Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jon Chait: Dumb or Boorish?

We know that we don't take liberals to task as often as conservatives, so we offer the following sop: Jon Chait's is-he-stupid-or-just-not-funny essay on the 22d Amendment in The New Republic (quoting from Matt Yglesias because of TNR's firewall):
If we had a straight dictatorship, Bush would long ago have been dragged out of the White House either by an angry mob or by disgruntled generals. (Note to oversensitive conservatives: I'm strongly against both dictatorships and assassinating Bush or any other president.) If we could vote for whoever we want, regardless of prior service, Bush would probably be dumped unceremoniously in 2008. Only our kooky current system lets him retire undefeated.
Is Jon Chait illiterate or just failing at being funny?

Can he think of ANY 20th Century dictators who were ousted after a mere 7 years? Pol Pot, maybe, if you only count his tenure as Prime Minister - but he really got the ball rolling in 1969. So that's ten years. Ceausescu lasted for over twenty, Pinochet for about twenty-five and Stalin for more than thirty. And these were dictators who killed their own citizens. As terrible a President as Bush has been, he's not a democidist.

Is his hatred of Bush so irrational that he can't be satisfied with the man's departing from office after 8 years, and would abolish the 22d Amendment - thus ending the American Republic - just to give him a punch on the nose?

Is this what passes for thought at The New Republic?

Monday, January 29, 2007

D'Souza's March

Someone help us. Is D'Souza playing stupid or actually this stupid?

From an editorial in The Washington Post:
In the pages of Esquire, Mark Warren charges that I "hate America" and have "taken to heart" Osama bin Laden's view of the United States. (Warren also challenged me to a fight and threatened to put me in the hospital.) In his New York Times review of my book last week, Alan Wolfe calls my work "a national disgrace . . . either self-delusional or dishonest." I am "a childish thinker" with "no sense of shame," he argues. "D'Souza writes like a lover spurned; despite all his efforts to reach out to Bin Laden, the man insists on joining forces with the Satanists."

It goes on. The Washington Post's Warren Bass writes that I think Jerry Falwell was "on to something" when he blamed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on pagans, gays and the ACLU. Slate's Timothy Noah diagnoses me with "Mullah envy," while the Nation's Katha Pollitt calls me a "surrender monkey" and the headline to her article brands me "Ayatollah D'Souza." And in my recent appearance on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," I had to fend off the insistent host. "But you agree with the Islamic radicals, don't you?" Stephen Colbert asked again and again.

Why the onslaught? Just this: In my book, published this month, I argue that the American left bears a measure of responsibility for the volcano of anger from the Muslim world that produced the 9/11 attacks. President Jimmy Carter's withdrawal of support for the shah of Iran, for example, helped Ayatollah Khomeini's regime come to power in Iran, thus giving radical Islamists control of a major state; and President Bill Clinton's failure to respond to Islamic attacks confirmed bin Laden's perceptions of U.S. weakness and emboldened him to strike on 9/11. I also argue that the policies that U.S. "progressives" promote around the world -- including abortion rights, contraception for teenagers and gay rights -- are viewed as an assault on traditional values by many cultures, and have contributed to the blowback of Islamic rage.
"All I said was that Joycelyn Elders and Dan Savage should take some responsibility for the 3,000 people who were murdered by Wahabbist Sunni sympathizers on September 11th! And somehow, people got mad at me!"

Dinesh, sahib, let me help you out. Liberal critics aren't mad at you because they want to suppress your truthiness. They're not mad at you because your theories contradict theirs. They're mad at you because you're calling them killers.

However, D'Souza's march gets back on the beat in his penultimate grafs, thus:
The second reason [that everyone's mad at me] can be gleaned from the common theme in the reviews: that mine is a dangerous book. But if a book says things that are obviously untrue and can be disproved, then it is not dangerous -- it is merely fiction and should be ignored. A book is dangerous only if it exposes something in the culture that some people are eager to keep hidden.

And what is that? It is that the far left seems to hate Bush nearly as much as it hates bin Laden. Bin Laden may want sharia, or Islamic law, in Baghdad, they reason, but Bush wants sharia in Boston. Indeed, leftists routinely portray Bush's war on terrorism as a battle of competing fundamentalisms, Islamic vs. Christian. It is Bush, more than bin Laden, they say, who threatens abortion rights and same-sex marriage and the entire social liberal agenda in the United States. So leftist activists such as Michael Moore and Howard Zinn and Cindy Sheehan seem willing to let the enemy win in Iraq so they can use that defeat in 2008 to rout Bush -- their enemy at home.
Here D'Souza touches on an overlooked weakness in Western liberalism.

