Arnold Schwarzeneggar is governor-elect of California this morning because he learned the art of the apology. Confronted with the fact that he had said some stupid stuff about Hitler as a young man and that he had indulged in foul behavior with unwilling women, he didn’t pull the usual duck-and-cover maneuvers that normal politicians use. He admitted it, apologized for it, and did so–brilliantly, in my view–in front of a friendly crowd, at one of his rallies. Imagine if Bill Clinton had said, “Yeah, I had sex with Monica Lewinsky. She’s da bomb and I love her and we’re moving in together as soon as my divorce from Hillary comes through!”? We would’ve loved him for it–and he wouldn’t have faced the impeachment that he richly deserved.

On a serious note, I doubt that Arnold will be able to govern California any more effectively than Jesse Ventura did in Minnesota. Although the national Republican Party has gotten behind him in the final hour, Arnold remains an outsider at odds with the hard-right tenor of the state’s GOP leadership, and he’s dealing with a disciplined Democratic-controlled legislature in Sacramento. He’s going to need to close that $8 billion budget gap somehow–make that $12 billion if he repeals the car tax–and it’s hard to imagine where he’ll find the money without soaking the rich with a big income tax hike. I almost feel sorry for the guy…and sorrier for the long-suffering people of California, who’ll continue to make do with failing schools and infrastructure because of Proposition 13.

One “Whit Abraham,” who claims to be a cadet at the US Naval Academy, is the latest to send his words of electronic wisdom my way. This missive merely confirms how close I came to social disaster when I very nearly ended up enrolling at Annapolis myself back during the fall of ’81; the lure of free tuition, guaranteed employment and those girl-magnet uniforms were great, but not great enough when I considered the likelihood that I’d end up court-martialed for insubordination. If you think I’m snotty now…! Anyway, here’s Whit’s letter:

Your cartoons sure are eye-poppers. Judging by your long list of guidelines for the e-mails that you receive, I will venture a guess and claim, probablly accurately, that you love to dish out criticism but can’t take any. That’s your excuse for only reading emails from people who agree with you, and “appreciate” what you articulate through pictures. Hiding behind this list of rules is pretty embarassing for such a clever guy, even though it is a great way to celebrate yourself. Maybe you should learn how to face criticism – you are a political critic yourself, arent you? Great job on consistintly overlooking why our war against Saddam was indeed just, and the fact that post-war investigations and reparations to an already damaged nation will take more than a few months after the shooting stops. I understand that you make your living off of irrational sensationalism, but what purpose do your cartoons really serve? I understand that you arent the only satirist out there, but you sure are a prominant one. People like you weaken the morale of our citizenry when, in order to sow the seeds of peace in the Middle East, they need to believe in our leadership and the just reasons that were articulated for engaging in war. Historically, people such as yourself were shunned during times of national crisis, and for good reasons. People like you provide an obscene amount of public criticism and denegration, offer no subsequent solutions to the problems you indirectly address through petty cartoons, and then shirk behind “email guidelines.” In short, you speak loudly and carry no stick whatsoever. Therfore, you are obviously a coward. Most Americans would call you something else…a synonym that starts with p. Report me to my internet provider…they liberated Baghdad while you had arts and crafts time. Besides, thats what I’d expect from a newsboy like you.

Let’s take these in order. The reason for my e-mail rules, Whit, is that I’m a busy guy. I do an op-ed column, three syndicated cartoons and four freelance cartoons every week. Plus I’m writing a book, and now this blog thing! That only leaves so much time for responding to e-mail. I figure, if I’m going to reply to anyone, it’s gonna be my fans, not people who hate my guts and wish I was dead. And yes, I also pledge to report people who threaten me to their ISPs and law enforcement authorities. Given how many nuts there are in the world, it’s stupid to assume that people who send you a death threat aren’t serious about it. So yeah, I take these things seriously. Think about it: when’s the last time you sent a death threat to someone whose opinion you disagreed with? Right. Most people don’t do that. So, when someone does, they should be reported.

I love this quote: “People like you weaken the morale of our citizenry when, in order to sow the seeds of peace in the Middle East, they need to believe in our leadership and the just reasons that were articulated for engaging in war.” Sounds like my pal Alan Keyes, who posited that I should be shot or jailed for damaging the war effort. “Need to believe”? No one needs to believe anything but the truth. If it isn’t obvious by now that the Bush Administration lied–not distorted, not misled, but outright lied–about Saddam’s ties to Al Qaeda and his ability to strike US targets with weapons of mass destruction, I don’t know what to say. Our “leadership” is illegitimate and unelected and should be treated as such. That means every single thing they say or do is by definition a lie. If Bush declares Arbor Day, don’t believe it. Oh, and please let me know when the “seeds of peace” start sprouting in the Middle East as the result of the invasion of Iraq.

