Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

Home of the This Is Not Normal podcast, Bill Scher columns and other liberal commentary

Month: October 2006 (page 1 of 6)

Book Tour in Pasadena Tonight, SF Tomorrow

Tonight at 7:30 PM PT, I’ll be discussing Wait! Don’t Move To Canada! with the Pasadena chapter of Drinking Liberally, which meets at Madeleine’s Wine Bistro, 1030 E Green Street, between Wilson and Catalina.
Tomorrow at 7:30 PM PT, I’ll be speaking at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco, on 888 Valencia Street.
Hope to see you there!

Interview With Paul Rieckhoff, Author of “Chasing Ghosts”

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (formerly Operation Truth), recently published, Chasing Ghosts, a memior of his tour of duty in Iraq, and his fight for accountability upon his return home. Former Senator Max Cleland deemed the book a “must read for all of us struggling to understand the number one issue of our time.”
Mr. Rieckhoff participated in an email interview with LiberalOasis earlier this month, and discussed Iraq, permanent bases, the midterms and the growing numbers of homeless vets. The transcript is below:
LiberalOasis: What did officers tell their soldiers regarding the reason why they were being sent to Iraq? Were they told Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11?
Paul Rieckhoff: We were told we were being sent to kick Saddam’s ass. Officers rammed home to all of us how brutal and nasty he was to the Iraqi people.
But at the end of the day, what motivated my soldiers most was the desire to protect each other, and the thought that the sooner we were done, the sooner we could get home to the world of beer, AC and girls.
Whether or not it was said overtly, I don’t remember, but there was a general feeling that the invasion was definitely payback for 9/11.
As someone who worked at Ground Zero after 9/11 (which I write about in the book), I find this aspect of the flawed rationale for war to be especially insulting. The fact that the Administration still ties the war in Iraq to 9/11 today is revolting. They must be held accountable.
LO: What did the failure to find WMD do to the morale of troops? Did it lead to more questioning why they were sent to Iraq?
PR: It was frustrating. We were sent on wild goose chases all over Iraq looking for things that could potentially be WMD. We quickly got sick of coming up empty. But morale is a funny thing.
Not finding WMD did not lead to the morale erosion that a civilian might expect. I think there are two main reasons:
1. The rationale was already so convoluted, that it was easy for troops to fall back on any one of the three or four other shaky pieces of the inconsistent case for war in order to justify our presence.
2. We’re still stuck there for a year — no matter what happens in Washington. We are asked by the American people to do a job — and came to accept that.
The inevitability of the time you have in Iraq forces you to cope. Soldiers are trained to deal with adversity and pain. And your life is in danger every day — you’ve got more immediate fish to fry. Coping mechanisms kick in, and most of us tried to find something better to focus on.
We are also trained to be apolitical. And from where we sat, it didn’t look like the people back home were terribly upset — and they were much more up to date on the news than we were.
LO: How much easier would it be for us to withdraw troops from Iraq if Congress banned funds for permanent military bases, which Democrats have proposed but Republicans have stripped out of appropriations bills?
PR: Not at all. You won’t starve the beast. It is not going to happen.
That political strategy is ineffective and short-sighted. It would only end up hurting the troops stuck in Iraq in the end. Our troops live on those bases. Reductions in funding will result in leaving our people more vulnerable — equipment won’t be fixed, repair parts won’t be ordered, armor won’t be shipped. It is a half-assed way of dealing with the symptoms while you ignore the core of the disease.
Take on the policy. Demand congressional oversight. Work with the media to reveal fraud and waste. Get some people like Rumsfeld fired. But don’t punish the troops for Bush’s stupidity by hamstringing their spending.
Karl Rove smiles every time people on the left consider this strategy. It is the same type of flawed tactical decision that anti-war groups make when they decide to protest outside military bases or Walter Reed hospital. It is like protesting the cows, if you don’t like McDonalds.
LO: Aside from the merits of the tactic to ban funding for permanent bases, are permanent bases an obstacle to bringing stability to Iraq and creating the conditions where US troops can responsibly withdraw?
PR: Yes. Permanent bases would be a destabilizing force in Iraq, and would make our responsible withdrawl more difficult. We need to show the Iraqi people we are not staying forever.