In the years since America went to war with Iraq, leftists in the West have found themselves in the awkward position of defending Muslim fundamentalism ("how dare the French forbid students from wearing veils! how dare those Norwegians publish political cartoons that insult the Prophet!") while attacking Christian fundamentalism ("how dare evolution make apologies for creation myths", etc). The problem: religious fundamentalism is all of a piece. To insist that an ancient, contradictory text holds the inspired word of a god denies common sense.

D'Souza, however, is the first conservative commentator we've read who doesn't take the converse of the Left's theme (Muslim fundamentalism BAD; Christian fundamentalism GOOD) but takes, instead, the contrapositive (all forms of fundamentalism GOOD). So bravo to him for a foolish consistency, we guess.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Setting The Stage for Iran

Who Is IOZ?: Largely United.

Quoth the man:
[C]onsider that the moment of greatest, loudest whoopery in the chamber [during Bush's State of the Union Address - ed.] followed the dauphin's line-in-the-mud line that "the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons." Dennis Kucinich nearly lost his toupee in the updraft as every other member of his party leapt to their hooves all around him. There is a lesson here: The failure of the occupation of Iraq has not fundamentally altered the premises and assumptions of the governing class.
Emphasis the author's, but we draw attention to it as well. Has the failure of Iraq taught the U.S. that the threat of radical, martyr-driven, wahhabist Islam cannot be stopped by occupation and imperialism? No, it has not.

Groundwork is being laid now for the Next Big Lie - that while Iraq (ahem) didn't actually HAVE weapons of mass destruction, per se, Iran definitely does. That while the citizens of Iraq, a hodgepodge of virulently angry Muslims of different feuding factions, lumped together by the Sykes-Picot Treaty, didn't greet us as liberators, the Iranian people long for the soothing balm of democracy, American-style.

Actually, we're not as worried about Iran as we are about Iraq. Given that the entire premise of the Iraq debacle - namely, "Iraq the Model," Iraq the grateful recipient of liberation at gunpoint - was at best naive and at worst a lie, we could expect nothing but failure there. But the premise of the 2008 Iran Debacle should be remarkably straightforward: kill them all, and let God redeem his own. Whether you find that refreshing or disheartening, we leave as an exercise for the reader

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Nothing is Over! Nothing!

Courtesy of Matthew Yglesias, this bizarre op-ed from the Washington Post: Retreat is Not An Option. The title alone stirs us with reminders of The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel. Early in the movie, Rommel has just received a direct order not to abandon an untenable post at El Alamein.
Rommel: It's an order, Bayerlein, a military order from General Headquarters. A clear, straight, stupid, criminal military order, from General Headquarters.

Bayerlein: And what are you going to do, double the insanity by obeying it? We've got the best soldiers in the German Army here. They may be just hanging on now, but they're still a force, they're still fighting. If we take them out now, they can fight again tomorrow. But this! This is sheer madness! It's out of the Middle Ages. Nobody had said "Victory or Death" since people fought with bows and arrows. Why, this is an order to throw away an entire army.
Victory or death. Retreat is not an option. Asking people like Lizzie Cheney what it would take to falsify her hypothesis - at what point she would accept that the U.S. cannot "win" Iraq - wastes everyone's time. She would never accept that the U.S. cannot win. She does not accept the U.S.'s military superiority as a matter of reason (better morale, better training, better arms, better intel) but as an article of faith.

So why dwell on her arguments, so-called, when the title alone gives away her madness? Because it's fun.
We are at war. America faces an existential threat. This is not, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has claimed, a "situation to be solved." It would be nice if we could wake up tomorrow and say, as Sen. Barack Obama suggested at a Jan. 11 hearing, "Enough is enough." Wishing doesn't make it so. We will have to fight these terrorists to the death somewhere, sometime. We can't negotiate with them or "solve" their jihad. If we quit in Iraq now, we must get ready for a harder, longer, more deadly struggle later.
Note that this paragraph contains no facts, no statistics and not much of an argument. Though we prefer not to flatter bald assertion with pure reason, we'll try.

