NIEs, Nays, Neighs

If anyone ever writes an opera about the Bush Administration (hey, there’s one about Nixon!), I foresee a scene in which a pile of shit is hauled into the White House (Josh Bolten: Osservi, un altro mucchio di defecazione!). Then Karl Rove appears with a shovel, promising to find the pony (Non si preoccupi! Posso trovare il piccolo cavallo!).

This scene might be written around a story by Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung in today’s Washington Post:

In announcing yesterday that he would release the key judgments of a controversial National Intelligence Estimate, President Bush said he agreed with the document’s conclusion “that because of our successes against the leadership of al-Qaeda, the enemy is becoming more diffuse and independent.”

But the estimate itself posits no such cause and effect. Instead, while it notes that counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged and disrupted al-Qaeda’s leadership, it describes the spreading “global jihadist movement” as fueled largely by forces that al-Qaeda exploits but is not actively directing. They include Iraq, corrupt and unjust governments in Muslim-majority countries, and “pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims.”

The overall estimate is bleak, with minor notes of optimism. It depicts a movement that is likely to grow more quickly than the West’s ability to counter it over the next five years, as the Iraq war continues to breed “deep resentment” throughout the Muslim world, shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and cultivating new supporters for their ideology.

In describing Iraq as “the ’cause celebre’ for jihadists,” the document judges that real and perceived insurgent successes there will “inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere,” while losses would have the opposite effect.

That last sentence amounts to a hoofprint, if not the pony itself. Today Bush apologists expand on the theme that insurgent losses would discourage jihadists to continue the struggle elsewhere, and from there reach the conclusion (as in this Chicago Tribune editorial) that “America’s intervention, in short, is a lot of Mideast thugs’ worst nightmare.”

Damn, some people can find a pony anywhere.

The actual declassified portion of the NIE offers a few sentences of hope that the spread of extremism can yet be stopped. Today some rightie bloggers have seized these sentences — in effect, cherry-picking what was already cherry picked by the White House — to suggest the NIE vindicates Bush policy in Iraq. It takes some mighty shoveling to reach that pony, folks.

Joshua Holland comments:

…here’s the money quote, and the argument we’ll hear from the right’s echo chamber from now until the election:

    In addition, it asserts that if jihadists are perceived to be defeated in Iraq, “fewer fighters would be inspired to carry on the fight.”

Bingo! There’s your justification for an indefinite occupation of Iraq: we have to stay the course until we achieve a “victory” that will so demoralize the “global jihadist movement” that they’ll take their ball and go home.

The fatal flaw in this argument is that America lumps every Islamic political movement that opposes the occupation together and calls them “jihadists.” There’s the rub, because “victory” would mean, of course, a political victory, and in order to actually achieve political stability in Iraq some of those we’ve defined as jihadists would have to be involved in the country’s governance.

What the intelligence analysis is saying — and this is almost certainly true — is that if Iraq were to end up with a pro-U.S., largely secular unity government without any influence from Iran, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, the Badr Brigade or any of the dozen other Iraqi religious groups — Shiite and Sunni — that have opposed the U.S. presence — if all of those elements were effectively wiped out — it would be so demoralizing that Iraq would lose all of its potency as a recruiting tool.

But that particular scenario is never, ever, going to happen — not in a million years. It’s a Catch-22: aside from the fact that a legitimate government has almost zero chance of emerging under U.S. military occupation, if it did it would certainly require that a large chunk of the Iraqi opposition come into the political fold.

And as long as people like Sadr, who’s been called a radical militant and a criminal by the U.S. for three years, have a seat at the table when U.S. troops leave, they’ll make the claim that they defeated the Great Satan and they’ll be hailed as heroes across the Islamic world. Their resistance will be seen as a model for opposing superpower bullying and that’ll just create a thousand new recruiting posters for extremists everywhere.

At last week’s Clinton Global Initiative conference, speaker after speaker said that military actions like the U.S. invasion of Iraq are spreading extremism. Keep this in mind while reading this part of the NIE:

_The jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution — an ultraconservative interpretation of Shariah-based governance spanning the Muslim world — is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists’ propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.

_Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.

Exactly. But every time the Muslim mainstream hears about torture of Islamic prisoners or “coalition” bombs dropping on a Muslim wedding or Muslim families wiped out by Marines who are breaking down from stress, that Muslim mainstream gets a little smaller and weaker. And this is the point righties cannot get into their stupid heads.

I recommend reading the transcript or watching the video of this CGI session from last Thursday. Here’s just a bit, spoken by Queen Rania of Jordan:

I would like to say for example, like two months ago, before the war in Lebanon began. Here’s Lebanon, which is made up of a group of people that are peace-loving. They are very moderate and open and modern by nature. They are the natural allies to the global community. Then this war took place. And innocent civilians were seeing, on a daily basis, bodies of babies being put into plastic bags. The vital infrastructure was destroyed. A quarter of the population was displaced. And I can say that over the course of two months, the Arab public became much more radicalized. Because they saw this injustice. They saw this grief. And even the moderates, what we thought was a moderate majority started to shrink, and you can see this shrinking taking place. And the extreme voices came out as the victorious ones. And you could see that the voice of moderation, the voices that called for peace and diplomacy and engagement, they are losing currency. They are being marginalized.

