Retired Generals Oppose Bush’s Surge

A panel of retired generals testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and were criticial of the planned escalation of the war:

“Too little and too late,” is the way Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, a former chief of the Central Command, described the effort to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The additional troops are intended to help pacify Baghdad and a restive province, but General Hoar said American leaders had failed to understand the political forces at work in the country. “The solution is political, not military,” he said.

“A fool’s errand,” was the judgment of Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who commanded troops in the first Gulf War. He said other countries had concluded that the effort in Iraq was not succeeding, noting that “our allies are leaving us and will be gone by summer.”

Describing the situation in Iraq as “desperate but not terminal,” he said Iraqis had to try to make political deals domestically and negotiate for stability with neighboring nations, particularly Syria and Iran.

The American effort in Iraq has gone badly because the United States did not understand the consequences of deposing Saddam Hussein, said Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency. He said the principal beneficiary of the war was Iran and Al Qaeda, not the United States.

“There is no way to win a war that is not in your interests,” he said.

Even Fox Can’t Spin Lack of Support For Bush

George Bush just isn’t getting very much support for his surge. His in-house propaganda outfit (Fox News) even reports widespread dissatisfaction.. Fox News is reporting that most think the surge is Bush’s last chance in Iraq with 59% to 36% opposing the plan. Conservatives often claim that they do poorly in the polls due to bias, but it is hard for such clams considering the source. Other Republican pollsters are reporting even worse losses for the Republicans in 2008 should be remain in Iraq beyond the end of this year.

Bush’s approval in the poll is at 35%, down from 38% in December. This remains above his low of 33% in Fox’s poll in April 2006.

There is one strange item in this poll:

Even though a majority opposes Bush’s new plan and many are doubtful it can succeed, that does not mean they want it to fail: 63 percent of Americans say they want the plan to succeed, including 79 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 51 percent of Democrats.

Considering the consequences, it is hard to believe anybody would want the plan to fail, regardless of how much they dislike Bush or opposed the decision to go to war. I wonder if people were really listening to the question, or were simply in a mind set to answer everything based upon their feelings about the war and many didn’t really realize what they were saying here. Of course some conservative sites such as Powerline are citing this as evidence about the wishes as Democrats. They write, “One-third of Dems apparently wish for the failure of an American military mission against al Qaeda, radical Islamist militias, and death squads, and for the slaughter in Baghdad to continue unabated.” If you follow this logic, this still leaves 21% of Republicans as not supporting success in Iraq–a portion of the poll not conservatives are mentioning. I doubt this is the case, and if you take this literally, while it places Republicans in a superior position to Democrats, it doesn’t make them look all that favorable either. But then we know conservatives love to cherry pick the facts which support their biases and ignore anything which doesn’t help their case.

Update: Authoritarian Right Will Say Anything To Claim Democrats Are Unpatriotic

Harris vs. Sullivan on Religion

Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan are debating at Beliefnet. So far I have to give the debate to Sullivan. If Harris would simply stick to the absence of belief in God and challenge Sullivan to prove his beliefs he would be more difficult to argue with, but as Harris takes his attack on religion beyond the absence of evidence he is open to more easy rebuttal.

Both Sullivan and Harris are obviously in agreement in opposing Islamic fundamentalism. While I would agree with Harris over Sullivan with regards to the role science over faith, Sullivan minimizes this weakness by avoiding the tendency of fundamentalists to think that their religion forces them to deny what has been proven by the scientific method, such as evolution:

As the Pope said last year, I believe that God is truth and truth is, by definition, reasonable. Science cannot disprove true faith; because true faith rests on the truth; and science cannot be in ultimate conflict with the truth. So I am perfectly happy to believe in evolution, for example, as the most powerful theory yet devised explaining human history and pre-history. I have no fear of what science will tell us about the universe – since God is definitionally the Creator of such a universe; and the meaning of the universe cannot be in conflict with its Creator. I do not, in other words, see reason as somehow in conflict with faith – since both are reconciled by a Truth that may yet be beyond our understanding.

Harris sticks with the view he has expressed in his writings that moderate religion enables the extremists:

But there are several problems with such a defense of moderate religion. First, many moderates assume that religious “extremism” is rare and therefore not all that consequential. Happily, you are not in this camp, but I would venture that you are in a minority among religious moderates. As you and I both know, religious extremism is not rare, and it is hugely consequential. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return to earth to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. This idea is extreme in almost every sense—extremely silly, extremely dangerous, extremely worthy of denigration—but it is not extreme in the sense of being rare. The problem, as I see it, is that moderates don’t tend to know what it is like to be truly convinced that death is an illusion and that an eternity of happiness awaits the faithful beyond the grave. They have, as you say, “integrated doubt” into their faith. Another way of putting it is that they have less faith—and for good reason. The result, however, is that your fellow moderates tend to doubt that anybody ever really is motivated to sacrifice his life, or the lives of others, on the basis his heartfelt religious beliefs. Moderate doubt—which I agree is an improvement over fundamentalist certitude in most respects—often blinds its host to the reality and consequences of full-tilt religious lunacy. Such blindness is now particularly unhelpful, given the hideous collision with Islamic certainty that is unfolding all around us.

Second, many religious moderates imagine, as you do, that there is some clear line of separation between extremist and moderate religion. But there isn’t. Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism: because, while He may be many things, the God of the Bible and the Qur’an is not a moderate. Read scripture more closely and you do not find reasons for religious moderation; you find reasons to live like a proper religious maniac—to fear the fires of hell, to despise nonbelievers, to persecute homosexuals, etc. Of course, one can cherry-pick scripture and find reasons to love one’s neighbor and turn the other cheek, but the truth is, the pickings are pretty slim, and the more fully one grants credence to these books, the more fully one will be committed to the view that infidels, heretics, and apostates are destined to be ground up in God’s loving machinery of justice.

Just as some religious fanatics cherry pick religious works to justify their beliefs, Harris tends to stress the most extreme views and ignores the more moderate passages, dismissing the differences between moderates and extremists. While Harris denies the possibility, the fact is that many people hold religious beliefs without needing to embrace the most extreme teachings which can be found. Perhaps Harris is correct in arguing that there is an intellectual inconsistency, but the fact is that many such people exist and the arguments against the religious extremists do not apply to them.

We may believe Sullivan is wrong in his personal beliefs, but that hardly matters as long as he does not attempt to impose his views on others and does not contribute to the anti-scientific atmosphere prevalent in this country by denying basic science on religious grounds. To attack such moderate believers as being practically indistinguishable from the extremists is to ignore the reason why many of us find it necessary to be so vigilant against encroachments upon the separation of church and state. From a practical political point of view it would be foolish to lump all theists together as opposed to finding common ground with the moderates who respect the separation of church and state, which is the only way we can possibly achieve a majority.