The book starts with some background on why previous attempts at understanding intelligence and building intelligent machines have failed. I then introduce and develop the core idea of the theory, what I call the memory-prediction framework. In chapter 6 I detail how the physical brain implements the memory-prediction model√É‚—in other words, how the brain actually works. I then discuss social and other implications of the theory, which for many readers might be the most thought-provoking section. The book ends with a discussion of intelligent machines√É‚—how we can build them and what the future will be like.
"... the most thought-provoking section?" What a laugh, Jeff. Anyone who hasn't thought through the implications of intelligent machines hasn't been an active intellectual participant in the Information Age. You want an exposition on the implications of intelligent machines and post-singularity theory? How about dipping your toe into the provocative The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect. A word of warning on that link: chapters 1 and 3 nearly made me sick, so I can't give it an unqualified endorsement.

No, in fact the most interesting part of On Intelligence was the articulation of a theory of consciousness. Not just random facts about the way subprocesses work in the brain, but a unified description of the way the brain works. I believe there is no magical consciousness-juice that needs to be sprinkled on a brain in order to arrive at a sense of "I," so On Intelligence provides an almost complete framework for implementation.

There are a few central tenets to the memory-prediction framework. First, cortex is cortex - any part of it can do the work of any other. This can be illustrated by the cliched examples of the blind man developing a higher hearing acuity as his unused visual cortex finds things to do. Therefore, there must be a single Cortical Algorithm being run by the cortex that is equally suited to processing sound as it is vision.

Secondly, the task of cortical units is to learn patterns, and predict what will happen in the future based on the currently prevailing pattern. In a sense, the brain is just a big pattern matching machine. The patterns that are presented to it differ based on what input stream is providing it - auditory, somatosensory, visual, proprioception, etc - but they are just patterns, and recognizing and predicting sequences of those real-world patterns is the cortex's primary purpose. We use that limited ability to predict the future for everything from catching a ball to daydreaming.

Thirdly, there is a hierarchy of abstraction in the cortex, with higher levels representing "larger" or more complex concepts, or concepts that are operative over an extended period of time. Patterns that are unrecognizable to lower levels of the hierarchy are passed to their superiors, who either have a name for that pattern and therefore have expectations, or are also stumped and continue handing them up the chain.

From there we start getting into the weeds of technical specifics, so I'll adjourn.

The great thing about the theory is that it actually has the meat to convince you of its power. I'm convinced that if I could build a sufficiently powerful and capacious system, give it a set of real-world input streams tied to interconnected cortical algorithm units, that a working intelligence would be grown - just as we grow babies into thinking adults.

So, my current task for implementing a computer-based algorithm is trying to design a way to grow the network of constituent neurons and cortical columns without the problem of biasing your network towards randomness. It's fun.

2006-06-08

Al Qaeda in Iraq

Lets hope that blowing up Zarqawi, Prince of Al Qaeda, takes them off their game for a while. It's not even being referred to as a "corner" turned, so at least our leadership is being realistic about how little this means. Having him dead is definitely a good thing, and every little bit helps, but it will hardly solve our Iraq problem.

Steve Benen, filling in for Drum at the Washington Monthly, reminds us all that Zarqawi could have been dead long before he was dead:

NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself -- but never pulled the trigger.

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.

"Here we had targets, we had opportunities, we had a country willing to support casualties, or risk casualties after 9/11 and we still didn't do it," said Michael O'Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings Institution.

And why did we not strike at Zarqawi? Because it was already becoming clear that this war was not going to be one of necessity, and if we were able to strike at the terrorists without committing troops, why commit the troops? It would have decreased public support for a full invasion, and then Bush couldn't have been seen as a War President, key to having a "successful Presidency."

I'm a Libertarian Democrat

Yes, yes, yes! Libertarian Democrats! It feels like reading the inside of my head. Goo-ey.

Kos's piece sums up my views exactly.

Details about the Iranian Deal

Well, it's official: we've sent over a real proposal to Iran. This is real diplomacy, at least in the sense that we're presenting deals that are not *designed* to be unacceptable. It appears, based on the Washington Post's reporting, that we've offered a generous deal that Iran should be able to accept, even if they are intent on weapons capability.
The confidential diplomatic package backed by Washington and formally presented to Iran on Tuesday leaves open the possibility that Tehran will be able to enrich uranium on its own soil, U.S. and European officials said.