The “coward” insult is a right-wing standard. I’ll leave it to others to judge whether or not I’m a pussy (there! I said it!), but I’ve probably spent more time in war zones than Whit–Afghanistan and Kashmir to be specific, plus some hairy moments in southern Kyrgyzstan during an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan offensive. And I didn’t have a gun. I don’t take offense personally, the brave men and women journalists–“newsboys,” if you will–who died to bring us the truth from Afghanistan during late 2001 were anything but cowards. And unlike Whit, they learned how to spell wherever THEY went to school.

Max R. sent me the following missive about a cartoon I drew last week that depicted the ultimate solution to what Israelis consider the Arab problem:

You must be unaware of which side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has repeatedly talked about driving the other side into “the sea.” It’s interesting that you managed to turn that Arab threat against Israelis on its head by implying (absurdly) that it’s the Palestinians who face that danger. (Cartoon of 10/2/03) Nice timing, too. It’s true that you couldn’t have known that 19 Israelis (Jews and Arabs) would be killed in Haifa by a suicide bomber — but since those massacres happen like clockwork, you could have expected it.

True. When I drew that cartoon last week, no one from Hamas or Hezbollah was kind enough to drop me a line about upcoming suicide bombings. But what people on BOTH sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict miss is that BOTH sides are the victims of terrorist attacks. The suicide bombers are reprehensible, targeting innocent civilians. So are the Israeli army and air attacks on Gaza and the West Bank. Both sides think they’re retaliating–whatever. In what way does knowing that a suicide bombing will likely occur in Israel next week make it inappropriate to comment on Ariel Sharon’s disgusting policies?

Given your other cartoons, I don’t know why I should think that you care how many Israelis are killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. Still, it’s depressing to see so clearly that Israel’s defense of its citizenry is a joke to you.

With sadness that the Left, whose number I once counted myself among, is so rabidly anti-Israel

I don’t know about “The Left.” I myself resent the notion that criticizing Ariel Sharon makes one anti-Israeli. (Hmmm…sounds familiar, huh?) Of course I care. I care about the harm occuring on both sides of Sharon’s vile Berlin Wall that he’s building to establish a total apartheid state–and that wall is the subject of the cartoon.

Retaliation is a multisyllabic way to refer to lowering yourself to your enemy’s level.

A scrumptious steak dinner is in the balance. One of my savviest drinking buddies and an all-around great guy who knows more about Inside the Beltway politics than most people I know has bet me that General Wesley Clark will defeat Governor Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination. I think Dean will win, not only because I want him to—as a charter member of the 2004 Anybody But Bush club, I think the Vermonter stands a better chance of defeating Piehole* than any other Democratic presidential candidate to date—but because I think he has it locked up. Failing, of course, some future scandal involving cats, herpes and hair spray. My best guess is that Clark, a registered Republican until 25 days before his declaration of intent, is running for the vice presidency. Frankly, I think the only guy who can give Dean trouble now is John Kerry–and he’s pretty much toast. Still. My friend’s a smart guy. Does he know something I don’t?

*Piehole = my term of endearment for the man who plays the president on TV. Also known as Shrub, Bush 2, Bush 43, the Resident, Thief-in-Chief, Generalissimo El Busho, That Idiot.

People write the darnedest things! Check out this e-mail I received today. One Bryan (I’ll spare him the use of his last name), writes:

I think you need to ask yourself a question……

Here it is….. Have I gone to far? First off let my say I do enjoy your work, albeit with a grain of salt. Next, I know this might be hard for you to contemplate. But just humor me for a moment. Have you ever heard the saying “The truth is probably somewhere in between both extremes.” Ok you obviously hate the Bush administration. So let’s call him the “right” extreme. Although I don’t agree….I would call someone on the level of Hitler the most extreme conservative, but I digress. Bush is the most extreme for this argument. Who would be on the “left” extreme… hmmm…. Let’s think…. Maybe Ghandi, but he wasn’t a saint either. Just lookup his views on the untouchables cast in India. Ok. How about you! Yea… So if I am right, then that means the truth is somewhere in between your point of view and Mr. Bush and both of you can be accused of being an extremist…

Just think about it…

OK, I’ll allow that the Bush Administration fits on the ideological spectrum somewhere to the left of Hitler. Let’s say, on a scale from 1 to 10, Adolf’s a 10 and Marx was a 1. The question is, where’s Bush? By definition 5 would be a centrist. Since Bush’s regime espouses a radical right-wing agenda–establishing a concentration camp at Gitmo, paring the Bill of Rights, running up a $10 trillion deficit so that a few thousand superrich people don’t have to pay taxes, a USA-Patriot Act that allows government spooks to paw through your stuff without having to tell you about it–he’s no 5. Or 6. I’d give him an 8 for what he’s done and a 9 for what he’d like to do. Death camps? Nah—not yet, anyway.

