The Fruits of War: Announcing an Altercation community project


From the Los Angeles Times:

A major CIA effort launched last year to hunt down Osama bin Laden has produced no significant leads on his whereabouts, but has helped track an alarming increase in the movement of Al Qaeda operatives and money into Pakistan's tribal territories, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the operation.

In one of the most troubling trends, U.S. officials said that Al Qaeda's command base in Pakistan is increasingly being funded by cash coming out of Iraq, where the terrorist network's operatives are raising substantial sums from donations to the anti-American insurgency as well as kidnappings of wealthy Iraqis and other criminal activity.

The influx of money has bolstered Al Qaeda's leadership ranks at a time when the core command is regrouping and reasserting influence over its far-flung network. The trend also signals a reversal in the traditional flow of Al Qaeda funds, with the network's leadership surviving to a large extent on money coming in from its most profitable franchise, rather than distributing funds from headquarters to distant cells.

Al Qaeda's efforts were aided, intelligence officials said, by Pakistan's withdrawal in September of tens of thousands of troops from the tribal areas along the Afghanistan border where Bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, are believed to be hiding.

Little more than a year ago, Al Qaeda's core command was thought to be in a financial crunch. But U.S. officials said cash shipped from Iraq has eased those troubles.

"Iraq is a big moneymaker for them," said a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official.

This is a new one, huh? Or perhaps it's merely a new twist on an old one. Anyway, let's get it straight. The invasion of Iraq has now provided Al Qaeda with a new source of funds in its quest to take over the parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan it does not yet control, coming from the country we pretended was helping them in the first place. It seems to me that the Altercation community could provide the world with a signal service if we simply make a list -- with source material -- of every effect on the world, whether, um, good or bad, of the invasion of the United States and its "allies" of Iraq. We all know the litany; goodness I wish I had a key on my keyboard that automatically typed in: "cost trillions, killed tens, possibly hundreds of thousands, wounded hundreds of thousands more, increased terrorism, aided Syria and Iran (and China), destroyed a functioning country, increased hatred for the U.S. worldwide, undermined political allies, undermined the U.S. military, etc., etc. But seriously, let's do it systematically, with good sourcing. I'll ask Media Matters to create a dedicated URL page that we will continually update so that journalists, bloggers, historians, and the hoi polloi will have it available the next time one of these geniuses comes up with another idea for a country to invade somewhere, say, Iran.

It's OK if you want to be funny, as long as it's sourced -- preferably with hot links -- and true. And be as brief as possible, please, but clear, and not too cute or mean. Include the ones above, too, as we're just getting started. Thanks.

Speaking of which, The Nation sent Spencer Ackerman to Baghdad. Here is the result. It traces the residual strategy in Iraq -- training Iraqi security forces -- and how it's been overtaken by the penetration of militia groups into the Iraqi police. With sectarianism advancing throughout the security apparatus, the unintended consequence of the training mission looks to be the creation of ever more competent combatants in Iraq's civil war.

A few words about the state of 2008:

We note for the record that current polls in Iowa have the Democratic race at Edwards, Obama, and Clinton. Remember that national polls don't mean much at all. Edwards is in third place nationally, but the calendar is written for him. If he wins Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada, he goes into New Hampshire with all the momentum. If he wins there, well, I dunno, but it's more important than national polls. Gore: still not running.

Republican-wise, the race still makes no sense. All of the "pros" are waiting for Rudy to self-destruct, but it does seem to be taking a long time. McCain looks and feels "old" and Romney's religion looks to be as much of a barrier as Rudy's affection for gays, abortion, gun-control, etc. Originally, I thought Mike Huckabee to be the likely break-out candidate, but I'm told by knowledgeable Republicans -- and by his anemic fund-raising figures -- that his tax raising practices in Arkansas doom his hopes. That leaves Fred Thompson -- he's never accomplished much as a politician but hey, he is a B-actor, a likeable fellow and most significantly, semi-acceptable to everyone. Well, anyway, that's my story for now and I'm sticking with it....


