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Candide’s Latest: Wednesday, October 4, 2006
Bill & Mel's Excellent Adventure

Bill Frist's latest constituents

What the Soviets, British and Iranians discovered before them, Bill Frist and Mel Martinez—the Senate Majority Leader and the junior senator from Jebush Land—discovered on Tuesday, at least temporarily: The war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily. So if you can’t beat them, have them join you—if they’ll have you. They were referring to the Taliban. Yes, Virginia, the Taliban—alleged arch-enemy of the United States since 9/11, and, as far as we know, still Osama’s landlords (in joint partnership with Herr Musharraf of Pakistan). Here’s how the Associated Press reported the awakening: “U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan war against Taliban guerrillas can never be won militarily and urged support for efforts to bring "people who call themselves Taliban" and their allies into the government. The Tennessee Republican said he learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated on the battlefield. […]Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida accompanying Frist on his trip, said negotiating with the Taliban was not "out of the question" but that fighters who refused to join the political process would have to be defeated."A political solution is how it's all going to be solved," he said.”

Maybe it was the mountain air (Frist and Mel were in Afghanistan, gathering election-year footage for future campaigns and escaping the GOP’s internecine war in Washington). Maybe it was the scent of poppies titillating their nostrils. Maybe it seemed as if dealing with the Taliban would be less troublesome than dealing with the mess Marc Foley left behind. But people who call themselves Republicans were immediately incensed: they have enough transgressors from the faith on their hands, they don’t need their chief cardinal to join the bacchanal. Someone must have let Frist know.

He replied with this, within hours of the Associated Press report: “The story badly distorts my remarks and takes them out of context. First of all, let me make something clear: The Taliban is a murderous band of terrorists who’ve oppressed the people of Afghanistan with their hateful ideology long enough. America’s overthrow of the Taliban and support for responsible, democratic governance in Afghanistan is a great accomplishment that should not and will not be reversed.” [never mind that it is being reversed, and so much for an on-the-ground fact-finding mission. But he then goes on to reaffirm exactly the spirit, if not the letter, of the AP story:] Having discussed the situation with commanders on the ground, I believe that we cannot stabilize Afghanistan purely through military means. Our counter-insurgency strategy must win hearts and minds and persuade moderate Islamists potentially sympathetic to the Taliban to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan national government and democratic political processes.” What’s the difference between a Talib and a “sympathizer”? Whatever happened to the with-us-or-against-us prism that informed all things Republican? And does Frist even know what a Talib is? He actually understates these guys’ barbarism: they’re as regressive as you get. They’re murderous.

If you have any doubts, here’s how Lawrence Wright relates the Taliban’s conquest of Mazar el Sharif in 1996: “Once inside the defenseless city, the Taliban continued raping and killing for two days, indiscriminately shooting anything that moved, then slitting throats and shooting dead men in the testicles. The bodies of the dead were left to wild dogs for six days before survivors were allowed to bury them. Those citizens who fled the city on foot were bombed by the Taliban air force. Hundreds of others were loaded into shipping containers and baked alive in the desert sun. The UN estimated that the total number of victims in the slaughter to be between five and six thousand people.” [From The Looming Tower, p. 268.] But then we get this little bit from a John Burns story in the New York Times back in 1996: “American officials emphatically deny the assertion, widely believed among the Taliban's opponents in Afghanistan, that the United States offered the movement covert support. American diplomats' frequent visits to Kandahar, headquarters of the Taliban's governing body, the officials insist, were mainly exploratory. In fact, American policy on the Taliban has seesawed back and forth. The Taliban have found favor with some American officials, who see in their implacable hostility toward Iran an important counterweight in the region. But other officials remain uncomfortable about the Taliban's policies on women, which they say have created the most backward-looking and intolerant society anywhere in Islam. And they say that the Taliban, despite promises to the contrary, have done nothing to root out the narcotics traffickers and terrorists who have found a haven in Afghanistan under the mujahedeen. In its most recent policy statement on Afghanistan, the State Department called on other nations to ''engage'' with the Taliban in hopes of moderating their policies.” So what are Frist and Martinez up to, if not warming-up the old bet-hedging and doing some exploratory “engaging” with the Taliban in hopes of moderating it toward a possible settlement?

