Evangelicals complaining about their own…

Much has been made recently of an evangelical disillusionment with the Republican party, mired in Iraq and the Mark Foley scandal. Even President Bush is said to have advocated evangelical policies only to gain the evangelical vote. It is said that evangelicals might stay home on a rapidly nearing election day, depriving the party of the votes they need to retain control of the House of Representatives, and possibly even the Senate. In the New York Review of Books, Garry Wills points out that:

It is common knowledge that the Republican White House and Congress let “K Street” lobbyists have a say in the drafting of economic legislation, and on the personnel assigned to carry it out, in matters like oil production, pharmaceutical regulation, medical insurance, and corporate taxes. It is less known that for social services, evangelical organizations were given the same right to draft bills and install the officials who implement them. Karl Rove had cultivated the extensive network of religious right organizations, and they were consulted at every step of the way as the administration set up its policies on gays, AIDS, condoms, abstinence programs, creationism, and other matters that concerned the evangelicals. All the evangelicals’ resentments under previous presidents, including Republicans like Reagan and the first Bush, were now being addressed.

Wills points to John Ashcroft, partial-birth abortion, gay marriage, faith-based initiatives, creationism, claims that the Grand Canyon was created in Noah’s flood, global warming, the 9/11 attacks as divine retribution for inadequate support for Israel’s claim to the West Bank, abortion, abstinence-only approaches to sexuality education and the international AIDS crisis, stem cell research, and the “war on terror” as being against Satan, as evidence of a powerful evangelical influence in White House policy. Wills argues that:

There is a particular danger with a war that God commands. What if God should lose? That is unthinkable to the evangelicals. They cannot accept the idea of second-guessing God, and he was the one who led them into war. Thus, in 2006, when two thirds of the American people told pollsters that the war in Iraq was a mistake, the third of those still standing behind it were mainly evangelicals (who make up about one third of the population).

Wills points to a vision of the United States, and specifically of George Bush as an instrument of the god of Abraham, quoting General William (Jerry) Boykin:

Ask yourself this: why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there?… I tell you this morning he’s in the White House because God put him there for such a time as this. God put him there to lead not only this nation but to lead the world, in such a time as this.

But Bush has failed. And therefore he cannot be the instrument of the evangelicals’ god, for such an instrument would be invincible. So evangelicals find themselves politically without a rudder. It is a fundamental contradiction, for in Bush, Wills would seem to argue they got as much as they ever could pray for.

Fighting someone else’s war

Watching the headlines in Canadian papers as Canadian soldiers die for the United States in Afghanistan, I’ve wondered what Canadians were thinking about all this. A reported survey indicates that “a majority of Canadians support military participation in ‘conventional combat missions,’ such as the Afghan counter-insurgency, as long as they’re convinced the cause is just and progress is being made.”

But another article challenges one of those assumptions.

“It is really impossible to win there. No positive result can be expected,” [Senior Sgt. Sergei] Kirjushin, whose shaved head gives him a ferocious look, said during a long, often grim conversation at the Afghan War Veterans Association in the centre of the Russian capital.

“As every nation that goes to fight in Afghanistan discovers, nobody has ever conquered that place. Even children were involved. They would blow up our tanks.”

The article is based largely on the experience of Red Army soldiers who fought for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It is a chilling reminder, but relies on a vision of NATO forces as “invaders:” “Any attempt to bring outside principles to Afghanistan by military force cannot work because this is a traditional society that simply does not understand principles, whether they are principles of freedom or principles of communism. They only see us as invaders,” says military analyst Alexander Golts.

I haven’t been obtaining solid information on progress in the war in Afghanistan. A few weeks ago, it was alleged the Taliban were in control of much of the south of the country. Shortly after hints of a counteroffensive, I saw hints that if “we” didn’t soon make substantial progress, Afghans desperate for peace would support the Taliban just to bring an end to the fighting. The trouble with this is that it is unclear to me that with all the factions fighting for control of Afghanistan, that “ordinary people” have any voice whatsoever. Ordinary Afghan males seem to be misogynist, but less vicious about it than the Taliban; they would likely prefer a more liberal regime. Even if this is so, it is unclear that such a regime can be established in Afghanistan.

The progress upon which Canadians premise their support may be long in coming.

Poor tax

A Los Angeles Times editorial urges a vote against proposition 86 on the California ballot, saying:

Low-income Californians are much more likely to be smokers, and as a group they spend a lot more on cigarettes than the wealthy as a percentage of their income. One recent analysis of U.S. Census data found that tobacco taxes take a 50-times-larger share of income from those earning less than $20,000 than those earning more than $200,000. That makes cigarette taxes the most regressive way of funding state government programs.

This argument assumes that anyone, poor or not, has the right to assault others around them by polluting the air. The editorial dismisses medical evidence of harm done by second-hand cigarette smoke using economic arguments. “Over the last 15 years,” says the editorial, “evidence has accumulated showing smokers hardly cost society more than anyone else. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies throughout the 1990s from economists such as Harvard’s Kip Viscusi and Willard Manning Jr. from the University of Chicago demonstrate conclusively that nearly all the costs of smoking — healthcare, higher insurance premiums, lower productivity at work — are borne by smokers themselves.”

