Archive for May 8th, 2006

Originally I thought I would just append this interview of President Bush with German reporter Sabine Christiansen of ARD television into my daily “Links” post, but I think it deserves more attention for the grilling the president undergoes and some of the answers he’s forced to give.

Why is it that our media doesn’t conduct interviews like this with…well…any major politician? Before I comment, let’s look at some of the questions and responses:

Q We Germans seem to be more involved — have been more involved in the Iraq war than anybody else knew — involuntarily, I would like to say. Because the U.S. intelligence services used German airports for secret rendition flights, and interrogated, even, German citizens — hardly what you'd expect, I would say, from a friend and ally.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, on intelligence matters, it's my policy not to talk about them, otherwise they're not intelligence matters anymore. And the questions you ask will be all — in some cases, analyzed through courts, in some cases through press inquiry. But
Germany is a friend.

Q But the behavior itself? Is it behavior for an ally —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, like, what are you talking about?

Q I mean that you do this, that you don't ask for help for some of the ally, that you don't inform the ally and so on.

THE PRESIDENT: On like what subject, for example?

Q Like these flights, for example.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, again, you're asking me to talk about intelligence matters that I'm not going to talk about. And people can say whatever they want to say, but we work closely with Germany on all kinds of fronts in order to protect ourselves.

Q Then let me ask you about the image of the United States, especially for us Germans after the war, the United States stood as the symbol of liberty, for democracy. And then we saw these — we saw Abu Ghraib, we saw Guantanamo, and these seemed suddenly to be signals that you're abandoning these values of democracy and liberty. And how do you want to repair them?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it's absurd to say America is abandoning our values. No question Abu Ghraib was a disgrace for our country. But I think people ought to take a look at what happened afterwards — and those who are responsible for that disgraceful behavior have been held to account, have been tried, have been, in some cases, dismissed from our military.

We're at war with an enemy. And we've got to protect ourselves. And, obviously, the Guantanamo issue is a sensitive issue for people. I very much would like to end Guantanamo; I very much would like to get people to a court. And we're waiting for our Supreme Court to give us a decision as to whether the people need to have a fair trial in a civilian court or in a military court.

But in either case, they will get a trial which they, themselves, were unwilling to give to the people that they're willing to kill — "they," the enemy.

[snip]

Q Let me ask you another question to the war on terrorism. How do you want, really, to fight terrorism when you are so dependent on Arabian oil?

THE PRESIDENT: That's an interesting question. I've never thought of it that way. The first thing we ought to do is get off oil.

Q That's what you said.

THE PRESIDENT: And I mean that. Yes, I know.

Q Do you mean that, really?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. Oil has become — it's an economic risk for us. I mean, after all, if the oil — if the demand for oil goes up in India or China, fast-growing economies, it affects the price of gasoline in the United States and in Germany. It's also a national security issue, obviously. Oil comes from unstable parts of the world. So I'm absolutely serious about getting off of oil.

Q Because we, in Europe, we asked this when we heard your speech, and we said oil is now — THE PRESIDENT: You don't believe old George W.?

Touchstone: NO. And apparently, with approval ratings hovering near 30%, neither do many other Americans.

So. Why is it our own media don’t grill our politicians in like fashion? Take the question about theU.S. practice of “rendition” – the kidnappings of foreign nationals by the CIA and their transportation to secret prisons. First, Christiansen brought it up, which no major U.S. news figure would dream of doing. Second, she wouldn’t let it go. Third, she treated it as fact.

(Incidentally, she also got a scoop out of the prez, that he wants to shut down Guantamano. See? Not only is grilling good for the nation, you get good info that way.)

That last statement is the most important. I think that’s the major problem with traditional media, their disinclination to challenge political players with facts. Too often a politician simply denies something exists – the way Bush does in this interview towards torture or the illegal detention of prisoners in Guantanamo – and the American journalist inevitably backs down. In this type of reporting Bush’s statements carry equal weight with…well…the facts. (Mara Liasson’s recent statements about the Abramoff scandal: she simply parrots the GOP talking points and states them as fact.)

And so it went during the lead-up to the Iraqi invasion. There was plenty of evidence or information from reliable sources that directly contradicted the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD. It was known months before the invasion that the Bushies were using evidence culled from Iraqi fave, Ahmed Chalabi, and that Chalabi was not a reliable source, but was in fact a Mid East conman.

A good story should not be, “so-and-so accuses the Bush administration of,” and “the Bush administration responded with.” It should be, “the Bush administration said this,” and “this is actually what’s likely.”

It sounds like a partisan claim. That Bush and Bush only should be held accountable by the press. That’s definitely not true. ALL politicians should be grilled mercilessly. I’m with the Founding Fathers: we shouldn’t trust these f*ckers one bit. And the press should server as our doubting nature. The press should always oppose the government, no matter who’s in power. It should always ask tough questions, and it should always doubt everything they say.

