Just Above Sunset
June 26, 2005 - Last week's topics bleed into this week, so to speak...

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Billmon over at Whiskey Bar is fond of digging up old quotes, like this one –


Acheson and the other wise men advised [President Johnson] to launch a public relations campaign. They felt that if he could impart to the public the progress they had learned of in the secret briefings, he would be able to slow down the erosion of support. The president's appointments secretary, who kept a record of the Wise Men's meeting, summed up the advice of McGeorge Bundy, currently president of the Ford Foundation and a member of the group: "Emphasize the 'light at the end of the tunnel' instead of battles, deaths and danger."

-          Neil Sheehan, A Bright and Shining Lie, 1989


Ah, those were the days.

Here we go again.  As mentioned previously, on Thursday, June 16, late in the afternoon, Jennifer Loven of Associated Press sounds the alert - "Facing growing pressure to bring troops home from Iraq, President Bush is launching a public relations campaign to try to calm anxieties about the war."

Is this a problem public relations can fix?  Well, as the New York Times explains in a long article on Monday, June 20, Bush's Road Gets Rougher – "… barring some crisis that creates another rally-round-the-president effect, analysts said, Mr. Bush's best opportunity to drive the agenda may be past."

Some would disagree – and argue Bush is wildly popular (the polls ask the wrong questions of the wrong people) and the best president America has ever had – but nonetheless, this "public relations campaign to try to calm anxieties" began on June 20, with a press conference at the White House.  As the Associated Press reports


WASHINGTON - Under fire at home and abroad, President Bush on Monday defended his polices on Iraq and the war on terrorism, saying the Iraqi conflict will be won despite attempts by "cold-hearted killers" to derail the U.S.

"I think about Iraq every day. Every single day, because I understand we have troops in harm's way," the president said at a White House news conference. "We will complete the mission and the world will be better off for it."

With more than 1,700 U.S. troops dead in Iraq, voters in the U.S. have grown uneasy with Bush's policies, according to public polls. Some in Congress are pushing for a date certain when troops would begin withdrawing.
… Overseas, the U.S. image has been tarnished by allegations of prisoner abuse in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected terrorists are being detained. Bush challenged critics, even invited journalists to the detention facilities.

"Look at all the facts. That's all I ask people to do," the president said at a news conference with European Union leaders. Bush noted that many of the suspects at Guantanamo are not traditional war prisoners.


No, they're not.  Assume then, for the sake of argument, that those Geneva Conventions may not apply.  Do any rules apply?

Bush is facing, as documented over at the Daily Kos with links to all the items, a group of Republicans who oppose torture


Want to know what's interesting about that list of Republicans above? Colin Powell, Army general. Chuck Hagel, two purple hearts and a bronze star in Vietnam. Lindsey Graham, US National Guard Judge Advocacy Group. Arlen Specter, US Air Force. Of the conservative bloggers, the one that seems to get this is John Cole, also a veteran.


Kos himself, as left as he is, is also a veteran.

There are more and more Downing Street memos, more daily suicide bombings in Iraq as things seem to many to grow worse by the day, Senator Richard Durbin noted on the Senate floor that torturing prisoners was the sort of thing Nazis or Communists would do, and that the United States, trying to be on the side of doing what's right, should hold itself to a higher standard of conduct, and the man who made the congressional cafeteria rename those hot grease-coated, salted potato sticks "freedom fries" - Representative Walter B. Jones Jr., Republican from North Carolina - last week introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for Bush to come up with a plan by the end of this year to withdraw the troops from Iraq, and for the withdrawal to start no later than October of 2006.  Yeah, right.  Former Republican Senator John Danforth – who Bush had as our UN ambassador for a time - denounced the whole new Republican evangelical party as being just about the opposite of what anyone would consider Christian (see this for the particulars) – but that may be a theological dispute as Danforth is also an ordained Episcopalian minister, and the religious right suspects that's a fake religion anyway.  And recruiting numbers are way down as it is getting harder and harder to staff our professional (voluntary) military. (How hard?
Just Above Sunset on Monday had a logon from this server - usarec.army.mil - the headquarters of the United States Army Recruiting Command.)

Bob Patterson, known to readers as either The Book Wrangler or The World's Laziest Journalist, or both, is having none of this "dissention in the ranks" business –


Due to the delicate nature of the questions about WMD and such, it may be necessary for some Republicans to say some things which don't conform to policy. This extraordinary dispensation will only apply until after the 2006 election. In the meantime, it's not what the Republicans say that matters; it will be what they do. If they vote as Bush decrees, well then they can say all these nasty things because Dubya knows that's what they have to do to get reelected.