"The Wonkette Web site posted the headline: "Ashcroft Takes Heroic Stand." Under a similar headline, "John Ashcroft, American Hero," Andrew Sullivan expressed astonishment on his Atlantic magazine blog that "John Ashcroft was way too moderate for these people. John Ashcroft." -- The Washington Post. You read that right: In the mighty Washington Post, Wonkette and Andrew Sullivan constitute "the left." (HT, Today's Papers.)

QOTD, II: "His likely selection of Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister is a master stroke. The highly popular founder of the Nobel-prize winning Doctors Without Borders is a former Communist who worked for Mitterrand, campaigned for Ségolène Royal, and, as the chief advocate of the wooly concept of 'droit d'ingérence' (right of humanitarian intervention), played Bush's useful idiot in the run-up to the Iraq war. His selection is a canny way to please, annoy, and confuse everyone all at once." Here.


"I'll torture Jack Bauer." (Let's hear it for the boy ...)

Falseness in advertising:

The Note Is Ready!

"The most influential tipsheet in Washington. -- The New Yorker."

Yes, those were the days, weren't they, ABC? Not as bad as The New Republic using a 50-year-old Orson Welles quote calling the magazine "liberal," but still ...

I went to an evening in celebration of the first 25 years of the Library of America last week at the Morgan Library. Their 173 volumes represent a remarkable achievement in combining good taste, good works and creative entrepreneurship. And I was particularly pleased to see that coming up in the series will be collections of the work of Edmund Wilson, who originally came up with the idea for the Library itself but did not live to see its fruition. I was reminded again of Wilson while reading Richard Schickel, also in the LA Times, here, on the importance of book-reviewing culture: "Think also of Edmund Wilson, the best book reviewer this country ever had -- alert to the possibilities, both moral and aesthetic, of the 'classics and commercial' (to invoke the title of one of his collections) that passed before him. His method was usually rather reportorial -- generally he let his opinions emerge indirectly, not as fiats but as muted implications of the way he read (and quoted) the work at hand. He was not a showy, or even particularly quotable, critic. But the clarity of his prose remains exemplary."

Those Wilson review essays are indisputably literature themselves, as the Library is now recognizing. What a horrible loss for our culture should their successors disappear from our culture.

On Barry B, from the LA Times:

Yes, the man is plagued by suspicions of steroid use. But despising a pro athlete for using performance-enhancing drugs is like hating a chef for cooking with trans fats. As the late Buck O'Neil, the Negro Leagues star, said, "The only reason we didn't use steroids is we didn't have them."

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig claims with a straight face that until quite recently, he wasn't even aware that steroids were a problem. President Bush owned the Texas Rangers at a time when Jose Canseco was turning the clubhouse into a McSteroids franchise. Fans cheered as players burst their uniforms with unholy biceps. Major League Baseball embraced the cheeky slogan "chicks dig the long ball" as the homers flew. The point is, we can do a better job of spreading around the sanctimony instead of placing it on one man's shoulders.

Bonds' pursuit of one of baseball's hallowed records will probably have an ugly ending. Selig has said he will not attend any games in which Bonds might pass Aaron. This is an ugly echo of former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's refusal to be in attendance when Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record in 1974. Kuhn's decision had racial overtones. For many, Selig's will carry the same divisive weight.

More here.