Thus: to call the cultural clash between watered-down Western Protestantism (i.e., the U.S. and Europe) and radical Islamic theocracy (i.e., the factions of whom al-Qaeda is currently the most prominent) a "war" strains the bounds of metaphor. A "war" has a formal and technical definition (we've always liked Clausewitz's); the tidal shifts of religion do not meet that definition. While we do not believe Islam is a "religion of peace" - any more than Christianity is - we don't believe that calling something a war which isn't a war helps.
· Quitting helps the terrorists. Few politicians want to be known as spokesmen for retreat. Instead we hear such words as "redeployment," "drawdown" or "troop cap." Let's be clear: If we restrict the ability of our troops to fight and win this war, we help the terrorists. Don't take my word for it. Read the plans of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ayman Zawahiri to drive America from Iraq, establish a base for al-Qaeda and spread jihad across the Middle East. The terrorists are counting on us to lose our will and retreat under pressure. We're in danger of proving them right.
Of course, the United States stepped in a bear trap. Of course, gangrene is setting in. But removing the injured foot now would hurt! A lot! What are you, some kind of pussy?

Note also the fascination with "losing our will", already suitably mocked by Matthew Yglesias' Green Lantern theory of diplomacy.
· Beware the polls. In November the American people expressed serious concerns about Iraq (and about Republican corruption and scandals). They did not say that they want us to lose this war. They did not say that they want us to allow Iraq to become a base for al-Qaeda to conduct global terrorist operations. They did not say that they would rather we fight the terrorists here at home. Until you see a poll that asks those questions, don't use election results as an excuse to retreat.
This is a comical failure of rhetoric, something we might clip and show to students as an exercise. "Now class - at what point does Libby smuggle in a false dichotomy, between maintaining troop levels in Iraq or between an increase of terror attacks in the U.S., in her essay?"
· Our soldiers will win if we let them. Read their blogs. Talk to them. They know that free people must fight to defend their freedom. No force on Earth -- especially not an army of terrorists and insurgents -- can defeat our soldiers militarily. American troops will win if we show even one-tenth the courage here at home that they show every day on the battlefield. And by the way, you cannot wish failure on our soldiers' mission and claim, at the same time, to be supporting the troops. It just doesn't compute.
If webjournals count as evidence of the U.S.'s prospects in Iraq, we can think of several that bolster the argument for withdrawal. Note as well Lizabet laying the ground for a First Blood narrative eightteen months from now. "They wouldn't LET us win!"

To the hawks still holding out hope for Iraq, we must ask the following:

(1) What in your eyes would constitute "victory" in Iraq?

(2) If entering Iraq was a bad idea in 2003, why is it a good idea to stay? (And if it wasn't a bad idea, then where are the weapons of mass destruction?)

(3) What in your eyes would constitute "failure" in Iraq? If it's not bad enough now for the U.S. to withdraw, how bad would it have to be?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The End of Faith, the Edge of Reason

Though we devote most of our attention to politics in this webjournal, our charter demands that we put reason foremost in all avenues, not just politics. Therefore, suffer us for a time while we speak about religion:

1. There is no evidence for the substantial claims made by any of the world's major religions. While we don't have the time to debunk every supposedly "miraculous" healing attributed to Lourdes or to touching the relics of some molding saint, there is no proof of the transubstantiation of the Communion wafer into the body of Jesus. Or of Mohammed's ascension to heaven on a winged horse.

The holy texts of those faiths - the Bible, the Koran - do not constitute "proof," as we have no one's word to take for the Bible's authenticity but the Bible's. And a subjective, unverifiable feeling that cannot be distinguished from a lie (e.g., "faith") is not proof. Faith is proof that you believe in something; it is not proof of that thing.

2. In any other arena of human experience - medicine, geology, aeronautics, football coaching, wedding planning, cooking, auctioneering, dog breeding - an assertion advanced without evidence would be laughed aside. Even in the fuzzier disciplines, where bold assertions can seem equally unprovable (e.g., "no one knew the emotions of man better than Shakespeare"), there is at least a marshalling of evidence and the possibility of debate. But it is possible to debate the importance of Shakespeare and still be considered an English scholar. It is not possible to debate the fact that an angel spoke to Mohammed and still be a Muslim.

