Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Surge to Nowhere


By Andrew J. Bacevich
Sunday, January 20, 2008; B01

The war may be off the front pages, but Iraq is broken beyond repair, and we still own it.
As the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom nears, the fabulists are again trying to weave their own version of the war. The latest myth is that the "surge" is working.

In President Bush's pithy formulation, the United States is now "kicking ass" in Iraq. The gallant Gen. David Petraeus, having been given the right tools, has performed miracles, redeeming a situation that once appeared hopeless. Sen. John McCain has gone so far as to declare that "we are winning in Iraq." While few others express themselves quite so categorically, McCain's remark captures the essence of the emerging story line: Events have (yet again) reached a turning point. There, at the far end of the tunnel, light flickers. Despite the hand-wringing of the defeatists and naysayers, victory beckons.

From the hallowed halls of the American Enterprise Institute waft facile assurances that all will come out well. AEI's Reuel Marc Gerecht assures us that the moment to acknowledge "democracy's success in Iraq" has arrived. To his colleague Michael Ledeen, the explanation for the turnaround couldn't be clearer: "We were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis recognized it." In an essay entitled "Mission Accomplished" that is being touted by the AEI crowd, Bartle Bull, the foreign editor of the British magazine Prospect, instructs us that "Iraq's biggest questions have been resolved." Violence there "has ceased being political." As a result, whatever mayhem still lingers is "no longer nearly as important as it was." Meanwhile, Frederick W. Kagan, an AEI resident scholar and the arch-advocate of the surge, announces that the "credibility of the prophets of doom" has reached "a low ebb."

Presumably Kagan and his comrades would have us believe that recent events vindicate the prophets who in 2002-03 were promoting preventive war as a key instrument of U.S. policy. By shifting the conversation to tactics, they seek to divert attention from flagrant failures of basic strategy. Yet what exactly has the surge wrought? In substantive terms, the answer is: not much.

As the violence in Baghdad and Anbar province abates, the political and economic dysfunction enveloping Iraq has become all the more apparent. The recent agreement to rehabilitate some former Baathists notwithstanding, signs of lasting Sunni-Shiite reconciliation are scant. The United States has acquired a ramshackle, ungovernable and unresponsive dependency that is incapable of securing its own borders or managing its own affairs. More than three years after then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice handed President Bush a note announcing that "Iraq is sovereign," that sovereignty remains a fiction.

A nation-building project launched in the confident expectation that the United States would repeat in Iraq the successes it had achieved in Germany and Japan after 1945 instead compares unfavorably with the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina. Even today, Iraqi electrical generation meets barely half the daily national requirements. Baghdad households now receive power an average of 12 hours each day -- six hours fewer than when Saddam Hussein ruled. Oil production still has not returned to pre-invasion levels. Reports of widespread fraud, waste and sheer ineptitude in the administration of U.S. aid have become so commonplace that they barely last a news cycle. (Recall, for example, the 110,000 AK-47s, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets intended for Iraqi security forces that, according to the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon cannot account for.) U.S. officials repeatedly complain, to little avail, about the paralyzing squabbling inside the Iraqi parliament and the rampant corruption within Iraqi ministries. If a primary function of government is to provide services, then the government of Iraq can hardly be said to exist.

Moreover, recent evidence suggests that the United States is tacitly abandoning its efforts to create a truly functional government in Baghdad. By offering arms and bribes to Sunni insurgents -- an initiative that has been far more important to the temporary reduction in the level of violence than the influx of additional American troops -- U.S. forces have affirmed the fundamental irrelevance of the political apparatus bunkered inside the Green Zone.

Rather than fostering political reconciliation, accommodating Sunni tribal leaders ratifies the ethnic cleansing that resulted from the civil war touched off by the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a Shiite shrine. That conflict has shredded the fragile connective tissue linking the various elements of Iraqi society; the deals being cut with insurgent factions serve only to ratify that dismal outcome. First Sgt. Richard Meiers of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division got it exactly right: "We're paying them not to blow us up. It looks good right now, but what happens when the money stops?"

In short, the surge has done nothing to overturn former secretary of state Colin Powell's now-famous "Pottery Barn" rule: Iraq is irretrievably broken, and we own it. To say that any amount of "kicking ass" will make Iraq whole once again is pure fantasy. The U.S. dilemma remains unchanged: continue to pour lives and money into Iraq with no end in sight, or cut our losses and deal with the consequences of failure.

more ...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

US Attorneys probe deepens

The federal investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys could jolt the political landscape ahead of the November elections, according to several people close to the inquiry. [Update 2008.02.12]

Washington’s attention has been diverted from the scandal since the August resignation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, and has focused instead on Democrats’ efforts to hold White House officials in contempt for ignoring congressional subpoenas to testify on Capitol Hill about the firings.