So, if you want to strengthen the moderates, we have to see ― people have to see the dividends of moderation. They have to see the dividends of peace. And now, they are not seeing them. So again, I just want to say that if we want to gain the moderates, if we want to increase ― it’s almost percentages, you know. The percentage of extremists to moderates. If you want to increase and strengthen your moderate block, then people have to really feel an important difference in their lives. They have to see justice. They have to see ― and as I said, an honest engagement and an interest in their cause.

What the NIE says — the part Bush released, anyway — is that it’s still possible to turn this around. It’s still possible to grow moderation and marginalize extremism. It doesn’t say this will happen; it says it could be done.

However, since the invasion nearly everything the Bush Administration has done in Iraq has had the effect of growing extremism and marginalizing moderates. The declassified portion of the NIE doesn’t specifically say this, which doesn’t mean the part still classified doesn’t. This is what it does say:

Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.

If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide. …

… We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.

The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. …

…We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this estimate.

Maha’s summary: Extremism is spreading. Bush’s Iraq policy is among the factors causing it to spread. But it might be possible to shrink extremism.

Let’s guess what the still-classified part of the NIE says.

A. We can shrink extremism by continuing to do the very things we’ve been doing that grew it; or,

B. We can shrink extremism, but we’ll have to change our policies and focus to accomplish this.

Righties will choose A; the rest of us will assume B is the logical answer.

But notice that the bloggers who support torture and rendition and indiscriminate bombing and publication of anti-Muslim cartoons and whatnot are the same bloggers who today are celebrating the “Muslim mainstream” that’s going to end the jihad. Logic is not exactly their strong suit. They’re better at shoveling.

When Operas Attack

The German Opera of Berlin (Deutsche Oper Berlin) has pulled a production of Mozart’s Idomeneo from its fall schedule on the advice of police. The production had included a scene featuring the severed heads of Mohammed, Jesus, and the Buddha, and the police worried that Muslims might get violent about it.

If you are familiar with Idomeneo you might wonder how Mohammed, Jesus, and the Buddha wandered into it, since those illustrious figures are not in the libretto. The New York Times has a photograph of a rehearsal — the chorus is dressed in black suits and “blues brothers” porkpie hats. (This is what passes for creativity in opera; take a story based on Greek myth and dress everybody up in the wrong costumes.) I assume the green guy is Neptune, who is in the libretto, and the woman dressed in the black suit (but no hat) is probably a mezzo-soprano playing the role of Idamante, son of Idomeneo, King of Crete. The role was written for a castrato, who are hard to come by these days, and so opera companies usually settle for a mezzo. An occasional tenor will take on the role, but I suspect the vocal range the part requires is not comfortable for most tenors.

In this opera Idomeneo is supposed to sacrifice Idamante to Neptune, but (after about three hours of other stuff) at the end an Oracle says Idomeneo doesn’t have to sacrifice Idamante and everybody lives happily ever after. I wonder if the production in question has a new scene in which Idomeneo sacrificed Mohammed et al. to placate Neptune. As I said, it’s not in the libretto, and it doesn’t actually make sense within the plot, but what the hey.

Today there’s some grumbling on the blogosphere about “political correctness” and how “artistic freedom” is being sacrificed to placate Muslims. To which I say, try performing this critter in the Bible Belt. As soon as the Holy Rollers hear about Jesus’s severed head the opera house is as good as vandalized, if not torched. And every Mozart CD in Alabama — all six of ’em — would be tossed on a bonfire, along with video cassettes and DVDs of “Amadeus.”

For that matter, Madonna recently risked arrest in Germany by performing some techno pop song while suspended crucifixion-style on a mirrored cross, wearing a crown of thorns. In The Netherlands, a priest called in a bomb threat in an attempt to stop the show, and some Russian Orthodox priests declared a “Holy Inquisition” against Madonna and other slanderers of holy imagery. Other Russian believers speared a poster of Madonna — sounds hostile to me.

Get this

The German authorities will make up their own minds on the crucifixion matter this weekend and also on whether the giant screen, which flashes images ranging from the pope, Osama Bin Laden, US President George W. Bush, Chinese leader Mao Zedong to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, is in bad taste.

Somebody tell the righties that Madonna compared Bush to Bin Laden, Mao, and Mussolini while touring Europe, then watch Madonna get Dixie Chicked.

Certainly it’s wrong to stand in the way of artistic and political expression, but it doesn’t seem to bother the Right unless the ones standing in the way are Muslim.

But what I want to know is — if this Idomeneo production is supposed to be so creative, why bother making Neptune look like Neptune? I would have put Neptune in a red sequined gown and feather boa and have him sing his role while perched on top of a grand piano. Even better, make him a Judy Garland impersonator. That would have been creative.

Update: La Lulu goes on about how those awful Muslims hate everything without noticing that it wasn’t Muslims who cancelled the production, but the opera company, on advice from police who feared the production might incite violence. Also, the Times story linked above says that when the production was first performed, “it aroused controversy among Muslims and Christians.”