3. The respect that religion is accorded in the realm of public discourse vastly outweighs its contributions.

4. Some would argue that religious belief leads to remarkable good works - charity, education, etc - that counter, if not outweigh, its tremendous evil. But any such charity must, of necessity, come from a very selective interpretation of the Bible. And to selectively interpret the Bible smashes the assertion that it is the inspired word of a god.

If we accept that it's okay to adhere to Jesus's exhortations to charity, but to ignore Deuteronomy's commands to stone heretics and burn adulterers, then what criteria are we using for such selection? What filter do we pass the 'word of god' through, that healing the sick emerges but slaying the infidel is left behind? Whatever this filter is, whatever benchmarks we use to determine what parts of the Bible to follow and what to ignore, it must obviously be taken from outside the Bible itself. For the Bible itself does not instruct its readers to ignore anything that sounds "barbaric" or "outdated"; the Bible does not invite you to pick and choose. So if the Bible's more moderate adherents apply some sort of filter to it, that filter must - of necessity - come from their own moral sense.

We can also anticipate the next response: that Jesus himself told his followers that he was "creating a new covenant." Does that mean that moderate Christians can ignore the Old Testament? Well, no - because there is no reason to believe that Jesus was the Son of God unless he fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah. Unless Jesus was of the lineage of David, born of a virgin in the village of Bethlehem, he is not the son of God - he's merely a particularly popular Jewish cultist from the time of Augustus Caesar. The appearance of Jesus does not invalidate the Old Testament. That's why the Torah and the life of the Prophets is included in Biblical canon, for Christ's sake.

Besides, no moderate Christian completely ignores the Old Testament - they're all fans of the Ten Commandments, for instance. So how did they decide which parts to follow and which parts to ignore? See above - their own moral sense.

(We devote the most time in the above block to moderate Christianity - Protestantism and Roman Catholicism - because we are the most familiar with that strain)

5. Armchair reasoning, as well as an empirical study of history, demonstrates that the greater a populace's religious belief, the greater the evil it perpetrates. The logic above proves that anyone who accepts monumental claims about metaphysics and ethics without evidence must be delusional. A survey of the last twenty centuries proves that it is fundamentalists - the Inquisition in Europe, the jihadi in the Middle East - that slaughter millions, torture mercilessly and wreck nations.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Surge!, pt III

Quoted for truth (Scott "Dilbert" Adams on his weblog):
President Bush has unveiled his plan to achieve the top goal of his presidency: a popularity rating of zero. The only risk to his plan is if this Iraqi “surge” concept actually works. So let’s examine his chances.

On the American side, all we have to do is stretch the military to the point of breaking, spend tens of billions of dollars, and do what has never been done, i.e. secure a major Iraqi city and let the highly capable Iraqi government forces hold it. And popularity-wise, it would be helpful to do that without any casualties. This is the same successful strategy that has brought democracy to several blocks in Kabul, except at night.

On the flip side, the insurgents will be faced with the insurmountable task of going on vacation outside of Baghdad until all the surging is finished. Then they can wander back, all tanned and rested, and pick up where they left off. They might face some stiff resistance from the three or four Iraqi government forces who inadvertently shoot in their general direction, but that will allow the insurgents some much needed practice in torturing and kidnapping. It’s good to stay sharp.
We would ask at this point, of the true believers who claim victory is still attainable: what would "victory" look like?

A peaceful Iraq? Nuke Baghdad. There's nothing quieter than a sea of glass.

A peaceful, civil Iraq? Withdraw. The Shi'a will take charge, execute all the Sunni they need to get things in line.

Stability in an oil-rich country? Withdraw. Same result as above. Once Moqtada realizes that he needs money to run a country (and finance terrorism), he'll put his least corrupt men on pipeline duty and resume exporting light sweet crude.

A peaceful, civil Iraq with equal legal and cultural protection for two sects that have been warring for over a dozen centuries? We submit that it cannot be done.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Surge!, pt II

From the Commander-in-Chief's address last night (c/o Drudge; link will probably be archived before long):
When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation. The elections of 2005 were a stunning achievement. We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together – and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.

