On the Presidency of Al Gore

In less than two weeks the United States will mark a solemn and unfortunate anniversary, the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

I bring this up, not to disturb the memories of some who are still traumatized by the incident, but because of a recent poll that asked Americans what they thought the world would be like if Al Gore had been President. And the truth is, most Americans think we’d be in the same place we are today if Al Gore, not George W. Bush, had been inaugurated in 2001.

There are a few blogs that have been discussing it. Matt Yglesias discusses it. So too does Andrew Sullivan. The point both make is that there would have been some military intervention in Asia and the Middle East, at the very least Afghanistan and possibly Iraq as well, thanks to 9-11.

However, that belief presumes there would have been a need for an invasion of Afghanistan to take down bin Laden in a Gore presidency. It’s difficult to prove the counterfactual, but there’s every reason to think that 9/11 would not have happened.

During the presidential transition in 2001, President Clinton gave Bush a plan to retaliate against al-Qaeda for the USS Cole bombing. Clinton did not implement the plan himself, as he did not want to bequeath his successor a military operation (in the way that Bush pere had left Clinton to clean up the Somalia mess). Bush promptly tossed the retaliatory strike on al-Qaeda because the people he had surrounded himself with believed that terrorism was not a big deal. Gore, on the other hand, would not have been as dismissive of the idea of terrorism, having been in the Clinton administration. Even if the Cole reprisal didn’t disrupt al-Qaeda sufficiently, not backbenching Richard Clarke as Condoleezza Rice had would have paid dividends. That’s not to say that the Bush administration was not aware of the impending attack — John Ashcroft suspected enough that he stopped flying on public planes, Bush was given the PDB of August 6, 2011 that warned of an impending attack — but the Bush administration wasn’t focused on or interested in doing anything about the intel. A President Gore presented with a Presidential Daily Briefing entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike In US” would not have said to his CIA briefer, as Bush did, “Okay, now you’ve covered your ass.”

Even presuming that 9/11 occurs on Gore’s watch, we don’t get from Afghanistan to Iraq. Yes, it is true that Gore believed in the existence of Iraqi WMDs. But Gore was not the unilateralist that Bush was, and Gore didn’t have the Cold War Revivalists like Cheney surrounding him. (And, if you accept the premise of Jacob Weisberg’s The Bush Tragedy, Gore didn’t have the psychological and familial issues that pushed Bush into Iraq.) Would Gore have used intelligence he knew to be false and fabricated to make a case for war? I genuinely doubt it. In any event, the link between Afghanistan and Iraq wasn’t just tenuous. It was non-existent. Yet, that purported link was one of the reasons that Bush and his administration argued for war. If you ask people today if there was a link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, many many people think there was, because Dick Cheney and George W. Bush kept telling them so. If they weren’t in a position to use the bully pulpit of their offices to tell the American people an outright lie, the non-existent link would not have been forged in the mind of the people. That’s not to say that Cheney couldn’t have written editorials and the like claiming that it was a vital interest of the United States to depose Saddam Hussein. Along with other neocons with the Project for a New American Century, he wrote a letter to Clinton in the mid-90s arguing for regime change in Iraq. There’s a vast difference between writing a letter to a President and being a Vice President with the ear of a President who had something to prove to the world.

In short, the evidence supports the contention that the 9/11 attacks happened because of the incompetence of Bush and his advisors. In a hypothetical world where Gore became President in 2001, there’s every reason to believe that the al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington would have been disrupted in advance of the hijackings and the Twin Towers would continue to stands. At times I wonder how people like Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy can sleep at night. They have the blood of the last decade on their hands.at times I wonder how people like Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy can sleep at night. They have the blood of the last decade on their hands. If only for that reason, a world with President Gore would be a better world than the one we inhabit today.

George Bush’s presidency is also an argument against Leibniz — we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.

On the Obsession DVD

I mentioned on Thursday that I had received that day in the mail a DVD — Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.

Obsession is, according to Wikipedia, “a documentary movie about Islamist teachings and goals” that “compares the threat of radical Islamism with that of Nazism before World War II, and draws parallels between radical Islamists and the Nazi Party during the War.”

