2007 - %3, January

Troops See Evidence on the Ground that Makes Surge Look Silly

| Fri Jan. 12, 2007 4:40 PM EST

The Washington Post carries an article today that is an example of what really great embedded reporting can look like. It's hard to give a sample, because there is so much good material, but basically a reporter went out into Baghdad with a squad of American troops as they tried to use Iraqi forces and Iraqi-provided intelligence to unearth some weapons.

The result, predictably, is a sad failure. All of the troops return to base safe, but the president's claim that the 21,500 new troops shipping to Iraq will assist Iraqi forces, instead of lead them, ends up in tatters. Read it for yourself.

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The Time (To Maximize Our Losses) Is Now. Bush Deserves Another Chance

| Fri Jan. 12, 2007 3:28 PM EST

Well, so the president thought it all over, and decided to make things worse.

Making a very convincing case that there was no choice, he explained why, as bad as things have gone so far, we would be missing an incredible opportunity if we didn't immediately take the disaster to the next level.

This time, he assured, things would be different, in that there would be absolutely no possibility of improving the situation. With virtually no support from any of the parties involved, including his supporters, and ignoring the defeats suffered to date as evidence for radically changing course, the president deftly argued for seizing the chance to engage in unprecedented folly.

Not only that, but in a stunning show of accountability, the president publicly claimed responsibility for any mistakes that might have been made on his watch, yet remained steadfastly committed to not admitting any. For the first time since the last time he addressed the nation, the president's disarmingly lucid oratory met all expectations. With no end of
unsubstantiated facts to substantiate his renewed commitment to the end times, he stood firm to protect his mission, his legacy, his vision of a world in total harmony with apocalyptic ideals.

Cut our losses? Never. To what end have we come all this way if we fail to fail completely? Staring soberly into the camera, he brushed aside all speculation of backing down, of giving in, of listening to anyone who would dare suggest the leader of so great a nation might ever doubt his own ignorance. His logic is airtight. We can¹t afford not to screw this up totally. And to his detractors who cry out like sissies at a bar fight that it can't get any worse, the president shot back a reassuring, "you ain't seen nothin' yet."

Such resolve to bankrupt a nation economically and morally in the service of international turmoil and suffering, and to unburden us of any hope for peace in our lifetime, warrants a respect and admiration reserved for few. He gave it to us straight, as we tuned in breathlessly and came to the obvious conclusion.

The guy makes sense.

-- Bill Santiago, billsantiago.com, myspace.com/billsantiagocomedy

House Armed Services Committee 1, Robert Gates 0

| Fri Jan. 12, 2007 2:39 PM EST

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates went before Congress Thursday to defend the President's escalation of the Iraq War. He probably wishes he had some of his testimony back.

Trying to downplay the risk that Bush's decision will prolong the war, Gates said, "I think most of us, in our minds, are thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years." This, of course, is a haunting echo of many statements made by Bush and Co. before the war. Examples from the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline:

"Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that." -- Donald Rumsfeld, November 14, 2002
"It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." -- Donald Rumsfeld, February 7, 2003
"We're going to stand up an interim government, hand power over to them, and get out of there in three to four months." -- Lawrence Di Rita, April 2003

Gates took a beating at the hearing, attacked by both Republicans and Democrats over the war in Iraq. At one point, under intense questioning, Gates actually said, "I would confess I'm no expert on Iraq." (I would confess, from the looks of things, no one in the Bush Administration is.) Later, when asked about the balance between American and Iraqi troops, Gates provided what might be the greatest soundbite from a Secretary of Defense ever.

He told the panel he was "no expert on military matters."

Clearly, this is the most qualified man in America to run the Armed Forces at this trying time.

The Toxic Body of Evidence

| Fri Jan. 12, 2007 1:59 PM EST

In exchange for 14 vials of blood, science writer David Ewing Duncan had his body tested for no fewer than 320 different chemicals. Duncan wrote about the experience and about the nature of trace chemicals in the body for article in National Geographic and is on a speaking tour sharing fascinating tidbits:

-As a kid in Kansas, he rode his bike through clouds of DDT. Surprise, surprise, he still has a high "body burden" of its byproduct DDE, about 40 years later.

-His level of one particularly toxic PBDE, a flame-retardant, is 10 times the American average and 200 times the Swedish average. He attributes that to flying 200,000 miles last year; planes are "drenched in the stuff."

april.png

In his article and subsequent speeches Duncan has steered clear of regulatory issues, instead calling for more research. But research often comes long after the damage is done. Take the history of lead:

In 1921, General Motors invented lead additives to gas, paving the way for modern high-power engines. Leaded fuel earned a nickname fast—"loony gas." But it wasn't until the 70s that the EPA started regulating it. And over the next decade, through 1986, the EPA dropped the threshold for lead content in gas by 98%. Uranium, CFCs, DDT—same story.

