Category Archives: fearmongering

12 Captains on the War

Unbelievably great op-ed in the Washington Post this morning. Following in the footsteps of their comrades who wrote for the New York Times a few months back, 12 former Army captains submitted an opinion piece outlining what they observed in their time in Iraq. Strangely, it’s a bit different from what their superior officers have been telling Congress.

What does Iraq look like on the ground? It’s certainly far from being a modern, self-sustaining country. Many roads, bridges, schools and hospitals are in deplorable condition. Fewer people have access to drinking water or sewage systems than before the war. And Baghdad is averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

It’s the way they conclude their piece, though, that’s most worthy of note:

There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

This brings up one of the things that’s bugged me about the Iraq war (and for that matter the whole “Global War on Terror” concept) for a long time now. The Administration keeps telling us that the security of our nation depends on beating the terrorists, and on creating a stable, democratic Iraq. But they clearly don’t mean it.

If we’re in a war for our very survival, then where’s the $2-a-gallon tax on gasoline to finance increased security measures and shut off the flow of oil money to autocratic, terrorist-breeding governments in the Middle East? Where are the draft notices going out to conscript an Army big enough to actually secure a stable Iraq? Where’s the recruitment drive by the CIA to find American citizens who understand Middle Eastern languages and culture? Where’s the grand alliance of Western nations banding together against a common threat? Why didn’t any of this happen?

It’s certainly not because the country wasn’t willing. Hell, right after 9/11 people were practically falling over each other trying to figure out ways to band together and help out. So why the hell didn’t the Administration use that energy, that desire, and try to unite the country in solving this difficult problem?

Because they’re not interested in solving problems. Anytime a problem comes up, the modern GOP is interested in two things: (to quote one of Aaron Sorkin’s finer pieces) making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. “Sure, we could tap into one of our nation’s greatest strengths, its diverse immigrant population, and hire citizens of Arab descent to help our intelligence agencies, but instead, let’s just arrest a bunch of them for no reason. That way, we look like we’re rounding up terrorists, and when the Democrats protest, we can say they’re coddling bin Laden! It’s win-win!”

Alright, I think that should get a bit of cynicism out of my system for a while. In the meantime, this special is going to air tonight on PBS at 9 EDT, and then it’ll be online at


Once I catch it, I’ll definitely be posting about it. I have a feeling you’ll be reading a lot about Cheney and the “Unitary Executive Theory” around here in the next week.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.”

So right now Congress is fighting over whether to grant big telecom companies retroactive immunity to prosecution for having violated the privacy rights of millions of customers by allowing the government to spy on them. (Big campaign contributors and fear of terrorism vs. Constitutional principle… let’s see, who do we think will win that one?)

The newest salvo in the ongoing fight over whether the government should have the power to eavesdrop on anyone without a warrant comes to you below, from Fox News:


Few things. First, here’s how FISA works, briefly. There are, as makes sense, three basic types of communication: domestic-domestic, which is covered by the 4th Amendment; foreign-foreign, which isn’t; and domestic-foreign, which is what FISA addresses. Effectively, it says that if the NSA, CIA, or any other intelligence-gathering service wishes to listen to calls, read e-mails, etc., that are going between someone inside the U.S. and someone outside the U.S., they need to obtain a warrant first. That’s it.

Now, there was a funky loophole in the law which became prominent as communications tech became more advanced. Namely, what happens if someone in Syria is talking to someone in Pakistan, but the call is routed through Michigan? It’s clearly a foreign-to-foreign call, but it’s also kind of domestic. So the law was amended recently to close that loophole. This makes sense, and despite what’s claimed toward the end of the clip, neither Silvestre Reyes nor any other prominent Democrats opposed the change. (Yes, Fox News, lying to its viewers, I too nearly died of shock.)

Anyway, I’ve a feeling we’re going to hear the tale of these dead soldiers a whole lot in the coming days, and a few things need to be clear. First, there’s a provision in FISA for emergencies. Since foreign intelligence gathering is, on occasion, time-sensitive, the government’s allowed to engage in surveillance without a warrant for up to 72 hours, as long as they then apply for one and can prove that there was no time to apply normally. “Three of our guys were just kidnapped and we need to find out where they are” would seem to qualify as an emergency. In fact, it did, the thing that held up the surveillance was that no one could find a high-ranking official at the Justice Dept. to sign off on it (what with half of them resigning either in protest or disgrace), not that “the law was cumbersome,” as is claimed in the clip.

Secondly, as I said earlier, the foreign-to-foreign-but-kinda-domestic loophole which was ever so slightly problematic in this situation (and I can’t stress this enough) has been fixed already. Not only that, but with overwhelming support from both parties, because it made sense to do so. So why would the GOP bring up this story now?

For the same reason they put a provision that hurt unions in the bill establishing the Homeland Security Department, waited until just before the ’02 election to vote on Iraq, and forced a vote on expanded surveillance powers just before Congress went on recess this summer. For the same reason that Saxby Chambliss put Max Cleland next to bin Laden, and Rudy Guiliani is running for President of 9/11. Because no matter how low their approval ratings may be, how outrageous the powers they’re asking for are, they’ve figured out that they can get whatever they want as long as they scare everyone into thinking that Americans will die if they don’t get their way.

Now they’re gearing up to do it again, and they’ll keep doing it. Unless. Unless we realize that fear makes us stupid, and remember that unwise decisions will only create more things that go bump in the night. We’ve done the fear thing for a few years now. Let’s give wisdom a shot, shall we?