But recent behind-the-scenes activity in several investigations suggests that the issue that roiled Congress in 2007 could re-emerge in the heat of the election year. Two inquiries by the House and Senate ethics committees are examining whether several congressional Republicans, including one running for the Senate this year, improperly interfered with investigations.

As potent as the congressional probes might be, they appear to be far narrower than a sprawling inquiry launched by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

Investigators from these offices have been questioning whether senior officials lied to Congress, violated the criminal provisions in the Hatch Act, tampered with witnesses preparing to testify to Congress, obstructed justice, took improper political considerations into account during the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys and created widespread problems in the department’s Civil Rights Division, according to several people familiar with the investigation.
more ...

Update 2008.03.10: Bradblog: Hearings

. . .. ... .. . .

TPM timeline

Monday, January 21, 2008



Google plans to host terabytes of open-source scientific datasets on research.google.com. The storage will be free to scientists and access to the data will be free for all.

Two planned datasets are all 120 terabytes of Hubble Space Telescope data and the images from the Archimedes Palimpsest, the 10th century manuscript that inspired the Google dataset storage project.

Read Original Article>>

Friday, January 18, 2008

on the merits

TPM Horses Mouth

Keith Olbermann made a big boo-boo on MSNCB last night. When he learned of it, he had a deeply bizarre, almost-unheard-of reaction:

He admitted he was wrong and apologized.

One thing [the TPM Horse's Mouth] blog can't fathom is why this is such a rare occurrence among your top media stars. When Joe Klein made a hash of things with a piece on FISA, he dragged his feet about it for weeks. When The Washington Post took a big hit for front-paging the scurrilous Obama Muslim smears without declaring them false, the paper's editors dug in.

[The TPM Horse's Mouth] blog doesn't make a regular practice of linking to Olbermann stuff, mainly because so many other folks do it. But this episode is worth flagging, because Olbermann really did handle this in a way that other top-shelf media figures might consider emulating.

Here's what happened. Yesterday Olbermann had writer Lawrence O'Donnell as a guest on his show. They talked about Edwards, Obama, and Reagan.

But then some people pointed out that Olbermann shouldn't have done this. Why? Because just a few days ago, O'Donnell wrote a piece for The Huffington Post called 'John Edwards Is A Loser,' which suggested that perhaps he just might harbor a bit of animus towards the guy and might not be equipped to discuss Edwards fairly.

When Olbermann learned what happened and heard that people were griping, he did a funny thing: He actually weighed the criticism on its merits. And he admitted that he'd screwed up:
His HuffPo piece was news to me.

Shouldn't have been, obviously, but it was.

...the point about this appearance, especially in the wake of such a freshly-written piece, is well-taken and I'm very sorry.

It will be addressed tonight on the show.

note: the apology appeared in Olbermann's Daily Kos diary, which he inaugurated 4 days ago with these words:
Yeah, it’s me.


Sure has taken me long enough. But, as you may know, I am the shy, retiring type: Hesitant to state an opinion in public and horrified to pass judgment or seem a scold.

CNN's John King's interaction with Greenwald

Update: 2008.02.12:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Greenwald mixes it up with CNN's John King

Glenn Greenwald - Political Blogs and Opinions - Salon:
Ponder how much better things would be if establishment journalists -- in response to being endlessly lied to and manipulated by political officials and upon witnessing extreme lawbreaking and corruption at the highest levels of our government -- were able to muster just a tiny fraction of the high dudgeon, petulant offense, and melodramatic outrage that comes pouring forth whenever their 'reporting' is criticized.

Update: by contrast

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Social Networks: 1 Political Machine: 0

Network Weaving

The first U.S. presidential primary of 2008 is over and it was full of surprises. After the first inning, we have an unexpected lead.

One of the biggest shocks was on the Republican side -- Huckabee beat Romney. The low budget guy beat the the big spender -- shocking all of the pundits. The common wisdom in politics is that money wins -- s/he with the biggest machine marches on. Since Huckabee couldn't outspend his rivals he had to out-think them. [Lack of money frequently leads to creativity]. Huckabee chose to network his way to success. From USA Today:
'Huckabee, whose campaign has caught fire only in recent months, is largely relying on pre-existing networks within Iowa, ...'
He found local social networks of conservative Christians, gun owners, home schoolers and tax reformers. It was in these networks that Huckabee's message caught fire and spread to other networks that intersected with these. Soon Huckabee had large clusters of interconnected supporters, all reinforcing one another -- friends talking to friends.