But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq – particularly in Baghdad – overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq’s elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis. They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam – the Golden Mosque of Samarra – in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq’s Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today.
That last paragraph is a lie. It is factually untrue. Shia "death squads" (if one could call the 60,000-strong Mahdi Army a "squad") have existed and operated since before 2006. And the idea that Sunni insurgents wanted retaliation - that they wanted anything, that a strike on a Shia holy site was not an end in itself in the quest for glorious martyrdom - is absurd.
It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq. So my national security team, military commanders, and diplomats conducted a comprehensive review. We consulted Members of Congress from both parties, allies abroad, and distinguished outside experts. We benefited from the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group – a bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq. And one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.
There's another lie. The President did not benefit from the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. He has been planning the surge since at least mid-November - three weeks before the Report was released. In fact, the Baker report took Bush's plans into account, not the other way around.
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.
Considering that the U.S. has been the leader so far in toppling moderate (read: not radically Islamic) governments, creating chaos in the region and using oil revenues to fund its ambitions, we wonder if this is genuine concern or adolescent envy. Regardless, Baghdad was a much harder place for Shi'a and Sunni terrorists to operate in before March 2003.

Given that the premises of the speech rest on lies and historical revisionism, it shouldn't surprise anyone when Bush's additional 20,000 troops fail to stem the chaos. Violence will certainly decrease in the winter and spring - as it always does - but the Administration will search for a new bogeyman once we reach the deadliester months of autumn.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Sleeping Giant AWAKENS ... er ...

We must issue an urgent warning to our Commander-in-Chief: the Democrats are gunning for him:
Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they intended to hold symbolic votes in the House and Senate on President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Baghdad, forcing Republicans to take a stand on the proposal and seeking to isolate the president politically over his handling of the war.

Senate Democrats decided to schedule a vote on the resolution after a closed-door meeting on a day when Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts introduced legislation to require Mr. Bush to gain Congressional approval before sending more troops to Iraq.


The office of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, followed with an announcement that the House would also take up a resolution in opposition to a troop increase. House Democrats were scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to consider whether to interrupt their carefully choreographed 100-hour, two-week-long rollout of their domestic agenda this month to address the Iraq war.

In both chambers, Democrats made clear that the resolutions — which would do nothing in practical terms to block Mr. Bush’s intention to increase the United States military presence in Iraq — would be the minimum steps they would pursue. They did not rule out eventually considering more muscular responses, like seeking to cap the number of troops being deployed to Iraq or limiting financing for the war — steps that could provoke a Constitutional and political showdown over the president’s power to wage war.
Symbolic votes. Non-binding resolutions. Debating whether to interrupt the Democrats' carefully choreographed pageantry of legislature. Ted Kennedy.

We take back every harsh thing we ever said about the Democrats, because clearly they mean business. Obviously, they're not afraid to stake their careers and their integrity by standing in the way of the Executive Juggernaut. Political cynics like us be damned - they're going to take a stand against Not Having Taken A Stand In The Past.

Centuries from now, historians will look back and recall not the Congress's shameful rollover on torture with the Military Commissions Act, nor their mealy-mouthed inadequacy after every pillar of the Iraq strategy had been smashed, nor their fascination with legislative trivia (the minimum wage?!) over the life and death of American fighting men. No, history will remember Nancy Pelosi and Ted "The Kennedy Not Currently In Rehab" Kennedy as heroes for debating whether or not to spend time voting on a non-binding resolution. Bravo.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Where is President Bush's predicted surge of Iraq troops going to come from?

Quoted from the Iraq Study Group Report:
Nearly every U.S. Army and Marine combat unit, and several National Guard and Reserve units, have been to Iraq at least once. Many are on their second or even third rotations; rotations are typically one year for Army units, seven months for Marine units.
Are there 20,000 combat troops free, unspoken for in other parts of the world? Are troops going to be called up for their third and fourth rotations? We don't believe, Chip Rangel notwithstanding, that there's any real chance of the draft being reinstated. But, beyond that, we just don't know where these twenty thousand men are.

[Edit: WSJ Editorial Board member Robert Pollock says that you could increase the number of troops simply by cutting everyone's vacation:
"[A]ll that means is decreasing the length of some breaks from tours of duty and increasing the lengths of some tours of duty." Pollock added: "That's not a hard thing to do."
So it's not a question of bringing in fresh troops - it's putting additional strain on the troops already there. That makes sense.]