The one argument that does make sense is the possibility that this will encourage a black market in cigarettes: “Punitive approaches such as higher cigarette taxes don’t make smokers quit. They cause smokers to buy tax-free cigarettes on military bases, Indian reservations and over the Internet. Even with today’s 87-cent tax, the California Board of Equalization says about 300 million untaxed packs of cigarettes are sold in the state each year — a figure that will boom if Proposition 86 passes.” This argument assumes that the state should acquiesce to smokers, condoning their assault on others, in order to ensure that smokers will continue to pay their cigarette taxes.

At convenience stores, one can see the anti-proposition 86 forces at work, threatening a $2.60 per pack increase. To me, that alone, is a reason to support this initiative.

Declare victory and withdraw

As public pressure in both Britain and America increases for a withdrawal from Iraq, the Americans are attempting to highlight an intention to shift security responsibilities to Iraqi forces, and politicians in power in both countries are attempting to rebuild support for imperialism. A poll reported in the Independent claims that “72 per cent predict that Iraq will descend into civil war if British and American troops withdraw, 61 per cent believe Britain’s experience in Iraq makes them less likely to support military intervention, 72 per cent say that Tony Blair’s support for George Bush calls into question his political judgement, 62 per cent believe that British troops should be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible,” and “72 per cent believe that the war in Iraq is unwinnable.” Another poll, reported the same day in the Guardian, indicates that “[a] clear majority of voters want British troops to be pulled out of Iraq by the end of this year, regardless of the consequences for the country.” According to Reuters, “[v]oter support for Tony Blair’s Labour Party has fallen to its lowest level in nearly two decades with the Conservatives holding a strong lead.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times, in what it calls a military analysis, reports:

In trying to build support for the American strategy in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said Tuesday that the Iraqi military could be expected to take over the primary responsibility for securing the country within 12 to 18 months.

But that laudable goal seems far removed from the violence-plagued streets of Iraq’s capital, where American forces have taken the lead in trying to protect the city and American soldiers substantially outnumber Iraqi ones.

Pentagon claims of Iraqi forces’ increasing capability look good on paper, but “paint a distorted picture. When the deep-seated reluctance of many soldiers to serve outside their home regions, leaves of absence and AWOL rates are taken into account, only a portion of the Iraqi Army is readily available for duty in Baghdad and other hot spots.” The Iraqi police have been linked to sectarian killings and corruption. “The Americans know how many Iraqis have been trained to work as police officers but not how many are still on the job.”

The New York Times analysis also cites “[t]he fact that the Ministry of Defense has sent only two of the six additional battalions that American commanders have requested for Baghdad speaks volumes about the difficulty the Iraqi government has encountered in fielding a professional military. The four battalions that American commanders are still waiting for is equivalent to 2,800 soldiers, hardly a large commitment in the abstract but one that the Iraqis are still struggling to meet.” As a consequence, “The top American military commander in Iraq [Gen. George W. Casey Jr.] said Tuesday that it was possible he might need to call for an increase in American troop levels in Baghdad to reinvigorate a plan to recapture the capital’s streets from insurgents and death squads.”

The Americans are also demanding that its puppet government step up:

A copy of the timeline Mr. Khalilzad said had been agreed to by Iraqi leaders was made available to The New York Times by American officials. Entitled “national political timetable,” it sets a seven-month schedule, running from this September to March 2007, to complete a 16-point agenda on divisive issues.

But the document provides deadlines only for the Iraqis to establish the legislative and executive framework for action on the most decisive issues, not for the implementation of policies that American officials believe is urgent if the tide in the war is to be reversed.

Meanwhile, “[t]he American military command said that four more American troops had died in rebel attacks in Iraq. With a week to go, October has already become the deadliest month for American troops in 12 months and is on pace to become the third deadliest month of the conflict.” It seems increasingly likely that midterm elections will establish a Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives. Even the Senate no longer seems safe for Republicans. According to another story in the Independent, “Iraq threatens to drag Republicans to humiliating defeat at the 7 November elections, while Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has become the latest senior Republican to turn on the White House. He said yesterday: ‘We’re on the verge of chaos.'” The BBC reports that “President Bush’s handling of the Iraq crisis has become a major issue in the elections next month for Congress, with predictions that his Republican party could lose control of the Senate and House of Representatives.” (Silly me, I thought it was all about Mark Foley.)

According to the Independent, “[a] total of 19 MPs last night had signed a cross-party motion calling for Mr Blair to put an exit strategy to a Commons vote. It was tabled by John McDonnell, the chairman of the left-wing Campaign Group of Labour MPs, which is challenging for the leadership. ‘Tony Blair is living in a different world,’ said Mr McDonnell. ‘He hasn’t got an exit strategy.’ Mr McDonnell said the only way policy could be changed was through a change of leader.” The Guardian reports that “[t]he Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, called for a parliamentary debate soon to assess whether British troops should pull out.”