That concession, along with a promise of U.S. assistance for an Iranian civilian nuclear energy program, is conditioned on Tehran suspending its current nuclear work until the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency determines with confidence that the program is peaceful. U.S. officials said Iran would also need to satisfy the U.N. Security Council that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon, a benchmark that White House officials believe could take years, if not decades, to achieve.

But the Bush administration and its European allies have withdrawn their demand that Iran abandon any hope of enriching uranium for nuclear power, according to several European and U.S. officials with knowledge of the offer. The new position, which has not been acknowledged publicly by the White House, differs significantly from the Bush administration's stated determination to prevent Iran from mastering technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

"We are basically now saying that over the long haul, if they restore confidence, that this Iranian regime can have enrichment at home," said one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But they have to answer every concern given all that points to a secret weapons program."
In fact, we've gone farther than I would have expected, offering the Iranians permission to minimally enrich uranium within their borders in order to secure their fuel cycle. This deal is more liberal than I'm comfortable with, truthfully, since the knowledge gained from that low level enrichment process can be applied to clandestine research in weapons-grade enrichment.

And that raises an interesting point. The technological "point of no return" or "point of inevitability" was constantly invoked by the Bush Administration, and to a certain extent they were right. Knowledge is a difficult thing to come by, and the technological knowledge to build a bomb proceeds the actual bomb by quite a long time. Hell, everyone *knows* how to build a bomb if you've got the enriched material already - take two subcritical masses that when added together are a supercritical mass, and combine them as quickly as possible while simultaneously not standing anywhere nearby. Easy. But sophistication with enrichment and handling of materials is significant, and the deal we're presenting will allow them to develop that to a potentially problematic level.

So who's been moderating the Administration's positions so heavily? Who's been doing our negotiating? Because this marks the second nuclear deal where we've played a strong hand as if it were a weak one - nearly giving away the farm in the process. First there was India, where we gave them everything they wanted (military reactors, namely) in exchange for what, exactly? Help in the war on terror? Decrease petroleum demand from India? Please. And now we've given the Iranians a full fuel cycle.
Speaking privately, a senior Iranian official said that the offer appeared to have much worthy of consideration.

European and American diplomats expressed relief.

"Our first aim was already achieved because they didn't reject" the offer, one European diplomat said.
Oy. As much as I think a diplomatic solution is of paramount importance, this is not exactly the negotiating posture I would have liked to see.

The Iranians should reply by the G8 meeting - mid July. Of course, that means they wont... but they will soon enough.

2006-06-06

Talking with Iran

My concerns about our commitment to real diplomatic engagement with Iran are decreasing. Our initial precondition to talking with Iran had been the sticking point worrying me. But now the private offer has been delivered to the Iranian government, and they're looking at it... without having first ceased their enrichment program. In other words, the big deal-breaking precondition isn't a precondition at all. It's nothing more than part of the deal offered. Take the requirements the deal places upon Iran and tack on the non-enrichment requirement, that's all. But, of course, it looks like we're playing tough - having our demands met and all of that. It's brilliant, and it's exactly the sort of shadowy, behind the scenes goings on in the State Department that I expect from my diplomats. Bully.

2006-06-05

Iran, Condi, and Expectations

An interesting dynamic is being set up in my head, and I'm wondering if it's getting wider resonance - outside the confines of my skull, that is. The Bush Administration has made such a colossal screwup of their foreign policy objectives that the "expectations game" is ridiculously skewed in their favor, even for me. Basically, if we can declare a semblance of victory re: Iran without having to drop a single bomb, it's a victory. But it's not just a victory. Viewed next to the efforts with Iraq, North Korea, and Darfur, it's a veritable Wonder of the World. It's the Babylonian Hanging Gardens or Foreign Policy. It's Sisyphus finally getting the rock stable at the top of the hill. It's the Rachmaninoff of Diplomacy.

Condi benefits from this in a serious way. She'll be hailed as not just competent - something in serious dispute after her stint as NSC advisor - but as visionary. Get out your vellum, boys in the conservative press, it's time for another hagiography.