Shockingly, only a quarter of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. have ever been tested for toxicity, according to Duncan. How long will it take for us to trace the cause of modern epidemics? From the early 1970s through the mid-1990s, one type of leukemia was up 62%, male birth defects doubled, and childhood brain cancer was up 40%, he writes.

Only in the past few years have we developed machines precise enough to test the presence of some of these chemicals in the body, in parts per million, per billion, and even per trillion. It's like detecting a teaspoon of dye in an Olympic swimming pool, Duncan said, and some of the machines that do it cost a million dollars. Usually as many tests as Duncan had would cost $30,000. (For only $25 you can send a lock of hair in for a mercury test.)

That makes it hard to broadly survey the dangers of chemicals. And nearly impossible to prove in court that they have caused any illness.

In Europe, on the other hand, a new law "radically revises how companies must evaluate potential dangers." From now on there, new chemicals will not be presumed safe until proven dangerous, but must be proved safe before sale. With the new Congress, can we follow their lead?

—April Rabkin

The Toxic Body of Evidence

| Fri Jan. 12, 2007 1:59 PM EST

In exchange for 14 vials of blood, science writer David Ewing Duncan had his body tested for no fewer than 320 different chemicals. Duncan wrote about the experience and about the nature of trace chemicals in the body for article in National Geographic and is on a speaking tour sharing fascinating tidbits:

-As a kid in Kansas, he rode his bike through clouds of DDT. Surprise, surprise, he still has a high "body burden" of its byproduct DDE, about 40 years later.

-His level of one particularly toxic PBDE, a flame-retardant, is 10 times the American average and 200 times the Swedish average. He attributes that to flying 200,000 miles last year; planes are "drenched in the stuff."

april.png

In his article and subsequent speeches Duncan has steered clear of regulatory issues, instead calling for more research. But research often comes long after the damage is done. Take the history of lead:

In 1921, General Motors invented lead additives to gas, paving the way for modern high-power engines. Leaded fuel earned a nickname fast—"loony gas." But it wasn't until the 70s that the EPA started regulating it. And over the next decade, through 1986, the EPA dropped the threshold for lead content in gas by 98%. Uranium, CFCs, DDT—same story.

Shockingly, only a quarter of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. have ever been tested for toxicity, according to Duncan. How long will it take for us to trace the cause of modern epidemics? From the early 1970s through the mid-1990s, one type of leukemia was up 62%, male birth defects doubled, and childhood brain cancer was up 40%, he writes.

Only in the past few years have we developed machines precise enough to test the presence of some of these chemicals in the body, in parts per million, per billion, and even per trillion. It's like detecting a teaspoon of dye in an Olympic swimming pool, Duncan said, and some of the machines that do it cost a million dollars. Usually as many tests as Duncan had would cost $30,000. (For only $25 you can send a lock of hair in for a mercury test.)

That makes it hard to broadly survey the dangers of chemicals. And nearly impossible to prove in court that they have caused any illness.

In Europe, on the other hand, a new law "radically revises how companies must evaluate potential dangers." From now on there, new chemicals will not be presumed safe until proven dangerous, but must be proved safe before sale. With the new Congress, can we follow their lead?

Song Suggestions for the Dodd Pod

| Thu Jan. 11, 2007 3:54 PM EST

We mentioned earlier that Connecticut senator and new presidential hopeful Chris Dodd is taking song suggestions for his "Dodd Pod." Wonkette considered "Born to Lose" by The Heartbreakers, which brings to mind "Lost Cause" by Beck and "Running Down a Dream" by Tom Petty. But scratch your head for snarky ideas no longer! The May/June 2006 issue of Mother Jones has a whole list of suggestions we can make in honor of Dodd's colleagues in Washington. A sampling:

"Been Caught Stealing," by Jane's Addiction
Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.)

"Girlfriend in a Coma," by The Smiths
Former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn)

"Road to Nowhere," by Talking Heads
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)

"Bridge Over Troubled Water," by Simon & Garfunkel
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

"Don't Fence Me In," by Cole Porter
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.)

"Carolina on My Mind," by James Taylor
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

"Stuck in the Middle With You," by Stealers Wheel
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)

"Kickstart My Heart," by Mötley Crüe
Vice-President Dick Cheney

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Song Suggestions for the Dodd Pod

| Thu Jan. 11, 2007 3:54 PM EST

We mentioned earlier that Connecticut senator and new presidential hopeful Chris Dodd is taking song suggestions for his "Dodd Pod." Wonkette considered "Born to Lose" by The Heartbreakers, which brings to mind "Lost Cause" by Beck and "Running Down a Dream" by Tom Petty. But scratch your head for snarky ideas no longer! The May/June 2006 issue of Mother Jones has a whole list of suggestions we can make in honor of Dodd's colleagues in Washington. A sampling:

"Been Caught Stealing," by Jane's Addiction
Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.)