Publicly announcing that we do not desire permanent bases is an important message to send. It would give the Iraqi people less of a feeling that we are in Iraq to exploit them and their oil resources.
The military wants some form of a base in Iraq to use as a “lily pad.” That is a fact. Militarily, it makes sense. Having a force somewhere in Iraq gives American military commanders the flexibility to quickly project power to most areas of the Middle East region. It would allow the US to respond much more rapidly to an Iranian threat, or to defend Israel or Saudi Arabia in the event of an attack by one or more enemies.
If this were to happen, and I had to predict it, I would say that this would most likely happen in the Kurdish northern part of Iraq. I would venture to say this is one group of people who would generally not have as much of a problem with the idea of permanent US bases.
Kurds consider themselves separate from the rest of the nation, ethnically and regionally, and may ultimately look to establish an independent Kurdish state. If they were to happen, they might welcome a US presence there to protect them from Turkey, and even Iran. This is notably different from the Sunni and Shia dominated southern areas.
LO: You’ve been very critical of the Bush Administration for doing a poor job of equipping the troops. What do you think is behind that? Incompetence? Ideology? Arrogance?
PR: All of the above. But the key to battling this failure is to understand why the Administration was able to get away with it for so long:
Very few people are personally connected to this war. Most Americans simply don’t give a shit. Sure they say they do, but not enough to get off their asses and actually do something about it. The neglect of our troops has no real impact on the life of the average America. The people have no skin in the game.
The gap between our troops and our civilians has never been larger. Less than 1% of the American population has served in Iraq. (in WWII it was about 11%) Most Americans don’t even know anyone that has served in Iraq. They have never actually talked to a veteran of the war in person.
When I do speaking events, it is often the first time many people have seen an Iraq Vet in the flesh. Our troops are an abstract. It is not someone in their family getting shot at in Baghdad. We are an image on television without a name.
If your kids were the ones calling you at 3 AM telling you they did not have adequate protective gear, you’d be standing in your congressman’s office raising hell and screaming from the rooftops (like many military families did).
We need Americans to know who our are troops are. And demand accountability for the failures that cost them their lives and limbs. The gap that currently exists is bad for our military and bad for America. We founded IAVA in large part to bridge that gap.
It is time to hold people accountable. It is time for payback. That starts by electing Iraq vets like Tammy Duckworth, Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak to congress this fall.
We don’t need any more yellow ribbon magnets. If you really want to support the troops, then send them to Congress.
LO: Your organization has been very focused on homelessness among veterans. Why do so many veterans become homeless, and what policies can we support that would solve the problem?
IAVA is tracking over two dozen homeless Iraq veterans in NYC right now. The VA says that they have seen over 500 nationally. And those numbers are all VERY conservative.
The biggest problem is a lack of transitional care and services for returning vets. We haven’t learned enough of the lessons from Vietnam.
Troops are literally in Baghdad one week, and Brooklyn the next. Criminals getting out of federal prison get a more extensive transitional program than our combat veterans do.
We need mental healthcare treatment, an expanded VA budget, transitional housing, substance abuse programs, job placement and all the other pieces that can help brace our fall when we return home.
Congressmen Michaud and Evans and others have taken the lead, but the legislation goes nowhere. Plenty of members of Congress (mostly along party lines) have voted consistently against most transitional care funding items.
These legislators must be held accountable for voting against our veterans. They hope you don’t notice the votes, or they say that it costs too much. That is bullshit. The price of our inaction will be astronomically higher in the end. America either pays now, or pays later.
Just as our chickens are coming home to roost in Iraq right now, the same thing will happen back home in the coming decades. Over 1.6 million vets have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. Less than half have been to the VA so far.
A flood is coming. And America is not ready.