Don't watch what the Republicans say; judge them by what they do.

On the noon radio news on CBS, they were talking about what Chuck Hagel said about losing the war in Iraq. Did he have his fingers crossed when he said it? You know: It's not a lie if you cross your fingers when you say it.

Plus, it helps put the Democrats off balance. It makes them see "the light at the end of the tunnel."


So it's a plot to make it seem as if a few folks disagree with Bush.  Just to fake them out.

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Do know that Bob has a real-money bet going with a few readers that Bush will be sworn in for a third term in 2008 – either the twenty-second amendment will be repealed or elections cancelled due to some emergency, or something.  He is certain.

But still the national conversation is hot.  What Richard Durbin of Illinois said on Flag Day, Tuesday, June 14, on the floor of the senate (the PDF document is here and our first round-up on it here) is still being discussed.  For example Hugh Hewiit and William Kristol over at the neoconservative Weekly Standard want his hide.  And over at Powerline you can read the letter former Speaker, Newt Gingrich, sent to every sitting senator, calling for formal censure of Durbin.


By his statements equating American treatment of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay with the behavior of the evil regimes of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Pol Pot's Cambodia, Senator Richard Durbin has dishonored the United States and the entire U.S. Senate. Only by a vote to censure Senator Durbin for his conduct can the U.S. Senate restore its dignity and defend American honor.

Senator Durbin's comparison, sadly, is despicable.

U.S. Senators should be clear about the gravity of Senator Durbin's comparison. Nine million innocent human beings were murdered in Hitler's death camps, nearly three million perished in the gulags under Stalin, and more than one and a half million were slaughtered in the killing fields of Cambodia at the hand of Pol Pot. And while not a single terrorist has died in detention at Guantanamo, Senator Durbin sees fit to liken our American service men and women to the terrifying murderers of three evil despotic regimes.

Moreover, Senator Durbin equates the terrorist detainees at Guantanamo with the millions of innocent men, women, and children exterminated by the order of evil dictators. The fact that he did so as a high ranking member of the Senate on the Senate floor makes his comparison all the more shocking.

This moral equivalence isn't just utterly false; it endangers the lives of our young men and women in the military because it arms every radical Islamist with the official-record words of a Senate leader to justify their war of terror against civilized people everywhere.

Senator Durbin's statement of "regret" on Friday has only compounded the need for the Senate to act. In it, Senator Durbin said that "I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings…" Incredibly, Senator Durbin is sticking to his original assertion that there is indeed, in his own words, an "historic parallel" between U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay and the killers under Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. In other words, his only regret is that Americans don't understand his misreading of history and that he has caused us to misunderstand him. Offering no apology for the original slanderous statement itself, Senator Durbin has chosen instead to actually defend his comparisons. This defense makes his original speech all the more revolting.

It's one thing for one Senator to endanger young Americans and defame America; it would be the shame of the Senate if the other 99 senators did not stand up to defend America and to defend the reputation of our young men and women in uniform.

A Senate censure of Senator Durbin is justified and would reaffirm a standard for healthy, rational debate. By voting for or against the censure, the rest of the members of the U.S. Senate can go on record and make clear how they judge Senator Durbin's characterization of American soldiers. It will also send a clear message to terrorists who will use the words of a Senate leader against us that the Senate stands in support of America and our military and against those who seek to destroy the free people of the United States.

There is historic precedent for censuring Senators whose words bring dishonor and disrepute on the Senate and impair its dignity; Senator Durbin's words fit that precedent.

In this case, expressing outrage is not enough. It is time for the Senate to act. Senator Durbin must be censured now.


Well, we shall see what happens.  John at Powerline adds this is a good way to see who loves America and who hates America.  Count the votes.


… the American people deserve to know who, if anyone, agrees with Durbin's slander of our armed forces, so that when those Senators run for re-election, they can be defeated. Senators should not be able to hide behind a discreet "no comment," as Hillary Clinton has done. This is not a time for our elected officials to be neutral as between the terrorists and the armed forces of the United States.


For us - and for each and every thing we do or say - or against us - wanting to murder Americans and on the side of the terrorists and, in fact, aiding and abetting the enemies of the nation, as in "treason."  Choose now.  Be quick.