The film has been distributed in recent weeks in newspapers in “swing states” for the upcoming Presidential election. Talkingpointsmemo had tracked the distribution of the film, and according to the group behind its mass distribution the goal of the film is not to influence the election, but to foster a conversation, even though they only happened to be targeting the swing states in play in the election. Color me skeptical of their reasoning.

Not living in a swing state — the Democratic Party could run Lucifer himself as their candidate, and Maryland would give him their Electoral votes — I did not receive Obsession in the local paper. And it came as a surprise to find a copy in mail on Thursday.

Though I am not anxious to watch the film, I am curious about it. I’ve no doubt that I will find some historical lapse in the film. It is a propaganda piece, and from what I have read Obsession argues for Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” viewpoint — that peaceful coexistence between east and west is impossible due to the yawning chasms of religion and culture.

The causes of conflict between the Western and Islamic worlds run deep, to hundreds of years in the past, from the Crusades to the European imperialism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It seems to me, and I admit that this is perhaps a naive idea, that the cause of continuing conflict is that, in the Islamic world, the Western countries — in particular, their culture, if not their politics — are a continuing irritant. Perhaps, if thought of in chemical terms, Western culture is like a catalyst in the chemical solution that is the Middle East. Place the catalyst in the solution, and the solution boils. Remove the catalyst, and the solution simmers down.

Perhaps there will always be conflict, but do the Western countries have to exacerbate the situation?

My solution to the problem is two-fold.

One. Withdraw American forces from Iraq. The Iraqis will be forced, absent American support, to forge a solution to their situation on their own terms. If that means multiple nations, so be it. If that means a federal republic, so be it.

Two. Develop alternate energy sources in a crash Manhattan Project/Apollo Moon Program-style project, to disentangle the United States and other nations from the need for Arabian oil supplies. Whoever develops the energy solution for the future will be in the driver’s seat for the next century (and beyond). If the nineteenth century was the British Century and the twentieth century was the American Century, who will be remembered as the driving force behind the twenty-first? The Chinese? The Japanese? The French? Who?

The advantage to these ideas? Right now, the world needs the Arab world more than the Arabs need the world, because of the energy advantage they hold. Decrease the need of the world for the oil products, and the two worlds can meet on a more level playing field.

Obviously, I am not a politician, nor a great thinker in international relations. These ideas may be too common sensical. Conflict with the Arab world will be a problem extending into the future. Will Obsession posit, as I did, constructive solutions, or will Obsession argue for a more vigorous military solution, to meet guns with more guns? Based on the film’s subtitle, I am assuming the latter.

Stay tuned.

On the President’s Abject Disconnect

Times of war are times of sacrifice.

In my grandparent’s generation — World War II — resources were rationed for the war effort. People from all walks of life gave up necessities so that the Axis could be defeated.

President Bush, in our own Iraqi quagmire, believes in sacrifice.

He sacrificed his tee time. He gave up golf.

Let me repeat that.

He gave up golf.

To show his support for the war effort, he gave up golf.

He! Gave! Up! Golf!

Only…

He didn’t.

He lied about it.

Not only is it a hollow, trivial sacrifice at best, Bush’s story doesn’t hold water. While he dates his decision to abjure golf to Aug. 19, 2003 — the day a truck bomb in Baghdad killed U.N. special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and more than a dozen others — the Associated Press reported on Oct. 13, 2003, that he’d spent a “cool, breezy Columbus Day” playing “a round of golf with three long-time buddies.

“Bush played at Andrews Air Force Base with Clay Johnson, Office of Management and Budget deputy director, Richard Hauser, Department of Housing and Urban Development general counsel and another friend, Mike Wood.”

On that outing, he was typically full of what passes for good humor at the White House. The AP reported: “‘Fine looking crew you got there. Fine looking crew,’ Bush joked to reporters. ‘That’s what we’d hope for presidential coverage. Only the best.’

“He hit a couple of practice balls before flaring his tee-off shot into the right rough.”

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: “Democrats have criticized Bush for allegedly not requiring Americans to sacrifice enough while waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for urging people to keep shopping as a way to fight terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Bush was also widely criticized in August 2002 when he decried terrorist bombings in Israel while golfing and then told reporters: ‘Now watch this drive.’