Still More Jonah & Me

Pandagon and Tapped weigh in about my bloggingheads.tv discussion with Jonah Goldberg, and he offers additional thoughts here.

My Attempt At Career Suicide

I recently was interviewed by Michelle Malkin for her conservative Internet broadcast network Hot Air. An edited version of our discussion is available here.
As we note at the start, Michelle and I are old friends from Oberlin College. Life is funny.
There are a couple of clarifications I need to post.
1. Rep. Jack Murtha & Okinawa
After I argued that liberals do not believe we should “run” from Iraq, but we should end the occupation and only use our military for counterterror operations, Michelle claimed that Rep. Jack Murtha said we should redeploy our troops to Okinawa.
I responded that I believe he actually said over the horizon in Kuwait. The segment then cuts to a truncated clip of Murtha from Meet The Press saying “we can go to Okinawa.”
Here is the full context of his remarks:
On PBS in Nov. ’05, a few days after he first called for a redeployment from Iraq and “an over the horizon presence of Marines,” he said:

…when I say redeploy our troops, I’m talking about to Kuwait, if they allow us to redeploy there, to Okinawa where we can be over the horizon, go back in, in case there’s more terrorist activity.

And this is the full Meet The Press exchange from June ’06:
RUSSERT: You say redeploy. Again, Mr. Rove challenges that comment.
Let’s listen and give you again a chance to respond to the White House.
[VIDEO]
ROVE: Congressman Murtha said, “Let’s redeploy them immediately to another country in the Middle East. Let’s get out of Iraq and go to another country.”
My question is, what country would take us? What country would say after the United States cut and run from Iraq, what country in the Middle East would say, “Yeah. Paint a big target on our back and then you’ll cut and run on us.” What country would say that? What country would accept our troops?
[END VIDEO]
RUSSERT: What’s your response?
MURTHA: There’s many countries understand the importance of stability in the Middle East. This is an international problem.
We use 20 million barrels of oil a day. China’s the second largest user. All these countries understand you need stability for the energy supply that’s available in the Middle East. So there’s many, many countries.
RUSSERT: Who?
MURTHA: Kuwait’s one that will take us. Qatar, we already have bases in Qatar. So Bahrain. All those countries are willing to take the United States.
Now, Saudi Arabia won’t because they wanted us out of there in the first place … we don’t have to be right there.
We can go to Okinawa … we can redeploy there almost instantly. So … that’s a fallacy. That’s just a statement to rile up people to support a failed policy wrapped in illusion.
RUSSERT: But it’d be tough to have a timely response from Okinawa.
MURTHA: …when I say Okinawa, I’m saying troops in Okinawa. When I say a timely response, you know, our fighters can fly from Okinawa very quickly. And when they don’t know we’re coming. There’s no question about it.
And where those airplanes won’t — came from I can’t tell you. But I’ll tell you one thing, it doesn’t take very long for them to get in with cruise missiles or with, with fighter aircraft or, or attack aircraft, it doesn’t take any time at all.
So we have done, this one particular operation — to say that that couldn’t have done, it was done from the outside, for heaven’s sakes.
So he’s not saying that Okinawa is the sole place, or even the primary place, he would redeploy to.
Though he also is making an informed case (as he has more military experience than either Michelle or I) that troops in Okinawa can be — and apparently, have been — sent to the region very quickly for air-based missions.
2. Sen. Hillary Clinton & Foreign Policy
Michelle asked me what I thought of Sen. Clinton’s foreign policy. Only half my answer made the final cut.
What you hear is my candid assessment that Sen. Clinton would be politically foolish to fully renounce the Iraq war at this point, because it would just seem like she was caving in under pressure.
What is left out is what I recommend she do instead to get back in sync with the liberal grassroots, and the majority of the country that now opposes the war, which is:
Give a major foreign policy address where she renounces the goals and objectives of Bush’s policy — unilateralism, permanent bases, phony democracy at gunpoint, etc. — and offers an alternative strategy that does not lead to global instability and does not help terrorists grow their ranks.
Making it clear she’s not an unwitting member of the neocon bandwagon who would continue our current course, would not only shore up her standing within the Democratic Party, it would also help the entire party better articulate our own foreign policy vision, engage the broader national security debate, and build trust with the public.

Book Tour Hits San Diego Tonight

I’ll be speaking to the San Diego chapter of Drinking Liberally tonight at 7:30 PM PT. It takes place at Nunu’s Cocktail Lounge at 3537 5th Avenue.
The tour heads to Pasadena Tuesday and San Francisco Wednesday. Full schedule is here.

More Bloggingheads.tv Fallout

Political Animal and The Sideshow kindly rally to my aid.
Also, Jonah Goldberg had claimed during the discussion that Rep. Charlie Rangel pledged to repeal all the Bush tax cuts if Dems win and he became House Ways & Means Chair.
This apparently has become a GOP talking point, and in recent days, Rangel has debunked it to the W. Post and to CNN.
The W. Post reported:

Of his comment to Bloomberg News in September that he “cannot think of one” of Bush’s tax cuts that merit renewal, Rangel said he was discussing the ground rules for broad-based tax reform to fix what most experts agree is an inefficient and unnecessarily complicated tax system.

And on CNN today he said:

What I did say was that, if they want to have tax reform, if they want simplification, everything has to be on the table. You can’t pick and choose what you want and say you’ve got to overhaul the system.

For what it’s worth, I recommend a liberal, “fair and adequate” version of tax simplification in Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!.
Hopefully, Rangel will focus more on crafting a proposal that will highlight core liberal principles on taxation and reframe the tax debate, and not cut a bad deal with the White House.

Jonah & Me, Cont’d

Following our bloggingheads.tv discussion, Jonah Goldberg offers some additional thoughts over at National Review’s The Corner:

What I found most interesting was Scher’s insistence about what liberalism is rather than what it should be … Scher seems to really believe that liberalism — as actually practiced over, say, the last century — doesn’t stand for imposing public policies on democratic majorities that don’t want them. Moreover, he holds that liberalism never stands for imposing the personal moral beliefs of liberals on anybody else.
Having not met a smart liberal who actually believes this in a very long time, I was kind of flummoxed by how to respond to it. Though I tried to mention bussing, racial quotas, gay marriage, Title IX, etc etc. I also tried to convince him — to no avail — that liberalism’s opposition to polygamy can’t simply be a public policy argument about what’s good for women, but must to some degree be recognized as a moral value liberals are willing to impose on those who want multiple marital partners simultaneously.
Scher seems like smart and decent guy, but I don’t think he’s thought through the philosophy of liberalism nearly as much as the tactics of liberalism. A charge, some may recall, I’ve made of a lot of self-described Progressives in recent years.

