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July 24, 2005 - The Week Ends in Turmoil

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Whist taking the day off Friday to do a photo shoot in Malibu - the annual "Call to the Wall" surfing competition (photos here) - it seems current events swirl on.  The four who botched the second series of bombings in London have been identified and their photos posted for anyone who might have seen them, and there have been two arrests.  And a fellow was shot dead in one of the tube stations - perhaps a bomber or perhaps a frightened fool in a large overcoat.  The London undercover police were not taking any chances.  Strange doings.  As Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis and "Our Man in Paris" emailed me at dawn here - "Somebody must be putting bad stuff in the curry."


It turns out the dead man in the overcoat had nothing to do with the bombers and the bombings.  Oops.  The police are sorry, but the attitude seems to better safe than sorry.  One imagines this puts the locals a bit on edge.  Note: "Police identified the man who was chased down in a subway and shot to death by plainclothes officers as a Brazilian and expressed regret Saturday for his death, saying they no longer believed he was tied to the recent terror bombings."


A Brazilian?  Whatever.


How to make sense of all this?  Polly Toynbee in The Guardian (UK) argues that this all has something to do with absolutists and their view of truth, based on their sense that their religion is the only true one.  It really is a form of insanity.  Think of it this way:


"How could those who preach the absolute revealed truth of every word of a primitive book not be prone to insanity? Extreme superstition breeds extreme action. Those who believe they alone know the only way, truth and life will always feel justified in doing anything in its name."


Yes, Toynbee is including the "one way" Christians here.  It is a war of religions.

On in this side of the pond, in the New York Times Olivier Roy says no, it's something else entirely, and not even the nasty young fellows being mad about our little war.  He argues that Britain is not being "punished" for fighting alongside us in Iraq.  Global jihadists in their "preferred battlegrounds outside the Middle East" are fighting against "a global phenomenon of cultural domination."

Well, what is going on?  Christopher Dickey in a commentary in Newsweek on fanaticism in general says just who is a fanatic and who isn't depends on where you stand, as "it has come to be portrayed as fundamentally different if they are Muslims than it is if they are Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Aryan or animal-rights zealots willing to kill innocents to defend their beliefs."

Monday last our friend the high-powered Wall Street attorney, from his office next door to and thirty-two floors above the hole in lower Manhattan that used to be the World Trade Center, where a good number of his friends died, comments - "Some would say that this is the problem with organized religion; it has everyone killing everyone in the name of god or the generic equivalent."

Yeah, and Monday this hit the wires:


A Colorado congressman told a radio show host that the U.S. could "take out" Islamic holy sites if Muslim fundamentalist terrorists attacked the country with nuclear weapons.

Rep. Tom Tancredo made his remarks Friday on WFLA-AM in Orlando, Florida. His spokesman stressed he was only speaking hypothetically.

Talk show host Pat Campbell asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

"Well, what if you said something like - if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered.

"You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said.

"Yeah," Tancredo responded. …


Is he a fanatic?  He's defending his remarks now - "Yes, I'm a fanatic."

Oh well.  Our fanatics versus their fanatics.  We have the big military and the smart bombs, and the nukes, and they're sneaky and very resourceful.

But we're more sensible and humane and all that.  Tancredo is the exception.


Except that Justin Logan finds this in the print edition of the new issue of The American Conservative:


The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing - that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack - but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.


No need to prove Iran had anything to do with it, should it happen.  It would be a gesture, demonstrating our resolve.  Or of our position that we have no need for evidence or that sort of thing - never have had and never will have - or of something.  Will the world admire us for our blind display of power?  (For the literary-minded think of Milton describing the powerless strongman, Samson - "Eyeless in Gaza.")  Most curious.  Well, we elected these guys because we wanted the grownups to be calling the shots.

It is also curious that these "senior Air Force officers involved in the planning" are appalled, but know well what happens to those who disagree with Dick or Rummy.  Generals have lost their careers for saying this war would take more than just a few troops and cost lots of money.  What do generals know?


As for putting the hurt on those who raise questions and bring inconvenient facts to the table, the week ended with the who-finked-out-the-CIA-agent thing getting even more Byzantine.  Wilson and his wife got screwed, and what's up with that?

Hunter over at Daily Kos has a useful end-of-week summary:


It's only been a few days since the Supreme Court nominee was hurriedly announced in an attempt to get Karl Rove off the front pages. Since then, all hell has broken loose.

Bloomberg is reporting that Rove and Libby both gave testimony to the grand jury that flatly conflicts with the testimony given by those they said they talked to.

We now know that the Top Secret memo most consistent with the talking points that Rove and Libby told reporters was seen in the hands of Press Secretary Ari Fleischer in the days before the leak occurred. And that Fleischer told the grand jury he never saw it.