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Meanwhile, back at the insane asylum: “Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about an imminent al-Qaida strike on an American target that was given to the White House two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,” McClatchy reports. “The State Department's disclosure Monday that the pair was briefed within a week after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was told about the threat on July 10, 2001, raised new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don't remember the warning. One official who helped to prepare the briefing, which included a PowerPoint presentation, described it as a "10 on a scale of 1 to 10" that "connected the dots" in earlier intelligence reports to present a stark warning that al-Qaida, which had already killed Americans in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and East Africa, was poised to strike again.

Remember this by Henry Kissinger on Iraq? That was then (August 2005). This is now: “ US forces have endured one of their bloodiest days in months, when nine soldiers died in Baghdad within 24 hours, military officials said today. At least six more were killed during a weekend of bombings and shootings,” The UK Times reports. (Will we see the news on America ’s antiseptic front pages?) “The high death toll, which included four soldiers who were killed when their patrol vehicle was blown up in Baghdad yesterday, came as Iraq’s government launched another last-ditch attempt to forge a peace deal that might staunch the bloodletting.”

Foley Follies, Cont'd.

He’s got to be bloody kidding: Mark Foley, the vaguely predatory ex-congressman, now says that his teen-age angst made him do it. He was molested as a teenager. By his priest. So he says through his attorney(s). Also, he’s gay. (As if anyone in Washington didn’t know.) Also, he’s an alcoholic. (Ditto.) Also, he’s real, real sad. And this string of admissions is all part of his “recovery” process. “Meanwhile,” goes USA, “House Speaker Dennis Hastert cast aside calls for his resignation Tuesday amid allegations from Democrats that Republicans knew of Foley's questionable communications months ago but failed to act.” Bush’s response to all this? Democrats are soft on terror.

Ban Ki-Who?

It’s beginning to look a lot like an Ban Ki-moon, South Korea’s foreign minister (and a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government), will be Kofi Annan’s replacement as UN Secretary general, when Annan’s term expires on December 31. Ban Ki-moon “emerged a clear winner for the post,” the Korea Herald reports, “by becoming the only candidate to escape a veto by the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Ban beat the five other candidates by a large margin at the latest informal ballot by the UNSC, receiving 14 approvals and one "no opinion" vote.” The UN votes formally on October 9.

Traitors to the Enlightenment: “The new enemies of Reason are not the enraged democrats who executed Socrates, the Christian zealots who persecuted philosophers of heliocentricity, or the Nazis who burned books,” Victor Davis Hanson writes in National Review. “No, they are a pampered and scared Western public that caves to barbarism — dwarves who sit on the shoulders of dead giants, and believe that their present exalted position is somehow related to their own cowardly sense of accommodation. What would a Socrates, Galileo, Descartes, or Locke believe of the present decay in Europe — that all their bold and courageous thinking, won at such a great cost, would have devolved into such cheap surrender to fanaticism?” Read the full essay…

Flustered Bush Misses Air Force One Flight

Despite sprinting through the Andrews Air Force Base south terminal, President Bush narrowly missed his Air Force One flight to Boise earlier today after arriving just moments after the plane's doors had closed. The 12-person crew was not able to accommodate the president due to strict federal guidelines requiring all passengers to arrive at their departure gate 15 minutes prior to takeoff—guidelines flight officials say are especially important considering heightened security around the president. When Bush inquired into the possibility of being placed on standby for Air Force Two, the exasperated commander in chief was informed that the flight was full and Vice President Dick Cheney was unwilling to give up his seat.” Read the rest…

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