"Girlfriend in a Coma," by The Smiths
Former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn)

"Road to Nowhere," by Talking Heads
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)

"Bridge Over Troubled Water," by Simon & Garfunkel
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

"Don't Fence Me In," by Cole Porter
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.)

"Carolina on My Mind," by James Taylor
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

"Stuck in the Middle With You," by Stealers Wheel
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)

"Kickstart My Heart," by Mötley Crüe
Vice-President Dick Cheney

Two Really Good Examples of Bush Being Full of Hot Air

| Thu Jan. 11, 2007 2:35 PM EST

Two simple points about Bush's speech last night are making their way around the web.

1. If we are really cracking down on Maliki and insisting that he ends the sway of the militias, then we must be prepared to leave if he doesn't, with our dreams of "victory" dashed. But Bush said yesterday that failure is not acceptable, implying that we aren't leaving any time soon. So will there be accountability, or won't there?

2. Why would Maliki crack down on al-Sadr when al-Sadr's influence provides the votes that keep Maliki in power?

Read more at Talking Points Memo, who traces the thinking to Andrew Sullivan and John Derbyshire.

(One additional note: Bush said yesterday, as part of his murky explanation of why things will be different THIS time around, that Iraqi police will be increased in numbers and will start patroling the streets to better protect the local populace. Specifically, he said they will be "conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents." Honest to god, if I was a citizen of Baghdad, I'd be scared to death. Iraqi police already operate checkpoints and go door-to-door. That's how they kill people.)

FYI - Christopher Dodd is Running for President

| Thu Jan. 11, 2007 2:09 PM EST

Adjust your voting plans accordingly. So you know, Dodd is Connecticut's senior senator, and may be running now because, at 64, he is reaching the generally-accepted outer age limit for a presidential candidate (hint hint, Mr. McCain). You can learn more about Dodd at his campaign website or suggest music for him to listen to on his "DoddPod" here.

King David Returns

| Thu Jan. 11, 2007 1:15 PM EST

If Bush was serious last night, America's destiny in Iraq is in the hands of Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, who is now leading US forces there. The big battle is to be waged counter-insurgency style inside Baghdad, probably most importantly against Bani Sadr's supposed 60,000 guerrillas.

This sounds like the Battle of Algiers where, in the 1950s, the French Foreign Legion brutally attacked and overwhelmed the FLN guerrillas holed up in the Casbah. In the end, the French lost, with de Gaulle overseeing a peace.

Counter-insurgency has a long, unpleasant history. The French tried it in Vietnam after the second world war, actually planting their own troops into villages and intermarrying with the Vietnamese. It didn't work and the French were routed at Dien Bien Phu. Ed Lansdale, who worked with the OSS and later became the CIA's man in Vietnam, assisted the French in their losing battle, then went on to try and build up the South Vietnamese military.

Lansdale has often been called the true father of American counter-insurgency. He operated in the Philippines, living with Magsaysay before he became president, and was part of Operation Mongoose, Jack Kennedy's plan to overthrow Castro. He was involved in attempts to assassinate Castro as well. Under Kennedy he ended up as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations. When Reagan became president, Special Operations people in the military, along with scholars at the Heritage Foundation, urged U.S. policy makers to employ counter-insurgency tactics, or what was then called irregular warfare, in Central America. The Contras were the result.

Counter-insurgency depends on good intelligence and a supportive local population -- neither of which the U.S. has in Iraq, certainly not in Baghdad.

The general idea, put forward in the Iraq Study Group report, is to embed American troops within the Iraqi army. That presupposes the Iraqi army can be trusted not to trick the Americans into an ambush and/or to provide decent intelligence, which seems questionable.

General Petraeus is well-liked, considered to be a successful commander in Northern Iraq. He wrote a new counterinsurgency manual for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. "Western militaries too often neglect the study of insurgency," he writes in the manual. "They falsely believe that armies trained to win large conventional wars are automatically prepared to win small unconventional ones."

"In fact," the General continues, "some capabilities required for conventional success... may be of limited utility or even counterproductive in counterinsurgency operations. Nonetheless, conventional forces beginning counterinsurgency operations often try to use these capabilities to defeat insurgents; they almost always fail."

Following, thanks to the Globe and Mail, are
Petraeus's 14 Observations on Iraq:

1. Do not try to do too much with your own hands.
2. Act quickly, because every army of liberation has a half-life.
3. Money is ammunition.
4. Increasing the number of stakeholders is a critical component to success.
5. Analyze "costs and benefits" before each operation.
6. Intelligence is the key to success.
7. Everyone must do nation-building.
8. Help build institutions, not just units.
9. Cultural awareness is a force multiplier.
10. Success in a counterinsurgency requires more than just military operations.
11. Ultimate success depends on local leaders.
12. Remember the strategic corporals and strategic lieutenants.
13. There is no substitute for flexible, adaptable leaders.
14. A leader's most important task is to set the right tone.