“Although Bush says he has given up golf, he is a mountain-biking enthusiast who has been photographed taking part in rides. He took up biking after an injury sidelined him from running.

“Presidential historian Robert Dallek. . . said Bush’s remarks about Iraq ‘speak to his shallowness.’ Dallek added: ‘That’s his idea of sacrifice, to give up golf?'”

He! Lied! About! It!

Does the President live in a fucking bubble? Is he tone-deaf to his own abject stupidity?

He gave up golf.

On “Mission Accomplished” Plus Five

Five years ago today, President George W. Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared, against the backdrop of a banner that said “Mission Accomplished” that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

We have Senator John McCain saying that the United States will be in Iraq for another hundred years. We have Secretary of State Condi Rice saying that putting down guerilla forces in Iraq is like what the Allies did in Germany and Japan after World War II, when bands of German and Japanese partisans attacked American forces after their surrender. (I don’t know what history books Rice read in college, but historically, that didn’t happen. I, however, note it for the record.)

In short, five years after “Mission Accomplished” the mission hasn’t been accomplished.

On John Yoo and the Legality of Torture

I don’t like John Yoo.

Yoo served in President Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel during the early years of his administration. Yoo was known to have penned two memos outlining the legal basis for detainee confinement at Guantanamo Bay and for coercive interrogation tactics — torture, let’s just say it — that led to prison abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

But the contents of those memos were unknown.

No longer.

In response to repeated inquiries by Senators Carl Levin and Patrick Leahy, the Justice Department declassified the memo yesterday. From the Washington Post‘s article:

Sent to the Pentagon’s general counsel on March 14, 2003, by John C. Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the memo provides an expansive argument for nearly unfettered presidential power in a time of war. It contends that numerous laws and treaties forbidding torture or cruel treatment should not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president’s inherent wartime powers.

“If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo wrote. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.”

Interrogators who harmed a prisoner would be protected by a “national and international version of the right to self-defense,” Yoo wrote. He also articulated a definition of illegal conduct in interrogations — that it must “shock the conscience” — that the Bush administration advocated for years.

“Whether conduct is conscience-shocking turns in part on whether it is without any justification,” Yoo wrote, explaining, for example, that it would have to be inspired by malice or sadism before it could be prosecuted.

“Shock the conscience.”

The fact that someone giving President Bush and his administration legal advice that torture is legal shocks my conscience.

The fact that someone giving President Bush and his administration legal advice that laws and treaties don’t need to be followed so long as the President believes he’s doing the right thing shocks my conscience.

Jack Goldsmith in the Justice Department called it “an exercise in sheer power.” If the United States is at war, it argues, the President’s powers are unfettered. The President can do anything he desires, merely because he wants to.

This legal doctrine isn’t the product of two hundred years of American constitutional law. This legal doctrine is the product of totalitarian regimes like China, like Stalinist Russia, like Nazi Germany.

What we have here in an argument for Presidential dictatorship.

The United States is better than that.

Bill Clinton lied about a blow job and was disbarred. John Yoo tells the President that he is unfettered by laws and he now teaches law school.

The mind boggles.

How many people died because of this legal doctrine? How many people were maimed? How many people have suffered incalcuable mental harm?

This is wrong.

Who will be held accountable?

On the Two-Week Round-Up

I think a biweekly recap makes more sense than a weekly recap. At least, until I change my mind again. :lol:

Let’s step back two weeks, to the day before St. Patrick’s Day. There, I mused on The Return of the King, which I watched the night previous. Specifically, I talked about the original ending of the film, in which Aragorn battled Sauron at the Towers of the Teeth. As I said at the time, I understand why the change was made, but that ending is what the film were building toward.

Monday was St. Patrick’s Day. And I wrote about events over the weekend — my grandmother believed that the neighbors were stealing her bricks. :/

Just to show that a good delusion doesn’t go to waste, yesterday my grandmother went on — again — about the neighbors stealing her bricks. At least this time she didn’t complain about how the neighbors had a fire pit going in the bricks. When she was fixated on that two weeks ago, I told her to go outside and tell her neighbors not to do it. Knowing full well, of course, that there were no neighbors there for her to yell at.