The notion that liberals seek to impose their values onto the rest of the country is a chief component of the (successful) conservative campaign to misdefine liberalism and turn the L-word into slur, and it’s a notion that Wait! Don’t Move To Canada! seeks to correct, by renewing the effort to define liberalism on our own terms.
In our discussion, I pushed back on Goldberg’s suggestion that a Democratic majority in Congress would shove tax hikes down the throats of the people. I argued that the true philosophy of liberal government is one that is representative of and responsive to its people, and in turn, responsibly collects and invests our money according to our wishes.
If there is a need for higher taxes (and right now, there is), such a proposal must be put before the people in order to earn a mandate for such a policy, not rammed through Congress in the middle of the night.
Goldberg responded that shoving policies down our throats is what liberalism is all about, citing his list of equal rights issues above.
I sought to explain that for our government to be responsive and representative, it needs to be responsive to all of the people, majority and minority, meaning it has to protect equal rights and stay out of individual moral decisions.
Admittedly, I don’t think I did as good a job of explaining this during our discussion as I did in the book itself. So to help illuminate things, here are some selected passages from the book:
Chapter 5, Page 89

…it’s important for us to take the time to root all of our positions in our set of core liberal principles, even for issues as disparate as gay rights, immigration, and fuel efficiency. A representative and responsive government that adheres to the will of the majority while preserving freedom for the minority. A responsible government that manages our resources wisely. A moral and pragmatic commitment to liberty and prosperity abroad.

Chapter 7, Pages 105-6

By complaining about “legislating from the bench,” [conservatives] cleverly present themselves as simple supporters of democracy and paint “activist liberal judges” as imposing their values on others. Of course, the opposite is true.
Roe v. Wade does not force anyone to have an abortion, but overturning it will force women with unwanted pregnancies to bear children.
Lawrence v. Texas does not force anyone to become gay, but overturning it would force gays to become criminals if they want to have sex.
Engel v. Vitale does not prevent children of religious parents from praying wherever and whenever they like, but overturning it would force children of nonreligious parents to pray at the command of their public school teachers.
Those three landmark Supreme Court decisions — all of which have been attacked by current right-wing members of the Court — are classic liberal decisions. They rest on the liberal principle of representative government, ensuring that our government treats all Americans equally and protects everyone’s freedom to make their own personal moral decisions.
In contrast, a conservative judiciary would establish an elitist government that would impose one moral vision on all Americans.
Right-wingers insist that overturning such rulings will merely cede such moral matters to the states. That may be true at first, but that just means forced childbirth, forced heterosexuality, and forced prayer will happen in some parts of the country and not others.
If you live in one of those states, it would make no difference that it’s a state legislature and not a federal legislature robbing you of your freedoms.

Chapter 5, Page 74

…liberals should be articulating why we do fight so hard [for abortion rights]: because we believe that it is a moral good for women to have control over their futures, including if and when to have children.
We also believe that medical decisions should remain between a woman and her doctor. Complications can arise during a pregnancy, even in the last trimester. There are times when carrying out a pregnancy can be fatal or can exacerbate serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
These rare situations pose wrenching choices, but they are choices that belong to a woman and her doctor alone. A representative government respects life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of its citizens by protecting the ability for individuals to make their own moral judgments.

Chapter 5, Pages 80-81

…a truly representative government cannot discriminate against some of its people…We should stress that any changes in church policies [regarding equal marraige rights for gays] are strictly the business of churches and not our government, but our government is not being truly representative unless it treats everyone equally.

Thanks DC, VA & Oakland

Apologies for the belated shoutouts to all the fine folks that have helped out and turned out for the last few book tour gigs.
Capitol Hill Drinking Liberally

Alexandria, VA Drinking Liberally

Oakland Drinking Liberally

Thanks to Micha in DC, David in Alexandria and Cyril in Oakland for pulling each event together.
The Higher Pie has a little more on the Oakland event.
And I forgot to link to this very, very exclusive interview of me conducted by Rubber Hose at the Philly Drinking Liberally earlier this month. Every single word is true.

Weekend Radio

On Saturday at 9 AM ET, I’ll be talking about Wait! Don’t Move To Canada! on “Where’s The Outrage?”, heard on 880 AM in Asheville, NC. You can stream the program live here, and archived podcasts are here.
On Sunday at 3 PM PT, I’ll be on The Joe McDonnell Show, heard on KTLK 1150 AM in Los Angeles. Live streaming is here.

Jonah & Me on Bloggingheads.tv

The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg and I met over at Bloggingheads.tv, where we talked about the strategic objectives in Iraq, the merits of permanent bases, the nature of neocons, midterms and mandates.
You can watch it here.

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