Update, back into the muck: Forgive me for being oh-so-behind the gossip curve on this, but when Mr. Ana Marie Cox, New York Observer party reporter Chris Lehman, took to Romenesko's letter pages to fight his wife's battles against yours truly -- after she ambushed me at a party, instructed me about how to speak to my friends and colleagues, and then inaccurately (and anonymously) leaked its contents to Gawker and apologized to me in private -- I recall him getting all hot under the collar because I have criticized Time for choosing as its only liberal columnist (pre-Mike Kinsley) a gossip writer who was best known for posts on, alas, "ass-fu**ing." That would have been Ms. Cox in her Wonkette days. Lehman insisted that I was somehow being deliberately unfair to Ms. Ex-Wonkette because, she was actually all exercised about sodomy laws and the Supreme Court and the Bush administration and other high-minded stuff. Well, fine, it was bullshit but I let it go ... until I saw this: "A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday against the founder of a political gossip Web site who reprinted sexually explicit material about the sex lives of two Senate aides. Ana Marie Cox, the founder and former editor of, commented on and provided links to a Web blog created in 2004 by Jessica Cutler, an aide to then-Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. DeWine lost his re-election bid last November." Hmmm. Nothing about Supreme Court decisions, presidential directives, or anything like that; just plain old all-American, sorry mom, "ass-fu**ing." Congratulations to everyone at Time on avoiding having the name of its "liberal" kept out of this lawsuit, at least. That's something ...

From TomDispatch:

Aren't we the most exceptional nation in history? George Bush and his pals thought so -- and they were in a great American tradition of exceptionalism. Of course, they were imagining us as the most exceptional empire in history (or maybe at the end of it), the ultimate New Rome. Anyway, among all the exceptional things we claim to do, how come we never take any credit for what may be the most exceptional thing of all, our success of successes which makes us uniquely ourselves on this war-ridden planet -- peddling more arms to Earthlings than anyone else in the neighborhood? Why do we hide this rare talent under a bushel?

Frida Berrigan, arms trade expert, shines a proud light on an underrated national skill, considering American gold-medal firsts in arming the planet.

She writes: "Since 2001, U.S. global military sales have normally totaled between $10 and $13 billion. That's a lot of weapons, but in fiscal year 2006, the Pentagon broke its own recent record, inking arms sales agreements worth $21 billion. It almost goes without saying that this is significantly more than any other nation in the world. In this gold-medal tally of firsts, there can be no question that things that go bang in the night are our proudest products. No one makes more of them or sells them more effectively than we do."

We may no longer achieve gold-medal firsts in civilian manufacturing, but stick with arms sales, she points out, and it's dawn in America every day of the year. She then considers many of the ways in which this is so and why only once in a blue moon do American arms-trade achievements get the sort of media front-page attention they deserve.

Maybe the only way to break the media paralysis of analysis on the subject, she suggests, would be to stop talking about weapons exports as a trade at all -- and think of the Pentagon and the weapons business in drug terms. Maybe, she concludes, "we don't need stronger arms control laws, we need a global sobriety coach -- and some kind of 12-step program for the dealer-nation as well."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian Donohue

Don't know whether you've made it to AARP age yet, Professor A., but those of us who work in corporate America know that once you hit 50, you're "increasingly irrelevant." But to me, old codgers like Jimmy Carter speak for many (old and young alike) who have been made to feel "increasingly irrelevant" these past six years or so. Maybe it's that age brings you a certain freedom to speak more clearly than when you were younger; maybe it's that Nature, when unimpeded by ideology, loosens the tongues and clarifies the vision of the "elder-men" (forgive the play on your name). Or maybe folks like Carter realize that the worst that can happen has already begun, so what room is there for fear?

Name: Barb G
Hometown: Albany [now] Brooklyn [before]

Right on the money dr eric. i've gotten into too many arguments with [mostly] gentile, and often decent christian [read: not fundies] friends. we have had to declare a moratorium. and sadly, i wind up with a conclusion that they dont understand because they arent jewish, etc., etc. that really cant be it. i dont much like that conclusion. maybe its difficult for me to understand people who DIDNT grow up hearing about the holocaust, the inquisition, the pogroms that drove our grandparents to leave europe ... to know people with numbers tattooed on their, i dont want to play that victim card because i hate it. my bottom line has been for a long time: israel has the right to exist, and the right to exist in safety. after we get done discussing that issue, THEN maybe we can deal with how we got where we got with the palestinians. does that make me a zionist? i dont know. as an american, no. as a jew, yes? I think arendt was right.