Tuesday I had a spreadsheet of 4,000 lines to work through. I had worked through 2,500 titles on Monday, and I was certain I’d be able to finish it on Tuesday. Oh, the best laid plans of mice and men… In reality, it wasn’t until that Friday that I had the time to even look at it again. Middle of last week the spreadsheet was reformated in Word and printed out. 144 pages. Damn, do we kill trees.

Tuesday also saw the news that Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001, and Anthony Minghella, director of The English Patient, had passed away.

Wednesday, March 19th, was the fifth anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Fuck you, George Bush.

Thursday I reflected on the song choices from American Idol‘s second Beatles Night. The songs I liked, apparently the audience didn’t. And the songs the audience and the judges liked, I thought were not good. I’m not an Idol watcher, so it was all quite alien to me. The realization that it’s basically a karaoke contest did wonders, though.

Also, my Egyptian sign is Satis.

Friday there was only one thing to write about. Tibet.

If you haven’t read what I had to say then, take a look at it now.

Saturday, I wrote my weekly “This is what I did with WordPress” post. Now that I upgraded to WordPress 2.5 yesterday, I don’t anticipate anything similar for, oh, at least a month. For the nonce, however — I’m now using the built-in Gravatar functions. (And if you comment here, why not register for your own personalized gravatar? It’s free.) I had to find a new related posts plugin, as Simple Tags doesn’t work with WP 2.5, and Yet Another Related Posts Plugin appears to work quite well, though it does spit out some oddball posts from time to time.

Sunday, I wrote about something I’d long been curious about. Repeats of Doctor Who are common in the United States, but what about in the UK? I realized I didn’t know.

Monday I reflected on how nothing happened over Easter weekend for me, personally. Except that I discovered Space Democrats, a website for space policy wonks. :) Also, I answered a few memes.

Something momentous did happen over Easter weekend, though. The United States’ four thousandth soldier died in Iraq. An artist created a photomosaic of President Bush and Senator John McCain, using photos of the four thousand fallen soldiers. “The mosaic speaks for itself,” I wrote. Nothing more to say about it, really.

Tuesday, it was “Winston Churchill, Astronaut.” Wha? Well, a study in Britain shows that a number of children there believe that Churchill was the first man to walk on the lunar surface.

Tuesday was also Tolkien Reading Day. I hope you all pulled out well-worn copies of The Lord of the Rings and read them. :)

Wednesday I wrote about a dream I had — rather than recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I recited a speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Several days on, it still amuses me.

I learned at work on Thursday that Barnes & Noble is buying Borders, and I had some thoughts on the matter. Some are borne of my experience of going through a merger, and being on the losing end of a merger. But mainly it was a look at the business side of things. Interestingly, someone at B&N corporate read this very post Friday morning. For all I know, that person thinks I’m a nutter.

Friday I talked about my Magical Editing Pen. Everyone should have a Magical Editing Pen. But not mine. Because it’s my Magical Editing Pen. ;)

Finally, Saturday.

First, I discussed warrior nuns in comic books. And finally, Rutlemania, a series of tribute concerts to the Rutles, the band that spoofed the Beatles in All You Need Is Cash.

That, in a nutshell, is what I had on my mind the past two weeks.

Baseball begins this week. And that’s only a good thing. :)

Go Cubs!

On the Bush Mosaic

A few short days ago the United States reached the fifth anniversary of its military involvement in Iraq.

Yesterday — Easter Sunday, for those of the Christian inclination — another milestone was passed. The four thousandth American soldier fell in Iraq.

An artist has commemorated that dubious milestone with a photomosaic of President Bush and Senator John McCain, using photos of the fallen soldiers.

I find myself at a loss for words.

There’s something cognitively dissonant about a mosaic of Bush and McCain laughing, when the photos used are of soldiers they and their policies have sent to their deaths — Bush, for starting the war on the flimsiest of pretexts; McCain, for his tireless advocacy of “The Surge.”

There’s nothing to say.

The mosaic speaks for itself.

On the Five Year Anniversary

Five years ago today the United States invaded Iraq.

In that time, four thousand American soldiers have died.

In that time, countless Iraqis have died. Some of the casualty estimates I’ve seen are appalling.

