Over at the Nation, the ever-prolific Tom Engelhardt speculates about what he thinks could be the GOP's November Surprise: the November 5 sentencing of Saddam Hussein. Assuming that Saddam is guaranteed to get the death penalty, the White House could get itself a nice last-minute blip of "progress" to sell to voters. Clearly, the timing will work well for Bush & Co. Whether that's a happy coincdence is subject to debate. But as law prof and blogger Scott Horton tells Engelhardt,
"When you look at polling figures," Horton said," there have been three significant spike points. One was the date on which Saddam was captured. The second was the purple fingers election. The third was Zarqawi being killed. Based on those three, it's easy to project that they will get a mild bump out of this....This is not coincidence.... Nothing in Iraq that's set up this far in advance is coincidental."
But would this "mild bump" be enough to revive Republicans' fortunes at the polls? It's not like the Democrats won't cheer Saddam's descent to death row, so the Republicans would have to work fast to turn this into a partisan issue (not that they won't try their darndest). And in the eyes of many Americans, Saddam's hardly the WMD-toting bogeyman he was three years ago; he's no Osama, no matter how much the "Saddam was behind 9/11" crowd wishes he was. With support for the war at an all-time low, it's hard for me to see how this verdict will change many war-weary minds, much less energize a disheartened GOP base.
As the Los Angeles Times reports this morning, the "stay the course" chorus in the administration is about to be smacked down by the commission headed by James Baker tasked with exploring options in Iraq. But is it too late to change course in Iraq, or more precisely, is it too late to change course in a manner that would ensure the ever-distant seeming victory that Bush constantly promises? In this morning's TomDispatch, Michael Schwartz examines this question, and concludes that no amount of tinkering with our military strategy will fix the mess we've made there. Though the military will undoubtedly try several more strategic shifts in the months ahead, as Schwartz observes, some military insiders have already realized the terrible, irreversible downward spiral weand Iraqare stuck in. Gradual withdrawal of U.S. troopsan option the Baker panel is reportedly consideringis not exactly a panacea, either. An excerpt:
There may have been a time, back when the invasion began, that the U.S. could have adopted a strategy that would have made it welcome -- for a time, anyway -- in Iraq. Such a strategy, as the military theorists flatly state, would have had to deliver a "vibrant economy, political participation, and restored hope." Instead, the occupation delivered economic stagnation or degradation, a powerless government, and the promise of endless violence. Given this reality, no new military strategy -- however humane, canny, or well designed -- could reverse the occupation's terminal unpopularity. Only a U.S. departure might do that.
Paradoxically, the policies these military strategists are now trying to reform have ensured that, however much most Iraqis may want such a departure, it would be, at best, bittersweet. The legacy of sectarian violence and the near-irreversible destruction wrought by the American presence make it unlikely that they would have the time or inclination to take much satisfaction in the end of the American occupation.
Russia's Novaya Gaeta newspaper has published the last article written by murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya. It's a short, yet unsparing, look at the use of torture on Chechens accused of terrorism. Even if you haven't been following Russia's long, brutal anti-terrorist campaign in Chechnya, the piece rings some depressingly familiar themes. The New York Timeshas a translation. It's worth a read:
Before me everyday are dozens of filescopies of the criminal cases of people jailed for "terrorism" or of those still under investigation.
Why is the word "terrorism" in quotation marks? Because the overwhelming majority of these people are designated terrorists. The practice of "designating terrorists" did not simply supplant in 2006 some kind of earnest anti-terrorist war. It came to breed on its own potential terrorists and a desire for vengeance. When prosecutors and the courts work, not for the sake of the law, but on political commission and with the only goal of providing good reports for the Kremlin, then criminal cases are baked like pancakes.
An assembly line producing "open-hearted confessions" effectively guaranties good data on the war on terror in the North Caucasus. ...
The practice of designating terrorists is the area in the sphere of "counterterrorist operations in the North Caucasus" where, head to head, two ideological approaches clash: Are we, the lawful, fighting against the unlawful? Or, are we battling "their" lawlessness with "ours?" This clash of approaches is guaranteed to exist for the present and future. The result of this "designation of terrorists" is the increase in number of those who won't put up with it.
Via Secrecy News, we learn that the Bush administration just cranked out a new National Space Policy. Much of it's similar to Clinton-era policy, but there are some stellar exceptions. Like this one:
The previous policy prudently reserved judgment "on the feasibility
and desirability of conducting further human exploration
activities" beyond the International Space Station in Earth orbit.
But in a rhetorical flight of fancy, the new Bush policy purports
to adopt a new national "objective of extending human presence
across the solar system," no less.
Less fanciful, yet more predictable, is the insistence that "The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space." In other words, in space no one can hear you whine about international law.
In his current column, Wall Street Journal pundit Bret Stevens recounts this story of Condi Rice meeting with the paper's editors last year:
[...] she said that she had telephoned George W. Bush as she flew out of Baghdad on her (then) most recent visit: "Mr. President," she said (and I quote from memory) "this is going to be a great country."
Meanwhile, there's new evidence of just how far from greatness Iraq really is. A new study [PDF] in the Lancet finds that over 600,000 Iraqis may have died in the wake of the American invasion. This, as the Journal reports, is considerably higher than any previous figure, including the "30,000, more or less" that President Bush tossed out last December. That figure, as Adam Shemper wrote in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, came from Iraq Body Count, a website that has been diligently tallying reports of civilian deaths. But IBC uses a conservative, media-based approach, while the new report from Johns Hopkins uses a statistical model known as "cluster sampling." No doubt there will be plenty of academic and partisan sniping about what the real number is. Whatever the final figure, it's a stark reminder of the daily barrage of violence facing average Iraqis. Stephens notes that Rice did not repeat her "great country" story when he met with her recently. He chooses to remain optimistic. "Perhaps she feels that way still: It would be distressing indeed if she did not." But wouldn't it be just as distressing if she still thought Iraq is on the path to greatness?
Update: In this morning's press conference, Bush said he doesn't believe the report is credible and is "amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing toyou know, that there's a level of violence that they tolerate."