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July 18, 2004 - The Case Against Playing Fair

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Charles Pierce is rather good in Alterman’s MSNBC Friday, as he suggests it may be time to decide if one is to play by the rules –


There really is only one issue in this election.

Since the Extended Florida Unpleasantness, this has been an Administration utterly unconcerned with any restraints, constitutional or otherwise, on its power. It has been contemptuous of the idea of self-government, and particularly of the notion that an informed populace is necessary to that idea. It recognizes neither parliamentary rules nor constitutional barriers. (Just for fun, imagine that the Senate had not authorized force in Iraq. Do you think for one moment that C-Plus Augustus wouldn't have launched the war anyway, and on some pretext that we'd only now be discovering was counterfeit?) It does not accept the concept of principled opposition, either inside the administration or outside of it. It refuses to be bound by anything more than its political appetites. It wants what it wants, and it does what it wants. It is, at its heart, and in the strictest definition of the word, lawless. It has the perfect front men: a president unable to admit a mistake because he's spent his entire life being insulated from even the most minor of consequences, and a vice-president who is viscerally furious at the notion that he is accountable to anyone at all. They are abetted by a congressional majority in which all of these un-American traits are amplified to an overwhelming din.

So, now we are faced with the question: Do you want to live in a country where these people no longer feel even the vaporous restraints of having another election to win?

BUSH-CHENEY UNLEASHED. Up or down? Yes or no?


Well, that is blunt.

Is this the one issue? See the fellow who writes under the pseudonym “Digby” in the February 25, 2004 issue of The American Street where he gives us this -


Republicans are temperamentally unable to compromise because they see things in black and white, Manichean terms - otherwise known as Yer-With-Us-Or-Agin-Us, My-Way-Or-The-Highway or the I'll-Hold-My-Breath-Until-I-Turn-Blue philosophy of politics.

…Democrats' collection of interest groups means that activists who agitate for certain issues like gay rights or choice are more willing to compromise because they are usually personally affected by government and are therefore, more apt to feel the immediate consequences of incremental change. (Regardless of the motivation, it seems to me that Democrats are just more "into nuance" e.g. smarter.)

… if this description of the Republicans political viewpoint is correct it illustrates why they are fundamentally unqualified to govern in a democratic system. If one is unwilling to compromise then any kind of bipartisan consensus is impossible and rule by force becomes inevitable.


And then the question becomes, is that what most folks really want – rule by force?

Would a majority of those who vote in the next election actually prefer to be ruled by a junta of strong men answerable to no one? In a way, that would make life easier, less ambiguous, and perhaps safer for us all, and no one would have to be bothered with being forced to participate in matters of arguing over what has been done, what is being done and what should be done. One could just go to work, come home play with the kids, shop at the mall, and generally just get on with the normal stuff of life. No political bullshit and big questions floating around.

It sounds tempting and we shall see if that is what folks choose.

But what would that look like operationally?

This hit the wires Friday – news from the new Iraq.

According to this in the Sydney Morning Herald (byline Paul McGeough) -


Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings.

… "The prisoners were against the wall and we were standing in the courtyard when the Interior Minister said that he would like to kill them all on the spot. Allawi said that they deserved worse than death - but then he pulled the pistol from his belt and started shooting them."

Re-enacting the killings, one witness stood three to four metres in front of a wall and swung his outstretched arm in an even arc, left to right, jerking his wrist to mimic the recoil as each bullet was fired. Then he raised a hand to his brow, saying: "He was very close. Each was shot in the head."

… The Herald has established that as many as 30 people, including the victims, may have been in the courtyard. One of the witnesses said there were five or six civilian-clad American security men in a convoy of five or six late model four-wheel-drive vehicles that was shepherding Dr Allawi's entourage on the day. The US military and Dr Allawi's office refused to respond to questions about the composition of his security team. It is understood that the core of his protection unit is drawn from the US Special Forces units.


The story was later picked up by another Australian paper, The Age and later by UPI and Bloomberg.

I suspect CNN and AP and the rest won’t touch this with a ten-foot pole unless it is confirmed with multiple more-reliable-than-Australian-surfer-dudes sources.  Maybe not even then.  It probably is not true at all, only a “plant” by the bad guys.

And even if it is true - so what?  The guys probably deserved it.  A good number of folks would no doubt like Bush himself to take a side-trip to Guantánamo and do the same thing to the remaining five hundred or so folks we have held there for almost three years.  Dennis Miller would approve of that.

A typical liberal would not, as you see here -


Why is it important?

- Human beings were allegedly murdered in cold blood. The victims were detainees who were denied due process.

- Our tax dollars should not be used to support a murderous thug.

- The War on Iraq was based on lies. The assertion that the people of Iraq are better off now than they were under Saddam evaporates in the face of this accusation.