Where I run into trouble with Bryan is his supposition that, as someone who’s against Bush’s politics, I’m an anti-Bush, a Ghandi to Bush’s Hitler. That would make me a 3 for what I am and a 2 for what I’d like to do. But that’s silly. I’m all over the place ideologically; I espouse libertarian values of keeping the government out of people’s personal lives, conservative opinions on balancing the budget, free trade and keeping out of foreign conflicts that don’t concern us, and leftist views of economic and social justice. I support the Second Amendment right to bear arms; I’m against the death penalty because it turns society into murderers, not because I think Mumia’s innocent. Which I don’t.

I’m certainly not much of a wild-eyed revolutionary in the vein of, say, Dubya. For one thing, I pretty much like my streets free of rioters and think the United States would be just dandy if it would nip and tuck some of its uglier aspects: propping up dictators, paying teachers like shit, letting homeless people sleep on the street, that sort of thing. On the other hand, I’m willing to concede that the system may not be reformable, that it may one day have to be utterly destroyed in order for progress to occur. That’d be a shame, though, since it wouldn’t take much reform to make things perfect. So where do I rank myself? I don’t, but if you put a Constitutionally-protected firearm up to my head and demand that I tell you, I’ll say: 5. I feel like a moderate, anyway. The “average” may be right-wing, but that doesn’t turn the rest of us into left-wing. Not automatically, anyway. Ideological labeling is stupid, unless you’re describing a simpleton like Bush.

So, there. I thought about it. Why? I can’t imagine.

Israel, already being led over the precipice of disaster by Ariel Sharon, continues to escalate the cycle of madness in the Middle East by attacking Syria without provocation. (It followed the bombing in Haifa that killed 19 Israelis, but there’s zero proof that Syria had anything to do with that attack.) If President Assad possessed any integrity, he’d do what countries do when their neighbors invade their airspace to drop bombs: declare war. But he won’t, because he would surely lose against Israel’s U.S.-financed army and because his “brotherly Arab nation” friends wouldn’t lift a finger to help if he did. And there’s always the chance that George W. Bush would use such a declaration as an excuse to add Syria to his growing collection of Muslim colonies. As Scott McClellan says, “We’ve always stated that Israel has the right to defend herself.” How about Syria. Scott? Does Syria have the right to defend herself too? It’s just another reason why Arabs feel powerless, and resort to extreme measures like blowing themselves up to make a point.

I like to complain, but you already knew that. Here are my two complaints for the day:

People often send me e-mail to request that I put out a new collection of cartoons, yet when I actually publish one, the sales are abysmal. The latest example: my book “Search and Destroy” came out in 2001, yet has sold a mere fraction of my books based on a theme, like “To Afghanistan and Back”. Bottom line: fans say they want collections but aren’t very enthusiastic about them once they come out. Of course, there are other problems, like the fact that cartoon collections invariably get stuck in the “humor section,” a.k.a., your bookstore’s ghetto. Theme books like “Afghanistan” enjoy more prominent play in “current events” or “non fiction.” So if you’ve ever wondered why there aren’t more books collecting your favorite comic strips, here’s why: because you don’t buy them.

Complaint deux: The Internet. If you read cartoons or columns on the Internet, you’re reading them for free. The only way this stuff can continue to exist is for it to be subsidized through some other medium, like print newspapers. If a newspaper or magazine runs a cartoon, they pay for it. Before the Internet, a cartoonist’s fans would write their local newspaper editor to encourage them to pick up my stuff. If they were unsuccessful, they had no other way to see my work–which was a strong inducement. Now, if you live in a city where the paper doesn’t deign to run Ted Rall cartoons, you can simply come here to my website. There’s no pressure; the stuff’s right there, in color even! This isn’t a state of affairs that can last forever–but I don’t like the way it’s trending.

Birds do it, bees do it, now I’m doing it too. Welcome to my tentative experiment with the blogging format.

To be honest, I’m more than a little skeptical about this. Most blogs are self-indulgent tripe, far too many political blogs, regardless of whether they speak to the left or the right, preach to the converted. Can I do any better? Not likely. More importantly, I know that I’ll often be too busy to post anything. Will people keep checking back?