The Independent predicts:

The Prime Minister will face a challenge today from backbench MPs who have scheduled a debate on the Iraq exit strategy. But it will not enable MPs to vote on the issue. “We had a debate and a vote to take us into Iraq. We should have one now to take us out,” said one Labour MP.

But Tony Blair told MPs in essence that in order to honor sacrifices already made by British troops, more must die. According to the BBC, Blair said, “To do anything else would be a complete betrayal, not only of the Iraqi people but of all the sacrifices our armed forces have made.” George Bush has rolled out the old domino theory, “warn[ing] that if the US was not successful in Iraq, extremists could use it as a base from which to try to establish a ‘radical empire from Spain to Indonesia’.”

Lancet excess Iraqi deaths estimate likely accurate

In an article on Aljazeera.net, academics are backing a controversial estimate of Iraqi dead.

Dr David Rush, a professor and epidemiologist at Tufts University in Boston, said: “Over the last 25 years, this sort of methodolog [used in research published in Lancet estimating 655,000 excess Iraqi deaths since the U.S.-led invasion] has been used more and more often, especially by relief agencies in times of emergency.”

The research article includes an explanation of shortcomings of “passive methods” of estimating fatalities.

Iraq equivalent of Tet offensive?

From the Guardian:

Yesterday the number of US troops killed since October 1 rose to 73, deepening the sense that America is trapped in an unwinnable situation and further damaging Republican chances in midterm elections that are less than three weeks away.

Even with reinforcements sent to Baghdad, attacks are up 22% since the beginning of Ramadan.

Blair wants out of Iraq within 16 months

From a report in the Guardian:

Tony Blair yesterday shifted ground on the continuing presence of British troops in Iraq by saying it was government policy to leave the country within 10 to 16 months – so long as the security situation allowed.

The prime minister also agreed with the chief of the general staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, that the presence of British forces could become a provocation, but disagreed with Gen Dannatt by insisting it was still the government’s aim to secure a liberal democracy in Iraq.

The stipulation about the security situation keeps Blair in line with Bush administration policy. Setting a date, however, is new — at least at this level. Blair “added that in August General George Casey, US commander of forces in Iraq, also called for a withdrawal over 12 to 18 months.” A commission headed by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker is likely to recommend seeking cooperation from Iran and Syria to stabilize the security situation in Iraq but it is unclear the Bush administration will accept this recommendation. “This is something you listen to seriously, but we are not going to outsource the business of handling the war in Iraq,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

‘Stay the Course’ not working

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times:

A commission backed by President Bush that is exploring U.S. options in Iraq intends to propose significant changes in the administration’s strategy by early next year, members say.

Two options under consideration would represent reversals of U.S. policy: withdrawing American troops in phases, and bringing neighboring Iran and Syria into a joint effort to stop the fighting.

While it weighs alternatives, the 10-member commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III has agreed on one principle.

“It’s not going to be ‘stay the course,’ ” one participant said. “The bottom line is, [current U.S. policy] isn’t working…. There’s got to be another way.”

Light on Iraq

The Sunday Herald has its own story on the Dannatt affair, also shedding further light on reports of explosions at an ammunition dump earlier this week.

Major gun battles were being fought in two of Baghdad’s districts – Doura and Mansoor. Doura has a large oil refinery, Mansoor is technically an affluent area close to the IZ. Gunfire and explosions were louder than normal and then, at around 7pm, the first large rocket landed inside the IZ itself. Another hit came after 10 minutes, then another two minutes later. Then a series of explosions, different to the daily “normal” rocket attacks were felt. For those in the IZ, the explosions were so close and so fierce that, even for experienced military personnel, “you could taste the cordite in your teeth”.

The sustained attacks lasted for two hours, during which Camp Falcon, a major US ammunition and storage dump, was hit. The attack resulted in what one security official called “a fireworks display”. But the display wasn’t put on for entertainment. Immediate military feedback pointed to casualties.

It was thought the Green Zone might come under direct attack. As for Dannatt:

Sacking a chief of the general staff for speaking out on a military matter would damage Blair more than Dannatt. An apology from Dannatt would look like political coercion and leave him unable to do his job. Through long phone calls that lasted well into Thursday morning, it was decided that Des Browne would contact Dannatt and order him to “explain” himself.

In a series of interviews at the BBC and outside the MoD, rather than clarify, Dannatt appeared to expand on what he had said. He told the BBC: “I am a soldier speaking up for his army and just saying, ‘Come on we can’t be here for ever at this level’.” He also said he had an idea of what he wanted Britain and the army to be like, and that those values and standards were being threatened by other people and other influences.

So this story has Blair more captive to events than plotting a major shift in policy. But if he isn’t taking an active role in abandoning a failed policy, others just might.

[Ministry of Defence] sources say it is highly likely that Dannatt appreciated that the situation in Iraq was returning to prime focus. The MoD knew the details of The Lancet’s report on civilian deaths. The Pentagon’s criticisms were also centre-stage. And the return of MPs to parliament last week after the summer recess pointed to a re-examination of Iraq and Afghanistan, both part of the narrative on Blair’s diminished authority.