Why is the story credible?

- McGeough names the place that the alleged summary executions occurred, Al-Amariyah security centre in the southwestern suburbs of Baghdad.

- The story names three of the seven victims, Ahmed Abdulah Ahsamey, Amer Lutfi Mohammed Ahmed al-Kutsia, and Walid Mehdi Ahmed al-Samarrai. Unless these were "ghost detainees", with their names and the place of detention we should be able to find out if these three men were in the security center in late June.

- As McGeough writes, "The two witnesses were independently and separately found by the Herald. Neither approached the newspaper. They were interviewed on different days in a private home in Baghdad, without being told the other had spoken." I'd call that careful reporting.

What is the official US response?

Two sentences, in response to the author's e-mail message to Ambassador John Negroponte:
"If we attempted to refute each [rumour], we would have no time for other business. As far as this embassy's press office is concerned, this case is closed."

That is a non-denial denial, and not a convincing one at that. The case is closed after a single inquiry? John is off of his game.


John Negroponte may not be off his game at all.

John Negroponte knows a good number of American voters just smiled when they heard this story – and, after all, what he covered up in Honduras and Guatemala when he was our Ambassador down that way during the Reagan years – the death squads he approved, even when they took out almost thirty Catholic nuns – all that got him the gig as UN ambassador then his current posting as our first ambassador to Iraq, at the largest US embassy every built. Folks appreciate strong leadership.

So is the story true?  Bloomberg ends their item with this reminder - Allawi's office, in a letter to the newspaper, denied the witnesses' accounts, saying Allawi had never visited the prison and he did not carry a gun.  The allegations are rumors instigated by enemies of Allawi's government, the letter said.

But they are useful “rumors” in this case.  Keeps the bad guys worried.  And it pleases the folks back here.  It’s a great conservative election narrative nugget - Allawi is the kind of guy who cuts through liberal bleeding-heart bullshit and takes care of problems.  He's a Bush kind of guy.

The story could be totally false, and might actually have been planted by Karl Rove, not the enemies of Allawi.  It’s the kind of tale that primes the US election pump.




Late Additions (folks jumping on the idea):


Power from the People

Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, Post date 07.15.04 | Issue date 07.26.04


Here we have a sample of the style of governance that has prevailed under Bush's presidency. It's not the sort of thing you would find in a civics textbook. Bush and his allies have been described as partisan or bare-knuckled, but the problem is more fundamental than that. They have routinely violated norms of political conduct, smothered information necessary for informed public debate, and illegitimately exploited government power to perpetuate their rule. These habits are not just mean and nasty. They're undemocratic.

What does it mean to call the president "undemocratic"? It does not mean Bush is an aspiring dictator. Despite descending from a former president and telling confidants that God chose him to lead the country, he does not claim divine right of rule. He is not going to cancel the election or rig it with faulty ballots. (Well, almost certainly not.) But democracy can be a matter of degree. Russia and the United States are both democracies, but the United States is more democratic than Russia. The proper indictment of the Bush administration is, therefore, not that he's abandoning American democracy, but that he's weakening it. This administration is, in fact, the least democratic in the modern history of the presidency.


And “Digby” again at Hullabaloo


I think it's very important to note that this is not something that's confined to the Bush administration alone as if they are some sort of GOP anomalies. The fact is that this is an ongoing, serious problem of the modern Republican Party in general. They are congenitally opposed to compromise which leads inevitably to rule by force.

Chait argues that the Bush administration is not destroying democracy but rather weakening it.  I would suggest that that adds up to the same thing.  They are unlikely, except in a desperate situation, to attempt a military coup or do something dramatically attention grabbing like cancel the election.  They aren't that stupid.  They can attain everything they want over time by simply eroding democracy to the point at which it has all of the trappings and none of the substance.  That process has been going on for some time now and escalating gradually to the point at which we now find ourselves with a presidency (which has always been the repository of Republican ruling fantasies) that quite blatantly declares that it has no responsibility to uphold the laws if it deems them an impediment to national security.

… I'm sure there are many Republicans who simply don't see what is happening and would be horrified if they did.  Not even the Democrats who have been on the receiving end of these undemocratic power plays seem to have been aware until recently of what has been going on.

I have been repeating this "undemocratic" mantra since the mid 1990's.  (You can Google this blog for the word and you'll see that I've done my best to bore everyone to tears with it.)  It is a huge threat to this country - one that has been magnified a hundred fold by the events if 9/11.  It's not tin-foil kookiness and it's not partisan angst.  It's real. A nd while I have little doubt that many reasonable sorts (which, by the way, I am also) will shake their heads sadly once again at my shrillness and hysteria for taking this view, I'll continue to do it.  The Emperor has no clothes.  I see what I see.  I'm glad to have some company.


So, what to do?




Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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