Despite a speech proclaiming that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” six weeks after the start of the war, there appears to be no end in sight.

The masterminds behind 9/11 were not caught.

No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

The threat of terrorism has likely increased, rather than decreased.

Billions of dollars that could have been spent improving schools, fixing roads, improving our quality of life, etc., were instead poured down the drain in the desert.

Among the President’s many shifting rationales for the war, one was that he wanted to bring peace and stability to the Middle-East. The irony, of course, is that the Middle-East was stable prior to March 19, 2003 (even if there was a dictator ruling Iraq), and since the invasion Iraq has been anything but stable.

The war was a mistake five years ago. Intelligence was manipulated to present the best-possible spin, the best-possible case. Reports from foreign heads of state make it clear that the President had decided on an invasion of Iraq long before March, 2003, and the American government went through the motions of working with the United Nations only to cover itself in the eyes of the international community. There was no urgent need for military action. There was never a need for military action.

Our next President will bring this insane war to a close and withdraw American forces. The current President is too intractable to ever admit to a mistake, and he holds too dearly to his belief that history will ultimately vindicate him.

Five years ago today the United States invaded Iraq.

It should never have happened.

On the President, Out of Touch With Reality

Commander Guy has a hard-on for an attack on Iran.

First, despite a multitude of reports that the reported threats by Iranian speedboats in the Straits of Hormuz were the work of a prankster, the President attempted to suggest a causus belli for… something.

And second, despite the National Intelligence Estimate that stated that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program a few years ago, the President is telling foreign governments that it’s wrong:

That NIE, made public Dec. 3, embarrassed the administration by concluding that Tehran had halted its weapons program in 2003, which seemed to undermine years of bellicose rhetoric from Bush and other senior officials about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document, said a senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip to the Mideast. “He told the Israelis that he can’t control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE’s] conclusions don’t reflect his own views” about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, said the official, who would discuss intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity.

“His own views.” I wasn’t aware that the President was an expert in intelligence.

But the Downing Street Memos made it clear that the pre-war intelligence on Iraq was being fixed around the policy of invasion.

Facts seem to be facts only when they agree with his view. Otherwise, they’re just opinions.

That’s a pretty dangerous thing.

ETA 16 January 2008: Slate’s Timothy Noah has an article on this very thing. Noah includes this following Bush quote:

I defended our intelligence services, but made it clear that they’re an independent agency; that they come to conclusions separate from what I may or may not want.

Noah’s point, and I do recommend his article, is that Bush hears the things he wants to hear and sees the things he wants to see. Contrary viewpoints — in spite of their factuality — can be easily discarded and ignored. Wrote Noah:

He was saying that the intelligence services sometimes come to conclusions separate from what he may or may not want. In affirming this, he seemed totally unself-conscious. There is absolutely no evidence that Bush was describing the necessary mental challenge of rising above what he wants to hear so that he can take in new information that might alter his understanding of reality. Indeed, Bush’s statement suggested that he suffers from a sort of executive learning disability that leaves him unwilling or unable even to grasp that what he wants to hear isn’t always going to be the same thing as what he needs to hear.

I find this troublesome.

On Bill Kristol

For New Years the New York Times made a resolution to add Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, to their editorial pages.

Kristol’s career as a Republican thinker is well-known. He was Dan Quayle’s Chief of Staff. He argued strongly that the Clinton health care proposals had to be defeated completely, not compromised upon, as any creation of a health care benefit would benefit the Democratic Party for decades to come. He used to be a fixture on This Week, another talking head next to George Will and Cokie Roberts. He was one of the leading proponents of invading Iraq — his Project for a New American Century lobbied for that very thing during the Clinton administration.

Tom Tomorrow asks a valuable question with this cartoon — What, in the past six years, has Bill Kristol been caught right about?

Is he just a talking head who likes to hear himself talk? Certainly. But does he actually know anything about the Middle East? I think my cats know more about the Middle East.

Maybe Kristol needs to write about how terrible the Chicago Cubs are. (Or for Yankees fans, he needs to write about how awesome the Red Sox are.) Because it seems that if Kristol writes it, then it’s objectively not true.

Ah, punditry.