Meanwhile, Romney and the others were following common campaign wisdom and setting up phone banks, canvasing neighborhoods and spending money in the mass media -- strangers talking to strangers.

What was the big difference between these two approaches? Huckabee was connecting to intact networks that had a long history together, while Romney was connecting to individual voters -- one at a time. While Romney's supporters were also members of social networks, they were talked to, and influenced individually, alone. Who knows what they did when they went back into their social network? Huckabee's networks all got the same message at roughly the same time -- they probably had very fewer defections.

From Jonathan Tilove @ Newhouse News:
...ultimately, for all the talk about voting being a private act, it is in fact a social act in which individual behavior is hugely dependent on the thinking and actions of others.
more ...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Obama's Iowa victory speech

Face The Nation: Bob Schieffer

Crooks and Liars » Face The Nation: Bob Schieffer on What Iowa Tells Us:

Read carefully between the lines of what Bob Schieffer expresses in his final comment on Face The Nation this past Sunday:
A couple of nice things happened in Iowa that should not be overlooked. An African-American won the Democratic caucuses in a state that is overwhelming white and race was not a factor. No matter who you wanted to win, it’s good to know that can happen. On the Republican side, it was nice to know that every once in a while, an election cannot be bought. Mitt Romney poured millions into Iowa but Mike Huckabee beat him with a smile and a shoeshine and not much more. Forget who won and lost. It’s good to know that money does not always guarantee victory.
Did you catch it? It’s been a while so it’s hard to recognize it when it does, but that was just a MSM pundit celebrating liberal values, like colorblindness, diversity and merit over entitlement and saying that we should all look upon them as a good thing.

Smart Mobs » Blog Archive » Howard Rheingold launches video blog

Smart Mobs » Blog Archive » Howard Rheingold launches video blog

Rheingold Vlog Thumbnail

I’ve launched a video blog at http://vlog.rheingold.com and plan/hope to update it weekly. Spread the word! It all started when I started thinking about updating A Slice of Life in My Virtual Community, which I wrote twenty years ago. It didn’t take long to realize that a description of how I spend my time online these days would be conveyed more effectively via video/screencast than plain text. Once I got rolling, I realized that it would take more than one episode to show how and why I spend time reading RSS, scanning blogs, blogging, gardening wikis, posting in virtual communities, Twittering, teaching, etc. So the first month or so will feature episodes of A (re)Slice of Life Online. However, once I started including my indoor and outdoor offices in the videos, it occurred to me that I ought to explain something about the parts of my life that haven’t been so visible to my readers — the painting, gardening, sculpting that are as important to me as the publishing activities that are most visible to others.

Don’t expect it to be too polished, although I guarantee that production quality will improve over time. I’m hoping that all the frustrating details of cameras, cables, batteries, lights, microphones will become second nature to me and I’ll begin to become fluent enough in video vernacular to include interviews with some of the more interesting people I encounter.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Wikinomics » Blog Archive » MIT: Unlocking knowledge, opening minds

Wikinomics » Blog Archive » MIT: Unlocking knowledge, opening minds

As Deb Perelman’s blog summarized nicely, MIT just go a whole lot less exclusive: the core teaching materials, including syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, and exams from MIT’s 1,800 courses, are now online and free to the public. The reason MIT is doing so (which we’ve obviously talked about before, but is worth repeating again) is simply that MIT is committed to advancing education and discovery through knowledge open to everyone - a goal we should all be able to get behind. It is really worth having a look around the MIT site - or better, yet, download a course.

However, there is at least one issue that remains to be dealt with - while the courses are open, accessible and “free”, many of the readings the courses are built on aren’t. For example, if you are interested in the technology strategy course, you will find this reading list - mostly articles that you’ll have to find and pay for through some journal archive service, and some books that you can buy through Amazon. Many other courses have a very long list of expensive, required texts. In turn, while anyone can now sign up for the courses and perhaps study the lecture notes and some of the reading material, many prospective students (particularly those in developing nations) will find the core parts of the course are still out of their reach.

Of course, there is a benefit tied to the books as well - the partnership with Amazon allows for 10% of the sales price from books bought through the site to go towards MIT, in order to support the open access resource. Moreover, the opening up of university courses is just a start - they have a similar site operating now for high school students and teachers, many courses are being translated, in addition to a variety of other exciting elements of this amazing initiative.

MIT is moving in a great direction for many, many different reasons - and with other communities like Curriki doing similar things, access to cutting edge educational material and support might just move from being a privilege to a right. Any way you slice it, that would be a great outcome for everyone.