Name: Mark Tyndall
Hometown: Albuquerque

I get a kick out of watching Republican debates. They are all trying too hard to out-right each other, even intelligent people will hold up their hand to ridiculous questions.

That being the case, we should keep the "raise your hand" questions coming...

Evolution - check
Global Warming
Civil Rights

Even keeping the topics all perfectly reasonable, I would wager there would not be one candidate left at the end without their hand up.

Name: Catherine
Hometown: New York, NY

OK, I've tried to hold off, but after the impeachment letter, I have to ask: Is Charles Pierce single?

I'm not much interested in his looks, am pretty hot myself, and am willing to provide pictures to back it up.

Name: Rajesh
Hometown: Cherry Hill, NJ

"There is something about the current debate about the war on the right that is deeply unhealthy."

Gee, you think? And just now?

Name: J DAlessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY

It occurs to me, in listening to media coverage of Clinton, that progressives should be consistently making an obvious point that no one ever makes. We've now had nearly seven years of doctrinaire Conservative rule, most of which was aided by a compliant press and a rubber stamp legislature. The result has been horrendous disaster. The prior eight years were very good ones for the country, by and large, and it was brought about by a moderately progressive leader who was vehemently opposed by leading figures of a hostile media. He was fought at every turn by an obstructionist legislature that was so hostile that it purposely blocked any advance in matters that benefited Americans as a whole, such as healthcare, rather than give him a "victory." So we've had a laboratory test of our ideas against theirs, and have won a decisive victory in the war of ideology.

The other point I never heard made is that the media, for the most part, has thrown its weight onto the scales against progressivism, calling for special prosecutors against Clinton for acts that took place before he was president. This 'great principle' was quickly and quietly thrown aside when Bush became president, as W. was never investigated for insider trading, or for deserting his unit during the war. We must insist that the next president be treated as Bush was, and not as Clinton.

Name: John S. Ransom
Hometown: Carlisle, PA

Eric, I don't underestimate for one second how much crap you have to deal with, including the message from Martin Donnelly-Heg. You must get rivers full of the most unintelligent nonsense, nonsense produced by the fact that lots of people don't know how to read, and then don't have writing all that down either. I think it's a big cost of your work, and I hope you have several people helping you wade through it, because we need you out here. I remember back in the day when the world was still nodding yes to pretty much everything Bush and co. had to say, you were -- I'm quite serious -- a lighthouse people could turn to and say "not everyone has gone insane, not everyone has forgotten how to look at facts." Do you remember how vicious people were when anyone questioned the Iraq war? They were trying to terrorize everyone into either going along or shutting up. Your voice was one of the very few that helped others keep up their courage by pointing them again and again to the facts. Your leadership and example is precious, and I hope you don't ever get discouraged by the incredible amount of junk you must receive every single day of the week.

Eric replies: Well thanks, John. Usually I pay someone to keep me happily ignorant of this stuff but he's moving this week and so some of it is slipping through. The anonymous genius below, for instance, came up with sending it to my Brooklyn College address. Those Naderites. What will they think of next? P.S. I knew I didn't like Mondays ...

Dear Dr. Alterman,

I just want to thank you for your words of wisdom on the whole Ralph Nader presidential debacle. I recently saw the documentary An Unreasonable Man. Unlike the cowardly Ralph Nader, you have committed yourself to a life of Activism by hiding in the overpriced academic institutions of this land; sheltered among the rich and privileged children whose lily-white skin resembles your own. Like you, I fear the republican party and have committed myself to bending over every four years for the democrats whether or not their neo-liberal platform reflects my own. You are a man of courage and a true revolutionary along the lines of of an FBI SNITCH. To borrow from one of your eloquent lines in the Nader documentary: I think eric alterman needs to go away. I think he needs to live in a different country.

Eric Alterman has done enough damage to this one, let him damage someone else's now. How's that for democracy, eric? Your tone of voice sounds a little german. What do you think Mr. Uppity Intellectual?








Add a little nuance to your life and keep making that money you sell out beeeeaach


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