I can dream, can't I?

Hero: Bill Worf

For the three of you who don’t read Wulfgar’s! “A Chicken is not Pillage” (whatever the h*ll that means), he has a fantastic post up about Conrad Burns’ new proposed legislation allowing motorized transport through Bitterroot-Selway wilderness areas to maintain dams in the mountains.

I’ll let Wulfgar! do the heavy lifting in explaining the issue, but suffice to say that the dams don’t actually pose much threat to life and property to Bitterroot homeowners. Basically it’s the type of legislation that will provoke environmentalists to action and make themselves look bad to anyone who’s not familiar with the issue. I.e., most of Montana.

But out of the morass comes a clear voice: Bill Worf.

Bill Worf, a retired Forest Service official who once ran the agency's national wilderness program, said the bill is unnecessary for continued maintenance of the dams.

"They were built with traditional hand tools and horse power 100 years ago, and were maintained the same way ever since," Worf said. "The Forest Service promised Congress that's the way it would be when the wilderness bill passed. If the dam owners don't want dams in the wilderness, then they should breach the damn things and leave the people's wilderness alone."

Bill Worf is a WWII Marine vet, career forester, and founder of Wilderness Watch, a non-profit environmental organization.

‘Nuff said.

I just finished John Crawford’s The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell, a memoir about fighting in Iraq. The book is mediocre, and I wouldn’t recommend it. You can read as good or better accounts of fighting in Iraq in the blogosphere. The writing is spotty, some of the stories Crawford tells are dull or uninspired. Still the book conveys what it must be like to be stuck in Iraq.

Here are the things that struck me:

Iraq is completely hostile to the U.S. presence. It sounds worse than Vietnam. In Saigon, soldiers could leave their barracks and visit clubs or restaurants. Reporters rented apartments and lived away from military bases. Not in Baghdad. The military and media huddle in pockets of secured areas, while the rest of the city is anarchy. Americans are isolated among a hostile populace.

The soldiers are under-equipped. Crawford constantly talks about lack of decent body armor, broken night-vision equipment, even ragged clothing.

The soldiers in Iraq feel completely abandoned from home.

Almost all the soldiers are suffering from psychological trauma. They are changed forever by war, and not in a good way.

Here’s an interesting quote from the book:

The skeptics, the reporters, the pro- and anti-war demonstrators, they’re all wrong. The news says the war’s over. That was fine by us. No one else belonged there anyway. This was our war, this was my war, and it’s the only one I had. I may have had my doubts about it, but it was something to hold on to.

And here we meet a common theme in many soldier’s thoughts about Iraq, the search for why they’re there. Crawford sees the war as his, not his country’s. That makes sense: at home, we have no idea what’s going on there. Not only do we fail to understand how terrible the fighting and day-to-day living is for the soldiers, we give so many conflicting reasons for the war, it’s clear they don’t know why we’re there.

To make any sense of his experience, Crawford makes it personal. It's his war in both reality and metaphor. The war is there to create him.

Imagine how confusing that must be for soldiers to be isolated in a hostile and foreign country, not knowing why they’re there. Take the following quotes from one of the better war blogs. I’m not going to link to the site; the author requested that people not do that. Apparently he’s gotten into trouble with the military for publishing opinions that circled the blogosphere. He's afraid of reprisals for his writing.

In the following excerpt, the soldier expresses his frustration at Americans who oppose the war:

Here’s another thing that’s been on my mind… it’s so depressing when you realize that half the American population doesn’t support the war. I could get into the politics of it but I’m not going to; it’s not worth my time or brainpower to debate the politics of the war anymore. However, when someone doesn’t support what you do for a living it’s extremely hard to believe they support you at all.

The soldier then goes on to use an analogy of a bar: he’s the bartender, and the American people are his customers.

I’d be working behind my bar on a Friday night making oodles of money and enjoying the living hell out of it. Then some people would sit at the bar and order soda. And they would just sit there. For hours. And drink free-refill-Coke. And tip me a grand total of forty cents on a drink that I’ve refilled a number of times. I just wanted to pimp slap them across the face and say “Hey! If you’re not going to order a cocktail could you please go find a table to sit at as opposed to my bar?! There are other people who would like to purchase alcoholic beverages, consequently compensating me by bestowing upon me this thing called a “tip” for making said beverages. YOU are hindering my ability to pay my bills!”

Now pretend that instead of “bartender” you have a “soldier.” And the “people ordering soda at the bar” are instead the “people who don’t support the war.” And instead of “bills to pay” you have “morale.” Maybe it’s a sh[*]tty analogy but it’s the best I can come up with.