Yeah, yeah.   Durbin apologized.

Andrew Sullivan, who calls himself conservative, offers this view


I've now read and re-read Senator Dick Durbin's comments on interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay. They are completely, perfectly respectable. The rank hysteria being perpetrated by some on the right is what is shameful. Hugh Hewitt should answer one single question: does he doubt the FBI interrogator who witnessed the appalling treatment of some detainees at Guantanamo? Here's the report:

"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold... On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor."

Is Hewitt arguing that the interrogator was lying?

Does he believe that the kind of tactics used against this prisoner are worthy of the United States?

Does he believe that this happened without authorization?

If he were told this story and informed that it occurred in, say, Serbia under Milosevic, would he be surprised?

Hewitt should then answer the same question about the five detainees which the U.S. government itself has acknowledged were tortured to death by U.S. interrogators, and the scores of others who died in detention during or after "interrogation".

Does he deny that this happened?

Does he honestly believe that removing the legal restrictions on cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees by our current president had nothing to do with this?

Maybe he needs a little refresher on the extraordinary range and scale of the record of abuse that is still accumulating. I'm just amazed that some can view what has happened and their first instinct is to attack those who have criticized it, rather than those who have perpetrated it. It is this administration that has brought indelible shame on America, and it's people like Dick Durbin who prove that some can actually stand up against this stain on American honor and call it what it is. Good for him. Thank God for him.


Yeah, well Sullivan is gay so he doesn't count.

And as Chris Wallace of Fox News said on the June 17 Hugh Hewitt radio show - "I think they would have been very happy to be allowed to defecate on themselves."  The idea is that's a whole lot better than what we could do, and often do.  Like, who cares?

Yep, there is a discussion out there that is bringing things to a point.

Even the soldiers join in.  As in this in Eric Alterman's column in MSNBC –


Name: Justin LeBlanc
Hometown: Seoul, Korea

That's it, I've had it. I'm tired of going on line and reading about all these people who attack Bush and his administration's policies for going to war with Iraq. I'm a soldier and I think that we did the right thing and still think we are. I challenge you (Dr. Alterman) and any other liberal who cares more about Europe's opinion than our own country's safety to reply to this email. Yes, we are in a war and people die. I'll certainly be heading over to fight in the sandbox soon enough when I complete my tour here in Korea. We took out one of the most hostile individuals of my generation. We took out a ruthless dictator who got his kicks off raping his neighbors and killing his own citizens. People want to characterize Gitmo as the "gulag" of our times; well, Hussein was the "Stalin" of our times. I really don't care whether we found weapons of mass destruction. Whether he had them or not is no concern of mine. What's of more concern to me is my family's safety years from now. What's of more concern to me is the shape of the Middle East decades from now. Iraq is a democracy and lets begin to celebrate that. I'm certain we'll be seeing sweeping changes, all for the better, in that region over the next 20 years that we previously thought we wouldn't see in our lifetime. I hope, when it is all said and done, you congratulate the President on taking measures he thought were necessary to keep our country and our planet safe. One day, a few decades from now, you and your "progressives" (if you can honestly call yourselves that) are going to have to own up to the fact that what the President did, however difficult, was good for Iraq, good for the Middle East, good for us, and good for the planet. Oh, answer me this Dr. Alterman, how many people did Saddam kill? Oh, that's right, you can't answer that - THEY'RE STILL COUNTING!


Replies? There are a whole bunch of them here


Name: Mike Wright
Hometown: Nellis AFB, NV

Dr. Alterman,
In response to the e-mail you published from Mr. LeBlanc, I would like to offer the following response: Mr. LeBlanc, you may be a soldier in the U.S. military; I am glad that you are not a disgrace to my own branch of the service. My experiences since I have worn the uniform have led me to believe that we are the best and most professional military force in the world, however your apparent doctrine of the ends justifying the means is doing as much to challenge my beliefs as the idiots at Abu Ghraib. We are supposed to hold ourselves to the highest standards. We receive annual training in military standards, the Law of Armed Conflict amongst others, and at all times are supposed to live up to the core values of our profession. We are not supposed to use the moral character of our opponents as an excuse for behavior that falls outside of those standards. Your statement trivializing the comments on Guantanamo Bay simply because "Hussein was the 'Stalin' of our times" shows that you have paid little attention to the training and the core values of the U.S. Army. There is no honor in mistreating prisoners. There is no integrity in breaking the law, simply because you want information or rationalize it as applying the enemies' rules against them. There is no courage or selfless service displayed, no duty or loyalty to anything other than the egos of those doing wrong. Any respect that we might have had in the areas surrounding the prison has been severely, if not irreparably, damaged. The same flaw runs through the rest of your argument. If you truly believe that the ends justify the means, then you yourself are no better than Stalin or any other despot that figures he can do no wrong. I have served in Iraq. I know the good that we can and have done in the lives of the Iraqi population. I also know that any good that we do is enhanced or ruined by HOW we accomplish that good.