Vulnerable Oil

First, a change in policy from the Supreme Leader:
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, said on Sunday that if the United States makes a "wrong move" toward Iran, energy flows in the region would be endangered.

Iranian officials have previously ruled out using oil as a weapon in their nation's nuclear standoff with the West, but Khamenei's comments suggested Iran could disrupt supplies if pushed.

Next, proof that they could do it:
Two months ago, Iran staged naval war games in the Gulf, a shipping route that accounts for two-fifths of all globally traded oil. Analysts interpreted the maneuvers as a message Iran could disrupt vital oil supply lines if it came under international pressure. (emphasis mine)
This is an acknowledgement from the Iranians that the threat they face in the ongoing situation is real, and although they could affect oil shipments, I hope they believe the cost to their government would be too great. It would be the ultimate pyrrhic victory, since our rage would be unparalleled. Think our reaction to the murders of 3000 Americans on U.S. soil was harsh? Just wait until oil hits $250 a barrel.

Real Diplomacy?

As crazy as I might be for falling for this, it looks like the Bush Administration is pursuing real diplomacy with Iran. First, we're not hearing any more "why would a country with so much oil want a nuclear program" foolishness. Iran has a right to civil nuclear technology, so it's nice we're no longer predicating success upon removing Iran's nuclear program all together. That's a significant change in our approach.

Secondly, we're ignoring the inflammatory public face of Iran - the crazy-ass, but largely powerless president. Dr. Rice, who was everywhere these last couple of Sunday mornings, basically pretended all the negative rhetoric didn't exist. "The Iranians are refusing to stop enrichment prior to engaging your deal," says the interchangeable-interviewer-man, and Condi just soldiers on, explaining that they didn't view it as a rejection since the deal hasn't been presented it yet. I mean, that's old-school brilliant - straight up, Kennedy style. Just ignore the parts you don't want to hear!

Thirdly, she won't discuss the terms of the agreement being presented, because "Iran should be allowed to consider it first." I think, in order for this diplomacy to succeed for the participants politically, it's going to have secret components. The divide is just too wide to bridge without some clandestine assurances.

The problem I have with really believing our good intentions is that the public doesn't see much while genuine diplomacy is going on. We could be engaging in a serious minded way, trying every tool in the box to achieve our goals behind the scenes... or we could be making a big show of attempting diplomacy while simultaneously including provisions that are sure to derail the process and give us an excuse for confrontation. Our tactic requiring cessation of enrichment before diplomatic engagement is problematic, for instance, since that would be the main concession we'd be aiming for during the talks themselves. All the same, I'm on board the diplomacy train at this point. We'll see how it goes in the next "few weeks" that Rice says Iran has to decide if it's interested.

2006-06-03

Pissed off Evangelicals

Yup, they're not buying it.
"I'm going to go and hear what he says, but we already know it is a ruse," said Joe Glover, president of the Family Policy Network, which opposes gay marriage. "We're not buying it. We're going to go and watch the dog-and-pony show, [but] it's too little, too late."
Not an unexepected reaction, I must say.

Cafferty on the FMA

Jack Cafferty's is by far and away my favorite pressence on CNN. He's got that old-guy grit that brooks no foolishness, making him unafraid to call bull. And he makes me feel really young, so that's interesting. "I must be at least 80 years younger than that guy, right?"

Well, he weighed impressively on the Federal Marriage Amendment talk that's going down on Monday:
BLITZER: Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty has "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Guess what Monday is? Monday is the day President Bush will speak about an issue near and dear to his heart and the hearts of many conservatives. It's also the day before the Senate votes on the very same thing. Is it the war? Deficits? Health insurance? Immigration? Iran? North Korea?

Not even close. No, the president is going to talk about amending the Constitution in order to ban gay marriage. This is something that absolutely, positively has no chance of happening, nada, zippo, none. But that doesn't matter. Mr. Bush will take time to make a speech. The Senate will take time to talk and vote on it, because it's something that matters to the Republican base.

This is pure politics. If has nothing to do with whether or not you believe in gay marriage. It's blatant posturing by Republicans, who are increasingly desperate as the midterm elections approach. There's not a lot else to get people interested in voting on them, based on their record of the last five years.