Except the people at the bar have been woken up in the middle of the night at gunpoint and forced down to the bar. Oh yeah, and they’re allergic to alcohol. And at each of the tables is a group of used car salesmen telling racist jokes, so the only place to sit is at the bar.

Anyways, occasionally my parents or friends will update me on what the media back home is saying about the war. And it’s always negative. And I always, ALWAYS, hear about how a poll came out and shows half of America doesn’t support the war in Iraq. Thanks, CNN! That makes me so totally motivated to do my job over here! To get blown the fuck up and not have people give a sh[*]t. Today, once again in the guard tower, I lamented the fact that no one in Iraq cares, no one in America cares, and as a result, when I get shot in the face it’s going to be for nothing. I think about how maybe I have it all backwards and Americans back home really do support the war, but it’s not like I’d know anyways; it’s that whole being-half-way-around-the-world thing.

Later in the blog, the soldier writes:

This war is SO fucked up. I really can’t comprehend how people are against this war, knowing how these terrorists operate. It’s sad to think about it but I’m firmly convinced it’s going to take a nuke going off in New York City before anyone realizes how truly dangerous these “people” are, and, whether you like George Bush or not, how crucial it is we win.

First, as someone who opposes the war, I admit I feel guilty when a soldier posted in Iraq says something like this. It makes sense that soldiers serving in such dangerous and chaotic conditions want to feel that they’re there for a reason. I mean, they could die. And if they survive, it’s likely they’ll face a difficult adjustment back to civilian life. How many Vietnam vets are still out on the streets? How many problems with alcohol and drugs are fueled by a vet’s combat experiences?

But then I think, I feel guilty? For what? For George Bush’s mistakes, for his ambition and incompetence?

A lot of people invest soldiers with moral authority. In the current political and social climate, a soldier’s opinion holds more moral weight than mine or yours. But is that correct? Look, most of the combat soldiers in Iraq have little or no college education. (The above-quoted anonymous soldier was an ex-bartender.) Few speak Arabic. Few know anything about the country they occupy. Soldiers don’t go off base and mingle with the population. They are isolated. Should we take their opinion on Iraq seriously? On the war, definitely. But on, say, cultural, historical, or political trends? In those areas I’d say they’re as full of sh*t as the rest of us.

The anonymous soldier parrots the line about “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” with his belief that his actions in Iraq are preventing terrorists from dropping a nuclear bomb on New York. But then he fails to notice that most of the “terrorists” he’s battling are home-grown insurgents reacting directly to the invasion and occupation. That the Arabic recruits performing suicide bombing runs on US and Iraqi targets are inflamed to volunteer by the presence of US troops in the Middle East.

Honestly, isn’t it clear our invasion of Iraq has made it more dangerous for all US citizens?

The thing is – and this emotion is prevalent among many war supporters – this guy is terrified that he’s going to die for nothing, that his actions there mean nothing, that’s shot at and maybe killed other human beings for no reason, and that fact terrifies him into spinning elaborate theories on why we’re there.

The truth is, he might very well be there for no good reason.

That’s not my fault. Blame the President. And blame Congress, who rolled over like a lap dog to the administration’s ideological fantasies. And blame the media who let them get away with it. But why blame the people who are trying to undo the mistakes and bring the troops home?

But what I took away from these readings is a concern for veterans returning home from Iraq. We need to make sure that the VA hospital system is fully funded. We need to make sure that the veterans receive ample reward for their service in money for school or home loans or job training. We need to make sure that they receive quality drug and alcohol treatment should they need it; marriage counseling to address marital pressures. We can’t fail these men and women the way we failed Vietnam veterans.

This may not be our war. But these are our soldiers.

Links…

NY ad agency drops its case against the Maine blogger who criticized its work for his state’s board of tourism.

The Secret Service released its logs on Abramoff visits to the White House and – surprise! There were over 200 visits in the first 10 months! No wonder Burns supports Bush so ardently. They have the same friends.

Bush to name Air Force General Michael Hayden as head of the CIA. Matt Singer decries the choice because it makes the CIA a wing of the Pentagon. I think it’s a bad choice because this was the guy in charge of the illegal wiretapping. (And he’s not comfortable with the Constitution, either.)

Bush’s best moment as President was when he caught a fish. You know, I might agree with him on that one, although apparently the story was a lie. I’m shocked, shocked!

Department of Agriculture gets its “talking points”…for Iraq. If you can’t actually manage the war, confuse ‘em at home.

“Burger King flaunts its meat."

Pelosi claims Dems won’t impeach Bush if they control Congress. This is absolutely spineless.

Comparing Lincoln to Bush. Honestly, I don’t even know why anyone would put them in the same sentence.

Is journalism a dead art? Mara Liasson gets the Abramoff story wrong, repeats GOP talking points as fact.




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