I already get the chance to express myself politically and otherwise in cartoons and columns, so I don’t plan to use this blog the same way other politically-minded people like, say, Tom Tomorrow does: commenting on current events, linking to news stories, that sort of thing. Right now I’m going to use this blog to discuss what it’s like to be a working cartoonist and columnist, discuss and respond to the mail I receive. So let this serve as fair warning: if you send me e-mail, it may very well end up here, being critiqued, ridiculed or otherwise served up in a way that could displease you.

I’m also going to use this forum to announce events I’ll be attending. Towards that end, I’ll be at an opening reception for “Schlock ‘N’ Roll” cartoonist Ward Sutton’s latest project, a gallery event called “Breaking News.” It’s at 7 p.m. this Thursday, October 9 at the Judson Church, 55 Washington Square South at Thompson Street in New York City. As Ward puts it, there’ll be “special clips from The Daily Show, a presentation from The Onion, artwork by Art Speigelman, a cartoon reading by Tom Tomorrow (This Modern World), performance by Zeroboy, music by Joe McGinty & Nick Danger (Loser’s Lounge), animation by Robert Smigel & J.J. Sedelmaier (SNL’s TV Funhouse), as well as:

Melinda Beck * Jennifer Berklich * Ruben Bolling * John Boone * Damian Catera * Robbie Conal * Jim Costanzo * Jay Critchley * Anita Di Bianco * DD Dorvillier & Michelle Nagai * Mariam Ghani * Josh Gosfield * Peter Grzybowski * Peter Kuper * Steve Lambert * Sandra Low Ulrike Mueller * Barbara Nei * Pink Punk * Michelle Pred * Ted Rall * Sarina Khan Reddy * David Rees * Michael A. Rippens * Ward Sutton * Micah Wright * and many more!”

Nowadays I’m in the final push to make the deadline for my next book, which will be out next spring. I’ll let you know more about it later, but it’s going to be all prose and will probably be the closest thing to a full-fledged explanation of my political philosophy that I’ve ever written. The cartoon and column format aren’t really long enough to get into a lot of nuance; with luck this book will solve that problem. Also be on the lookout for “Attitude 2: The New Subversive Social Commentary Cartoonists,” out in February from NBM Publishing.

I Told You So: The Collapse of U.S.-Occupied Iraq

In February, before thousands of bombs bought with your payroll deductions killed thousands of Iraqis for no good reason, one Neil Pollack despoiled these pages to insult my worries about the looming war. “The lengthy shriek of a madman, but presented so authoritatively, so matter-of-factly, that you have to shrug,” Pollack declared my essay. I can’t address my sanity or my literary shrugability quotient as eloquently as Dave Eggers Lite. But: I may be nuts and I may be boring, but I was right. Postwar Iraq has deteriorated exactly as I predicted back on Feb. 6.

First and foremost, I argued, we didn’t have an excuse to go to war. Poor weapons maintenance, parts shortages caused by sanctions, routine U.S. bombing sorties under President Clinton and United Nations arms inspections had rendered Saddam Hussein harmless to anyone beyond the 400-mile range of his best missiles. Iraq hadn’t attacked anyone. And there was no proof that it possessed nuclear, biological or chemical weapons proscribed by the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire agreement. “Maybe there isn’t any evidence,” I wrote, “because Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.”

And it didn’t.

Iraq’s failure to defend itself with poison gases isn’t ipso facto proof of their nonexistence—knowing that defeat was inevitable, Saddam might have refrained from using them to make Bush look bad. If Iraq had such prohibited weapons, however, they would probably have turned up by now. After all, the hunt for WMDs became the Bush Administration’s top priority after securing the oil fields. In April, Bush conceded as much to NBC News: “There’s going to be skepticism until people find out there was, in fact, a weapons of mass destruction program.” Tick, tock. The world is waiting.

Fox News and other Republican-controlled media deluged Americans in hysterical reports of Iraqi mobile chemical weapons labs that turned out to be nothing of the sort. The WMD stories were debunked one after the other—inside the book, below the fold, where few noticed. Bushy Regime officials even speculated that the “missing” WMDs might have made their way to Syria (they have a Baath Party too!) or Iran (never mind that blood feud/religious hatred thing)—but ultimately tugged back that silly trial balloon.

It was finally time to admit what the rest of the world took for granted: Bush had lied. Buried on page A13 (above the fold!) of the May 28 New York Times is a simple, galling admission: “Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested publicly for the first time yesterday that Iraq might have destroyed chemical and biological weapons before the war there.” Isn’t that what we wanted them to do?

Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says: “It’s impossible to destroy or hide the quantities the administration said they had without our noticing it.” First Osama, then the budget surplus, then Saddam, now the WMDs: the Bush years are playing out like a lousy episode of “In Search Of.” But he’s killing people, not ratings.

“Invading a sovereign state to impose ‘regime change,’ I posited in February, “is a bad idea. If people don’t like their government, whether or not to launch a revolution should be their decision. But given that you are going in, the least you can do is do the job right.”

As anyone who had paid attention to post-Taliban Afghanistan knew would happen, we didn’t do the job at all.

Starting in World War II, the U.S. Army created Civil Affairs detachments to administer the areas captured by American forces until local officials can be appointed to keep things running. Even as ferocious fighting continued, thousands of Civil Affairs soldiers with experience in law enforcement, electrification, banking, agriculture and protection of museums and historical sites were parachuted over the beaches of Normandy the day after D-Day 1944 to establish law and order. In most towns, the power vacuum between Nazi and American occupation lasted only a few hours.

Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki estimated that a nation of Iraq’s geographic size and population would require an occupation force of several hundred thousand soldiers, as well as tens of thousands of Civil Affairs personnel. Rummy, who had declared victory in Afghanistan with an 8,000-man “liberation” of the Kabul city-state, scoffed at that analysis. “The idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces is far off the mark,” he said—and sent a skeleton crew to remake the Middle East.

But Iraqi resistance was fiercer than anticipated. As cities were “liberated,” they disintegrated into an orgy of looting, rape and ethnic cleansing. U.S. soldiers encountered more snipers than giddy women bearing flowers. Public buildings, except for the Oil Ministry, burned as Marines stood idly by. Archeologists compared the pillaging of thousands of Mesopotamian and Sumerian artifacts from Baghdad’s National Museum of Iraq to the burning of the library at Alexandria. As Kurdish peshmerga guerillas expanded their autonomous zone into Arab Iraq, Turkish and Kurdish troops each threatened to invade one another. American officers confessed that they were stretched too thin to take control of the situation.

More than a month after the Pentagon staged its iconic toppling of the Saddam statue in Farbus Square, most Civil Affairs squadrons remained in Kuwait. Without water, electricity, food, or law and order, Iraqis missed Saddam. I asserted in February: “Like all half-assed endeavors, occupation on the cheap is the worst possible strategy. You piss off the locals without disarming them. You radicalize moderates. You get blamed for everything that goes wrong, without having enough of a budget to make anything better.” We’re just beginning to understand this principle. The Defense Department has just revised its estimated occupation force for Iraq from 70,000 to Shinseki’s “hundreds of thousands,” but we’ve already lost our chance to make a good first impression.

Most of all, I worried that we would replace “Iraq’s execrable Baath Party with something even worse.” That has already occurred. Bush has broken his solemn promise to maintain Iraq’s territorial integrity. By allowing the Kurdish peshmerga to keep their automatic and heavy weapons, he has effectively endorsed a nascent Republic of Kurdistan. No one denies that the Kurds deserve, and probably need, a homeland. But Bush sold us Operation Iraqi Liberation, not Operation Two Liberations and a Civil War. And, as usual, the hawks aren’t prepared for the coming Kurdish-Turkish showdown—a first-class shitstorm that could tear plunge Turkey and the Middle East into worse chaos and bloodshed.

Radical Shiite militias, funded by Iran and guided by fundamentalist clerics, are filling the power vacuum left by the dual absence of the Baath Party and U.S. Civil Affairs. Congratulations, America—you’ve just created the Taliban. Again.

An influential mullah, Murtada Sadr, is demanding that post-Saddam Iraq adopt Sharia law, which exhorts the faithful to stone adulteresses to death and amputate the limbs of thieves. “The banning of alcohol and the wearing of the veil should be spread to all and not only to Muslims,” Sadr preaches. Baghdadi Imam Mohammed al-Fartussi gave cinema operators and women who talk to Americans until May 23 to stop their “sinful” ways or face murder. These Philistines, who control vast swaths of occupied Iraq, favor the suppression of music, radio and television—and they’re being funded and armed by—you guessed it—you and me, as U.S. occupation forces try to outbribe their Tehran paymasters.

Bush lied about the WMDs and screwed up the occupation, but there’s still a chance to put things right. You see, Saddam may still be available to run Iraq! CBS News reported on May 28 that the CIA has found neither bunker nor bodies nor anything but “giant holes” at the site where we supposedly bombed Hussein to death on the opening night of the war.

Go ahead, George, call your dad. I’m sure he still has Saddie’s number.

© 2003 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.