You might go read the whole exchange.

From others?

- "I am a veteran and I understand your dismay at the criticisms leveled at your Commander In Chief. However, please remember that your oath was not to a man but to an ideal established by our Forefathers and embodied in our Constitution. Lies and manipulation that result in thousands upon thousands of dead Americans and Iraqis is neither in keeping with your oath nor that of the office of the President."

- "First, thank you for your service to our country. Secondly, a fundamental problem with the war in Iraq is that it has not made the U.S. any safer (Osama's still at large, the country's nuclear facilities are still unprotected, DPRK, Iran, etc.). It has only drawn troops and resources away from places that actually do have (or will soon have) nuclear weapons and the capability to launch them against us or our allies. Further, it has diminished our moral authority to lead. We say, "X has nuclear weapons...no we mean it this time." They say, "Are you going to fall for *that* one from the Americans again?" We are not in a position to act effectively unilaterally again."

- "Hussein was a bad man and it's good that he cannot continue to harm people. He got what he deserved and I enjoyed seeing him get it. But, that doesn't mean we were right to trump up bogus charges to do it. If we wanted to go to war because he brutally tortured and killed his own citizens, we should have just said so up front. It may not matter to you that we did not find the stockpiles of weapons, but it drastically affects our ability to act in the world: instead of talking about the DPRK and its ability to launch the nuclear warheads it has onto Japan and the west coast, we are arguing about Iraq. Instead of focusing on Pakistan's AQ Khan and his 'helpfulness' or the stability of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal, the President and company are busy trying to cover their asses and justify their actions."

- "Hi, Just read the letter from Justin LeBlanc, and I have to admit to being baffled. He doesn't care if there were WMDs or not. Well, if there weren't, in what way, exactly, did invading Iraq impact his family's future safety? Iraq was not a threat to the U.S., even our closest allies agree with that. On the other hand, we have assuredly made generational enemies of thousands of Iraqi citizens, and thousands more Muslims around the world, through our extra-legal torture activities in Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. And the families of the tens of thousands of innocent civilian casualties in Iraq will certainly never be our friends, either. And the assertion that we're better than Stalin? Better than Saddam? Is that the best we as a country can aspire to be? Please."


What's all this conversation about?  Lots of people, starting over the last few weeks, are suddenly all worked up.  Well, Bob says it means nothing as Bush will be president for a third term, or more, and what folks say is just insignificant, and those of us who sense a widening rift here in America, and sense the president is losing traction (or whatever), are just stupid and unenlightened.

Ah, maybe so.  But it's an interesting show.





Addendum: A discussion of all this with Ric Erickson in Paris



QUOTE: "Yep, there is a discussion out there that is bringing things to a point"


PARIS: Ask yourself - were the 'messages' to Eric Alterman written by any soldiers you know? In the first one, from this LeBlanc, I can find only one tiny mistake. The guy writes far too well for it to be true.  There isn't a comma out of place. In fact, they are all too perfect, including the last one with its 'Hi!' opening and closing 'Please.' Are these real soldiers, or hired writers?


HOLLYWOOD: Don't know.  Alterman is a journalism professor at NYU with many books and extensive scholarly credits - and would he dare fake this all?


QUOTE: "Is that the best we as a country can aspire to be?"


PARIS: Could a your nephew serving in Baghdad write that? 


HOLLYWOOD: I think so, but I don't know any longer.  Sunday I spoke with him - he called from Baghdad, bone-tired from a three-hour helicopter flight from Mosul to the Green Zone, low-level, high-speed, and bone-rattling.  His new assignment is replacing one of his West Point classmates rotating out - briefing the generals two or three times a day on the status of the northern sector.  He's the king of PowerPoint.  We didn't talk politics - it was just a hello chat, and he needed to talk to his wife on her birthday, and the kids.  And what would I say?