April 2004 Deadliest Month for U.S. Troops in Iraq

October [2006] On Pace To Be Deadliest Month In Iraq War for U.S. Troops

December [2006] Deadliest Month in Iraq War for U.S. Troops

Why even change the typesetting at this point? "This month has been the deadliest for U.S. troops in Iraq since, well, the last time it was the deadliest."

(Note: this should not be confused with the deadliest month for Iraq civilians - currently July 2006)

Our prediction is made: if truthiness was the Word of the Year for 2006, then 2007's Word will be deadliester.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What's The Story, Morning Glory?

Gerald Ford died. While every man's death diminishes us, we have difficulty finding anything of merit to say about his presidency.

Many otherwise reasonable people claim that his absolute pardon of every crime Nixon committed allowed the nation to "begin healing." That's a metaphor. A nation is an abstract concept; it does not suffer actual wounds. "Freeing slaves" is an accomplishment. "Signing a treaty" is an accomplishment. "Starting a war" is an accomplishment (whether good or bad, it is at least something).

But "facilitating healing" makes sense only if you buy a certain paradigm of nationalism already, to which we do not subscribe. This leaves us with only the act to judge on its own merits - pardoning one of the most grievous abuses of presidential power since, well, recently. Strike that - not just one of the most grievous abuses. He ordered "a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974."

All metaphor about damage to the "national fabric" aside, the criminal trial of a former president would have done some exquisite damage to the papal sanctity in which the office is held. It would have set an excellent precedent and put future presidents on their toes. Instead, we hear a collective sigh of relief from the Old Boys' Club that parades through the Oval Office every four years. Don't worry, guys - no matter how badly you fuck up, the guy behind you can tidy up your spoor.

And for those of you who still buy into the "closing a dark chapter" metaphor, let us ask this: how crooked would Nixon have to be not to deserve a pardon? What if he'd ordered his ministers without portfolio to rob the psychiatrist of the man who released the Pentagon Papers, paid those ministers in campaign funds, ordered those same ministers to wiretap the offices of his political rivals, fired an independent prosecutor rather than cooperate with him in an investigation, and fixed some speeding tickets? Would that be enough? If the most profligate criminal to ever occupy the White House did not merit prosecution, what kind of criminal would?

Also this weekend: the government of Iraq executed a former ally of the United States. The U.S. does not intervene to stop his death, going only so far as to ferry his body some place that it won't be torn apart (Tikrit; apparently he's huge there).

As our man Ioz has noted, the New York Times obituary does not mention once Saddam Hussein's debt to the U.S. during his rise to power or during his struggles against Iran. Why not? Why wouldn't the New York Times remind the world that the U.S. backed this dark horse? Why didn't President Bush mention the long and jovial relationship that his father, President George H.W. Bush, or his former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, had with the recently deceased?

Because that would mean admitting that the United States had made a mistake. That would be a hard case to make for war: "yes, our last military adventure in Baghdad was a grievous mistake that ended with the installation of a thug who gassed thousands of Kurds. But this time!" The only way to advance the argument for war is to don the mantle of all our past heroes (evoking comparisons to World War II and bombing Berlin) while ignoring all their past mistakes. No reasonable or moral argument can evolve from such evasion, however. Either you take responsibility for the mistakes of your predecessors or you part ways with them and take responsibility for your own decisions. Our current C-in-C wants the best of both worlds.

It's this Orwellian national varnish that makes the deaths of Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein oddly symmetrical in our minds. Both of them stand as emblems of a nation that sees nothing wrong with "closing dark chapters." What a handy metaphor that evokes! This book troubles us; let us close it. This man wronged us; let us forgive him. This man no longer suits our purposes; let us sit on our hands while he dies.

Can anything good come of the events of this weekend? Perhaps. Pinochet (another U.S. mistake) died in bed, but Hussein was executed by the government of the country he thought he was saving. Maybe this will be a warning to would-be dictators in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia and South America: the United States giveth; the United States taketh away. If you reach for that precious military aid from Uncle Sam when it comes to executing dissidents or installing your junta, reach with a chary hand.

Second, even among the United States' fighting men, the varnish is starting to peel:
"First it was weapons of mass destruction. Then when there were none, it was that we had to find Saddam. We did that, but then it was that we had to put him on trial," said Spc. Thomas Sheck, 25, of Philadelphia, who is on his second tour in Iraq. "So now, what will be the next story they tell us to keep us over here?"