One of my chief complaints with the Bush administration has been a perverse obsession with secrecy. I know that some things have to be kept secret, but lots of stuff is classified when it should be released to the public, and things are generally kept secret long after they should be in the public domain. Anyway, as it turns out, the government spent $6.5 billion last year keeping things secret, and that doesn’t include any money that the CIA spent. So not only is there a cost to citizens in terms of government accountability, but there’s also a bottom line cost in keeping things from us. Seems like their ought to be a way to convince people that open government is a political issue they should care about.
I’ve been following the events in Najaf with interest over the last 3 weeks, because I believe that the confrontation between the US military (working at the behest of the interim government) and the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr will, in many ways, set the parameters for Iraq’s future. There are three major groups in Iraq, Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. The attitudes of the Sunnis and Kurds toward their American occupiers are already set (hate, and love, respectively). Our status with the Shiites is more complicated, and they’re the majority.
The big news this week, which has not been covered all that thoroughly, is that the leading Shiite religious leader in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had returned early from London to put an end to the American siege of the holiest site in Shiite Islam. It wasn’t a coincidence that the fiercest fighting came after Sistani, one of the few people in Iraq who has any real popular support, had to leave the country for heart surgery. After weeks of brutal combat and unceasing and ineffective threats to assault the Shrine of Imam Ali and kill all of the Sadrists inside from the Iraqi interim government, Sistani made his triumphant return, and called on his followers to march to Najaf where they would enter the Shrine of Imam Ali and put an end to the fighting. Thousands of Shiites came from all over the country to join Sistani in reclaiming the shrine from Sadr’s followers and defusing the ongoing siege, and the subsequent cease fire was a fait accompli. Nobody dared fight once Sistani had put his foot down.
Sistani’s move certainly helped out the Americans, in that it prevented an inevitable final showdown that probably would have left us with less support than ever before among anyone but warbloggers, and it helped out the Sadrists who had occupied the shrine, and who were all going to die or be captured. But the big winner was Sistani himself, who showed the Americans, the Iraqi interim government, Moqtada al-Sadr, and everyone else paying attention the power of popular legitimacy.
As usual, I’m finding Juan Cole to be the most useful source of information on all things Iraqi. Christopher Allbritton has been posting some amazing first hand reports as well. Salam Pax has been on the scene as well.
I’ve decided to declare my swiftvets del.icio.us tag experiment a success. It’s already on the front page of the Google results for the search term “swiftvets,” not bad. The area of interest I’m focusing on now is framing, which is a concept found in economics and linguistics, but really boils down to psychology. The basic idea is that the presentation of a concept is as important to how it is received as the actual concept itself. In other words, if I call the estate tax the “death tax,” people are going to be reflexively opposed to it. You might say that the whole field of marketing is concerned with framing. Anyway, I’m going to be dumping any framing-related links I see into that bucket.
Looks like the Bush administration is finally catching up with most of the scientfic community and accepting that global warming is real, and that human activity has contributed to it.
I haven’t written anything about ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region of the Sudan, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it. The New Yorker has an article this week that explains what’s going on. Is it possible that nothing will be done about this ongoing tragedy? It’s almost impossible to believe that the people of Darfur exist in the same universe that we do.
Phil Carter has a good piece at Slate on the necessity of rewriting the laws of war.
Jason Kottke has been saying for some time that Google is working on a web-based operating system of sorts, and today he comments on how Google might release a Google browser based on Mozilla to support those efforts. That sounds completely plausible to me, but it brings up an interesting question. When does Microsoft turn all its guns on Google? When Netscape started making noise about being a platform company and Mark Andreessen started talking about Windows just being a bundle of device drivers, Microsoft stepped up its efforts to destroy them. When will that moment come for Google? Microsoft is already attacking Google on the search engine front, but to my knowledge there’s no evidence that Microsoft is attacking Google the way it did Netscape, that is to say, but coercing its partners and customers to abandon them. That said, Google is not and will never be as dependent upon bundling as Netscape was. Netscape lost the browser war when Internet Explorer was added to Windows and became a good enough substitute that people didn’t need to go download Netscape Navigator over their slow modem connection to surf the Web. I don’t think that Microsoft has a similar front upon which to attack Google, but let there be no doubt about it, if Google starts looking like a platform, Microsoft will stop at nothing to destroy them.
For all of the baseless accusations made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, there was one that seemed to stick — the charge that John Kerry was not in Cambodia in December, 1968, as he had claimed. I’ve read two arguments in favor of Kerry on this, one that argued that he might not have remembered that he was there during Tet in February 1969, not at Christmas, 1968, and another arguing that he very well could have been there when he said he was. I confess that I didn’t put a lot of stock in either story, I just assumed that Kerry’s story sounded better saying he was there at Christmas instead of in early 1969, and he just told it that way.
Unfortunately, my problem was projection — I tend to believe that other people at least try to be honest because I try to be honest. As it turns out, the guy making the accusations is just a liar. Here’s what he had to say about Kerry’s claim of being in Cambodia:
JOHN O’NEILL: The whole country’s watching him avoid the question. You asked about Cambodia. How do I know he’s not in Cambodia? I was on the same river, George. I was there two months after him. Our patrol area ran to Sedek, it was 50 miles from Cambodia. There isn’t any watery border. The Mekong River’s like the Mississippi. There were gunboats stationed right up there to stop people from coming. And our boats didn’t go north of, only slightly north of Sedek. So it was a made up story. He’s told it over 50 times, George, that was on the floor of the Senate. He wrote articles about it, it was a malicious story because it painted all the guys above him, all of the commanding officers, in effect, as war criminals, that had ordered him into a neutral country, it was a lie.
Pretty definitive statement, right? Well, here he is talking to President Nixon in 1971 (on tape):
JOHNS: Behind the scenes, Kerry’s aides were fighting the swift boat charges with unusual ferocity. They say they have evidence one of the top members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is an outright liar. The co-author of the book “Unfit for Command,” former swift boat commander John O’Neill said Kerry made up a story about being in Cambodia beyond the legal borders of the Vietnam War in 1968. O’Neill said no one could cross the border by river and he claimed in an audio tape that his publicist played to CNN that he, himself, had never been to Cambodia either. But in 1971, O’Neill said precisely the opposite to then President Richard Nixon.
O’NEILL: I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border on the water.
NIXON: In a swift boat?
O’NEILL: Yes, sir.
You have to skip down about 1/3 of the way through the linked transcript to get to that point. I think that it may all be over for the swiftvets at this point, and needless to say, I’m pretty darn happy about it.
An alpha release of Hibernate 3 is available.
How should the Kerry-Edwards ticket fight back against the swift boat liars? As Chris Suellentrop points out calling on the President to denounce the ads isn’t working. Not only does the President refuse to denounce the ads, but he instead uses the ads as a tool to denounce all ads from 527 groups, as if they’re all the same. The problem isn’t the ads, it’s the allegations. The ads are barely running anywhere, very few people have seen the ads anywhere but on news programs that show them before talking abou them. The bad thing about the swiftvets is that they’re telling a constant steam of lies about John Kerry. The media is complicit in this as well, they keep asking Bush whether he’ll denounce the ad, they need to ask whether he’ll denounce the lies and the liars who keep telling them.
Update: Josh Marshall has an even better recipe for fighting back against Bush.