And Steve Clemons has verified that John Bolton was one of Judith Miller's regular sources on WMD issues, and that MSNBC stands by its story that Bolton gave testimony to the grand jury about the State Department memo in question. Bolton, you may recall, has previously been identified to have been involved in the Niger uranium claims that Wilson's trip helped disprove - just to add even more gunpowder to this mix.


Damn, that's a lot of stuff, and the Hunter item contains links to all the sources.  He's not making it up.

Yep, looks bad for the administration. Hunter says it shows the broad outlines not just of multiple perjury charges, but of linked conspiracy charges against a number of administration officials.


We know that there are members of the administration familiar with the attack against Plame/Wilson who have been talking to prosecutors. At least, we can assume they've been telling prosecutors at least as much as they've been telling the press, or we'd have a whole passel of reporters likely joining Judith Miller in her Fortress of Suddenly Discovered Integrity. The fact that other administration officials have been giving their side of the story perhaps poses the most serious risk of all for Rove and others - because it wouldn't be very difficult, for people in the right places, to shatter what little plausible deniability Rove, Libby, Fleischer, and others have been clinging to.

That branch may already be broken, in fact. I don't think it's possible to exaggerate the amount of legal danger here for Rove in particular, and Fleischer and Libby as well. The special counsel is likely trying to solidify how, exactly, Rove learned the information in the memo, since it's looking increasingly implausible that reporters told him, and looking more probable that Rove and Novak "agreed" on a storyline after the fact (reports are now saying that Rove's and Novak's stories don't quite match, too, further raising the stakes.) Note, however, that it may not matter whether the grand jury can fully identify how he came by the information. Rove has now been identified as confirming the classified info to both Novak and Cooper; that in and of itself represents a likely crime under the Espionage Act.


Hunter has much more to say, but how much can you stand?

He does make the point that what poses the greatest threat for the Bush administration is that, as each news agency puts the story in the hands of some of the best investigative reporters, the various threads of the story are being woven into a compelling - and disastrous - storyline.  The White House is losing control of the narrative.


A Bush administration crime, carried out by Watergate-era and Iran-Contra figures that this administration has embraced wholeheartedly, done in the service of shoring up "fixed" evidence used to justify a preemptive war. And news services are tying the Plame outing to the "fixed" nuclear intelligence cited by Bush in his pre-war declarations to the nation. Those links are, finally, being made, and it's beginning to make the Nixon White House look like a Norman Rockwell painting in comparison.


Oh my!  Poor Norman Rockwell.

So what happens when you lose control of the narrative?


Digby over at Hullabaloo says what seems to be happening is the general population - or at least those who follow this stuff even vaguely - is latching onto a new narrative, one that taps into their "highly developed instinctive understanding of human character."  In short, the story develops its own theme


Just as a third rate burglary was a perfect window into an abusive and paranoid Nixon administration, Rovegate is a perfect illustration of the intimidation and arrogance that characterizes Bush. The Lewinsky matter could be said to show the indiscipline that characterized Bill Clinton; Iran-Contra the disconnectedness of an aging, disengaged president.

I'm not saying all those things are the only lessons to be taken from these scandals; far from it. But they engaged the public and the press because they spoke to bigger issues by using people's highly developed instinctive understanding of human character. I don't necessarily think it has to be this way, but it usually is. People seem to need to see and feel the human dimension in order to understand the big picture.

Rovegate is quite interesting in this way, not because it centers around the president but because it centers around the one person who most personifies the modern conservative movement's strategy. And he is the one person who is feared and respected for his effectiveness by people on both sides - almost to the point of being gifted with magical abilities to tell the future and shape events.

He serves a purpose for both sides in this way, explaining for Democrats their sense of impotence and justifying for Republicans their excesses. None of this is really their doing, you see, and there is nothing they can do to change it; it the product of a brilliant political alchemist who is beyond the scope of normal human behavior or understanding. Fear him or follow him but do not question him.

So, Rove being exposed in a petty, unnecessary act of revenge and overreach, pathetically reaching for Clintonian legalisms and falling back on infantile excuses is a bit of a jolt. Whether by hubris or error, Rove's naked vulnerability is a very useful parable with which to explode the myth of Republican omniscience and explain something that is vastly complex and difficult for average people, much less the compromised kewl kidz, to get their arms around.

Bush's Brain is not omnipotent. The administration that sold itself on simple homespun values and manly virtues has been caught in an act of waspish backstabbing to cover its dishonesty. The war was based on lies and now we are losing it. How could this masterful White House screw this up so badly? These questions can now be asked outside the context of the simple narrative that's been constructed about Bush's honor and Rove's supernatural talents. The scandal opens it up. What has, up to now, been hailed by both sides and in the press as unassailable political mastery is exposed as gross arrogance combined with gross incompetence. That's the story….