But if you can appeal to the hatred, bigotry, or discrimination in some people, you might move them to the polls to vote against that big, bad gay married couple that one day might in down the street.

Here's the question: Is now the time for President Bush to be backing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
Crooks and Liars likes highlighting Jack's work in streamable video form. Here are some choice samplings of Cafferty outrage: The Lunatic Fringe (FMA), Just Do It (ignoring laws), Photo Ops (Katrina), This is Nonsense (Media and Iraq), and IDs will Exclude Voters. And that's just the first few that popped out at me. He's punchy, that Cafferty.

Bush Loves Sinking Ships

Bush is tying himself to yet another doomed legislative effort, and flip-flopping to boot in order to accomplish that self-defeating goal. After pledging in 2005 not to push the Senate to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment, he's decided to push the Senate to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment. Guess why? 'Cuz he's in the low thirties, midterms are about turn-out, and if someone doesn't turn out to vote for Republicans in the midterms his Presidency is over, and his legacy is mud.

Still, is there any chance this will actually help? Will this make the evangelicals forget how little of their agenda has even been attempted, much less passed? It's no secret that they aren't happy with the "progress" being made. I mean, this is literally an 11th hour play. This isn't Presidential Leadership on one of their seminal issues - the Senate was taking up the Amendment anyway. Bush just looks like he's jumping on for the rhetorical ride, and I doubt it will change the mind of Dr. Dobson, who's been driven to making threats:
DOBSON: I wish the -- not only the Democrats -- but the Republicans would -- begin to take stock of what they're doing to the family. You know, it's been over a year now since the presidential election and Republicans have been in power in the House and the Senate and in the White House, and there is very, very little along the lines of what we're talking about to show for it. There's very little that has been accomplished that relates to social -- conservative social issues: the pro-family agenda; the pro-moral agenda; the sanctity of life. There's just nothing going on, and I know there are a lot of people out there that are pretty irritated at both parties, frankly, for that.
Yes, James, the Democratic Party stalwarts are in an uproar that we're not passing pro-life legislation. There's no way we're going to the polls unless they get cracking and controlling more parts of my life! Yeesh. The man is seeing the Republican Party - the one he's put so much time, energy and money to help develop - reneg on their end of the deal because their agenda is wildly unpopular. Poor Republicans... almost every agenda item they have outside of tax cuts would get them promptly un-elected if they really followed through.

2006-06-02

Glenn's Second Triumph

Glenn Greenwald's influential book, How Would A Patriot Act, has hit the NYTimes Best Seller's List in its first week of eligibility! Booya!

Glenn has a post talking about the success and what it means going forward. Congratulations, once again.

2006-06-01

The Republican't Party

I know I've been annoyed by the continous use of "Democrat Party" to refer to my increasingly beloved Democratic Party. It's a bully's tactic, and I'm irked by it. So this strikes me as having potential as a response.

Iran has Weeks to Decide

Doh!
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in reaction to the U.S. offer on Wednesday that Tehran was open to talks on "mutual concerns,' but rejected Washington's pre-condition that it stop enriching uranium, the fuel for nuclear reactors and a vital component in atomic bombs.
Damnit, Iran. Sure, you're not doing anything illegal with your enrichment; Sure, America is in a precarious position next door; Sure, our military is badly stretched as it is; Sure, Iran's retaliatory ability is significant, but haven't you been paying attention? We've got crazy people in charge over here! There's no telling what they might do! And what does stopping enrichment for a month or two cost you? Nothing except the inconvenience to your scientists!

Damnit, it's this kind of action that makes people think that they really are interested in a nuclear weapon. And yet, the one thing that our Cowboy Commander and the Iraq War did accomplish for American foreign policy - giving us the crazed look in our eyes that says we mean business - wasn't enough to dissuade them from the course.

Nobly, the U.S. holds out hope:
"We would hope over the next several days they (Iran) would take some time and carefully consider it," [White House spokeswoman] Perino said, referring to the U.S. offer of joining multilateral negotiations.

Addendum: The word sure looks fake somehow when you type it too many times.