PARIS:  I think it is odd. You are right - something is going on. Time to start reading between the lines, sifting tea-leaves.


FOLLOW-UP:  The original writer of the Army letter responds to all the letters.  Seems he's from Lackawanna - upstate New York.  Went at Canisius - a fourth-rate Jesuit college up that way.  And he sounds just like many Army guys these does these days - he's just protecting his wife and kids, and us all. 


The follow-up letter -


Name: Justin LeBlanc

Hometown: Seoul, Korea


To all who provided their feedback: Thank You. I respect those dissenting opinions and I would submit to you that there are many of those out there, soldiers and civilians alike, that share my point of view and I hope Dr. Alterman affords me one last opportunity to respond in kind.  However, I do take issue with those who would imply I am a disgrace or question my morals and values.  I love my country and I love my Army.  I have a firm commitment to my God and I respect all others who have different beliefs from my own.  I am a Christian who grew up in Lackawanna, NY.  I had many Muslim friends; three of which, Nabeal, Ahmed and Rasheed, I consider my best.  We found ourselves discussing our religious differences openly and honestly and by doing so we grew in our understanding and respect for each other.  In college, I took Judaism at a small Jesuit Institution, Canisius, in order to better understand others of this faith as well. 


So, do I condone the actions of soldiers mistreating Arab prisoners?  Of course not.  However, I do know that there is a huge difference between Abu Ghraib and the gulag.  I do know that we investigate and prosecute these actions.  I do know that we use Abu Ghraib to protect Americans and not use it as a killing machine for political dissidents.  This, however misconstrued, was the point I was trying to get at.  In addition, what I do know is that not enough is said about the positive actions of our soldiers and not enough is said about the Iraqis who want us over there.  Too much is said about those that are killed and not enough about those that are saved.  Unfortunately, because of this, will our soldiers be perceived as heroes?  Or, as I fear, will they be spit on by our fellow citizens or discriminated against at our jobs or in our colleges like what took place after Vietnam?  Or, will they all be grouped together as "idiots", in Mr. Wright's words, because of so much bad publicity and none of the good?


It is my moral beliefs and values, not bestowed upon me by the Army, but bestowed upon me by my God, family, and friends that led me to be thankful that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.  What if Japan didn't bomb Pearl Harbor?  What if we didn't consider Germany a threat?  What if Germany didn't go to war with other countries and instead only decided to kill all the Jews in its own borders?  Mr. Wright, would you have allowed the genocide to continue if you knew it was happening and could do something about it?  Where are the articles on what Saddam has done to his people?  This was the other point I was trying to make.  It seems like more and more people every day are using casual words like "Nazis" to describe our soldiers.  What impression does that leave on the minds of our citizens and families (especially the families who have soldiers stationed at these locations)? 


My reference to Saddam being the Stalin of our times was an attempt to highlight the atrocities he committed even days out from the war.  I've heard first hand accounts from people about Saddam and his sons' grotesque acts and the thought of what they did makes my stomach turn even now as I write this.  I do not have to read about it in letters or books.  As far as sounding callous about our casualties, I'm sorry if it came off that way.  I was only trying to be realistic about the nature of war and the expectations that coincide with it.  As a Christian, I pray everyday for the families of those that have lost loved ones.  I cannot help but be proud of our actions and think removing Saddam was a good thing and still is.  I don't think their deaths were in vain.  I don't think they died for no cause.  I refuse to believe that.


As far as my education goes, I understand military manuals and the doctrine for war.  I also understand that our President, the Commander-in-Chief, decides that these requirements have been met and makes that decision to go to war.  Nevertheless, as a soldier and a Christian, I believe it is our job to protect those who can't protect themselves.  We do not have the ability to be the world's police officer, but if our policies and our soldiers save the future lives of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people, can I not be proud of that?  If my defending the Iraq war, President Bush, or my fellow soldiers is wrong or unpopular then I'll accept that. 

Finally, as a side note, I know Mr. Stebley asked why I wasn't over in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Unfortunately, I'm not going to discuss my personal reasons for this or air them publicly to the world.  He can imply about me anything he likes.  I fully expected a response like that when I mentioned I was in Korea and did not hide this fact, intentionally.  Thank you Mr. Alterman for airing my previous feelings.  I hope you do me the same service by airing this response.  Thanks to all, once again, for sharing your thoughts.


And so it goes.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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