Works for me.  Once it becomes a narrative - a "story" - then it seems all bets are off.  The Wizard of Oz was just an arrogant old blowhard behind a curtain trying to scare people - even the wide-eyed innocent Dorothy and even her cute little dog, Toto.  If that becomes the narrative structure folks find comfortable, this will go south real fast for the White House.  Dorothy got mad and told the wizard he was a bad man for trying to frighten her hapless friends (no brain, no heart, no courage), and Toto took the curtain in his teeth and pulled it back to reveal the sham.

If that's the shape of the narrative at work now, well, things will get real interesting, real fast.



Ric in Paris comments:


23.07 - Wizard of Strangelove


Here's more narrative spin, in their own words.  So the Iraq war was 'fixed?'  And the cards are falling out of sleeves.  No problem!  Dial up a nuclear war with Iran.  Not in self-defense, but in attack.  This will catch the attention of all those sniveling Liberal doubters.  Nukes are serious!  Doctor Strangelove to the rescue.  Calling on General Ripper.  Bomb 'em all!


As Alan will no doubt say, you voted for this, so shut up.


But first, just so we know this isn't the comedy hour, the quote from The American Conservative should be verified.  It may be mere flag-raising to see if anybody salutes.  If not - fear! outrage! - then the administration could say it 'saved' the world from nuclear war. But these guys are nuts, so it might be true.  If you were running Iran, what would you do while there's still time?


With these guys in the White House the United States hardly needs foreign enemies.


Actually a number of commentators have suggested this plan to bomb Iran, no matter whether they're the bad guys or not, is a form of clever foreign policy.  We get the bad guys to behave because they fear we're crazy people who will bomb anyone just for the hell of it (pun intended) – so the Iranians will lean on all the crazy terrorists to cool it and not attack America.  Now out of self-interest the Iranian government will find the al Qaeda guys and calm them down – as otherwise Crazy Dick will bomb Tehran.  And we could threaten to flatten Uruguay with nukes unless they talk some sense into Hugo Chavez in Venezuela?



But the weekend opened with the bombing in Egypt, at Sharm el-Sheik.  Last October 34 people were killed in attacks on two other Sinai resorts at Taba and Ras Shitan, about 120 miles north of Sharm el-Sheik.  This time 88 died – so far.


Here's some context from Juan Cole:


Of course we do not yet know the identity of the perpetrators.  At the top of the suspect list would be al-Jihad al-Islami.  The al-Jihad al-Islami organization of Ayman al-Zawahir has for over two decades targeted Egypt's tourism industry with violent attacks.  For al-Jihad al-Islami, this tactic has several benefits.  Tourism is associated in the minds of many ordinary Egyptians with a libertine lifestyle offensive to the puritanism of Muslim piety.  Then, Egypt depends heavily on tourism for foreign exchange, and it is an important part of the economy (worth nearly $3 billion a year in good years).  Egypt's economy grew 5.3 percent in 2004, the best it has done in a long while (September 11 badly hurt Egypt's economy-- Ayman al-Zawahiri's little revenge on the homeland that exiled him).  Egypt depends more heavily than ever on services and remittances.  Its petroleum exports are slipping.  It only earned $1.5 billion in oil revenues last year despite the big bump in prices (it was over $3 bn. in the mid-1990s).

So it is possible that al-Jihad al-Islami decided that Egypt is now especially vulnerable to an attack on its tourist industry.  Unlike the bombings in the tourist district of Cairo, Khan al-Khalili, this past spring - which were amateurish - the Sharm el-Sheikh attack is clearly by an organized and trained group of terrorists.  The likelihood is that this group - whoever it is - wants to revive the radical policies of the mid-1990s, when al-Jihad al-Islami tried to cripple Egypt's tourist industry as a prelude to overthrowing the government. …

How to set this attack in context?

The case of the attack on Taba last year, which targeted Israeli tourists, was never satisfactorily solved.  The Egyptian government's position that it was also a few amateurs has never seemed convincing to me.  I suspect it was done by an al-Jihad al-Islami cell.

The murder of Egyptian diplomat in Iraq, Ihab Sherif, recently, underlined the way in which the jihadis see mainstream Egyptians as apostates cooperating with imperial powers.

Ayman al-Zawahiri is still at large and has a blood feud with the Mubarak government.


No specific connection to London, or to 9/11 really.  Mainstream Egyptians are apostates cooperating with imperial powers, you see.  So this is part of the the whole war against what we do – what is seen by some as imperailism and seen by us as liberating the locals.  This is  just a subset of the war.



Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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